Monday, 23 October 2017

You are Christ's letter: acting from the heart

You know how sometimes you have to do something because it pleases you, even though you know no one else will notice? 

Maybe you carefully colour-code the office stationery cupboard.  Or line up your children's games according to size.  Or keep your spice rack in alphabetical order.

Or peel your apple all in one go (Imgur)

In my case, it was matching Bible verses to the weekly theme at toddler group.  I've recently become part of the leadership team for Little Creations, and one of my responsibilities is updating the Powerpoint slides which scroll on the big screen while the group is running.  In an effort to have some slight Christian input (most attendees have no church affiliation), we have a Bible verse on one of these slides.


You see what I mean.  Most parents, on constant alert for two-year-olds misbehaving, will hardly spare a glance for words on a screen.  Of those who do, even fewer will consciously register a saying from the Bible, and practically no one will think, how clever, that relates to the craft activity today.

But it made me happy.  So why not.

Our theme for the half term was People Who Help Us.  It started off easy, with firefighters and paramedics - plenty of verses in the Bible relating to fire or healing (Proverbs 26:20 and Matthew 14:14 did the job).  Lollipop ladies were unknown, of course, in Biblical times, but I was pleased to find Psalm 138:7 - You stretch out your hand, and your right hand saves me.  The police obviously called for a verse on justice (Psalm 11:7), and dentists needed a reference to teeth (a comment on social justice from Proverbs 30:14).

Our final week's subject was postal workers.  I was expecting to use a somewhat tangential reference to deliveries (deliver us from evil, perhaps?), but I discovered an image from Paul that I had never noticed before.  Writing to the church in Corinth, he says, You show that you are Christ's letter, delivered by us.  You weren't written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.  (2 Cor 3:3 CEB)

Paul is the Bible's letterwriter-in-chief.  Half of the New Testament is his letters to various people -  arbitrating church disputes, clarifying the new Christian beliefs, and simply overflowing with amazement about who Jesus is and what he did.  So it's not surprising that he uses a letter as an illustration at least once. 

The context is a reference to the letters of recommendation which, presumably, most itinerant preachers of the time carried.  Something to say, yes, this person has preached in Jerusalem, or Ephesus, or wherever, and knows what he's talking about.  Quite a reasonable custom, you would think, when churches were far-flung and communication was limited.

But Paul says scathingly, we don't need a letter to recommend ourselves to you, do we?  You're our letter!  The changes in your lives, by the Spirit of God, are what guarantee us as genuine, not some grubby piece of paper.  God himself is writing on your hearts.

Our cautious times require lots of pieces of paper to recommend us - DBS checks, references, certificates, qualifications.  Like in Paul's day, most of these are not unreasonable.  But what we're aiming for at Little Creations goes beyond all those bits of paper.  It's that genuineness that actually makes people's lives different.  That's what will make them recommend us.  And that's what they will notice, even when they don't read a word of our Powerpoint slides or our carefully prepared literature.

So I guess it's OK to do my happy things that no one else notices.  As long as I make sure to do some things that people do notice, too.  Not, as Paul is quick to point out, that I'm at all qualified to change anyone's life.  But because by my actions, I can show how God is writing on all of our hearts.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Comments on a walk

"I love going for a walk," said Theo, "It's so beautiful."

A few minutes later, both boys' legs looked like this.



Beautiful is NOT the word.

However muddy it might have been underfoot, though, our surroundings merited Theo's description.  We wove our way between rocky walls where tufts of grass grew like floppy hair, and moss-covered trees dripped rain down our necks.  Then came a narrow path with grassy slopes rearing up on either side.



Slipping on damp limestone, we reached a cave with a square mouth narrowing down rapidly "to a miners' tunnel," said Toby excitedly, and he bounded straight in to explore.


Emerging from the darkness, we discovered that the sun had come out and Lathkill Dale was opening out before us.  It was the perfect time for a picnic.



We trekked on a little further, to the place where water quietly rose up between the grass and creeping plants, and formed the beginning of the River Lathkill.  A few metres on, it was big enough to have a footbridge over it.  It was starting to turn into a proper river.

But the pace of Theo's short legs, and the endless pauses to inspect rocks, sticks, caterpillars and cowpats, was becoming wearisome.  We decided to turn back.



The valley, which had been silent that morning, had got much busier.  We passed a group of students carrying enormous backpacks, a dog which neatly swiped Theo's cheese sandwich, and finally, a family with older children than ours.  The mum gave us an encouraging grin, and said, "Don't worry - it gets easier!"

That's undoubtedly true.  For now, we were happy to get our mud-plastered children back to the car just as the rain came pouring down again.  From a parent's point of view, the walk had had its frustrations.  But Toby leaned back contentedly in his seat and said, "That was just like Wallace and Gromit."

"What?" we said.

 "It was A Grand Day Out."