Listen!

A man was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.

Soon a man in a rowing boat came by and shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”

The stranded man shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”

So the rowing boat went on.

Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”

To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

So the motorboat went on.

Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”

To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”

To this God replied, “I sent you a rowing boat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

 

This is a story about a man putting complete faith God.  You could call it blind faith.  We Christians like to think that we have faith but not blind faith like this man.  We like to think that God has a plan for us, we could call it the Divine Plan, no matter what we think God knows what is in store for us.  That can be quite dangerous, we could end up drowning like the man in the story.

The early Moravian Brethren had a strong conviction that things were pre-determined by God, they used the ‘Lot’ system where slips of paper were drawn out of a box to answer major decisions for the church.  

For example, if someone was suitable to be a minister, if a person could join the church.  This excessive use of the lot kept hundreds of potential members out of the church as receiving a ‘no’ slip was humiliating, this resulted in the Moravian church remaining small. The lot process was also used to approve or disapprove of marriages between church members.  Luckily this system passed away a long time ago.

To accept your lot in life is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 5:19 “ Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God.” this verse could be the inspiration for the lot system, I’m not sure I need to do a bit more reading about that.  But this acceptance of our ‘lot’ is to me a very lazy faith, it almost says we don’t have to do anything but if it goes bad, like the story at the beginning, well that’s God’s plan!

We can sometimes go too far the other way and think that we know best, we know what God has in store for us and what God has planned for us. We can do a better job than God.  How wrong we can be!

In our first reading we hear about Job. Job had been through a really tough time, his wife and children were all dead, he had lost his farm and cattle, his whole livelihood gone, all unknown to him, as part of a challenge or game between God and the satan.

Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar all try to tell him that the catastrophes that have befallen him were his fault, that he must have done something to deserve all his troubles.  Have you ever heard someone say “I must have done something wrong to be this unlucky”.

Job then justifies to his friends that what has happened to him was his own doing, that he had done great wrongs to be on the receiving end of all this suffering.

But then in chapter 38 God finally talks to Job.  God doesn’t whisper to Job, God doesn’t take Job to one side and have a quiet word in his ear, no God comes in a whirlwind!

I love the way God talks to Job here. I imagine a tv courtroom drama with Job in the witness box and God questioning him.

The whole of chapter 38 is God challenging Job to give Him answers about the creation of the universe, the earth and all the animals in it. (read some of the chapter).  God is even sarcastic to Job when he says “surely you know”.  Job is made aware of how he had assumed he knew the reason for his pain and suffering, his own human limitations compared to God’s infinite nature and  power.  

But God is divine and exceeds all human understanding.

This lack of human understanding is reflected in our second reading from Mark’s gospel.  Here we see two disciples, James and John, asking if they can sit at Jesus’ right and left side when He sits on His throne in heaven.  Jesus knows what they are asking for but challenges them and asks them if they are prepared to ‘drink the cup I will drink’.  ‘Yes’ they quickly reply. Jesus however, is referring to the cup described in Psalm 75: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”. This is a cup of suffering and of divine judgement.

Jesus told James and John that they didn’t know what they were asking for.  James and John were asking for glory, the easy way. They wanted glory without the suffering.  Sometimes we can be like James and John looking for the easy path.

So we have two different angles here. Job thought he should be rewarded for his pain and suffering and on the other hand James and John think they can have glory without the suffering. Who is right? Job? James and John?

Well neither.  God is right!

God does not punish us or reward us. God is God. We humans do not determine how God will act, nor are we the sole reason for His actions.

The world is God’s, not ours, we need to learn how to discern what God is telling us and asking of us, but that is not easy.

When I was in Amsterdam I visited a house of a lady called Corrie ten Boom, Corrie was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. They made a secret hiding place in Corrie’s bedroom for Jews to avoid detection. They were imprisoned for their actions and Corrie and her sister were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Out of her whole family only Corrie survived the war.  

Corrie travelled all over the world after the war and used an embroidery of a crown she had made as talk illustration.  

During her presentations she would hold the embroidery, with hundreds of tangled threads hanging from it.

Many wondered if she was holding up the wrong side by mistake. As she held up the messy side of the embroidery she would ask…

“Does God always grant us what we ask for in prayer? Not always. Sometimes He says, ‘No.’ That is because God knows what we do not know. God knows all. Look at this piece of embroidery. The wrong side is chaos. But look at the beautiful picture on the other side – the right side. We see now, the wrong side, God sees His side all the time. One day we shall see the embroidery from His side, and thank Him for every answered and unanswered prayer.”

 

We need to discern what God wants for us, for this church and this city. This is what prayer is for, we find it easy asking God for help and thanking God but listening to God is much harder.

I will be truthful and admit that I find it hard to sit in silence, I will often find endless jobs to do to avoid sitting in silence, when I do sit down I feel guilty for not being busy! 

But it is when we are silent that we can listen to God. Those two words have the same letters: LISTEN SILENT.

 

Thank you for listening.

separation part 2

A quick update before I start on this recent blog. Thank you for all your positive comments, vibes and prayers after my last post, I am feeling much more settled and am enjoying my stay in Germany. My language skills have not improved much but, hey ho, one step at a time, as the song goes.

Unfortunately I am struggling to get any pictures uploaded onto my blogs using my tablet so they are not as colourful as I would like. 😦

This blog is about separation again but it is not a personal to me separation. I have been impressed by a few individuals who have been separated from their loved ones in a variety of ways and their determination to not let it get the better of them. Something I am slowly learning and developing.

This week I have been staying in Niesky. It is a lovely town very close to the Polish and Czech borders

The town began as an extension to the overflowing Moravian settlement of Herrnhut in 1742. Sr. Erdmuthe Zinzendorf came to a the wooded area that had been donated by sympathetic aristocracy and declared the village would be called ‘Niesky’ which means ‘low’ in the Czech language, she was referring to the geographical location of the area which is a low, flat valley and also a theological meaning in that we are all “low before God”.

The town was built in the style of a Moravian settlement around a rectangular field and by 1756 the church had been built. There was also a missionary school built in Niesky and it was from here between 1870 and 1910 that men and women were trained before being sent out into the world in service to the church.  These brave people were trained theologically before being separated from their loved ones knowing they may never see them again. The conditions some of the early missionaries faced are well documented in the Moravian diaries. Boarding schools, such as Fulneck and Ockbrook were established to provide a substitute family alongside education for the children of such families.

It was in one of these schools, during a mathematics lesson, in Niesky that the famous Moravian Star was invented at the beginning of the 19th century. The star hangs in churches and homes during Advent and is an icon for the biblical message ” Jesus Christ is the light of the world “. Today the stars are made and sold in Herrnhut and vary in size and colours all with 25 points. The smallest being just 5” across. The largest star ever built is still hung in the church in Niesky and has an incredible 145 points!

Whilst here I have visited some members of the congregation with the minister Br Axel von Dressler. One elderly man described his life as a 12 year old boy at the outbreak of the 2nd world war. Schools were forced to teach Nazi propaganda and families were encouraged to report each other over any discrepancies of that teaching.

Following the end of the war the Russians took over where the Germans left off. Families were once again divided and separated, this time permanently. Fences and walls were erected across the country and all communication with the West was banned in this new Communist country. Occasional visits to family events, weddings, funerals etc. were allowed but only one family member could leave at a time, this ensured that they came back!

This man told me of how children at school were asked by their teachers “What does the clock look like on your parents TV?” The answer they gave determined the families fate; the wrong clock meant they were watching western TV!

Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35. NIV). I have heard this week of all these things trying to restrict and subdue the word of God but failing! “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height and depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.” (8:38-39. NIV)

This is one powerful statement and one which I have read many times but being here, in a former communist occupied country, it takes on whole new meaning. One of freedom and liberation, of a faith that would not go away despite the dreadful efforts of the Stasi.

I am so proud and humbled to hear these stories of quiet courage and solidarity. I feel so lucky, but possibly take the freedom of  my faith for granted. Plenty of room for further reflection. Thank you.

 

Separation

As you know I am training and studying to be a minister for the Moravian church in Great Britain. Part of my training is to experience other parts of the Unity. Last year I spent 6 weeks at Ockbrook church in Derbyshire and my family were able to share some of the time with me. This year however I am further afield in Germany and The Netherlands and this time I am flying solo.

After my lovely week in Keld, see previous posts, I thought I was prepared for time away from home but unfortunately not, I have never felt so isolated before. There are so many thoughts and feelings going on in my head I do not know where to begin. I may sound blunt and I do not wish to offend or upset anyone, but I need to be honest with myself so I can understand these emotions.

I feel that I have abandoned my family at a time where we could be enjoying the summer holidays together. So there are feelings of anger and disappointment towards the church and myself.  At the same time as feeling homesick I have been offered wonderful support by my hosts and that makes me feel guilty also.

The hardest part is not being able to share these wonderful new experiences alongside my family, I feel I am leaving them behind in some way, almost betraying them. I know these are irrational thoughts but they are very real at the same time.

Most people who know me know that I am an organising person. I like to plan ahead and know what is required of me. These 6 weeks have been organised for me and they are changing week by week, where I will be, who I will stay with, how I will get there. I am not in control and I think that is a major factor in my unsettled feelings.

Learning to let go is not easy, putting your trust, and life, in someone else’s hands is even less easy but it is something I need to do this summer.

The Watchword for today is: “Trust in him at all times, o people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8.  I have been pouring out my heart to you good people, I am not looking for pity but this is the only way I can make sense of things. I am having a wonderful experience and am grateful that I am here. I know I will look back on this time and remember the people I have met with fondness but I will also, hopefully be strengthened personally and in my faith.

That’s all folks!

A woolly tale

Sheep outnumber people in Yorkshire by a fair number. The local sheep are called Swaledale and have distinctive black faces. Their wool is very coarse and they are a very hardy breed, a requirement for the exposed areas they live in.

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The wool is very thick but when knitted up it makes lovely warm garments.

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As I was walking around Keld I saw a farmer putting out some feed for his sheep. modern farmers use quad bikes now but for many years shepherds walked everywhere. Even though the farmer is a bit more upto date with his/her transport methods they still know exactly where their sheep are. This picture is of a farmer calling his sheep and they came running across the hillside when they heard his voice.

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Jesus uses analogies of the shepherd and sheep in many parables and stories when describing himself and God to people, and I was reminded of these two verses in particular as I watched the farmer call his sheep to him:

John 10:14 – “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me

John 10:27 – My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
This is a good reminder that as we go about our daily lives,  God is always watching over us and knows each of us by name.
Just like the wool I described at the start which begins as a knotted and tangled mess, it can be drawn out, spun and knitted into something that is beautiful to look at and has a function. So we can be made strong by spinning ourselves together with God, He knows us all by name and has a job for us all to serve Him, so get knitting!

Prodding!

My first ever blog!

I have been granted the pleasure of being Minister-in-residence at the beautiful church and village of Keld in North Yorkshire. Keld

There has been a church in Keld since 1540 but was reported derelict by 1706. In 1789 an independent preacher Edward Stillman visited Swaledale and on seeing the derelict building decided to rebuild it and it was completed in 1791. THe church and manse was rebuilt again, the one you see above, in 1838 by James Wilkinson.  From 1985 the manse was rented out to provide an income for the church.  A few weeks of the year the manse is set aside for Ministers in Residence, like me (even though I am not officially yet a minister) to enjoy the area and experience a rural parish.

Whilst here for the week I am expected to lead two services on Sunday, 10.30am at Low Row URC, a little further along the road, and the 2pm service at Keld URC.  I am also leading morning and evening prayers daily.

Prayers

I am looking forward to this regular time of daily worship, I am aware that even though I am still a minister in training my daily prayer schedule is not what it should be! So hopefully this will help me kickstart it again!

As you probably know I am a bit of a stitcher and crafter and like to try new skills so during my stay I plan to make a rag rug. A piece of hessian and three shirts my husband gave me to iron (actually he donated them for bunting but I changed my mind) will, I hope, produce a lovely rug I can look at in the future and remember my time here in Keld.

Prodding

The local term for rag rugging I have discovered this week is ‘prodding’.  I think this is quite an apt term for me this week as I quite often need prodding, sometimes to start and sometimes to finish a task.  This week however, I feel God is prodding me “I am here!”

Well, I am here God, with you and within this beautiful place, thank you for bringing me here.  We all need a little ‘prodding’ sometimes.