Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Soup Kitchen Truth

I don’t like his finger pointing at me
or the repeated words
“If I can do it, so can you”
my fist clenches
I think I might punch him
if he doesn’t shut up

the place where I am is
nowhere near the
other side of the pit
the whisky fumes
mess with clear thinking but
dull my pain

don’t get me wrong
the heart in me waves a flag
and raises a victory song,
he did it - but I’m not him
nature wired me my way and
life built my house on sand

there’s only so many times
a man can fall before the ground
begins to feel the safest place and
getting up only sets him up
for another fall
better to stay down

“truth to tell,”
says the lady serving the soup
“it’s because you can’t do it
that Jesus came
death lowered Him into your pit and
resurrection hands will lift you out.”

Monday, February 25, 2019

Standing Too Close

Last night, after our stint at helping out at a Sunday fellowship/soup kitchen project, we drove home. It had been a busy night. The half a dozen scones that I had ear marked as take-home-leftovers – well, no chance. It was busy and it was loud. One of the regulars had hit a low spot. I’m not sure how sober he was, but life was particularly hard. Some of the other regulars were offering advice and encouragement. They reminded him of times they had been down and how he had said something or done something to help. It was his turn now to listen to them. I had the opportunity later on to pray with him quietly.

Somewhere in the conversation, one of the men said, “I’ve been where you are. I know how you feel. I climbed out of that hole. If I could do it, so can you.”

I am not sure that I agree with the bit “if I could do it, so can you.” There are so many things that other people can do that I can’t do. Not so long ago, on a forest walk, armed with my “Go Explore” cards, I discovered that I couldn’t hop. It wasn’t a matter of trying – I tried. The balance just wasn’t there. My feet refused to part company with the ground.

People are wired differently. The mental strength that one person possesses, that enables him or her to dig deep and keep moving, isn’t necessarily replicated in another person. How much is down to DNA and how much us due to environment no one knows.

The car radio was tuned to Radio 2, the go to channel when we the sport’s channel is hissing and buzzing and, anyway, there’s no football commentary to listen to at that time of night. There was a song playing. Mournful is a good word to describe it. Maybe the presenter introduced the song at the start but we were listening art way through and had no idea who was singing. Two lines caught my ear and seemed to sum up the night with the regulars.

“I’m standing too close… 
         And it’s hurting!

Perhaps my problem when it comes to that Sunday night meeting is that I can’t say to anyone “I’ve been where you are,” or “I know how you feel.” I have climbed out of my share of holes but for the most part they have been clean holes and quite shallow ones. And when it comes to climbing out – I’m not sure I’ve done that either. My friendship with God goes back a long way. He climbs down into my hole and lifts me out.

Perhaps too with that “I climbed out of the hole” there is too little of God in it. God does a lot in my life not just to lift me out the holes but to steer my life in such a way that I don’t fall down so many in the first place.

“I’m standing too close…
         And it’s hurting!

A hole opened up in front of me, kind of. I was standing too close to these regulars and I was getting hurt and I felt useless. I could make a good scone, stir up a decent bowl of soup – but I couldn’t seem to speak into their lives. I had no cred. Or so it seemed.

“Those two lines say everything that needs to be said about intercession,” said God, “If you don’t stand close enough you don’t get hurt. If you don’t get hurt you don’t pray. If you don’t pray you don’t change anything at all – and then, yes, you are useless.”

So I prayed.

And in the heavenlies something changed.

And I am not useless at all.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Write Place Cafe

tea cup, tide half out
spoon sleeps on saucer
used tea bag dries and dies
milk jug
hand pressed clay
glazed, fired, now empty
clock hands move
silently, time telling
lights, a spray of ceiling bulbs
scatter a yellow glow
wall heater turns
cold morning to warm
wooden table
planed planks and knots
metal legs, hard seat
groans and sighs
white marker flowers
trace a winding pattern
along the plastic edge
no bustle of people
no hiss or spit or steam
from the coffee machine
the hum of passing cars
moray firth radio
on low volume
sings songs and
sells services
and gives weather updates
paper, a delicate shade of pink
silver wedding anniversary pen
new ink refill
handwriting, slanting left
cheery words begin
“Dear Carla,”
letter writing

Friday, February 15, 2019

Garden Walkabout Wisdom

Last week the Inverness Botanical Gardens resumed their garden walkabout. An expert, someone that knows plants, leads interested people around the gardens answering all kinds of garden questions and points out what they are doing or not doing at the moment.

It wasn’t warm. It wasn’t bitterly cold. Some parts of the path were still iced over and I’m not sure how the fish in the outside ponds, if there were any, were doing beneath the ice crust. Most of the flower beds were empty and ready for planting once the soil warmed up. We took a soil thermometer with us. It a Star Trek tricorder lookalike with a bit of flex and a probe to stick into the soil.  The plant pots were slightly warmer than open ground. Apparently you can plant broad beans in cold soil and the seeds will grow. There’s no point planting cucumbers though.

If only, I thought, there was something similar for measuring the temperature of someone’s spiritual passion. I pictured myself snatching the device – not the soil temperature one, but the spiritual temperature one and thrusting the probe part into my heart. Would I be anything other than cold? Would the state of my heart and spirit be too cold to plant anything that would grow? How does one measure the heat of the spirit in a person? Is it how they pray? The words they use? Is it in regular church attendance? How much money is given in tithes and offerings? I’m not sure it is any of those things. It is about how close a person walks with Jesus, how much they listen to His voice and how they respond. It’s more than just getting the externals right.

There were snowdrops – little gifts of spring.

We really didn’t do much walking outside. There was nothing to see. There would be cut flowers in one bit, fruit bushes and trees in another bit – it was all a future thing.  One of the ladies in the group was a cut flower volunteer. In the summer, she picks the flowers, makes them into pretty bunches that sell in the shop, twenty bunches a day.

We went into the tropical greenhouse. My glasses steamed up and sweat broke out on my brow. We went upstairs, out of the way of the downstairs workers who were overhauling all the potted plants. Some plants were being re-potted, some were being pruned, some were being de-loused and some were being carted off to sick bay. A plant that isn’t really flourishing attracts destructive insects that move on to healthy plants. There were some plants that were too ill and fit only for the compost heap. Every worker knew the names of the plants, knew what a healthy plant looked like and knew what to look for in terms of bugs.

Something shifted in my heart.  Just for a moment I wasn’t in a tropical greenhouse. Just for a moment I was in a church looking at the work of church leaders. I thought of every member – name known, their walk with Jesus known, their spiritual health known, their strengths and weaknesses known – everything that was needed to help a person flourish – known. A church like that, a Christian in that environment – how could that not be a powerful thing? It should never be down to one man, one minister, one pastor, one vicar being the one man in charge. It has always been a team of elders that was required.

I am not sure that I am really known like those plants in the tropical greenhouse were known. It’s not perhaps the role of a church leader to wrinkle stuff out of people like the diner with the plate of snail shells and a fork. Maybe it is about the kind of environment that a church creates that encourages people to be open. I am frequently being prodded by the Spirit to share something. Through sharing I am encouraging people (I hope) and also giving people a glimpse into the heart of me. I am perhaps more known than I realise.

We ended the hour in the potting shed – a place I had never been before. There were a lot of table nudged together, a lot of chairs to sit on and a kettle and all the things needed to make a cup of tea. The woman in charge was trying to whip up the volunteer-gene in us. So many things about the botanical gardens don’t need expert knowledge to do. She showed us a white board – A virgin oblong of white space. She planned, she said, to list jobs on it, jobs that anyone could do. The lady who made up the bunches of flowers spent many summer mornings in the potting shed.

To serve, to help behind the scenes, to release the experts to do the jobs they couldn’t do – yet another picture of a vibrant church. When did we all become so obsessed about being centre stage or being hauled out to take a bow and enjoy the applause? Serving hearts serve.

One hour and so many things to learn – and not all of them about gardens.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Throwing a Rock

I picked up the book in a charity shop while I was waiting for someone to rummage out the back for a box full of knitting patterns they thought were there somewhere.

Jeff Bridges “The Practice of Godliness” – I didn’t read the blurb at the back. The word “godliness” in the title caught my eye. Sometimes I think I walk with Jesus well. Other times I have let go of His hand and I have wandered off down a rabbit hole. The book begins with Enoch who “walked with God”. Enoch usually provokes a picture in my head – a boy sitting on a wall, kicking his legs and looking down the road. A man is walking along and getting closer to the boy. As he draws level the boy says, “Hey, Mister, can I walk with you?” The man nods his head, the boy jumps down from the wall and they walk off together. Sometimes the boy slips a hand into the man’s hand. That’s how I picture it.

One of the early chapters looks at training yourself to be godly. Just as an athlete training for an event has a routine, so does the person who wants to develop a godly life. Somewhere in the list of things to do comes engaging with the word of God. He Navigators use the five fingers on a hand (four fingers and a thumb) to remind them of how a person can access the word. The first one is listening, and talks about the need to listen preachers. Sometimes what we listen to in the word preached qualifies as entertainment rather than truth that convicts and transforms. We need to remember beyond the church door was spoken of. We need to take it before God and enlist the help of the Spirit to make it live in our day to day lives.

The church pastor on Sunday was talking about kingdom DNA and kingdom values. He began with a passing reference to a vision in the book of Daniel. It was a vision the kind had.

“…there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:31-35)

Daniel talks about different earthly kingdoms represented in the different parts of the statue.  Of the rock that brings the statue down Daniel declares:-

“…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed.”

I am sure that other scholars have picked away at which kingdom is which bit of the statue but in the passing I simply saw the physical kingdom that I live in – the United Kingdom. It’s not built according to God’s kingdom values. A quick flick through a newspaper tells us that.

Sometimes we simply tell ourselves that this is the way things are. We have to live in this United Kingdom. Voting in elections may change the prime minister or the political party in control but the country is the way it is and we live in it and adapt to it, but we can’t change it.

Then I thought about that rock, cut out, but not by human hands that struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Peter in letter talks of us as being living stones – yes, built up to be a temple, but perhaps also being thrown at the current kingdoms that are not God’s kingdom.

We are called to pray for our leaders and part of the prayer has got to be for the bringing down of what is corrupt as well as the building up of what is not. Praying the right prayers is like throwing a rock at the statue and seeing something not godly crumble.

We are also called to live our lives in God’s strength, reflecting God’s passion for righteousness and justice. Every action and reaction we choose to show that clearly shows what God’s heart is like – is that not also a rock thrown at the statue?

When we allow the Holy Spirit to confront those things in us that are not kingdom-birthed, when we cooperate with Him in transforming us into the likeness of Jesus – isn’t that also throwing a rock at the statue?

Every time I choose to act according to the Kingdom DNA within me, I am saying “No!” to the way the world would have me act. The world makes the rules and sometimes they are good ones. More often they are good for only some people and bad for most. God’s rules, cut out but not by human hands, are better. They begin where we are, not where we ought to be. Kingdom rules don’t come complete with rose tinted lenses.

The way the world works, the way some people prosper at the expense of others, the way how much wealth a person possesses is the only criteria for success – these things should not go unchallenged.

There's a rock to be thrown.