Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Which bird are you?

When faced with difficulties we generally respond as one of three birds. The Ostrich, the Robin or the Eagle.

Personally, I tend to go Ostrich. Denial is my defence mechanism of choice. Head in the sand, pretend it isn't there, presume that it will go away if I don't look at it. You would be surprised how well it has worked. Only last Saturday, faced with the impossibility of the Asda 'fast lane' we discovered that if you ignore the 'unexpected shopping in the bagging area' message for a few seconds, it just lets you carry on. Top tip. Of course that's to ignore the excruciating times when Ostrich doesn't work out. But of course, as an Ostrich, ignoring the bad outcomes is all part of the deal.

Others though go for the Robin. As in 'Brave Sir Robin ran away' from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. His trusty bards could be relied upon for adding another verse to the ballad of their Master's deeds, describing in detail how at every opportunity, 'brave sir Robin' did indeed, run away. A problem in a relationship, avoid the person. Uncomfortable in church? Go to a different one. Vision a bit too demanding? Dream a less challenging one.

Neither of course is what we are called to, both are very tempting. Often, we wish the Bible had recorded:

And the Lord said to Joshua “Be expedient and pragmatic, tell the people that in three days you will go through the camp with an action plan for them to discuss, although if three days seems a bit hasty, feel free to defer it to a more convenient point”


And God said to Abraham “Leave your people and go to a land that I will show you. (Defining 'leave' as take who you want, 'go' as a metaphor for 'stay' and 'I will show you' as 'you get to choose the destination and the route')

But inconsiderately, it doesn't. Instead, God says “Take up your cross daily” and makes many other impossible demands that cause us to adopt our favourite bird.

So, what of the Eagle? Well, we're supposed to soar like they soar. Not head in the sand seeing nothing, not running away so that we can't see the problem. But soaring on high where we can see the bigger picture, the clearer route. From Eagle's wings we see the smallness of the problem in the bigness of God's perspective. Our nose isn't pressed up against the impossible, we are flying high above it.

Great image, so much healthier, but how? The problem is real, the people don't want to enter the land, they really are scared of the giants, and frankly, so am I. If I'm honest, I don't think I have the energy to restore that relationship, the skill to manage that issue, the strength to face that hostility. Everything in me shouts 'hide your head in the sand, run away, find an easier ministry'

Isaiah 40 tells us that the answer is 'waiting' on God. Not a passive, finger drumming waiting. But an active, spending time with Him, putting relationship with Him ahead of the problems. Choosing to focus on Him rather than the issues, worshipping Him not idolising the problem.

In the end, Joshua was able to achieve the impossible because he was 'strong and of good courage'. Not because of his own gifts and experience. Not because he drummed up some steely eyed self-willed strength. But because God was with him, and he knew it. It caused him to fly.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lofts & Loftier

So, Simon and I needed to put some things in the loft today. Cue an afternoon spent reorganising the things that were already up there to make space for the new. “Don’t look in that box” I cautioned. “If we start looking in boxes we’ll be here all day” Too late. A Combine Harvester (toy, not full size – it’s not that big a loft…), some Hornby Dublo trains and various bits of old electronics too late. Also discovered some old school reports, a pool table for Benjamin to try, all the children’s first shoes and Ruth’s GCSE artwork pieces. “This seems to have taken a lot longer than I expected” said Simon as we emerged just in time for Pointless.

It dawned on me as we came downstairs that I had spent an afternoon rearranging stuff we don’t use in order to create space for more stuff we don’t use. Put bluntly, mostly, we had rearranged junk to make space for more junk. “A metaphor for much of my life” I muttered. And whilst that was the sentiment of a slightly grumpy 5x year old, there is a salutary level of truth in it.

Isn't that what we do a lot of the time? Rearrange the junk in our lives in order to make space for a new bit that we have acquired? A new hurt, a new slight, a new ‘fact’, a new disappointment, a new anxiety, a new unattached emotion, a new jealousy, a new lust, a new sin?

We know in our hearts, just as I do regarding the loft, that what it really needs is a good clear out. You know what? As I moved stuff around in the cramped, hot confines of the loft, I even took the trouble to sweep the boards where the old stuff had been. Yep, you wouldn't want new stuff that you don’t use standing on dust would you? You don’t want the junk getting messier than it already is….
So here I am, moving junk around in my life, sweeping underneath it so that it has a nice clean place to sit. When Simon heard my muttering, he wisely said “Yeah, but it’s the best we could do in the time” And of course he was right. Sometimes, with the junk of life that’s the best we can do. We know we should forgive that person, deal properly with that pain, spend time with God understanding what just happened so that it doesn't fester. But we've got the kids to pick up, that deadline to meet and whilst we know all sorts of good Biblical principles, in the pressure of the moment, the best we can do is create some space for this new piece. But as with lofts, so with life. Eventually we need to set aside time to go through it properly.

Time to sort through what are happy memories, the things that are no longer in current use, but which have great emotional value. We need time to reflect on childhood days with the Combine Harvester, the joy of seeing our children in their first shoes. Time too to look again at things that used to be too painful to have on open display, to have a moment to reconnect with God as we rediscover the album of the one no longer with us. Good and precious moments all. But also time to do the hard work of sorting through the old paper work, of bagging up the real rubbish, of dragging the junk down the steps, of making the trip(s) to the tip and actually being rid of what is just clutter. It’s tiring, physically and at times emotionally. Just like with life.

Lent of course is the traditional season for Christians to be ‘shriven’, to reflect, to confess, to repent, to engage with God in removing the rubbish. A time to bring the junk of the year to the rubbish tip of the cross, where Jesus can miraculously redeem it, reuse it and make it beautiful. But we don’t have to wait for a particular season. If your loft is full of stuff, determine to deal with it soon. Get a friend to help you, it’s more fun that way. Share the good memories, hold hands in the painful ones. Allow them to encourage you to let go of things you might otherwise hold on to, but which you both know are unhelpful.

Don’t forever keep just moving it round, cleaning underneath it, sweeping in the gaps. Eventually you run out of space and you find your hands full of junk, with nowhere to put it down. Do you know what happens then? Either you cram it in the loft anyway, until it all comes crashing down in a catastrophic moment, or you find a use for it, a place to display it. The rubbish of our life becomes our life.

See you at the tip….

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Go Set A Watchman

No, not a blog about Harper Lee's last book, but some thoughts based on Isaiah 21.

As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on, it comes from the desert, from a terrible land. A stern vision is told to me; the betrayer betrays, and the destroyer destroys.
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish; pangs have seized me, like the pangs of a woman in labour; I am bowed down so that I cannot hear, I am dismayed so that I cannot see. My mind reels, horror has appalled me; the twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling. They prepare the table, they spread the rugs, they eat, they drink.
Rise up, commanders, oil the shield! For thus the Lord said to me: “Go, post a lookout, let him announce what he sees. When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, riders on donkeys, riders on camels, let him listen diligently, very diligently.” Then the watcher called out: “Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord, continually by day, and at my post I am stationed throughout the night. Look, there they come, riders, horsemen in pairs!” Then he responded, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods lie shattered on the ground.”
O my threshed and winnowed one, what I have heard from the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, I announce to you.

Something happens, things are said and they bring anguish. It feels like a whirlwind has hit you – out of the blue comes the least expected. Unemployment, the end of a relationship, sickness, bereavement, disappointment, hope unfulfilled. It feels like a betrayal; it feels as if your very life is being crushed out of you.

How does God expect us to react in such circumstances? After all, he made us, He understands how we are meant to work – and more, He understands the fall and its effects. How does He anticipate our body, soul and spirit responding to such violence?

Does He expect us to brush it off as a light affliction? Does he expect us to be British and carry on with suitably stiffened upper lips? Are we supposed to wear a good Christian smile and say ‘The Lord knows best’?

Not at all. He anticipates us going into shock, for us to be overwhelmed with pain and to be unable to act rationally. It’s no good our friends pointing to what God has done before – we are incapable of seeing it. It is no use them recounting all the good that he has done, we are unable to hear it. We can present as many reasoned arguments as we like to them, but their minds are frozen and incapable of rational thought. We can pray for God’s light to shine on them, but right now light only makes more visible the horror that is before them.

God doesn't criticise them for this. He doesn't berate their lack of faith, their inability to see the bigger picture. Instead He appoints a watchman. In kindness and compassion, He instructs the leaders to provide someone to do what they cannot at present do for themselves, to look out for additional danger, to listen to the words of God on their behalf, to defend them and encourage them.

In this way, the individual is protected whilst the shock subsides, safe until they can begin to see, to hear, to think again about God, about truth, about love. Finally, they can hear the words of their God “O my threshed and winnowed one… fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods lie shattered on the ground.” Those who oppressed, those who were the root cause of the anguish, lie fallen at their feet. Finally, they can receive healing and hope from the God who loves them, who understands and bears their pain. 

Who is your watchman? Who are you being a watchman for?