Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saul's Diatribe

I am back to my default position of catch-up with my daily Bible readings.  I am being taken through some of the chapters in 1 Samuel that lay the foundation for God rejecting Saul and choosing David as the next king. 

I got to the bit where Saul and Jonathan took the initiative and attacked the Philistines.  The philistines didn’t take kindly to being attacked and responded.  Saul’s 3,000 men began to run away and hide.  Saul stayed his ground and waited for Samuel to come and make an offering.  A week later Samuel hadn’t arrived and Saul took it upon himself to make the offering.  He was not authorised or equipped to take on the role of a priest, but figured that some action was better than no action.  The wrong action isn’t better at all. Saul had seriously overstepped the mark and God was about to remove the kingdom from him and give it to another.

Life under the Philistines wasn’t harmonious to begin with, but things got progressively worse.  The nation had raiding parties to deal with and on top of all that the Philistines took away all the blacksmiths to prevent Israel from making weapons.  It wasn’t weapons that they needed but sharp farming implements.  They were required to go cap in hand to the Philistines to have their equipment sharpened – and pay for the service too.

We have all probably heard a dozen sermons preached on the character flaws of King Saul.  Saul began the chapter with 3,000 men and ended it with just 600.  His disobedience had consequences for him and for the nation.

That’s not what caught my imagination later that night.  I’d crawled into bed and read a few pages of a book before the eyelids began to droop.  I switched the light off and then it happened…

It was as if Saul spoke.  I was gripped by a conviction that I couldn’t shake.  It pulled me out of bed and on to my knees.

I do diatribes – spectacular diatribes.  A diatribe is a forceful and bitter verbal attack on someone or something.   I recognise a diatribe when I hear it and that night a diatribe echoed in my thoughts.  It went something along these lines…

“How dare you pick fault and criticise my actions?  At least I acted!  No one denies that I did the wrong thing…but I did something.  I admit I had no authority to do what I did but something needed to be done about the enemy.  Who is the worst offender?  Is it the one who stands against the enemy and oversteps the mark…or the one who has the authority and does nothing with it? If I had the authority you have been given to set the enemy to flight I would have used it.  But what do you do?  You have been given authority from God.  You can tell a mountain to move from here to there and it will be done.  You can open doors that no one can close.  You can set captives free.  You can cast out demons.  You can bind things and lose things.  You can bring about the Kingdom of God, His will on earth as it is in heaven.  You have been given the authority to do that by God.  But what do you do?  Nothing!  The enemy is rampaging and you do nothing! If only I had the authority you possess.  Why don’t you act?”

Saul’s motives might not have had much to do with protecting his people.  It might have been more about looking and acting big in front of people.  But I cannot escape the conviction that I have a God given authority to bring about “His will on earth as it is in heaven”.  I have access to the throne room of God – something Saul never had. 

I have the authority and now is the time to wield it!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Default Setting?

“A small group of supporters of the English Defence League gathered at the scene of the brutal killing of a soldier in Woolwich. Their leader, Tommy Robinson, stated: "They're chopping our soldiers' heads off. This is Islam. That's what we've seen today.”

This is not Islam. This is not the behaviour of the majority of Muslims. They are just as horrified as everyone else. This is stereotyping at its worst. This is the action of two people – not a whole faith community - two people who are extremists wound up by another extremist Muslim cleric.
Breaking into mosques or burning copies of the Qu’ran is only going to add fuel to the fire of mistrust.  It’s not going to bring about healing between two groups of very different people. It is certainly not going to bring an end to terrorist activities.

I don’t think people simply wake up one morning and decide they are going to attack and chop someone’s head off.  There is always a context that people never really consider. Things don’t often happen as isolated events – there is always a before, a something or a series of events that lead to the conclusion.  Our trouble is that we make no attempt to see the big picture.  We treat the atrocity as a one-off and because we don’t deal with the big picture other similar events happen.  We punish the offender and call him an animal, but we don’t look for real beast in the background. 

People’s knowledge about Islam is not great.  My knowledge about Islam is not great either.  I recently watched a cartoon version of the life of Muhammad.  It was told in a way that would cause no offence to the Muslim community.  The Qur’an forbids pictures or images of Muhammad, so the story was told through the experiences of his followers. 

It was a cartoon designed for younger viewers than me, but even so it seems to me Islam did not slip easily into the world.  It was like a breech birth, full of difficulty.  I dare say you could say that about most religions.  Christianity didn’t have an easy birth either. Muhammad had his difficulties trying to persuade a very immoral society that following the Qur’an was the right thing to do.  There seemed to be a lot battles and bloodshed.

Very often you can see the parent in the child. Apparently, according to some people, I have my mother’s nose, simply because I don’t have my father’s nose.  My brother has my father’s nose.  Apparently I have my father’s nature.  I am a dreamer but not very practical.  My brother is more like my mum because he is very practical and hands on.  It’s not just the physical things we pass on.  We pass on character.

Both Christianity and Islam have very shady episodes in their histories.  It is not a case of one is bad and the other is good.  Bad and good can be demonstrated by anyone of any faith or none. 

Muhammad and his followers during his life, not just his followers after his death, seemed to be swift to fight.  The people living in Makkah were given very little choice about Islam.  Yes, I know that Christians did it too – forced people into a faith they did not really want.  We Christians have dirty hands. But, whatever Jesus’ followers have done, Jesus never forced faith on to people.  Jesus turned down many opportunities to use weapons to get his way.

Muhammad was, perhaps, forced into a battle to ensure that Islam grew and flourished.  Being birthed in battle is it not possible the battle-gene, as it were, is what characterises Islam? That is not to say that Muslims are incapable of kindness or goodness – but that perhaps their default setting is for battle.

Jesus did not take up weapons to ensure Christianity was established.  He did not fight.  He laid down his life.  His crucifixion is seen not as a failure, but a victory over sin and death.  Being birthed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, is it not possible that Christianity ought not to possess a battle-gene when it comes to faith?  It should be love and self-sacrifice, agape love that characterises Christianity.  That is not to say that Christians are incapable of cruelty and selfishness – but the default setting ought to be love.

It’s probably not that simple. If we acted according to a default setting then none of us are responsible for what we do. I just wish we could put our best selves on display regardless of what faith we are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In Memory of Eileen

You may familiar with the policy of some workplaces of insisting that you change your password every so often.  I can see the sense in it.  It is all too easy for some people spending far too much of their time hacking into a computer and adding things or taking away things that they shouldn’t.  It makes sense to change your password.

A while ago a friend shared with me that she used Bible verses as her password.  It was a great way of reminding yourself of God’s word.

At the beginning of last week my computer insisted that I changed my password.  It had been Eph2:10 - “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The next five minutes or so were spent trying to change my password to other great and memorable verses – Matt11:28, John3:16, Isaiah 61:1, Jer31:31 – every attempt was met with the computer telling me that I had already used that password.  I was getting stressed out.  The computer seemed to be frowning at me in disgust that I apparently didn’t know any other verses of the Bible. 

Finally I settled on EileenFox!  The computer sighed happily and let me through the cyber door.  Every morning as I type in EileenFox! Into the computer, I admit to smiling.  I bring to mind the smile on her face and I hear her voice in my head.  The voice says, “Ooo, I do love you, Melanie.”  It will only be a voice that I hear in my head now – unless you start saying it to me.  My world is a quieter place now.

Just as using Bible verses was supposed to remind me of God’s word, EileenFox! reminds me of many things.

I am known to grumble in certain places that visits from my family are too few.  Mum was quite a frequent visitor to Inverness.  Sometimes she came up on the train with my sister, Carla.  The most recent time she came up was by flying to Inverness airport with my brother Richard.  One summer many years ago she came up a day or two after I was taken into the hospital in Inverness with a deep vein thrombosis.  She never missed a day visiting me.  She went from bed to bed talking to every patient in the ward and chatting to all the nurses and doctors as well.  She and my husband Joe bonded during that week.  I think that somewhere in the back of her mind she was almost convinced she gave birth to him and I was the in-law.

She made friends easily.  She talked to people about her family, about the blind club, about church and her faith in God. She talked to people she met for the first time as if she had known them for years. 

Mum was loved by two very different and remarkable men.  Charles Wilkinson adored my mum and taught her everything she knows when it came to cooking.  She said of him that there was never a night when she didn’t fall asleep with his arms around her.  David Fox also adored my mum.  He benefitted from everything she had learned about cooking but preferred less spicy food.  There was possibly never a night when she didn’t fall asleep to the sound and rhythm of his snoring.  In losing them, she lost more than a little of her joy and happiness.

She loved children.  She was a children magnet – they were drawn to her.  When we lived in Crick our house was always full of children – not just the six of us but other children in the street.  Summer evenings were spent playing long games of rounders in the playing field at the back of the house.  Bad light often stopped play.  Everyone knew our mum.  As each new generation of children has been born, she loved them all.  If she nagged the new generation of mothers it was because she had been there, learned lessons from experience and wanted to save them from making the same kind of mistakes.

At church she was a part of the crèche team for many years.  It was hard for her when she had to step down because of her ill health.  She still kept her hand in and had a long list of requests for jumpers and cardigans.

Having worn glasses all my life, I know what it is to live life in the fuzzy lane.  For the last six months or so I have been wearing hearing aids so also have an inkling about life in the quiet lane too.  Loosing your sight and your hearing brings its challenges.  I really cottoned on to how bad my mum’s vision was one afternoon in Inverness.  We had driven down to Loch Ness.  There is a garden centre beside the loch.  There are gardens laid out on various terraces with benches looking out and down over Loch Ness.  It’s the perfect spot for Nessie hunting.  We were sitting there with cups of tea, scanning the water for the appearance of a head, or a few tell-tale bumps in the water.  I thought it was “we”.  I pointed out a possible bump in the distance.  That’s when mum confessed she couldn’t see anything.  Loch Ness in the summer sunshine was a grey blur. 

Whatever she didn’t see in the physical world I am convinced that God opened her eyes to the spiritual world.  She had glorious visions.  She saw waterfalls and rainbows in such vivid colours.  There is a cross stich picture in the hall of mum’s flat – the work of my sister Carla after mum shared with her some of the things she could see.

Mum’s chosen craft was not cross stitch.  She was a knitter.  In her later years I spent many an hour home from Scotland, counting stitches for her, taking rows back to catch dropped stitches. If ever my mum’s knitted jumpers, Easter chicks, Christmas tree crackers, boots and blankets ever became collector’s items they would not be difficult to find.  My one regret is that she discovered her Humpty-Dumpty pattern long after I had left Secondary School.  I don’t think she ever brought her knitting with her when she visited us in Inverness.  She didn’t really need to as there was a wool shop just a few streets away.  It is with pride that I adopt her knitting needles and hope to put them to good use.

My mum was a courageous woman.  When times were difficult she responded with humour.   It wasn’t that she thought light of all her problems, but the alternative to laughing is crying and sometimes once you start crying you can’t stop.  Her faith was a source of strength.  She prayed often. 

Another way of coping with difficult times was by singing…or humming.  The humming was very noticeable in my car when she was in the passenger seat. I would like to think I am not a reckless driver, but there are perhaps times when I lose my concentration.  The humming took on a slightly desperate note at those times.

These are some of my memories – you all have your own.  Take time to talk to each other and share them.  Most of you met my mum in the autumn or the winter of her life – if you want to know what she was like in the spring and the summer – see her in her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren.  She has left a deposit of herself in each of us.

I am perhaps not the best one qualified to tell you what my mum was like.  I moved away from home and went far away.  I want to personally thank my brother, Richard, and my sisters Carla and Sharon, my sister in law, Linda and my brother in law, Paul, for taking good care of my mum.  I also want to thank my niece, Kelly and her husband Kenny for all the shopping trips and keeping a loving eye on her.  I want to thank the great grandchildren for trying to teach Nan to skip – they kept her young at heart. I want to thank the members of mum’s church for loving and serving her and for allowing her to love and serve you. 

I want to thank you all for joining with my family to remember and celebrate my mum’s life.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The One Who Reigns Supreme

My current set of Bible readings is taking me into the book of Micah.  I am not sure whether there was an introductory page that gave a few details about the author and when he wrote his prophecies.  I have gleaned that his name means “one who is like God”.  I remember thinking at the time about the white stone that is mentioned in the book of Revelation and the new name that’s written on it – I think I would like to have the name Micah written on mine.  I would like to be “one who is like God”.  As a Christian I am called to be “one who is like Jesus”. 

Amos prophesied during some very troubled times.  The leaders of the nation, whether they were political leaders or religious leaders, were doing a very bad job.  They refused to even entertain the notion that God was not on their side.  They believed that as long as God was getting the burnt offerings he asked for they were fulfilling their duty towards him.

They were not a nation of Micahs.  They were not “ones who were like God.” Micah condemnation of them is harsh. “Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel; Should you not embrace justice,  you who hate good and love evil, who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones…” Micah 3:1.

God had in mind a better shepherd for His people:- “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely; for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses.” Micah 5:4-5

It’s not the Assyrians that are invading our land and marching through our fortresses.  The latest rounds of austerity cuts are definitely marching through and causing destruction. Is that not a case of a government tearing their skin from the people?  But it’s more than that. I read in the paper this morning of a young man just seventeen years old shooting another young man because he gate crashed a party. The government mind-set of valuing some people above others has its consequences. Life doesn’t seem to be held sacred anymore. 

It makes a person quake at their powerlessness.  Too much of life is outside of their control.  They wait for the next army to invade and march through their fortresses.

I had a quaking moment.  Too much of my life seemed to be out of my control.  My land and my fortresses felt like they have been ruined.   The God reminded me that things are never out of His control.  The things that I have entrusted to Him can never be ruined.  There are places the enemy cannot go. 

The One Who Reigns Supreme

How powerless I often feel
So much I can’t control
When men of power write their rules
My good is not their goal

The gap between the rich and poor
Gets wider every year
Into the deep and hidden cracks
Men slip and disappear

The threat of bombs and stink of fear
When terror has its way
Nibbles at the corners of
My courage every day

As wages fall and prices rise
Oft times my ends don’t meet
To keep a roof above my head
Becomes a toilsome feat

I've come to realise that those
Who should come to my aid
Have skinned and eaten, not just fleeced
The sheep they have betrayed

I’m subject to a different King
A Shepherd strong and just
Who leads His flock to pasture green
In Him I put my trust

As princes rise and kingdoms fall
My God – He reigns supreme
He seeks the lame, the lost, the hurt
To rescue and redeem