Category: blessing

recycled blessings

1295032_torn_paper_6

In order to try to save trees and do a little bit towards helping the environment I try to do a couple of things: I try to print double-sided (saving paper) and I try to re-use bits of paper on which I have only printed on one side – using them as scrap paper. I started the double-sided printing a while ago, but I had started the reusing single side-printed paper as scrap a while before I found out how to make my printer print on both sides, which meant that I have had a modest stock of single-sided paper to use as scrap.

However over the weekend I reached for a piece of scrap paper and found that I had more-or-less exhausted my stock of scrap paper. It wasn’t so much that I had used it more frequently as that my double-sided printing had reduced the amount of paper available for scrap. I hadn’t expected that side-effect. In the end I had to use a pristine piece of paper to write on. It felt wrong (recycling-wise), and at the same time there was something lovely about writing on a clean piece of paper with a nice fountain pen. (Yes I am that sad).

So often there are unexpected consequences to our well-intended actions. You stop your car to let someone pull out in front of you and someone behind you gets angry that their journey is delayed. You make a phone call on your mobile while on the train to let someone know you are thinking of them in a time of difficulty and someone else on the train is upset that they have to listen to one side of your conversation. You walk to the shops rather than driving in order to keep fit and reduce pollution but the journey takes longer than anticipated and you miss an important phone call at home. You perform a magic trick on stage to entertain an audience and make a 4 year-old girl cry because her granny was the one sprayed with silly string at the end*. You get the idea.

The unintended and unexpected consequences do not make our original actions wrong. They do not mean that we should not have done those things (except perhaps not spraying granny with silly string). But we need to remember that we do not exist inside a bubble, we live in a society with lots of other people. Perhaps we should think more widely about our impact on other people: who else is impacted by our actions?

And while we are contemplating that are there ways in which we can expand the positive scope of our actions? That’s one of the questions that led to the establishing of the Fairtrade Foundation to enable people to buy goods that will more directly benefit the producers as well as the vendor and purchaser. Another way, I think, is by seeking to reciprocate and pass on the positive impact when we are the beneficiary. It blesses me no end if, after I have let a car pull out in front of me in a queue of traffic, the person I let pull out does the same for someone else further along the road.

Can you imagine the impact on our society if we all acted in that way, rather than in self-centred and selfish ways? Not just letting people pull out in front of us, but everyone seeking to bless others. In the Bible there are lots of ways in which we can do that for one another. These are some I have identified

one another image

I wonder whether this is part of what the writer intended in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10 (my emphasis):

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Is this also part of what Jesus meant by us being salt and light in our communities – adding savour and enhancing the brightness so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”? (Matthew 5:16)

I’m not sure how all of this will help my scrap paper problem (except to say that I don’t need donations!) but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think that is as important.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, to my shame, I really did that!

replacement service

Image result for rail replacement busesHow frustrating do you find it if you have bought a train ticket and then find out that some or all of the journey is on a ‘rail replacement service’ – also known as a bus? Some operators have tried to introduce some levity to the situation by changing the electronic sign on the front of the bus from ‘Rail Replacement Service’ to ‘Choo choo I’m a train’.

The first time I saw a picture of that it made me smile. Perhaps it even calms down some of the more disgruntled passengers. But the levity does not change the reality of the situation: part or all of a paid-for rail journey has been replaced by a bus. Can you imagine how people would react if they turned up at an airport and found that a bus was waiting at the departure gate rather than their holiday flight to Spain?!

 

A while ago I found myself feeling stressed on a rail journey when part of it was replaced by buses. The railway station was crowded to overflowing with people who needed to get to their destination and the staff at the station were politely doing their best to direct them to different buses that were going to different places. A person in front of me verbally abused one of these staff members about how unacceptable it was. The railway employee looked shocked and somehow managed to utter an apology on behalf of the railway. As I passed the employee I tried to redress the balance by telling them how impressed I was with how well they were coping with the situation and how grateful I was that they were there to show us which buses to catch. The railway worker said thank you and I got on the bus. I heard others behind me trying to encourage her too.

On the onward journey I wondered whether the railway employee would remember the positive comments as much as she would the verbal assault. Human nature is such that we often remember critical comments more than we do positive ones. We can focus on negative things that are happening and forget to think about good things. Paul begins so many of his letters with thanks and praise to God for the people to whom he is writing. Even the heavy-duty correctional letters to the Corinthian churches start with thanks before he gets on to the business of trying to sort out the mess they have got themselves into. But how often do we skate past the ‘thanks’ sections almost as part of the prologue and get into the meat of the letters? Paul often writes how he always gives thanks for these people when he remembers them. He has an attitude of gratitude. And that must have included the difficult people!

In my first church I was asked to speak at the women’s group ‘Pleasant Monday Afternoon’ at their anniversary. The theme I was given was the line from the hymn “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” I wasn’t sure about it (it wasn’t a Bible verse and I was fresh out of Bible College and needed to show everyone that I could speak from the Bible). But I remember that as I pondered the theme I realised that it was an important one because of the human tendency to forget the blessings as we concentrate on the woes. Without wishing to diminish the significance or impact of some of the negative things we experience I would like to invite you to participate in an exercise: The next time you have time to spend with the Lord, why not count your blessings and name them one by one. Write them on a piece of paper. And use both sides if you need to. Offer thanks to the Lord in response to all that he has done for you. Keep that tucked in your Bible as a reminder.

Perhaps that way we can create a welcome gloom replacement service!

I leave you with two verses from the start of Psalm 9 that I think convey the same message:

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

accidental blessings

BumblebeeIn my role as a Regional Minister I am quite itinerant. I am never in the same place for long. I feel a bit like a bee, buzzing around from church to church seeking to be a blessing, being blessed by being with them and at the same time sharing thoughts, ideas and contacts with other churches to cross-fertilize and bless others.

But I have also discovered that I am the bringer of ‘accidental blessings’ – I am blessing without even meaning to do so. On Sundays at the moment this is particularly obvious to me as I don’t have a home church to attend when I am ‘off’. I have left the church where I ministered for 6 1/2 years and it’s not fair on them if I keep popping back: much as I love the people there they need to be looking to what God has for them in the future rather than having me around. So I am taking the opportunity to visit churches in my sector and be a part of their worshipping congregation. That is a blessing to me and I have discovered can also be an accidental blessing to them.

When I have visited churches ‘unofficially’ I have tried to keep a low profile because I don’t want to make a fuss and because I see myself simply as another worshipping Christian, but I have discovered that this is not often possible. With my height and shiny bald head I tend to stick out a bit and as people start talking with me I soon have to explain that I am a visitor and then that I am their Regional Minister. And I am finding that simply by turning up at church I am blessing people…

I hold the ‘title’ of Regional Minister very loosely indeed and because I know that behind that ‘badge’ (I don’t wear a badge) there is the same me that has always been there I don’t think of myself as at all important. I am just Nick. But when I have visited churches in the manner I have described I find that they feel blessed because the Regional Minister has chosen to worship Jesus with them. It’s a very strange experience for me.

Some churches think that because I am there I am on some sort of inspection visit, or worse. There was one occasion when I visited a church and tried (unsuccessfully) to remain incognito. Eventually I had to admit that I was their Regional Minister and a little bit later on someone sidled up to me and asked me what was wrong – were they in trouble? I was rather taken aback as I had not thought my visit would have had that impact and assured them that I really had no ulterior motive, it was not Godsted (or whatever the Christian equivalent of Oftsed is) I had just come to worship Jesus with them. The wonderful thing was that the expression of concern and anxiety on that person’s face melted away in front of me and turned into a big beaming smile.

I had blessed them simply by turning up at their church.

Now I know that most of you who bother to read this bloggerel are not Regional Ministers. But let me assure you (especially if you are not a regular church attender) that if you turned up at a church next Sunday you would bless people simply by turning up too. I hope and pray that more and more churches will make everyone welcome but sadly (if I am honest) there are some churches where you are not made to feel welcome. However I dare to suggest that even in those cases you will have blessed people by being there, by worshipping Jesus with them. And if you have that experience please don’t judge Jesus by the imperfect nature of his followers, please try again (at another church or the same one).

A long time ago I did visit a church with my wife and we sat in what turned out to be the ‘usual’ seats for two ladies. They came in, saw us in their seats and sat down either side of us. That’s nice isn’t it? Except that they then proceeded to talk across us as if we weren’t there (making a point I think). During the sermon one of them got out some sweets and passed them across us to their friend, not offering one to us at all. Needless to say we did not go back to that church, but in the evening we went to another church where the welcome we received was in stark contrast to the morning’s experience – we were welcomed by everyone and we stayed at that church.

And now a message for churches: please recognise the blessing you receive from who who gather to worship Jesus together with you. It’s not just (or even) Regional Ministers whose presence should encourage you, but every single person who is there is a blessing because they are there. Appreciate everyone. Welcome everyone. Love everyone. Don’t let anyone leave feeling unloved, unappreciated or unwelcome. Think about how Jesus welcomes you, and he has asked you to emulate him.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

annoyed by automobile ablutionists

Car WashWhen I visit a local supermarket I am always approached (at least during daylight hours) by men asking me if I want my car washed. Now I know that my car always looks like it needs a wash, especially with all of the extra miles that I am doing now, but I feel a little resentful that they are always asking me the same question as soon as I get out of the car. I don’t want to be bothered by them.

You can tell that constantly being approached in this way bothers me because I have thought about how I can avoid it. I have wondered whether I should have a sign in the windscreen of the car (or written in the dirt) saying ‘I don’t want my car washed, thank you.’ Or perhaps I could seek out a section of the car park that is not frequented by these automobile ablutionists (but that would mean walking further to the supermarket). Or maybe I could walk to the shop or catch the bus (except it’s a bit far to carry the shopping home).

Or perhaps I could wash my car myself so it is obviously clean and shiny that they will know that there is no point in approaching me.

Today as I said, “No thanks” to the approach and walked towards the supermarket feeling resentful I had a moment of reflection on my attitude.

Why was I being resentful? It was because the approaches were frequent and unwanted. (Which might raise questions about how Christians share their faith…)

But was my resentment fair? These men are trying to earn a living. They are working in difficult conditions (it was bitterly cold this morning) and they are offering a service (albeit paid) to people to do something we’d rather not do ourselves (unless you are one of the Sunday Scrubbers and Shiners who takes particular pride in their car).

Whose interventions in your life do you resent? Is that resentment fair? And how can we turn the resentment into blessing?

Next time I go to the supermarket I am going to go to the café and get a takeaway cup of tea to give to the man who offers to clean my car, and if I have time I might even bless my car and the man by saying ‘yes’ to the car wash.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

humbled and blessed

Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity
Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity

Yesterday I was given a large plastic bag. It contained lots and lots of cards and pictures and letters that children from a local school had made to say ‘thank you’ to Stew the Rabbit (and me) for supporting the school during my time at the church, especially the Assemblies.

I was blessed and encouraged by the time that they had spent making the cards, drawing the pictures and writing the letters. I was blessed and encouraged by the kind ‘we’ll miss you’ messages – some were even for me rather than Stew!

But most of all I was humbled and blessed by those who had thanked me for telling them about Jesus. That’s the main reason I went and it was so wonderful that they had recognised this and appreciated it.

The church will continue to support and bless that school, but those children who wrote and drew and created had no idea how much they have blessed me. Stew will be writing a thank you note back!

It reminded me of how important it is to say ‘thank you’ and how much something we might perceive as a simple act can multiply in impact in the life of the person on the receiving end.

Be blessed, be a blessing

being induced

Lear InviteToday I am being inducted (or induced!) as a Regional Minister. I am looking forward to the service. The service is NOT about me: it is a moment to pause, give thanks to God and recognise his call and commission on my life. And to do that publicly is important.

It is important to do it publicly just as it is important to be baptised or married publicly. It is a declaration of commitment and intent – commitment to God and his call, and intent to serve him (in his power) to the best of my ability.

(You may be wondering what the plant has to do with anything at an Induction service. I am not going to explain why at the moment – I hope it will be clear in the service. I may blog about it later on for those who can’t be there.)

To everyone who has sent me kind messages, who has promised to pray, who has been encouraging, who has made funny comments, who has sent a card, who will be at the Induction, who would like to have been there and have sent apologies, who has worked hard behind the scenes to plan and prepare the event, who will be involved in the service, who has been involved in discerning and affirming the call, and anyone else who knows me… THANK YOU.

I leave you with the words of Psalm 67 which will be part of the service:

Psalm 67

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm. A song.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us –
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

blessed by a song

musical-key_thumb.jpgI heard this song recently and I was inspired by it. It could be the theme tune for this blog!

Bring heaven to earth, Lord,
Bring peace where there’s fear;
Bring life where there’s death, Lord,
Bring joy in these tears.
Bring love where there’s lust, Lord,
Bring hope where there’s pain;
Bring rest where there’s chaos,
Bring faith where there’s fame.
You invite us to partner with You,
To see Your kingdom come.

We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces.
We are loved, to love where love is not.
We are changed, to be the change You promised.
We are freed to be Your hands, O God.

Bring home to the homeless,
Bring keys to the chained;
Bring worth to the purchased,
And touch to the shamed.
Bring flesh from Your word, Lord,
Bring truth where there’s spin;
Bring risk where there’s safety,
And grace where there’s sin.
In the broken we shall see restored
The image of our King.

Bring justice to profit,
Bring patience to growth;
Bring wisdom to progress,
Like food for the soul.
Bring freedom from debt, Lord,
An end to excess;
Bring closer Your kingdom
By quiet success.
May we grow in the knowledge of You
Through every heart and face.

Lord, we cry out to You,
Change the atmosphere;
Breathe new life
In all who gather here.

Copyright © 2007 Andy Flannagan

You can see a YouTube video and listen to the song here

Okay, I recognise that some of you will have heard it and sung it plenty of times before, but if that is the case you may have lost some of the impact of this song. It seems to me that this song expresses so much of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Life as a follower of Jesus is not about ‘victory’ and ‘triumph’ but ‘service’ and ‘sacrifice’. Jesus told his followers that they would have to pick up their cross, not pick up a trophy! He told us to be servants not superheroes. He blesses us not for our own sake but so that we might bless others.

If you come to our morning service next week we’ll be singing it.Of course as much as this song has blessed me when I heard it I won’t bless too many people just by singing it…

Be blessed, be a blessing