Sunday, April 22, 2012

Narrow Road

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ (Jeremiah 6:16)

I have come to a crossroads. It’s not on a major route. Nothing bad will happen of I take the wrong road. I might get just a little bit lost, and waste a few miles getting back on the right road – but it’s not a life and death decision.

I am looking around. I am mostly looking back the way that I have come. I am wondering if I have missed a turning. I am trying to see if I can spot any familiar landmarks. I guess that I don’t know this area well enough.

I don’t have a satellite navigation system in the car. I have a map book or two. Some of the pages have come loose and there’s a coffee stain just north of Birmingham. I’m not entirely sure where I am. I suppose I could drive back to that village I passed through and ask someone. I could flag down a passing motorist and ask them for help. Or I could phone Kenny. He’s a lorry driver. He knows all the roads.

Finding the right road is only part of the problem. Just because I know where I am and where I ought to be, doesn’t really mean that I want to go there.

I actually don’t need a map book, missing pages and coffee stains, to get me to where I need to go. Kenny can’t help me on this journey. I know exactly where to go. It’s an old godly path that requires humility and self-sacrifice from the traveller. I have walked the path long enough to have experienced rest for my soul.

But just sometimes the other road looks a little bit more enticing. It has neon lights and bright shiny shop windows.

Sometimes, when the road I’m on gets a little steep and asks for more than I really want to give…I think about that other road.

But I stay where I am because I am not willing to surrender rest for my soul

Monday, April 16, 2012

White Noise

Just before we went down to Englandshire to see the family, Joe and I treated ourselves to new mobile phones.

I wasn’t too keen on a contract, but I didn’t have enough money to buy a smart phone outright. I wanted something that had a camera and I wanted apps. My last foray into contracts had not been my best move. There were no cameras and apps in those days and I hardly ever used it. Texts seemed to take forever to compose and I just couldn’t compromise the English language and settle for text-speech. Just as I had got used to one phone the company sent me an upgrade.

So, now I have a new contract, and a new smartphone with a camera and access to a million apps – or a dozen or so at least.

Yesterday, after watching Celtic lose their semi final to Hearts through a dodgy penalty claim, I settled down to explore the world of apps. The lass behind the counter had downloaded a few “must-haves”. I found a Bible app – my equivalent of baptising the phone. Facebook was already there.

PC World and other websites listed the Top 10, or 20 or 60 apps and I added BBC News to the phone, and Google Sky. I have a fascination for stars – not sufficient to invest in a telescope. Now I can point my phone at the heavens and find out the names of stars and constellations.

Listed among the 60 or so was an app called White Noise. I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t have some kind of ringing, buzzing or hissing in my ear. It’s called tinnitus. For most people it is something they may suffer from for a day or two, a week perhaps. It’s my constant companion. First stop in heaven, after I have hugged the Father, will be an empty room and silence.
I did some research a number of years ago to see if there was cure. There are operations if things get very bad. A change of diet was suggested and listening to white noise – something you get is your radio isn’t tuned into a proper station. It’s a real buzzing and hissing to mask the buzzing and hissing that isn’t real.

So, I got the app. I plugged myself in to “Ocean Waves” and began to unwind. It worked. There were reviews on the website from happy users declaring that they had not slept so well in ages and they couldn’t imagine how they had managed so long without “White Noise”.

Once in bed, I listened my way through all the options. I passed by “Light Rain”, which made me want to go to the bathroom, and “Tibetan Bowl”, an “ooee” noise that got on my nerves. “Vaccum” reminded me of the poor state of the house, and “Boat” made me feel a little bit sea sick as one felt compelled to rock from side to side. “Cat purring” was very realistic. I could almost feel the cat’s whiskers tickling my cheek. It brought back memories of our cat Tabitha. It also reminded me of old wives tales of cats sitting on babies faces and smothering them while they slept. I am not a baby, but I have a face vulnerable to being smothered. I couldn’t rest easy with a cat in the room. I couldn’t settle to “Clock” – ticking clocks seriously do my head in.

In the end I opted for the “Crickets”.

I’m not sure whether you are supposed to use headphones, or just put the phone quite close to you head. The headphones proved to be most uncomfortable, so I put the phone close to my head and prepared to fall into a deep and refreshing sleep. The husband was downstairs watching TV and I thought the crickets would do their stuff and switch themselves off once I was asleep.

I confess that I toss and turn quite a bit in bed. I had always known that one ear was slightly deafer than the other. I discovered that night that “slightly” is the wrong word. Rolling to the left with the right ear exposed, the crickets were barely buzzing. Rolling to the right with the left ear exposed they were raucous. Adjusting the volume up or down depending on which side I was laying seemed to defeat the object. I didn’t gently fall into sleep at all.

I switched the phone off, made a final trip to the bathroom, settled back under the covers and, with the usual hisses and buzzes in place, I fell asleep.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Sister’s Example

I was very impressed when my sister told me that she had written a letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Writing strongly worded letters is often on the to-do list but never gets done. A verbal diatribe directed at the TV or at the husband is usually as far as it goes.

She was writing about the aid money given to some countries that probably don’t need our help and are possibly richer than we are right now – they are certainly not as debt ridden. I think I have fallen into a “presumption hole”. I suppose that teaching a course on poverty issues I have done a lot of research on the subject of developed and developing nations, who has money and who doesn’t. The trouble is I am beginning to think that no one is really telling the truth. Information, whether it comes from a newspaper or a website is often skewed or biased in some way. Statistics are flung at me from every angle and we all know that 55% of statistics are made up.

I didn’t launch into an opposing view from my sister or point out that poor in this country is nothing like poor in a developing country. I didn’t play around with terms like relative and absolute poverty or point out who has a welfare system and who doesn’t, and who can claim benefits and who can’t. I was impressed that she had become sufficiently concerned to write to the Prime Minister.

I was impressed that her letter merited a reply. The letter she received wasn’t from David Cameron. He had passed it on to someone perhaps a little bit more informed than he was. He tried to explain why it was necessary to give money to Somalia. I didn’t like the letter. I didn’t like his reasoning at all. It wasn’t about helping the Somalis. Any aid given was given for selfish motives – for “our interests” in the region. He wrote about terrorist threats and seemed to imply that giving money to Somalia would mean that in some way we were protected from terrorists, much like the owner of a small corner shop in a really rough end of town might pay protection money so the baddies wouldn’t raid the till or trash the shelves.

It was a very condescending letter. It showed too little respect for the person who wrote to them – my sister. It was a written version of a pat on the head and a “There, there, dear…we know what we are doing and we really don’t have the time to explain it in terms you could understand.”

She showed me the letter sh had sent – the pre-sent version in her journal.

As much as I was impressed by the letter and the heart response that had caused it to be written – I was uber-impressed with the journal itself. It was a diary with a double page for each day. Each page, for each day, was written neatly and in detail. Where she had run out of space, she wrote along the bottom, or the edges. There was no wasted space – and no empty day.

I didn’t read the entries, except for the letter but I caught glimpses of Bible verses written out. There was her own commentary on the verse and anecdotes that the verse brought to mind.

The journal spoke to me of discipline and of time spent in the Bible, with God, listening to Him. It put me to shame. I can congratulate myself, sometimes, on a vibrant relationship with God – but I am undisciplined. I have note books everywhere, and I do a lot of thinking about things – but my written record of my encounters with God are, at best, patchy. I write volumes when I am happy and inspired. I write nothing when life is a difficult climb. Not so my sister – every day, mountain top or mire pit, is recorded.

It’s not legalistic. It’s not done simply so she can say that she did it and it’s out of the way. It’s about a relationship with the living God and how she invites him in to her everyday life.

I went back to my hotel later than evening and determined to follow her example. I am still following…

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Palm Sunday

In just less than a week I can reintroduce my body to chocolate. I have had just one or two slip-ups. Once happened at a Bible study. The chocolate biscuit was in the mouth before the spirit kicked in to remind me that I was keeping a Lenten fast. The second time I was offered a sweet at work. I didn’t know it was a chocolate until it was in the palm of my hand and I couldn’t really hand it back.

I am wondering whether anything was achieved over the last thirty something days. The aim was to draw closer to God – and I wonder if I have done that. And did the absence of chocolate help in any way?

If it was just giving up chocolate and nothing else – a demonstration of will power and nothing else – then, yes, it would have been a waste of time. Will power has been involved for sure. There have been one or two times when I have stood too close to the sweet counter in the local supermarket, breathing in the Cadbury fumes, much like someone giving up smoking might breath in someone else’s cigarette smoke.

In those throwing-in-the-towel moments, I have heard God tell me to come and talk with Him instead. The conversations have not always been comfortable ones, but full of truth and challenge.

It being Palm Sunday yesterday I was reading the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, comparing it with a section from Zechariah 9. Jesus was fulfilling prophecy. It didn’t happen by accident or coincidence but by Jesus making preparations. Jesus made plans ahead of time. He had made arrangements to make use of the donkey so that all the disciples needed only to collect it.

Jesus made it happen. He knew what the scriptures said and he lined his life up to meet those scriptures.

Triumphal Entry

He is not a man who
Plays his cards close
To his chest
Some think him reckless
As he boldly shows his hand
A King is revealed

The crowd cheers
And waits in eager anticipation
For him to claim the jackpot

Not a King, but a Knave
His opponent insists
And calls security to
Have him arrested

The prize waits
Unclaimed on the table

But not for long