Olympic inspiration

As a Brit it is very difficult not to be inspired by the efforts of our Olympians. They have been excelling themselves. While it is true that many of our successes have come in sports where you sit down (cycling, rowing, sailing, equestrian, canoeing…) that is not the whole story. Nor does the Medal Table tell the whole story.

It does not tell of the athletes who gave four years of blood, sweat and tears just to participate.

It does not tell of those who may not have achieved Olympic greatness but are still the best in the country (very few of us are even the best in our street!).

It does not tell of the pride of parents, relatives and friends that the individual they know and love has been a part of this special event.

It does not tell of the hard work that has been put in by coaches, physios, equipment designers…

It does not tell of the work that has gone in to design and build the venues.

It does not tell of the thousands of willing volunteers who are helping.

And that list does not tell the whole story.

There are many people who work behind the scenes in our lives too.

Parents, family members and friends who love, support and encourage us.

The people who work behind the scenes to ensure (as far as possible) that wages / pensions / benefits reach us.

The people who grow, harvest, process, distribute and sell the food we eat.

The people who pray for us.

The people who have taught us and helped us in the past whose names and faces are blurred in our memory.

The people who go out of their way to be kind to us, who open a door for us, who let us pull out in a gap in the traffic in our cars, who smile at us…

On Sunday morning I suggested that we can learn a lot from the old hymn: “Count your blessings, name them one by one.”

How awesome would that list be? It would be a cause for an attitude of gratitude and thanks to God for all that he has given us and done for us. If it helps, think of yourself being given an award by God for your life and write an acceptance speech thanking all who have helped you. (Tears optional!)

And if you are struggling, look in your imagination to a desolate hill on the outskirts of a city where an innocent man is hanging from a cross crying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing!” and “It is finished!”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It all depends on how you look at things…

A Southern Baptist minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon. Four worms were placed into four separate jars.

The first worm was put into a jar of alcohol.

The second worm was put into a jar of cigarette smoke.

The third worm was put into a jar of chocolate syrup.

The fourth worm was put into a jar of good clean soil.

At the conclusion of the Sermon, the Minister reported the following results:

The first worm in alcohol – Dead.

The second worm in cigarette smoke – Dead.

Third worm in chocolate syrup – Dead.

Fourth worm in good clean soil – Alive.

So the Minister asked the congregation, “What can you learn from this demonstration?”

A little old woman in the back quickly raised her hand and said, “As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms.”

 

you say ‘tomato’ I say ‘tomato’

A number of years ago I was in America as part of a committee that was planning a Baptist World Youth Conference. Our host kindly took a group of us out for brunch after church on the Sunday (how civilised!) and I was amazed at what was on offer at the buffets (hot, cold, cereal), on special order and at a counter where they made omelettes to order. I decided I wanted an omelette so strolled up and joined the queue. I watched how everyone else did it and then when it was my turn pointed out the items I would like in my omelette:

“Bacon… sausage… mushroom… and tomato, please,” I said innocently.Tomato

The girl had been placing some of each item into the mixing bowl, but when it got to tomato she stopped and looked quizzically at me.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Tomato.”

[thinks] “Oh, you mean tomato,” she said.

Now at this point, in written text, that does not make sense so I ought to point out that I pronounced it “tom ar to” (ar as in car) and she said “tom ay to” (ay as in hay).

The young lady was so excited that she asked me to say it again. And then she called her colleagues over and got me to say “tomarto” again. By the time I had finished I was blushing as red as a tomayto.

I didn’t think I had a strong accent. I didn’t think I was very ‘British’. But she did.

I’m not sure why that episode came to mind this morning, but it made me wonder whether I write with a British accent too. I know I spell words differently to my friends in America, and indeed use different words for the same things. But does that show? Do you notice?

The stats I can look at about the blog tell me the country you bloggites are in when you read this. Most are from UK, then USA, then Canada, India, Australia and Germany. (I hope that when I mentioned those countries if you are from there you gave a little whoop.) For some of you there will be obvious things I write that tell you I am British. For others you will be used to it and it won’t be obvious.

I could launch into a Tower of Babel analogy here, where language became a barrier. But instead I want to go to the other end of the Bible where we have an image of people gathered to worship God from all countries and languages. We have a taste of that in our church where we have people who have joined us from many countries from across the globe (and they seem to cope with our British English). For me, one of the greatest blessings has been getting to know followers of Jesus from across the world. We may struggle to understand each other, perhaps even needing an interpreter, but what unites us is stronger. I have sat in worship services where I have not understood a word (except the mentions of Jesus) but have left blessed because I have been with fellow believers. What unites us is far more than what is different about us. That is a desire to follow Jesus and make him known. It is a sharing of the same Spirit of God within us.

I have found the same is true of believers from other Christian traditions. I used to be a bit of a Baptist bigot (as a teenager) – believing that we had all the answers and worshipped God properly. Now I realise that we worship according to our convictions, but others worship according to equally strongly held convictions and while we may disagree about them, we are united by a desire to follow Jesus and make him known. And what unites us is stronger than our differences.

So, let us look for what we have in common with others rather than what divides us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Who are you?

image

Yesterday morning we had a service of Believer’s Baptism at our church. The lady being baptised (Allison, pictured in the middle) shared her story in an incredibly honest and powerful way. From responses afterwards I am sure everyone was moved by her testimony about finding faith in the midst of a serious illness. I have not checked with her whether I can share it with you so I will leave it at that for the moment.

In conversation with her last week we talked about not being defined by our illness. I am Nick, and there are plenty of things that define me: follower of Jesus, husband, father, performer of magic tricks, lover of jokes, supporter of Ipswich Town FC, Baptist Minister, and more beside. I also happen to suffer from chronic migraine but I do not want to be defined by that illness. It is not something that defines who I am, even though it’s something that affects how I am.

That may seem like a fine line to draw, and perhaps you won’t see it, but to me it is very important. I want to be defined by positive attributes (yes, even supporting itfc can be positive!) not by negative influences.

It’s a fine line that we don’t always manage to get right. If we think about high profile people who have made public errors we often find that they are defined by those moments, not by many positive attributes and contributions. Jonathan Aitken, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ratner, even institutions like Lehman Brothers bank. Our collective memory for failures is long and lacks grace.

Sadly I think sometimes even in churches we have the same experience. We talk about being ‘sinners, saved by grace’ and sometimes major on helping people to feel like sinners rather than focusing on how we are saved by God’s grace. He has a much greater capacity to forgive, reconcile and move on than we do. There may be consequences of our actions, but God’s grace is so overwhelming that he refuses to define us by them.

If he doesn’t, we certainly shouldn’t.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(Here’s yesterday evening’s opening sermon joke for you)

Bob was bragging to his boss one day, “I know everyone there is to know. Just name someone, anyone, and I know them.”

Tired of his boasting, his boss called his bluff, “OK, Bob how about Usain Bolt?”

“Sure, yes, Usain and I are old friends, and I can prove it.” So Bob and his boss fly out to Jamaica and knock on Usain Bolt’s door, and sure enough, Usain Bolt shouts, “Bob! Great to see you! You and your friend come right in and join me for lunch! ”

Although impressed, Bob’s boss is still sceptical. After they leave the house, he tells Bob that he thinks Bob’s knowing Usain Bolt was just lucky.

“No, no, just name anyone else,” Bob says.

“Nelson Mandela,” his boss quickly retorts.

“Yes,” Bob says, “I know him; let’s fly out to South Africa.”

And off they go. As they approach the house Nelson Mandela spots Bob and motions him and his boss over, saying, “Bob, what a surprise, I was just on my way to a meeting, but you and your friend come on in and let’s have a cup of coffee first and catch up.”

Well, the boss is very shaken by now, but still not totally convinced.  After they leave South Africa, he expresses his doubts to Bob, who again implores him to name anyone else.

“The Pope,” his boss replies.

“Sure!” says Bob. “My folks are from Germany, and I’ve known the Pope a long time.”

So off they fly to Rome. Bob and his boss are assembled with the masses in Vatican Square when Bob says, “This will never work. I can’t catch the Pope’s eye among all these people. Tell you what, I know all the guards so let me just go upstairs and I’ll come out on the balcony with the Pope.”

And he disappears into the crowd headed toward the Vatican. Sure enough, half an hour later Bob emerges with the Pope on the balcony. But by the time Bob returns, he finds that his boss has had a heart attack and is surrounded by paramedics.

Working his way to his boss’ side, Bob asks him, “What happened?”

His boss looks up and says, “I was doing fine until you and the Pope came out on the balcony and the man next to me said, ‘Who’s that on the balcony with Bob?’”

demon chicken

I think my car may be possessed by a demon chicken. Out of nowhere an image has suddenly appeared on the panel that shows the time, temperature and radio station (when the radio is on). It started as a small, discreet blob and has evolved into a chicken…

What do you think? I don’t remember running over any chickens who were attempting to cross the road. I don’t think I have upset any chickens personally. I can’t understand why my car is manifesting this demon chicken. I will get worried if the engine starts clucking or eggs start dropping out of the exhaust pipe!

One of the trickiest things we have to do as human beings is interpret what we see. We all know that appearances can be deceptive. We all know that we see things through our own eyes and in the light of our own experiences. One person seeing a young man crouching over an old lady may assume a mugging, another may assume that he is helping her following a fall.

I try not to prejudge people and situations, but I know that I do it anyway. It’s a natural thing to do. I hope that I am able to override that human deficiency and be accepting and welcoming of all, regardless of what I may be telling myself about them. Some of the warmest, kindest, friendliest people I know are dismissed by others because of the way that they look. That’s a real shame.

One of the most amazing things about Jesus is that he accepted people as they were. Because of who he was, he did not make incorrect judgements about people, he knew them before he had met them, yet he did not allow this knowledge to diminish his love for them or the welcome he offered. Everyone from devout religious people to those who were discarded by society received a welcome from him, and when they were dismissed by others he seemed to go out of his way to include them all the more.

I hope and pray that his Spirit will help me be more like that.

Be blessed, be a blessing!

Rather than a joke today I am going to refer you to Savage Chickens, which is in my blogroll, for some of the best chicken-related cartoons drawn on yellow post-it notes you will ever see!

spelunking* the Corinthians

In our evening services at the moment we are working our way through 1 Corinthians. It’sUnderground a bit like exploring a series of caves. It’s dark and murky in places but you keep coming into new chambers in which there are spectacular formations that take your breath away.

Sunday evening is no exception. We will be looking at chapter 5, in which Paul takes the church to task not simply for tolerating immorality but apparently embracing it. There’s a lot of murk, but in the midst is a reminder that we are sincere and true followers of Jesus in a dark and murky world.

This is a tension with which we all live. We know God’s standards, yet we fail to reach them. Just when it feels like we are doing well we find a new way to fall short of those standards, or slip back into old habits. That can be true of churches as well as individuals.

To the church in Corinth Paul warns of the effect of yeast. Yeast, in most biblical illustrations, is something small and insidious that permeates and affects the whole person or church. Yeast, for us, are the little things that have the potential to blow up into something massive.

The church that embraces immorality will find its message being ignored by those who hear it because they are being hypocritical.

The church that embraces greed will find that people write it off as ‘only after our money’.

The church that embraces pride will find that people consider that they look down their noses at others.

The church that is riddled with divisions will find that people are not interested – they have more than enough conflict in their lives already.

And the same is true of us as individuals.

Here lies the tension. We know that (whether a church or individuals) we are not perfect. We know that we fall short of God’s standards. We know that people who come in will find themselves feeling very uncomfortable if we are ‘holier than thou’.

How do we create church / be believers who are intolerant of our own sin while not condemning the sin of others, while being open and welcoming to all, while being free samples of Jesus in his world?

Perhaps the answer lies in being people who draw in the sand rather than throw stones. People who, while we recognise our own sin and wrestle with it, refuse to transfer our feelings about it onto others. People who will not condemn, but don’t condone.

Thank God he has given us his Spirit to help us!

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

A party of Methodist ministers was attending an Annual Conference at a private countryside resort. Several of them set off to explore the area, and presently they came upon an old bridge that crossed a quiet pond.

Unfortunately, they didn’t notice a sign declaring the bridge to be unsafe. As they crossed it, the caretaker came running after them. “Hey! You there! Get off that bridge!” he protested.

“It’s all right,” declared one of the ministers, “we are in this resort with permission. We’re Methodists from the Conference.”

“I’m not worried about THAT,” replied the caretaker. “But if you don’t get off that bridge, you’ll all be BAPTISTS!”

 

*spelunking is the American word for potholing or caving