(written 25 June 2016)

What to say….

Tuesday, 14 June, as we do twice a week, we were once again at the Haven of Love and Kindness. There, at the Haven, we seek to inject some normalcy and joy into the lives of the children of Syrian refugee field workers.

On this particular Tuesday we took advantage of being there to also engaged in distributing milk, pads and nappies to the families in that encampment.

Whilst the bulk of the team were organising some games with the children, three of us engaged in doing the distribution.

Unbeknownst to us, the Gendarme, who had visited us just a few days earlier, had once again arrived. Of the three of us working the distribution, one was working with the database, one was engrossed in handing out the material, and one kept quietly saying to the other two, “the gendarme have arrived”. This he repeated numerous times, but as neither I nor the other person involved gave any response whatsoever, he concluded that the presence of the gendarme was not noteworthy and he felt a wee bit foolish repeatedly drawing attention to it.

As so we carried on, blissfully, with our distribution.

Only later was it determined that neither the other person, nor I, had actually heard his repeated declaration as to the presence of the gendarme.

Evidently, they greeted by name one who previously had their ID photographed and they proceeded to photograph the IDs of the new people we had with us on the day.

They never did come up to the van where we were surrounded by a gaggle of Syrian ladies and engaged in the distribution.

As is common in life, there were a variety of responses to the visit and subsequent ID photography session. Some were moved by fear and anxiety and for others they seemed to be almost oblivious to the whole situation, smiling and relaxed throughout the encounter.

Here is a normal, life experience – nothing striking, outstanding or unique about it – security personnel going about their business and checking identifications. True, in the future it could be used in a negative fashion – and while it could be used in that manner, to date, it has just been the collection of information.

So the question arises, what should our response be?

Underlying all things, and in every experience of life, is the foundational bedrock that God is Sovereign over all the earth, over all powers – whether temporal or spiritual – He is on the throne.

Therefore, as God is Sovereign over everything and as this labour of love and compassion both originates from God and is sustained by God, surely, if what we are doing here is truly His work, if we are here as examples of His love, then what can the Gendarme, or any other force or organisation or group or individual do?

Because God is Sovereign, what reason is there that we should fear? Because God is Sovereign, why should we be overcome with anxiety?

Do we experience fear?  Yes, of course we do!

Fear is a God-given attribute that is essential to our survival – a ‘healthy’ fear of open water will aid the non-swimmer; a ‘healthy’ fear of the cliff top will save the life of the rambler, especially in times of high winds where the unprepared have been picked up and dropped over the edge.

We, as is common to all, experience both healthy fear, and the other kind… the not-so-healthy fear…

Some fear, the ‘healthy ‘ fear, is a valuable part and parcel of life – but rampant fear, dominating fear, debilitating fear, paralysing fear, irrational fear, well, this kind of fear is the enemy of life and opposed to God for it denies His Almighty Sovereignty and surrenders the individual to anxiety.

There is a world of difference between experiencing fear and entertaining it; and experiencing fear and dealing with it. We can deal with the fear or we can embrace the premise of the fear, giving ourselves up to it, allowing the fear to dominate and dictate our lives.

What to do. Fears are. They come, unbidden. The good ones rise to our aid. The other kind sometimes flood in upon us, enveloping us and try to sweep us along in their turmoil and stress.

How are we to respond to these fears, the good, the bad and the ugly?

What can I do to rise above the normal onslaught of fear, anxiety and worry that washes over life.

One thing that I’ve found helpful is to consider my focus – where my attention is drawn, where my mind dwells, and to that which is sustaining and giving body to my, sometimes rampant emotions.

Focus – the centre of our attention and thoughts.

The natural tendency is to focus solely on the source of fear, and the myriad of thoughts and speculations that are there birthed. These thoughts and speculations then propagate and sometimes propagate at a prodigious rate which results in anxiety, worry and distress. Rather, if the focus is shifted to Sovereign God – shifting from ‘fear’ to ‘faith’, from the unseen ‘fearful possibilities’ to the equally unseen ‘Faithful One who is Sovereign over all’, this shift then breeds trust which leads to peace and rest.

I find it interesting that in this contemplation, my choice is between two ‘unseen’ entities – one, the ‘unseen’ potential, fearful future that may or may not be, and the other, equally ‘unseen’ Sovereign God, who has entered human history, revealed Himself over millennia, both in Holy writ and in the lives of those who through the course of history, have left clear testimony to His presence and power in their lives and, more personally, I can add my own experience with Him to that testimony – an ‘unseen’, but not unknown entity; an ‘unseen’ but not an impersonal force; an ‘unseen’ but not a detached power, an ‘unseen’ but not a disinterested being.

One is ‘unseen’, and speculative, the other is ‘unseen’ but clear, revealed, certain, and real.

Fear, any fear, can be thrust upon us, or suddenly, unbidden, explode from within us – this is a reality of life. It happens to a greater or lesser extent, but is a common experience for humankind.

But the shift of ‘focus’ and the determining of the ultimate point of our focus, whether the source of the fear, or Almighty God, well, that is in our own hands. Often our response to fear has its own default setting, but it remains subject to our will.

How we respond to these daily, common, circumstances is up to each individual to decide and if the default reaction was to embrace the fear, then we can intervene and change that choice…

So….

I ask you to join with us and Praise the Lord for the Gendarme and their visits to us.

Pray that they may see Jesus in us.  Pray that we may love them and serve them and demonstrate the Love of God to them as we seek to do so to the children.

Pray with us that we would not be influenced negatively by these events, which if we allowed the ‘potential future’ to dominate our hearts and minds, it would result in having our ‘present’ crippled by a fear of a ‘possible future’. Please pray with us that in all these things we will be motivated by the Love of God, secure in His hands, rejoicing in all things, loving all – including those who we may see as the source of fear. In this response, we will, in practice and in our living, abide not in some potential future, but in the ‘very real present’, resting secure in His Love and with His perfect peace as our continual experience.

Regardless as to the final out-come of these events, maybe something will result, maybe nothing – but in all and over all, Sovereign God reigns supreme on high….full stop!

(written 7 June 2016)

I had to smile to myself…

It was like the saying in Britain, “you wait endlessly for a bus, and then three come at once”.

Well, for quite a while I’ve been mulling over the need that I feel we have for a Arabic-Turkish speaking translator, primarily on our distribution days. Often when we arrive at an encampment, we find that most of the people have been previously registered, but, there are always people who have moved on and new people who have come.

Without fluent Arabic and limited to using the few words of Arabic that some of us have picked up, or using a refugee’s weak Turkish, or leaning on some bi-lingual Turk that happens to be there as a translator, we get by. But it is not efficient, and it is not always certain that what we are saying and what they are understanding is anything more than two ships silently passing in the night.

But then this past distribution Monday, 30 May, we had, not just one, nor two, nor three, but four Arabic speakers. Wow!

Again I say ‘Wow!’

It was really nice to be able to get people organised, recognised and the new people registered with a minimum of hassle. In addition to this practical aspect of the work, there were a number of Arabic speakers free to dialogue with the people we met – to chat with them and when the questions arise, and the questions always arise, to give proper, full, intelligible answers.

It was great!

And, as in Britain, when it happens it is then followed by a time of waiting, once again, for it to occur all over again.

This is something we can pray for and work towards, that the Lord would provide a regular Arabic-Turkish translator on our distribution days (three Mondays a month).

Then on the following Sunday, one of our guest Arabic speakers was also our guest speaker for the Sunday Turkish fellowship meeting. He offered to speak in either English or Arabic as he is multi-lingual, but, unfortunately, he is not a Turkish speaker. And so, we chose for him to share in Arabic as we have a few people who only understand Arabic (honouring them) and then have it translated into Turkish (that the rest of us may understand).

This was a good experience for T. and I, for often, when the message is translated, it is most often translated from the ‘lingua-franca’ of the world, that is English. Therefore the norm is we get it twice, once in English and then again in Turkish. We get the double blessing – as long as we are not the one doing the translation.

But here we were in the normal experience of the Turks, who hear a foreign language, not understanding what was being said, followed by the translation. We found it to be a profoundly disjointed and chopped up experience and it was difficult maintaining concentration – oh, and it was a good message.

An additional hinderance to this translation mode of communication is sometimes the speaker over-speaks the translator, and we, who are tied to the translator to know what is being said, loose the meaning of what has just been said while the speaker is carrying on. Sometimes the translator, only really gets the meaning of what he is translating when he has finished his first go at it, and if the speaker allows him the time, he then takes a second run at it, in a more coherent manner. If the time has not been granted, we are left with the somewhat convoluted first translation.

So we were listening to half the speaking and trying to piece together the disjointed message when 12:00 came around. Now, normally, there is nothing particularly special about 12:00 noon, but today, was, well… special.

As the Monday following this particular Sunday was the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan, at 12:00, the cannon, which is fired daily, in the evening marking the end of the fast for that day, was fired.

Why did they fire it before the start of Ramadan and why in the middle of the day? Dunno…

But it was fired. It was loud. It is a cannon after all. It is intended to be heard over a large area as it will be marking the end of the fast and the time when the fasting population can smoke, drink and eat.

Our poor, American speaker was not expecting that. Well, of a truth, none of us were really expecting it. The reverberating sound of the not distance ‘explosion’ broke his cadence and his delivery faltered as he glanced over toward the window. He was visibly disturbed…

To be fair, the interpreter, a local brother, also seemed to be disturbed having been caught off guard by the sudden, very loud ‘boom’.

And for the Syrian refugee couple (Arabic speaking), that sound was all too familiar to them and they, too, were visible stressed by it.

It was not so much the second boom a little bit later, but the third BOOM that seemed to cause the speaker real pause.

The elder, told him to carry on and that it was nothing – he recognising both the timing (day before the commencement of Ramadan), and the sound – he has heard it multiple times in his years in this city). And the speaker carried on.

Oh, and there were no more booms.

I do not know if they were testing the cannon, or if it is marking the day before the commencement of Ramadan or whatever, but my initial reaction was ‘that is a typical Antakyian ‘boom’’ – like we hear every Ramadan – and from time to time throughout the year. Unlike our Syrian refugee couple, we have never had the unfortunate experience of hearing a genuine explosion as in war or terrorist event, and so my ignorance, in this case was a blessing – my assumption was that it was nothing to be concerned about…however if it had then been followed by a multitude of sirens or an intensification of booms…well that would signify something very different.

Then, a week and a day following that positive Monday distribution, on Tuesday, 7 June, we found ourselves minimally staffed for the ministry to the children at the Haven of Love and Kindness – the tent we have pitched at the location of a cluster of Syrian refugee field workers.

We have been spoilt  by groups that have come expressly to assist in this work and so we have often had a large number of people helping, organising, facilitating the activities and playing with the children. It is only in comparison to these visiting groups that we were minimally staffed, we had sufficient to administer our normal programme – but we felt the difference.

As always, the first order of business on arrival was to organise some games for the children so they could, well… play like children.

playing with water balloons

This is then followed up by school lessons in Arabic: as we have been doing for many months now, we continue with a Syrian refugee couple, who are by trade teachers, who we have engaged to teach the children (in Arabic) the basic subjects – reading, writing, arithmetic.

I was not sure what today’s lessons were about, but I do know that at one point he was teaching the 3 times table.

Then we provided a meal for the children – on that day, in the first week of Ramadan, one in three of the children were keeping the Fast, so they put the food, drink, and dessert in their bags or tucked away so they could have it later, some time around 20:00 when the daily fast ends.

Lunch at their student's desks
At Lunch

Then after clean up, we play some more games with the children.

After all they have seen, and in spite of their squalid living conditions and in the face of the often, very ‘grown up’ responsibilities they must carry, we desire to provide them with a brief moment in time when they can, once again, simply be children doing ‘children’ things – playing with a ball, skipping rope, laughing, running, playing…

But that day, on our arrival at the Haven, the Arabic speaking teachers – who are camped in front of our tent – told us that the local Gendarme had come, asking many questions about our tent, what we do, who we are, and also taking copies of their ID papers. The Gendarme told them they would be back at 11:00 to speak with us.

So, duly informed, we set about our normal routine. Games were organised, and right at 11:00 a black Fiat Doblo-like vehicle pulled up and a commander and a ‘specialist’ alighted and came over to where we were.

There, standing under the blazing Antakyian sun, the commander with his specialist at his side, dressed as they were in their camouflage fatigues, hats and with pistols in camouflage holsters at their hips, began asking us a stream of questions:  Who are we? Where do we live?   What is our organisation? – church, huh.   Where is your head office?  and so on…

As the commander was speaking, it was then, for the first time I heard someone in authority expressly and clearly say, “We are afraid that you are proselytising,” and later he added that he was afraid we were… “forcing people to become Christians”.

If only he knew and understood how profoundly difficult it is to see someone come to faith in Jesus Christ – if only he could grasp the hardness of the soil and the resistance to the message, then he would not have been so afraid.

Indeed, this is indicative of how much the message of Jesus Christ is feared – the power of His name – and how little faith they have in their own people to stay true to the dominant religion.

What made this even more poignant for me on that day was the sad news that there was another terror attack in Istanbul, this time on a police bus, killing eleven. This was Muslim-on-Muslim violence. And here is this man – a Gendarme commander – sincerely expressing his ‘fear’ that we are engaged in Christian propaganda and trying to convert people to Christianity.

Important Note: being involved in Christian propaganda – sharing your faith, declaring the Good News – is not illegal in Turkey.

I felt that, rather than expending time, energy and resources focused on the activities of the few Christians in Turkey – and, by the way, what we do, we do in the open, for all to see – that they should be expending their efforts on that which is surely the greater danger, caused by their fellow-religionists; those with guns, bombs, hate and murder in their hearts and minds and hands.

At one point he asked if I would be willing to go back to their office to photocopy my passport….. I had no comprehension of why he would make this proposal.

I counter-suggested, and I think they routinely do this, that they take a photo of my passport there and then. After which they simply pulled out a smartphone and photographed the passport ID page and my last entrance into Turkey stamp. Why then, should we go to the office to copy my passport…??

Duly recorded, they admonished us to ‘get permission’ from the Kaymakamlık (very roughly translated as: ‘head official of a district’) to do what we are doing and have been doing, openly, for more than a year and a half.

Not sure what we shall do with this advice. It is highly unlikely that the local ‘head official of a district’ would grant such permission – if we actually need permission – as it would be viewed as endorsing or encouraging the work of a church in proselytising – regardless of what we actually do, that is how it would be viewed by the general population – politically, not something that is easily or casually done.

For more than a year and a half we have been engaged, firstly in food aid, and more latterly, in addition to the food aid, the ministry to children in the Haven. It is most likely that we shall continue as we have been, with a clear conscience.

For those of you, who, like me, are a product of a culture wherein the rules are there to be kept, ‘work hard and you will be rewarded’, ‘keep your nose clean and all will be well’, etc…. this response, of just ‘carrying on’ in the face of such advice, may seem wrong, and unscriptural and again, just plain WRONG.

This is a very different culture with different rules governing behaviour. Here there is often no ‘way’ in which you can abide by the rules – there is no provision. Everything is set up for the Muslim majority and if you are Christian, well, you do not fit the rules, clauses, conditions or general application of the rules. For example, there is no way, method or procedure to ‘register’ your church. Nor is there any way to have a ‘legal entity’ for your church – a church, as a church, can not purchase property in the ‘name of the church’. There are rules and guidelines, but constructed for the majority with no acknowledgement even, of any other entity. Hence, many of the basics that we take for granted in our home cultures simple do not exist here….

So, living in this context and in the absence of any way forward, we strive to be obedient to the Lord as best we can.

Hence we continue, not in a cocky, arrogant manner, strutting about proclaiming, ‘we are obeying God not man’, but knowing that we are unable, in this instance, to abide by the rules, and so, following the higher ‘law of God’ we will serve, we will aid, we will help, we will labour, we will demonstrate the Love of God as best we can; we will humbly expend ourselves in the service of others until either the Lord says “cease” or we are unable to continue (recognising that if we are ‘unable’ it is still under the sovereignty of Almighty God).

The prayers of the saints with us in this regard is not just appreciated, it is essential.  We are in a spiritual battle and the forces of darkness are arrayed against us. But we stand by the grace of God, motivated by the Love of God and in the power of God.

So, as we pray together, and as we, here on the ground, seek to obey the Lord of Life, may all see the difference between the servants of Christ, and the servants who are delivering their daily toll of hate, misery, killing, bombing, intolerance and death.

May this ‘hard soil’ be broken up and be fruitful to life, healing, peace and love – in God.

(written April 2014)

What can I say, despite evidence to the contrary, I can’t really say that I ‘enjoy’ flying. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is the fastest and in a counter-intuitive sense, it is more often than not, at least here in Turkey, the cheaper way to travel.

In spite of this, as we were planning our trip from Istanbul to Antakya I seriously considered taking the inter-city coach. It is rather ironic that I was seriously thinking about this travel option in the face of the fact that it takes the best part of 17 hours driving time to cover the distance between Istanbul and Antakya – a distance in excess of a thousand kilometres. However, in its favour, it is relatively straightforward in that we could get a connecting service bus from Üsküdar to the inter-city coach departure point and on our arrival at the Antakya bus station, there is another service bus to the town centre and very close to where we live – all included in the price. Another big plus of the inter-city coach is they allow ‘all’ our luggage – it is not weighed nor is it counted (within reason). And unlike the cheap flight providers, tea, coffee, water, fruit juice and soft drinks are all provided through out the journey and at no additional cost.

But in making the comparison, it transpires that the price, is very close to the cost of flying which gets you there in about an hour and a half. That is flying time; to this you must add the time getting to and from the airports and the various security checks that are part and parcel of air travel which means the actual, total, travel time is approximately five or six hours – barring flight delays. Nevertheless, it is still just a snip of time compared to the 17 hours on the overnight bus and service buses.

Having said all that, and in choosing to fly, that does not mean that I ‘enjoy’ the airport experience, nor the actual flying experience – I just choose to do it. It makes the most sense and on balance, is the best, most intelligent choice.

Generally speaking, with flying you know what to expect…generally speaking…

For example, on Thursday, 29 March 2014, at London Heathrow we entered the normal security check area. However, unbeknownst to us, the rules had been tightened. This, I feel, is fundamentally a good thing, tighter rules should hinder the evil ones who desire to engender terror, but it does have an impact on the normal travelling public.

You see, in 2014, I would travel with a large number of hard drives, or I suppose, more correctly, I would travel with an inordinately large number of hard drives which I carried in my carry-on luggage (to keep safe). Today I carry fewer hard drives, but with greater storage capacity, and put them in my hold luggage for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Having all these hard drives allows me to have access to most of the material, photos, videos and such that I have accumulated over the years. I do this as I find it impossible to anticipate what exactly I will need in the three months that we sojourn in the United Kingdom. If I have this excessive number of hard drives it is highly likely that whatever I may want or need will be there – and if not, it, most likely, will not be crucial to the task at hand.

So now, in addition to the now-standard indignity of half undressing at the x-ray machine – belts, bags, coats and sometimes shoes – and in addition to taking my computer out of its bag, now we must virtually unpack the carry-on and lay out all the hard drives. And all this in a pressing queue of fellow-travellers who want to get this rather necessary but unpleasant aspect of their journey over and done with.

I’m normally in a hot sweat by the time I’ve undressed and unpacked and got things moving through the machine. Followed, of course by my turn through the detector door frame like apparatus being closely watched by the security personnel on the opposite side.

Well that is the system, or shall I say, I learned that, this was the new system on that March day.

We were not aware of this until my bag, containing my myriad of hard drives, actually failed the x-ray test. Thusly rejected, I had to return, take over a place in the queue (“sorry, sorry”) and then lay all the hard drives out and send them through the x-ray machine once again.

Of course, after passing this security check, this is not the end of the process, for we then have to re-pack the bag and not in a slap-happy, helter-skelter manner, but in a proper, well packed, everything once again fitting in and in a manner that it will not shift nor be damaged in the rough and tumble of the travelling process.

This is no biggie, nor is it an unusual task and, really, it is no problem at all. But when you are already hot and sweaty, in a crowded room, with your trousers falling down because you have had to surrender your belt to the x-ray machine and you are publicly unpacking and re-packing your bag – well that is a bit of a hassle and on balance, not the most rewarding nor pleasant aspect of our journey.

Then, once through security, you wait in the crowded air-side shopping mall which, regardless of all the restaurants, shops and coffee shops, is still just a glorified ‘waiting area’ where you, uh, ‘wait’ until it is time to traipse off to your gate.

Often you do not know to which gate you will be going and so you want to be where you can see the boards which will declare your gate…. you and everyone else who doesn’t know their gate – so finding such a locale is often not easy for they are invariably crowded or over crowded. If you end up in a seat where you can not see the board, you have this niggling imperative bouncing around in your mind, “Is it time to get up and check the board?”  “Have they posting the gate now – go have a look,” and so on. It doesn’t make for comfortable waiting. I, at least, feel inhibited and unable to freely allow myself to get engrossed in writing or reading or anything which may distract me  so that I might miss the essential information in a timely manner.

Sometimes, in spite of all the previous queuing, you go and queue up to purchase an over-priced, hot beverage and then while you consume it, you keep wondering if that was the wisest thing to do, for on the flight, you may need to use the ‘facility’ and you often have to climb over someone, walk the length of the aircraft and then, it is quite common to queue to use the facility.  “Should I really be drinking now?” All the while knowing it is too late because, well, I am drinking it….

When, finally, you learn the gate number – and by learning that you are only then apprised of how long it will take you to travel to the gate. You, or should I confess, I, head off, anxiously reading the myriad of signs to make sure I am going the correct way and do not inadvertently miss a turn or miss a sign. Additionally, if the moving walk-way is chosen – often I do not make this particular choice as walking to the gate is the last exercise before being cooped up in a flying tube for hours on end with no real opportunity for any significant movement – anyway, if the moving walk-way is chosen one must needs be careful as often the walk-way breezes past a number of gates and if you have chosen poorly, you can stand and watch your gate receding behind you.

When, at last, you arrive at the gate you may find that there are additional security checks you must navigate. Once in the actual boarding salon, or more accurately, just another ‘waiting room’, you once again have the opportunity to, well, ‘wait’, before they begin the boarding process.

They always take families with small children and those with mobility concerns first, as is right and proper. Then they take First / Business Class – and, well, they have paid a significant premium for this privilege – so that, too, is understandable.

Then it is time for ‘cattle class’ to board. Sometimes this is done by seat rows – semi-organised chaos, and at other times, ‘all remaining passengers’ and absolute chaos. You queue up, carrying your carry-on, your coat stuffed under an arm or if you have chosen to wear it to carry it, you are sweating as you shuffle towards the final ticket and passport inspection.

Once past that, you carry on, if fortunate enough to be at a gate with a sky-way, you shuffle on down and onto the aeroplane. Otherwise, it is down the stairs, onto a waiting coach which generally has precious few seats and is predominantly standing room. Once the coach is filled, and the driver has decided it is time to go, you are driven to wherever the plane is parked and there you disembark and join yet another queue to mount the stairs and so board the aeroplane.

Once on board, you find your seats, place your carry-on in the overhead bins and get yourself seated, You do this quickly so as not to obstruct the extremely narrow walk way.

Once seated you wait. You wait while everyone boards the aeroplane. You wait while flight attendants do their checks. Often you wait whilst the pilot waits for permission to ‘push back’ and you wait until he is given a ‘take off slot’.

Then comes the time when the aeroplane trundles around the airport on various taxi ways until it joins the final queue to the runway where other aeroplanes are taking off. Your turn comes, the aeroplane turns onto the runway, lines up, and sits there….

Then the pilot opens up the throttles but he is still holding the aircraft on the brakes – all around you is filled with the roaring and vibrating as the aeroplane strains against the restraints of the brakes, as if eager to launch itself down the run-way. Then, suddenly the brakes are released which is immediately followed by the exhilaration of acceleration as the aeroplane thunders down the runway. And so we carry on, shaking, vibrating and bouncing along until the point that speed and lift, thusly created, overcomes gravity and the multi-tonne aeroplane, together with its load of fuel, passengers and luggage angles sharply up towards the sky, the deafening roar of the engines filling the air and we leave good old trusty terra-firma behind and below us.

Once airborne we have the delightful roar of the engines as an accompaniment added to the sound of the air rushing by as we streak through the sky at 35,000 feet. In this manner we have our constant audio companion for the duration of the flight.

If you are one who can not hear well, you are one whose hearing under normal circumstances is not 100%, well then this is an added detraction.

Squeezed into your seat with the seat in front of you far too close, there really is not a lot you can do. Hence, strapped into an economy class seat, you will remain, basically trapped, for the four hours of the flight to Turkey. Deep Vein Thrombosis any one…

On arrival in Istanbul, the order of the day is once again to queue. First you queue to get off the aeroplane then you queue to go through passport control and then you queue to get your luggage – but, the journey is not yet over, no, we still haven’t arrived – there is still the hour plus drive to get to Üsküdar situated as it is, on the opposite side of the city, across the Bosphorous strait.

Once we have arrived in Üsküdar, we have the four flights of stairs up to the flat awaiting us…..

Nevertheless, choosing this form of travel is much, much better than any of the alternatives; let me emphasise that, it is much, much, much better – but, still, not something I look forward to with eager anticipation.

On reflection on the many such journeys we must needs undertake, I see that one of the fruit of the Spirit, ‘patience’ is an essential requirement – not for just surviving the rigours of flight travel, but the key element to positively living the ‘abundant life’ Jesus spoke of. A common, run-of-the-mill activity such as a brief flight is a simple example, of where the fruit of the Spirit of God has place, expression and is essentialy, essential in the daily reality of life.

Here this is no room for theory. In life, ‘nice-sounding’ truisms are not of any real, practical benefit. Here, in the normal rough and tumble of ordinary, real life – just plain, normal life –  here is where the fruit of the Spirit is not a nice ‘add on’ but is integral to life and living.

And so, after the flight we are safely are back in Istanbul, and it is good, very good to be back. Tomorrow (Saturday, 7 April 2014) will be the final leg of our journey as we fly down to Antakya (having not chosen the inter-city coach) – a journey where once again we will be called upon to ‘jump through various logical and sometimes illogical or superficial hoops’, publicly half undressing and the inevitable, mandatory ‘waiting’. Herein, too, is another, typical opportunity to practice ‘patience’, letting the fruit of the Spirit of God have the freedom to be born in me and for me not to be worn down by all the requirements, indignity or interminable waiting required to make a simple trip.

Another opportunity to be ‘patient’ and to exercise and to experience the ‘abundant life’ – now that is something that I can look forward to.

(written 1 June 2016)

It was pointed out to me many years ago, and over the intervening years, it is one of those things that has tenaciously stayed with me.

I guess one reason why I’ve not forgotten it, is because I’m still dealing with the multifaceted ramifications of it. Internally, in my mind, I call it ‘three fingers’ or ‘the three finger salute’.

You see, whenever I point at someone – let me interrupt myself to state that I am not continually, habitually, daily physically pointing at people, but it is a recurring activity and the odd time it may actually be a physical pointing. But, most often I am pointing mentally, speaking to myself, or verbally to someone else, and I as I do so, I have a mental picture of my pointing hand.

Now, back to where I was, whenever I point at someone and invariably it is a someone, or someones, – I can be quite inclusive when I point – the fact is the act of pointing my index finger results in me automatically curling my middle finger, ring finger and little finger back and in, closing over my palm, and as a natural result, they in turn, are pointing directly back at me. This is what was shared with me so long ago, the precise ‘when’ I heard it is lost in the mists of time.

Since that time and slowly, ever so slowly – almost at a glacial rate – I’ve become cognisant of the fact, that I can easily identify the faults in others, and often propound the solutions that they should employ, and at the exact same time be guilty of the very same – or even a worse – default, error, infraction, defficiency, sin or whatever you wish to label the cause of my censure.

Now, I may frame my condemnation in a context of being ‘helpful’ or ‘correcting’ or ‘cleansing’ or ‘concern for my brother or sister’, or even ‘concern for the testimony of the church’ but in reality, it is nothing more than extremely thinly veiled judgement.

Now, in life we are all subject to judgement, for none of us are perfect. At any given time someone can, justifiably, pass judgement on me – without question – for I am guilty.

However, whenever I consider myself and my, er, deficiencies, I am far more lenient and far more forgiving. I can turn a blind eye. I can express prodigious patience and long-suffering forgiveness for my failings. I can excuse, or diminish whatever my fault, failing, indiscretion, or down-right sin, may be. I can do this IF it is in my life – not yours.

More frightening I suppose, is the fact that I can be completely, blissfully, ignorant of many (or should I say ‘most’?) of my faults, failings, indiscretions and, well, yes… sins.

Additionally, there is a frightful dichotomy, for on the one hand I can actively diminish my failings, but then, on the other hand, I confess that their are times when I can acknowledge how wrong and disappointing some act or word or deed is and I then stubbornly fail to forgive myself for the repeated act, or action, or unbroken habit, or word or whatever. This is the polar opposite to my other reaction, which is to diminish or deny either the existence of or importance of a problem or, if acknowledging it, to excuse it. No, in this response, the fault is fully acknowledged and then I steadfastly refuse to forgive myself for this transgression even though, in Christ I have been forgiven and even though I have confessed and turned from whatever it is I have thought, planned or done, and even though I have been forgiven (note: this is in the past tense) and I have been received into the very presence of Almighty, Righteous, Holy, God, I will not forgive myself. This a key aspect of this dichotomy that should be the subject of, and deserving of, another meditation.

But, back to this particular meditation…

If I am pointing, whether mentally, verbally or physically, the natural question arises, ‘Why do I judge so easily?’

Of course, when I engage in this activity, one of the immediate perceived ‘benefits’ is (to me, that is, and not really a benefit at all), it assists me in taking the focus off me and my failings and my laziness, my failures and my lack of interest in correcting many of my own acknowledged and stated short-comings – leaving aside for the moment the legion of faults and failings that I am not currently apprised of, and I focus my attention on the so-called faults and failings of others.

It is, rather perversely, comforting to me if I can be ‘righteously indignate’ at the actions, statements, activities or behaviour of someone else, for then I am not as focused on, nor even conscious of my own multitudinous points of failure.

Additionally, when looking at others – let the reader understand ‘when judging’ – one of the easiest things for me to do, is to take a point where I am comparatively strong and using that as my focal point, to examine someone who is struggling in the same area. I will be in a strong position of comparative success, and they will be in a weak position of struggling or failure.

Let me illustrate that by taking an example from my ‘Life with Diabetes’.

Of a truth, I am not unduly tempted by sweet foods even though Turkish cuisine is host to a fine variety of scrumptious sweets and and a plethora of truly phenomenal sweet pastries. By and large, when the temptation comes, I can cast it off with relative ease and the battle is generally not long nor very strenuous.

And so, if I encounter another diabetic, but a diabetic who really struggles with a temptation for sweets, I can easily judge them from my self-selected position of success (solely in regard to this one, limited, type of temptation). In this comparison and now dressed in my ‘righteous superiority’, I can cast my eyes down on them without the remotest trace of understanding or compassion and triumphantly declare how simple it is to ‘do the right thing’ – let the reader recall, for me, this is a point where I am strong.

Let me hasten to add, that this is ‘natural’ strong, not the result of my doing the right thing in the face of overwhelming temptation, nor of my choosing the right course over the wrong by strength of my character – it is a gift that in this particular temptation, the temptation is not very strong.

And so, in acting in this way, as far as my diabetic brother or sister is concerned, I am of absolutely no help to them whatsoever. Rather I am only able to increase their sense of failure and self-condemnation, sowing seeds of discouragement, undermining faith and eroding hope. As far as extending any real aid in overcoming their struggle – nada, zilch, nothing – but I may feel smug, satisfied, superior.

However, if, instead, I had considered, as a diabetic, my struggles with, let’s name names, potato crisps – that salty (I have elevated blood pressure and hence I am to reduce my salt intake) potato based snack (potato quickly raises blood sugar and hence is not to be recommended) – ahh.. now here is an example of where I struggle, and fail, and repeatedly fail, and my feelings of demoralisation and condemnation – and the reality of the verse “if anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” which only is doubling-down my sense of failure by my not measuring up to what I know to be true: disappointing myself and disappointing Almighty God.

Now, no longer am I on my righteous charger, sitting proud in my self proclaimed ‘Righteous Superiority’. No longer can I, even remotely, claim the high ground. No more can I gaze, scornfully, down my nose as a superior and curl my lip in an insensitive sneer of disdain at someone’s weakness.

Of a truth, if I honestly share with my brother or sister in the Lord who is struggling with their ‘sweet’ temptation, my own struggles, albeit with a different temptation, and share my struggles and my wee successes and aspirations and hope for ultimate success, then there is potential to actually be in a position to encourage one another in our struggles. There may be something that they have been doing with mixed results in their struggle, but this is exactly what I need to hear and emulate in my struggle. It is possible that something that I have been doing, or contemplating doing in my struggle, that may aid and be helpful to them.

Ah…. but this calls for honesty, for humility, for vulnerability…

And, besides, judgement comes so easily, so naturally….

…..almost like it is an integral part of the ‘old man’ – which, of course it is.

For God so loved the world…. this world which is absolutely brimming full of things that stand already judged because they are unequivocally worthy of condemnation and judgement…. and He loved the world so much as to give His one and only Son… to save the world – to redeem the world, to give life.

And yet, I so easily judge my brother and sister, the Church at large – basically anyone I can think of… and in the process, leave myself above the fray…. and, oh, I can pontificate on what the answers are and what people should do, as if I were the shining light of truth…..

Even if I could see clearly and articulate exactly what is wrong in some individual’s life, in spite of my ‘superiority complex’ and if I could identify the correct remedial action required to set it straight, they would be hard-pressed to respond, for a causal examination of my life will highlight areas of failure, struggle and glaring examples of things not right and actions and activities that continue unabated and unhindered in my life so as to deter them from even listening to my counsel….

They would be rightly put off by what they see.

Indeed, the fact of the matter remains that the bad they see in me, is only the tip of the reality.  I, too, like most of mankind, present my best mask forward, covering up and obscuring my many legions of faults and failings, as best I can. Only Almighty God and I know the thoughts that course through my mind – the ones that I have embraced, or specially called up and dwelt on and entertained and strengthened by my attention…….which, thankfully my fellow man is ignorant of…

When I vocalise my observations on the failings of an individual, or an organisation or the Church at large or a particular part of the Church, I am in no-wise helping the situation, in no-way aiding in the correction of the perceived fault. However, I can be a fermenting agent, engendering discontentment and bringing discord and dissension and fanning the flames of division and strife.

Someone may query: “Do not problems ‘in the church’ need to be brought to the fore?”

Hmm…

Okay, let us say that I, correctly, identify a problem in the greater church. In articulating it, how is that going to sort the problem? How will coherently declaring the problem be part of the solution?

People, people whom I do not know, do not have a relationship with, who believe (as we all tend to do) that what they are doing is right, and true and, well, from God – what will be their response to my declaration be?

To address the greater problems of the ‘church’ or society or whatever group, it is my conclusion that first I must be wholly self-obsessed. I need to be absolutely selfish. I need to focus exclusively on, well…. me.

Not in the sense that ‘everyone needs to listen to me’, or ‘focus on me’, or ‘do what I say’, or ‘understand me’, or desiring that all ‘love me’, or ‘be patient with me’, or ‘forgive me’ – this is the normal, twisted, self-obsessed selfishness wherein the centre, the ‘me’ at the heart, is the practical and functional lord and master: it is the ‘me’ that is calling the shots and is demanding to be catered to and obeyed. The ‘selfishness’ I am referring to is not this sinful, rebellious selfishness which denies the Lordship of Christ and declares its own rebellious independence from Him.

No, when I say wholly ‘self-obsessed’ it is in regard to the multitude of faults and failings residing in, living in and all too often prospering in me. To do this to the exclusion of focussing on the the faults of others, to examine the problems closer to home, to the faults that I am both responsible for and faults that I can exert direct action against.

Balance: again, I am not propounding this as an absolute:  of course we need a balanced focus – we must also be focused on God, the Light of our life, the new man He has made, on the character and nature of God, His great promises to us, resting in the fact of His love for us, and our acceptance in the Holy of Holies, of our status as people he has ‘declared holy’ and ‘made fully acceptable’ and our adoption as children of God and joint heirs in Christ. At all times, we must be focused on the grace of God – the unmerited favour He bestows on us again and again. These, too, are a major, essential, part of the picture. But, when it come to the inevitable fault-finding, rather than examining others, to turn my primary focus on myself, where I can, on the basis of the above, with the Grace of God, and the Spirit of Almighty God providing both the ‘will’ or desire and the power and strength, I am enabled to do what needs to done in my life.

When I am aware of my faults and failings and my struggles to set things right and when, through diverse trials and tribulations I grow in grace and in the knowledge of God, when, with a large portion of humility, I can honestly share my failings and then my little victories in Christ, then I can offer hope, a way forward to my brothers and sisters, my fellow pilgrims walking the narrow road.

I can then be part of the solution and rather than saying ‘the problem is…’ but, by being an example, I can by life and word declare, ‘the solution is….’

Now that will be an encouragement and help to the church that I rub shoulders with and, ultimately, the greater church.

The only life that I have a direct input into changing, the only life that I can directly affect, is my own. To another I can speak, they can believe or disbelieve, they can act or reject – they will make the ultimate decision. But in my life, it comes down to my choice and in that I have direct responsibility.

Indeed, in life, if rather than giving myself a silent ‘pass’ in questionable areas, and rather than occupying my mind with all the perceived faults and failings around me, in individuals and organisations and the church and the greater church, but if I allow the Holy Spirit to work in me and if I join together, being a co-worker with the Holy Spirit, then He will bring change in this one life of mine – then there will be progress and true comfort to be shared with those I encounter.

This kind of ‘selfishness’ calls for brutal honesty – something which does not come easily or naturally to mankind. I, and I think most, like to talk about my successes, to focus on what I do well, and to draw attention to when I get it right. I, and I dare say most, do not want people to know of my inner struggles, my doubts and failings. Nor do I want people to have a glimpse of the ‘real me’ for I fear they will reject me – and sometimes I would have to confess, that I would be rejected with good cause.

One thing my passing years on this globe and living in many different societies and countries has shown me, is we are all alike. We all have points of strength and points of weakness. We all have areas where we do well and others where we do so-so and others where we utterly fail. We all have personal, individual points of strength and struggle.

I am convinced that this includes all of us. No one gets a free pass – there is none who does all things well with no struggle and no failures.

Whether one has been educated to the highest level, or if one is barely literate – I believe that this is the shared human condition. Education does not eradicate it, nor does simplicity of life or thought eliminate it. This basic human struggle of our strengths and weakness, our successes verses our failures, our points of pride and areas of shame, is common to all. Common in all cultures. Common regardless of wealth or poverty. Common with everyone we meet….

It may only be my point of weakness, that I have, especially in the past, felt inhibited and that I needed to project a happy, successful, trouble-free, sinless, struggle-free experience to those around me – especially to those in the household of faith.

That would be my failing. I am trying to bring balance in this area of my life.

But when I succumb to my natural inclinations to mask over my failings and struggles, a natural consequence is it prevents me from being a true aid to others, for if they do not know of my struggle, they can not identify with me and as scripture says, I can not share with them the comfort that I have received from God in my struggle – if they are unaware of my struggles….

On occasion, when sharing from the pulpit, I have said: ‘Oh, yes, I have a struggle…’ and people are immediately intrigued and lean forward to hear more….

But then I cop-out and take the easy path and continue: ‘Yes, my prayer life isn’t all that it should be…’ and people slump back and say, ‘so what – whose is: that is nothing like the struggles I have with jealously or resentment or pornography or impatience or fear or anger or impetuousness or jealousy or covetiveness or lying or deceit or theft or shop-lifting or lust or…….’

In my hesitation to share, to be open, to be vulnerable…to run the very real risk of people delighting in gossiping about me, and so to protect myself, I can refrain from doing the very things that could prove to be of the greatest value.

My three fingered salute appears every time I mentally, verbally or physically pass judgement on my brothers or sisters. It quietly speaks ‘who are you to judge’ and reminds me ‘and you? Are you sinless? Or are you guilty of the same? Are you guilty of worse?’. It also speaks to me saying ‘are you part of the solution?’.

I perceive so many problems in the world, and often they may very well be real problems and problems that require real solutions, but if, in my perception, assessment and declaration, I lack a real understanding and the essential compassion, grace and the overwhelming sacrificial love of God, my perception is not helpful, not pleasing to God, not part of the solution, but, in essence, is part of the problem.

God didn’t just pass judgement on the world. He sacrificed His one and only Son that the world may be delivered, redeemed, saved and adopted.

This has to be the foundation and the end of any ‘judgement’ that I may be moved to make in this world. Anything less is not on the model given by God Himself and anything less does not contribute to the solution of the problems.

I have noted in the past that sometimes something that a brother or sister says or does or approves or disapproves of or behaves in a certain way really irks me, really bothers me, really gets under my skin, really winds me up.

My first, natural response is to utter some, in one sense valid, judgmental statement. Sometimes my spoken or unspoken utterance may include a suggested remedial action, but not always.

What I have noted is often that what I am observing in others is actually present in the same or similar way within my own life – but I am ignorant of it.

It has occurred to me that my observations in others was in fact the Holy Spirit trying to get me to see the failing in my own life. He has tried to wake me up to something that needs my attention, my repentance, my trusting Him for a change that will remove that blight, that eye-sore, that fault, that stumbling block from my life.

Rather than ranting: to myself, to the Lord, to those around me, or worse, to a wider audience, the Lord’s intention was for me to undergo surgery, to have treatment, to have that problem excised from my life.

By focussing on others, I am actually hindering my own growth and development in the Lord and, sadly, exasperating the problems in the Church as I manifest the same or similar failing which then continues unabated and unaddressed in my life.

Time, methinks, for some ‘righteous selfishness’ focussing on my particular failings with a view, in Christ and by the grace of God, to change and be remade in the image of Christ. In this way, I can actually model the way forward and be an encouragement for my brothers and sisters.

What is needed is for far more than a declaration of what is wrong but a demonstration of the solution – an insight into the solution that is ours in Christ.

Jesus said He came that we might have an ‘abundant life’, a life filled with peace, joy, love, patience, long suffering, endurance, hope, contentment and grace. This comes about as He changes us from our ‘natural state’ to be ‘like Him’.

This requires honesty. This requires ‘righteous selfishness’.

The three finger salute is, for me, a constant reminder of the basic equation and where my focus and my efforts need to be.