Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Bats and Gaps”

Behold the uninvited bat! Allow me to tell the story.

My wife and I holidayed in Devon recently. The cottage was cute, quiet and cut off. Perfect for a restful retreat.

However. On the fourth night Penny was in bed reading as I watched a World Cup match on the TV across the room. “Why did you throw that at me?”, she said, thinking I’d lobbed a tissue at her as a joke.

It was not a tissue. A bat was zig-zagging between beam and ceiling. Fortunately we have some bat-handling experience, so with the aid of a fish-slice and oven gloves we bagged the blighter and ejected him into the outside air.

We collared the cottage owners in the morning. Sure, they knew bats were up in the roof space, but they thought all gaps had been plugged that would give them access to the inside. Clearly they were mistaken!

Isn’t this sometimes a little like the way sins pay us an unexpected visit? When we’ve forgotten to plug the gaps?  We’re aware of the “big” things (murder, adultery, bat-eating – see Deut 14.12-18!), but what about the “smaller” things like greed, gossip and gurning (just kidding on the last one!). May I suggest three simple steps to plugging the smaller sin-gaps. They can be used as a structure for a prayer time.

  1. Grace. “I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalms 116:1–2 NIV11). The man or woman who starts by thanking God for His grace is going to be somewhat more sensitive to sins – especially the more subtle ones. Once we have the mercy of God in our hearts and minds, we have more of His heart and mind. Grace is a good sin-plug.
  2. Acceptance. It’s sounds counter-intuitive, but accepting God’s mercy makes us more sensitive to sin, not less. Think about it. If we doubt God’s forgiveness, or hold on to the feeling that a state of guilt is somehow more “holy”, then we are focussed on our sin in a way that God is not – “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalms 103:11–12 NIV11). Sin sensitivity is heightened when we’re in a state of experiencing God’s forgiveness. Accepting God’s acceptance draws us close to Him, and that intimacy is something, once experienced, that we hate to lose – thus making sin more repellent.
  3. Promises. Recalling God’s promises gives us the strength to resist sin. God’s promises are connected to ours. When we decide to trust God’s promises, we live in a way that is consistent with those promises, “You are my portion, LORD; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.” (Psalms 119:57–58 NIV)
How about minding the G.A.P. this week? A prayer-time focussed on God’s grace, His unconditional acceptance and His promises. I’d wager that a devotional dedicated to these themes will result in a revived faith, and a glad heart. When we are in the peace and joy of Jesus there are no gaps for sin to seep through.
I hope you find that the grace, acceptance and promises of God give you a bat-free week!
God bless,
Malcolm

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “People are not washing machines”

Among phrases you might expect to hear in a sermon, “People are not washing machines” is probably not one of them.

Nonetheless, I heard my friend OJ utter those very words this last Sunday. Where was he going with the idea? “Humans are not designed to be on a permanent spin cycle”?  No, instead the context was the parable of the Samaritan.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” Luke 10.30 (NIV11)

How did the different people view the situation they found? The robbers saw their victim as an object that could make them richer. What about the next two people?

“A priest…passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite…passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:31–32 NIV11)

The priest and the Levite saw him as an object of inconvenience and impurity to be avoided at all costs. But the Samaritan ….. he was different.

“But a Samaritan…came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:33–35 NIV11)

He did not see the assaulted man as an object – a “washing machine”. This helpless victim was not to be traded in, traded up or taken to the trash dump. He was not to be replaced, sold or buried. Instead, the Samaritan saw a child of God, one just like himself, hurting, helpless and hanging on by a thread. Something stirred in his heart and moved him to merciful action.

Jesus is telling us something very profound about value and love here. The robbed man had nothing the Samaritan needed, and could give nothing in return for the kindness he enjoyed. The grace of the rescuer reaches beyond what is reasonable – especially considering the enmity that existed at the time between Jews and Samaritans (how tragic that similar hatreds still exist in that part of the world to this day). God values us even though we are poor, empty and have nothing He needs. He is unconditional in His love for us despite the fact that we are the cause of His son’s death on a cross.

But the parable, while telling us a great deal about God, also has a point for us, it’s hearers,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”   The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36–37 NIV11)

OJ had a very helpful point in his sermon – or rather, a very helpful question. Has God put someone into our lives like the robbed man? Someone who needs to be touched by the love of God through the hands God has given us? If so, are we embracing the opportunity to show them the grace of God? Could it be someone easier to hate that to love? Someone easier to avoid than accompany? Someone easier to skirt around than save?

People are not washing machines. People are more important than that. People are in need of love.

I hope you enjoy this “Monday Meditation”. Let me know your own reactions to this famous parable.

God bless,

Malcolm

Sheep in a Tin Bath, Luke 15

Last week my wife and I holidayed in Devon. A land of stunning scenery and spectacular ice cream. But more about that another time.

A visit to the Museum of North Devon in Barnstable yielded a photograph if this extraordinary scene. Two Devonian shepherds dragging a sheep in a tin bath.

Who knows the context? Was the sheep ill, having a difficult labour, or simply stubborn? We will never know. What is clear is that the shepherds did whatever was necessary to take the sheep where it needed to go. I was reminded of the passage in Luke 15:4-7

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (NIV11)

In the Palestine parable the shepherd carried his sheep, while in the North Devon photograph the shepherds dragged their sheep (they don’t look up to carrying the sheep to me!) – but the end result was the same. A lost, needy sheep was rescued. Perhaps the main point is that Jesus will do whatever it takes to reach us and take us to safety.

When was the last time you brought to mind all the things Jesus did to rescue you? Why not spend the next prayer time in grateful reflection. I’m guessing it will reconnect with you with the joy of the friends and neighbours in the parable, and the rejoicing hordes of heaven. Whether you are on the shoulders, or in the tin bath, sing a song of joy, for the shepherd has come, and we are safe again!