Sunday, July 21, 2013

Revelation 3:23 ff

This is not intended to be prophetic and it's not adding to scripture.  It is my Faithwriter's Weekly challenge entry for "Expect".  Having said it's not prophetic, that doesn't mean to say God's truth isn't in there somewhere.

To the angel of the church in the Highlands of Scotland write:

These are the words of Him who walks among the wooded glens and wades through streams of crystal water.  He is the one who shaped the mountains and let loose the eagles to soar among their mighty peaks.

I know your deeds.  I see the churches you build, with red stones and tall steeples.  I hear the music you compose and see hands lifted up in worship.  I weigh the words of your preachers and your pastors.  I know that some of you wage war with the works of the enemy.   You open your kitchens to feed those who are hungry.  You take your healing ministries into the town centres to pray for those who are sick.  You send your street pastors into the dark corners to seek out and serve the homeless.  I know that you have done much to tear down barriers and demolish strongholds.  You work together in a spirit of unity, erasing the lines denominations have drawn.

Yet I hold this against you; You have allowed your tongue to stick to the roof of your mouth and swallowed the words I have given you to speak.  You have watched unrighteousness unfold and remained silent.  Your own comfort and wealth has cushioned you from the sharp needles and piercing thorns that injure my people.  You assign blame to the blameless, stifle your compassion and help only the deserving poor.

Your churches that once were training grounds for equipping the saints and sending them into a crying world have become nothing more than orphanages.  You feed a hundred, or two or perhaps even a thousand on warm milk.  You keep them comfortable and secure, assuring them of My love.  But they remain unchallenged and immature.

Consider how little you expect Me to do in you, and through you, among you and with you.  You have relegated me to the back of the boat and allowed me to sleep.  You weather the storms and don’t beg Me to still the wind and the waves.   You don’t walk on water, but must always have the pavement beneath your feet.  You deny yourself the chance to sink and grab hold of my hand. Your boat is pulled up on shore.  You don’t see me pass by, or hear me say “Come.” 

You, my world changers, have remained largely unchanged, and as such, have not been able to change the world.  And yet you wonder why your churches become empty.

Whoever has ears let them hear. To the one who looks beyond the seen and expects the unseen I pour the miraculous into their lives.  They will not sleep undisturbed in their pews, but come and walk on water with me. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Risking the Waves

I am going to blame Ezekiel for what happened last night.  Had I not spent the week in his company I might have spared myself more than a little embarrassment.

My daily notes are wading through the book of Ezekiel.  Getting beyond the first couple of chapters with his vision of cherubim and wheels and the throne of God above them all is quite an achievement for me having been a great fan of Erich Von Daniken’s book, “Chariot of the Gods”.  Laying aside the whole alien spaceship idea in order to see God instead was a challenge. The following chapters are not easy reading, tracing the downward slide of the people of God into idolatry and not just following the ways of the world but surpassing it in their level of wickedness.  Ezekiel stood on the banks of a river in Babylon, witnessing in the spirit event unfolding in Jerusalem.  People who had a family history of standing with God had moved themselves to other side of the fence.  They were involved in idol worship inside the temple of God.

The story unfolds with the glory of God departing from the Temple as God distances himself from His people.  Those in exile, without access to the temple in Jerusalem, had been presumed to be abandoned by God and yet they weren’t at all.  Those left in the Jerusalem, presuming themselves to be choice and chosen people, with access to the Temple – they were the abandoned ones.  Ezekiel saw the glory of God leave the temple, but I wondered whether anyone else had noticed.

In those early chapters Ezekiel was given a scroll which he ate.  He described the scroll as sweet, like honey on the tongue.  The scroll was described as being covered front and back with words of lament, mourning and woe.  How sweet can that be? I would have thought that would have more of a bitter or a sour taste.  What he had eaten, those words of lament, mourning and woe caused him to sit beside the river for seven days deeply distressed.

When God chose to bring His judgement on the nation, Ezekiel, every time, fell to his knees. 

I fell facedown, crying out, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

So, this week, having spent so much time with Ezekiel on his knees, deeply distressed about God’s judgement – my mind set has been about getting it right with God.  I had been praying a lot, not for myself so much as for the people of God now – His church and wondering whether the corporate body of Christ was drifting.  What did we see of God’s activities in the spiritual realm?  Had we moved our focus off God and onto other things?

I am not a member of a big church.  We are the size of a bigger church’s life-group or home-group.  We know each other well.  I don’t usually phone ahead and make arrangements to meet people – I just turn up on the doorstep. 

The meeting I went to last night – a fellowship meeting – was mostly members of a big church, whose life-groups were disbanded for the summer, meeting anyway.  It was clearly labelled as “fellowship”.

Fellowship according to the dictionary means “the condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences, as by reason of profession, religion, or nationality,” and “the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms.”  I always assume that when Christians have fellowship there is all of that plus prayers and worship and encouraging words, so I took my bible and notebook and a pen. My friends and I arrived early and were ready.

The dictionary definition prevailed.  It was the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere sharing similar interests and experiences. It took an hour and a quarter of people chatting about all sorts of things to realise that this was it.  People were simply touching base and catching up with one another.

I would like to say that I joined in the chat, had a nice time and went home.

I didn’t know this was all it intended to be.  I was looking for more.  I’d spent the week with Ezekiel and I was in the mood to do serious damage to the enemy. All I could see was a golden opportunity going amiss. We had several prayer warriors in the room; we had the unity of more than one church in the room; we had the enemy prowling around like a lion picking off the stragglers – we were the two or three gathered in the midst of God. And we were talking about mundane things – the price of a bus ticket to Inverness Airport.

If I had known from the start that this fellowship was just touching base and catching up with people I wouldn’t have gone.  I wouldn’t have gone armed to the teeth with prayers on my lips, words from the Bible swirling around my head or songs of worship stirring my heart.  I wouldn’t have gone out in my armour! I was at the wrong place at the wrong time totally in the wrong frame of mind.

Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, I just had to say something!  I just couldn’t keep quiet – really, I couldn’t.  I tried clamping my lips together, but the words slipped out anyway.  Sometimes when the Spirit stirs I feel a gut wrenching churning, like I am going to be sick.  My heartbeat thuds loudly in my ear and I fidget. Relief comes only when I say something. But, I was speaking to strangers, not friends.  Maybe that’s what made it so awkward.

“So is this it?  Is this all you do?”  There was a lot more than that most of which I remember word for word and wish I could forget. I don’t know, looking back – well, yes, I do.  I know the stirring of the Spirit.  I know Him and I know his ways with me.  I said something about prayer warriors and pulling down strongholds.  I didn’t ask whether God was that interested in the price of a ticket to Inverness Airport but it was there in my head. I think I chastised them.

Yes, I believe God is interested in the smallest details of our lives, and that the need for people to touch base and catch up with one another is important.  I just didn’t think that was the only reason Christians should meet. Any corporate gathering of the saints should be more than that. 

Suffice to say I was embarrassed.  The old man within chortled and admonished me for being too serious. The old man has known me all my life and likes to think he gets it right sometimes. I am a serious body. In the car on the way home, I wept buckets.  I wept because I felt foolish.  I wept because I felt an opportunity slip away.  I wept because it seemed the Spirit had not spoken to me at all.

I went straight to bed. God was not my friend.  No doubt He and His angels were laughing in heaven at my antics.  I dug out a book I had been reading which involved a very complicated plot, marines strutting around and blowing things up with grenades and a villain crowing about ruling the world.

“Mel,” said God, “I am proud of you. You got out of the boat and walked on water. You responded to the Holy Spirit.  You didn’t know the people, but you were ready to say something.  OK maybe you sank and I grabbed hold of you and pulled you back up, but you risked the waves.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

For The Right Reasons

Having missed too many deadlines to count, lost my number one fan to old age and a chest infection and the end result paperback poetry book missing it on so many levels my publisher and I parted company.  We called it a day. 

I thought I would give it a few weeks until I had time to pick the adventure up again and start over.  This time last year I was busy putting the poetry manuscript together.  I didn’t expect to be at the same place a year on. The e-book is up and running but the paper version has fallen along the wayside. 

A poet friend of mine used a local publisher “For The Right Reasons”.  I decided to take my manuscript along and see what they could do.  I don’t know whether publishers have egos but I imagined there might be a frosty reception as in “If only you had come to us first…” I’d hovered outside the door on more than one occasion before I scuttled back to the car. I can be very spineless at times.

Richard Burkitt is the man behind the printing side of the charity.  He cleared a chair and pulled it close inviting me to sit down.  I told him about the church funding the poetry book and about my decision to go with a publisher linked to our church network.  I talked about the e-book and handed him the paper version.  The front cover is impressive but a book needs more than an impressive front cover.  It didn’t take him long to identify the formatting issues.   He handed over to the “genius” to look at – the man that puts the books together, and knows what all the machines in the shop do.

“Let’s walk, shall we?”

Richard is a whirlwind of a man.  I don’t think he sits down for more than a few minutes.  The Printing and Publishing shop is one part of the charity.  The charity is set up to help people to come off addictions.  Sometimes it is a case of two steps forward and one step back.

We walked a short distance to the For The Right Reasons charity shop.  He admitted that there wasn’t a great turnover from the shop as the ladies behind the counter would allow themselves to be haggled down to almost nothing.  The shop was more of a drop in centre at times and their customers came for a chat and a listening ear more often than not.  He introduced me to the ladies – he called me Alison as I had mentioned I knew Alison who had published a book through him. 

Our next destination was the Breathe Chapel.  It was a disused, burnt building that had been a regular meeting place for drug addicts.  He and his friends had reclaimed the building, repaired and painted it.  It’s run by the Methodist Church and has become a quiet space in a busy, run down part of the city.  Just recently they had worked with some young men on community service replacing the fence and preparing for landscaping the garden.  It was the bookshelf in the chapel that Richard wanted me to see.  A copy of my book once printed would be on the shelf so that people who came to the chapel could read the poems and reflect upon them.

He introduced me as Alison, the poet, to all the people working on the garden.

Back at the printing and publishing office we talked a little more.  It was sitting there with him that I realised all that I had missed the first time around, dealing with a publisher that I couldn’t visit.  He talked about the size of the font, the spacing between the lines, putting things closer to the middle, allowing the poems to spread over two or three pages if necessary.  I would be able to see and comment on the book as it went through various incarnations.  I could even come in to the office if I wanted and do things on the computer.  I could do my own formatting if I wished!  I was a partner in all of this.  Publishing was something that someone was going to do to me, but work through with me. 

There would be nothing published properly until I was happy with the product.  I wouldn’t end up with a box of books under the stairs still wrapped in the bubble wrap they arrived in.

While we were talking, one of the men who working in the office had picked up my book and scanned down the contents page. 

“God’s Scary Mathematics – got to read that one.”  He read it and then looked at the hairs on his arm with saucer sized eyes. “You see that?” He said to another man in the office, “The hairs on my arm are just standing up…that’s some poem!”

The whole experience was so uplifting.  I felt so built up and encouraged.  Richard and his staff were so enthusiastic about the book.  I had thought I would need to convince them that it was worth publishing, but they just embraced the whole adventure.

As I prepared to leave, Richard shook my hand and thanked me for bringing the book and for letting them work with me to get it published!

I floated back to the car, sat in the driver’s seat, clicked the seat belt in and then had a moment of unbridled joy.  Anyone watching me might have jumped to the wrong conclusion that I had just injected my veins with heroin!

“So,” said God, when we finished with the high fives, “the next book – I’ve got a working title…”

I didn’t think there would be a first book, but it is most definitely on its way.  We even have a book launch date pencilled in for the end of August.  In the heavenlies the book is already on the Breathe Chapel bookshelf.  God has moved on to the next book.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"I Get It!"

Last weekend there was an article in one of the papers debunking the idea that scientists didn’t have a sense of humour.  They included a whole column of jokes.  As I read through them, the thought going through my head was, “I don’t get it!” I chortled at one or two that I did get, but many of them needed a little more scientific background than I possessed.  Had I been at a scientist’s joke convention I would have felt very much disconnected and unable to relate to anything. 

There was a bit of that last night at the Woman Aglow meeting.  I think I didn’t glow!  The people sat around my table, for the most part, were Street Pastors.  They talked a little about the people on the streets that they had met and exchanged stories about different people on drugs.  They discussed why someone who had been on drugs and then came off them would then slip back into drug addiction.  Once you have discovered freedom, why do you then give it up?

I am aware that some of the young people that I deal with dabble in soft drugs.  They have smoked a joint or two…or more in some cases.  When my brother was in a hospice in Spain his friends baked dubious ingredients into cakes for him.  Towards the later stages of his life, the doctor didn’t exactly encourage these drugs but made it plain that disguise was no longer needed.  If it helped ease my brother’s pain and discomfort then they were permitted.

For the most part I am ignorant of city’s drug scene. 

Later on in the meeting we listened to the testimony of a woman who organises the Inverness arm of the Food Bank.  Supporters were out in the supermarkets last week handing out shopping lists and encouraging people to buy one or two items.

It was a very powerful and a very heart breaking testimony. There were moments when her life paralleled mine, but then went off at very different angles.  She talked of a poverty stricken background where she would have benefited from help from a food bank.  My mother held down a number of part time jobs to bring in enough money to feed six children, my dad having died from cancer.  She could have drowned herself in a bottle but she never did – not to my knowledge.

The speaker talked about her church experiences.  We both have Spring Harvest in common and the changes that it provoked in our lives as Christians.  I went to Spring Harvest in 1982.  My encounter with the Holy Spirit was awesome.  I knew the FEAR of the Lord – not respect and reverence but FEAR.  I fled from God from that point.  My faith up until then had been safe and to some extent lived on my terms.  Having a sense of the presence of God so powerful that it pushed me trembling to my knees – I wasn’t sure I wanted that.  I may not have wanted God, but He wanted me so he pursued me.  He chased me down!

Once caught, I realised that the church I was in at the time was not leading me where God wanted me to go.  She called her move a stepping stone – a necessary place to go before god could take her where he wanted her to be.  I had my own stepping stone church too.

The opportunity for her to work with the Food Bank came.  She didn’t think she had the qualifications necessary to do the job – but who better qualified?  Having been through the kind of life that she had experienced, she knew the heartaches and the challenges of the people who were coming to the Food Bank.  She had trod the same path and could say to them, “I get it!”

I went home thoughtful.  I sat in the car and thought about all the events in her life that had led her to be exactly the person God needed for the job he had ear-marked for her.  I couldn’t help but think about my own life.  The word that comes to mind is “charmed”, but it isn’t charmed at all.  I had the childhood I had, free from any kind of abuse, because of the hard work of my mum.  I had a certain combination of genes from a clever father that meant I wouldn’t fail in school.  I worked hard, sometimes, because I had supportive teachers.  I remember we were hounded by social workers – we looked on paper the perfect cocktail of factors for failure.  Looking back I can see that God put into place the right people at the right time to steer our family in a right direction. 

As I sat in the car it was as if God said, “You are of no use to me unless you are flawed and broken in some way.”

Did I qualify as flawed and broken?  I didn’t have an alcoholic mother.  I wasn’t abused.  I didn’t come across drug addicts in my daily life.  Was I any use at all to God?

It didn’t take long to trawl through my memories to find the flawed and broken bits of it. I have my scars and my wounds which are not the same as others.  I can speak to people in some areas of life that others can’t.  To those people I can say, “I get it!”

We are all flawed and broken.  Some of us know it and have taken the bits of our lives to God and put them into his hand to make something new out of them.  Others haven’t worked it out yet.  Some learn to live with the bits, or cover them over with…with what?  There are probably more than a few covering over the brokenness of their lives with church meetings and a Sunday morning ointment.  There are others that are just waiting for someone to tell them the Good News.