Friday, August 30, 2019

The Turning

“Hello, my name is Mel and you are? Eva? What a lovely name. Eva, I have got to tell you two things really quickly.”

I will tell you what the two things are in just a moment. I have begun this conversation many times over the week, talking to a wide variety of people - different ages, different nationalities and different degrees of “ripeness” for Kingdom harvesting.

Before I tell you the two things, there are two other things that got me out there, on the streets of Inverness talking to people.

The Turning is “local churches working together across a region until every believer is equipped to share the gospel and trained to disciple those that respond.” Yes, it’s that word “evangelism”, the one that gives Christians bad dreams at night. Evening meetings, time to worship God, pray and enter His presence are followed by next-day outreaches. There’s training before going out on the streets to talk to people about Jesus and see them respond. This last week a team from Reading joined us to soak the streets of Inverness with a gospel message.

I’d done this before. In October 1989, I arrived in Inverness as a part of a gospel outreach team. The plan was to spend a year helping to build and strengthen a new church planting. I’m not a sociable person by nature. Give me chalk and a blackboard and a room full of desks and I’m in my element. Give me paint pots and brushes, a white sheet of paper on an easel and a crowd and I can busk my way through a gospel message. Tell me to find an individual person to talk to – well, that’s a different story. 

So, why go back out? There’s a scene in a favourite sci-fi film I like, “The Last Starfighter.” The baddie in the film destroys the space station where all the young trainees are. To save the planet all the retired fighters are recalled to step in. This week had that kind of feel to it – not the destruction of a next generation of witnesses – just the thought of me, outreach-retiree, back out there.

Perhaps if it had not been the last week in August, I would not have responded to the call. The last week in August, the Thursday of that week, in 1976 I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour. It seemed like I needed to balance the universe somehow by inviting someone else to make that same decision. Forty-three years later I am still walking with Jesus. It became a part of my conversations this week to say that after forty-three years I could guarantee that God would stick with them every single day. I didn’t tell them it was a stroll in the park, or some vaccination against problems – and I have had my share. It’s just that walking with Jesus gives access to resources a person would not otherwise have.

That’s the first thing that got me out on the streets this week. The second is equally impressive. In 1986 a gospel outreach team supported a church planting in Rugby. Covenant Life Church in Leicester was splitting at the seams. Too many members and not enough space, they encouraged a group to move to Rugby and, with the help of an outreach team, start a new church. What I did this week in Inverness, a group of young people did in Rugby then.

Two people spoke to my mum as she sat on a bench. They shared the gospel with her.  She did a lot of crying that day. It was an end-of-the-tether kind of day. They pointed to Jesus and she just walked into His arms.

Some people have their misgivings about people saying a prayer of salvation on some street evangelism project. They wonder whether it’s real. Do people really understand what they are saying? I had my own questions about it this week as I prayed with a young man as we went through a salvation prayer together. The ugly voice was right there in an instant – “It’s not real. It’s not genuine.” That is not my problem. That’s God’s problem. We made a note of names and phone numbers so that we could follow them up.

As regards my mum, and later my dad, I knew it was for real. Their lives changed. It wasn’t just them trying hard to be better people. They weren’t better people all by themselves but because of God intervening. They still lived in a world that wasn’t on their side – but they had a God who had placed Himself firmly on their side. Love for God showed itself in their love for each other and for their family. It was transformative. I know God works! I’d seen it in my own life and now in theirs. To me there is nothing more that convinces me that there is a God – not a God that starts things going like winding up a clock and keeps Himself at arm’s distance, but a God with His sleeves rolled up ready to get His hands dirty.

This week was about giving back something now in return for what had been given to me then.

And the two things I was going to tell you really quickly? That God loves you and has a awesome plan for your life.

If you want the rest of the conversation, and there is one, seek me out and ask me.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Weight of a Wish

Once upon a time there was a star. It wasn’t the brightest star in the heavens. It wasn’t the first star to shine when the day ended and the evening shadows darkened. That night it was the saddest star in the sky. If stars could cry its tears would have filled a million oceans.

The Creator turned His face to the star and said, “What’s the matter, little star? Why are you so unhappy?”

For just a moment, just a little twinkle of star light, the little star felt such joy at the Creator’s closeness. It was always wonderful when the Creator spoke.

“I think I’m going to fall out of the sky,” the little star confessed. “I feel the weight of all the wishes.”

People with large hopes or troubled hearts would look up at the sky. They searched for a star and they made a wish. Sometimes they would laugh at themselves and think themselves silly, but they would do it anyway.

Stars were never meant to carry the weight of wishes. Hopes and dreams are not light things in the universe. Sometimes, when stars carry too many wishes, they become too heavy and they fall out of the sky. They might leave a bright trail as they fall – but they still fall. They stop being stars and crumble to dust.

“I’m so sorry,” said the Creator as He wept tears for the little star.

The Creator knew that people shouldn’t make a wish on a star. Wishes had no power to change anything and neither did the stars. People who had large hopes and troubled hearts should not look up at the sky and weigh down the stars.

They should talk to the Creator. Only He has the power to change things.

The End

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The A to Z of Following Jesus

A recent cretive writing task was to write an alphabet story - twenty six lines, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet, in the right sequence. Our friend, Cliff, went one better:-

Attention to following Jesus in today’s world is extremely important
Believing in what you know and why you live His way helps you in many ways
Confessing your faith to others will be a challenge but it will open doors to all sorts of communication
Doing what God says in His Bible can speak louder than anything you say
Earnestly, 100%, seeking God in all you do could be difficult, but it will prove to others that you are sold out for God
Fuel your life with God’s holy word daily
Go the extra mile for God and for others as God gives you strength daily
Hunger to be filled with God’s Spirit and He will fill you constantly
Ignite the desire in you to keep walking with God every day
Just as Jesus loves you, always forgive others no matter how hard it hurts you
Kick the hate of the world and injustices out of you life with Jesus’ grace
Love always wins and knows no limits
Move with love to shine His mercy to your world
Notice every mercy of God’s love is for you but also for everyone else
Oh, the blood of Jesus washes us whiter than snow
Pace yourself in your walk in life and God’s word so that you do not grow weary and feel like giving up
Quenching in patience and prayer may be wiser than becoming bored and impatient while waiting your turn
Read God’s word often
Seek Him in prayer whenever you need to
Turn your eyes on Jesus and trust Him always
Under God’s arms of love are bags of mercy to wipe away every tear of hurt from life
Value the life of others wherever you go
X is the extra mile and the cross that Jesus died on for you and the world
You are worth more to God than you can imagine
Zeal for God is life changing so never let go of it

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Teling Tales - Both sides of It

I’d been invited to go to a creative writing group by a man I met at a storytelling workshop. As he was just a man and not THE man who ran the class, I wasn’t sure whether I could just turn up. There might be an etiquette to these things that I didn’t know about. At a different workshop, another man who went to that same group, was not happy about the calibre of poems that won awards. He didn’t understand them. One such poem was “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Steven. The homework given was to write something similar on the topic of borders. I didn’t go to the writing group but I liked the prompt so I wrote a poem about fences. One stanza comes t mind:-

something to sit on when
coming down on one side or the other
brings no clear benefits
and makes enemies

Tuesday night, the Waterfront Hotel. I picked up a brolly as dark clouds gathered. The brolly was broken and quite useless, but it seemed that just the act of carrying it would be a declaration that rain would not spill and I wouldn’t get wet. A pointless act in reality as I did get wet!

The topic for the creative writing workshop was about how to effectively write about the hot potatoes in life. The guest speaker, author and journalist Fiona Rintoul. had written a book, The Leipzig Affair.

Joe and I didn’t quite make it to Leizpig to watch Celtic FC play in a Champion’s League fixture. We stayed in Berlin and took in many tourist attractions, including the wall. There was so much sadness from the fallout from the division then into East and West. There was also so much hope and vitality from all the new buildings that filled what used to be no-man’s land.

One of Fiona’s concerns was about writing a story based on events that she hadn’t experienced. It is all too easy to pick a side based on what you think you know or what you read in books or newspapers. Part of the problem comes when you have deeply entrenched ideas and what you choose to read is the stuff that confirms rather than challenges what you think. How can you present opposing views giving them both weight?

I remember that my degree dissertation had been on the topic of the effect siblings have on the social and emotional development of a child. I was one of six children. I’d already made up my mind that brothers and sisters mattered.  I read a lot of reports and studies on both sides of the issue. Swings and roundabouts – brothers, sisters, the only child. I think I didn’t read objectively. I’d already decided and it influenced how I read and what I read.

One way of presenting both sides, in fiction, is to use dialogue. Set in in pub, two men leaning against the bar, pints in hand, putting the world to rights. Bob says one thing. Fred challenges him. A lively discussion begins and each character argues their point, gives their reasons and embellishes it with a memory, or something that cropped up in Eastenders or a newspaper article they read.

The discussion doesn’t end with Fred being won over by Bob and the readers being led to the conclusion that Bob was right. Maybe Bob’s mobile phone beeps. His wife reminds him he promised to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. Bob slaps his forehead. He had forgotten. He’s got to go. He and Fred part company and the reader is left to make their own conclusions. It’s important, said Fiona, to not tell someone what they should believe. If people have the information – the correct information, both sides of it, rational, reasonable with the right dash of emotion, the writer is allowing them to be mature enough to draw their own conclusion. Telling the reader what to think is propaganda.

If you are doing that, presenting the discussion, airing the views and allowing the reader to decide, the quality of the information given needs to be good. The research needs to be done but not like my dissertation that was very one sided. The variety of sources is important – letters, diaries, related novels perhaps. Not everything researched needs to be used, only that which advances the story. Bob is unlikely to quote obscure historians or cite specific experiments and their conclusions. Using the research selectively matters rather than just throwing everything you have found out into the pot. Fiona admitted that she had done that. So much had to be cut out and deciding what was important and what wasn’t took time.

So there you have it:-

·         Try to ese dialogue to present differing views

·         Let the reader decide which view they take on board

·         Do lots of research to give them what they need to make an informed decision

We had an opportunity to write something on contentious issues. The choice was between Islamaphobia and the transgender debate. Most people chose to write about the first simply because it has a history that isn’t particularly recent. Many writers prefer a bit of distance from events. A decade or two and the dust has settled and the knee-jerk response isn’t felt so keenly. Then, maybe it’s time to start writing.

Sometimes I think that being a person of faith makes the whole issue of freedom of speech and censorship that much more like a minefield. If you regard a holy book as divinely inspired and not up for debate, some issues are decided for you. Society labels something as acceptable. A holy book might not. Not everything is up for interpretation. People feel threatened and they choose to defend their ideas out of sense of fear.

One of the skills we need to pass on to our young people is how to deal respectfully and gently with those who hold views that are different from our own. Books of fiction like Fiona Rintoul’s book, “The Leipzig Affair” try to do that.

We all have to read well. And some of us have to write well.