Sunday, January 08, 2017

Psalm 8:1 Amended

You paint the heavens with Your glory
And spell out Your splendour in the stars
Angels kneel and cry out “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
Nature dances and sings Your praises
Even the enemy through gritted teeth calls You “God”

But the man You are mindful of
The man You’ve made a little lower than the angels
Crowned with glory
Holding the works of Your hands in his
The man with all things under his feet
That man…is silent
He insists the frame he inhabits
The world and all it contains
Is the only reality

Lord of Mercy, God of Grace
Tilt his gaze
Let him look up and see what is beyond

Friday, January 06, 2017

David and the Multiple Smaller Foes

Six days into the New Year and I am following a series of devotions on the book of Psalms, “The Secret Place” by Jerry Rankin.

God and I had a curious conversation the other day.  It was all about dunking teabags. It began with a question – “Mel, why don’t you use your teapot more often?” It is not a huge teapot – enough perhaps for two cups and top-ups. I insist on warming the teapot first – a little hot water swilled around and emptied out before dropping in the teabags and filling with water. And there you have it – it all takes time. Most of the time I’m making tea for one and it is more convenient to dunk a teabag. God continued – “I think you should use the teapot and let the tea brew properly. You need to slow down.” We weren’t just talking about tea – there is always some deeper thing with God.

With any book of devotions it is easy to get into the habit of reading the passage that has been assigned to the day, reading the devotions, reading the prayer at the end of the page and ticking a box somewhere in the head to say you have done it. I am trying not to do that. I am trying to treat the whole thing like making tea with the teapot – slowing down, lingering and waiting for things to steep a little.

Psalm 5 found me sitting in a café with my Bible, a note book and Jerry.

It seemed to me as I read through the psalm, incredible that David, the man who slew Goliath with a single stone, could have been brought to the point of such distress. Weeping? Dissolving the couch with his tears? He defeated Goliath! It seemed to me that in defeating Goliath, a giant, that all other normal sized foes would be a piece of cake in comparison.

But, perhaps it is the nip, nip, nipping away over weeks, months and years that makes the numerous smaller foes that much more difficult to deal with. Maybe those single giants are easier to dispatch than the multiple smaller ones – the one after another, after another that wears you down.

It is not a sign of weakness to reach that place where you have run out of resources and appeal to God for help. You are exactly where God wants you – as close to Him as you can get, leaning on Him, looking to Him for victory.

“I did it my way!” isn’t in the Christian song-book. God fights on our behalf so that we can’t say we did it our way. Only God gets the glory.

David was confident after calling on God for help that His enemies would be dealt with.

“All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.” Ps 5:10

He didn’t wait until the enemies were dispatched and disposed of before he began to praise God. The very fact that he had laid it before God was enough. His prayer was as good as answered.

I am already on the victory side. The real enemy, the one that lurks behind all the others, has been defeated by Jesus, at the cross.

Things I Should Not Say

I should not say
My flame was extinguished
By raging wind and storm blast
Can I only burn
When clouds are soft and skies are blue?

I should not say
My faith cannot blossom
Under scorching sun and baked earth
Can I only flourish
When rain is gentle and sunshine is kind?

I should not say
My spirit grows cold
In autumn’s aging and winter’s bite
Can I only thrive
When springtime frolics and summer gleams?

Then I call this to mind, Lord
Yours is the flame ignited within
Yours is the seed stirred to life
Yours is the breath I inhale
I align my life
According to Your seasons

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Behtlehem Choir

A melody not heard before
Tumbles over hill and moor
A song of peace that stirs the air
News from heaven angels share

They sing of peace so rich and deep
For those who mourn, who grieve, who weep
They sing of new life - ours to claim
An end to sorrow, guilt and shame

They sing of hope that never died
Of God’s vast love that dwells inside
They sing of freedom, chains that break
Of new adventures now to take

They sing of unrelenting joy
That starts its journey with a boy
He’s heaven clothed in earthly skin
Who ends a curse for us to win

They sing to us, yes, you and me
Ignite in us eternity
And birth in us a thirst for more
Of all that falls through heaven’s door

Be still and listen to their song
Learn the words and sing along
God has stepped into our world
Into our lives salvation hurled

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Sin, The Outcry and the God who Comes Down

“Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” Genesis 18:20-21

An outcry so great and a sin so grievous – this potent combination draws God from His throne to “go down and see.”

Let’s just remind ourselves of what the sin so grievous was.

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”  Ezekiel 16:48-50

“…arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” This is God speaking. Ask any of us about the detestable things and not helping the poor doesn’t come instantly to mind.

Who made the outcry? That is what interests me.  You see, without the outcry being so great, the outcry about the sin so grievous, God would not have visited Abraham to involve him in what happened next. OK I admit He might have come down just for the meal and the baby talk, but one gets the impression that it was the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah that drew Him down.

The dictionary defines an outcry as “a strong and usually public expression of protest, indignation, or the like, a crying out or a loud clamour”. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious indignant protesters in the story.

Does it have to be a person? I’ve heard one or two speakers talk about guardian angels of specific towns or cities. Could it be an angel that cried out about Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin?

What about creation? The whole of creation was tied up with Adam and Eve and fell foul of the Fall and the curse that followed. Maybe nature was fed up of being twisted and corrupted.

Maybe it wasn’t an audible cry at all. Maybe it was a heart cries of tears and sorrow, empty stomachs and disappointed hopes of the poor and the needy – the ones the arrogant, overfed and unconcerned wouldn’t help.

God is moved enough to visit when someone protests so strongly about a sin that cannot be lived with or tolerated. 

Today there are outcries so great about sins so grievous.  And God still comes - in church and people delegated form. His church, His people are the ones He sends to respond to the outcry. It challenges me to think about how I react to outcries. How loud does it have to get before I actually hear it? Do I rank outcries according to how great I think they are before I respond? Do I think that someone else will deal with it? Or do I help?

I am also challenges about my own out-crying. I was talking with a group of young people this week about why we find it so difficult to ask for help. We have this idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Society demands we cope and frowns on those who are struggling.

Christmas is about God coming down to a whole human race that isn’t coping. The sin so grievous is in trying to live a fruitful life without God – the failure to help the poor and needy being just one of many symptoms of life lived without God.  In Christ, God deals with it.

Where Abraham in his bargaining with God stopped at ten righteous men needed to save the city, God stops at one. His One Righteous man saved us all. God comes to each of us, in Christ, through His Spirit.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Cry of Blood

six hundred cells in a single drop of blood
countless drops in a human body
a hundred and twenty days to travel
a hundred thousand miles of micro metre vessels
at a walking pace

the brother’s keeper turns traitor
anger in heart and blade in hand, he
diverts the blood’s journey
and the ground collects every cell
as Abel’s blood cries for justice

the pattern repeats
printed on the fabric of history
as every brother’s keeper refuses to keep
the ground is saturated and
the world stops listening

God listens and births himself
Jesus, divinity in dust, a true brother's keeper
love in heart and nails in hand
he surrenders his blood
it collects at the Father’s throne
and cries for mercy

The pattern is forever altered and
The torn fabric of humanity is mended

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Facing Up to the Enemy

I didn’t plan to watch the whole Matrix trilogy last night. Our paths crossed. It was a planets-lining-up-moment and I went with it.

I have seen them all before but not recently, and not one after the other. I understood the first one and thought it was very clever.  And then it gets all too philosophical. A group of young people and I were debating the whole issue of free-will and came to the conclusion that we are not really free at all because, even taking away all the rules we live by, we are surrounded by the fitting-in thing and a list of what society expects and rewards and punishes, not by prison, but by ostracising us.

That said, I sat down to join Neo on his journey through the Matrix. I have probably mentioned before that I am not a film watcher that keeps a respectable distance from what is going on. I have a joining-in gene when it comes to watching stuff. Sometimes it is kept in check.  At other times I let myself off the leash.

So last night, I sat on the sofa joining in. I did all the martial arts poses as best as I could, sitting down. I did the swirly arms thing and the arm blocks and the chopping motions. And I made the right sound effects as I watched. There was no point where Neo was ever fighting on his own – I was there. Can I just tell you how cathartic that whole first film was for me? Every real and imagined foe I had encountered during the week, I thought about, and I chopped them to bits. And did I laugh? Absolutely.

The second film began. I opted not to try to figure out the philosophy. Remember, it was Friday night and I was rather brain-fried. I was looking for fluff and nonsense. I wasn’t really getting the finer moments of the story line – just continuing my seated Kung-Fu poses. There’s a bit in the film where Neo and his friends are in a tunnel, being chased by a lot of sentinels, squirmy robots with a gazillion tentacles. They are running, the sentinels are hot on their heels. Neo turns and lifts his hand and the sentinels explode in a fire-work flash of lights.

“St Columba!” I roared.

This is not a new swear word. I had been exploring the life of St Columba with a bunch of young people – a different bunch from the ones who had the free-will discussion. In the story of St Columba, he and his friends have an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster. The monster was terrorising the people who lived near the River Ness. One man has been bitten and had died. Columba had buried the man.  Later he told one of his friends to swim across the river to fetch the boat. (Oh, yes, St Columba – of course I’m going to swim across the river to get a boat, even though the monster had just bitten someone – sure, no problem – NOT) Well, without hesitation the man began swimming. And yes the monster appeared. St Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded the monster to “Go no further!” and it turned tail and ran.

St Columba wasn’t a man to shrink back. He faced up to all sorts of scary things. There are so many stories of him and his men going out of their way to confront the things that scared themselves and others. We had a great time swapping stories of our phobias and trying to work out why we held them. We also talked about how to deal with them. One girl talked about her parent’s friend who worked with spiders visiting them with a whole collection of stuff and teaching them how to handle hairy legs crawling over them and to not feel alarmed, giving them information about habitats and lifestyles and, in the process, pulling out the little splinters of fear that had become embedded.

St Columba was a man who took God at His word. The opening chapters of Genesis contain the creation story. People are made in the image of God and given dominion, power to rule, over the birds of the air, the fish in the sea and every creature that moves over the land. Columba took that to heart. God had given him that power and he used it. I know that one day in the near future my free-will discussion young people will be exploring these opening chapters and dissecting them – but I want to have a St Columba spirit about the authority we have been given. I want to face my own Loch Ness monsters fearlessly and command them to “Go no further”.

St Columba and the Loch Ness monster! Neo and the sentinels! The brain made the connection. Neo’s hand raised became my hand raised too. Both of us raised our hands against the sentinels.  Both of us witnessed victory over them. Neo collapsed and I roared out “St Columba!”

In my quiet time this morning – well, it wasn’t really quiet at all, a hand was raised and authority was taken and a few monsters commanded to “Go no further!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Jericho Man

What’s yours is mine
Says the bandit hiding behind the rocks
As he hits the Jericho man on the head

What’s mine is mine
Says the priest hiding behind his holy vocation
As he passes the Jericho man leaving him for dead

What’s mine is yours
Says the Samaritan not hiding at all
As he wraps up the Jericho man and puts him to bed