Crumbs

I have been thinking about names recently. Mine means brave and strong. The last things I feel myself to be. But I don’t think I got my name by accident and so, in the spirit of faith, I claim those qualities, even if I can’t yet see them. In any case, Jesus is both brave and strong. And he lives here, at this dubious address, in this over-sugared, under-exercised body, if the Book is to be believed. And if my experience of company in solitude, presence in silence and audience to my thoughts holds any weight.

It is too late now to retreat into familiar hiding places. In Finding Nemo, the daddy fish Marlin is in the habit of making a number of exits and returns to his anemone each morning, before plunging out into the world. I’m out past my comfort zone now but I don’t know the way back. It’s barred to me. I can’t go back to the home I remember because it’s not there.

Sometimes I look to where we used to be and imagine us all there again. But that is impossible. Like the river flowing past, the water is constantly changing. In the old neighbourhood, buildings are pulled down and new ones are built, the single marry or move away, children grow and leave. It all changes. So this desire for home is for a snapshot in time, or a series of them I have plated into a pretty meal to feast on at moments like this.

Thankfully God tells us in his word not to replay former things and look to the future. He calls us forward, out of our inclination to circle back to what was. New memories to make, new adventures to be had. Thankfully Jesus is here with me, quietly encouraging me, lending weight to the flimsy words I dare to speak on his behalf.

A woman asks me how she can keep going to church and Bible study when she, despite being a Christian, knows she still sins. Surely God’s holiness and purity make it impossible for her to access the great love she keeps hearing about. Surely, she thinks, she’s still too wrong to qualify for it.

I take a deep breath before answering.

When I realised I have talked continuously for about four minutes I stop and check that the line hasn’t gone dead. You still there? I’m sorry I just got carried away, I say.

No, no, it’s wonderful. Just wonderful. I can hardly believe that he loves me like that, she says. Go on.

So I do. And again, after I have talked for a good while without pause, I check in with her. I can hear the relief in her voice.

And I am blessed. Why? Because earlier this morning I asked God for an opportunity to explain the hope I have in me. Because I have avoided this for so long I don’t know how to do it.

But after talking to this woman I realise I just have to express what I understand. No more, no less. No big theological concepts, just what I understand. In Bee Movie (just humour me, I have little kids), Barry gives his friend Adam a piece of cake crumb from his new human friend. That’s what they eat? Adam asks, blown away by the taste. No, Barry says, that’s what falls off what they eat.

My point? What we believers have in the word of God is so amazing, so excellent and powerful that even the tiny crumb we offer in our slightly chaotic way is powerful and satisfying.

So let’s use what we’ve got and see what God does. The harvest is great but the workers are few.

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Foghorn

It would have been early, 5 am or thereabouts, when our sleep was interrupted by a long, loud blast on a ship’s horn. My other half was not impressed, saying it was a bit antisocial. It blasted again a few times more and then stopped. Later when we got up we couldn’t see the water or the bank opposite. It looked as though a cloud had parked in front of us. The blast was probably a cruise liner or cargo ship moving out along a stretch of river also used by small boats and rowers. So the foghorn may have woken the folks along the shore, but those on the water needed it.

One of the more ridiculous lies I have wrapped my scaredy-cat self in over the years goes like this: offence is worse than warning. So the best thing to do is to say nothing and hope that by being a really super-nice person others might be intrigued enough to give me opportunities to share the hope I have in Jesus. If I was really serious about that I should have got myself one of those badges pyramid sellers used to wear. ‘I’m a Christian. Ask me how.’

But I didn’t. Because for one thing, I was not nice enough consistently enough to arouse much curiosity. Truth. For another, I didn’t really have much to tell people in response to any question they might ask me. Thinking about talking to anyone about my faith made my palms sweaty. Still does at times. But I saw a cartoon that gave me pause. It showed the devil leading a man off to hell and an angel leading another off to heaven. The condemned man is looking at the other with disbelief. The caption reads: Bob! You never told me you were a Christian!

If you’re in the dark and you’re in danger you need someone to warn you. If you choose not to believe them that’s your choice. If I see the danger but am too shy/scared to tell you, that makes me not at all nice. That makes me something else entirely. As Penn Jillette, not shy about his atheism, puts it so well here.

Nearly morning

Romans 13: 10 – 14

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Sleep. What a wonderful, beautiful thing we get to do every night. While our bodies recharge, it takes us to warm happy oblivion, or a field of flowers, or a flight over our favourite city, or whatever you dream about, until the alarm punctures its membrane and pulls us awake. It can take a while for us to get our bearings, and reluctantly give up the dream we were just in.

Who wants to get up? Who would? Especially at this time of year, if like me you live in the southern hemisphere. The icy dark winter mornings are not exactly inviting. And the dream can be so lush, and the bed so warm, that getting up is the last thing you want to do. It’s cosy and comforting here. It’s cold outside. We’ll have to do stuff once we get up. Let’s just stay here as long as we can.

The funny thing about staying in bed longer than you need to, in my experience, is that it seems to get less comfortable as time passes. I find myself wriggling round to find a good spot. When I try to lie-in, I rarely get back to sleep unless I’m ill.

For a while I’ve been in a state not unlike sleep. I know this because I am starting to wake up. In the same way that we don’t realise we’re dreaming until morning comes and we have to face the fact that we don’t actually have the power of flight. Only I’m having the reverse experience.

Let me explain.

Years ago I was much less reserved in my Christian expression. I didn’t preach on street corners or anything like that, but I probably came across as a bit, er, eccentric. References to God seasoned a lot of my conversations. I hung out with other slightly eccentric believers. I spent a lot of time praying and reading Scripture. Cool things happened. People got emotional and sometimes physical healing. We listened carefully for God and He let us see him work in spectacular ways.

We moved house. And then we moved again. And I fell asleep. Not immediately, not completely. But something took my focus off Jesus and put it onto making things comfortable for the people around me. I allowed the structures and traditions of the worship and churches we became part of to shape my expression and my expectation. Both became restrained and restricted. And swaddled by the comforting structures of codified worship, I drifted off to sleep.

Since the fire, and perhaps for some time before then, God has been sounding the alarm in his gently insistent way. He’s showing me what to repair and what to throw out. Priorities to re-set. Idols to destroy, like pain, fear and pride. I want to protect myself from being hurt. I have anxieties about what people can accept, about getting things wrong. I don’t want to look foolish. But I know that in God my life finds full expression, and that in God its fullest expression is more than I have allowed myself to experience. In the last few weeks, I have been seeking out opportunities to rebuild the lost connection and I have found him waiting to receive me and satisfy my thirst.

So I’m awake and I’m getting up.

You?

In the dark if need be

One of my favourite characters in the Old Testament is Gideon. He lived during a time when Israel was ruled by judges rather than kings. Gideon’s natural caution – some might call it cowardice – is seen in the way we meet him, threshing grain in a winepress to hide it from the marauding Midianites, a vicious tribe which has been terrorising Israel for some time. An angel, or perhaps God himself (the text is unclear at this point) appears and addresses him as ‘mighty warrior’, giving him a mission to deal with this enemy. First, Gideon makes excuses ‘…but I’m the youngest member of the weakest tribe…’ and then he checks the credentials of his visitor with a test. (Really. Look it up. Judges 6.)

Clearly, Gideon is not your pick-me type. But once convinced, Gideon accepts his mission, to pull down the Baal altar which Israel has been worshipping, replace it with an altar to God and sacrifice a bull there. Bold action for a man like Gideon. Convinced now that God is doing the asking, Gideon obeys the instructions to the letter. But under cover of darkness. I love seeing his human frailty in this, as he does the scary thing in a slightly less scary way. He is quickly identified as the culprit the following day, but Gideon’s confidence from this point on simply grows and grows. He goes on to greater, bolder things from this scaredy-cat start.

I know I’m not alone in coming up with excuses for why I can’t or won’t act. But, as Jesus himself said a few thousand years later, with God all things are possible. There is nothing He cannot do. And if we are supported and loved by this God of the impossible, then what are our limitations? What stops us from being confident people, untroubled by the opinions or the gaze of others? Gideon had a confidence issue, but God showed him what he was capable of, even accommodating Gideon’s weird requests for reassurance.

We won’t get reassurance if we don’t ask. And once we get it, we can get on with whatever we have to do. Even if we have to start out in the dark.

 

 

 

Switching off the MeCam

I needed to take a new picture the other day using my webcam. It took me a while to figure out why my face was always in shadow. I must have taken about eight photos before I realised I was looking at myself, not at the tiny lens in the top of the screen. Not at the camera.

And I thought, oh. Is that what I’ve been doing all this time.

It’s very hard to do anything much if you’re constantly observing yourself. Checking your own progress. Re-playing conversations, assessing your performance. Looking in the mirror of other people’s responses. It’s also exhausting. No wonder I’m tired all the time. And so self-conscious. Why sometimes I talk as if speech was about to be banned, and at other times I can find nothing to say. My harshest critic has always been me. My biggest bully (and I’ve had a few) has been my own dear self, reminding me always of my failures and never of my successes.

So at the beginning of my 4Xth year I’ve decided to switch off the me-cam. I don’t need constant reassurance that I’m on the right track. I can trust God’s word and God’s methods to set me straight when I need it. I’ve decided to actually trust myself and my gifts this year. Possibly for whole days at a time. I aim to resist refuelling at the pit stops of self-pity, fear and sadness. I am going to check my progress, if I must, against what God says about me. I am going to surround myself with people who encourage, words that inspire and images that delight me. (No cat pictures though).

Jesus got a little exasperated with his disciples from time to time. On one such occasion, he had healed a boy his followers had not been able to cure. They asked him why they couldn’t do it. He said

Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

Matthew 17 v 20

I have no idea what this will look like, and that’s the point. I have speculated far too much about how things will look, or how I will look, and what others will think about it. Time to stop. So I’m switching that off. Now.

Well, here we are

At the start of another year. Frankly, for my part, grateful and relieved to have got through the last one. It was very tough in parts. For some I know, their difficult times are just beginning.

I woke up this morning full of first-day-of-the-year enthusiasm, with loads of ideas falling over each other as I contemplated the year ahead.  I should add that I had most of these fine thoughts in the shower so they were largely gone before I could write them down. I’ll have more tomorrow. We all do. Some more worthy of note than others.

A few years ago, when I was more willing to listen to God’s still small voice (he’s having to shout a bit lately) I was prompted to ask a few women in the school playground if they were Christians. We decided to form a weekly prayer group in the local park. Well, they did.( I remember looking at the ground and studying my feet when that suggestion came up, but I was in too deep by then). I will never forget the first time we met. I’m quite shy about these things so praying out loud in a park was a LONG way outside my comfort zone. I realised these mums were serious prayer warriors who didn’t care who heard them praising God at 9am on a weekday morning. I confess I did start with one eye open. I so was distracted by my own nonsense it wasn’t even funny.

Then one of them started to pray. It went something like this:

‘Dear Lord, thank you for opening my eyes this morning. Thank you that I could see my children, hear their voices, see their smiles. Thank you for the health and strength to get up and dress myself. Thank you that I can look after them. Thank you for providing me with another day of life. Thank you for giving us food to eat, a home to live in, clothes to wear. Thank you for every blessing of our lives until now. Thank you for all the things you have protected me and my family from that we know about and don’t even know about. Thank you for letting us know you even exist. Thank you for sending Jesus to tell me that you love me unconditionally. Thank you Jesus…’

.. and so it went on. I can’t convey the passion in her voice, but I was almost in tears by the time she finished, aware, as she prayed, of quite how much grace is lavished on me on a daily basis without me even noticing it, let alone stopping to say thanks. I have tried since then to shape my prayers around the simple discipline of gratitude but in that shockingly easy way of us human beings, I forget. I’m glad of the reminder today, which has helped to melt away my usual silly resolutions. I really don’t think God cares if I lose weight or exercise more. It would be good to say thanks more, though. Not just to God directly but also to the people God uses to bless me, to teach me and to help me move forward.

So I’ll start with you. Thanks for reading this blog.

May your 2015 be amazing.

Happy New Year

Enjoying the ride

Enjoying the ride

My last post was about living small, taking away the unnecessary clutter and keeping it really simple. In a funny way this is what I want to do with Christmas. Make it smaller, simpler, less so it can mean more. By now, like me you may already be strapped into that roller coaster called Christmas. In my house, with my kids, it looks and sounds a little like this.

‘…No you can’t put up the decorations til after your sister’s birthday at the beginning of the month and then we can start thinking about it. No we won’t get a real tree because remember the last one shed all over the place and your sister was allergic. Yes by all means write a Christmas list but remember it’s for guidance only. Maybe you will get (insert whatever it is everyone allegedly has already) but not if you keep pestering me. I don’t know how Santa will get down our blocked chimney. Your work Christmas drinks is tonight? No I don’t know what exactly we’ll be having for dinner on Christmas day. Your Christmas concert is WHEN? And you need antlers for your play? No I did not give Santa a spare key. What school breakfast? You forgot to give me the letter…?’

For me Christmas is easily the most pressured and stressful season. But this year I have had to get involved with the church nativity play. Gulp. All the usual suspects have somehow dodged this task and it has fallen to three of us not-so-usual ones to round up those children not absent due to sickness or overcommitment elsewhere. I was less than thrilled about it until I saw an article in Christianity today called Christmas Scandals which gives fascinating context to the spare biblical account in Luke Chapter 2. It was just what I needed to get fired up again. ( I tried linking to it but it didn’t work, so if you’re interested, go to http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2014/December-2014/Christmas-Scandals)

God himself chose to enter his own creation. Not on a flaming chariot (that’s how I might have done it), but from a womb. Down a birth canal. Into the fetid air of a stable. Amongst animals, into the immediate care of a teenage girl and her brave, brave husband.

I want to give God the respect due, not least for being willing to humble himself in ways we would find unimaginable. I want to make space to contemplate that. I want to find positive ways to escape the tidal wave of nonsense that threatens to inundate us in the lead up to Christmas. I haven’t been sure how to do this but ironically, it seems to have started with this nativity play. The project that was more or less forced into my hands has made me think again about what an extraordinary event it was.