Random Ramblings

Reflections on my walk with God


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Trust, Wait, Rest, Work

10 years ago I walked into a church for the first time in many, many years. At this time I had never “read” the Bible. Being brought up as a good Catholic girl, I was familiar with the new testament – well maybe not all the letters or revelation – and had a passing acquaintance with the main OT stories, but had not read most of the Pentateuch or Psalms, or Proverbs, etc

It was daunting to say the least. With my pastor’s support (massive thanks to him) and a “Read the Bible in a year” guide (given to me by my church) I got started. Took me over 3 years ….. (more on that later).

Certain words grabbed my attention as I started to read. The first of these was “Trust“…..

Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

In the amplified Bible this verse conveys anticipation:
Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.

But I struggled with this – what did it mean to trust in God? I am a scientist by nature and I trust that which I can see materially or have empirical evidence for. By nature God is unknown and unknowable.

I contemplated trust whilst I ploughed through the Deuteronomy, Numbers, Leviticus – trying not to fall asleep over my Bible.

My next “instruction” was to wait exemplified by one of my favourite Bible verses, Isaiah 40:31.

Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.

The amplified Bible again conveys the idea of anticipation and also that waiting is not passive:
But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.

While I was still trying to get my head around trusting and waiting my next word was given – Rest.  This seemed like a great idea – lean back against the Lord and just chill out, or maybe not. Another favourite verse comes to mind many, many times when I feel in need of rest, Matthew 11:28:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

However, Matthew 11:29-30 goes on ..

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

The Amplified Bible does not suggest stopping all activity, we are to take up the “yoke” that Jesus gives us, in the knowledge that He will enable us to carry it.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.

In other contexts a resting place is very much envisaged as a place of reward from righteous labour.

Isaiah 11:10:
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

Isaiah 30:15:
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

My final word in the sequence was Work. at this point it started to make sense. Before I could work for the Lord I needed to understand what He wanted me to work at. This required being still, listening to Him, resting in His presence and trusting Him to lead me on the right path.

Work is something that we are all called to do. In Genesis 2:15 God “put him [Adam] into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”  We are made Imago Deo – in God’s image – our work is thus a reflection of His work as is our rest.

5 years ago I had a period of prolonged illness which forced me to do nothing for most of the day (rest) – that was when I finished “the Bible in a year”. I learned that resting in God was truly not passive, it was a time of enormous growth in my Faith.

I see these words as a cycle in my growth. At any time I may be in a place where I really need to just trust even though I can’t see where I’m being lead! I may need to wait for instruction or to rest and learn in His presence (like Mary), or to get to work (like Martha).

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What is Christmas about?

I did our  Sunday “discussion” with the YP today (we decided the School should be dropped from the title!).
We started with the Starbucks cups and the symbolism of Christmas and moved on to the Gospels ….

The Christmas story in a nutshell:

Unwed virgin is told she will bear a child by the power of the Holy Spirit
Newly pregnant teenager avoids stoning by Angelic intervention with fiancé
Heavily pregnant girl walks long distance to find nowhere to sleep in her husband’s ancestral home-town
Baby born amidst the noise and smell of a stable
Jesus’ birth announced by warrior angels and welcomed by frightened shepherds
Shepherds return to their fields via the town – announcing the miraculous birth
Temple visit where prophets rejoice
Visit of Magi with incredible gifts followed by escape to Egypt
Innocents killed; Rachael weeps
Refugees finally go home many years later.

Jesus was one of us, He was born in poverty away from His parents home.
He was welcomed by the unimportant but rejected by the powerful.
He became a refugee. Fleeing for his life.
Finally He was taken to the home that His parents had left long before he was born.

Truly God and Truly Man.

Mary did you know?


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Shoebox Prayers

Tomorrow we will start checking boxes in the Wirral Warehouse. These are some thoughts that I plan to share with the other volunteers followed by a brief time of prayer. Please take a little time today to pray for all of those who will be involved in the Operation Christmas Child campaign this year.

As we start checking boxes today I thought it would be lovely to share a poem that is more usually read out after Christmas.

The work of Christmas by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

Each box that is wrapped, packed, checked and eventually shipped, will be received by a child who may be lost, broken, hungry, or have parents or siblings who are prisoners.

They may live in a war-torn nation or a refugee camp.

They may have never experienced peace.

They may have forgotten the joy of music.

A shoe-box filled with gifts is not going to make all of the horrors in their live go away but for just a short time they will experience the pure joy of knowing that somewhere someone cares.

For perhaps the first time in their lives they will have “things” that belong to them alone.

For those of us who have been collecting, sewing, knitting, crafting and so many other good works all year it may seem that we never stop thinking of Christmas. But the next few weeks are probably the hardest work that many of us do all year!

This Poem reminds us that the work of Christmas is just beginning. Right now.


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The Woman at the Well

It is too hot to go to the well.

Day after day as I walk my memories haunt me.

I remember happy times when I joined the other women collecting water in the cool of the day.
Now I avoid them, and they avoid me. I see them looking sometimes when I have to go to the market; looking through me, or staring with distain, and some who want to smile but fear the consequences of mixing with a fallen woman..

The days were happy, my husband a young man not much older than me, well loved by all. Some of those who eye me with distain now were jealous then. His death was catastrophic, a widow before I was 30 and no hope of re-marrying. I had nothing and no one to help me.

I came from another place and could not go back. The people of Sychar thought that I had brought a curse on my husband; I had given him no son and he had died in the prime of life. To them I was to blame and must be shunned.

I did what I could, I was still young and attractive, I found a lover who gave me enough to keep body and soul together. When he left there were others…… Every day I hate myself for what I have become, but what else could I do?

There is a man at the well, this stops me in my tracks. Why is there a man at Jacob’s well at the 6th hour? As I draw nearer I am even more shocked, he is a stranger, a Jew.

Seeing me there alone in the heat of the day he must know that I am a disgraced woman but he speaks to me:
“Give Me a drink.”
“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?”
( I have never heard of a Jew speaking to a Samaritan)

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I am so confused, maybe he has been in the sun for too long, so I ask “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?”

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

Either he is mad or a great prophet, I ask “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”
“Go, call your husband and come here.”

For a moment I just stare at him. His eyes seem to look into my soul, I see mixture of judgement and mercy. He cannot be much older than me, but his face tells of experience and wisdom far beyond his years. Quickly dropping my gaze, I noticed his hands, they are not the soft hands of a Rabbi, they are hands that have worked. I am trying to understand what this means. The words “I have no husband” Spill out of my mouth and I am lost, the Jews always stone adulterers…..

He is speaking again “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

How does he know? And if he knows, why did he even speak to me? Emboldened I say “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

The prophet continues “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

I am filled with awe, who IS this man? “I know that Messiah is coming; when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.”
His answer stuns me “I who speak to you am He.”

A group of men are walking towards us, carrying food. They have come from the town – a Jewish prophet who sends his disciples into a Samaritan town? They are a rag tag bunch, most look more like they should be working the land or fishing, rather than following a prophet, but then I think He too was a working man. They are surprised to see him talking to me but none of them questioned me, one or two even smiled.

My waterpot forgotten, not even thinking of what will happen to me I go as quickly as I can to the city. The men are shocked to see me but before they can say a word I tell them, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” Curious they follow me back to the well. When we get there his disciples are urging Him to eat. But he seems to be waiting for us. I hear the disciples speaking amongst themselves, pointing at us as we near the well. They don’t look surprised, one of them is saying that Jesus always draws those who are thirsty for truth.

Jesus and His disciples are being invited to stayed in Sychar. The whole town will hear him and will believe. The men are saying to me, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Saviour of the world.”

Walking back to the town behind the men, I am met by the women who used to be my friends; the men do not stop them. They have heard the news, they ply me with questions. These women whom I love and thought I would never speak with again are holding my hands, tears of joy are falling from my eyes as I tell them all that Jesus said to me.

I know that from this time forward my life will be different. I have met the Messiah, my sins have been forgiven, my life renewed.

A story based on John 4:4-42 (quoted text from NASB)


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Fearfully and Wonderfully made

I started this post a while ago. The recent conversations about the sale of foetal tissue have brought all of my thoughts into sharper focus.

Advances in technology mean that we can take more and more control of the reproductive process. Embryos can be created in vitro using eggs and sperm harvested from people who may or may not be a couple. 

Embryos can be tested by pre-implantation diagnosis for the absence or presence of life-limiting genetic disorders. Just one cell removed from the bundle of cells which makes up the early embryo, can be processed to reveal the genetic make-up of all of the cells. Each cell is genetically identical and at this stage is pluripotent – capable of developing into any tissue.

To overcome motility or low sperm counts, sperm nuclei can be directly injected into eggs

I have wondered for some time how long it would be before “advances” made it possible for same sex couples to be enabled to be the biological parents of a child. The ability to manipulate the pro-nuclei of gametes makes this prospect something that is very possible, as discussed in detail in this article: Are babies from same-sex couples really possible?

But let us take a step back, how does sexual reproduction ensure that each new individual is genetically distinct?

Gametes (eggs and sperm) are produced by a type of cell division known as meiosis, or reduction division. Every cell (except the gametes) in our bodies contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. One of each pair came from our mother and one from our father.

These chromosomes contain the 20,500 genes that control our appearance and physiology. Between the genes lies non-coding segments which form the bulk of the DNA and used to be thought of as mostly “junk”. However, it is now known that these non-coding segments often have essential controlling roles – the fingerprints of the creator.

Meiosis separates the chromosome pairs – one from each is allocated to an “intermediate cell” (primary oocytes and spermatocytes), but not before pieces of information have been swapped between the pairs. The intermediate cells contain a mix of chromosomes from our mother and father divide again (though not until fertilization in the case of the ovum).  The result is that each gamete is has half the genetic information found in the parent cells (23 chromosomes) and this set of information is different from other gametes, no two sperm are identical, neither are any two ova.

Simplified diagram showing production of sperm and ova. Notice the “swapping” of pieces of the chromosomes between the pairs. Only 2 pairs of chromosomes shown – there are 23 in humans making the process much more complicated than shown.

Fertilization, whether natural or assisted, produces a fertilized egg (zygote) in which the genetic composition is truly unique. The chances of two individuals have the same genome are infinitesimally small – small enough to ignore. Only identical twins share the same set of genetic information – because they arise from the same zygote.

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
 


I will give thanks to You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,


When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;


And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139:13-16

As a biologist I am fascinated by the advances in reproductive research; as a Christian I find myself questioning the means by which these advances are wrought. Perfecting techniques so that they can be safely used in vivo, means that embryos must be produced in vitro and destroyed by the analytical processes or discarded as surplus to requirements.

Understanding that from the moment of conception the zygote holds the potential to form all of the tissues and organs of a unique individual, at what point is this organism human?

At what point can we justify destruction of this “one of a kind” either as collateral damage in the advancement of reproductive science or abortion? Obviously the manipulations involved in same sex reproduction will of necessity involve production of embryos which will fall into these categories.

Alistair Roberts has discussed this from a theological and philosophical point of view in his blog post  Abortion and Personhood. He makes the point that the difference between pro-choice and pro-life is one of relationships. If I do not want to keep my offspring then I will tend to think in terms of “it” “embryo” or “foetus”; if I am delighted to be pregnant I will think in terms of baby, from conception.

I remember the thrill of seeing the heat-beat on the 8 week ultrasound – confirming that the “embryo” was alive. At 12 weeks some break-through bleeding sent me scurrying to the maternity unit. The scan was a pure delight – not only was my baby alive and well, she (I “knew” she was a girl from very early on) was waving her arms and whooshing around like a baby in a bath-tub. Very much like this lovely video:

At 12 weeks abortion is legal and accepted as “normal”. In a wanted pregnancy this 12 week foetus is seen as a dancing baby; in an unwanted pregnancy it not seen.