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Modern life seems to be defined by choice. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we drop off in the evening we are faced with choices:

Do I get out of bed?

What do I have for breakfast?

What do I wear today?

And so on. It seems to me that the more we are trying to make life ‘better’ for ourselves the more choices we have. For example:

When I was growing up you could count the number of available television channels on the fingers of one hand and still have one left to stick in your ear. Today you run out of digits on the first screen of choices as you scroll through the TV guide. And we have to decide which sort of mobile phone we will have – are we android or apple (or are we going to subvert the system by going for something more obscure?)? And then we have to choose the apps we want. And we have to choose passwords… so many passwords! And on your computer what web browser are you going to choose?

I don’t have to keep listing them, you know what I am talking about. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Dumbledore seeks to reassure Harry that he is not the same as Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort): “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

And he is right. We are defined and shaped by the choices we make. How others see us will be in the light of those choices as well as through the lens of the choices they have made.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t realise that we have made a choice. ‘Default settings’ that almost every appliance and gadget and piece of equipment come with are necessary as a starting point for users unless they are to boot them up from scratch, but if we blindly accept them (a choice) we find that someone else has decided what our user experience will be.

And sometimes we make a choice by not choosing anything. If you choose not to vote in an election you are choosing not to participate in the democratic process and must accept that your views are not part of the final outcome. Your choice is to accept that others will decide for you.

There are occasions, of course, when we don’t know that we have made a choice, or we make it unthinkingly. How many times have you accepted the terms and conditions of a website, an app, or a computer program without reading them fully? Of course you have. Nobody has the time to read them all from start to finish. You assume that they are benevolent and innocent.

And I have a feeling that most people have an automatic reaction to thinking about God. Instinctively we click ‘ignore’ because we don’t think we have time for him, or we don’t want believing in him to disrupt our life, or we don’t like the version of God that we have been presented with, or it all seems far too difficult and complex to consider… or… or…

I believe that many people have not given him any more thought than they have the terms and conditions of the latest app they have installed on their phone and have instinctively decided that they don’t want to. Until they are faced with more significant moments in their life when they feel out of their depth and want the comfort of praying to someone or the reassurance of the possibility of divine intervention on their behalf. Or until they meet someone whose relationship with God seems so different to their assumptions about him that they are intrigued and want to know more. Or until someone they know and trust starts to talk about God. Or even until they read some random bloggage on an even more random site…

So have you adopted a ‘default’ setting when it comes to God? Jesus tried to make it really simple for us to make a choice: “Follow me.”

If you are a follower of Jesus is it obvious (in a good way) to people around you?


choice words

I have tried as hard as I can, but I cannot manage to perfect the trick of being in two places at once. I know how magicians perform illusions where you think they are in one place (usually locked in a box or in some sort of peril) and they appear somewhere completely different. That is achievable with practice and the right hardware.

But what I am talking about is genuinely being in two places simultaneously. It would be so useful for those times when there are two things happening that I really would like to attend but which are taking place at the same time in different locations. I suppose with time travel (if you could travel in both directions) it may be possible.

If it was achievable it does throw up all sorts of questions. Would the human brain be able to cope with this? What would it do to people who had been at the different events who subsequently met and told each other that I had been at their event? That could cause all sorts of arguments! And if it wasn’t about time travel but about me somehow dividing myself between two locations, how would I merge the two again afterwards?

We are all time travellers. But we are all travelling through linear time in the same direction and at the same time. So until I have managed to perfect that trick or distort the laws of time and space I will have to manage like everybody else. I will have to make choices. And sometimes they will be difficult choices. That is part of being human.

>Choose whether or not to read this blogThe art is not only about taking the time and advice to make the right choice, it also about recognising that we can only have one option. There is not any point in wistfully wishing we could be in two places at once. We can’t. So we need to learn to be content that we can do one of the things and relax with that. Even if we find out we have made the wrong choice, or that the other was better, we can’t do anything about it so why worry about that?

And if we wonder how to do that, how is it possible to be content with the choices we have made even if they turned out not to be the best, let’s consider how privileged we are that we can make choices.

There are many people on this planet who do not have a choice about which restaurant to eat at, they are simply grateful if there is food and fresh water.

There are many people who do not have a choice about where to go and what to do. Slavery, bonded labour or people trafficking are very real in our world.

There are many people who are not free to make a choice about what faith to follow. If they change from the faith of their family or their country they face being expelled from the family, loss of their job, loss of rights and possibly loss of life.

Thank God if you have choices to make today, and ask him to help you to make wise choices and to be content in all circumstances. And ask him too what you can do to give the gift of choice to others? The links below may help you.

International Justice Mission

Christian Aid

Amnesty International

Be blessed, be a blessing

outside the door

It is scary visiting some people in their offices. Waiting outside you feel nervous, sweaty-palmed and experience what the more uncouth among us call ‘SBT’. (For those of a delicate disposition you can ignore this acronym but if you are curious and can’t work it out, it’s set out at the bottom of the page*.)

The Head Teacher (as a child or a parent!)

A High Court Judge in his chambers (I had to do that once as a rookie lawyer)

The Bank Manager

You may have others you would add to the list. I think it is because they are in a position of power or authority. Decisions they make will affect us and it is beyond our control.

Today Sally and I are going to visit a new bank to talk about the possibility of transferring our account. They are a bank with a strong ethical trading policy that our current bank shows no signs of matching. Today we are in the position of power. It is up to us to choose whether or not to take our little amount of banking business to them.

Except of course that we will not be the only ones making a choice. The bank will be considering whether we are a good risk. They will check our identity and our credit rating. It is possible that we might choose them but they choose not to have us.

One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the complexity and marvel that is choice. God has chosen to create us with the freedom to choose whether or not to be with him. That is a choice he made because he wants us to want him, not to be compelled to love him or to be like robots who affirm our allegiance at the press of a button. So it is up to us whether or not to choose him.

Except that because he is both in and beyond time he knows already what our choice will be. Does this mean that it is predetermined, that in fact it is not a real choice because the outcome is already known? Does this mean that in effect God has already chosen those who will choose him? This is part of the conundrum that theologians call ‘election’ and ‘predestination’.

My understanding is that we have to hold several things in tension.

We have absolute free choice.

Because he is beyond time, God knows what that choice will be. It is not like a magic trick where the outcome of an apparent free choice is determined by the magician, it is still a completely free choice.

God longs for every single human being on the planet to choose him. He chooses us all. But because he has given us free will it is up to us to choose him reciprocally. Unless or until we do that God’s choice is ineffective.

That does not stop him wooing, inviting, encouraging, offering, loving, fanning a spark of faith into flame… that is part of what his Spirit does within us as he longs for us to choose to be a part of God’s family. As the image in Revelation 3:20 reminds us, he is outside our door knocking and waiting for us to invite him in.

And when we do choose to come to him he offers complete forgiveness, a fresh start, abundant grace and instant membership of his family. No SBT here!

How does it make you feel to know that God chooses YOU. Yes, he chooses everyone else, but God, the Supreme Being, the Ultimate, THE ONE, chooses YOU. You are special. You are unique. Just like everyone else!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*SBT = squeaky bum time

man cold alert

I have a cold. It is a man cold. It is only surpassed in seriousness by man-flu!

Tissue box

In order to help me keep on going manfully through the man cold I have been taking various remedies that claim to stop the symptoms while my immune system goes about its business of ejecting the man cold virus. Because it is man cold they are having a varied level of success. Even the ‘Max Strength’ ones don’t do all that they claim.

So yesterday I went to a well-known apothecary named after footwear and asked for something to dry up the man cold. The nice lady behind the counter stopped her alchemy and presented me with a box of magic tablets that would do the job.

I was pleased with this so I gave her some silver coins in exchange for these mysterious morsels of medicine and took one.

The good news was that they did indeed dry out the man cold. The bad news was that they made me feel very sleepy. What do you do when you have to choose between two options like this. Either (and skip this bit if you are a bit sensitive) you have to spend your day with pockets filled with handkerchiefs and endure frequent nasal-powered mucus evacuations with the subsequent problem of what to do with the loaded handkerchiefs afterwards. Or you stop the snot and sleep when you need to be alert and working.

Choices are sometimes not clear-cut but are sometimes about choosing the least-worst option. This is why I get concerned by people who pronounce things like, “It is never right for a man and a woman to get divorced.” (Heard once at a ‘marriage enrichment’ seminar at a Christian Seasonal Gathering at a holiday camp). At the time I was still working as a lawyer and had recently had a client come in after her husband had used her as a punch-bag and I had to get an injunction to keep him away from her. I could not believe that it was ‘right’ for her to stay in that abusive relationship.

In the circumstances when the answer is not obvious, or is ‘least worst’ I try to think of what is most loving and just. They seem to be God’s guiding principles in the Bible. But if the cross was the least worst option, what does that say about how God views the alternative for us?

Today, I am pleased to say, the man cold seems to be abating and has now turned into an ordinary cold.

A young boy called the pastor of a local church to ask him to come by to pray for his mother who had been very ill with the flu. 

The pastor knew the family and was aware they had been attending another church down the road. So the pastor asked, “Shouldn’t you be asking Reverend Simon down the road to come by to pray with your mum?” 

The young boy replied, “Yeah, but we didn’t want to take the chance that he might catch whatever this is that Mum has.”

Choose whether or not to read this blog

Tonight we have a busy night. It’s one of those nights when I wish I could be truly ubiquitous, or at least in two places simultaneously. Lynsey, my fellow Minister, is hosting the latest Cafe Church at one of our local Costa Cafes. I would like to be there to support her, to enjoy the coffee and be blessed by the event. 

At the same time our Girls’ Brigade Company is holding a Quiz Evening for the girls and their families. I have been invited to to some magic tricks (woohoo!) and to share a brief message (the brief bit may be more difficult than the tricks). I am delighted to accept this invitation and am really looking forward to the evening.

What this illustrates is what all of us experience every day. Life is about choices. Other than breathing in and out (which comes automatically to most of us) we have to make choices from the moment we emerge into the consciousness that passes for awakeness in the mornings. Do I open my eyes or try to go back to sleep? When do I get out of bed? What will I have for breakfast? Bath or shower? What clothes will I wear?

And those choices continue throughout the day. In many ways we are defined by the choices we make and the choices others make that affect us. We even choose how to respond to the consequences of those choices.

The Bible contains an interesting balance of choices when it comes to God. There are passages in the Bible that talk of God choosing us. He chose the people of Israel to be an example to the whole world of what a relationship with him could be like…

Deuteronomy 7:6  “You are a holy nation. The LORD your God has set you apart for himself. He has chosen you to be his special treasure. He chose you out of all of the nations on the face of the earth to be his people.”

He expressed to Jeremiah how he had chosen him for a special purpose*

Jeremiah 1:5  “Before I formed you in your mother’s body I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart to serve me. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” 

Jesus told his followers…

John 15:16  “You did not choose me. Instead, I chose you.”

At the same time it is clear that God has given us all free will. He has given us the ability to choose whether or not to be his friends / children / worshippers / family / people. The account of Adam and Eve deciding on the ingredients for a fruit salad is all about them exercising their freedom to decide whether or not live within God’s parameters. Although the people of Israel were God’s chosen people they also chose on many occasions to ignore him and do their own thing. Many times God commends people for the choices they make –  there would be no point if the choice was not genuinely free.

Theologians have tried to resolve the tensions between these different aspects of choice in creative, complicated and convincing ways. I am of the simple opinion that while God chooses us it is up to us to agree to be a part of his plans. He chooses to limit his sovereignty so that we can choose for ourselves, which is incredible if you choose to think about it!

And now you can choose whether or not to read on for a joke about choosing…

After a very successful career, a Human Relations expert found herself at the pearly gates.

“Welcome to Heaven,” said St.Peter. “Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we’ve never once had a Human Resources Director make it this far, and we’re not really sure what to do with you, so what we’re going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.”

With that St. Peter put the executive into the infernal elevator and she went down to hell. The doors opened, and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club, and standing in front of her were all her friends – fellow executives that she had worked with – and they were all dressed in evening gowns and cheering for her. They ran up, kissed her and talked about old times.

They played an excellent round of golf, and at night went to the country club, where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil, who was actually a really nice guy (kinda cute) and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator.

The elevator went up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates, and she found St. Peter waiting for her. “Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,” he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing enjoying a sense of blissful relaxation. She had a great time, and before she knew it, her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her and asked her to choose.

The woman paused for a second and then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell.”

“That’s the way God wants it,” said St Peter sadly. “He always respects your choices.” So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went down-down-down back to Hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened, she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks. The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.

“I don’t understand,” stammered the woman, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now, all there is is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.”

The Devil looked at her and smiled. “Yesterday, we were recruiting you, today you’re staff.”

* Fans of the film ‘The Jerk’ may snigger here