Monday, July 21, 2008

A piece of wood

Exodus 15:22-25 - “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?" Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”

It’s not always obvious from just looking at something that something is wrong. Take me, for instance - I am sure my husband will echo that thought – I look fine. I am not pale or wan. I haven’t fainted or spewed up. I look robust and healthy.


If you could just peel away my skin, roll it up carefully (there are enough wrinkles already) and lay it to one side. If you could unhook all the tendons and muscles and hang them over the back of a chair. Leave the heart alone. I don’t think that is where the problem lies – (although God might not agree with me on that one!) I’d rather you didn’t touch the lungs and liver. Head south – somewhere around the abdomen. Try untangling the intestines. Pretend it’s the end of the toothpaste tube and squeeze gently. Ouch! I did say gently!

It’s not a pretty sight! All is not well in digestive system. I have eaten too much, too often and the belly is revolting! (Revolting as in the verb, not in the adjective!) I don’t think it is just the quantity of food that has been consumed. I have a feeling that it may also be the quality. I have eaten something that seriously disagrees with me.

As I said before – you can’t tell by looking at my outside that anything is wrong, but, believe me, having lived with my insides for a better part of a week, I know for sure that there is something not right!

Moses and the Israelites couldn’t tell by looking at the water that there was something wrong. It looked like water. It probably didn’t have a suspicious looking scum floating about on the top of it. It took someone to sip it to discover that there was a problem.

“A piece of wood” was the solution to Moses. Thrown into it transformed something bitter into something sweet. The story ends with God revealing something about himself – “for I am the LORD, who heals you." What is it that I can throw into my digestive system that will transform it? I have tried indigestion tablets and aspirins by the pocketful with little success.

Maybe it is time to toss in a bit of wood – a reminder that the death and resurrection of Jesus cures all ills – the physical ones, the emotional ones and the spiritual ones!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chasing Fantasies

I read Proverbs 12:11 this morning, “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgement.”

From a farming point of view it’s obvious that if you don’t plough the fields and sow the seeds, there will be nothing to harvest come autumn. There will be no abundant food. Just because it is wild and windy out in the fields, or wretched and raining, or indeed hot and humid, the farmer cannot afford to sit around and wait for better weather.

I am thinking about the land that I have been given. It is not a physical field of grass and hedges. It is all that makes up my life – the relationships that I enjoy, the talents and skills that I possess, the job with all its challenges. My field is made up of all the varying aspects of my life. All of them, with the right amount of work, should be wielding a harvest of some kind, but I wonder which bits are lying fallow.

If I had actually done all that I had imagined doing over these last few weeks I would have:-

• Dealt with the weeds in the garden
• Called the plumber to repair the leak in the loft
• Driven the car to the garage to have the dents and scratches sorted
• Contacted the heating engineer to replace to the boiler and the gas heater

Perhaps it is when I look at my walk with Jesus that I am most shocked about how little I work the “land” – the prayers that don’t get answered because I don’t pray them, the illnesses that I endure because of the promise of healing that I don’t claim, the mediocre life I live because of the promises in God’s word that I don’t hunt out and hang on to, the challenging conversations I don’t have because I don’t visit friends, the opportunities to witness that I don’t take advantage of because I lack confidence… the list is a long one!

If only I lived the life I imagined to live, where my fantasies were transformed into realities, by some hard work, how different I would be, and perhaps how different the people around me would be too!

It is time to stop chasing fantasies and start doing some hard work!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Pocket History of the Last Few Weeks

“What’s it got in its pocketses?”

It might have been a life changing question for Bilbo Baggins in the book “The Hobbit”, but for me it’s just a bit of trivia that says something about what I have been up to recently and other things

Tissues – I sneeze a lot. I was amazed to discover that most people don’t. I find that until I have sneezed at least half a dozen times in the morning I am not really awake. Some might suggest that I must have a allergy to something – being awake, perhaps?

A used ticket for Glasgow’s underground trains – the system is called the Clockwork Orange. It’s the Metro in miniature! The trains are short, the platforms are short and the list of stations along the line is also short! It is less busy than the underground at London, less threatening. I seem to remember many years ago having my purse stolen on the London underground somewhere between Walthamstow and Covent Garden.

A new AA membership card – I have been with them for nine years according to my card. A good investment considering the number of times that I have called the out. It has usually been about flat batteries having left the lights on too long. The last flat battery incident was Easter time. We were on our way to visit the folks in Englandshire and had stopped off at Pitlochry for breakfast. The lights were not on for long, but enough to drain the battery. The AA card was not in the purse and I approached a wee man who had pulled up to recycle old newspapers and bottles at the far end of the car park. He went home to get his jump leads! What a nice man!

A stone – it is very glittery. It looks dull when it is out of the light. I picked it up on a recent walk through the Glenmore forest. I know that some places tell you not to take things home with you. It’s not as if it’s a fossil, or a semi precious gem – it’s just a small stone.

A green pen – it’s actually a blue pen. I thought it would be green. I bought a pack of them – a blue, black, red and green one thinking that the outside of the pen mattered. I go through red pens quite rapidly. However, whatever the outside colour of the pen, they all turned out to be blue pens – even the black one was blue.

£1.61p in change – I have no idea why such a specific amount. The penny is probably picked up off the floor. I used to walk with my head down looking for dropped pennies – then I decided that was no way to walk anywhere – looking down at the ground. It was too earth-bound a posture, so I stopped doing it.

A maroon coloured toy car – I bet you don’t have one of those in your pocket! Last week we went to a Quiz night organised by my husband’s work. I go to so many of their socials now that I am sure people are wondering whereabouts in the office my desk is. It was a quiz based on TV Quiz shows. Everyone in the team got to fly solo. I represented my team in the “Catchphrase” round. Our team got the overall biggest score in the end, but chose not to gamble thinking we were far enough in front not to be caught. We came second, another team gambled and got ten extra points, and our consolation prizes were the toy cars

My new Bingo card - there are too many plastic cards issued for various things. I think someone ought to implement hand prints, or thumb prints or iris scanners.

A restaurant receipt – The big multiplex cinema is very picky about what films it will show. There may be dozens of screens, but most of them show the same latest box office hit and the not so mainstream films get elbowed out. Eden Court cinema tends to pick them up. Eden Court has been upgraded. The new cinema is very plush. The seats are so soft and not numb bumming at all. We went to the restaurant first. It was very nice, but we didn’t have enough time for desert! The film was full of moral dilemma and not the least easy watch!

A hairdressing appointment card – I got my hair done seeing as we are going away on holiday. My natural shade is grey – but my husband thinks that there is no need to stay grey when there is a huge variety of bottles and lotions available! I used to be dark brown –very dark brown. The salon has changed hands. The new lady uses different colours. In between colouring and cutting and blow-drying my hair she was fielding phone-calls. Apparently the previous manager didn’t pay people and has left a string of debts which the new manager is having to sort out. Despite the distractions I came out looking passable – the cut is nice (how long will it take to for the side parting to sneak into the middle?), the colour is a bit too dark.

A badge – a ceramic pink tartan ribbon thing in aid of the Scottish Breast Cancer Scheme. It appeared in my pigeon hole at work during one theses raising awareness weeks. The only significant thing I have noticed about that part of my anatomy (or those parts seeing as there is more than one of them) is that they are definitely not pert! Gravity has taken its toll!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Like abandoned babies

Psalm 35:13b-14a “When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother.”

This comes in the middle of a prayer of King David for God to stand up for him and fight against his enemies. It seemed to him that God was being silent while his enemies were free and unrestrained in their mockery of him. David was fulfilling his side of “treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself”, but he wasn’t being treated so nice by others.

I reached the bit about unanswered prayer and I started to think about my own response when God seems silent. King David digs in deep – out come the sack cloth and ashes. He mourns. He takes prayer to a deeper level, not content with God’s silence. It matters to him that God hears and God answers.

My own response is so very different. I had a very brief but clear picture of a new-born baby abandoned on a doorstep!

A mother is committed to the baby not just for the first few days, or until it no longer needs her milk, or until it can walk, or talk, or become a little bit more independent. The mother is committed right up until the child matures and leaves home, and even then she is still involved.

I may not have abandoned any babies on doorsteps, but I am quite sure I have abandoned some very important prayers, because I didn’t see an immediate response from God. Suddenly the burden became too heavy, I wasn’t sure that God was going to shoulder it with me, or that He was even interested, or that it really mattered that much. And so, just like an abandoned baby, I dropped it and walked away. I am not even sure that I dropped it on someone else’s doorstep!

I was reading earlier on this week about Caleb waiting forty-five years to finally claim his bit of the Promised Land. I don’t think I could even climb a mountain, let alone fight the giants who lived there. Caleb is not like me! He kept himself in shape and he held onto the word of God!

He abandoned none of his babies!

Two Little Ducks

Rites of passage are ceremonies that mark important events in a person’s life. If I get around to sending a wedding acceptance card, later on in the month I will witness my friend taking her wedding vows.

In addition to the official rites of passage like baptisms, weddings and funerals, there are lots of unofficial ones. For my family, amongst the girls at least, it was our first bingo game! At the age of eighteen we were old enough to join the village Working Man’s Club - not that in my case I was either working (I was still at school doing “A” levels and planning to go to university) or a man!

My mother sat around the table surrounded by my elder sisters and we played Bingo! The winnings didn’t amount to much, unless it was the “snowball” which was £50 or more. That was quite a lot in those days! I may have won a line. The first appearance at bingo as soon after the eighteenth birthday was a must, but attendance after that was purely voluntary – and I never caught the bug.

A couple of Christmases ago, my husband bought me a set of bingo markers with a promise that he would take me to the new Bingo emporium (the word “hall” doesn’t match the look of the building!). The manager of the club was a friend of his from school days in Glasgow. Being told that it was my birthday in March, the manager had said that he would treat us to the night out – but we would have to pay for the “books”.

It didn’t quite materialize. We never seemed to dig out diaries and set dates. Last night we decided we would go. The bingo markers were dug out from the back of the drawer and we headed off.

This was most unlike the village Working Man’s Club. The place was huge! The foyer was all glitzy with water fountains behind glass panels. There was also a crowd of people outside the entrance smoking a last cigarette before heading inside. Having learned that we were “bingo virgins” someone walked us through the whole process. There were dozens of different game cards – one of which was a “national game” .Then our guide took us on a tour of the bar and the café.

Once settled down, two ladies at the other end of table saw to it that we were marking the right card at the right time. They tutted every so often when Joe and I giggled at how serious everyone was. I think they frowned when Joe won a game – not a mere £50 I can assure you!

What really struck me about it, comparing the whole thing with the Working Man’s Club was a lack of – the best word I can think of – colour. I remember that, in my first bingo experience, they didn’t just call the number. It wasn’t just “6 and 9, 69”. Many of the numbers had bits attached. 69 was the “upside down one”. Some of the numbers were easy enough to guess where they were coming from – “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed”, “Two fat ladies – 88” (in the age of political correctness, one can see why they may have abandoned that one – along with the sexist “legs 11”), “two little ducks – 22” (my own personal favourite). Some of them were not so easy to work out – something and 9 (could be 3, 4 or 5 – I don’t remember which) – “the Brighton Line”. This is what I mean by colour. I missed that last night – I missed the two little ducks!

I suppose that is where big business and simple enjoyment part company. No one could say that in the Working man’s Club people were out to win a fortune. There was no way they could win enough money to pay off their mortgage with a shout of “house”. Last night, at the Bingo emporium, that was a possibility – in the national game, if your final winning number was 99 (or “top of the shop” in the old days). The emporium doesn’t have time to spend on “two little ducks” when there are so many books to get through, and big bucks to rake in.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Improving the Church Expereince

I thought for a moment that I had sold my principles for a £20 Tesco voucher yesterday morning!

I was ambushed beside the recycling containers by a harmless looking woman. Through one ear I was listening to the satisfying smash of bottles inside the big containers. The other ear was being assailed by a woman telling me that she had not met her quota and could I please give an hour of my time to do her a favour!

The favour was simple enough – walk around the supermarket and give my opinion of the layout of the store and suggest improvements to make the shoppers’ experiences that much more satisfying. The difficult part was in working out which boxes to tick in terms of my attitude towards Tescos. I suspect that I was more unhappy than happy, and if she needed an unhappy person, to balance her cross section of ordinary shoppers, I could be that person. I was assured that they were not interested in the views of the “unhappy” customers, because obviously they are only going to say negative stuff! So why have a box on the form for unhappy people? It seems to me that you need to listen to the views of the unhappy ones too to find out why they are so unhappy!

So we ticked the “mixed” view box in the end.

What am I not happy about? I think it could be the cheap prices. It makes me wonder how they can produce things so cheaply. At whose expense are they making a profit? I also wonder about the small local businesses that cannot compete price-wise and end up closing down. In one of our units on Justice in the World we look at the way big multi-national companies produce things so cheaply and elbow their competitors out of the way. Once the competitors are gone, they can up their prices because they are the only supplier left in town.

Tesco will never be the only supplier in town – but you get my drift.

So it was under some apprehension this morning that I turned up to do my walk about and give my views. It was nice to discover that a colleague from work had also been ambushed by the same woman, and we were in it together. My friend had obviously given it a lot more thought than I had. She was able to rattle of a dozen areas where they could make improvements, starting with the car-park

The lady that took us around asked us plenty of questions about certain sections of the store, the freshness and range of food, the speed through the checkouts, the helpfulness of the staff etc. Many of the questions focussed on the negative things, about what we didn’t like about the store and what could be improved.

Her final questions, after the walkabout and the general discussion, was in interesting one. If Tesco implemented all the changes we had suggested – fresh fish counters, proper butchers, a bigger range of some of the products – would we come more often? Would it make any difference to our shopping habits? Would we spend more?

My honest answer was “No” in the sense that it is where I tend to do the weekly shop anyway. I go often enough, and I already think I spend too much there and I don’t give enough of my business to the smaller independent shops like I could. I don’t want any more reasons to shop at Tescos – or Morrisons, or Sainsburys or Asda.

Coming away from my market research hour in Tescos, I thought about applying their techniques to church setting! What is it about church that you like, or you don’t like? Are the seats too hard, or too soft? Is the décor pleasing to the eye? Are the words projected onto a big screen better than leafing through a hymn book? Talking of hymns, are they outdated? Should it be all modern songs and choruses? Is the sermon too long? Or too irrelevant? Are the congregation welcoming? Or judgemental?

And finally after you have discussed it all – your final questions – “If we made the changes you have suggested, will you come more often?”

The honest answer? Probably not!

Many churches have made changes in they way they do things. I don’t think they have changed to attract people who otherwise wouldn’t come. I think they have changed to find better ways to worship and help people to live holy lives in the world.

In the end though, it is people that need to change. God doesn’t fit himself around people and their routines. It is people that need to dismantle what they do to fit around God.

Game, Set and Match

I guess I always knew that when Andy Murray came up against Nadal in the quarter finals at Wimbledon, he had hit a brick wall and gone as far as he could. Nadal was unstoppable. The man is strong and fast and determined to win.

The interviewer after the game made the point that Nadal is just one year older and is going to be playing the same tournaments as Andy over the next few years. The bottom line was – “Why bother? Nadal is always going to be there! You can’t beat him!”

Murray gave a really wise answer. Nadal last year was beatable. Over the year he had improved his game, addressed his weaknesses, improved his strengths and he was a better player. There is always natural talent – but on top of that there is training and discipline and hard work. If Nadal could do that in a year – then so could Murray!

Commentators have not been slow to talk about the changes in Murray’s game. I read an interesting article on the “nicification” of Andy Murray, of how the Murray camp have made him much more appealing to the British public – not loud, or abrasive, dragged a cute puppy into the picture and placed the pretty girlfriend on display. But ignore all of that – what matters is what happens on the court. His serves are faster and stronger. He has worked out in the gym to build up stamina and strength. He is doing what Nadal did! He is looking at the weakness of his game and doing something about them.

I have just been reading through chapters 10, 11 and 12 of Joshua. It reads like a Wimbledon tennis tournament – imagine Joshua as Nadal relentlessly marching through all the rounds, wiping out the opposition with powerful serves and magnificent returns. Unstoppable no matter the size and the experience of the man on the other side of the net.

What makes the victory sure for Joshua is not all the hard work that he has put into the training of his men, though I dare say they haven’t sat around on their backsides all day, is his unswerving obedience to God. God has said that He has given the nations into Joshua’s hand. He has stepped on the necks of his enemies and has been told that victory is his every time. Joshua takes God at His word and claims the victories one after another, even to the extent of demanding that God stops the sun in its tracks to give him time to finish the fight! And God does – because He sees His heart reflected in Joshua’s own.

I am trying to picture my foot on the neck of my enemy – and to hold that picture in my head, so that the times when I serve a double fault in life, or surrender a set point to the opposition, or miss the volley – I do not lose the sense that victory is mine in the end.