Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Blog maintenance

I'm doing a little blog maintenance. I haven't blogged consistently for quite a while. Posts may disappear, posts may reappear. Just doing a little tidying up. I will note on re-posted posts when they were originally written ('cos for some reason when I repost a post it sometimes maintains its original posting date, and then other times it doesn't). TTFN
My guardian 'angel' (aka Boots the Crazy)

Rhythm of life

I remember my children, when they were little, learning to ballroom dance. I remember their tiny feet clad in the pretty silver shoes. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. When they danced they’d stare at their feet, counting – 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. So focused on the steps that they would often end up out of time with the music. Their teacher would lift their heads and refocus them, then they could follow the rhythm and flow of the music.

If we solely and introspectively focus on what we are doing, if we obsess about getting every step 'right', our eyes drop from God’s grace and love down to the minutiae of our actions.  We end up out of step with the beautiful music of the universe.  We lose who we are. We forget to just be...

Phil Wickham puts it:

"It's falling from the clouds
A strange and lovely sound
I hear it in the thunder and rain
It's ringing in the skies
Like cannons in the night
The music of the universe plays...

"Beautiful and free
Song of Galaxies
It's reaching far beyond the milky way
Lets join in with the sound
C'mon let's sing it loud
As the music of the universe plays..."

Self-awareness can be helpful, but obsessive introspection causes us to lose focus on the Person of peace - Jesus - our lives feel discordant and jarring, and we deafen ourselves to the gentle whisper of God.

Friday, 26 February 2016

On Leadership

We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours. 2 Cor 1:24

Lording it over someone.  Micro-management.  Creating clones of yourself.  That isn't the way of Jesus.  You ought to be who you were created to be...and everything on the journey to that point.

It makes me think of the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-24:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’c and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Transformation is God's business...no-one elses'. [is 'elses'' a word? - bah to the rules of grammar]

"I'm the boss! I'm the boss!", insecurity causes us to shout this, to drive people to conform to our view of how they OUGHT to be and if they don't listen we get well-miffed!  Jesus was righteous and filled with all wisdom and yet he doesn't use any motivational techniques, He doesn't use flattery or promises, He doesn't try to coerce, cajole or demand that the young man comply, nor does he chase after him with threats or promises when the man walks away.  Jesus leaves it in the hands of God.  Which is funny in a way, because Jesus is God, and so He could have quite easily zapped that man there and then with some kind of mind-control influence thing. But He didn't, because Jesus did it the right way...always.  So He is therefore always our example of how to deal with a thing.

If most of us are honest with ourselves, what Jesus did was very hard.  When we speak our words of advice it is very difficult when people just ignore them, disagree with them or walk away from us unchanged. But Jesus wasn't a busy-body.  I am guilty of this though.  I think I see a problem, I believe I have the solution (with scriptures to back it up of course!! *smug*) and get gosh-darned annoyed if no-one seems interested! Ha, but that's where humility, gentleness and trusting God comes in.  And Jesus had all those in spades (Matt 11:29).

The disciples learned a few hard lessons along the way.  Thinking amusedly of James and John wanting to call down fire down on a village because the people there wouldn't receive Jesus, "Reject you Lord?  Nuke them all!" - and getting a rebuke from Jesus, "That's not the way we do it lads". Then them wanting to be top-dogs amongst the disciples and getting a gentle admonition from Jesus followed by an amazing teaching on true godly leadership. (Matthew tells us in ch. 20 that they got their mum to ask hahhahahaha - awesome...beware of church people wanting to 'big up' their kids in the church LOL).  Anyway....it is clear that after the cross and the baptism of the Holy Spirit they followed Jesus' example of leadership.

We can see it in Acts 1:1-7 :


In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Firstly, here we have the Twelve working as a group, it seems that the general rule of New Testament leadership is one of group work, not some top-down hierarchy.

Secondly, the Twelve ask the church to decide.  They don't decide.  They don't say, "Make some suggestions and we'll think about it." They trust the Holy Spirit to guide the church - because, durrr, everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of Christ (if they truly belong to Him).  They live out the truth from 1 Tim 2:5: "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus".

Thirdly, once the church has decided, the Twelve lay hands, bless them and leave them to get on with it.  They don't micromanage.

And you know what, the church grew!  That's what happens when you leave the Holy Spirit to guide, change lives, bring wisdom...you know, all the stuff our tiny brains can't cope with when left to ourselves.  Because funnily enough, the Holy Spirit sees the big picture.

So, to sum up, we can see that a godly leader
  • Will not make him/herself 'in charge' of your faith;
  • Will work with you;
  • Will speak the truth and trust God to change your heart;
  • Will not cajole, flatter or pressure you into anything;
  • Will trust you and the wider church to listen to the Holy Spirit and make decisions;
  • Will let them get on with it - i.e. not micromanage;
  • Will not lord it over people; 
  • Will lead by example.
  • Will [and this is important] recognise that he/she is not perfect, does not know all things and might be misunderstanding the situation. Humility and love are essential.
There are a whole host of other things I could write about leadership, but this is just what I was thinking about today.  It's easy to write about, harder to live out.  But by the grace of God we all walk.  Leaders make mistakes, we all do.  But leaders can also damage lives and even destroy churches.  It's a tricky position to be in.  That's why when we have even a tiny bit of influence over someone's life we need to follow Jesus' example.

I'll leave you with these scriptures:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all." Mark 10:42-44

"For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matt 23:12

"not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." 1 Pet 5:3 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

I'm half sick of shadows...but Advent brings light.

and when that which is perfect may come, then that which [is] in part shall become useless...for we see now through a mirror obscurely, and then face to face; now I know in part, and then I shall fully know, as also I was known; 1 Cor 13:10,12 (YLT)


And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
              Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
               Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
              Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
              The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
              And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half-sick of shadows," said
              The Lady of Shalott.

~The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson

Ah this poem.  I've quoted this bit before.  But it just resonates. Bong! Like a rumbly gong in my soul. Such poetic simile...ahem...

We see things as in a mirror darkly.  We see things as in polished metal - the type of mirror Paul would have known - we can see forms, we can see movement, but we don't see the whole picture, and in a mirror it's basically back to front.

Every so often I come back to this realisation.  That, despite my need for definition, for clarity, for absolute, I am merely seeing a shadow.  Jesus is so beautiful, so wonderful, and yet what I know and see is but a dim reflection.  I long to know him as he knows me.  But yet I have to wait.  Until then we weave our tapestry, we paint our pictures of what God is like, but they aren't clear and they aren't perfect.  We are still waiting for the perfect, our Saviour.

Jesus isn't like Lancelot who inadvertently leads the poor Lady of Shalott into a curse. Instead his Advent brings joy and blessing. He isn't a trick, something to lure us into error, into a curse.  No.  To look upon him is the ultimate of all heavenly manna.

This is the good news, when we turn and look upon him, our salvation! When we see him and his full gaze falls upon us.

Advent is this hope.  It is the hope of the blessing of the Numbers benediction, I quote here from the Book of Common Prayer:  

The Lord bless us, and keep us; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us, and give us peace, now and for evermore. Amen

'Lift up the light of his countenance' - there's something about it that really makes me breathe, like a breath of fresh air, an intake of life, the desperate inward breath of a woman who thought she was drowning.  Life.  When you're swirling under a mass of stuff, he lifts up his countenance...and I can breathe.

That's what Advent it.  It's the hope of life to come.  It's the hope...the joy set before me of seeing HIM face-to-face.  Nothing obscuring my vision. Like those creatures in heaven who are covered in eyes, they really SEE him, every part of them from the top of their heads to the tip of their toes SEE him.  Inside and out, back and front, up and down, they see him as he really is.  That's life.  That's the beatific vision of wonder that awaits us.

When we see him as he really is, then all is well.

Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Poo covered cats and memory issues

I'll tell you about the poo covered cat in a minute.  But first my memory issues.  I noticed via email notification that I'd got a comment from the lovely Pom Pom on my Happy Homemaker post.  I logged in through my mobile phone and scrolled through the post to get to my comments.  It was there that I saw it,
"I am soaking some beans and lentils for a homemade soup though."
Oh cr*p, I said to hubster, my soup!  Yep, I'd forgotten. There they were, still soaking in the bowl, two days later.

I do not exaggerate when I say cooking isn't my thing.  Oh, I do try to cook decent meals for my family, but I just have some kind of brain 'off' switch when it comes to cooking.

I have sat in my living room and idly said, "What's that hissing noise?"  With the sudden realisation that I am cooking sausages!  If the smoke alarm goes off the family all shout, "Tea's* ready!" And they think that they are hilarious. Herumph.

[*Tea - northern English term for evening meal (as well as the leafy beverage)]

I have burned three lots of cheese-on-toast in a row, even setting fire to one set when I've sat staring at it under the grill, only to go off into a daydream and being brought-to by the smoke.

It's either that or I forget to defrost the meat.  So I'll decide in the morning that we will have say, a chicken curry.  Forget to take the meat out of the freezer and have to ring Gary on his way home from work to pick up something from the shop.  In fact Gary is so used to this that if I do ring him on the way home from work he immediately says, "What have you forgotten to take out of the freezer?"

And don't get me started on baking...

So, don't tell me to start a meal plan...because I forget to look at the plan...don't tell me to put reminders on my phone...because I see the reminder, look away from it and STILL FORGET!  What is that all about?

Poo covered cat...

Onto the delightful story of our poo covered cat in a moment, but first a bit of back-story.

So, our cat is possessed.

We got her from a cat rescue place in a nearby town in 2006.  She was so friendly and that's why we chose her, she came to us rubbing up, etc.  Her sister was also in the rescue shelter, so we offered to take her too because we didn't want to split them up.  I should have discerned a potential problem when the nice shelter lady said violently, "NO!...ahem...no, they don't get on".  I should have thought, "These two cats have such issues that even an overcrowded shelter won't release them together".

Anyway, we got her home and put her in the kitchen to get her used to one room before introducing her to the rest of the house.  And she disappeared.

She disappeared for 3 days!  Just vanished.  I had floor boards up and everything.  Tins of tuna left here there and everywhere.

When on the the third day I found her [it obviously has deep theological spiritual significance that I found her on the the this day], I pulled a plinth off the bottom of a cupboard that was next to our tall fridge-freezer and I saw a foot.  Yes, for three days she had been wedged upside down behind the fridge-freezer - back legs and tail pointing to the ceiling, forelegs and head stretched to the floor.

And she hadn't even meowed once.

She did finally settle in and we discovered two things:

1) She will snuggle down on your knee, purr, enjoy being fussed, then this wild look will take over her and she'll attack you for no reason.  (It was after she attacked my Bible that I asked Gary to get a priest in.  He thought I was going over the top, but I'm not sure. Ha.)

2) Then the fighting started.  Her paw was against every paw in the neighbourhood.  Her ears are a mess of scars.  Her back legs have been ripped open twice.

Remember I said I chose her because she was so friendly, rubbing up against me at the cat shelter?  When the vet saw her his first words were, "This cat is very territorial".  The rubbing is not friendliness, it's Boots saying, "This is mine. This is mine.  This is mine.  This is mine.  All this is mine. DON'T TOUCH".

When we moved house we hoped she'd settle down.

But no.

We've had another ripped back leg followed by hideous infection.  A split tongue.  I opened the curtains the other day to see blood splattered all up the window.  The window cleaner spent the following morning surreptitiously looking for bodies in the back garden...haha I jest, I jest.

It's always at night.  My new neighbours regularly see me running around the street in my jammies yelling, "Get inside you stupid cat!" and then chasing other people's cats up the road hissing like a maniac.

We've tried to make her a house cat, but she goes literally insane trying to get outside.  We've tried a Feliway plugin that supposedly gives off happy-cat smells - it failed.  She'd been prescribed cat-valium - failed.

An aside:  Boots has just appeared on the windowsill staring at Gary and he has just made a rude gesture at her.  I do so love her despite it all. Ha.

So, Tuesday night, Gazza and I were just settling down for the night, it was about midnight and we hear it. YOWLOWLWOWOOWOWOWYOWLEEEEMEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW!!!! And the sound of the bins in the back garden being knocked over.

So I run outside in my jammies - and I'm wearing my old jammies that have shrunk in the wash so that the trousers flap at half-mast between ankle and knee - calling quietly because I don't want the neighbours looking at me: "Boooooots!  Bootssssssss!"  Then Boots suddenly careers past me wildly followed by a stripey cat, which I chase off up the street hissing at it like a wild woman.

Boots has gone into the back garden and is sat on the outside kitchen windowsill looking at me.

I pick her up with "You bad cat, what's wrong with you".  I get inside and I smell it.

Poo.

In the light I see it.  She is covered head to tail in poo -  with blood gently dripping from her ear for dramatic effect.

What is this?  Some kind of cat self-defence reaction?  Like an octopus squirts ink, is she now squirting poo at her enemies?

What do I do?  If I put her down she'll run off into the house trailing cat-poo everywhere.

"GARY!"

Right now I don't care if she fights every single cat in the neighbourhood and keeps us awake til two.  I am not letting a wild-eyed poo-covered cat in my house.  So, I check that her ear is OK, it is - just a tiny scratch - and Gary opens the door again and I deposit her unceremoniously outside.

I think I need to burn those jammies.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

A lowly beggar at the gates of heaven

I was reading a guest post by a woman called Sarah Mae on Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience blog called: When You're Looking for Answers to the Cry of the Aching Woman's Heart, when I came across this line:

When we are desperate as beggars (Matthew 5:3, literal translation)the Kingdom is ours and the blessing can be found.
I'm a complete sucker for the words 'literal translation' and so I immediately got distracted from the message of the post and went off on a little etymological voyage of discovery.  Here's what I found:

Matthew 5:3 reads:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The word translated 'poor' is πτωχός, which transliterated is ptochos.  Ptochos means literally a destitute beggar - destitute of money, status, power and even virtue.  Strongs says: "strictly denoting absolute or public mendicancy".  (Yes I had to look up mendicancy - it basically means begging or being a beggar).

In other words this is total public destitution.  You cannot hide the fact that you are desperate.  There is a different Greek word for being in private straightened circumstances(i.e. you have to strive and toil just to make ends meet) and that word is πένης transliterated penes.

Public destitution.  So desperately in need that we really don't care who knows it.  We have nothing else to lean on, no-one else to go to.

To quote Rachel from Friends, "There's rock bottom.  Fifty feet of crap and then there's me".  You can't even look up from rock bottom "to see the stars" for all the crap on top of you.  Without Jesus we are destitute and blind.

Most of us are in 'penes', we know we are sinners, we know that in private we are ratbags or grumps or judgemental, I know I'm like this, but in public people see Sunday Sarah.  Full of the joy of the Lord, full of compassionate concern, full of 'good strong' Biblical knowledge, gifted by the Holy Spirit [or at least in my head this is what I hope they see]...etc, etc.

But Jesus says I need to get to the place of public destitution...what does this mean?

It means honesty.   It means that we stop spouting off like the Laodiceans about our giftings and general wonderfulness and admit we are "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked". It means stop pretending and acknowledge an absolute desperate need for Jesus - like a beggar who knows that if they don't start publically begging they are going to die.

I would die without Jesus.

My dream, my desire, for the past three years has been, "I just want Jesus".  Nothing else, just Jesus. That's why the line from Simplicity by Rend Collective, "Lord strip it all away, 'til only You remain" really gets to me.  I don't want to lean on anything else except Him.  And that is hard, it is hard because I'm proud, and I mean proud in the sense that I keep trying to improve myself outside of God, whilst simultaneously subconsciously working on making people like me!

*legalism*

I mentioned the book by Tim Keller - the Freedom of Self-forgetfulness - a couple of posts back and that's where I want to be.  I am desperately in need of God.  But because of pride I keep my destitution private.  I want to be forgetting self, but even in trying to forget self all you can think about is self; both pride and self-hatred are self-obsession.  There is an irony about trying to be humble, because you just end up more self-focussed! Ha.

I am a living example of Isaiah 30, in the sense that Jesus is there all along offering solace and solutions, but I'm going to rush off on my trusty steed to SORT.THINGS.OUT!

For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not,
And you said, “No, for we will flee on horses”—
Therefore you shall flee!
And, “We will ride on swift horses”—
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift!
One thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
At the threat of five you shall flee,
Till you are left as a pole on top of a mountain
And as a banner on a hill.
Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him. (verses 15-18)
Yes, God waits patiently while I run around trying to sort my life out, until I have burned out trying to remember how to forget myself whilst simultaneously trying to impress people and 'get the work of the kingdom done' Sarah-style!  I am, figuratively speaking, left like a stick at the top of a hill - stripped down, laid bare for all to see.

I am nothing, but a lowly beggar at the gates of heaven.

But then. Everything.

When you can't keep up the pretence anymore, when you're weary of trying - Jesus - our strength and our rest is already there.  He never left, He simply waited.  That word 'wait' in Isaiah 30:18 is חָכָה, it's an expectant waiting - a longing.  God is longing for you.  I beg at the gates of heaven, but then Jesus is standing on the other side knocking.

Jesus - the key to the Kingdom of Heaven; the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Him we have the Kingdom.  When the Kingdom of Heaven is yours you can truly live full of the joy of the Lord, full of compassionate concern and live out the Word of God...it's not an act it's just Jesus, He is all these things for us.

I'm not there yet, I'm sure no-one is, but just know this, through it all, through the two steps forward, three steps back kind of lives we live...Jesus is not waiting until you get it right before those gates are flung wide open, He waiting for you to hear Him knocking in the midst of your desperation and need.

Jesus loves you.

Monday, 27 April 2015

My broken song


"I come with my broken song...", these words from Rend Collective's song 'Simplicity' cuts down to where I really hurt. 

When church hurts.  When people use the Bible as a weapon.  When Christians get tribal over a doctrine.  When people push forward their 'vision' aggressively. I feel crushed. It hurts.  It hurts me because I'm still raw.

A woman said in church last night that sometimes we have to let go.  We have to stop talking and thinking about our pain and just get on with it.  Let Jesus heal it.  I guess in some ways she's right.  But even if I change my behaviour it'll still be there.

I can't conform, but I reckon He can transform.

I can only come with my broken song.  I don't want to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that 35 years of spiritual abuse hasn't affected me.  I want to unlearn and I want Him to strip it all away.  It'll make me raw and exposed, but so what.  Let me reach out and touch the hem of His robe.

And He does meet us there in our brokenness.  Church hurts, but I've found church also heals.  Not everyone uses the Bible to condemn people. Not everyone treats their pet doctrine like an idol put above the mercy and grace of God.  Not everyone foists their vision forcibly onto others.

Where I would like to be is to see Jesus in the midst of the ickyness.  When that preacher is being dramatic and insisting on an "amen" when I'd rather say "see ya!", when I see the oppressed being vilified for the sake of a  Bible verse, when I see my loved ones being sidelined or gossiped about for 'the sake of the kingdom' or to push forward the 'vision'...I'd love to just be able to ignore it and not get sucked into this black-hole.  I'd love to be able to remember that Jesus' heart is for the oppressed and prefers justice and mercy over exacting doctrinal correctness, to remember that He is bigger than all this.

I guess I will, one day.

Time heals.  It really does.  I rarely have panic attacks now.  I'm closer to Jesus now.  But every so often someone touches my pain and I remember how weak and raw I still am.

So for now, I'll come with my broken song, because He accepts it as lovingly as the song of the triumphant.

A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3 (NIV)