kaboom?

An unresolvable conundrum is this paradox: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Is the answer ‘kaboom’?

explosionThere is no answer that does not fundamentally change the nature of either or both of the entities. If the immovable object moves it is no longer immovable or if the unstoppable force stops it is no longer unstoppable. There is no answer that allows them both to remain unaffected by the encounter.

But couldn’t the unstoppable force change direction and avoid the immovable object? Yes. And sometimes we prefer to avoid and evade conflict. But the force remains unstoppable and the object remains immovable and the likelihood is that we have only postponed the inevitable.

So what if they just keep bashing against each other until one of them wins? Well, technically if they do that it looks like the immovable object has won because the unstoppable force has stopped, even if it keeps trying to move the object. The unstoppable force will not be happy that its progress has been stopped and the immovable object will not be happy at the constant buffeting. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a place where nobody is happy but nobody is willing to give in.

What if one of them wins? What if the force moves the object or the object stops the force? Well one of them is happy, but the other is not only defeated but loses its identity and no doubt resents the winner for enforcing their will over them. Sometimes we see a conflict situation as ‘winner takes all’.

What if both of them decided that they needed to change. The immovable object could become a solid object that was willing to move and make way for the force, if the force could become a powerful force that was willing to allow the object to remain in that location and not seek its destruction. I think its called ‘compromise’.

I have sometimes thought of compromise as a weakness: a situation where nobody is entirely happy with the outcome. And it is, if we remain in a ‘win/lose’ mentality. But what if we could listen to how the ‘other’ feels about the situation too? What if we could understand how we make them feel? What if they could listen to us and understand how they make us feel? What if we were willing to change our approach in order to accommodate the other?

“Com” as a prefix (rather than the web address suffix) means ‘with’, ‘together’, and ‘collaboratively’. Add to that the word ‘promise’ and it becomes a mutual agreement in which everyone is involved and to which they are all committed. In that case ‘compromise’ is not weakness – it increases the strength of a relationship that otherwise might be destroyed.

Yes, of course, I know that there are painful times where it is right for people to go their separate ways. But that in itself is also a com-promise – agreeing together to end the escalating conflict in that way.

And while compromise means we have to be willing to give rather than focusing on what we might lose or give if we focus on what we gain it becomes easier to do. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what Paul wrote in one of his letters to one of the early churches. He tried to address a conflict situation (Philippians 4:1-9):

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

In the context of the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche he did not tell them to battle it out until one of them won, he pleaded that they would “be of the same mind in the Lord” and asked the church to help them. It was their shared faith in Jesus that would be the starting point for their compromise. What was that same mind? I think it was to look at what they would gain by changing their attitude from ‘winner takes all’ to ‘com promise’ based on what they had in common. They would gain joy, gentleness, less anxiety, and prayerful peace.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the parable of the lovely notebook

Is it just me, or do others really enjoy having a new notebook or diary (if you still use a paper one)? There’s something attractive about having a notebook with crisp, pristine pages. I love it. I anticipate what I will use it for. I make myself promises that I won’t scribble or cross things out. I will only ever use nice pens to write in the book, and I will always use my best writing.

Recently for my birthday some kind friends of mine bought me this notebook.

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It was made in Italy and it’s got a lovely leather cover with that leather strap to keep it closed. It’s got my initials embossed on the front. The paper is lovely quality. I love it.

The only problem is that I haven’t used it yet. The book is too nice just to be used for taking phone messages or reminders.I want it to be used for something important and special. I want it to contain things that I will want to come back to and look over again in the future. I don’t want to spoil it with scruffy, rushed notes, or with poor quality handwriting, or with scratchy pens.

So the book is still in pristine condition.

But it’s not being used. It’s not able to fulfil its purpose. It’s being denied the opportunity to do all that it was created to be and do because I am concerned that it will not be used in the way that it deserves to be used.

Do we sometimes deny ourselves, or others, an opportunity to try something and to grow and flourish from it because we are afraid?

Do we sometimes forget that we have been given gifts, skills and personality in order to bless, delight and encourage others and keep them to ourselves instead?

Do we want to protect people or ourselves from harm and thus avoid taking any risks?

I have an idea of what to do with the book. I have resolved to use it.

What about you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

honest soul searching

This is a ‘thought for the week’ that I wrote this week for the Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association. I offer it to you for your reflection…

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I have been reflecting on Psalm 139 recently. To save those of you who can’t remember it entirely word-for-word I have copied it below (NIV UK)

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

It’s an amazing poetic reflection on who we are isn’t it? When I read the psalm I find it helps me to get a healthier perspective on who I am in Christ, and who God is.

We are fully known – even before we speak God knows our thoughts and what we are going to say. We are constantly in his presence, we can never hide from him (even naked in a garden or in the belly of a great fish). He knows the way ahead even if to us it seems bleak or impossible to discern and he will hold our hand and guide us. We are the complex and complicated product of his knitting (and he doesn’t drop stitches). God’s thoughts are way beyond our counting and comprehension and yet he shares some of them with us.

And that’s often where I have wanted to stop. Or if I have to go on I prefer to jump to verse 23. Why did David have to spoil things by pouring out a litany of bile and hatred against the wicked and those he counts as his enemies? That’s not likely to end up in the latest worship song is it? But I wonder whether verses 19-22 are actually the heart of this psalm. I think that they are the reason David wrote the psalm in the first place: he wanted to be entirely honest with God and himself and set it in the context of his awareness of who he was in God.

The first 18 verses are the (wondrous, amazing, inspiring, truth-laden) preamble. If God knew him so intimately; if he was so incredibly made by God; if he could never leave God’s presence; if God knows the way ahead: then it was pointless for David to be trying to pretend to God and himself that he was not incredibly upset by some people. There was no sense in him smiling sweetly and brushing it all under the carpet to keep up appearances. He had to tell God how it really was for him. And he was livid. He couldn’t cope with the wicked, blood-soaked things he saw others doing. He couldn’t cope with how people were misusing God’s name (perhaps invoking him on their side to bolster their cause). He had genuine hatred for the way that people hated God. So he let God have it. In both senses of that phrase.

Maybe there was an element of catharsis here. Maybe it was therapeutic. Maybe it was giving it over to God. It was, above all else, honest. I believe that David also knew that there was a good chance that he had overstepped the mark in his rant… hence verses 23 and 24. He asked that God would reveal to him if there were elements in his attitude that were akin to the things he had just railed against. He didn’t want to be guilty of the things he was accusing others of doing.

If we find ourselves wanting to say, “Amen” to verses 19-22 about other people, we must also pray verses 23 and 24 about ourselves because God knows all about us we should be honest with him and with ourselves. When I read this psalm I am reminded of what Jesus had to say about specks of dust and planks, blind guides and the danger of judging others.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Be blessed, be a blessing

mmm… cookies?

cookiesNo, this is not a tribute to Homer Simpson or the Cookie Monster. It’s actually a reflection on how, through cookies* and the like, websites get to know stuff about us. If you search for ‘silly string’ (as I have done recently, watch out!) you will find that you start getting offered adverts for silly string on other websites you visit because of the clever sneakiness going on behind the scenes that tracks what you are interested in and offers you more of the same or similar (I still have no idea why I get offered hair products, though!).

At the moment I am gathering some items for a couple of new magic routines I am working on so the adverts are becoming quite interesting. I get offered gifts to go in party bags, fancy dress costumes and practical jokes. (I will leave you guessing what the magical routines are!)

I wonder why the clever sneakiness going on behind the scenes thinks that because we have searched for something once we want some more of the same? I have bought all I need for the magic routines, that part of my internet life is at an end. I won’t be buying any more but the adverts that are based on what I searched for assume that I want to continue purchasing that sort of thing.

Of course I recognise it’s very difficult for websites to anticipate what we will search for next – the only thing they can go on is what we have done in the past and try to extrapolate from that to offer us what we might want next. It would probably freak me out if every time I went online to search for something new my browser offered me exactly what I wanted before I had even searched for it. I would wonder how they had got inside my mind!

You and I are much more than the product of our past. We are shaped and influenced by it now and in the future. We even have to pay for it (eg loans). But the mistakes and terrible events of the past do not have to have so much hold over us that they define who we are today. We can choose.

Just because you are walking down a particular path does not mean that you have to continue to follow that path.

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Changes of direction, turning around, fresh starts and freedom are available to us all. It can take courage, resolve and we may need help (either from friends or professionals), but it’s possible. I don’t write these things lightly and recognise the limitations of a blog that can’t hope to minister to all of you, but I have found these things to be true for myself as a follower of Jesus and share that experience with you. I hope you will find the same thing in a local Christian church.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*According to Wikipedia “Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past). They can also be used to remember arbitrary pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields such as names, addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.”

and the winner is…

So the headline news today is that in a well-hyped ceremony to give awards to people who have done their job well some of the people were announced as the winners of an award and then someone else realised it was a mistake and that some other people should have been given the award.

Meanwhile, in other news, three quarters of a million people are trapped in Western Mosul as Iraqi forces seek to expel the IS fighters; people are still dying every day as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe; people around the world (and in the UK) are being bought and sold as slaves; famine is beginning to stalk its prey in South Sudan; politicians are seeking to evade public scrutiny by declaring those who criticise as ‘fake news’ (it happened in the UK yesterday when our Home Secretary tried to defend the Government’s decision to stop taking any more unaccompanied refugee children under the ‘Dubs Amendment’)…
You get the idea.

I am not saying that it was surprising that at an awards ceremony as well-organised as the Oscars the wrong film should be announced as the winner of ‘best picture’. It’s difficult to imagine quite what went wrong, or how embarrassed people felt when the error was realised. But should this be the first headline on the news today? Is this the most important thing that has happened in our world?

I suspect that ‘envelopegate’ or whatever this gets dubbed will be forgotten soon enough, except perhaps by those who made the mistake – it may haunt them for a while, and maybe we should spare a thought for them. Their mistake was made public – broadcast across the world and then becoming headline news. Most of our mistakes are less well publicised (thank the Lord).

I try to remember to offer prayers when I hear of tragedies and crises whether they are global, national, local or personal. I know that lots of you do too. I know that lots of churches do. Will we pray as fervently for those caught up in ‘envelopegate’ as in the other issues I highlighted?

Can we get a bit of perspective back, please, and focus more on the more important things – matters of life and death?

Can we show some grace and compassion to all, please, recognising that everyone makes mistakes?

Can we get worked up enough about the important things in life to pray about them, and then to take action and be part of the answer to that prayer?

Be blessed, be a blessing