World Book Day

As I have done previously, this morning I am recycling a ‘thought for the week’ that I have circulated to the Ministers in our Association.

This morning my Facebook feed is full of photos from my friends of their children dressed up as characters from books to participate in World Book Day. It’s very entertaining, especially trying to work out whether I remember those book characters from when our children were younger, or even from my childhood. Some of the ‘book’ characters seem a little tenuous – I am not sure how many ‘Power Rangers’ books there were, for example. But you can see that the children are really proud of how they look and I hope they’ll have a good day.

It got me wondering. Which Bible character would you dress up as? This is not an out-of-season plug for ‘Get in the Picture’. I recognise that for many of the characters involved it might not be very obvious which one we are at first glance. But you might put in some interesting touches to show who you were: to distinguish between Mary and Martha you might carry a cushion to sit on or wear a pair of rubber gloves and carry a mop; to distinguish between Moses and Joshua you might carry a fire extinguisher or a hard hat.

20150106_085811 (2)My personal devotional readings at the moment are exploring Nahum and Jonah (sharing the theme of Nineveh’s relationship with God and his people). I remember leading an all age service once at my first church and coming into the church wearing torn clothes, bare feet, drenched head to toe and covered in seaweed. I began with, “You’ll never guess what happened to me on my way here this morning…” and told the story of Jonah first-hand. He must have been quite a sight when he turned up at Nineveh looking rather dishevelled and smelling of dried fish vomit. Perhaps that’s why they paid so much attention to him.

In her reflection on my reading this morning (looking at Jonah’s psalm in the fish, chapter 2:1-10) Anna Robbins commented: “We can never win at hide-and-seek with God. It’s not just that he’s good at finding us. Rather, there’s nowhere we can go that he isn’t there already.”

That could be quite scary if you were trying to run away from God but it’s also a reassurance. It’s true of all of you that you do as a Minister. He’s waiting there for you in Scripture even before you begin to write your sermon. He’s already there in the hospital ward when you go to visit a terminally ill person. He’s there in the difficult Deacons or Church Meeting. He’s already there in the life of the person who is not yet a Christian and wants to find out more. There’s nowhere we can go that he isn’t there already.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

booking time out

Those of you who can remember June 11 last year will remember that I mentioned I am writing a novel. At that time Ihad written about 9,000 words. Since then I have written about 100 more words. This is not good progress!

So I have decided that next week I will take two days’ leave and will spend the time working on my novel. It seemed self-indulgent when I first suggested the idea to Sally but she encouraged me to do it. I am really looking forward to it. I am hoping that the weather may be kind to me and I can set up outside in the garden, but even if I am confined to quarters in my study the opportunity to spend two days being creative with words and using my imagination is really attractive to me.

Since moving back to the real world of ministry from the rarified atmosphere of Baptist House I have been preparing at least one sermon a week. Those of you who do not have the privilege of having a colleague to share the pulpit with will be saying, “Big deal” or something like that, but this is actually the first time I have had to do this. In my first church I had a Senior Minister who would do about 2/3 of the sermons – and rightly so – I loved listening to him. I also shared the 1/3 with another minister and then later with a student minister. Those of you who do not have the privilege of having been in that position will be saying, “Are you complaining?”

No, I am not complaining. I was blessed immensely in that church, and also at Baptist House. But there is something wonderful about diving into the Bible each week to prepare a sermon that is the next in the series. There is something refreshing about frequently asking for God’s help to discern what he wants to say. There is something invigorating about seeking to be creative and communicate God’s truth in ways that people will find engaging and winsome. Alongside my own personal devotions I find that God speaks to me through my preparation (and sometimes through the preaching too!). I would be worried if he didn’t – if I haven’t heard him how can I expect anyone else to?

What’s this got to do with writing a novel? Well, each week I am writing at least one sermon of about 2,000 words. On average at the moment I am preaching at least 2/3 of the time. So that’s 2/3 x 48 weeks (allowing for holidays) x 2 services x 2000 words = 128,000 words a year. That’s several novels! That’s also why my novel has not grown much in the past year. I am considering the two days next week as a precious time to be cherished, as a short moment in which I can allow my creative juices to flow in a different way. I am not expecting to have finished the novel by the end of Tuesday, but I am hoping that I will have written more than 100 words!

We all need to find time to be refreshed. It may seem self-indulgent (and is if that’s all we ever do) but we need to find time to do things that energise us, things we enjoy, ways of using the God-given talents and personality that we have. That is the essence of Sabbath – a day free of work in which we are re-created by recreation. What will you do?

A chicken went into a library. It went up to the counter and said, “Buk, buk.”

The librarian gave it a book and the chicken tucked it under its wing and scuttled back out of the door.

An hour later the chicken was back. It went up to the counter and again said, “Buk, buk.”

The librarian gave it another book and the chicken tucked it under its wing and scuttled back out of the door.

One hour later the chicken returned. It saw the librarian stacking books on the shelves so went over and said, “Buk, buk.”

The librarian gave it a book, which it tucked under its wing. The chicken turned around and headed out of the door.

Curious about what was happening the librarian followed the chicken out of the door, across the road, down the high street, into the park, through the park and down to the pond. At the pond the librarian saw the chicken walk up to a frog and drop the book on top of the others.

“Buk, buk!” said the chicken.

The frog looked at the book and then at the chicken. “Reddit!”

booking time

Stack of BooksI have four books sitting on my desk that are ready to be read. Some of them have been on my desk for a while. They have not gathered dust (because they keep getting moved around to make space). But they have not been opened in anger or engaged with in a meaningful way.

It seems a bit rude. Like inviting some people around for a meal and then not listening to anything that they have to say. The four books are quite different in content and subject matter:

  1. Real Scientists Real Faith – 18 esteemed scientists talk about the difference their faith makes to their scientific practice and their science makes to their faith
  2. God on Mute (Pete Greig) – engaging the silence of unanswered prayer
  3. Love Wins (Rob Bell) – looking at big questions of life and death
  4. The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus (Andrew Watson) – leading as Jesus led

My only problem is that I have not got the time I need to sit down and read them. I reckon that if I read book 4 there may be some guidance about taking time out to refresh. I reckon that if I read book 1 there may be some inspiration about how research supports and strengthens science and faith. I reckon if I read book 2 there may be something there for me about asking God for answers. I reckon if I read book 3 there may be something there about needing to dig deeper.

I know I need to read more than my Bible and books I use to prepare sermons. I want to. But there are so many other things going on that this is one of the things that gets squeezed out. I have tried putting it in my diary but then it can get pushed out by the need to visit someone. 

I have tried putting them beside my bed and reading them at night but that is not a good idea if I want to think about what I am reading when I am trying to calm my brain down, or if I want to remember what I have read the next day.

I have tried leaving the pile next to my computer so I see them whenever I log on to write this blog, but they have turned into a handy-sized pile on which to rest my Bible. Somehow it seems self-indulgent to spend time reading.

If I am not being fed as a Pastor how can I expect to feed others? That was a lesson we had drummed into us as trainee ministers and I know the truth of this. So this is by way of a New Day’s Resolution. I am going to spend more time reading to bless, edify, encourage, inspire, challenge and expand my soul.


One day the zoo-keeper noticed that the monkey was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In surprise he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books”?    

“Well,” said the monkey, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

some novel thoughts

Flicking PagesHow long is a novel? You may think that this is as pointless a question as ‘How long is a piece of string?’ but the answers are quite interesting. It seems (from my extensive research via Google) that a book has to have at least 40,000 words before a publisher thinks it is worth publishing. From that starting point you can go with almost anything up to about 150,000 words. Beyond that point the book becomes somewhat unwieldy for the person trying to read it.

I have asked myself this question because I am in the process of writing a book – a piece of fiction – and wondered how far into the process I had got. The answer is just over 9,000 words. That’s almost a quarter of the way towards being a viable book! Or it’s 6% of the way towards being an epic. Of course that is all rather immaterial if the content of the book is naff and nobody would want to publish it, let alone read it. The test of that will have to wait for when I finish it.

What interested me on reflecting on the fact that I had searched to find out how many words make a novel is that I searched for it at all. Is it a bad sign that I am looking to see when I can consider that I have finished my novel when I am only a little way through it? ‘They’ say that everyone has a book within them (actually right now my abdomen feels like it has had a book implanted into it!) but few people ever put it onto paper. I think it would be worse to have started and not finish.

Christians are encouraged in the Bible always to bear in mind our finishing point, our final objective. Not so that we ignore all that is going on around us but so that we have a different perspective on things. What we may consider to be important now looks a bit different from the perspective of eternity. (Even the possibility of England winning the football World Cup looks less impressive from that vantage point.)

So, on reflection, I don’t think it is such a bad thing that I have checked to see how much further I have to go. I will keep going and knowing that there is an achievable end in sight gives me perspective on the words I type… each one is one word closer to my final goal.

I am not going to reveal the title of my book yet, but here are a few to keep you going:

The French Chef

  • by Sue Flay

Tight Situation

  • by Leah Tard

Unemployed

  • by Anita Job

Handel’s Messiah

  • by Ollie Luyah

Downpour!

  • by Wayne Dwops

The Scent of a Man

  • by Jim Nasium

French Overpopulation

  • by Francis Crowded

Fallen Underwear

  • by Lucy Lastic

Lewis Carroll

  • by Alison Wonderland

Leo Tolstoy

  • by Warren Peace

Why Cars Stop

  • by M. T. Tank

Wind in the Willows

  • by Russell Ingleaves

Look Younger

  • by Fay Slift

Mountain Climbing

  • by Andover Hand

It’s Springtime!

  • by Theresa Green

No!

  • by Kurt Reply

And Shut Up!

  • by Sid Downe

40 Yards to the Latrine

  • by Willy Makeit and Betty Wont

Books – I’ve got them covered

Yesterday I had some VERY minor surgery. I had a troublesome mole removed from my cheek by a GP in Tiptree. It was over incredibly quickly and without pain. The wound was cauterised after the removal (not sure I liked the smell of burning ‘me’) and now there is a black spot on my face. I have been assured that it will disappear in due course, but at least you have been warned if you see me around.

While I was in Tiptree I took the opportunity to visit the Oasis Christian bookshop and was delighted to be able to buy another in Tom Wright’s superb series of New Testament Commentaries: ‘[insert name of book or author] For Everyone’. I bought Mark’s gospel (it was the only one they had there) but would have bought any of them that I did not already have because they are so good.

I thought you (dearest blog reader) would like to see the cover so that you can spot the books elsewhere if you trusted my opinion and decided to buy one or more for yourself. So (no effort is too much for you) I went online to find a picture of the front cover and was surprised to find that in the USA the same commentary is available but with a different cover. 

WHY?

Presumably someone somewhere did some research that shows that British people are more likely to buy a commentary that has a multicoloured cover whereas in America they will be more likely to buy a commentary if it has people on the front.

I am baffled. It reminds me of a comment from my erstwhile Theology tutor at Spurgeon’s College, Nigel Wright (now the Principal of Spurgeon’s). He wrote a great book a while back on the question of pain and suffering in a world created by God which was published in the UK as ‘The Fair Face of Evil’. In America it was published as (must be said in a deep film trailer-style voice) ‘The Satan Syndrome’.

WHY?

These reflections lead me to several further thoughts.

Thought the First – Any Christian book written by someone called ‘Wright’ must be good.
Thought the Second – We Brits are not as similar to Americans as we think we are.
Thought the Third – Are we presenting the Good News of Jesus to people in ways that are most culturally appropriate to them?
Thought the Fourth – I need to change the colours of my blog layout so that they are more appropriate (did you notice?).
Thought the Fifth – I need a cup of coffee.
Thought the Sixth – This is not intended to be xenophobic or derogatory. Any relative judgements you have made about Brits or Americans come from within you!
Thought the Seventh – Isn’t ‘xenophobic’ a fabulous word? (Not being xenophobic but the spelling and sound of the word itself as you say it aloud).
Thought the Eight – I have probably lost most of my readers by now so I had better get on with a joke.

A joke.

A librarian was stunned one day when a chicken strolled up to the counter and said, “Buk.”

The librarian picked up the nearest book and gave it to the chicken who tucked it under a wing and left the library clucking happily to herself.

The next day the chicken came back. “Buk, buk.”

The librarian picked up two books and gave them to the chicken who tucked one under each wing and left the library clucking happily to herself.

The following day the chicken was back again. “Buk, buk, buk.”

The librarian gave the chicken three books and the chicken put one under each wing and carried the third in her beak. She left the library (quietly this time as she had a book in her beak). The librarian was intrigued so she followed the chicken out of the library, down the street, into the park, across the bridge and down to the edge of the lake where a frog was waiting for her.

The chicken proudly laid the books in front of the frog. “Buk,buk, buk,” she clucked happily.

The frog looked at the books disdainfully and said, “Reddit, reddit, reddit.”