Haikus for World Voice Day

Lockdown came along;
We were told: “Keep your distance”,
But we kept in-touch.

Communication;
Wonder of the human voice –
Less isolation.

So pick up the phone,
Or click onto that Zoom link,
And bless your people.

Any God has placed
Within your vicinity,
You can connect with.

Face-to-face is great;
Online can have the same depth –
True community.

Let yourself be known;
Allow them to hear your voice,
Because you’re special.

To Avoid or not to Avoid

At our prayer meeting yesterday, a friend read Psalm 101, focusing specifically on these words: “I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar(Psalm 101:2-3). It certainly sparked a good discussion, and it got me thinking: How does that work for me, and anyone like me who’s a writer?

If you’re a writer, particularly if you write fiction, you’re weaving together stories with different characters, not all of whom are Christians. You might also read stories like this or watch them on TV. (Some view TV as a waste of time, but for a writer, it can be research.) Someone told me at a wedding once: “Glorify God in whatever you do”, but how do we craft our stories in order to glorify God?

Lately, I’ve enjoyed watching “Blue Heelers” – an Australian police drama. People who know me won’t be surprised to hear that, because I seem to keep talking about it. Of course there are crimes they have to solve, but it mainly focuses on the private lives of those at the station. I love how relatable the characters are. My favourite (Ben) was raised in the Salvation Army. He’s not following Jesus as an adult, but when he sees someone needs a bit of extra support, he’s there. He reminds me of something one of my music teachers used to say. “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one!” He absolutely puts his heart into everything he does. At one point he has an affair with the wife of one of his superiors, which he initially regrets, but she persuades him to keep seeing her. Over several episodes, we’re shown the fallout from that, and honestly it’s so well-written.

I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.” In God’s eyes, surely all wrongdoing (or sin) is vile and vulgar. As a Christian, then, should I avoid storylines such as the one I just wrote about? Or can I glorify God by doing what the writers of “Blue Heelers” appear to have done – treating it as unacceptable and showing the mistake, but also showing its consequences? I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong answer.

When we discussed it yesterday, another friend quoted her grandma. “If Jesus came back, would He be happy with what you were doing and where you were?” I definitely do think about that, and of course Jesus is with us always, but personally, I’ve been ok about watching a programme like that with Him. I think He might appreciate the quality of the writing – not the sin, but the way it was dealt with.

What do you think?

Musical Monday: For the big Kids

Murray Walker recently passed away at the age of 97. Murray was known for the mistakes he used to make. In his defence, when there are two cars per team and they’re whizzing by at over 100MPH, you’re bound to get the wrong driver sometimes. I’ve written before about my favourite quote of his. Enthusiasm came first and thought came later, but the great thing was, he could laugh at himself. In his autobiography, released around 2003, he devoted a whole section at the end to his slipups, putting them into categories like: “I know what I mean”.

When I was younger, I loved listening to a radio-show called “The Barmy Brummies”. I’ve never found any clips from it online, but they’d do impressions of various people and they had Murray to a tee. They recognised he had two different voices – his normal speaking voice and his commentating voice. He was undoubtedly my favourite commentator of all-time.

In this lovely documentary, they showed clips from a children’s programme Murray took part in after his retirement – “Roary the Racing Car”. If you haven’t seen it, you really should, whatever your age. It’s one of those things I wish I’d written. I love the name of the circuit: Silver Hatch – a combination of Silverstone and Brands Hatch. All the stories have a moral to them, explained at the end by Sir Sterling Moss (another who’s no longer with us). After seeing it again, I looked on Apple Music, and there was the theme tune! I actually didn’t realise it was a full song (they only give you the first verse on TV). I hope when you listen, it makes you smile too.

Zechariah 8: When we Become Ruths

Zechariah 8 speaks of a future time, when Jerusalem’s all that she should be. Elderly people feel comfortable sitting in the streets, and children are safe to play there (4-5). Her fasts become cheerful feasts (verse 19), but it’s the last verse I particularly like. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you”’” (verse 23, NKJV). Now the footnote tells me in Hebrew, this word ‘Sleeve’ literally means wing or corner of a garment. I don’t know what you think of when you hear the phrase ‘Corner of a garment’, but for me, it brings to mind a Biblical story.

Ruth went to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law when both their husbands had died. She ended up harvesting barley in a field belonging to Boaz – a close relative of theirs. After the harvest, Naomi wanted to make provision for her daughter-in-law, so she told Ruth to go to the threshing-floor (where the barley was taken to separate the good crop from the rubbish). Ruth would be perfumed and wearing her best clothes, and Boaz would tell her what to do (Ruth 3:3-4). Following her mother-in-law’s instructions, Ruth didn’t announce herself to Boaz, but when he rested, she uncovered his feet and lay down. When Boaz woke up to find her there, Ruth asked him to spread the corner of his garment over her (Ruth 3:9). She was asking him to secure her future. In Jewish law, a close relative was supposed to provide for a widow by giving her a child to honour her late husband’s name. Although there was a closer relative than Boaz, they discussed the matter and agreed he should be the one to marry Ruth.

So, back to Zechariah: In those days, God says, people from every nation will grasp the corner of a Jew’s garment because they’ve heard God is with the man. Jesus of Nazareth was born a Jew and even before His birth, Zechariah’s looking to the day when Gentiles (or non-Jews) are welcomed into the kingdom of God through Jesus. By His death on the cross, Jesus offers the corner of His garment to us. We can come under His covering, and He’ll secure our future.

Clothed with Rich Robes

I’ve been reading the book of Zechariah recently. To give you some background, the people of Judah were consistently disloyal to God, and He exiled them to Babylon as punishment. For seventy years they lived there, until King Cyrus allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-3). They began rebuilding the city and the Jewish high priest laid the foundation of the temple, but their enemies frustrated them and eventually convinced the current king that rebuilding of Jerusalem should cease (Ezra 4). Zechariah and his contemporary, Haggai, were spokesmen for God. Basically, their purpose was to galvanise the people into getting back to work.

Continue reading this post at Worship Unlimited Ministries, and you can join me back here on Friday for one more thought on the book of Zechariah.

Musical Monday: Easter Edition

At my local Pentecostal Church, we used to have a short service the Thursday before Easter. There weren’t many there, but I loved to sit and remember those last hours Jesus shared with His friends before He died. We would sing things like “There is a Fountain”, “Man of Sorrows”, “I Stand Amazed”, and sometimes “You are the Vine” (as the events of John 15 took place on that night). Of all the songs we sang, “Lead me to Calvary” might have been the least popular, but it’s always stayed with me. I don’t remember singing it any other time of the year. The words are old-fashioned (with ‘Thy’ instead of ‘Your’), but I can forgive that because it’s just lovely.

Enemy of the People

This week in the UK, people commemorated a year since we went into our first lockdown, thanks to Coronavirus. Last Saturday, there was a big anti-lockdown protest in London. I saw it advertised on Twitter and if someone had invited me to go with them, I think I would have. As the lockdowns have progressed, I’m starting to believe more and more the government are overstepping their authority. Is it really their right to tell us not to worship at church, sing, leave our homes or hug our friends? I don’t concur with 100% of what’s posted on my social media feeds, but I do follow some people because we agree on certain topics. A recent tweet read: “If our churches are waiting for permission from the government to sing praise songs to God, perhaps we should examine which master we’re truly serving?”

Viruses never got in the way of Jesus. He touched someone with leprosy. Lepers were thought of as unclean. If you touched them, their leprosy could spread to you – and then you could pass it to others, but Jesus didn’t see illness as a barrier, so why should I? I don’t doubt people have suffered and died from COVID, but aren’t we dying in a different way if we let it destroy our quality of life?

That’s why I would have liked to peacefully protest on Saturday, asking the government to give back our freedom. I listened to the news, and one man venting his frustration as he was taken away. “These are enemies!” he said. “Enemies of the people!” I think that’s where protesting goes too far. I don’t see the police as our enemy. Yes, some officers discriminate, or misuse their position when they should be protecting us, but they’re not the real enemy. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). It’s easy to make a person (or a body like the police) our scapegoat, but the real enemy is the evil one behind it all. I’ve put on weight in these lockdowns and I can jokingly blame Boris (our Prime Minister) for taking me away from the gym, but remember the first time the blame game was played? Adam said after he disobeyed God: “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree” (Genesis 3:12). Then, as now, the real enemy was the serpent. God warned the destroyer would wreak havoc (Isaiah 54:16), but Jesus came that we might have life to the full (John 10:10).

Although I wear a mask for others’ peace of mind, God is my Shield. My times are in His hands and I’ll live as long as He wants me to live, virus or no virus.

Song-Writing: The Birthing Process

* I have written briefly about my song-writing on this blog before, but Alex asked me to write a longer post for her Worship Unlimited Ministries website *

I always wanted to write songs, but me getting into song-writing was extremely unlikely. Neither of my parents are musical. They did encourage me (and my sister) to have piano lessons, but we weren’t in a house full of instruments and people playing them.

You can read the rest on Alex’s website. Have a look around too, while you’re there. You might find something else you like.

Musical Monday

This song seems really popular at the moment, both in country and Christian music circles. It’s been released twice – on Matthew West’s 2020 album “Brand New”, and as a duet with Carly Pearce. I prefer the duet. How about you?

The second verse is thought-provoking:
There’s a sign on the door; says “Come as you are”, but I doubt it
‘Cos if we lived like that was true, every Sunday-morning pew would be crowded
But didn’t You say church should look more like a hospital?
A safe place for the sick, the sinner and the scarred and the prodigal – like me
.

Wonderful – North Korea?

* Please, if you’re a parent, I suggest not reading this with your children *

I’ve watched two programmes recently: “Michael Palin in North Korea” (which taught me about their ideology and the food they eat), and a documentary on Amazon Prime that I felt painted a more accurate picture of the country. Then at a recent Zoom meeting, North Korea was mentioned. I’ve never heard this story before, but apparently, when Christians in North Korean prison camps want to sing praise to God, they wait until it rains. When the prison guards are sheltering, they go outside to praise Him. The speaker told us this, and ended with: “Isn’t that wonderful?” Now I know he was probably impressed that despite their trials, they would still go out-of-their way to praise God, but “Isn’t that wonderful” seemed quite incongruous.

Think about how these people are tortured for their faith. Back in 2003, I saw a video from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. One lady told of having water poured down her throat, more than her body could hold. Then a prison guard would come and repeatedly stamp on her stomach, until the water left her body any way it could. They’re put through so much, they become virtually unrecognisable as human beings, and then they take their emaciated bodies out into the freezing damp, just so they can show their love for the Lord? Heart-breaking, tragic or devastating might be words I’d use.

I realise this post was a bit graphic, but once you’ve heard something like that, it stays with you. I want people to have a better idea of what North Korean believers are enduring. If we take them into our hearts, perhaps we’ll be more inclined to pray for change. When North Koreans can freely express their beliefs, when they can praise God whenever and wherever they choose to, now that will be wonderful.