edited highlights

I recorded the Super Bowl last night. I had a cunning plan. The thinking was that I would be able to watch it and fast forward through all of the ad breaks and delays: bringing the length of the game back down to one hour.

Of course the problem was that then I needed to ensure I did not see the result of the game in order to be able to watch it “as live”. I did pretty well. Then I woke up. Suddenly I found the result was everywhere and unless I had some form of media blackout (no radio, TV, Internet) it would have been impossible not to have found that the result. It was about as pointless as the Saturday evening TV news broadcasts are when they tell you to “look away now if you don’t want to know the results” and then proceed to speak out loud about the day’s football matches. (Do they think that by looking away we will not be able to hear them?)

So I have given in. I have accepted that I know the result… I may still watch the programme, however, because it sounds like it was quite an exciting match.

the thought occurred to me that sometimes we trying to treat the Bible like it was a recording of the Super Bowl. We skip over or fast forward beyond the bits that we find difficult or uncomfortable or would rather weren’t there at all. Unlike screening out the adverts and extraneous fluff from the Super Bowl, if we do that to the Bible we miss some incredible insights and this can also lead to failing to understand the bits we do want to read because we have lost some of the context or content.

This is one of the reasons why I really enjoy preaching through a book of the Bible. It forces us to look at and confront some difficult issues and questions. It makes us ask the questions like, “is God really like that?” or, “what did that mean when it was written down first?” which will help us to understand what God might be saying to us today.

So rather than picking and choosing bits from the Bible can I encourage you to take passages as a whole, not neglecting what has been said before and what will come afterwards. And if it sounds dodgy, difficult or dangerous then we need to do some work, wrestle, wrangle – while recognising that we can never fully understand the mind of God.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Reasons why students should not be allowed to write the Bible – it might turn out something like this:

Instead of God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh, He would have put it off until the night before it was due and then pulled an all-nighter.

The Last Supper would have been eaten the next morning–cold.

The Ten Commandments would actually be only five–double-spaced and written in a large font.

A new edition would be published every two years in order to limit reselling.

Forbidden fruit would have been eaten because it wasn’t cafeteria food.

Paul’s letter to the Romans would become Paul’s email to abuse@romans.gov.

Reason Cain killed Abel: they were roommates.

Reason why Moses and followers walked in the desert for 40 years: they didn’t want to ask directions and look like first years.

 

learning from elephants

Apparently there’s an Indian parable about four blind men who encounter an elephant. One finds the trunk and describes a very different animal to the person who finds the tail. Another finds a leg and describes a very different beast to the one who feels the elephant’s ear. The parable is supposed to tell us that different faiths are merely different ways of describing God.

Now I am NOT saying that there is no truth or good in other faiths. But the message of Jesus is, in my opinion, pretty exclusive. He is the only one whose death makes a difference to our relationship with God. He is the only one whose resurrection affirms our hope of resurrection and offers eternal life.

However that parable seems to me to be apt if applied to the gospels. What we have are four eyewitnesses who are describing the same thing but from different perspectives. Matthew, writing for a predominantly Jewish audience tells us how the Jesus narrative fulfils the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus IS the Promised One. Luke, writing for a predominantly non-Jewish reader, wants to emphasise how anyone can be a follower of Jesus. He sets out to write ‘an orderly account’. Mark is in a hurry (look how many times he writes ‘immediately’ or ‘the next day’). He writes about Jesus probably to a community under duress, to reassure them of who Jesus is and encourage them in their faith. God wins. John looks at things very differently (I think he got the trunk!). Instead of a chronological narrative John takes events from Jesus’ life and comments on them for us. Indeed my own theory is that what we have with John is a collection of his sermons. He affirms who Jesus is through his words and actions, which are ‘signs’ to lead his listeners / readers to faith.

It is assumed that Matthew and Luke had sight of Mark’s gospel when they wrote because the order of events and the events recorded are very similar to Mark, but they have added details for their readers. That may be so. I don’t have a problem with them doing that. But even if they used Mark’s structure they told the narrative in ways that were relevant and appropriate to their audience.

That’s a lesson for us all today. How can we tell the Jesus narrative in ways that are relevant to the people we encounter? On Sunday evening we will have a go at this by watching the film ‘Despicable Me’ and seeing what it reveals to us of the gospel of Jesus and how it relates to people today. If you are in Colchester on Sunday evening (6pm) you would be very welcome to join us and join in.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Another elephant-related lesson:

At the College / Minister Factory where I trained we were asked the question, “How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer: “One mouthful at a time.”

Don’t get hung up on the ethics of eating elephants or endangered species issues, the elephant is imaginary. It was intended as another parable about how you tackle big problems.

the Bible of …

On my desk I have a book that is described as ‘the Bible of card tricks’. It’s a classic, admittedly, but why describe it as a Bible?

Is it because it is inspired by God? Hmmm. I don’t think so.

Is it because it was written by many different authors over hundreds of years yet has a common theme and synergy? Erm… Nope.

Is it because it reveals God to us? Um… no, even the most impressive of tricks only bamboozle and amaze.

So what do people mean? I suspect that they mean that it is the book… the only one you will need. The book is so comprehensive that it renders other books superfluous. Isn’t it interesting that this is how people view the Bible? The book… the only one you will need. The book that is so comprehensive that it renders other books superfluous… about God and his interaction with us.

I wonder if some people who do not follow Jesus have a higher view of the Bible than some of his followers! The Bible stands alone. It is not described by reference to other books. It is not the ‘Royal Road to Card Magic of religious books’. It is The Bible.

We are invited, urged, encouraged to read it ourselves on a regular basis (not just leaving it to the reading in church on Sunday) because through it God holds a mirror up to us, offers guidance and encouragement, asks questions, SHOUTS, rebukes, blesses, and lifts the corner of the veil so we can glimpse him. It’s incredible to think that while the Bible tells us all we need to know about God, it does not tell us everything there is to know about him!

So, if there’s one nearby, open it and see what he has for you.

(My insecurities would like me to point out that there are two Bibles on my desk as well.)

A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.

Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.

“Hey,” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”

The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”

The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.

“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”

rutting

Because of busyness today I prepared Sunday morning’s sermon yesterday. (Thursday is my preferred preparation day). That has left me feeling slightly bereft this morning. It is not my normal routine and it feels a bit strange. I think I will have to get used to this because my colleague, Lynsey, is now on maternity leave so I will be having a heavier Sunday workload for a while. How do my colleagues in ministry who are sole ministers cope? I have been so privileged to minister in teams!

Anyhoo. Routines. They can be a bad thing. There is apparently a roadsign in some parts of Africa (or Alaska, or Australia depending on what you read – it just has to be somewhere that begins and ends with ‘a’) that reads ‘Choose your rut carefully as you will be in it for some time.’ This sounds like an apocryphal story (but if anyone has a photo of such a sign I would love a copy). However the message is appropriate. We can find ourselves in a rut, just carrying on with the same activity without thinking about whether it is helpful, or if it is still what God wants us to be doing. This can be true of us as individuals as well as churches. It can be true of bad habits. It can  be distracting and destructive from our calling to follow Jesus and make him known as we take our eyes off him and carry on unthinkingly.

But they can also be healthy. I was chatting with someone this week about daily Bible readings. The date thing can be quite guilt-inducing if ‘Every Day With Jesus’ has turned into ‘Every Other Day With Jesus’. We feel that we have let him down and the date could even be a discouragement because we may not want to be reminded of our failure so we leave the book closed. But, my colleague pointed out, if we can get into a daily routine there is a flow and a rhythm to our engagement with God. It does not have to be legalistic but it can be so beneficial because we naturally turn to the Bible each day rather than having to remember to do so.

I receive two emails each day. One is from Wordlive (Scripture Union) and the other from Kore. Both are free to subscribe to and both provide me with a routine of Bible reading. The Wordlive email has thoughts and links to other reflections and activities on their website. The Kore Red Letter Days email simply has some words of Jesus. I am also working my way through the E100 Bible readings. These are supposed to be the essential 100 passages in the Bible which, if you read them, will give you a good overview of the whole Bible narrative. This is something I can access from my phone. (Other Bible reading routines are available!)

So what’s your routine?

superpowers

On the notice board in the office I share at the church with my fellow Minister, Lynsey, I have a cross-stitch that was made for me by one of our members. On it is a verse from Philippians 4:13

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

*picture used with permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bizior

That blesses me when I look at it for several reasons. One is the truth of the passage. It is not suggesting that I can have superpowers or become omnicompetent. I have sometimes wondered what superpower I would like to have. Flying is an obvious one, but then running as fast as Dash in the Incredibles would be cool. Becoming invisible would have its advantages when I want to disappear and for eavesdropping but that seems a bit sneaky. Superstrength is attractive, but bulging biceps and other muscles would mean I have to buy an entire new wardrobe and I can’t afford that. Superduper hearing might be useful but could I focus on just one conversation or would I be inundated by noise?

I am not sure about superpowers. But there is truth that if I rely on God’s strength to do the things he calls me to do then I can achieve them. The great thing is that in those circumstances I can point to God as the one who has enabled it to happen rather than claim any credit for myself.

Another reason that the cross-stitch blesses me is that it was done for me. Someone took the time and trouble to find the appropriate verse and then stitch it onto the cloth. They could have just written it down or told me the verse, but there is care and dedication in the cross-stitch for which I am very grateful.

The final way that I am blessed by the cross-stitch is a combination of the previous ones. Someone else has found the verse to be true and the cross-stitch is a reminder of their testimony as well as an encouragement to me for mine.

Who can you encourage today? How can you show them care and dedication in the way that you express that encouragement? What part of the Bible might be appropriate to share with someone?

A guy walks into a bar on top of a sky scraper. He sits down next to a guy with glasses who looks like he had a little more booze than he can handle.

The spectacle-wearer looks at the bartender and then at the man who just walked in and says “Hey, did you know that this building is constructed in such a way that if I was to jump out the window the wind would glide me safely to the ground?”.

The man, who decided he could use a laugh said, “Prove it”.

So the guy walks over to the window and jumps out. he glides gently to the ground. A few minutes later he walks back into the bar and says, “Told ya”.

He looks at the bartender who is shaking his head and laughing. The man says, “Do that again”. So the glasses-wearing dude does it again.

The stranger comes back in and the astonished man says, “I’m gonna try that!” He walks out to the window and jumps out. He falls 100 stories to his death. The bartender looks at the man with glasses and says, “You know, you are have a nasty side to you when you’re drinking, Superman.”

It’s just a joke about fictional characters – no real people were injured in the telling of this joke!

Be blessed, be a blessing

surprise blessings

Okay, I have managed to fit in a quick blog (200th today).

I was so blessed and surprised recently when the kind young man (thanks Chris) who operated the video camera at our church to show the recent baptisms on the big screen presented me with a DVD of Thomas being baptised. They had had one or two technical problems with the first two baptisms but miraculously had sorted them by the time Thomas came to be baptised.

Why was it a blessing? Because I had not expected it and it is now something that we can show people who could not be there (like my Mother-in-Law who was devastated that she missed it). It was also a blessing because it is a reminder of a special spiritual moment.

In many ways that is what the Bible is – a reminder of special spiritual moments of encounters with God. Like Thomas’s baptism they were special at the time, and they are special today because we still encounter God through them. Of course the Bible is MUCH more than that (cue reminder to finish Sunday morning’s sermon on John 1). What special spiritual moments have you had this week? What did God say? What did you learn? Write it down or draw a picture or write a song or do something to record that so that in the future God can remind you of what he said and the blessing is multiplied.

A teenager is…
– A person who can’t remember to walk the dog but never forgets a phone number.
– A weight watcher who goes on a diet by giving up chocolate before breakfast.
– A youngster who receives her allowance on Monday, spends it on Tuesday, and borrows it from her best friend on Wednesday.
– Someone who can hear his favourite singer 3 blocks away but not his mother calling from the next room.
– A whizz who can operate the latest computer without a lesson but can’t make a bed.
– A student who spends 12 minutes studying history and 12 hours studying for her driver’s licence.
– A connoisseur of 2 kinds of fine music–loud and very loud.
– An enthusiast who has the energy to bike for miles but is usually too tired to dry the dishes.
– A young woman who loves the cat and tolerates the brother.
– A romantic who never falls in love more than once a week.
– A budding beauty who never smiles until her braces come off.
– A boy who can sleep till noon on any Saturday he suspects the lawn needs mowing.
– An original thinker who is positive that her mother was never a teenager.

holidays are coming….

As we approach August and holidays I am anticipating that these blog entries will become more intermittent than at present. You may be pleased at that thought – you will have less corny jokes to groan at and will be able to spend a little more time doing other things.

Let me offer you one thing that you could do. Last Sunday morning I was preaching on Jesus meeting the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18ff) and was captivated by Jesus’ comment to him that after all he was doing he still lacked one thing. I found myself being asked the question: “What do you lack?” How can my relationship with God be improved? How can I be a better follower of Jesus? If you are interested, you can listen to the sermon on a page on our church website, here.

The answer to those questions is ‘something and nothing’. Nothing – because it is God’s Spirit at work in us who changes and transforms us. Something – because we need to give him permission and there may be things we can do to help him. One of the suggestions I made was for people to read through Luke’s gospel during the month of August – start to finish. At a rate of one chapter a day it will only take 24 days, giving you some space for when you forget or it gets crowded out by other things.

I am planning to do this myself in the expectation that I will discover more about the Jesus I follow, more about what it means to follow him, and more about myself. I am quite excited about the prospect. What about you?

Lesser-known Bible contents
Tennis is mentioned: ‘Joseph served in the courts of Pharaoh’
There’s a motorbike: ‘Joshua’s triumph was heard throughout the land’
There’s a small man: Nehemiah (knee-high Miah)
There’s a smaller man: The man who fell asleep on his watch
There’s a financial adviser: Noah floated his stock while everyone else went into liquidation
There’s a stand-up comic: Samson brought the house down

it is finished

I have finished. I can’t quite believe it. It should have been a very difficult task. I should be struggling through it. I should be looking for distractions that will keep me from the task. But it happened so quickly and easily that I am now wondering whether I have got it right!

What have I finished?

The sermon I am going to preach at my Mum’s wedding this weekend.

It’s a strange feeling, writing a sermon to preach at my Mum’s wedding. What can I say to her? What will she think? What will her new husband think of his son-in-law preaching to him? Will I get away with some of the jokes? (If I do I may share them on my blog next week – if I am still alive!)

The good news (and what I am relying on) is that I am not basing my words on my experience or being nominated as the best husband in the world. It would be an extremely short sermon if I was! My words are based on God’s word. Preaching is an amazing experience where the same Spirit who inspired lots of different people to write things down about God over many centuries is the same one who inspires as I read those words two millennia later (at least) and is the same one who gives me words to say and then inspires them in the hearts and minds of those who listen. It’s an immense privilege. Not just to do that at my Mother’s wedding, but to do it week in, week out.

TRUE story about preaching

A famous Baptist preacher was on a preaching tour in Africa. It was his tradition to ask his interpreters how you say ‘Good morning’ in the local dialect so he could begin his sermon with those words.

One morning, as he walked from the vestry into the main church he went past two doors which, from the symbols on them, were clearly the ladies and gents toilets. There were words on the doors which he decided to add to ‘good morning’ in the local dialect.


Rustic Lavatory Signs 1Rustic Lavatory Signs 2At the start of his sermon he stood up and said what he thought was “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.”

There was a stunned silence.

Then one or two sniggers.

Eventually the whole congregation was roaring with laughter.

Confused, he turned to his interpreter and asked, “What did I just say?”

The interpreter grinned. “You just said, ‘Good morning water closets and urinals!'”

Bob is contagious

My car is called ‘Shrek’. That is because when you look at its shadow when the sun is behind you the sticky-out wing mirrors and bulky body shell make it look like the animated character Shrek’s head. The observant among you will have noticed that while the car in the picture bears a strong resemblance to Shrek (my car not the animated character) there is a fundamental difference. Can you spot it for 100 points?

Sadly Shrek has been poorly. He caught the automotive version of Bob (see ‘Side efftects’ blog last week if you don’t understand that reference) and has been coughing and spluttering since. He had a service last week (after he had caught autoBob) and they did lots of lovely things to it to help Shrek run better. But they did not cure Shrek of autoBob. After the service, when he was running smoothly he sounded really happy that he had had a service. But then from time to time he coughed and spluttered again, sounding like a VW camper van rather than a well-tuned Renault.

Today the mechanics cured Shrek of autoBob. Apparently one or two of the ignition coils were failing. They replaced all of them (on the basis that if one or two were failing the others would go soon). I am hoping now that the car is happy and will not suffer any further complications from autoBob, or side effects from the treatment. (What is the automotive equivalent of Black Hairy Tongue? Suggestions welcome!).

Illness is a strange thing, robbing us of our normal ‘joie de vivre’, that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that we have when we feel healthy… and speaking French apparently. I think that there are times when we suffer from the spiritual equivalent of Bob or autoBob. Following Jesus becomes more of a struggle than a joy and we find that our spiritual get up and go has got up and gone.

I have found that when I become aware that this is what has happened to me God helps me to recover – usually through a combination of being refreshed by taking time and space to read the Bible and pray, listening to (and sometimes singing along with) inspiring music and receiving encouragement and blessing from the ministry of others. The key thing is to realise that we have caught GodBob. How are you feeling?

Car-related humour. Genuine statements written on insurance claim forms, sent to me by a friend in the industry:

“The car in front hit the pedestrian but he got up so I hit him again.”
“I started to slow down but the traffic was more stationary than I thought.”

“A car drove away at speed catching our client who went up in the air and his head went through the windscreen and then rolled off at the traffic lights a good few feet away. The car then sped off and miraculously our client remained conscious and managed to cross the road.”

“I am responsible for the accident as I was miles away at the time.”

“I had one eye on a parked car, another on approaching lorries, and another on the woman behind”.

“I knew the dog was possessive about the car but I would not have asked her to drive it if I had thought there was any risk.”

“While proceeding through ‘Monkey Jungle’, the vehicle was enveloped by small fat brown grinning monkeys. Number three fat brown monkey (with buck teeth) proceeded to swing in an anticlockwise direction on the radio aerial. Repeated requests to desist were ignored. Approximately 2 minutes and 43 seconds later, small fat brown monkey disappeared in ‘Monkey Jungle’ clutching radio aerial.”

“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in- law and headed over the embankment.”

“To avoid hitting the bumper of the car in front I struck the pedestrian.”

“I was thrown from the car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.”

A customer collided with a cow. The questions and answers on the claim form were:
Q – What warning was given by you?
A – Horn
Q – What warning was given by the other party?
A – Moo

 

what to preach?

Sooo, you’re preaching at your mother’s wedding in just over a week’s time and have been asked to provide a reading (from the Bible). What to choose?

Best to avoid some of the Proverbs (“a nagging wife is like a dripping tap”, “better to live on the roof than share a house with a nagging wife” and so on). Keeping well clear of Song of Songs (or Snog of Snogs as I think it should be better named) to avoid blushing, although the temptation to preach on SoS 7:2 “Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine” was briefly there. Avoiding all references to Lot’s wife (who, according to the apocyphal Sunday School blooper was a “pillar of salt by day and a pillar of fire by night.”) Ensuring I do not confuse 1 John 4:18 (“perfect love drives out fear”) with John 4:18 (“You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.”)

Calculator

I’m not going to tell you what I have chosen (that would spoil the surprise for anyone who reads this and goes to the wedding) but if you want to guess I will confirm if you are right. After all, there are only 1,189 chapters and 31,103 verses to choose from! Statistically the middle chapter of the Bible is Psalm 118. There are 594 chapters before it, 594 chapters after it and if you add those two together you get 1,188. The middle verse of the Bible is Psalm 118:8. What do you make of that? Some people (if you check out their websites) think it is amazing.

But I am less impressed. Firstly because in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts there were no verses or chapters. They have been added later to help us find our way around, a bit like the section headings in some versions of the Bible. The second reason I am unimpressed is that someone has spent a lot of time working all of that maths out (I got it off a website). That’s like having a Bugatti Veyron (mega-expensive high performance sports car) and only reading the manual that comes with it rather than driving it. The Bible is such an incredible book (to describe it as a book is rather underplaying it) that it begs to be read so that we encounter God. Which bits have you read lately?

Visiting his grandparents, a small boy opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out. He picked it up and found that it was an old leaf that had been pressed flat between the pages. “Mum, look what I found,” he called out.

“What have you got there, dear?” his mother asked.”

With astonishment in his voice, the boy answered, “I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”

A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, “The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.”


His son asked, “What happened to the flea?”

Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calles it a poem, and they give him £25.”

The second boy says, “That’s nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, and they give him £200.”


The third boy says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon, and it takes six people to collect all the money!”