the best laid plans

Today I am having a day off, and it is proving to be quite a mixed event. In anticipating the day ahead of me I had some plans in mind of what I was going to do to relax. And since I woke up other things have started to invade the space I have today and are taking control. I had planned to go out, but as Robbie Burns wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gan aglay.”

For example, it’s a nice sunny day today. So we could do with me doing a couple of loads of washing. But that means me being around to load and unload the washing machine and then to hang out the wet clothes. This is best done in the morning so there is a good opportunity for the clothes to dry. So I need to stay home this morning.

And then I had some messages that several different items that have been ordered online are going to be delivered today. One is a pair of concert tickets I ordered months ago, the other are a couple of items I only ordered yesterday and which were despatched in record time. It is good to receive notifications that these items will be delivered today, but I don’t know when so I have to wait in for both of those to be delivered. And one of them contains a light that will need fixing up outside the house, so that’s another job for the day. If you have read any of my bloggages about deliveries then you will know I have low-level paranoia about this so I have already checked that the doorbell works and that the sign showing where it is is still visible.

And then there’s the reason for this photo. No, I am not intentionally pointing to the frown lines on my head, I am trying to show the mark on my head that was caused by me getting dressed this morning. I bent down to open a drawer in order to get some clothes out and made several misjudgements: (a) how far away I was from the chest of drawers (b) how long my arms were to reach down into the bottom drawer (c) that my head was connected to my torso and when I bent forwards my head would move towards the top of the chest of drawers (d) how dopey I am.

I leant forward and down into the bottom drawer but before my hands could reach the clothes I was trying to get my head reached the top of the chest of drawers. It wasn’t a major impact. I am not concussed or in need of a visit to hospital. It was more of a surprise. But for a while there was a noticeable red mark and it may be that a bruise emerges (hypochondriac? me?). The initial red mark was much more noticeable than this photograph shows and it made me wonder about going out today as people might stare at me.

The combination of all of these things (coupled with me taking the time to write this bloggage) means that I may well not go out today because of a number of circumstances beyond my control.

How often do we have to adjust our plans and ideas because of circumstances beyond our control? Unless you have decided to become a hermit and live a self-sufficient lifestyle in a remote cave somewhere (in which case how have you got internet access to read this?) you will be living in the reality that other people will make an impact on your life. Sometimes that may be negative, other times it may be positive. But we have to respond and react to all of these other people as well as to many other unforeseen events.

It has been said that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. I think that’s rather a sad parody of how things are. I think God really does want us to share our thoughts, ambitions, plans and hopes with him. But not so he can mock us and hit the ‘smite’ key on is computer. Rather it is with the attitude that as he is God it would be a rather wise thing to consult and involve him in our life. The pattern for prayer that Jesus taught encourages people to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that if we pray and share our plans with God in that attitude it makes him smile rather than laugh – smile because he delights to work with us to help shape our lives, to walk with us in the tough times and dance with us in the joyful ones.

Although there may have been a divine snigger when I banged my head this morning!

Be blessed, be a blessing

Uncertainty principles

We are hosting a barbecue tonight. In order to give our potential guests enough warning that they were able to come we had made the invitation at the weekend. The problem is that we live in Britain and it’s summer. There’s no guarantee that the weather will be suitable for barbecues at any given time. We hope that it’s going to be nice weather so that we can all go outside and enjoy the garden while I cremate the food.

The last time we had a barbecue the sun decided to hide behind some rainclouds and the rainclouds decided to empty themselves on us. Cooking a barbecue under an umbrella is difficult because you have to use one hand to hold the brolly and because it also seems to be a collecting point for the smoke! But we will manage.

The weather forecast gives us a guide. It tells us that heavy rain is on its way, but it should be gone by the time our guests arrive. I hope so.

Life is full of uncertainty. Because we exist in a unidirectional timeline we can only know what has happened and what is happening. We cannot know the future. Anyone who claims to be able to do so is either lucky or a fool (or a lucky fool). I’m not talking about prophecy here, but the normal, everyday, run of the mill life that we lead. We may plan on the basis of what we hope or expect but we cannot know for sure what will happen.

This means we have to be adaptable. Refusing to respond to changed circumstances results in confusion and calamity.

I think one of the biggest difficulties that churches face is adapting to change. The old joke is: how many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? Change??!

But churches are slow to adapt to change, if they change at all. Perhaps one reason is the struggle we have determining what aspects of our faith are immutable, unchangeable, and what are variable according to cultural change. We may well be confident in the timeless truth of the Bible, but while we are happy to wear clothes made of mixed fibres and break a Levitical rule we are unhappy when people suggest that other rules can be broken. See, for example, the public struggles in the Church of England about women in leadership and human sexuality. Can we say that the truth is timeless while interpreting that truth in different ways in each era? I think we find ourselves in difficulty when we try to use the Bible as a rigid rule book rather than a revelation of God’s principles for life. To me the Bible reveals more about God’s mercy, care for the marginalised and grace than it does about religious rule-keeping. Have a’look at Jesus’ responses to the religious rule regulators in the New Testament… we can respond more easily if we live by principles rather than rules.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

And hopefully the weather will be nice tonight.

the adaptability anachronism

I have had computer problems this week. My computer crashed.

This has had a number of knock-on effects…

I had been given a new laptop (the ‘old’ one was less than 3 weeks old).

I have had to reinstall all my software again.

I have had to reload all my files (thankfully I had done a back up to an external drive the previous day).

I have had to spend a lot of un-planned-for time doing all of this.

But the most frustrating thing of all was that it crashed while I was working on Sunday morning’s sermon. My notes and two-thirds-written sermon have vanished. So today, instead of spending some time with people and sailing my boat with them, I will be back in the study praying that God hasn’t forgotten what he wants me to say and that I can hear him again.

I am not sure if I am more disappointed at the  loss of the sermon or the loss of the sailing with friends. My sailing boat is relaxing for me and a good opportunity to spend some time with friends and catch up with them. It is also really enjoyable. The sermon, on the other hand, may have needed another day spending on it.

We often have to adapt to our circumstances as they change. Evolutionary Biologists will tell you that this ability to adapt is one of the reasons that humans are at the top of the food chain.

I think that Christians ought to be very adaptable people too. The book of Acts in the Bible could be renamed the book of Adapts: Jesus’ followers had to rethink so many different things as they learnt and discovered what it meant to follow him in what could be hostile and antagonistic environments. And while there are many ways in which we should not conform to the way the ‘world’ is, and we believe in a God who is unchanging in his love, justice, mercy and grace, there is every reason why we should adapt to our circumstances just as the Adapts of The Apostles records in the early church…

So why is it that Christians seem so reluctant to adapt, to embrace change, to be flexible? We can come across as Luddites: people who resist change at all costs. I dare to say that if our first century ancestors had been as inflexible as we can be, the church may not have made it into the second century!

We need to discern what is immutable in our faith and what is changeable in our traditions. I suspect if we asked Jesus that question his response would be far more generous and far wider than we might be!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

An Amishman lived on a quiet, rural highway. But, as time went by, the traffic slowly built up at an alarming rate. It became so heavy and so fast that his chickens were being run over at a rate of three to six a day. So he called the sheriff’s office and said, “You’ve got to do something about all of these tourists driving so fast and killing all of my chickens.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked the sheriff.

“I don’t care, just do something about these drivers.”

So the next day the sheriff had the county go out and put up a sign that said: SLOW: SCHOOL CROSSING. Three days later, the Amishman again called the sheriff and said, “That sign didn’t help a bit. They are still hitting my chickens.”

So the next day, the county put up a sign that said: SLOW: CHILDREN AT PLAY.

Again, no change. So the Amishman called and called, every day for three weeks. Finally, he told the sheriff, “Look, your signs are just not working. Mind if I put up one of my own?”

The sheriff told him, “Sure thing, let’s see if yours works better.”

He was willing to agree to anything to get him to stop those daily calls. Well, the sheriff got no more calls from the Amishman. After three weeks, he decided to call the Amishman and see how things were going.

“Did you put up your sign?”

“Oh, I sure did. And not one chicken has been killed since. I’ve got to go. I’m very busy.” And he hung up the phone.

The sheriff thought to himself, “I’d better go have a look at that sign. There might be something there that WE could use to slow down drivers…”

So the sheriff drove out to the Amishman’s house, and he saw the sign. It was on a whole sheet of plywood. Written in large, yellow letters were the words: NUDIST COLONY.

simplicity

A local school is using our church premises for their Carols Services and Nativity plays. This morning I was showing our premises to a couple of members of staff from the school and trying to sort out some of the details.

As we looked at the church I tried to see things through the eyes of the staff members rather than through my familiar eyes. What is unfamiliar? What is ‘sacrosanct’? What can we move? What can be done to help? How can we adapt what we do to accommodate the school?

Those questions, relating to our premises, can also be helpfully applied to our lives as followers of Jesus. What aspects of following Jesus are unfamiliar to many people and need to be explained? What aspects of following Jesus are non-negotiable, and what can be changed? What can I do to help make Jesus more accessible to those around me? How can I adapt my practices and habits to serve those around me?

The non-negotiables are often the sticking points for us as churches and as individuals because we sometimes have different views on what those should be. This is often where we end up disagreeing over doctrine. I reckon that for God the non-negotiables are far fewer than we have. I have a sneaking suspicion that ‘faith in Jesus’ might be the absolute essential, if the experience of the thief on the cross is anything to go by and if we listen hard to the words of Jesus. The rest flows from that starting point.

Can it be as simple as that? Dare we allow it to be as simple as that?

 

blerggh

Still feeling grotty today. Inspiration is at a low ebb and it feels like I am trying to think through custard.

If that last simile is not proof enough of my lack of creativity or coherence I don’t know what is!

So I will simply offer you a thought – whether a glass is half full or half empty there’s still water in it if you are thirsty – and a joke from across the pond:

There is a story about a new clerk in a supermarket. A customer asked him if she could buy half a grapefruit. Not knowing what to do, he excused himself to ask the manager.

“Some nut out there wants to buy half a grapefruit…” he began, and, suddenly realizing that the customer had entered the office behind him, continued, ” … and this lovely lady would like to buy the other half.”

The manager was impressed with the way the clerk amicably resolved the problem and they later started chatting. “Where are you from?” asked the store manager.

“Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” replied the clerk, “home of ugly women and great hockey teams.”

“Oh, my *WIFE* is from Lancaster,” challenged the manager.

Without skipping a beat, the clerk asked, “What team was she on?”

adaptability

Remember 1Don’t you just hate it when you think of something important or significant but can’t make a note of it, and when you need to remember that thought all you can remember is that it was important or significant? I have that sensation about this morning’s blog entry. I am sure I had a good idea yesterday but did not have the chance to record it, and now I am reduced to blogging about the failure to remember such an important or significant thought.

Still, it’s not all wasted. At least it has given me something to blog about!

My experience of God is that he does the same with us. He might have something important or significant that he wants us to do, but we forget it, ignore him or simply refuse to do it. Does that mean we have then blown it? Does that mean that God is going to give up on us? No. He adapts to us. He accommodates his plans to our weakness and goes with a different version of Plan A or even moves to Plan B. That’s grace!

As a teenager I can remember being almost paralysed with fear at the idea that God has a specific plan for my life and that I could blow it if I did not follow it specifically. I have come to realise that this is not so. His plans for us are to live as followers of Jesus, to allow his Spirit to change us gently so that we are more like the people he has created us to become. There may be specific moments when he has a specific task that he would like us to carry out, a special calling to follow or something he wants us to say to someone else. But I do not believe that he has a roadmap for my life which I must follow religiously (I use the word advisedly). Rather I believe the analogy is more like he has a destination for me and some places he would like me to visit en route. This is not a free licence to go anywhere and do anything. There are parameters to the journey. There are directions he would not want me to go in and ways he would not want me to drive.

But rather than fret about what they may be, my experience is that I can find the parameters and directions to avoid, the guidance about how to drive in the Bible (his Highway Code, to stretch the analogy to breaking point!). I can discern special moments when his Spirit prompts me in different ways and I find that he usually makes it very clear on those occasions so I can’t claim to have missed them, even if I have ignored or disobeyed him.

Enjoy the journey today!


Three men were trekking through a jungle when they came across a violent, raging river. They had no idea how to cross. So the first man decided to pray.

‘Please, God, give me the strength to cross this river.’ Immediately he grew enormous muscles in his arms and legs, and he managed to swim across the river in a couple of hours, nearly drowning twice.

The second man saw this and he prayed ‘Please, God, give me the strength AND the tools to cross this river.’ A boat appeared from nowhere, and he battled across the river in an hour, nearly capsizing twice.

The third man saw this and prayed ‘Please, God, give me the strength, the tools AND the intelligence to cross this river.’ 

Immediately he turned into a woman. She looked at the map, walked upstream a hundred yards, and crossed over the bridge to the other side.

the times, they are a changin’

I have a visit to the Dentist this morning. This is to repair a filling that has fallen out. The filling was under guarantee. I find that incredible – that a filling is guaranteed for a year. I would like to think it should last longer than a year, but it is mainly the thought that something like having a filling now needs to come with a guarantee. In the good old days they never used to offer a guarantee. Fillings would last. End of story. The offer of a guarantee is supposed to reassure me, I know, but it seems to suggest to me that there is an expectation that it might fail.

And then there are the banks. No, I am not going to have a go at bonuses or dodgy loans. Butsome of them had January Sales. What? Does this mean that we will be able to withdraw £30 but it will only cost us £25? I don’t think so. From what I can gather it just means that they will charge us a bit less on the money we borrow. That does not seem like a sale to me. It’s a discounted rate at best.

Please do not misunderstand me. I don’t think I am turning into a grumpy old man just yet. I am not really complaining. I am simply observing some of the changes in the culture in which I exist. And that’s the point. We need to be observers and analysts of the culture in which we live in order that we can be able to ‘discern the times’.

Jesus was brilliant at reading his culture (well he would be, wouldn’t he). But look at the stories he told,. They were all culturally relevant. He helped people understand faith because he could relate it to the world in which they lived.

So what might it mean that dentists are offering a guarantee on their fillings and that banks are having sales? I am not sure. I think there is something there about the permanence of the change God brings about in us – he does not fill in the gaps caused by decay, he renews and restores. I think there is something about God’s generosity – he offers us free forgiveness having paid the cost entirely…

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. 

(Mat 16:1-4)


This story may have been better in my recent post about transfer windows, but it’s here because it’s about how well we know things…

The Search Committee had invited a young preacher to come over to their church for the interview. The committee chairman asked, “Son, do you know the Bible pretty well?” 

The young minister said, “Yes, pretty well.” 

The chairman asked, “Which part do you know best?” He responded saying, “I know the New Testament best.” 

“Which part of the New Testament do you know best,” asked the chairman. 

The young minister said, “Several parts.” 

The chairman said, “Well, why don’t you tell us the story of the Prodigal Son.” 

The young man said, “Fine. There was a man of the Pharisees name Nicodemus, who went down to Jericho by night and he fell upon stony ground and the thorns choked him half to death. 

“The next morning Solomon and his wife, Gomorrah, came by, and carried him down to the ark for Moses to take care of. But, as he was going through the Eastern Gate into the Ark, he caught his hair in a limb and he hung there forty days and forty nights and he afterwards did hunger. And, the ravens came and fed him.

“The next day, the three wise men came and carried him down to the boat dock and he caught a ship to Ninevah. And when he got there he found Delilah sitting on the wall. He said, “Chunk her down, boys, chunk her down.” And, they said, “How many times shall we chunk her down, till seven time seven?” And he said, “Nay, but seventy times seven.” And they chucked her down four hundred and ninety times.


“And, she burst asunder in their midst. And they picked up twelve baskets of the leftovers. And, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be?”

The Committee chairman suddenly interrupted the young minister and said to the remainder of the committee, “I think we ought to ask the church to call him as our minister.

He is awfully young, but he sure does know his Bible.”