The church I have been called to serve is blessing us in abundance. Lots of people have spoken to us and made us feel really welcome; the teams I have joined are people of faith and joy; and I am getting lots of emails.
Any of you who are ministers will wonder what’s so amazing about getting lots of emails. Well, someone in the church had the idea of getting a different person to send us a welcoming email each day. Some include a verse from the Bible to encourage us, most include places that the senders love visiting in the area, and all of them are a delight to receive. It looks like these emails could continue for several months!
So each day I look forward to opening my emails, wondering who will have sent something and what it will contain.
And that got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone had the same experience as us? What if each day we each send someone in our contacts list, social media friends or phone an email, message or text with a word of encouragement? What difference might that make? How much joy would be spread?
Many times I have experienced a prompting to send a message, make a phone call or even visit someone that has turned out to be exactly what that person needed. It’s not because I have any special ability, I put it down to God’s Spirit giving me a nudge.
So, from tomorrow, I am going to see if I can put my closing sentence into practice in this way – I am being blessed, so I can be a blessing. Who knows, you might be the recipient one day!
As part of moving into a new house we have discovered that some of the extension leads we had were not suitable. Electricity sockets are in different places in the new rooms so the cables needed to be longer. I decided that what would be helpful would be some 5m long cables so that they could run almost unobtrusively behind furniture and the sockets would then be where we needed them to be.
So I went online and searched for ‘5m extension cable’. Loads of options came up, so I decided to go for a couple that looked quite fancy and even had USB sockets too. I placed the order and waited for their arrival, feeling pleased with my choice… until they arrived. They were only 1.5m long. I had not checked carefully enough and had ordered the wrong length.
In actual fact, they are both useful in different locations than the ones I had in mind, so it was not wasted money. Undaunted, I searched again for ‘5m extension cable’. And this time I was cautious. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, that would be daft. I saw another one that I thought would do the job well and placed the order. I waited for its arrival, feeling pleased with my choice… until it arrived. It was only 1.5m long. I had done it again!!
I couldn’t believe it. Neither could Sally (well, actually she could believe I would be daft enough to make the same mistake twice). I couldn’t understand how, when I searched for ‘5m extension cable’ I kept ordering 1.5m cables. And then I realised. A search for ‘5m’ would also reveal ‘1.5m’ cables. My use of the search engine was not specific enough.
That one got sent back. I was just glad that it was online rather than in person as I would have felt really embarrassed having to face the shopkeeper three times, apparently buying what I needed and each time getting it wrong.
How often are we caught out by not being clear enough? Having a vague idea of where we are going usually involves aimless driving around until we are willing to stop and ask for directions. And ambiguity in what we say (spoken or written) can cause unnecessary hurt and angst in relationships.
Precision can be really important in life as well as ordering extension leads.
Be blessed, be a blessing
(I have ordered another extension lead, but beat the system by ordering one that is 3m long… unless someone is selling 1.3m leads!)
So we managed to survive the transfer of the Essex box fort to become the Devon box fort! The removal men were really good and it was surprisingly swift. I would say that it was at the lower end of possible stress levels for a move, although we’re both really tired now.
Most rooms still have residual boxes in them, and please don’t look in the garage, but we have managed to find most of the important things (eventually). I took apart my desk before the move and put the eight screws in a safe place. I put almost all the important screws in a compartment in my tool box. But of course, for reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t put the desk screws in that compartment. I have unpacked all of the likely boxes, all of the unlikely but still possible ones, and looked in all the drawers in my study units.
In the garage in our new manse there are some jars of screws, bolts, nuts, washers, nails and other useful bits and pieces hanging by their lids that are screwed into a shelf above (see below). These were left by the previous occupants, but have the look of something that has been a fixture here for many years. I had a rummage in the relevant jar and managed to find four that fitted so that I could reattach the keyboard shelf. However there was nothing to match the other four. Some were the right width and thread, but too long. Others were the right length but the wrong thread. In the end a visit to the local DIY superstore enabled me to find some that were just right. (Is it just me or does this sound a bit like a DIY version of Goldilocks and the 3 bears!)
So, in the end the desk is not complete, most books are on the shelves and my workspace is usable.
Why am I telling you this innocuous story? Well, little things can make a big difference. Compared to the rest of the desk eight screws don’t really look much. But without them the desk was not as useful as it now is. You may not think you are significant, but you matter. You are useful.
In the New Testament there’s a tiny little letter that Paul wrote to a friend of his called Phil (okay, Philemon, but give me credit for trying to be contemporary). Phil had a slave (different times) called Onesie (Onesimus) who ran away. You can’t blame Onesie for seeking his freedom. But he bumped into Paul, who suggested that he should go back to Phil’s house, and he wrote him a letter to take back and explain that there were new circumstances (Onesie had become a follower of Jesus).
It seems that Onesie had not been a particularly good slave. But Paul wrote in the letter, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” Onesie’s full name actually means ‘useful’ (ironically).
And that’s the point I am trying to make. Onesie was regarded as useless, but Paul saw his potential and how he could live up to his name.
We’re in the middle of moving house. Our home in Essex is rapidly resembling a complex box fort and the church I am now serving (Mutley Baptist Church) is about to assume ownership of the house we will occupy once our box fort is transferred to Devon.
It’s a period of time that carries lots of emotion with it. Change almost always does because we are emotional beings and form attachments to things, places, people, times, experiences and much more beyond. When change happens, some of those will remain the same, but others will be different. Our love for family and friends does not change, but geography will make the relationships different.
In the hymn ‘Abide with me’ (sung each year at the FA Cup Final) there’s a line: “Change and decay in all around I see: O Thou who changest not abide with me.” I want to take issue with the association of change and decay, because although change may not be easy, it is not always bad. ‘Entropy’ is not inevitable. Even in the midst of sadness, loss and loneliness we can find positives: we experience those emotions because we are / were loved; no longer being in a particular place may leave us with a lump in our throat because of the memories we associate with that place, but there will be opportunities to create new wonderful memories in the new place. You see what I am saying, I hope. If we look for them there are positives, even in the most difficult of change.
And that brings me to the second part of that line from ‘Abide with me’. God’s constancy is a comfort in a changing world. And he’s not distant from us, he ‘abides’ with us if we ask him to. That’s an intimate relationship, dwelling in the same space, feeling the same feelings, hoping the same hopes…
So, looking back, it seems there have been several significant gaps in the timeline on this blog. These are times when for health, busyness or neglectful reasons I haven’t been composing bloggages. And the next bloggage after those gaps usually begins with an apology for the length of that gap and an expressed intention to do better.
So… sorry. I’ll try again.
I have just started as a local church minister again, in bootiful Devon. I am from Devon originally so it’s lovely to be back. IMHO it’s no coincidence that Devon is the only UK county that rhymes with ‘heaven’. It always lifts my spirits as I am driving down the motorway and see this roadsign:
I’m currently ‘between houses’ as the house moving plans have had to slide several times while the start date remained the same. So I am being blessed by the generosity of two couples in the church – one that have a flat I can use for a week, and the second who foolishly have said I can stay with them for the rest of the time until the moment when my wife and our house contents join me.
I hear sometimes Christians express a similar ‘between homes’ state, which is perhaps expressed most obviously in the Jim Reeves song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” I know that the sentiment of the song is that there’s more beyond this life, but the problem with the attitude that this is transitory is that we don’t need to care about the planet (which actually goes against the reason why God created people in the Bible, to care for the place). And we don’t really need to bother living a full life now because the next one is going to be so much better (which goes against Jesus saying that he has come to give life in all its fullness).
I am really longing for the moment when Sally and I are reunited and can make our home here. But I am also planning to make the most of the time in between. It’s a beautiful day today and I think I will go for a walk down by the sea later on.
These words from Isaiah 9 seem to be coming at me from all directions at the moment, more than I have noticed before in Advent:
2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (NIVUK)
There are some incredible promises of hope here, aren’t there? A promise of a dazzling light in a time of darkness; renewed national growth and joy; victory over neighbouring countries; freedom from oppression; and of an end to violence and war. These are promises that an oppressed and vulnerable nation would readily embrace.
But the means by which God will achieve those hoped for promises is, unexpectedly, a child. It is very easy to skip past that to the grown-up Jesus because we know he is the Son and we want to celebrate and embrace his rule, the astonishing names that describe who he is, the eternal nature of his Kingdom and the new priorities of his Kingdom.
But stop for a moment and reflect again that God was going to provide a child as his way of doing things:
God in a swaddling nappy.
All that Jesus would achieve in his life, death and resurrection began with him as a child. God’s work sometimes has its origins in the unexpected and unlikely. Might we see him this year:
In the helplessness we feel as we live under Covid-19 Tier restrictions?
In the most vulnerable people who appreciate a little far more than we who have a lot appreciate abundance?
In recognising the fragility of what we used to consider ‘normal’ and now realise is transient?
In the newly-realised dependence on those whose work is usually unnoticed?
In the attitude of child who eagerly and gratefully receives a Christmas present as an example of how Jesus wants us to receive the Kingdom?
Is it just me, or is the use of language becoming more slippery and less honest? Maybe it’s rose-tinted nostalgia glasses but It seems to me that it was not so long ago that people spoke more plainly and honestly. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:
There’s a word that seems to have crept into regular use by politicians. It is used to try to deflect allegations or inferences of lying or getting something wrong: “I misspoke.” It’s as if the words accidentally tumbled out of their mouth without them being in control of them.
On other occasions when someone being interviewed does not want to answer a question they answer a different one they prefer, despite any attempts by the interviewer to get them to answer their question (perhaps best exemplified by when Jeremy Paxman asked the same question 12 times to an intractable Michael Howard in 1997).
Newspaper articles, blogs and social media posts put their own editorial bias on events and report them either favourably or unfavourably depending on that bias (look at how different newspapers referred to the Brexit campaigns if you doubt me).
The recent debate between the US Presidential Candidates was, at times, a shouting match where each candidate spoke over the other one to make their point and refused to listen.
Of course Christians would never be like that. Would we? Really? Not in church meetings (misvote?), leadership team meetings (misserve?), sermons (mispreach?), talking about someone with another person (misshare?), emails (mistype?), a social media platform (mispost?)…
Jesus had some very tough things to say about what we say and how we say it, recorded in Matthew 12: “33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’”
James takes this theme even further in his open letter – James 3:1-12. Here are the last 3 verses: “9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
Words can be weapons of mass distraction and mass destruction and they can be as healing as medicine and surgery and as affirming as a hug. The clear message from Jesus and James is that what we say reveals what’s going on under the surface. We need to show integrity in how we speak (written or verbal). Integrity means: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” and “the state of being whole and undivided.” Hmmmm.
Let’s pray Psalm 19:14 – “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Isn’t it interesting how some childhood memories stick vividly in our memories and others are lost in the mists of time? I can vividly remember the day when I learnt to ride a bike. I had a small purple bike that had training wheels and I was quite content whizzing around on it our drive. I had no ambition to have the training wheels removed. But on this particular Sunday afternoon we were going for a family walk and my Dad took the training wheels off the bike, telling me that I was going to learn to ride my bike without them. We started off on the walk with me pedalling along and my Dad holding the back of the saddle. After a little while he would let go and I would unwittingly be riding the bike on my own. However, I kept turning around to see if he was holding me and when I did that invariably I wobbled to a halt and fell off. Eventually I learnt that to ride successfully I had to keep moving forwards and focus on what was ahead of me rather than what was behind.
In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
If you’ll forgive me I would like to offer a paraphrase: “Heaven is cheering you on, so stop looking behind you and being distracted by things that make you fall off. Keep pedalling – keeping your eyes focused on Jesus ahead of you because when you do you’ll zoom along!”
What’s distracting you? Are you looking behind? Are you focused on Jesus?
There’s some good advice: “Don’t drive angry.” Putting yourself in charge of a ton or so of metal that can reach speeds of 70 mph (or more if you break speed limits) while your emotions are in a high state of agitation and adrenaline is coursing through your veins is not wise.
But I want to suggest that there are some other things that you can do while you are angry.
Breaking up cardboard boxes (can be cathartic)
Going for a walk (uses up the adrenaline in a healthy way)
Singing (so long as nobody else is around, it may not be the most tuneful)
Yes, praying. God is pleased to receive and respond to any prayers, even the angry ones. We can be completely honest with him (no point in doing otherwise really as he already knows all about us) and let him know why we are angry. It is something that I have done this week in the face of what happened to George Floyd and the responses to the peaceful protests that have followed his death at the hands (or knee) of a police officer.
This week I have been asked to contribute a prayer to Premier Radio’s Prayers of Hope programme and I decided to pray angry (albeit that the tone of the recording is more measured). This is my prayer.
I only had about 90 seconds for the prayer, so it’s shorter than I would like. Feel free to add your own ‘amen*’ (*I agree) if you find it helpful:
Heavenly Father – we bow the knee before you in worship and humility because you are God Almighty. And we bow the knee in prayerful solidarity with all who experience oppression and prejudice.
You create all people as equal, and you love all of us on this planet with an unfailing and limitless love so it must break your heart, as it breaks ours, when people are mistreated, abused, attacked and killed because of the colour of their skin or ethnicity.
We lament for George Floyd. His death is a terrible act. Yet it also represents the oppression of so many and our cry of lament merges with the shouts of people across the world against this evil.
Like Martin Luther King we have a dream that a world without racism is possible and we lament that 57 years later that dream has still not come true.
Holy Spirit shine your light of truth and love into the lives of those who hold racist views…
into governments and institutions…
into the public consciousness…
into your churches…
Shine your light of truth and love into our hearts…
…that we may recognise and root out prejudice and become a part of making that dream a reality. We pray that you will help us to see the positive steps we can take to combat racism and to affirm the dignity and humanity of every single person on this planet.
Hi, it’s been a very long time since my last bloggage. I haven’t gone down with Coronavirus (and you couldn’t catch it from here anyway). But I have been very busy with work and in my spare time I have been creating some silly magic videos with my magic assistant (or am I his?) – Stew the Rabbit. If you are interested you can see the videos on our YouTube Channel: StewTube Magic
I have a few things that I will try to share of a more usual nature here soon, but in the meantime stay safe, stay well, be blessed and be a blessing