Monday, 22 November 2010

Motorway signs and mountain passes

How do you get from where you are to where you're meant to be? There are maps, satnav, human navigators, highway's agency warning signs and blind faith in your sense of direction...

Done 2,000 miles driving so far on this sabbatical - very grateful for the satnav on my phone. The woman on it is very patient, doesn't get upset when I deviate (mostly unwisely) from her suggested route. She's pretty gracious too - doesn't say 'How many times have you driven this and still you don't know that it's LEFT at the roundabout...'

Not so grateful for the Highway's Agency signs... You're driving along as you are told at 69.98 mph (on the motorway of course) - little traffic, good conditions. Then the stupid sign comes on '60'. You have no idea why they think it is a good idea, but some poor sucker ahead of you decides he'd better slow down. Which means you have to slow down as well, rippling back for miles, one car after another... Next sign says '40'. Now those in the inside lanes automatically move our a lane to avoid those who are slowing down to 40, causing those lanes to get full and slow down as well. Finally the sign says 'Queue Caution' and quickly everything grinds to a halt. Most of the time, after a mile of stop-start, you suddenly accelereate back up to the 69.98 mph and lo, the next sign says 'End' I want to scream at the signs 'YOU CAUSED THE QUEUE' There wouldn't have been one if you hadn't said there was one! The only problem was the sign saying there was a problem!! What we need is for the satnav to gently encourage us 'Don't worry, no need to slow down, there isn't really a problem'....

So, when we hit traffic problems, real or imaginary, I turn to Janet who is a very good map-navigator. Can always rely on her to plan a diversion to get us round the obstacle that requires a detour. I've simply had to learn to turn off my instincts, remain blind to the road signs and trust the voice beside me.

Catherine and the kids joined us for a week whilst we were in Carlisle a few weeks ago. Listening to her directions is a whole different ball-game. She isn't especially interested in the quickest or most direct route. Her directions are based more on fun and adventure than the more conventional criteria! So when we were headed back from Windermere to Carlisle, she suggests some interesting routes. There's Janet, me, Catherine and the kids in the car andshe is suggesting the craziest routes - and because we trust her we embark on a route through the mountains involving single track road and one in three hills. It wasn't the safest option, nor humanly the wisest. But it was exhiliarating, the views were spectacular and we had a ton of fun.

All of which makes me wonder which voice I am more prone to listen to in my faith journey? How often do I slow down or grind to a halt just because circumstances seem to be saying 'Congestion', 'Slow down', '60' when in fact God isn't saying any such thing? I wonder if I don't have the wrong satnav plugged in most of the time... The voice I listen to is too often that of convenience, that of the world and if I'm honest, that of the enemy. Then sometimes the very thing I feared seems to be the very thing that happens, reinforcing my fears. Yet I know from experience that had I carried on rather than slowing or turning aside, all would have been well...

I wonder too how often I use my intellect, my wisdom, my experience to try and navigate round the life-blocks when what I need to do is trust the one who can see the map, who has the up to the minute list of roadworks and other obstacles - who can see the best route from here to there...

And I wonder how often I miss out on the fun, the adventure, the crazy, life-affirming drives because I presume the voice that's telling me to go off-road can't be God's?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Church walls

I was chatting with Dionne who is teaching me to sing (click here to find out more! ) earlier in the week about how most of us in church have no clue how to help people who are suicidal, or have complex issues that might take years to work through - it is like an alien world, we mean well, but do not understand. And because we don't understand we don't get involved, and we withdraw, leaving people who have these issues feeling isolated and feeling like they have to hide them. In this way we build walls of protection around us in which we feel safe, but which exclude the very people we are called to serve. As somebody who has experienced some of those issues and has felt some of that isolation, I want to say its not as hard as we make it out to be. I am not a job or a project or a client, to be controlled, or be told by someone all that I should do. Nor am I incompetent needing everything done or solved! I am not a burden, I am a good friend. Its just about relationship, about being a friend, about walking with me. If you dare get to know me, dare look beyond the walls I have put up, dare to see the real me as God sees me, and see who he is shaping me to be.

Now about some of those walls:

Personal walls

I have a problem, the walls I have built over years, work in the wrong ways. Anger stays inside, exhausts me, tires me, saps my energy. Love on the other hand is kept out, stopped before it gets in, not allowed to penetrate and be felt. The problem with the anger is I now have years built up, not allowed release, which ironically makes it harder to release it, makes it feel unsafe to do so. It damages my health, both mental and physical. I have grown up learning its not right to be angry, you have to hold stuff in, and to some degree learning that showing anger gets you in more trouble, and needing to be in control of it. Things so wrong have then been piled on and not allowed to be expressed. But I have started to learn now that actually it is OK to be angry, OK to express it (in safe ways - punching a soft sofa etc...), that it is right to feel angry about stuff that is wrong, and express it. Keeping it trapped in really doesn't deal with it, its like radioactive waste, warping my insides, leaving me feeling unsafe, rather than safe, a chaotic mess instead of peaceful, hindering my relationships and my ability to express myself in them. So I am learning (there is years of unlearning to do) to reverse the walls for the anger bit, the walls letting anger out, and stopping stuff sinking deep within, and getting trapped.Love on the other hand is stopped by the wall before it penetrates. Because of the past (some of the other blogs help explain more) my body has assumed that love hurts and is a bad thing and needs keeping out, and works hard at doing that. It stops what is a good thing getting in. It affects my close relationships, leads to me feeling insecure, not peaceful etc. In effect I am in a state of fighting myself to override these walls, and to learn to live out of Gods truth. I don't think it only people with the kind of issues I have who face this battle. We all have different walls and have all bought different lies, we all need one another as we battle. Now I know the nature of some of my walls some of the bricks have been dislodged and there have already been many victories, and ultimately I am on the winning side.So who wants to climb over their walls and join me?

Walls of peace

I was one of those that Catherine describes above. Had / have my own walls of course, but had also built some to keep those I was not confident of at arms length. I was evangelically friendly towards them - those with mental-health issues, those from other faiths for example, but I was scared of them if I'm honest. I thought you had to be a professional, thought I might make things worse... Actually, what I really needed was some walls of peace. The sort Paul describes as keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Walls that defend us from the enemy's lies, walls that keep the love of God at the heart of our identity and security. Suddenly I wasn't as anxious - after all, it wasn't me having to do it - it was Christ in me. Now I have lots of Arabic friends, now I have lots of great friendships with people who have mental-health issues. My life suddenly got a whole lot richer, a whole lot more real.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


I like Steam Engines. I mean, I'm not one of these wierd guys whose life solely consists of such things - I'm not a steam train nerd. Honestly. It's years since I went train spotting. I've had ministry and everything.

Anyway, I like Steam Engines. So when we were having our holiday with Catherine and her kids up in Carlisle a couple of weeks ago, I thought the children would love to have a ride on a train pulled by a steam engine.

They were very enthusiastic. Well, one of us was anyway. And it was so close, would have been a shame not to have done it. A two hour drive with a two and four year old is nothing. You can see from the photo's how much they enjoyed themselves.

So, took lots of photo's 'cos it was such a nice day. I like photography (see what a well rounded, outgoing person I am?) when we got back I then spent hours editing them which was when I had my moment of revelation. (No, it wasn't "David you really need to get a life"). It was to do with cropping, or if you want the Biblical equivalent, pruning.

Here's another photo. It's of a steam engine. Knew you'd like it. I admit I spent a while adjusting lighting and contrast, balancing the colour. But I really thought the effort was worthwhile.

Nice picture. Posted to Facebook.

Came back to it a while later and with the benefit of distance, realised that I could improve it a lot. Not by adding new tricks, not by enlarging it, not by air-brushing bits. But by getting rid of clutter. By pruning. By focusing on what was really important and cropping the rest, no matter how interesting. Here's the result.

Now, if you look a the original, you will realise that you could crop it so you had a human interest photo - no steam engine, just people. In fact, as I went back through the photo's I realised that often where I had one really nice photograph, by careful cropping I could have two or three stunning scenes.

So, making the obvious point, there are lots of good things in my life. Areas of ministry, gifts, abilities, experience. The problem is not that there isn't good stuff - it makes an attractive picture! The question is my willingness to allow someone with a better eye, a bigger perspective to crop the photo. What bits, however nice in their own right, no matter how good or useful to others, are actually distracting from the picture God wants to focus on? Time and again as I looked at the photographs I struggled to crop. I found it hard to cut out parts that were of themselves attractive. But as I took the courage, I realised that the 'harsher' I was in the cropping, the better the result.

Jesus said 'I am the true vine, my Father is the gardener, he prunes the vine so that it can produce more fruit'

If I'm going to be as effective as I want to be, as fruitful as God longs for me to be, as impacting as my friends need me to be, I'm going to have to learn to trust God's eye and give Him permission to crop out the clutter.

Friday, 5 November 2010

It's time

Reuben's Story
The day had started like any of the other days he could remember. Wake up, pull on some clothes, go out of the tent and join the other children gathering enough Manna for the day. Then, after breakfast, help break down the tent, pack up and wait for Joshua to point the direction we were to wander in till dusk. Every day the same. It wasn't a bad life, but often we would annoy our parents by asking the age old question 'why'. Why, for as long as anyone alive could remember, had we been living this pointless, if pleasant life. We knew the answer of course, but winding up parents was about as interesting as it got most days.

Simeon's Story
He was getting old - it took longer each day to get out of bed and pull on a few clothes. So tempting just to lie there - after all, there was very little he had to do that had any point to it. Every day like the last, for as long as he could remember. Get up, get dressed, have a little bread and water for breakfast then go to the temple. The same routine, the same people, the same gentle jibes. 'Have you seen the Messiah yet?'. The drip, drip of their doubt so nearly found its way to his heart. How often, like today, had he almost not bothered to go. How arrogant that he should still believe that long-ago inner voice that he had taken to be God's: 'You won't die until you have seen the Lord's anointed - Yeshua - the Saviour'

Reuben's Story
But today was different. Just after breakfast the bugle had sounded, not as normal to indicate where we should go, but to call the tribal elders together. We all waited. Nothing like this had happened since Moses had died, and rarely before that. So we waited. Eventually the men came back. They looked different, taller, purposeful, resolute. And quickly the news spread. We were to break camp, not this time for more aimless wandering, but to enter the land of promise. A murmer spread like wild fire through the tribes, across our nation. It grew in intensity until 40 years of futile wandering erupted in a mighty roar. At last, God had spoken. We, my generation, me, my family - we were the ones who got to do what a lost generation had not done. After hundreds of years of waiting, we - and no others - had the joy of going forward to take the land. Of course we were anxious - the giants were still there. Of course we knew there would be a price to pay, battles to be fought. But we were the ones. God had chosen us. Our hearts soared. No more futility. Whatever it cost, we weren't going to lose the blessing. We were going home.

Simeon's Story
As he walked down the street the pain in his leg and the ache in his heart grew worse. Then old Isaac shouted across 'Seen the Messiah today Simeon?' and with a pitying laugh shook his head. The drip of doubt pierced his heart and he hobbled to a stop. Why did he bother, why did he think that after 400 years of silence, God had spoken to him? Go home something in his mind said, give it up. But something stirred in his heart, like a half remembered voice, and before he knew it, his feet were shuffling towards the temple again. So, just as he had every day for the last 60 years, he picked his way through the crowds and as a simple act of worship, obediently came one more time. And as took that step of faith, something broke in the heavenly realm and once again he heard that crystal clear inner voice. 'Today' it whispered. His heart pounded, he lifted his head, stood upright and walked with a younger step, a more purposeful gait. As the years of futility fell off him he walked through the outer courts, with renewed purpose, looking for a kingly man who might be the Messiah. 'There' the voice whispered. He looked but all he could see was a poor couple with a newborn to dedicate. 'Yeshua' the voice whispered. 'The child'. Suddenly the scriptures fell into place, the years of emptiness meant nothing. He ran with a roar in his heart and took the child from his poor bewildered parents. Holding him high the years of pain and doubt were given voice: 'Now let your servant depart in peace, for I have seen with my own eyes the salvation of my God!'.

Your Story
You have been chosen by God for greatness. Yes, you. The person reading these words. It's you, not someone else. Not someone younger, better qualified, more experienced. You. Not someone with more time, more resources, more training. You. There are things God has for you to do; people to lead to Him, the sick to heal, the poor to feed, the widows to visit, the orphans to house, the dead to raise, the lonely to befriend, the imprisoned to set free. You. Listen. The world is desperate for you to do the very things that God has planned for you to do. Can't you hear the lonely crying? The imprisoned shouting for justice, the young who have neen marginalised? You get to be the one who feeds them, heals them, befriends them, brings new life to them. You. Can you sense the stirring of excitement? The awe of the privilege? Is it dangerous, is it costly, might it hurt? Yep. But look, God is calling you. He knows you can do it. You get to be the one - not that other person. You.

Let the roar out. The pent up futility of the world's way, the grinding tedium of the enemy's agenda.Today is different from yesterday. Today is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it - because today we have the Saviour in our heart, and with Him, we are going to take new ground.