Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prize Giving

There were two reasons why I decided to walk to the funeral last night.  One reason was about a place to park the car and whether I was willing to pay and display if need be.  The other reason was that “foursies” (my 4 o’clock munchies) had lasted well into fivesies and I had consumed every nibble I could find in the house.  I needed the walk to burn off a few (hundred) calories.  I didn’t walk at any great speed.  I am an ambler so I ambled into town.

I had delivered my sandwiches to the venue where the drinks and refreshments were going to be served a little earlier in the evening.  The original plan had been to leave the car there, have a meal in town and walk to the funeral parlour afterwards.  The car park was a 24 hour affair, £1 for each hour.  It had the potential to be costly, so I drove home, left the car, read my book for an hour (it was a page turner) and then left to walk into town.

On the way into town I passed a friend walking in the opposite direction.  She told me that I was going the wrong way.  School and the prize giving ceremony were obviously not my destination.  Prize giving?  I knew there was something on, other than the funeral but hadn’t been able to identify what it was.  Prize giving! I have to confess that getting a prize for Religious and Moral Education doesn’t carry much street cred with the young people that I deal with.  It doesn’t rank very highly.  Speeches at prize giving ceremonies don’t seem to be as stirring as they could be.  It would seem from listening to some of my friends who were there that this year was no different. 

I arrived at the funeral home in good time. 

There are few funerals that I have attended where I haven’t really had an emotional investment in the person who has died.  The recent ones over the last few years have been family funerals where I have shared poems or done the eulogy.  They have been painful affairs.  This funeral was a relatively painless one but still carried with it a sense of loss.

The photo on the front of my mum’s order of a service was one that summed up so much about her.  She was, for the most part, cheerful.  She laughed a lot.  The photo captured joy on her face.  She was wearing a hat with red, white and blue flowers – something Jubilee orientated.  She suited hats did my mum. 

The photo on the front of Sheena’s order of service looked perhaps a little bit severe.  I didn’t really know her very well.  I know her son better.  There were readings read by friends from her church, and poems, and someone spoke about Sheena’s courage in the face of challenges.

Somewhere along the way I stopped thinking about Sheena and started to think about my mum’s funeral not so many weeks ago.  I thought about what was said about my mum by me in my eulogy and by the church minister.  She had been part of that church family for thirty years or more.

There is something particularly distressing about a mother’s funeral.  It tends to be the mothers rather than the fathers that are the heart of a family.  It feels like just for a while everyone in the family becomes just a little bit unmoored.  It’s as if the pontoon that all the boats were all tied up to has gone and they are left bobbing about in the water.  They regroup eventually and find another family member to be the pontoon and start tying up.

There are always assurances In Christian funerals about the next life.  Sometimes it’s just part of the liturgy and what is said.  Sometimes you know that the promises of an afterlife have become a reality for the person who has died.  They knew Jesus and Jesus knew them and there was a party going on in heaven.  It was true for Sheena.  She had become a Christian at the age of 12.  She knew her Saviour.

It talks about prizes in heaven.  It doesn’t talk about boring speeches or certain prizes that you almost have to bribe people to accept.  It talks about crowns being handed out to the righteous, and just as swiftly handed back to the one who has made them righteous. 

I didn’t go to the prize giving ceremony at the school.  I went to a funeral of a friend. 

My friend was not really at the funeral - she was attending a prize giving ceremony in the heavenlies. 

Having received her crown of righteousness she would have, being Sheena, worn it just for a short time.  Then she would have placed it at the feet of the one who is the only crown wearer – Jesus.

Friday, June 21, 2013

All That He Can See

“The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”  John 8:29

I read these words in my quiet time yesterday morning.  I liked the “with me” bit and the “not left me alone” bit.  There are times when I feel a little bit abandoned and left alone.  It was encouraging to know it was written there in the Bible that God was with me and I wouldn’t be left alone.  But then the last phrase was waiting there to throw the spanner into the works – “for I always do what pleases him.”  Jesus might be able to confidently say those words, but I never can.  It would be nice is the word “try” was somewhere in the sentence, but it isn’t.  The truth of the matter is that I don’t always do what pleases him.  Sometimes I don’t even try.  Does that mean that God steps away and leaves me to my own devices if I don’t please Him?

The Holy Spirit, even before I finished the thought in my head, rushed in to answer the question with a very firm “No!”

The thing is, when God looks at me, He doesn’t see me but He sees Christ.  My life, when I asked Jesus to be my Saviour, became hidden in Christ.  If there was a courtroom, and I was standing in the dock, and there was a prosecutor laying out all the evidence before God, and all that evidence was true, and I had no hope of acquittal – Christ would stand between me and the judge, God.  What God would see would be Jesus and all of His righteousness.  He wouldn’t see me at all. I am hidden. 

When Jesus said, “I always do what pleases him,” because I am hidden in Jesus, I am saying it too not because I always do what pleases God, but because Jesus does. 

I am still on the pathway of doing things to please God.  I am still responsible to work with God to be transformed.  But that list of evidence has been tossed out.  God doesn’t keep it in a back pocket and wave it at me every so often to drive me into righteous behaviour.  Jesus tells me to stay hidden in Him and He will do the things that please God through me.

All That He Can See

I don’t know how he does it but
He stands before God’s throne
Parading all my failures and
The chances that I’ve blown

He questions my commitment
And says that I fall short
For one who is redeemed I rarely
Act the way I ought

How quick to show my anger
How swift to chide and scold
How slow to show forgiveness
How oft’ must I be told?

The Father’s gaze is on me
The words ring in His ears
There are no words to offer
Ashamed I shed my tears

But then the Son steps forward
He stands to take my place
The Father looks not on me
But on His Son’s dear face

God knows my faults so clearly
But when He looks at me
The righteousness of Jesus
Is all that He can see

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When the Little People Pray

“They’re back,” said Grimbrow, “I can see them through the door, sitting around a table.  There’s a Bible out.  Someone has revived the prayer meetings.”

“Yes, but there’s lot less of them this time.  I can only count five.  The last time they met there were a dozen or more.” Snaptognue added, “Give them a month or two and it’ll fizzle out…just like the last time. Human beings are fickle.  They start things enthusiastically…but you just wait.  Other things will take precedence.  The excuses will start to come in.  You’ll see.”

“Numbers don’t matter.  You haven’t read the Book, have you? It says in there that where one or two meet together HE will be present.  It doesn’t look good.  We’ve worked hard to keep HIM out of this place and now HE is creeping back in.”  Grimbrow shook his head sadly.

“Yes, but they are only the little people.  There’s no one from management.  Remember the last time they met?  They had a person from senior management praying with them.  That was scary.  They had the authority to make a difference.  These people…they are nobodies.  No one’s going to do what they say.” Snaptongue waggled a green knotted finger in Grimbrow’s face.

“You know nothing, you foolish imp,” said Grimbrow grimly. “There are no little people in HIS kingdom.  You think they are talking to management about the changes they want to see?  They are talking to HIM, you twit.  And if you know anything about HIM, you know HE listens.  And HE doesn’t just listen, HE acts.”

“Yes, but it’s not as if it’s church or a chapel, or some holy building.  It’s a school.  HE has got no business turning up in a school.  HE is trespassing on our property!” Snaptongue snorted with indignation.

“Where on earth do you get your information from?  You are evesdropping at the wrong doors!” said Grimbrow.  “A bit a truth…na├»ve one…we, us, Satan and his minions…we are the trespassers.  When the Kingdom of Light clashes with the kingdom of this world we don’t win…not ever!”

Grimbrow paced the corridor just outside the room where the prayer meeting was going on.  He looked nervously through the small window.  He should have been invisible to the physical world, but a demon could never be sure when a child of the King looked in his direction.

“What’ll we do?”  There was an edge of panic in Snaptongue’s voice.

Grimbrow had his ear up against the door.  He could hear the words being prayed and felt a chill prickle on the back of his neck.

“Oh no!” He backed away swiftly.  “They are praying real prayers!”

“Real prayers!” Snaptongue shrieked.  He has heard of real prayers before but never actually heard one.  He knew of the damage they could do. Real prayers were born in the heart of a believer, breathed upon by the Holy Spirit and let loose into the world through faith.  Too many of his kind had been banished to the abyss because of real prayers.

“Not good!  Not good!  Not good!” Grimbrow soundly slapped Snaptongiue across the face.  

“Now is not the time to lose it!  It’s still early days yet.  We have to act swiftly.”  Ideas flung themselves around his head.  They needed a plan and soon.  If the five around the table kept praying all would be lost.

“I’ve got it,” Snaptongue said.  “We need to remind the five about their failures.  They will stop praying as they think they are not good enough to approach HIM.  Keep them thinking about themselves and their inadequacies.”

“Good.  Good.  And the management team…I’ve got it…let’s polish up their grievances about God.  All those unpleasant church experiences…and all the hypocrites they have met.  Make them antagonistic.  I can see it all now…yes.”

“Let’s call in some reinforcements.  It’s a big job.”

The door to the room where the five had prayed opened as they left for their afternoon classes.  A fragrance of life followed them as they went their separate ways.  It touched Grimbrow and Snaptongue.   They felt the hollow shiver of the abyss.

Grimbrow’s words seemed to echo all around them.

“When the Kingdom of Light clashes with the kingdom of this world we don’t win…not ever!”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Those Written-Down Warnings

The plan was for a weekend away in Edinburgh.  Had it been a dirty weekend there might have been a problem as the guest house didn’t leave us any towels and the bathroom was concealed behind a door marked “Manager”.

My husband is working in Edinburgh during the week and comes home for weekends.  It is just for a couple of months while the Government works out policy and laws for the crofting community.  He is rubbing shoulders with the “man”.

Rather than him travel home over the weekend we decided that I would travel down to Edinburgh for the weekend.  We planned to visit the zoo and see the pandas.  It seemed to make sense to book a hotel on the zoo side of the city.  I left my husband scrutinising the offers on  He should have read the reviews of the guest house he eventually settled for. 

We arrived at the door to be greeted not by a friendly porter or receptionist, but a notice on the door to phone someone.  The door was locked.  Joe’s mobile was out of battery and mine was merely out of sorts.  I roused a fellow guest – not a friendly porter or a receptionist.  He kindly let me use his phone.  The instructions given involved a lot of numbers and a combination lock to a panel on the side of the door.  Once opened, a key was retrieved to unlock the door and the room number was divulged.

The room was big and spacious.  We had a kettle, cups, coffee and tea sachets and something in little containers that didn’t claim to be milk. There was a TV high up on the wall but no remote control.  There were buttons along the top of the TV, easily accessible if you were a nine foot giant, not so easily accessible if you are not quite five foot.

We planned to freshen up and then head off down the road to find somewhere to eat.  There were no towels anywhere and apparently no bathroom either.  I found a toilet in the basement.  I also found a door to a bathroom with a notice on the door in capital letters with lots of exclamation marks telling me it was ONLY FOR THE USE OF GUESTS IN ROOM 1!!!!!!!  We were in room 9.  Another phone-call and we had instructions to find the bathroom we could use (through a door marked “Manager”) and a promise of towels in the next half hour.

I cannot complain about the bed(s) – yes, in a Goldilocks moment I tried them all. The bed(s) were fine but that’s not to say that I slept well.  Deep down in some hidden part of me I knew that no one was minding the fort – there wasn’t anyone on night duty.  Who’s to say that the guest in Room 1 with his own personal bathroom wasn’t really a mass murderer?  He probably wasn’t but I just felt very insecure.

We had anticipated waking to the smell of bacon and sausages. Another sign on another door said “Private” but underneath that it said “Dining Room”.  We assumed breakfast was in there, but we were wrong.  Meanwhile I was dripping wet hair everywhere after a shower.  Was there a hairdryer? No.  The list of things the Guest House didn’t have was added to.

I can take the budget experience.  I can rough it if needs be.  I am not such a softy that I need luxury all around me.  Budget experiences ought to come with budget price tags.  This one didn’t.  For the price one would have assumed there were things like towels, TV remotes, night porters, breakfast etc.  We just had the use of a bed and a bathroom (through a door marked “Manager”).

I am not really one for posting a review but I felt this place deserved one. When I got home I headed for the laptop. I read the other reviews. They were all very negative.  The locked door and the phone call were mentioned.  Towels were not mentioned so I assume they had them.  Having an en-suite bathroom appeared to be of no advantage as one or two taps didn’t work and the wall paper was peeling off.  The price was also described as daylight robbery.

So, I have to ask myself, why didn’t my husband read the reviews before he booked the place?  I am a review reader.  I would not have booked if I had read the reviews!  All that mattered is seemed was the place was near the zoo.  Accommodation in the zoo might have been better!

Why did previous guests post such damning reviews on the website?  So that people like me would not make the same mistake they made.

There is something in the Bible about learning from the people who have gone before us.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.1 Corinthians 10:11

Paul wasn’t writing about a bad hotel experience and a negative review on a website.  He warned his readers – us – that despite all the miracles surrounding their exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the daily provision of manna from heaven and fresh water from the Rock the people of God, the nation of Israel, ended up dying in the wilderness.  Idolatry, drunkenness, sexual immorality and snakes did them in. Their hearts were not set on God and they came to a sticky end.

It’s all written down for us to read – to read and to learn from – to not head down that same destructive path they travelled.