Friday, 24 November 2017

Hidden Stories 4—Desire and Slander

I’ve been digging buried stories out of the Letter of James, but I have to admit that this is not really a hidden story. I have invented it as an imaginary background to the teaching of  chapters 3 and 4. I hope that you will enjoy it as part of the continuing saga of Sophron the follower of Mashiach Yeshua. If you missed it, the last episode was here.

Part 1

Next door to Sophron’s expanding business in the Jerusalem market there’s a tiny shop, not much bigger than a cupboard. It belongs to Hannah the widow of Talmai, who also worships at the synagogue of Mashiach Yeshua where Sophron is an assistant pastor. Hannah scrapes a living making and selling baskets, and she’s not well off at all.
‘It’s hard on Widow Hannah,’ thinks Sophron, ‘because I also sell baskets, which, to be honest, are better than Hannah’s, since I don’t make them myself—I wouldn’t have the time or the skill—but purchase them from specialists. So we are in competition, definitely to her disadvantage. Wouldn’t it make sense for Widow Hannah to come into a business partnership with me? She could manage the supply of baskets (which she obviously knows a bit about) and I could devote more time to developing the rest of my business. Which I need to do, now that the deal with the Yehuda brothers has fallen through—smashed to pieces by Elder Yakob. And I could make good use of that little bit of extra space next door.’
Although she’s old enough to be enrolled among the synagogue’s widows, Hannah doesn’t seem old, and she’s remarkably good-looking. ‘If she felt like marrying again, I could bring her security and, well, a decent dinner every day. One day she’ll be too old to make baskets and then she’ll be totally dependent on the daily distribution. There’s a slight obstacle: among the enrolled widows, at least the older ones, there’s a convention that you don’t get married again. They see themselves as a kind of order of celibate Levites. That’s splendid, and they do fantastic work, washing the feet of the saints (as the saying goes!), tending the sick, and teaching the faith to the younger women and children. But it’s not as if it were a commandment. We aren’t under Torah but under Grace, after all!’
So Sophron makes a point of having a few words each day with Widow Hannah when they’re opening their shops, or shutting up in the evening. It’s remarkable how much mileage there is in the subject of baskets, when one is chatting with an attractive widow.
By a remarkable coincidence, on the other side of Hannah’s basket business is another business owned by a follower of the Way of Mashiach Yeshua: the shop of Shimon the lamp dealer. Shimon is also Sophron’s fellow assistant pastor. He’s quite friendly with Widow Hannah too. Like her he’s widowed, but he has a kind of slightly sneering look and talks with irritating mannerisms acquired from his education in the scribal schools. His lamps sell well, but oddly enough the shop’s dark and forbidding (much like its proprietor really, thinks Sophron). It’s hard to believe that there’s much to attract Widow Hannah on that side of the wall! But one should never count one’s chickens. Sophron decides to devote himself to prayer—and even a day’s fasting—to seek the Lord’s mind on this important prospect.
A week later, he’s delighted when Widow Hannah approaches him deferentially: ‘Brother Sophron, I always think of you as—well, my pastor in particular, and, like the rest of us, I greatly value your wisdom. May I have the benefit of that wisdom—in complete confidence.’
‘My dear Widow Hannah, of course. How can I help?’
‘It’s a matter of our faith, Brother Sophron. Now, our neighbour, your colleague Brother Shimon, seems to have rather strict views. In his last word of instruction, he said “Let everyone remain in the state in which he or she was called”. Do you agree with him?’
Sophron is even more delighted. Hannah is evidently not wedded to widowhood! He replies carefully.
‘As a well-trained pastor, Widow Hannah, Shimon has good grounds for his position. I think he would like us all to be free from worldly concerns. But many of us—you and I, and he too—are inevitably entrusted with such concerns, our businesses for example. So I do think his position a little over-strict. After all, we are not under the Torah, but under Grace! You know, he was a very zealous Pharisee before the Lord called him. I do not think he has entirely shaken that off. He’s inclined to be a little superior, a bit forbidding, don’t you feel? And those mannerisms of the scribes, all those ‘seven things are found in the wise man’ and ‘four things are something else’, well, I find them rather vain and repetitious. But as Elder Yakob reminds me, a person who makes no mistakes in what he says is a perfect being!’
‘Thank you, Brother Sophron, that is very helpful. I feel clearer in my heart about what I am to do.’ And there is a bright flash from her very attractive eyes as she turns away to open up her shop. Sophron feels that his prayers are being answered.
So it’s a shock when a few moments later, Pastor Shimon strides out of his shop and marches up to him. ‘So, Master Sophron, I am an unreconstructed Pharisee! Well, better that than a complete Epicurean*. I at least do not spend my time in idle chat with women! Am I not right that you have certain designs…?’
‘You are after her yourself. I’ve seen your looks. Well, I can assure you she’s more inclined to my way of thinking!’
Some hard words are exchanged, but they are cut short by Hannah popping back out of her doorway. ‘Pastor Shimon! Pastor Sophron! I am astonished at you. If what you’re arguing about is what I suspect, you are certainly not going to get it!’
‘Shimon, I could murder you!’
‘Just you try! I’ll give you vain repetition!’
*Epicurean: a person who rejects Jewish teaching; an unbeliever.

Part 2
Three days later, Sophron gets a message. News of the fracas has reached Elder Yakob, and he’s to present himself at once. He enters the little vestry at the back of the synagogue. There’s Yakob, looking grim. And oh dear, there’s Pastor Shimon too. The two of them avoid each other’s eyes.
Yakob opens the dialogue quite unexpectedly.
‘Brothers, our sister Widow Hannah, your neighbour, is in great need of all our prayers.’
Sophron and Shimon gaze at him in puzzlement.
‘Thanks to your combined wisdom, brothers, she has made a momentous decision. She has deserted our widows’ roll and betrothed herself to a man who does not follow the Way.’
‘But… I thought…’
‘What was your fight about, my brothers? What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill.’
‘Brother Yakob, we did not kill each other!’
‘I say kill, because Sister Hannah is, effectively, dead to us, her brothers and sisters. She is not following the Way.’
‘Heaven forbid…’ Sophron and Shimon turn pale.
‘You both covet her—and her nice little business. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.’
Sophron grasps at a straw. ‘Brother Yakob, I prayed and fasted…’
‘Yes, and when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you can spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people!’
‘Elder Yakob, to court Widow Hannah was not adultery!’
‘Adultery of the spirit, brothers! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’
Shimon says, quite angrily, ‘I do not consider myself a friend of the world. My teaching is quite the opposite. It’s this man—this Epicurean—who teaches friendship with the world!’
‘How dare you! You just want to put the burden of Torah back on our shoulders!’ retorts Sophron.
Yakob looks at each of them in turn.
‘My brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?’
Yakob’s tone, surprisingly, becomes gentle. ‘Sit down, my brothers. Together, on this bench.’
He sits on a stool in front of them. ‘Listen, brothers. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.’
Yakob takes one of their hands in each of his hands. ‘I want you to consider what the wisdom that comes from heaven is like.  First of all, it is pure. What does that mean?’
‘Unmixed. Not double-minded, I guess, brother,’ says Sophron, feeling like a schoolchild.
‘Correct. Then what?’
There’s a short silence. They make suggestions in turn. ‘Peace-loving.’ ‘Considerate.’ ‘Submissive.’ ‘Full of mercy and good fruit.’ ‘Impartial.’ ‘Sincere.’
‘That’s right. And peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. Be at peace among yourselves, brothers.’
Yakob joins the two men’s hands. Sophron can’t repress a shudder. ‘What does it say in Scripture about God’s jealousy, Brother Sophron?’
‘God jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us.’
‘Do you think Scripture says that without reason? But, my brothers, he gives us more grace. Brother Shimon, whom does Scripture say God opposes?
‘God opposes the proud. But he shows favor to the humble.’
‘Quite right. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash these hands, you sinners, and purify those hearts, you double-minded men. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.’
That’s pretty much how Sophron now feels! But Elder Yakob smiles. ‘If you humble yourselves before the Lord, my brothers, in good time he will lift you up, I promise.’

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Carpet Diem - by Helen Murray

Have you a picture of what life is like? A metaphor or an image? St Paul thought it a race; Ronan Keating a few years ago thought that life was a rollercoaster (just gotta ride it!); Forrest Gump thought it was like a box of chocolates. A friend thinks that life is a series of tests (interesting discussions there). It seems that so many of us think in metaphors. I do. 

This is my metaphor: life is like kicking a carpet.

Bear with me. 

There's this roll of carpet - only about two or three feet wide, sort of like a stair carpet, that I unroll ahead of me as I walk along. Everyone has one. There's some artistic licence here as the carpet never gets any smaller and doesn't start out that big, it sort of magically unrolls in front of me. I do have to put some effort in but it's not actually as hard as actually kicking an actual carpet, if you've ever tried to unroll one in the living room while your spouse tries to lift up the sofa. This is a metaphorical carpet, remember; the difficulty of unrolling is seems to vary from time to time. Bit like life, hey.

You're reading this with a raised eyebrow.  Still, I shall press on...

So this carpet has a pattern and everyone's pattern is different - my own is very familiar, even when the pattern changes as it regularly does.  Sometimes it's a brightly coloured, cheerful, intricate pattern, and at other times it's dull, muted, made of dark colours or plain with blocks of different shades.  Sometimes it even has strands of gold and silver in it, wonderful shining threads. Sometimes the pattern has a symmetry, sometimes it's muddled up and abstract.

Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't.

Likewise the weave of the carpet varies - for a time it's thick, lush and rich in its pile, and then later worn, threadbare, sparse.  Smooth and then knobbly.  Silky and bristly. Sometimes my toes luxuriate in the softness and warmth and other times it hurts my feet. As I go through life the carpet changes from day to day, hour to hour, and yet I keep going, kicking it along in front of me without breaking stride.

There are times when I'm running, even dancing along, full of songs and laughter, and the carpet is unrolling effortlessly.

Other times when I'm plodding, trudging with my head down watching the way the tears make little dark marks as I walk, and those times keeping it moving in front of me is the hardest thing of all, but I carry on. What else can I do?

I can never see where I'm going; it's as if I'm unrolling my carpet through space - three dimensional space, where there are ups and downs - uphills and downhills.  Bits of the journey are brightly lit and other bits so shadowy that I can barely make out the shape of my feet taking one step at a time, one step at a time. 

The destination is unknown but I keep walking towards it. There's no stopping; there's no choice. Keep going. Got to keep going. 

It will be worth it when I get there.

The interesting thing is that I'm not alone during this walk - I can see other people unrolling their carpets, too. Everyone in the world has a carpet.

Some are in the distance - a long long way away, and they're obscured, blurry - I can't see much of their carpet so I don't know what colours or patterns they have; I just get a glimpse from time to time.

These are the people who I might encounter for a brief moment: sitting on a train whooshing past and I glimpse someone walking their dog in a field beside the track.

Driving past someone in a window of a house.

They're the people who come in to view for a second and then they're out of sight.  I see a stranger and wonder about their life - who are they? What are they worried about? Are they happy?  Their carpet comes near mine just for a moment and then they're gone and I never know.

Other people come alongside for a while - they walk alongside me for a time, or we meet and we overlap, and then they're gone in a different direction. Sometimes I see the same person back again. Sometimes I know that I've seen them before but can't place where...

Then in this journey I'm on, one or two people kick their carpets along with me. They're alongside, and they stay there.  Their carpet is so close that the edges of theirs and mine touch - sometimes they're so close that the edges wrinkle up against each other making a ridge.  But there might be a special person whose carpet fits mine perfectly. We're pretty much in step.  The weave and pattern on the carpets side by side are synchronised with each other. Sometimes I can't tell where my carpet ends and theirs starts, and sometimes they look very different. Sometimes they leave me behind and I struggle to catch up, and sometimes they're dawdling when I want to skip. But they're parallel with me.

There's a special sort of blessing in a carpet buddy.

Because their carpet looks and feels so much like mine communication is easy. There's an understanding. They look down and see what I see. We see the world from almost the same perspective. They know when the going is heavy and when I'm flying. It's as if they can reach across to me and help me with the weight of my carpet as I unroll it. They can point out the finest of bright threads in the weave when I can see only darkness. Sometimes their presence alongside me brings light to show me there's beauty in the pattern when I've been unable to see.

A carpet buddy is a very special gift. I thank God regularly for mine.

Occasionally it seems as if someone's carpet is nicer than mine.  They seem to have an easier time getting theirs to unroll. Their pattern seems brighter, prettier, more interesting. It seems thicker, nicer to walk on. Likewise, sometimes other people's carpets appear inferior to my own; I'm glad I'm on mine and not theirs! I can't swap - I can't even step off mine onto theirs - so I can never really tell what it's like on their carpet, and they can't possibly know what it feels like to be on mine, but it doesn't stop me comparing them, even though I know I shouldn't. 

Now and again I notice that someone I was used to travelling with isn't there any more. I'm so used to seeing them there but one day I realise that they're gone. Their carpet has run out. I know it has gone but I still can't tell what's at the end. I look around and crane my neck but I can never see.

I don't know what happens to the person kicking it along as I never seem to witness the exact moment it ends, I just see that it is no longer unravelling. What happened to the person whose carpet it was? Did they realise that it was going to end when it did? Maybe they noticed that the carpet was finally getting smaller?  Maybe it just vanished.  Then what?  I don't know.  Haven't got this bit figured out in my little fantasy. Neither do I know what's at the end of mine - or when it might end.  It seems to me that there's plenty of carpet left at the moment... who knows but God?

But I imagine. 

I think the end of the carpet might be quite ornate - like something fantastic and awe inspiring from a  Renaissance tapestry.  Or maybe just a bit of brocade and a tassle.  Or perhaps it slowly gets thinner and thinner until it's no longer there?  

But it's what happens when I finally step off the carpet that I want to know about. I know it's not thin air - there'll be ground beneath my feet that is more solid than it has ever been. Maybe I'll no longer walk but jump off the ground and fly like I do in a dream - maybe I'll have a grace that I've never had in my life. Maybe there'll be a pattern that is so beautiful that it defies description.   

My imagination isn't big enough.

So that's Life. It's a journey, yes.  It goes up and down like a rollercoaster, yes.  I sometimes feel I'm in a race, yes. But it's a carpet, unrolling, unrolling. Inexorably leading me somewhere. 

A beautiful, unique carpet that only I can walk on. I've got to keep it going. Can't stop, got to keep going.

Till one day it will stop.

In a heartbeat.


But I won't stop, and neither will God. We will go on, and on, Him and me.

That's when I'll know what's beyond the carpet.  It's going to be amazing.

Anyone got a Life Metaphor to share? Tell me it's not just me....


TheFlyingCarpet.jpg by Clarita
DSC005231.jpg by dhester
motiveGuilaneNachez.jpg by Guilane Nachez

From Used with permission.

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Gift From Dusty Houses

“It’s your fault I’m not getting any housework done!”
That’s what someone said to me yesterday. She’d heard me speak at a meeting and, as we chatted afterwards, informed me of my part in her not getting the duster out.
The blame, apparently, lies in the fact that reading my books is more enjoyable than housework. And, since she bought two more yesterday, the housework-less state of her house looks set to continue.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” is what I jokingly said in response. 
Am I really sorry?  Not a bit.
Christmas may be over a month away, but that lady gave me an early Christmas present yesterday.
She reads my books: What a gift to me.
To be honest, I sometimes forget that people do read what I write.
And then someone reminds me.
Like the person who recently told me she’d gone into a shop, looking for a book to read.  She’d considered mine, discounted it, and then something drew her back.  She bought it and, in her words, ‘once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down’.
What a gift to me.
As is all feedback I receive.
“I read your book.”
What a gift to me.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you this. 
Well, the feedback I mention above is not something I receive every day. 
I do forget that, out there somewhere, people are reading what I write.
Even enjoying it.
I’m taken by surprise (in a good way!).
And I just wondered if maybe I’m not alone in my forgetfulness?
So I thought I’d use my slot on the blog this month to encourage us to keep going in our writing.  Whatever our writing may be. 
I’m thrilled when people enjoy my books.
What a gift to me.
I’m thrilled when my sister enjoys a silly poem I wrote for her.
What a gift to me.
I’m thrilled when a child asks me to show them how to write ‘cat’.
What a gift to me.
I came across this quote:
Image result for why write

The quote struck me, because it’s not true for me.
I write because I like to communicate.
I write because I like words.
I write to write.
“I read your book.”
I write because I like being blamed for dusty houses.
What a gift to me.

*If you'd like to risk a dusty house, please feel free to take a look at my books: here.
One is my memoir and the others are devotional books.*

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The changes of time

Agatha Christie' desk and typewriter.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, 
today and forever.  
Do not be carried away by all kinds 
of strange teachings.  
It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace...."
 Hebrews 13:8-9

A recent children’s magazine had a photo of a portable typewriter and described how it worked.  To me it seemed extraordinary that children today wouldn’t know about an invention that so changed peoples' lives. Memories were sparked of familiar names: Remington, Underwood, Olympia, Imperial, Royal used in offices and remainig the same for nearly a hundred years.   

Pitman typing classes taught us to sit properly, and why I don't suffer from the repetitive strain injuries of today. At 16 I purchased the latest Remington portable typewriter to improve my typing speed and wrote my first book. And for six months in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s typing pool I used the oldest to the most modern manual typewriters, banging those keys seven hours a day, 5 days a week.

I remembered carbon paper placed between sheets of paper, carefully rolled between two rollers on a horizontal carriage which moved when you hit the keys, and ringing a bell near the right hand margin.  Pushing the large silver handle to turn up a line to return it to the left hand margin.  Mistakes had to be rubbed out on all copies and only a few reached the top speed of 60 words per minute.

The first electric typewriters had a carriage return key, and soft touch keys making typing less strenuous.  In 1964 I saw the innovative IBM golf ball machine.  Instead of a large carriage, a golf ball of letters twisted and moved along platform housed within the casing.  Several years later I was using one, and enjoyed interchanging the golf ball to use different sized fonts.  In the 1970’s  a well named daisy wheel improved on that technology.  

I was always grateful for Tippex: white paint, or the paper that would cover up my errors.  Ink ribbon spools became cartridges, and new plastic ribbon ones were disposable. And, at the touch of a special key, small spools of Tippex or Sellotape would jump into place to cover or erase your mistakes.  

All I thought ingenious until 1982 when my husband bought the first BBC home computer.  He wrote a basic word processor, used the TV as a screen, and our daisy wheel typewriter typed by itself at about 100 wpm.   These things are now relegated to history, but one thing hasn’t changed, the original 'qwerty' keyboard designed so those metal rods in manual typewriters wouldn't become entangled.

In fifty years the Lord has accelerated man’s creative abilities. But like the ‘qwerty’ keyboard we need ensure we keep what is good in the face of progress. God’s design for our lives is for good,  His Word our keys, and pacing ourselves in stops entanglements and keeps us in His peace and love   When man believes in himself and not the creator God, he does what is right in his eyes his eyes, and today we have incredible inventions, but a spiritual famine in our land.  Yet God promises a harvest.  He’s given us a writing talent.  And as we invest that in Him, I believe He will multiply and use our words of truth to draw people back to Himself. 

Ruth Johnson

Monday, 20 November 2017

Friends by Sue Russell

Perhaps, like me, you know a lot of people. Some you may like a lot; some you may call friends. I consider myself singularly blessed when it comes to friends, and this came home to me forcibly recently when I met up with a friend met at university who subsequently went to live in Canada. Although she has been back to the UK several times it is difficult to see everyone you'd like to see when your visit is short, and although we kept in touch we hadn't actually seen one another for 28 years! Somehow, though, I had every confidence that our friendship doesn't rely on the details of life, and that we would be able to talk freely and without any awkwardness - and so it proved. I have another friend, of long standing, with whom I would literally trust my life and deepest secrets. She is the soul of loyalty. I did not expect to find any more, to be honest, as I grew older - not of such kindness and faithfulness; but God is good, and I have. She knows who she is! In addition there are those who you feel might just become very good friends, given the chance; and these don't depend on geographical proximity or even on similarity of temperament, background or experience. At some significant level you somehow seem to understand and appreciate one another - a rare and wonderful blessing.
Jesus himself valued friendship: his was a lonely path, but he surely took some comfort in his closest friends, even when they misunderstood him; even, indeed, when they denied  and deserted him. In John 15 he says to them, 'I do not call you servants any longer...Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.' Paul makes a startling claim in Romans 5: 'We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son.' It astonishes me that God would want such creatures as us to be his friends, but apparently it is so. Again, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes,'Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ.' 
Would I be considered unforgivably 'up myself' (as I recall my children saying scornfully as teenagers) if I quoted from one of my own books on the subject?  Well, I shall risk it. One character says to another, 'Wherever you are, wherever I am, whatever is happening, we will always care for and trust one another. I feel almost as certain of this as that I will one day open my eyes in heaven.'
 There are many kinds of friendship, of course: many depths, many ways of expressing the relationship; but it seems to me that we as members of ACW have a unique privilege and opportunity. We may live far apart, have little in common in the way of interests, experience, background, age, worship styles, denomination; but we have two things in common which I assume are extremely important to us all. I have noted over the last few years an increase in mutual sharing of concerns and prayerful support. Times of getting together - at conferences, writers' days, weekends - encourage the formation of new friendships and the development of existing ones. We should celebrate this, and always realise what a precious gift it is, at the same time keeping our antennae sensitive to those who are somehow on the margins. They too are God's friends.

Sue's latest novel 'A Vision of Locusts' was published by Instant Apostle in October.