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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Was it a bear?

We had passed it before I could recognise what it might be. A ball of brown fur on the roadside. A dead ball of brown fur.

‘A bear!’ Don exclaimed. What? In the middle of a suburban part of a big city? I knew this was Russia but really? A bear?

We were in a taxi following our friends’ taxi on the way to the train station. When we told them, they dismissed it. No. It wasn’t a bear. It couldn’t have been a bear.

So, was it or wasn’t it? There are foxes in London and skunks and coyotes in Los Angeles. Why not a bear in Tver? 

We’ll never know. But it did make me think about how often we catch a glimpse of something and draw a conclusion which may not be correct. Then we become adamant about it.

One of our friends said that what he didn’t like about Christianity was the idea of slavery. The more people talk about being slaves, the more their mindset is conformed to that self-image and it just isn’t healthy.

I knew where he was coming from. Paul often starts his letters calling himself a slave of Christ. But the main message of the gospel is that Christ came to set us free. Free from the rules and regs which we could never keep. Free from fear. Free from judgment. Free from death. Free to live in the love of God without any hang-ups, knowing our worth in his sight. He felt we were worth his sacrificing a cushy life in heaven as part of the Trinity and coming to dwell in the body of a man, a poor man, at a brutal time (are there any times which aren’t brutal?). He entered fully into our lost-ness in order to rescue us from it and lift us to a place of freedom and joy.

Paul’s response is to be an enthusiastic servant of such a Lord. He has seen his amazing God submit to the degradations of crucifixion and he is willing to respond by submitting to the lovingkindness extended to him. Being enslaved to Jesus means being set free to live out who we are, loved children of God. A paradox, unlikely, but nevertheless, true.

Our dear friend had glimpsed a word as he heard it spoken in church, and had assumed he understood its meaning and context. But he has drawn the wrong conclusion. Jesus has set us free from the yoke of slavery, to live loved lives in cahoots with him. Hallelujah!

(So was it a bear? It does make a good story...)

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Bowled Over.

Our God is a God of bounty and blessing. There is a description of him in the OT where he opens the gates of heaven and scoops out the blessings. I have just been bathed in those blessings.

Of course we are blessed each and every day, but occasionally we become aware that we are in an outpouring of blessing which drenches us and leaves us amazed and grateful. His grace and bounty, his love and attention to detail, are perfect.

We have had a holiday of a lifetime in Russia, and we will be digesting the beauty, the challenge, the moments, the history, the friendships, the love and laughter, for a long time. Being a child of the Cold War, remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis, identifying Russia as the enemy...and yet at the same time always sensing a deep longing to visit Russia, recognising the deep Russian soul and appreciating the literature and music in particular of that vast country...and now to have visited a tiny part of it with amazing Russian friends who shared insights and ten days of their lives with us...a dream come true. A dream I didn’t ever actively dream, and yet it resonated in my heart and God gave me its fulfilment.

I am just full of gratitude to the God of grace and love. Bowled over.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Clock is Ticking

Whenever a deadline approaches, the clocks seem to tick louder. I am aware as I write this that I am writing to a disappearing generation. Today’s watches and clocks don’t tick; they just switch digitally minute to minute in silence.

Time is running out – another antiquated allusion to the hour glass which has given way to digital stop watches.

I once stayed in a home where chiming clocks graced every staircase, landing and virtually every room. Of course they were not synched so they all marked time to their own inner workings. That pretty much drove me crazy and contributed to the insomnia I was suffering from. I would hear the clock on the stairs strike in a very pretty tune every 15 minutes throughout the night, which panicked me into the thought that I needed to be asleep before it went again. Then the one downstairs would go at a different interval, and the one echoing up from the living room also chimed its heart out whenever it reached the hour.

We have a lovely grandfather clock tick-tocking away in the hall way, and it is the best of all worlds. In the years when it sat silent (because of its proximity to my bedroom!) it lost its voice. So, although it marks the minutes, it has no ability to strike the hour. I hear the peaceful throb of the minutes but miss the driving rhythm of the hours.

Thoreau wrote somewhere that we all walk to a different beat. How sad it would be were we all to be synched to the same personality or character or even ambition. Our God is a creative God who delights in making each individual completely different. And yet, somehow the same. 

May we rejoice in diversity today, and celebrate our similarities. May we walk and sit and breathe in peace, calmed by a steady rhythm but not driven by a clanging gong. And to God be the glory.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Channel of Peace

Make me a channel of your peace. Remember that song? What the world needs now is love sweet love. Remember that one? 

The world is in desperate need for both of those things – peace and love. Those are the two blessings often wished on each other as we end letters or say our goodbyes. As has often been said, peace is not the absence of war – it is something more pervasive than that. True peace, shalom, penetrates to the inner self and radiates out affecting all those around us. Love is not the absence of hate. It is active, demonstrable, positive and strong and has the power to dispel negative feelings and overcome antagonism and even hatred. 

God is the source of peace and love and he pours it out on us through his grace. We don’t deserve such gifts as he gives and yet he continues to lavish us with his blessings. 

Someone said to me yesterday that every day is a good day when you are not pushing them up but admiring them. A riddle easily solved. Daisies of course. 

So today is a good day. A day when I can give myself to God to become a channel of his peace and love, not because I am good but because he is full of grace and mercy. 

You’ve got to be careful what or who you allow to use you as a channel. You are always safe with God. And what the world needs now - is Jesus.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


When I see a huge spider lurking in the bathtub, I wonder what God was thinking of when he created such a thing. 

But on a damp, low-cloudy morning like today I can see a redeeming feature. As I walked round behind the neighbour’s home I marvelled at the lace doilies picked out in dew drops as they stretched between branches and twigs of gorse and honeysuckle. 

There is something so fragile and dainty about these structures, and yet I know that the silk the spiders spin is pretty heavy-duty. Normally these webs hang hidden, effective traps for hapless flying victims. Perhaps on mornings like this the spiders have to fast as insects perceive the danger and avoid the trap.

How easy it is for us to get drawn into situations which look attractive perhaps – as the webs do this morning. Equally, how easy it is to fall prey to hidden traps and not recognise what’s happened until we are struggling to be set free.

I’m thinking of addictions as well as sins. Things which we choose to become involved in as well as things which catch us unaware. Sometimes we can feel trussed up and waiting helplessly for some evil monster to devour us.

As Paul writes to the Galatians, though, it was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Jesus wants us to live lives free from addictions and free from fear. He wants to transform our minds so that we see his goodness and recognise that all that he offers is wonderful, offered in love and with no strings attached. 

He is not a spider lurking in the leaves, waiting for his next victim. He is the one who has already untangled any web we might construct or get caught in, and is just waiting for us to ask him to lift us out. 

Some entanglements are broken quickly and some resist for years but God’s main aim is to set us all free. That’s why Jesus came.

And as for spiders – keep outside of my house, where you can live out your destiny in freedom...