Friday, May 25, 2018

Small Time Stuff

A memory comes to mind. I am eighteen years old, maybe. It’s a Geography field trip. I’m in Wales and have just walked the wall of Ffestiniog Dam. I’m now heading uphill aiming at some mountain in the far flung distance.  I might have started somewhere in the middle of a rabble of classmates but I’m definitely in the rear and they are fast disappearing way ahead of me. I sometimes catch up with them, because they have taken a break. They’re sitting on boulders, drinking water, eating sweets. I arrive. They pack up their stuff and start moving again. I don’t get to rest. My face gets redder. Every sweat gland is in in overdrive. I begin to wonder why I took Geography in the first place. I have been assured that the view from the top of the mountain is glorious – but, to be honest, at that point in time, I really couldn’t care less.

That same memory came to mind yesterday at our church meeting – the part about being hopelessly behind everyone else. It’s not the truth, or course.

It was testimony time. “What’s the Lord been saying to you?”

There were accounts of conferences people had attendied with powerful prayers and words of knowledge. Life changing and uplifting – one couldn’t help but feel “I wish it happened to me.”

Someone spoke of a personal prophetic word about embracing more of what God had for him and not allowing himself to be pushed into a box and only do the things he’s always done because that’s his gift. Again there was a feeling “I wish someone would speak prophetically over my life like that.”

Someone else spoke about a recent visit home. It had the potential to be distressing. A diagnosis of Alzheimer's and a book thrust into her hand about the disease led her to declare that this was not God’s plan or intention. I imagined myself just reading the book and making the relevant adjustments to my life.  I know too many people with too many diseases who no doubt prayed fearlessly and yet the disease marched on. My thought was “I wish I had that faith.”

Someone else talked about early morning walks and praying and witnessing and loosing inches from his waistline. My thought was “I wish I had the time.”

Don’t worry. As much as I had the idea that I was falling behind, just as the eighteen year old me did on the Geography field trip, I was encouraged. I love being part of a family of God that is experiencing God talking to them at every turn in the road.

It wasn’t as if God wasn’t speaking to me – but it all seemed small time and very personal and very understated. 

See, that prophetic word I longed for? When I first moved up to Inverness there were prophetic words ringing in my ears. Someone had likened my journey to Abraham’s. He had been called to go to a place that was not familiar, to leave his old life behind. He only knew God had called him and knew nothing of the challenges ahead, or of the resources God would supply. Inverness was my unfamiliar place. I had more of a grasp of the resources having a good grounding in scripture. Yes, like Abraham, I packed my stuff, hugged my mother goodbye (never a permanent goodbye as there were trains and busses).

 “Do you know what, Mel?” said God the other day, “They forgot to tell you the whole message.” There was also a word about meeting my future husband in Inverness so maybe I wasn’t paying strict attention to Abraham. There was also a word about bringing down spiritual strongholds which seemed impossible seeing as I was a timid wee thing in those days.

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

I had done the leaving bit.

“The bit about being a blessing to others – that’s what they forgot to tell you,” said God. I admit there was a little bit of me that wanted to point out the being famous part.

A smile came to my lips. It wasn’t just about uprooting and moving, but also about being a blessing. I’m not going to ask anyone if they think I have been a blessing. I know I have.

I love it when God does the big stuff, the mighty stuff, the miracle stuff – but I like it too when He does the small stuff, which probably isn’t small at all in His view.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Safe Places

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.” And so begins the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I’m not going to chop up the story into little bits or dissect it with the sharp knife of culture, suffice to say that the journey wasn’t a safe one. It wasn’t often a journey made by a single person. One tended to go with others. Bandits then, like now, tend to go for the isolated man or woman rather than the group. It saddens me that too many people end up making journeys on their own.

I was talking about safe and unsafe places with a group of young people. They were happy to throw out names and places where it wasn’t safe – war zones mostly. Some of them had parents in the army that had been sent to some of the unsafe places around the world.

We came a little closer to home, to places in Inverness that they considered not safe. Sometimes it was linked to just a certain time of night. Other times it down to certain streets or alley ways. We nodded sagely as we ticked off the no-go areas in our heads.

Then the bomb dropped.


I’d read earlier about places in some city centres where owners of grocery shops were part of a scheme to provide young people, any people, with a safe place to be. A sticker in the window told a young person that the owner of the shop would phone someone if you felt you were being followed or at risk. You could wait in the shop while a parent came to collect you, or a friend, or a police car. The shop with the shop owner was a safe place.

Schools don’t have a visible sticker anywhere giving a person reassurance that it’s a safe place.

School of me wasn’t a safe place for just the one year of my life. The school was a rural secondary school. Pupils were bussed in from surrounding villages. Much like the certain streets and alleys my young people had named, there were certain villages that were labelled as unsafe. The bullies came from one of those villages. Had there been mobile phones in those days, had the bullies possessed them or had I, there might have been the one going cyber hate spilling across the screen. At the end of the day, we headed for separate busses and they couldn’t touch me until the next day. Thank heavens for small mercies.

It was never that bad, she says, looking back. It was all verbal and done at a distance. The pencil case tossed to the floor, the face up close to mine, the whispers and giggles as I walked by. It was intimidating. There were threats to fight me at the end of the school day – an empty threat seeing as we all had busses to catch.

What struck me then, and still gets to me today, is how the un-bullied never stepped in. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." so said Edmund Burke.

It was visible day in day out. My misery was there for all to see and they never stood up for me. I wasn’t one of the pretty people, one of the popular ones. Maybe it was the glasses with their plastic NHS lenses that did it, or the overbite of my mouth, or the skirt level that stayed stubbornly just below the knee, of the face void of make-up, or the eyes that didn’t ogle boys but read books instead.

It was just for one year. I worked myself into a better class and they lost interest.

Safe places are fast disappearing.

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125:2

If the person I am now was poured into the person I was then I wonder whether I would ever have become the victim of bullies. Then I was a quiet girl – now? Still quiet but full of confidence. The confidence is not Mel-manufactured but God given.

I consider myself very blessed that God has taken away the “unsafedness” of places for me. That’s not to say the place is safe where I’m called to go, but in that unsafe place I am safe because God is there with me.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Psalm 124

The Lord is on my side against
The foe that would devour
The waves that seek to overwhelm
Are stilled by His great power
Without Him on my side I would be
Trampled down to dust
I call Him and He rescues me
This God in whom I trust


Monday, May 14, 2018

Putting the Cowpat into Context

I got told off last week. Well, maybe not so much told off as told to explain myself.

I had been accused of calling someone, maybe more than one person, a cowpat. Did I? Actually, yes I did but the context is important. It wasn’t a word I had conjured out of thin air on the spur of the moment and the insult wasn’t personal.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42)

I was discussing the whole slapping thing with a group of young people. There is a perception out there in the world that the slapping thing is about not retaliating and not standing up for yourself. You are not allowed to hit back but you “take one on the chin for Jesus”. That is not what it is.

A slap in Jewish culture at the time of Jesus had a very specific meaning. It was a deep insult. It wasn’t about physical violence. It wasn’t a challenge like throwing down a gauntlet. A slap was deeply insulting. It was about showing contempt. How you slapped mattered. Using the palm of your hand was a slap delivered to an equal. Using the back of your hand was delivered to someone you considered to be inferior – the person equivalent of a cowpat.

With a back handed slap to the right cheek, not only are you insulting someone, you are also telling the world you think they are inferior – a master to a slave, a husband to a wife, a parent to a child.

OK, so we pretended to slap each other’s right cheeks with back handers and just in case we didn’t know we were being insulted we called each other “cowpat” and laughed a lot. It’s quite possible that some weren’t laughing. They stopped at the cowpat and didn’t move on. The next bit of Jesus’ teaching didn’t sink in.

Jesus went on to say “turn to them the other cheek also”.  He didn’t say you just “walk away”. When you turn the other cheek you are inviting a second slap. However the person who is slapping is dealing with a left cheek, not a right cheek. It’s almost impossible to backhand someone’s left cheek with the right hand. The person slapping, if they want to continue slapping, has to use an open palm – a slap between equals. What you are saying, by offering the left cheek is “You might consider yourself superior to me, but I don’t accept that. I refuse to live your way.” It doesn’t really matter what someone else thinks of us – we are not going to define ourselves in their terms. We are not going to return the insult either or involve ourselves in a tit for tat scuffle.

So much of Jesus’ teaching, whether it comes in thirty second sound bites or in fully blown stories or parables, come with a context. We don’t always know the context. We interpret the teaching in the light of our own culture and experience and miss what Jesus rally meant.

We don’t often get insulted with a slap to the right cheek. Our insults come in other ways. I was watching “Room 101” a week or two ago. Celebrities were asked to identify things that they didn’t think people should do, explain why and then, if they have convinced the panel host their irritation was shovelled into the bin – the metaphorical bin.

It wasn’t a celebrity that I could put a name to. He was complaining about aggressive atheists. These people are not content to live and let live. They insist that the believer is always wrong and see it as their duty to drag the believer into a reasonable and a scientific world. There are not gentle people. They don’t always use reason, or intelligent debate but often throw insults around like “stupid” and “moron”. He didn’t like that aggressiveness. The panel host agreed and the aggressive atheists were disposed of.

We don’t seem to have worked out how to respond to the insults that come our way. I think we go on the defensive or we whinge a lot about the unfairness of it all. We tell ourselves that we are being targeted – and we are. We mutter and we grumble.

If this is the promised persecution then we should be rejoicing. We should be claiming all the resources God gives to respond with kindness - part of which is not allowing them, the aggressive atheists, to continue their mockery and the ridicule.

I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.
(Psalm 123)

The Psalmist shows us how – powerful lives lived with open eyes fixed on God and with His mercy poured upon us and through us.