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Posts Tagged ‘chapel’

I was taught a big lesson one evening at our old church. I should never have had to learn it in the first place—I should have known better. But the way it happened has ensured I will never forget what I discovered about myself that evening.

Our service had finished and people were beginning to disperse. As I walked from the chapel itself towards our hall, I saw a man sitting at the rear on the old gas heater we used at that time. This man—let’s call him Alan—was known to us from previous visits to our church. Alan would tend to wander in late, smelling strongly of alcohol, and sit at the back, staring around with bloodshot eyes.

I always kept my distance from him. And this particular night, I realised he could see that. In fact, he could see right through me, I discovered. As I walked past him, I must have given him a less than friendly look, because the next moment, I heard him saying something to me.

‘You don’t like me, do you?’

At first, I had trouble taking in what he had said. I stopped and turned, already feeling embarrassed.

‘P-p-pardon?’

‘You don’t like me, do you?’ he repeated, looking straight at me in a way that gave me no escape.

I walked on, without even giving him the courtesy of a response. I sensed he was laughing at my discomfort—and rightly so, I began to realise. You see, he was right. I didn’t like him. In fact, I despised him for the way he lived his life. Yet I knew nothing about him. I had never bothered to try to find out what his background was like, what had caused him to drink so much, what issues he had faced, what opportunities he had missed out on. Others did chat to him and try to help him—but all I had done was judge him. And Alan could see that clearly.

Fast forward many years to the present. This time I sat while someone shared with me how broken-hearted she felt at the things she had done. As I listened, I found myself feeling just that bit angry with her—and a little self-righteous too. How could she have done those things I would never have done? How could she have let herself and others down like that?

But as full-blown judgement began to kick in, that image of Alan from all those years ago and that question he asked came to mind. And I was silent. Then I heard her own remorseful cry: ‘How could I have done it? How could God forgive things like that?’

Yes, we could both see some answers to her first question. But as to the second, there is no real reason, is there, except that God loves us so completely—enough to forgive us over and over again as we come with contrite, broken hearts. If I felt aghast at what I heard, how much more must God be offended by the things we all choose to do? Yet time and time again, God forgives, God restores, God takes our punishment away—because of Jesus and the price he paid to set us free.

Now that blows my mind. How about you?

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him …Ps 103:12

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I received a very special gift this past week. It might not seem wonderful to others, but I absolutely love it. I am looking at it now as it sits beside my desk – and even as I do, I feel blessed all over again. So … it is just an old chair, some might say! The cover looks a little worn and ‘pre-loved’ and is in need of being tacked on again in one spot, while the seat itself is definitely lumpy in places. And yet I chose it from my dear friend’s possessions above other things that were freely offered to me.

My friend wanted me to have something of hers with all her heart before she moves out of her very large, old home – and I did not want to disappoint her. Besides, I was delighted at the thought of having something to remember the many times we had met there together. This dear friend has been my ‘spiritual companion’ for a long time now – I know I would not have achieved what I have in my writing journey these past few years, were it not for her wisdom, support and encouragement. But what would be best, we wondered, as we sat drinking our favourite Lady Grey tea and reminiscing? Perhaps one of her precious, old books or some cuttings from the wonderful array of treasured plants in her cottage garden? Or perhaps something else I had admired over the years?

We wandered then along the winding path towards the tiny chapel her husband built many years ago. We stepped across the threshold and I gazed around – this truly was a sacred space that had been lovingly set aside and used for prayer and worship through the years by men and women from a variety of backgrounds. Again my friend asked if there was anything I would like and I shook my head. But then she lifted a cover off an old chair that stood in one corner – and I knew this was what I wanted.

I carefully carried the chair to my car, but whichever way I manoeuvred it, it would not fit in the boot. As a last resort, I flung open the back door and tried sliding it in there – and to my surprise, it fitted perfectly.

My friend and I flung our arms around each other. We were both so happy – she, that she could give me something that had been a precious part of worship for her for so long, and I, that this old chair would continue to be used well by those I now talk and pray with. I am honoured to have it in my study. It symbolises to me all the richness of the loving relationship my friend and I have enjoyed – and beyond that, the relationship of love and grace that God holds out to me – and hopefully to any who may come to talk and pray.

God’s presence is not dependent on particular chairs or any other piece of furniture, I know. But at this stage of the year when tiredness seems to have taken hold, it is so good to have a tangible reminder nearby of the one who is always with me, who knows my heart, who knows everything I have tried to achieve this past year, who knows all the coming year holds and who says to me lovingly: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.’ (John 14:27)

May God bless you too with deep peace as you celebrate the birth of our Saviour Jesus, the Prince of Peace!

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