my sporting prowess

Space InvadersI had a very active weekend. I went boxing and ten pin bowling, played baseball and golf (not simultaneously). For those who are impressed I should confess that this was all on our Nintendo Wii. It was the first games console in which the game interprets the players’ movements with their controllers into movement on the screen. Gone are the days when button presses had to represent movement – do any of you remember ‘Decathlon’ where we used to pound the buttons mercilessly in order to make Daley Thompson run faster, jump further and higher, throw further? It was a leap forward (literally) from Space Invaders.

Today my arm is aching from over-exuberant jabs and hooks, attempts at scoring strikes, pitches and home run hits, and swings. Yes, it serves me right. Yes, I am over competitive. Yes, it was good fun.

Computer games are getting more and more realistic. So much so that it is possible to immerse yourself in virtual reality and possibly lose yourself there.

Is it possible that we are doing a similar thing in our churches? Are we simulating the real world with Christian music, Christian computer games, Christian dating, and yes, even Christian socks (seriously!!??). And by immersing ourselves in this virtual world are we in danger of losing ourselves there and forgetting the calling of Jesus to be salt and light in the ‘real’ world?

Be blessed, be a blessing.


China in your hand?

Yesterday’s bloggage reminded me of an incident that took place while I was travelling through China. I was part of a small international group, led by a lovely American lady who knew China (and the languages) very well. She also knew a lot about Chinese culture and traditions. And she got to know me and my sense of humour as we travelled through the country, which may still be causing her nightmares!

Image DetailThe incident in question happened as we were travelling on an internal flight. As I went through the free-standing metal detecting door-frame at the airport my belt buckle caused the alarm to sound. I assume that there is an official policy whereby equality of gender is a value that is more important than responding to the sensitivities of travellers as a very polite young lady official came across and gestured to me to stand still while she patted me down to make sure that I was not carrying anything I should not be. It was not indiscreet, invasive or any more inappropriate than when I have been patted down by male officials at airports, but our team leader was furious that my male personal space had been violated by this young woman. She started to object and was asking for the Supervisor to be called in order that she could lodge a complaint about this.

Maybe it was because I did not want to cause a scene.

Maybe it was because I did not feel that my male personal space I had been violated.

Maybe it was because I was in a mischievous mood.

But I stopped our leader in mid flow with a sentence that left her shocked and open-mouthed:

“Actually, I rather enjoyed it. I’m going around again!”

She looked at me with alarm in her eyes, and then I think she saw the sparkle of mischief in my eyes, the grin on my face and realised that I was not upset.

She laughed.

The young official laughed.

I was waved through. No supervisors were needed, no reprimands were issued.

As I reflect now on that incident I wonder if I was unfair to our leader. She was only doing what she thought was right and appropriate. She was standing up for me because she thought it had been inappropriate. But to me the more important thing was that this young lady, who was only doing her job, should not have got into trouble because our cultural values clashed with the Chinese ones within which she operated.

Today I am preparing a sermon on the end of Luke 7, where a woman seemed to violate Jesus’ male personal space by anointing his feet with her tears and with oil and by wiping them with her hair. Those watching were outraged and would have called the supervisor, had there been one, in a tirade of self-righteous indignation. But Jesus’ values were different. He wanted her to know forgiveness and God’s love and grace, and these over-rode doing what was considered decent.

Are there ways in which today we should allow God’s values of love, grace and forgiveness to over-ride rights, traditions or even ‘decency’?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the story so far

At the conference for Ministers of larger churches I am checking in on whatCheck list I wrote yesterday during some free time.

  1. yes
  2. yes
  3. yes
  4. can’t answer this until I get home.

That’s still a pretty good ratio of success on my hopes, dreams and ambitions for the conference and we are only half way through! I am hoping and praying for more of 1-3 and a definite yes on 4 when I make it home.

How are you doing on your week’s ambitions / plans?

One of the things we have been considering is how there are different dynamics at work in larger churches and how we can work with those in o order to provide servant leadership while at the same time not undermining the belief that God speaks to us through anyone and everyone. No clear answers yet but some interesting contributions that I am seeking to filter and discern.

Also a very telling phrase has been quoted several times when it comes to churches (and other organisations): “Culture eats vision for breakfast!” In other words, if the prevailing culture of an organisation does not change it is almost impossible to change anything significant in a lasting way. The example was given of a (fictional) company that was seeking to adapt to the new economic conditions and offered employees a set of changes to working practices that would guarantee the future of the company and its employees and might even give them increased wages. But because the proposals would mean changes to the normal routines of the employees they reject them. Their culture is still focused on what they like to do now, not on the possibilities of the future.

It has made me consider what my personal prevailing culture is and whether that gets in the way of God implementing his vision for me, my family and the church. BIG questions! What’s your culture like?

A big-time negotiator was out fishing one day when he caught a strange looking fish. He reeled the fish in, unhooked it, and threw it on the ground next to him. The fish started writhing in agony and, to the negotiator’s surprise, said, “Please throw me back into the lake and I’ll grant you three wishes.”

“Any three wishes, huh?” the negotiator mused as visions of expensive fast cars and beautiful women paraded through his head. “Fish,” he finally exclaimed, “Give me five wishes and I’ll throw you back.”

“Sorry,” the fish answered while struggling for breath, “only three wishes.”

The negotiator’s pride was at stake and after giving the matter some thought he announced, “What do you take me for? A sucker? I’ll settle for four wishes.”

“Only three,” the fish murmured weakly.

Fuming, the man debated the pros and cons of accepting the three wishes or continuing to bargain for that one extra wish. Finally, the negotiator decided it wasn’t worth looking a gift fish in the mouth and said “All right fish, you win, three wishes.”

Unfortunately, by then the fish was dead.

below the surface

Dearest bloggists, I am back. Sorry. Having enjoyed two weeks off I feel refreshed and ready to go again. A lot has taken place since I last put fingers to keyboard and I would like to add my own thoughts to those of many bloggers, tweeters, columnists and pub-philosophers.

It is obvious that there is no ‘one size fits all’ description of the riots and looting last week, nor is there a ‘one size fits all’ response that will resolve the issues. But it seems to me that many of the responses have not gone deep enough and risk responding at a merely superficial level. For example, how will stopping the benefits of any in receipt of them who are convicted of looting or rioting resolve the problems? It will make people poorer and will not address the many people who are not in receipt of benefits who helped themselves to a smash and grab discount.

I wonder if part of the problem is inherent in the culture within which we live. We are undoubtedly a market-led consumer culture, powered by powerful commercial pressures and advertising industry. This is fed by a constant need to engender a sense of dissatisfaction among us. My very simplistic analysis goes like this: we must need newer, better, faster, sleeker, sexier goods in order to keep buying the consumer goods in order to provide profit for the companies in order to provide dividends for the shareholders in order to give them more money in order that they can buy more goods…

The message we are learning is that ‘you are what you have’ and an unwanted by-product of this culture is the sense of dissatisfaction that easily mutates into greed. I know it myself, as a technophile / gadget-lover. I see the latest tablet computer or phone and without processing the thought think,'”Ooh, I’d like that!” So when people are presented with an apparently cost-free opportunity to have the latest stuff they will take it. It feeds their self-esteem, it apparently satisfies the dissatisfaction and it overrides any latent sense of right and wrong that they have.

Our core beliefs underpin the values by which we live, and if ‘you are what you have’ has become a core belief it is not surprising that the value to possess the latest and best is in conflict with (and for some will over-ride) values about not stealing, when you do not have the disposable income to buy what you think will make you complete (at least until you are told you need the next new thing). It is not surprising to me that many of the shops looted were selling phones, tvs, computers and the like, as these are the ‘must have’ items in our society.

Let me offer a response…

It surely goes beyond the superficial behaviour, through our attitudes and values, down to our beliefs, on which our culture depends. Where are the voices that are saying that “you are intrinsically valuable as a person, not because of what you have”? Who is saying, “love is the greatest force in the universe”? When will we hear that “communities are primarily groups of people who look out for one another rather than places we live and shop”?

Isn’t that part of the message of the gospel? It certainly sounds like things Jesus was telling people… but they won’t be coming to church on Sunday to hear it. How will you tell them today?

look both ways…

glassesThis morning I gave in.

It was inevitable.

I am definitely getting older.

There is proof.

I bought myself some reading glasses!

They are ‘off the peg’ glasses at the lowest possible strength, which I will use when I am wearing my contact lenses. I don’t need them when I am not using my contact lenses or ‘normal’ glasses. I only realised I needed them when I bought a new Bible recently and found that the print was too small. So now I am in the curious position of correcting my eyes with contact lenses to correct my distance vision and then having to overcorrect my eyes with glasses to correct my close up vision. 

So now I am ‘double-looking’. Hmmm. Something seems a bit daft about that. But daft is normal for me! It reminds me of an analogy created by John Stott, one of the most prolific and inspiring writers of our time about the Bible and the Christian Faith writes about ‘double listening’:

“The phrase “double listening” has always been significant for me. And it means that we’re called to listen both to the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other.”

My double-looking reminds me that as well as double-listening to the Word and today’s culture I also need to pay attention to what is close to me and what is further away, looking through the lenses of the Bible. How does it relate to my own life and circumstances? How does it relate to those who are trying to follow Jesus; exploring following Jesus; interested in Jesus; dis-interested in Jesus? That is not just the task of preachers on Sundays, we all need to seek to do it all day, every day.
There’s a guy with a Doberman Pincer and a guy with a Chihuahua. The guy with the Doberman Pincer says to the guy with a Chihuahua, “Let’s go over to that restaurant and get something to eat.”

The guy with the Chihuahua says, “We can’t go in there. We’ve got dogs with us.”

The guy with the Doberman Pincer says, “Just follow my lead.”

They walk over to the restaurant, the guy with the Doberman Pincer puts on a pair of dark glasses, and he starts to walk in.

A guy at the door says, “Sorry, no pets allowed.”

The guy with the Doberman Pincer says, “You don’t understand. This is my seeing-eye dog.”

The guy at the door says, “A Doberman Pincer?” 

He says, “Yes, they’re using them now, they’re very good.”

The guy at the door says, “Come on in.”

The guy with the Chihuahua figures, “hey why not?,” so he puts on a pair of dark glasses and starts to walk in.

The guy at the door says, “Sorry, pal, no pets allowed.”

The guy with the Chihuahua says, “You don’t understand. This is my seeing-eye dog.”

The guy at the door says, “A Chihuahua?”

The guy with the Chihuahua says, “You mean they gave me a Chihuahua!?”

DISCLAIMER: This Blog does not endorse the impersonation of disabled people for the purposes of ‘getting away with it’, save in the telling of jokes. Don’t park in a disabled space and fake a limp. It’s not big and it’s not clever!

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.”

Keep taking the tablets

I am just about to take a couple of tablets and it reminds me of the famous scene in The Matrix when our hero, Neo, is offered two pills (actually they look like Jelly Beans to me). The blue pill will keep him in what he assumes to be his present reality and the red pill will mean that he discovers the truth about life.

I have heard a lot of Christians use that image as an invitation for people to consider the life that they lead. They make Jesus the red pill and invite listeners to accept him and discover a new dimension to life that they had never experienced before. It is a compelling analogy.

But on reflection I am not sure that it works. It seems to me to be counter to what the Bible says. The Bible encourages God’s people to live in the reality of this world, but in the grace-filled way that he designed it rather than the self-centred way that we live without him. We are not called to abandon this life but to discover that by following Jesus we can experience more of it. The two tablets that Moses had show us how we can live in that sort of way, but we cannot do it by our willpower alone – we need God’s forgiveness and restoration for when we screw up and his Spirit to help us and transform us.

Yes we are called to be counter-cultural. Yes we are called to unmask the lies of a world that values you for what you can give or buy or earn or do rather than for who we are. Yes we are called to invite people to follow Jesus in a life that is not always easy but is fulfilling. But if the message of Christmas tells us anything it is that God is incarnational – he comes to us and gets involved rather than remotely telling us to get out of here.

So how incarnational am I? Do I get involved or sit back and watch? Do I want the red pill or the blue pill?

For an alternative look at the Matrix that will especially appeal to those with a juvenile sense of humour (aka blokes) click here and prepare to discover a new dimension.