ever joyful to be alive

I lie here this morning grateful to be alive. My lungs are burning with inhaled smoke and I feel as weak as a kitten but I thank God for waking me up in time.

I must back track. We have always had a smoke alarm, since they arrived on the market, a battery operated siren that would go off at the merest whiff of decent cooking and an army of towels would prance down the hallway laughing and joking about my burnt sausages.

A few years ago we got the house partially rewired and the electrician would not leave without installing two alarms, one up and one down and I thought they were smoke alarms. I didn’t give a lot of thought to it, I just took out the battery of the “Suzie is cooking” alarm and enjoyed the fact that they didn’t keep going off every time I entered the kitchen.

In fact I gave it no thought at all until last night when they went off with Sean’s cooking. Oh I had a good few minutes chortling whilst the siren wail burst through my head. But it wouldn’t shut up. Sean said they weren’t smoke alarms, they were heat alarms.

I thought this odd, but again appreciative of the fact that they hadn’t wailed all along. Having a full house means I am sleeping on the couch with Toffee, my lovely sweet one year old cat. I get less sleep on the sofa, especially when the high winds hit on Thursday night but it is warmer than any of the other rooms so, c’est la vie, all good.

Until last night.

And now I am not sure I will ever sleep again comfortably in this room.

Toffee and I finally snuggled up to sleep at about two after playing silly games distracting me from sermon writing. At four thirty I kind of woke, wondering why my breath hurt, why I was very shallow breathing, why my chest hurt, why my throat hurt and why I was feeling a bit disorientated. And there was an awful smell that seemed to be everywhere like burning, kind of.

It took me a few minutes to put on the light and then I thought the bulb was dying because it was barely shining. But I felt so weak, so sleepy, did it really matter but the smell and why wasn’t I breathing right. After a few more minutes of hesitation I got up, a bit dizzy but sure I usually am first thing, a bit groggy but with two hours  sleep understandable, and I couldn’t see straight, again sleeplessness I put it down to.

One thing that was nagging me though was why Toffee didn’t wake up when I moved, she always does, her little bell tinkling. So I continued and put on the brightest light above the range, the main lights that take a while to warm up and opened the door.

When I breathed outside the door, I realised I had been breathing smoke. The range must have got blocked and the smoke had come into the room. I woke Sean and then lay down on the couch, the dizziness overwhelming me finally. The windows were opened, the range unbanked. The acrid smell of left over smoke was still in my nostrils but I was too weak to care and I went back to sleep. I didn’t sleep well and woke after a few minutes to turn on all the lights so I could see if it started again and finally got around to checking on Toffee. She was fine, well like I am fine.

We are both weak, she probably has a chest like mine that wants to cough from the soles of my feet. I am just so grateful that I did wake and take action. It would have been so easy to turn over and go back to sleep.

And I am left wondering, what is the point of a heat alarm and when I am feeling stronger I am going out to buy a battery powered smoke alarm and am ready to listen to my children laughing about my burnt offerings. And isn’t it weird that the one day the heat alarm goes off is the day I find out it isn’t a smoke alarm and is the same day I needed one. Cold smoke kills too!

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

learning from Job

Job 1:1-11
Accepts the unknown and he trusts God in it
The word of God changes lives

Job was a man
Just a human being
Just like you or me

Stuff happened to this man
This human being
This person just like me or you

Are you stuck in the stuff?
The mire of life.
No way out, no hope

Follow Job’s example
Put your trust in The Lord
He is Hope in this hopeless place

The word of God changes lives
It might be in a chapter
It might be in a verse

Transforming power
Magnificent grace
Touching people, healing lives

Who?

who looked after the sheep?

the shepherds went off to visit the newborn babe

but who minded the sheep?

there is very little told of Jesus’ birth and yet we know so much

why is that?

Mark’s gospel has him entering stage left as a grown up

John has him at the beginning but no details: 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Matthew and Luke have accounts, but for all that. There is loads we know, that isn’t written in the Bible.

We know the names of the Magi

We know how long they travelled, following the star, which now is a comet or is two planets colliding.

We know nothing. Let’s face it. We can’t possibly get our heads around the enormous honour bestowed on us all that Jesus, left his place next to his Father and came to earth as a humble, vulnerable baby.

And it was not into a sterile maternity hospital with midwives and doctors. No it was in a grubby room that Mary delivered. Infant mortality was high as were maternal deaths during labour. There were no drugs to stop haemorrhaging. It would have to be messy, sticky, bloody.

But we don’t want to think of those things. In our carols we have a baby that doesn’t cry. Meek and mild. Oh so very cute and totally unrealistic. But it is what we know.

I like the idea of nativity plays with fish and octopus and daleks and other aliens because, we know so little, is it such a stretch to have them there.

What do we know?

Christ is not Santa

Santa is not an invisible angel

Jesus really was born, he really did preach and teach and heal and met people in the most desperate of circumstances and loved people.

Jesus really did die, a most horrific tortuous death, that he did nothing to deserve. He was the perfect one, we were the imperfect, we were the sinners that caused his death.

Jesus really did rise from death, he really did meet with some of the disciples and he really did return to heaven from where he came.

And he really will come again.

So instead of thinking about who looked after the sheep when the shepherds went to see him in the grubby room.

We should be thinking about how to look after the sheep now, how can we share the good news to the lost sheep, how can we encourage and challenge, nurture and feed the sheep today?

How can we be the person Jesus calls us to be if we get caught up in the myth and the legend surrounding his birth?

Just a thought as a distraction from my main task today

Prayer for the season

O Lord

In this time of advent, this time of waiting for arrival. Help us Lord avoid the clichés of this season. Help us Lord focus on you and not the myths surrounding Santa. Help us Lord show by the way we live our lives, that You are the only Way, the only Hope and the only Truth.

Lord we struggle with the balance of living in this world but not being part of it, for our young people it is especially difficult.

When people in our community are hurting, people so lonely even in the midst of Christmas cheer, people so full of bills and debt that they can’t think straight, people who seek, but in the wrong places – the bottom of a glass, a white line on a mirror. Who seek peace, mistaking oblivion for peace. Who seek love, in all the wrong ways. Who seek joy and mistake the instant gratification of momentary happiness for the deep joy that sustains us through hardship and struggle. Who seek hope in material possessions and fleeting relationships.

Lord help us reach these people living without hope in a hopeless world, help us reach them with your love and compassion, without judgement, just meeting them where they are at, as you would and do.

Lord help us be examples of how to live in faith, help us find the right words, your words to reach people.

Amen

chloed clichéd

Cliched driven life was how her world was moving. Her diary remained empty, her computer screen blank and her phone showed no record of any texts. Eyes peered over her shoulder constantly and she jumped involuntarily each time they caught her own.
Her husband, a cardboard replica of the man she married, was charm itself. He should change his name to charm, because that was all that was left. The rest of his personality had ebbed away as each year passed. Or was she getting harder to please?
Chloe paused, applied her eyeliner one more time, hiding the red rimmed eyes. How could she have been so blind for so long? There was a song that played in her head from the seventies, when they first met, he knows that she knows that he knows… She should have known better, her first husband was, how did they say it, as straight as a die. He would tell her if she looked daft in some get up. Oh and they had some get ups back then. Orange corduroy hot pants, her chubby white legs squeezed out like pasta from an extruder. Cheesecloth tops with elasticated bodices, oh the days of dancing barefoot in the park. Denis was her first love, she wondered would they still be married if he hadn’t gone and died on her. Young enough to start again but with the motivation of a hedgehog crossing a darkened road.
Tim sidled alongside her without her really noticing. Before long there were bouquets of flowers every week and tickets to the local flicks. She didn’t notice it was always his choice, just like she hadn’t really noticed they always watched his choice on telly. She sighed as she realised, she hadn’t noticed much in the fifteen years of marriage but now she had woken up from a dream.
Little Terry from next door, well she supposed, big Terry now, she had minded him since he was two and bawling at his big sister to get away from him. Shirley, his mam was one of those overwrought women that could quite grasp being a mother to all her children so Chloe looked out for Terry and he would come and do his homework at her table whilst she made Tim’s tea for six o’clock. Terry came to see her last week, he was all formal and wouldn’t look her in the eye, shuffling from one foot to the next. Eventually he blurted his story, well it wasn’t his, it was Tim’s.
He stood in the middle of her kitchen and told her he was getting engaged, before she could congratulate him he said very quietly, “I won’t treat her like Tim treats you,” and then pointed out a few things. Little things, that don’t add up to much in ones and twos but put in a big list like he did. She saw with clarity what her life had become.
Very slowly she had drifted away from her friends, her writing had dried up, her food became his, everything was on his terms with no compromise. Tim would flash that smile, benign to a stranger but with lethal intent to her. He had hollowed her out and filled her with nothing. When Terry left she began to weep, and still she cried. He was forever changing her, he bought her clothes, making her feel like mutton dressed as a slaughtered lamb to be sacrificed for Tim and Tim alone.
Her first few plans to leave came to nothing, he would read her emails and texts and ask her to explain what they were about. Money was another issue, she was kept on a meagre budget, no room to squirrel anything away and yet just as caged birds sing she began to dream of freedom, of getting out of the ridiculous situation.
With the new sense of seeing she now had, his flashy grin belied a controlling and manipulating man.
She began to write, she wrote letters to her younger self, she wrote to a nameless future self. She wrote poetry, making the painful existence beautiful and she wrote prayers, long detailed prayers and short to the point prayers. She wanted a way out and writing in the middle of the day was her outlet. She threw everything away, even the page underneath that he might find and shade. She was beginning very slowly to be as sneaky as him.
David Trickett lived next door to Chloe and Tim, on the other side to the overwhelmed Shirley. He had an odd kind of life, since getting TB as a youngster he was too weak to work and needed the heat on constantly, even in the summer. He could just about manage to get to the corner shop, but Mrs Khan had to get young Didi to deliver his groceries. He had lived here longer than anyone else, having seen booth his parents die in this house, having seen children come and go, couples move in and move out. He watched life outside his windows, whilst he waited slowly for his time to pass.
The mornings he watched the people leave their houses and go to school or work. He had watched long enough for three recessions to change the way people did work. Mr Tanner across the road was a year out of work before his wife found out, he had piled up debt with some local shark and it was when she was called to the hospital, with him lying their all tubes and bruises that she learned the truth.
In the afternoons he moved to the back window, he watched the birds flit down to eat the crumbs left out after lunch. For the last few weeks he watched Chloe rush down to the dustbin around three o’clock every day armed with paper that she tore up and placed under other rubbish.

After the third day he decided to investigate. The first attempt at gaining access to the bin ended in disaster and nettle stings in places he’d rather forget. It made him press on even more and so very slowly he cleared the patch of nettles, it took him a few days as even the smallest amount of exercise tired him out so much. It was in the middle of the second week that he got as far as the bin and delved in to find the pages.

Safely back in his bed and with sellotape in hand he pieced them back together. Oh he exclaimed when reading the first one. It was poem, beautiful phrasing with an ethereal presence. He copied the pages into his own notebook. He continued each day, saving and reconstructing pages and then transcribing them.

Last week he sent the poems off to a publisher and today he got a phone call from them. He dressed with care and leaving his front door he turned to Chloe’s door and began a journey that was to take both of them to a different world, far away from Tim and the rest of Jubilee Street.

timing is everything, but whose timing?

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Galatians 4:4-5 NIV

God’s timing, it’s wonderful and exciting, whilst being scary and unexpected. Sometimes we can feel the time is right for something but God has other plans for us. So we may go off on a tangent like Sarah did, thinking we are helping God to do something but it all goes pear-shaped. But other times we are called to do something we don’t feel ready for.

I am sure Mary was not ready to be pregnant. But it was God’s timing.

She accepted his timing, she rejoiced in it, and she got on with the job in hand.

Would you do the same? God calls us daily to accept his timing and rejoice in it.

To walk by faith and not by sight.

Today I got a cry for help but was fully booked so all I thought I could do was to text a love message. Well I was wrong, one of my meetings was cancelled and I was able to visit. God made time for the visit and I hope that it helped.

Yesterday someone shared a vision they had and I was able today to help that vision along in a small way. I pray now that it works out for God’s glory.

We have been redeemed, set free and adopted by the Lord. We accept and rejoice in this.

Blessing upon blessing.

sight or faith

Charlie left the office reeling, two weeks before Christmas he had been told to up sticks and move across country. No satisfactory explanation, he was to move on January 2nd. How was he going to tell the kids, they had always lived in Pinkerton. Their friends and neighbours would be sorely missed.

After a few minutes of self pity he got on with the logistics of a move around Christmas. He told few people, but found a lovely three bedroom house in the suburbs of Newcastle Upon Tyne. It was in a road called Kingsway. He trusted that this was a sign of his walk in the Lord, he was walking not by sight but by faith alone.

The children took the news well, he made it sound like a fun adventure. He showed them the house on google maps and they saw the garden. They had never had a garden and only just moved into a flat with a separate bedroom. Up till then they had been in a bedsit, no bigger than a hotel room.

During the Christmas period, Charlie and the kids were spoilt rotten by their friends, not one day went by without a party or a meal. Only on the 25th did he think sadly of what he was leaving behind, he thought of his wife. Oh how he missed her. She died during the birth of Anna, his gorgeous eight year old daughter who jumped in puddles and dreamed of snow.

He prayed a lot, Lord, he said, I know you will provide, I know you will keep us protected, I know you love us. Lord I love you so much. I am so grateful for all you have done for me already, the gifts of Anna and Elijah, so grateful we will have a roof over our head and food in our bellies. Use me Lord, however you will and help us find a place to worship in our new town. Amen

Across town, on the day Charlie had reeled out of the office, Billy sulked. A new supervisor had come with new ideas and people liked them, Billy was feeling left out. His way of supervising was being sidelined and his popularity was waning. He felt resentment against the new woman. He blamed his feeling on her and their boss. Billy was a political animal, so he tried to get people on his side against this new one. But people tried to change Billy’s hardened heart. In his intransigent state, there was no turning. He believed God had told him to work in this way, he believed that his way was the only way and he believed that the new supervisor was not as good as him. By Christmas Day he had worked himself into a frenzy and wrote a letter of resignation.

With a very heavy heart, hardened by resentment and bitterness Billy went looking for a new job in the New Year and he was got Charlie’s old job. Everyone in this office told Billy about Charlie, about how he was told to leave and how he did just that. How he lived his life by faith not by sight. The whole office had been changed by Charlie and his faith, openly they talked about the Bible and the Lord. Billy felt blessed.

In time as Billy and his heart were softened, he saw that he had been wrong, he had been trying to not change. But he was learning that he was supposed to change, each day to change more like Jesus. He thought of the new supervisor and her ways and he saw how actually he was jealous of her talents and gifts in getting the people to do the work. He thought about Charlie and all he had to go through and one night, on his knees, he cried out to God.

Romans 2

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism