Friday, March 28, 2008

Digging in the Desert

Imagine, if you will, an army of soldiers in the desert. Behind them are miles upon miles of sand dunes and rocky terrain. They have been marching for seven days. They are on their way to the border of the neighbouring country to put down a rebellion. The last sip of water has been drunk.

There are no wells, no streams, no springs, no reservoirs, not even a stagnant pool – nothing but sand in all directions, and vultures circling high above their heads.

If your name was Joram and you were the King of Israel, right about now you would be cursing a few people. God would be at the top of the list. Things are not going to plan and some one is to blame.

If your name was Jehoshaphat and you were the King of Judah, you would probably have a more positive outlook and suggest finding a prophet to ask God what they should do next!

Enter Elisha stage left!

“…the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha and he said, "This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches. For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD.”

There was nothing that the eye could see, or would see, that water would be provided and yet God promised through Elisha that “this valley will be filled with water.” There was nothing that the eye could see or would see that water would be provided yet they dug a series of trenches to collect the water.

If you were there, with your spade, digging a trench, with nothing you could see to give you any encouragement that there would be water – how would you dig?

Would you scan the horizon looking for a cloud – even though you had been told there wouldn’t be one? With every thrust of the spade into the sand, would you be muttering under your breath? The trenches you are digging look pretty much like graves, don’t they?

Or would you be so convinced that God does exactly what He says that you fill your mind and heart and spirit with the picture of this trench you are digging overflowing with water? You can almost see the sun glinting off it! You can almost taste the water, sweet and cool on your tongue.

“The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water”

I know what kind of trench digger I would like to be!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rediscovering Weetabix

“This is really quite nice!”

These words were said by me, to myself, twenty or thirty years after I had sworn never to to buy, eat, look at, smell, touch or go anywhere near Weetabix!

The problem was Weetabix was the only cereal we ever had at home for years. It took a long time to persuade my mother to start buying Cornflakes as an alternative. And then of course for the next few years it was only Cornflakes. Eventually, we again persuaded mum to try buying Rice Krispies. Thankfully I left home long before I had developed an aversion to Rice Krispies. There was no mixing the cereals.

So for years on end I have never been able to get over my Weetabix and Cornflake phobia! My husband loves Cornflakes and buys the occasional box, but I come out in a cold sweat every time I have to touch the box to move it to get to something behind it!

Despite having eaten Weetabix for most of my childhood, if you asked me what it tasted like, I honestly can’t remember what it tasted like – only that I didn’t like it! It is a clear case of familiarity breeds contempt!

I bought a pack a few weeks ago. Weetabix have distinctly fewer Weight Watcher points than some of the other breakfast cereals and they also have a low GI rating, which means they keep you filled up longer. So I fought against my Weetabix aversion, slipped two in a bowl, cut up a banana, dowsed it with milk and was quite surprised. It was nice! It wasn’t a case of holding my nose and gulping it down bravely – like I sometimes do with my porridge (which also has few WW points and is low GI). Yes, Weetabix is back on the menu!

I have had an opportunity to visit a number of different churches on a Sunday morning since we began meeting on an evening. The last time that I worshipped in a “denominational” church was probably in the late 1980s. Since then I have thrived, spiritually, on a diet of worship songs, guitar and keyboard music, various school halls, chairs, small congregations and an avoidance of anything that looks remotely like tradition.

Sunday mornings have been a little like re-discovering Weetabix! The things I thought I disliked about “denominational” churches don’t actually exist. Every place I have visited so far has been vibrant and full of life, not steeped and stagnant with tradition and hierarchy.

I thought I knew what Weetabix tasted like and I was wrong. I thought I knew what a typical church meeting in a “denominational" church was all about - but I was wrong.

I still haven’t tried the Cornflakes though!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Flaounes and Festivities

I suppose that you could call it home sickness, although I am not a Cypriot! I spent a few years living and working in Cyprus and Easter time was my favourite time of the year. Just for a short few weeks every bit of waste ground and every dry river bed was covered in flowers. New life was evident all around.

I miss the way that the Cypriots took time to celebrate Easter. Sometimes we are so keen to throw off traditions frightened that they will suffocate our faith, but the Greek Orthodox Church revels in traditions. They involve all the physical senses of the body to capture the spirit.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon making flaounes – small Easter cheese cakes. The plan, sometime this afternoon is to take them around the neighbourhood and share some resurrection joy.

In Cyprus, people greet each other with the words “Christos anesti!” (Christ is risen.) to be answered with the words “Alithos anesti!” (He is risen in deed). So that is what I aim to try out with the neighbours.

I am not much of a baker, so my faounes are always a hit and miss affair. If the cheese mixture is too wet, there is tendency for it to spill out of the pastry shell. I have more spilled flaounes than not, but they taste fine.

I was at an Easter service this morning in my local church. It was billed as a family meeting, and the place was filled to capacity with every generation.

I can remember my own Sunday School days. It was a small chapel the other side of the village. For weeks before the Easter service we practised our “lines” and learnt to march in an orderly line to deliver them loud and clear to the congregation. It was rehearsed carefully and everything went according to plan.

This morning it was like my flaoune mixture – a bit messy and spilling out of the pastry shell! The kids had a part to play being given coloured balloons and encouraged to do a Mexican wave for Jesus! It wasn’t rehearsed. No one had learned their lines! It was messy! It was noisy! It was fun! It was life! It was – unexpected.

I had never been inside my local church before. I expected pews – but they had row upon row of seats. I expected Sunday best coats and hats and I got jeans. I expected a hymn book and got a huge screen and a projector. I expected an organ and got a band. I expected a straight jacket and got a people freely expressing their love for Jesus. I expected to feel like a stranger and got treated like a friend.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Scars on My Heart

My ears ache
Dreading to hear the words
You will not say

My will demands
Your silence
And yet pain consumes all will

Just say the words
“Father, save Me..”
And I will rush to Your side

I will rip the nails
Dragging them bloodstained
From Your palms

Gently will I ease away
The twisted thorny crown
From Your brow

I will rock You in my arms
Bestow a tender kiss
And breathe new life into You

Just say the words
“Father, save me..”
And I will

But in saving You
I will condemn to death
A hundred generations of new sons

And so I turn away
And hear You cry
“Why have You forsaken me”

My heart breaks
Because I mustn’t answer
And then it is finished

The scars on Your palms
Are there for all to see
But no one sees the scars on My heart

What if Jesus had called out to God, not "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?", but "Father, save me!" I don't think that God could have resisted. It is in His nature to save. As much as God the Son went through the agony and pain the cross demanded, God the Father went through the pain of having to witness it and having to restrain himself from interfering.


I came home from a Christian celebration of Passover. The taste of wine, unleavened bread and roast lamb was still on my lips.

Closing the car door, I happened to glance at the night sky. There was an almost full moon, a scattering of stars and traces of clouds.

I wondered if as the disciples and Jesus as they left their Passover meal to head out towards the Garden of Gethsemane glanced up at the sky. Did they see an almost full moon, a scattering of stars and traces of cloud?

I went to the Garden of Gethsemane once. I can remember being very disappointed because it didn’t look like a garden. There were no lawns or flower beds. I was thinking in terms of English country gardens and all that was before me was a bunch of trees. It was just an olive grove.

I would like to say that I walked among the trees and connected with God, thinking that here among the olive trees, my Saviour walked. I’d like to say that just as He prayed, pouring out his soul before the Father, that I too knelt and prayed. I would like to say that just as Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will, that I too surrendered.

Maybe I did, but I don’t remember.

Last night I connected. Thousands of miles away from Gethsemane, I thought about them leaving the upper room, the taste of wine, unleavened bread and roast lamb on their lips. The words of the Exodus story and God’s mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt were still ringing in their ears.

They were standing on the cusp of a new world. In a few short hours so much would be dismantled – a curse, a curtain and an old covenant. Something altogether new as about to step into the centre of the stage – a new kingdom and a new king, a new life and a new beginning, a new community and a new commitment.

History almost repeats itself – God delivers another bunch of slaves from another tyrant! This time around I was there - God delivered me!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Saying it with verse

Do you know how many cards there are to send to someone who has been promoted? None at all! I spent a while scanning the shelves looking for a card for Joe to congratulate him on his promotion. I had to settle for a blank card with a picture of chapagne bottle on it and come up with my own cheerful congratulatory message inside!

I went into a shop today
To buy a card for you
Of “Happy Birthday” “Get Well Soon”
There were more than a few

Giving birth or moving house?
A million cards to choose
For weddings and retirements too
There’s cards to spread the news

Now if you left your job, oh yes
There is a card to buy
But mere promotion to B2
Those cards, they don’t supply

If Hallmark cannot say the words
“Congratulations, Joe”
I’ll write my own inspiring verse
“Well Done! My cute wee beau!”

A Mother's Pride

Last night my husband and I were obviously reading from different scripts or singing from different song sheets! My script was all about cleaning the house! We have guests staying with us later on in the week and the spare bedrooms would not pass a governmental health check! Actually, it’s not just the spare rooms – the whole house has been deteriorating around us. So, yes, my script has included lots of polish and hovering and ironing and stuff.

My husband’s script – well I am not quite sure what he was up to.

He has recently been promoted at work and came home, quite a lot later than I expected him to I might add, to show me a letter confirming his new status and details of his new salary. I should have been able respond with more than just a grunt, but I just refused to drop the resentment that had built up in me as I had worked on alone with the cleaning.

The evening progressed with him in the dog-house and me on my high horse, the two of us like two marbles coldly clinking together in a half cleaned jar!

Later that night as I wrapped myself in a book, Joe started to talk.

He told me about a day when he was ten or eleven. He had passed something like the 11 Plus test and had won a place at the local grammar school. He came from a very working class background and finding the extra money needed for all the items of the school uniform was not going to be easy. He remembered his mother taking him up to the school. It was way out of her comfort zone. She was absolutely frightened at meeting the whole school community, who were just from almost another planet, but she pulled herself to her full height and walked in the door. She charmed everyone in sight. She was more Roman Catholic than most of the Marist Brothers that taught in the school.

It was just that picture of her standing outside the gates determined that she would not let her son down that he was telling me about. She was proud of him for passing the exam and getting the chance to go to that school.

As he told me the story of his mother, with tears in his eyes, he ended with the words – “My mother would be proud of me today!” (Joe’s mum is in a nursing home, lost in dementia, and rarely connects with the real world these days.)

I am very proud of him and I thought I had said so. I suppose there are just some things you need to say over and over again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Year of Jubilee

It was my fiftieth birthday on Friday and, unlike so many people reaching a milestone like that, I am thrilled to be this age! Part of it comes from looking much younger than my years. I have had a hard time convincing people that I am fifty. Perhaps if there were a few more obvious wrinkles and stuff I might feel differently.

On Thursday, during a prayer meeting, God said, “Do you know, Mel – it’s your year of Jubilee?” Jubilee years were celebrated every fiftieth by the Israelites and all the instructions are in the Old Testament.

I know about Jubilee years because the concept crops us in one of our units of work – to do with debt cancellation. The Jubilee Debt Campaign that began in 2000 picks up on the practice of cancelling debts.

Doing a little bit more reading up on it – there are essentially two aspects to a Jubilee year - rest and release.

The rest part of it is a reminder that it is linked into the idea of a Sabbath day rest. Just as on the Sabbath day the Jews were restrained from everyday tasks, the ground they grew their crops on also had a Sabbath rest. Every seventh year the soil was rested and the Jews just ate what grew naturally. A Jubilee year is a Sabbath of Sabbaths.

Picking up on this idea of rest, my first inclination was to announce that I would be stepping down from leading worship, preaching, teaching Sunday school and attending mid-week meetings. Rest, eh? No work? The idea didn’t last that long as the Spirit quickly corrected me that is was the absence of “unnecessary work” that was called for. All the energy that I expend on fretting and worrying and striving for stuff – that was what one was to cease doing!

As time goes on, when you have been a Christian fro a while, things creep in – you add to what God has already done – attending meetings, reading the word, praying – some of these things become opportunities for collecting “Brownie Points”. You add to God’s salvation and have a list of “must dos” that you don’t really have to do at all. You do them not to earn Brownie points but because you love to draw close to God. Resting is about not giving that kind of stuff Brownie point power, but just reminding yourself it is all down to the blood of Jesus alone.

The release bit of Jubilee happened when everyone was released from the debts they owed others. Not only were the debts wiped away, but everything you had sold to pay off your debts, whether that be property, personal belongings or yourself into slavery – everything was restored back to its original owner. You owed nothing and you possessed everything. It happened perhaps once in a lifetime if you lived that long!

Release for me comes in receiving back all the stuff that I have “sold” over the ages. My debts were wiped away on the cross and the day I accepted Jesus invitation to surrender everything was restored to me. However, life kicks in and however much you like to think otherwise, over time you might surrender things that you shouldn’t, perhaps for an easier life. You might surrender your passion because when others stomp on it, you withdraw just a little. Disappointments perhaps have a way of redefining your picture of God, or your expectation of what He would wish to accomplish through you. I know that these things are always something you should fight for, and go back time and time to God to have corrected. But wear and tear corrodes many things given enough time.

I am not the same person I was when I became a Christian many years ago. I have gained a lot I never had before, but I have also surrendered at lot of things I should have held on to. This Jubilee year I aim to receive those things back by the grace of God.

I am not sold into slavery but have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb ant it is time to let go of the slave mentality!

So for my Jubilee year I will establish the habit of resting and letting loose the Brownie points, and I will have released to me all the things I am entitled to have. It promises to be a humdinger of a year!

The Three Egg Omelette Challenge

On a Saturday morning we like to watch a cookery programme called “Saturday Kitchen”. They have guest chefs who demonstrate favourite recipes, celebrities that choose their food hell and food heaven for the viewers to vote on, and there are always a couple of viewers invited on to the programme to be the guinea pigs and taste the various recipes.

One regular feature of the programme is a challenge for the guest chefs to make a three egg omelette in a little time as possible and depending on how quickly they do it, they get posted onto a leader board. We are talking about mere seconds! What they call on omelette looks suspiciously like scrambled egg to me and not the least bit appetising.

I am into week two of my hunt for the man! Seeing as I didn’t find him at last week’s church meeting, I thought I would try another church.

It feels like a three egg omelette challenge taking the opportunity to visit other churches in the morning now that we are meeting in the evening. However much I want to just take the meeting as it is, there is the inevitability of comparing one with another, and also comparing them with my own church.

With the three egg omelette challenge there are things that they all have in common – three eggs, a pan, oil, heat, a whisk, seasoning and a ticking clock. The end result for the most part looks rather similar too. What’s different, although not really that different, is the actions of the chefs. Some of them want to be on the leader board so they rush and hurry and serve up a pile of goo on a plate. Others, although they also want to be on the leader board, also want to serve up a proper omelette and they seem not to be able to lay aside cooking protocol!

What would be the things that churches have in common – worship songs perhaps? The sermon? The welcome when you arrive? The tea and coffee at the end? None of that really matters to some extent if you don’t encounter God! It is nice to be welcomed when you arrive – and I have been made to feel very welcome. The worship songs – today’s church pips the post rather. Not because the songs were familiar – they weren’t. The musicians were good. It wasn’t so much them as me – I was ready to worship and wanted to connect. The sermon this time around was challenging, not that last’s week’s wasn’t! The tea and coffee – the first church was better – much nicer biscuits!

But did I connect with God? Yes I did, but I missed my own church family very much. Many of the avenues that I connect with God don’t come in isolation. It is not the words or the music that always does it – but the familiar faces and the way my church family look at me. It is a familiar smile and an affirming nod from someone I know that makes my encounters with God to be so much more real. I know where I stand with them. I am not a stranger or a visitor but an essential part of their encounter with God too.

Fakes and Counterfeits

I was listening to the radio this morning. There was a report about a bank that had taken delivery of a consignment of gold bars from a country in Africa. They were in the process of writing a letter of complaint to the government of the country because it turned out that the bars weren’t gold at all but bars of iron coated in a layer of gold. The subject of the report was about fakes and counterfeits. There was a counterfeiter who made such a good job of copying a twenty pound note that the bank of England couldn’t tell the difference and had to re-commission a new bank note altogether!

It reminded me of one of the very first articles I posted on the Faithwriters’ site many years ago.

100% Cashmere

Just over a month ago I got my eyes tested. I wasn’t told anything I didn’t already know. The glasses I had so tenaciously hung on to for years were no use. They were well past their sell by date and probably doing more harm than good. They were certainly no use for reading the labels on tins as I did my weekly shop in the supermarket.

Labels are amazing things. So many big claims in such small writing. A newspaper article that sticks in my mind highlighted the problem about labels. A certain brand of cashmere sweaters claimed to be 100% cashmere. It was boldly announced on the label, along with the instructions of how to wash said cashmere sweater. Tests later proved that it was not 100% at all but actually 95%. The last 5% was something else.

It made me wonder for a moment the nature of the test. What did they do to unravel the identity of the fake 5%? It made me wonder for a moment about the testee. What clues lead them to question the truth behind the label?

It made me wonder for a long time about the claims of other labels? What other things were being boldly announced as 100% the genuine article when all along there was a fake 5%?

When I surrendered to Jesus many years ago, I accepted a label. I live my life day by day before my friends and neighbours. They look and watch my every move, to see if what I have is worth it. As I deal with all that life throws at me – and it throws things quite forcefully, they look and watch my every reaction, to see if what I have makes a difference. I accepted a label but does the way I live my life match up to its claims? Every time I choose to climb a mountain of faith in my own strength I show the world a fake 5%. Every time I fail to turn the other cheek, every time I hold on to both my tunics with grasping fingers and every time I fail to turn away a harsh word with a gentle whisper, I show the world a fake 5%. God has written 100% on my label and given me the resources I need to be the genuine article.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pub Pastor

When the street pastor initiative started up in Inverness I always thought that it would be something that my husband would get involved in. Unlike me his is a people person. I like the four walls of my house and pottering around inside. He likes to be out there among people.

I discovered last night that my husband like his own four walls – the inside of a pub! We were on our way out for a meal last night to celebrate my birthday. We hadn’t booked anywhere. We planned to have a meal and go to the cinema but were not sure which way around we would do it. In the end we plumped for the meal first.

We didn’t factor in meeting up with a friend of ours. Once he found out it was my birthday, he insisted we join him and his girlfriend for a drink, except it wasn’t just him and his girlfriend and it wasn’t just one drink and it wasn’t just the one pub either!

Everywhere we ended up, people beamed as Joe walked through the door. There would be handshakes and hugs – who says that the church has a monopoly on getting tactile?

At each venue I would be introduced with the line “And this is my wife..” I am sure that if Joe had been introducing them to the Blessed Virgin Mary, she couldn’t have got a better reception. Their high respect for Joe just transferred itself to me! I don’t know what Joe had said about me, but I was treated almost like royalty!

Over drinks Joe just distributed the love of Jesus.

Just as the pen and paper and words are my natural environment, I discovered that for Joe, the pub is his. He was in his sweet spot – talking to people, listening, giving advice and encouragement, gently rebuking where necessary. He dealt with everyone with such gentleness and he exuded joy. Part of the joy was because I was with him and sharing a part of his life that I hadn’t really experienced before.

I was very conscious of my own behaviour while I was there. I am really quite a shy person (aye right!) and my natural inclination is to withdraw. Some people can misinterpret that as being stand offish so I made a grand effort to initiate conversations. I didn't want to let Joe down. It is not my natural environment but I adapted to make myself at home.

Over the meal – we finally made it to a restaurant three hours later – he told me, “Maybe none of those people will ever make it through the door of the church, but they know who Jesus is because I have told them!” He told me one story after another of all the broken lives we had met that night and how he tried to be Jesus to them – not judging, not pushing them, just loving and accepting.

Joe isn't a street pastor. He is a pub pastor - without the jacket!

I was so proud of him last night.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Man Hunter

I placed myself geographically in a place where God could make the dream a reality. I walked into the city centre and found a church.

I guess that it is part of human nature to make comparisons. You line up the familiar alongside the unfamiliar rather like lining two DNA profiles to see if they match!

Obviously the people were not going to be familiar, although I was recognised from the International Friends as having been on the trip to Cawdor Castle last year. I sat next to a really nice lady who pointed out various people.

The worship consisted of a string of cheerful songs. I coveted their flute player! The songs were not familiar but they were easy to pick up and played and sang with lots of enthusiasm.

There were one or two times when, had I been in my own church, I wouldn’t have hesitated to share something, but I wasn’t sure what was allowed and what wasn’t. I was waiting to see what other people would do and take my cue from them. It was all very structured, well behaved and polite. My friend, Mark, is always encouraging us to be messy and I have to admit that I missed that!

I am not quite sure what I was expecting. It would have been very amazing to have seen the man from my dream, and even more amazing to have prayed for him, but it didn’t happen.

Perhaps I was too passive in the whole thing. I might have been there in the body, in the church, and to some extent I might have been there in the spirit too – but I didn’t really push any doors to see if they would open. I took the spiritual temperature of the meeting – perhaps with my dodgy spiritual thermometer – and decided to not press it.

There have been times in the past when I have stepped out and done something unexpected and the whole meeting has shifted as a result – for the good, I hasten to add. I just didn’t do it today. I am not sure whether to kick myself for my lack of courage or congratulate myself for my restraint!

I really don’t so strangers that well! With people I know I am perhaps a bit of an exhibitionist and quite the extrovert – but in unfamiliar surroundings I lie low! Maybe this whole “find the man and pray with him” is not about finding the man at all, but finding myself in every situation and expressing “me” freely.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Dreaming Big Dreams

If I thought my dolphins and sharks dream was revelational – to me at least – last night’s dream was a real blast! I am still reeling from it!

It had the unique distinction of being a morning dream! I had woken up at seven, thought about getting up, decided not to and fell back to sleep.

The dream took place in an unfamiliar church and there wasn’t anyone I knew. I was a visitor.

Let me back track a little. As well as the talk about dreams at the mid-week meeting I had been contemplating the story of Paul’s conversion. God had firmly told Ananias to go to Paul and lay is hands on him and “release” him into the ministry that God had prepared for him. Ananias had no concerns about whether he had heard God correctly, or felt worthy enough to do the task – the kind of things that hold us back. His concern was with whether Paul was perhaps worthy of the gift about to be bestowed. Well, he did it. He went, found Paul, laid his hands on him and released him into what God had for him to do. It’s all very well God giving people dreams – Paul had a dream that he believed was God given – annihilating the early church. It took Ananias to be the instrument whereby God directed and channelled the gifts Paul had been given.

So back to the dream. Thinking about Ananias and laying hands on people to release them into what God want for them – there was a man in my dream. He had dark brown hair. I could probably identify him from a police line up. I felt a stirring to lay my hand on his shoulder and pray for him, but because I was a visitor, I didn’t have the confidence to do so.

It was the end of the meeting and he was about to leave the building and something stirred in me and I shouted to him to stop because God wanted to do something. He turned around. I was mortified to discover I had got the wrong person. I had made a mistake and stopped the wrong person.

He came over to me. I could see that he was much smaller than the person I was supposed to talk to and much younger. He stood in front of me expectantly. I was hunting around for words to tell him that he wasn’t the man and he must have misinterpreted my silence.

“I know what this about,” he said. Well, he certainly knew more than I did at that point. We walked over to the stage and sat down. He confided in me that he had been struggling lately. He was the picture of the successful Christian but deep down he saw it all as a smokescreen. He was “working hard” at being a Christian, but he knew that he didn’t really have a faith. He knew that he had never asked God to be lord of his life and he was scared to do so because he thought he would fail.

I can’t remember what I said. I know that what ever it was, God used it to speak to the man. I rested my hand on his shoulder and assured him that it was not his problem but God’s. God would make Himself responsible for the man’s faith and growth.

There were tears streaming down his face and he didn’t pray any words out loud, but he opened his heart to Jesus. He face was flooded with joy and he crumpled to the ground. I don’t know whether this church was used to seeing people slain in the Spirit, but a number of people came to look at what was happening.

I was beside him, still with my hand on his shoulder. I was about to launch into some great releasing prophecy over him when he touched my hand and said, “No more words. All that needs to be said has been spoken.”

He got up and we both went for a cup of tea. Pathetic ending I know, but that’s how it ended!

I woke up and the first words to come to my mind were “Which church, God? Which church will I meet this man?”

See, one of the things about moving in the gifts of the Spirit is that you have got to move! There is no point about having a stirring dream if all it does is stir and there is no action. It is not by accident that our own church has shifted its meetings to an evening for a while, leaving me free to roam around a few other churches – to visit. Yeah, the plan had actually been to enjoy a morning lie in, but that may be not God’s plan.

I looked through the adverts for churches in the local paper later on in the morning. I was looking for something to kind of leap of the page. Nothing! I am not even sure that the man of dreams will be there, but obedience has got to start somewhere, right? If he is there will I step out and have a go? It is all a bit out of my comfort zone and part of me is scanning the landscape for a bolt hole!

Sharks and Dolphins

In our mid-week meeting we were praying about our local church – not the church universal, or even the body of Christ in Inverness, but just our small fellowship. We were praying specifically for gifts of the Holy Spirit to emerge and be practised and someone mentioned dreams. It was the desires, aspirations, hopes and dreams thing, but also the night time dream thing – a combination of them both.

Well. I dreamed – the night time dream thing! It wasn’t very inspirational. A couple of friends of mine invited me along to swim with dolphins. There was a really sheltered bay and the water was teeming with fish and there were perhaps half a dozen dolphins, their shiny black backs undulating just above and below the surface. One of my friends had stitched together a swimming costume for me that was a little larger than I was.

I was standing beside the water about to launch myself in when there was an almighty burst of spray. A shark launched itself out of the water and landed just a few feet from me.

Now for most of you that might be totally meaningless, but not to me! Before you start to get yourself concerned that I have been swimming in shark infested waters – a few of weeks ago I watched a nature programme. I say watched in the true sense as the volume was turned down at the time. We were paying a visit to family in Glasgow at the time and my husband and his brother were talking football. TV, satellite TV, repeats stuff ad finitum so I got to see the programme again.

It was about a bunch of lifeguards who decided to swim across the bay. Half way across they were joined by half a dozen dolphins which began to do something curious. They circled around the swimmers herding them closer together. It was frightening for the swimmers because the dolphins were very, very close, flapping fins at them and bumping against them. They kept up the activity for about an hour. Every time one of the swimmers tried to leave the circle they would get chased back in. Just as mysteriously as the dolphins arrived – they left.

It turned out, what the swimmers didn’t know, was that there was a shark. Outside the circling dolphins was a shark attempting to get in and attack the swimmers.

It would appear that what the dolphins did was normal behaviour for them in the sense that is what they do when they have younger dolphins and mother dolphins to protect. They circle them to stop the shark getting in. The shark will not take them all on as they act together. It’s unusual in the sense that they extended their protection to people.

Sharks and dolphins in the same dream led me to thinking about the programme. I suppose in the past few weeks I have felt many areas of my life to be under threat. Who are my dolphins? Who are my sharks? Sharks need not necessarily be people – but in my case I can point to a couple. Sharks are perhaps easy to identify! Who are my dolphins? There is nothing worse than feeling under attack and also feeling that no one is on your side! But I have my dolphins! I have loving and caring people all around me. And I have God!

Friday, March 07, 2008

He Talks to Me

In my morning study book we have been dashing through Job at breakneck speed picking up gems every now and then. I have read through Job so many times and each time there is always a light shining on something new that I never noticed before. I think we are getting to the end. God joins in the conversation.

Job 38:1-3 says “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

Reading through the chapter you begin to realise that Job is not getting the answers he is looking for. Question after question is shot at him from the Almighty! There was no way that Job had an inkling of any of the answers.

But you know what really struck me? I don’t think Job cared a jot about the questions God was asking, or was the least bit anxious that he didn’t know the answers. I think that what soared through him at that moment was indescribable joy! God was speaking and it didn’t pretty much matter what He was saying. Just to hear God’s voice – possibly with a clarity he had never experienced before – joy pulsated through Job!

The silent one was no longer silent. The trial that caused the most grief wasn’t the boils on his body that he scratched with a bit of broken pottery. Loosing his children was pretty rough too, and the sheep, and camels – but loosing a sense of God’s presence far outweighed them all.

There is something that Elihu says to Job earlier on in the conversation in Job 33:14 –“For God does speak - now one way, now another - though man may not perceive it.” There is almost an arrogance that says that because I cannot hear God speaking, He is not speaking – He is silent. God speaks but we just don’t perceive it.

Does God intend that we don’t hear him? Was perceived silence part of the suffering Job went through?

There are obviously times when we distance ourselves from God through our actions. There are times when we deliberately stick our spiritual fingers in our ears because we don’t want to hear. But what about the times when we long to hear his voice and we just don’t “perceive it”?

Does God’s silence achieve a God-given purpose? Are the times that God chooses to withdraw just as important as the times when he draws close enough to hear the whispers?

I don’t have any answers – I am just musing, just posing some unanswerable questions of my own!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

This Moment

One of these days I will make better use of a diary! I make prolific use of notebooks! I don’t just use one note book, write in it until it is empty, but have half a dozen scattered about the house. I will just pick up the nearest to hand and start writing in it! One of these many note books has the rota of who is speaking and who is leading worship for the next few weeks. Can I find it? Absolutely not!

However, in the browsing I came across a few lines of a poem that I had been inspired to write:-

This Moment

Sometimes we think
We have forever
But we have
Just this one moment
If we wait for what we think to be
A better moment
We miss the chance
The flame never gets ignited
It never burns
We don’t have yesterday
We may not have tomorrow
We have just now

Typing it out here I have just remembered what the context was. It was in a mid-week meeting. A friend was sharing with us the sad news of the death of one of her relatives. As she talked, she smiled, as she shared stories of some of his activities. He had been a Christian, a very vibrant Christian. He was sold out for Jesus and talked about Him to anyone he met. It wasn’t in a heavy “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” type of sharing, but something natural and easy.

He had been ill. An operation perhaps. I am not sure of the details, but his death was unexpected. It impressed on me that sometimes we lack a sense of “now”. I know that God has often pressed me with the knowledge that I live should be living in the present tense. I shouldn’t be living on past glories, or hindered by past defeats. Neither should I be simply looking to a “better time” – like the summer holidays, or the weekend, or a future time when I can really put God at the centre of my life, in a way that I don’t think I can do right now. There is always going to be something that could distract and divert my attention.

Now is the time – not some indefinable day in the future.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bystander Apathy

This phrase, “bystander apathy”, has really caught my attention. It cropped up in a newspaper article in one of the Sunday heavies.

The article was based on a book called “The Lucifer Effect” and asks the question as to whether we are all capable of evil. That kind of goes without saying! I suppose it is more about the level of evil we are all capable of doing.

The author of the book had been looking at the articles of the horrific treatment of prisoners in war time situations and it brought back to mind an experiment he had done some forty or fifty years ago. He had taken a bunch of volunteers. Some were assigned to be prison guards and some were assigned to be the prisoners and then he watched how they behaved.

It didn’t take long for people to become immersed in their roles, with the guards clamping down quite formidably on any prisoners they did not think were towing the line. It didn’t take long either for the prisoners to either rebel and be on the receiving end of ever increasingly harsh measures, or passively accept it as their lot.

Bystander apathy was demonstrated by those who were not directly involved. They might have been another “guard” watching what was happening, or a fellow “prisoner” who witnessed the harsh measure inflicted on others. What was evident is that they did nothing to stop what was happening. The pressure to “go along with it” is apparently powerful enough for people not to act. It is all too easy to think “if that was me, I wouldn’t keep silent”, but according to the author, in the same situation we would do the same thing!

The volunteers were, under normal circumstances, nice boys from nice homes – but the situation they faced brought out the bad in them. The volunteers weren’t bad people, but the environment they found themselves in almost encouraged them to be bad.

In some of the early chapters of the book of Job, he voices his desire to have his life end not because it is a bad life right at that moment, which it was, but because he doesn’t want to let God down. Paul said something similar in one of his epistles. He was stuck in jail and voiced his concerns that he might find the whole thing too much and end up betraying god through unrighteous words or behaviour.

There is no doubt that a difficult situation doesn’t help! We can make the difficult situation an excuse for harsh words, a snappish attitude or a lack of grace.

The hope for the prisoners and the guards came in the form of the “heroes”! The Hope of humankind! They are “ordinary people who do extraordinary things when other people are doing bad or doing nothing.” In this experiment there were individuals that “blew the whistle” and told people they had gone too far. They brought a swift end to the experiment by speaking out. They were not on the receiving end of nay abuse, but saw that others were, and didn’t like it. They had the ability to empathise.

Is that not what intercession and prayer is all about? We may not be on the receiving end of a difficult time, but we notice that other people are. Sometimes we are in a position to act practically. All the time we are in a position to pray.

It seems to me that we have a choice. We can sit in bystander apathy, seeing things and not rousing ourselves thinking perhaps that we can make no difference to the situation, or we can be a hero.

I would like to think that I have it in me to be a hero!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pencil Fetish

I went to a prayer and worship meeting on Friday night. It was an inter-denominational thing to pray for the city, particularly the street pastors that were out that night. There was an ice-breaker to help everyone feel more comfortable and get to know one another. It involved sharing a little bit about yourself – where you came from, a mini-testimony, not of how you came to Christ, but something about the week and how you had seen God at work. You were also supposed to share “something whacky” about yourself to demonstrate that you were “just a normal person like anyone else”. Why do you have to be whacky to be normal?

One man shared about going to the dentist – I can’t remember what the whacky bit was, but we laughed. A lady shared about her recent travels to Kenya and having to pluck a chicken. She didn’t have to actually kill it or gut it, but plucking was a first for her. Another woman just simply refused to reveal anything whacky – and we had spent quite a bit of time talking and we itching to pray, so no one minded.

My whacky revelation? I discovered recently that I have pencil fetish. Working where I do, discarded pencils litter the ground, not quite like confetti, but a short walk generally reveals one or two. I lend out so many pencils, and they frequently don’t make it back to my desk. I get through my quota quite quickly and end up having to buy more, so picking up the ones that others drop is good stewardship in my book.

There is book loitering on my desk about preserving the environment. It contains a million hints about the kinds of things we could do to be green. One of the suggestions is about using a biro till it runs out. It doesn’t mention pencils, but I would imagine that it ought to be the same.

Every time I pick up a pencil I have this thought that I am rescuing it! A pencil is designed for a specific purpose. Imagine if it had feelings. Lying on the grass by the edge of the path, abandoned and unable to fulfil its purpose has got to be frustrating – so I pick it up, clean it up a bit, sharpen it and stick it among all the other rescued pencils so it will get used.

It seems to me that church is a bit like that that! Haven’t we all been rescued? None of us before we came to Christ were fulfilling the purpose that we were designed for. Cleaned up a bit? Sharpened? Perhaps that’s stretching the metaphor too much.