Sunday, April 27, 2008

Storing Up Evil

My husband, despite being away on business for most of the week had to do overtime yesterday. I suppose I could have left him to get a bus in, but I have missed him so much already, that even a short ride into his work was worth it! Getting out to the car, however, we found that someone has dented the front passenger corner. Now, I am almost certain that it wasn’t me. I would have known about it – it is not just a bit of paint scratched off, but the whole corner banged up.

The last time something similar happened was when a friend and I had gone to the cinema. Two hours, a bucket of popcorn and a film later we returned to the car to discover the front of the car badly bashed in.

This time, like the last time, there was no note stuck on the windscreen with an apology or a phone number or anything – just the bashed corner.

After a mild diatribe about people not taking responsibility for their actions, I got to the stage where I accepted there was nothing I could do the track down the culprit. Complaining about it was not going to change anything. We had the money in the savings to cover the repairs.

Last night, however, I had a dream. I am not sure where I was, except that it wasn’t in Inverness. The district council had claimed back the front gardens in a row of houses to make a car park. I parked my car – the front dent was still there! The next morning the car wasn’t where I parked it. It was being picked up by a car recovery lorry. It looked like someone had been at it with a sledge hammer. There was also lots of unpleasant graffiti in black paint. It was not nice.

My sister told me that she thought she knew who had done it. It turned out to be a little old lady, a devout churchgoer! Apparently she had seen a jar of cooking sauce on the back seat of the car. She believed that I was mistreating my husband because I wasn’t cooking a meal from scratch, but using the jar. She was thoroughly convinced that this was a sin not just against my husband, but against God too.(It’s a dream! Absurd things are allowed in dreams!)

I remember being extremely angry. The damage to the car was bad enough, but damage to my reputation was even worse! She didn’t know me and yet she had judged me on the basis of a jar of cooking sauce! And then to claim to be a devout Christian too…

I remember yelling something like I was going to tell God all about her and He would take my side and she was in for a heap of trouble! There was no turning the other cheek, just out and out fury!

What remained with me when I woke up was the level of fury that I felt.

In Luke 6:45 it says “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” I am not sure that what the woman did to my car, or my reputation, justified the words I spoke, or the tone of voice I used. I would hate to think that there is evil stored up in my heart, but I would imagine that every time we refuse to forgive, or every time we revisit a hurt and massage the grudge – it is like storing up evil. It is there ready to come out at an opportune time.

James 5:16 suggests the way of confession, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

I don’t need to ask if I could be as angry in the real world as I obviously got in the dream world, or whether I can let my heart speak words that unloving. The answer is a shameful “Yes!” But I am not powerless to change things – or rather Christ is not powerless to change me.

Like Paul I can cry “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) and have my answer “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:25)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Frozen Assets

There was a marvelous testimony from Friday night’s prayer meeting.

Before we got down to the business of praying, there was the usual ice-breaker-getting-to-know-you-a-little-better part of the evening to get through. We were not required to come up with something “whacky” this time – just a little bit about yourself and a testimony. I spoke about our monthly prayer meetings at work. I think it is wonderful that there are people that want to meet together to pray. I found myself hurrying at lunchtime to be there. I rarely hurry anywhere! I amble. I was visiting a friend last week who owns a very interesting croft (small farm) on the outskirts of Inverness. He took me on a tour of the place. He doesn’t amble but strides out. I had a hard time keeping up.

The lady sitting near me was talking about the faithfulness of God. It had been some time ago – years rather than months or weeks. They were struggling financially and it was a definite Old Mother Hubbard scenario. The cupboards were bare. They were down to a last packet of fish fingers and a bag of frozen peas. They had a few days to go till pay day and there was no way they were going to make it through.

She prayed to God about the situation, asking for just five pounds. That was all she needed to get them through the next few days. Just five pounds!

“Use what you have,” God replied.

She dug out the fish fingers and stuck them under the grill, took out a pan to tip the peas into.

In among the peas was a small cellophane wrapper. She pulled it out and took a good look at it. Un-wrapping the cellophane, she unfolded a £5 note.

On the packet of the peas – it was one of those promotional things – “Are you a lucky winner?” Inside some of the packets of peas the manufacturers had hidden £5 notes and £10 notes and £20 – as they do occasionally to get people to buy their produce.

She had asked for £5 and that is what she received!

It kind of reminds you of Jesus being asked to pay his taxes. Having no money on him, he sent one of his followers to catch a fish. Inside its mouth was a coin. It was just what the tax man was looking for! God is faithful – even with the little things that we ask for.

Praying on Autopilot

There is no excuse for my bad manners towards someone on Sunday evening. A friend in the church could tell that I was rather stressed out and offered to pray with me. I turned her down, quite sharply, I have to confess.

There were a number of irritations that had built up throughout the day. A lot of it was work pressures and deadlines seeming to hang like black clouds.

I had also been on one of my church visits that morning. The church had the most glorious views overlooking the city – enough to stir the heart. It was a wonderful spring day and the sun was shining. That was outside the church. Inside the church we were being reminded in no uncertain terms that we were miserable sinners. It was very serious, straight laced and pretty much joy-less. There was a huge congregation and I wondered just what it was that made them return back each week to be told they were miserable sinners! Maybe I just hit a bad week.

Anyway, that is digressing. The other irritation was the lawn mower broke. There was just something about leaving a half cut lawn that offended my sense of order. It is silly that thing like that can suddenly take on huge proportions! Straw and camels backs!

And then there was our own church meeting itself. Evening meetings do not agree with me! I was to be preaching or sharing the word, under the impression that I had to keep going for 50 minutes. My husband was grumbling because, while I was preaching, he was doing the children’s work – for 50 minutes. Someone suggested that he try drama to keep the children occupied – not a good suggestion. He is happy to watch drama, but to encourage and direct it? Not at all!

So, yes, when the offer to pray with me was given, it was not well received! What I wanted at that moment was just to – I was going to write, stick my head in the oven and turn the gas full on – but that is not what I wanted. I think I just wanted space to collect my thoughts. I wanted to be left alone – not to seethe and froth at the mouth at the injustice of it all – but just to restore order and perspective. I know when I am being unreasonable and given enough time I can give myself the required talking to.

Sometimes prayer can be a cop out. Sometimes it is too easy to launch into a prayer almost as a cover up for real conversation. Sometimes we launch into almost a set pattern and predictable phrases and we are paying on auto-pilot. It is not offensive stuff but it is not perhaps that effective either.

Sometimes prayer can be like a sticking plaster we put over an injury. We don’t necessarily take the time to work out where the injury happened, with a view to preventing it happening again.

I am not saying – don’t pray. I am not even saying that prayer should not be our first resort. I am not saying that people don’t need to prayed for because they do. Somtimes we perhaps need to ask if we can help in any way, or push a cup of tea in their hand or even just sit next to them for a moment or two without saying anything at all.

My friend is a wonderful woman of God and I know that she loves me wholeheartedly. There is no excuse for unkindness, particularly among the children of God. I talked with her at the end of the meeting, and I asked her to pray for me, and we talked a little. Things were back on an even keel.

I just want to say that prayer isn’t always the answer. It can be part of the answer – after a long chat perhaps to get a better insight into the situation.

(Stage direction – Mel climbs off soapbox and exits stage left having said her piece)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Licking the Lid of Life

I personally think that it is a waste of a perfectly good bottle of malt whisky, but my friends are raving about it!

The last time, not the most recent time, but the time before that, my brother, Richard asked us to bring down a bottle of whisky – a good quality single malt would do. A friend of his had given him a recipe for something that sounds like a whisky liqueur. Apparently one was supposed to collect a bowl full of blackberries and soak them in the whisky for six months or more, adding a few spices like cinnamon. After six moths or more, one was then supposed to strain the mush and put the liquid back into the whisky bottle.

I guess his wife was not prepared to surrender the house-keeping money to purchase the whisky, so he persuaded us to do so. I handed over the bottle on the last visit and didn’t give it a second thought.

On our recent visit home – Rugby – once Richard knew we had arrived at my mum’s, he must have grabbed the whisky bottle and ran round. Yes – he takes a while to respond to a request to replace a popped light bulb, but when Joe and Mel arrive and he has a treasure to share with them – he is there in an instant (my mother’s words – not mine!).

So there he is, with the bottle – blackberries steeped in whisky and strained and stuff. He hunts through the cupboards to find enough glasses. Incidentally, my mother has a tee-total visitor sitting on the sofa. The lady downstairs comes up on an evening and they read the Bible together and pray. She graciously accepts a glass and as she takes the first sip something like delight spreads across her face. Apparently after we had gone she wheedled a second glass out of my mother!

On Thursday night, after we had finished a mid-week fellowship meeting, Joe dug out the bottle. Just about everyone agreed it was the nicest thing they had drunk. Unlike most liqueurs, it wasn’t sweet and sticky, but quite light and refreshing. They asked me if my brother was going into mass production!

I have talked before about my brother’s diving-in mentality. If I had been given the recipe, I would have thought about doing it. I might even have bought the whisky and picked the blackberries. But when it came down to actually doing it – I would probably chickened out! I would have thought of the million reasons why I shouldn’t and never got the venture off the ground!

There are so many experiences where I “wait and see” and I end up not doing it. My sister in law, Richard’s wife, asked me whether any of the rest of the family were like Richard. There was never an opportunity that he let slip by. There is never a “wait and see” for him, but he just dives in. He squeezes life dry of every drop of enjoyment. Like the yoghurt advert says - he is licking the lid of life! I am sure there are one or two regrets along the way when things don’t work out – but equally he will never have to say “I wish I had done that.” He doesn’t play safe!

As ever I find that very challenging and I am trying to stop myself from playing safe. Right now there’s a whole list of things that I have to say “I wish I had done that.”

I aim to make in-roads into the list!

X Marks the Spot

Last night I joined with the prayer pastors to pray for the street pastors who were out last night. I had been preparing the word I was supposed to bring on Sunday. I hadn’t got to a hard bit or anything and things were chugging along quite nicely, but I thought that maybe being in the presence of God corporately I would get a deeper insight. I also thought that a friend of ours who we support in prayer was going to be out last night, but she wasn’t.

We were a very quiet bunch – not quiet as in long periods of silence or anything, but quiet spoken. Even tilting my good ear in their direction was not helping. I found it difficult to say my “Amen”s because I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to, although I am sure that it was good stuff.

My tintitus, the ringing in my ears, seemed particularly loud as it does at the end of a school day. Perhaps under normal circumstances things would have not been so difficult.

There were times when we would stop praying about something and converse for a while about things we thought God was prompting us about. After a while the leader would say to someone, “Andrew, would you lead us in prayer on that?” It was always very specific, with a named individual. The trouble is that when I was the named individual I wasn’t sure exactly what I was leading people on. I have developed a habit I suppose. In those times of low volume, I will do the tilting of the head thing, but after a while, I just stop concentrating. I am content to let them talk and do not feel the need to join in. Maybe I get a glazed look that goes with it.

Last night there were two moments when it was “Mel, would you lead us in that?” The first time I had managed to follow the conversation – it was about asking God to send more workers to the field. I could do it. The second time, I was really caught out. It was getting on for midnight and I was drifting into sleep mode and I had stopped concentrating. Suddenly there was a “Mel, will you lead us in that?” I had no clue. I had not been listening big time! I didn’t even know enough to fluff it. So I had to ask them to repeat the information.

I am glad that God knows me well. Because the ears are not up to the job, He will often appeal to the other senses.

I will not claim to have anything other than a flash of a picture. I had the impression that I was seeing a field. The field was full of holes, so much so that it looked almost like a lunar landscape. I had the impression that I had asked a question about the hole. “Where have all these holes come from?” I had the impression of someone answering me, quite casually, “Oh, they were left behind by the people who dug up the talents they had buried.” It is a time for digging up buried talents!

If you happen to be a person that has buried your talent – find a spade and start digging! If you happen to be a person who hasn’t buried your talent – help someone that has to dig up theirs!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stepping Into Something Greater

I treated myself to a book yesterday. It is just a small book and didn’t cost a huge amount. Why is it, I wonder, that Christian books seem to cost more than other books? It is by Dave Billborough – “Worship and the Presence of God”.

I read these words this morning. He has described exactly what it is I want to experience when I worship.

“When we worship Christ, we step out of the reality present all around us and into the truth of who God is – a much bigger reality. As we worship, so we begin to bridge the gulf between the transcendent worlds of the unseen and the seen…We might meet together on a Sunday morning and go through many familiar acts of worship, and yet we always need to be reminded that we are stepping into something greater. We’re aligning ourselves with the things of heaven as we worship.”

Sometimes it seems that we have shifted the focus away from that “stepping into something greater” to just going through the motions of the “familiar acts”.

Someone who was fed up of going through the familiar acts was Moses. In Exodus 33 Moses does some stepping out into something greater. It is not enough to see a cloud or a pillar of fire, or to hear a voice that sounds like thunder. It is not enough to see God’s provision of water from a rock or in a flock of quails. It is not enough to see God’s power in each of the plagues, or in the parting of the Red Sea. Not quite “familiar” in my experience – but it was in Moses.

Moses wants something more intimate. He wants God himself – a personal encounter not disguised as a burning bush. God sees the desperation and the desire and graciously complies.

Not enough of His people ask to see His glory today. We are not desperate enough! We don’t like heights – so standing in a cleft of a rock is too far out of our comfort zone. We are more like the rest of the Israelites – watching from the safety of the doorways of our tents.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More than a Song

I am feeling somewhat frustrated at the moment. I am not sure that much of what I experience on a Sunday qualifies as worship. At the end of a meeting where I was leading worship, I was left thinking – did we just song songs or did we worship? Just becuase one or two people lift up their hands - does that mean anything? Are they just going into "worship mode" or are they genuinely in the presence of God?

On Thursday night I went to a meeting at a local church. The new Culloden Visitor’s Centre is due to be opened some time and the church felt the need to meet together to celebrate that today Culloden isn’t the battlefield it was some two or three hundred years ago. There were men in kilts!

We began the meeting with a time of worship. Worship has got to be more than singing songs, no matter how modern. There was a string of songs – some old and some new, with all the words projected on to the white bit of the wall. Some of the songs had nice lyrics, perhaps even adapted from scripture.

In amongst them all was “Shine Jesus Shine” which, if you did not know, was voted number ten in the top one hundred hymns and songs in a “Songs of Praise” survey. That brought back a few memories!

There was no pause between songs. There wasn’t even a smooth chord sequence to get from one tune to the next.

A few people in front of me, and perhaps a few behind, lifted up one hand or two – but I am thoroughly convinced that we just sang songs. “We” might have worshipped, or “they” might have worshipped, but “I” sang songs – not for the want of trying to do something more than that.

My lips moved. My vocal chords moved. My hands moved as I clapped to one song, or tapped the side of my leg. My feet moved as I shuffled from one leg to the next in a very muted form of the Charismatic two step. I even stretched out a hand to heaven at one point. Anyone looking at me would have thought – “There’s a woman who is worshipping!”

Many things may have moved – but my spirit didn’t! I didn’t go anywhere. I don’t know, but if the person leading worship isn’t really going anywhere, does that mean that the people he or she is leading are not going anywhere either? Can I blame it on the worship team? Or does that not matter at all? Some people make the distiction between a worship leader and a lead worshipper - is that just semantics? If the lead worshipper isn't leading you then are you actually going anywhere?

I really don’t want to just sing songs! I want to connect. Worship isn’t worship at all if there is no encounter with God. i know what it feels like to connect and I know what it feels like when the connection is absent.

I read this Hebrews 4:14-16 this morning about worship. This is how the Message puts it:-

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (Hebrews 4:14-16)”

On Thursday, I didn’t “walk right up to him” and get what He was so ready to give.

As I think about leading worship in our fellowship, I am challenged about whether I give people the opportunity, through my choice of songs and the way in which they are sung and played, or indeed anything else that I might say or do that creates the right atmosphere, to walk right up to Jesus and to get from Him what He is so ready to give.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Serving The Lord "Right Merrily"

When I lived in London for two years I used to attend a dance class twice a week. It wasn’t like social dancing or ball room dancing, but the kind of dancing you see in the film “Footloose”. I actually owned and wore leotards and leggings – note the plural! The one thing that I didn’t like was the mirror. It was across one wall of the studio and the idea was you were supposed to look at yourself in the mirror as you danced and check your posture. I have never really been into mirrors. The less I see of the whole of me, the better I like it. I am not one for preening.

At the age of twenty two I was one of the oldest in the class and certainly one of the least agile. I did have a lot of determination and plugged away at the choreography to learn the routines. It was like being on the cast of Fame Academy! I just saw it as being a way to let off steam. I was teaching, at the time, in a tough East End of London Secondary school where you got to confiscate guns and knives and where the pupils did sometimes literally swing from the light bulbs!

I had forgotten all about that when I was in a shop a few months back and they were doing a clear out of all DVDs and CDs and things. I picked up a dance DVD produced by the Pineapple dance studio in London. It promised that I can learn the latest dance moves. They are probably not the latest any more!

There were no leotards and leggings but loose baggy t-shirts, trousers with the crotch somewhere down by the knees, baseball caps on backwards and a choreographer that kept saying “Go, girl!” Do I qualify as a girl at my age?

I guess these things are not designed for the overweight woman of advancing years. I was managing quite well for the first eight bars. I managed the turn, the star jump and unfolding my arms in front of me. Things deteriorated rapidly with a complex footwork routine, thrusting out my ample bosom in various directions. Then we were supposed to crouch down and shimmy upwards whilst gyrating the bum. It was all very Hip Hop and in the end I abandoned myself to the sheer joy of flinging my arms and legs about to the music. (I bet King David didn’t employ a choreographer when he danced before the Ark of the Covenant as he brought it into Jerusalem!)

I know that I probably had the option of sitting down for half an hour and praying, or doing an in depth Bible study, or even just soaking – but you know what? I really enjoyed my prancing about and I laughed so much that my sides ached.

In a recent visit to London, Joe and I went to Covent Garden. There is a church there – St Paul’s. It is dedicated to actors. All around the walls there are plaques in memory of different playwrights, actors, musicians and artists. One of them, I am not sure of the name, Margaret Someone-or-other, particularly stirred my spirit. The epitaph read “She served the Lord right merrily.”

May that be said of me – “She served the Lord right merrily.”

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Because You Needed Me

I have recently changed my Bible study notes. There weren’t any copies left of the ones I usually buy. It has made me realize how much of a “quiet time” rut I have got used to.

This morning as I read and meditated on the apportioned verses from Acts 10, I made expansive notes on things that came to mind. Once I had put down the pen, quite pleased with what I had thought about – the Spirit spoke. “Now that your mind has finished speaking – what does your heart say?”

The chapter starts - “In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”

What my heart has to say? I can see why God responded to Cornelius. He was devout and God-fearing. He was generous and giving. He prayed a lot. He was the kind of man that God could use. He was more than half way there. Even as a Christian, I am tempted to line myself up against him and come to the conclusion that I don’t measure up.

Reading back in the previous chapter was God claims Saul on the road to Damascus, again, I can see why. Saul with all his passion and his understanding of scripture – God could direct it all for His purposes. Within days of his encounter with God, he is preaching to the Jews, proving that Jesus is the Christ, persuading them, arguing with them and leaving them all baffled and astonished. I can see why God picked Saul.

My heart has to say – why me? I wasn’t particularly devout. I have always believed in God, but God-fearing is something different. I feared many things, God included, but in a scary judgmental kind of way. Generously giving? The moths in my purse were rarely disturbed. I have difficulty letting go of my “rainy day” mentality and confess to being a bit of a hoarder. I maybe gave, but never generously. I was never the widow with her mite casting her last few coins in the offering. Did I pray to God regularly? No. Like most people I prayed those selfish emergency prayers and I “wished” nice things for other people.

God spoke to me as I was thinking all of this. “I didn’t choose you because I needed you. I chose you because you needed Me”.

Enough said!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Best Laid Plans

According to the route worked out by the AA on their rout planner website the journey to my sister’s house in Northampton should have taken just over twenty five minutes. It was really only the last five minutes that we lost it. The instructions said “At roundabout take the 2nd exit onto the A4500”. Maybe the AA man who made up the route didn’t know about the road works. There were too many traffic bollards and not enough road signs and we ended up in the centre of town, with the market on just to our right and a church just behind us.

We had a mobile phone and a phone number. My brother in law rattled off a list of instructions over the phone. It included things like “There will be a brewery on the left” and “Drive past Asda on the right”. Needless to say we got lost again and ended up in a Netto car-park. My husband was getting tetchy in the passenger seat and my mother, in the back, on the verge of a diabetic hypo, was humming loudly to stop herself stressing out!

“No more instructions! Just come and find us!” was the next phone call, which he did. Following someone is not easy.

My husband was looking at the defunct AA plan, trying to match up where we were going with the instructions on the print out.

“None of these roads are mentioned,” he informed me. It did seem a very long journey and not just the five minutes we expected.

We finally pulled up in front of a house neither of us had seen before.

Yep, they had moved house. My sister was rolling about in merriment, quite tickled with the idea that if we had not got lost we would have been knocking on the door of a house currently owned by a pleasant Asian couple!

On the way home, my mother and my husband discussed the virtues of buying a satellite navigation system!

Any Dream Will Not Do

I promised faithfully to behave myself on Tuesday evening. I am a participator by nature. I am a joiner-in. As much as I would sometimes like to stand cool and collected at the side of the track saying, “Jolly good show” I just don’t have it in me. So when Joe and I found our seats in Row B of the dress circle in the theatre, ready to sit down and enjoy Lee Mead in “Joseph”, I was under strict instructions not to join in!

Joe and I had faithfully watched the BBC programme to select the man to be in the title role. Joe had found his own way of identifying the different lads in the competition. Let me see…there was “Boy Band Joseph”, “Serial Killer Joseph” (his eyes were too close together) “Glaikit Joseph” (a Scots expression that signifies clue-less-ness – the boy had said something like he was just realising it was a contest six weeks into it!) and of course “Real Joseph” – Lee.

Joe promised that he would take me to see the show for my birthday – and he lived up to his promise.

When I was much younger, I was very involved in drama. I think my first appearance on stage was in a local village pantomime – Robinson Crusoe. I was a pygmy.

Watching the children on stage reminded me of the grease paint and rehearsals to learn the lines and the choreography.

Watching Lee Mead navigate his way through all the songs and scenes, I couldn’t help but totally disagree with the lyrics of the last song “Any dream will do” is a lot of rubbish. I have to admit that I am coming to really appreciate the talent that it takes to write a song – find a tune that holds up and lyrics that matter and “Any dream will do” just doesn’t hold up.

Winning the BBC programme and appearing on stage every night in a loin cloth is not just “any dream” for Lee. It is “The Dream” and anything else will not do. It was not difficult to see that he was enjoying every moment of the show. He was living the dream and it wasn’t just any dream.

Any dream will not do! And people who settle for “any dream” that isn’t “The Dream” will never be fulfilled.