choices

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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?

 

worn out or worn in?

tennis ballDon’t you feel sorry for the groundsmen at the  Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships? Before play began on Monday they must have worked tirelessly to get the courts into pristine condition. The grass was perfect, the lines were precise so that it was looking at its absolute best. This comes from the Wimbledon website:

It takes around 15 months to prepare a Championships’ standard court before it can be played on.

This is the process:

  • The courts are constructed and seeded in April
  • The courts will then be cut once the new grass reaches 15mm, and then cut three times a week in May to keep at 15mm
  • During The Championships the height of grass will be 8mm, it will be cut every day
  • For the remainder of the summer the courts will only be cut three times a week and watered as they need to mature and naturally firm up
  • At the end of summer six tonnes of soil will be put on each court to make sure the playing surfaces are level
  • In the spring of 2015 Courts 14 and 15 will be included into the pre-Championships programme of grass court preparation
  • The height of cut will be reduced from their winter height of 13mm to the playing height of 8mm, this starts in March and will be ready for Members’ day in May
  • In early May we put the white line markings on the courts
  • During the playing season the grass is cut every other day
  • The courts will get rolled once a week in May with a one-tonne roller to firm the surface so that it is ready to play on
  • In June we start to restrict the amount of water we put on the courts, this also helps firm the surface
  • During The Championships we cut the courts and mark out the lines every day
  • We put a little bit of water on the courts at night during The Championships to help the grass survive

Wow! What a lot of effort to get the courts into top condition – and as soon as the first match starts to be played the courts deteriorate. By the end of the Championships there are very obvious bare patches where the players have been running and sliding and turning. The courts look nothing like they did at the start.

Does it break the hearts of the head groundsman, Neil Stubley, and his team when they see the condition of the courts at the end of the fortnight?

Or do they look on it as a job well done and rejoice because the courts have been used for the purpose for which they were laid and tended and grown? Do they feel glad that the players had good courts on which to play, that the crowds enjoyed themselves and that the event was a success? The courts may be worn, looking the worse for wear and rather shabby, but they will have done what they were designed to do. They could have refused to let anyone play on the courts and preserve them in top condition, but that is not what the courts are designed for.

Do we sometimes put more effort into preserving appearances and making sure everything looks good, not risking anything and trying to remain untouched by life rather than allowing ourselves to fulfil the purpose for which we exist, getting on with it and accepting that this will wear us down, that we will not be the same.

There’s a cheesy old joke that the first historical mention of tennis is in the Bible – Genesis 41:46 – “Joseph was thirty years old when he served in Pharaoh’s court.” [groan] But if you read Joseph’s story you will see someone who took a lot of knocks in life, was definitely not kept in pristine condition, but at the end of the narrative could say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) He may not have played tennis, but he certainly knew that his purpose was to be the person God called him to be in whatever circumstances he found himself.

So who and where are the people who need you to get alongside them, support them, encourage them and get stuck in with them? In whose court are you serving? And how are you tended and renewed? The Head Groundsman of life has given us his Spirit to tend us, help repair us, support us and encourage us as we fulfil our purpose (if we seek him). How do you think he feels when we seek to preserve ourselves and keep ourselves in pristine condition (untouched by life) instead?

Be blessed, be a blessing

watch it

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About 15 years ago, when I moved on my first church, the church very kindly gave me some money as a leaving gift. I decided that I wanted to spend it on something that would last so I bought myself a watch (my previous one was a cheap and cheerful purchase, probably from a garage forecourt shop).

The watch that I bought was a kinetic watch that took the energy of my everyday arm movements and stored it to make the hands and movements of the watch turn. So long as I moved my arm normally the watch was kept fully charged. Slowly, over the years, the watch’s ability to hold a charge diminished until it got to the point where if I took the watch off at night it would have run down by the morning. As I did not want to wear my watch during the night (too much risk of scratching myself with it and it tends to get a bit sweaty under the watch) I looked into the possibility of replacing the capacitor in the watch. When I discovered how expensive these things are I decided that now might be the time to buy myself a new watch.

When I moved on from my last church they were kind enough to give me some money as a leaving gift as well and as I had not spent this I decided that it would be rather a nice thing to buy a watch again. I looked into the possibility of buying another kinetic watch but they are rather expensive. Then I looked at other forms of self winding watches and found one that I like the look of on a well-known Internet auction site. It was being sold by a company that resold items which had been returned to a well-known high street catalogue-based retailer and was significantly cheaper than the normal retail price.

I bought it and have been very happy with it. But there is one difference between this and my kinetic watch. Whilst this watch uses my arm movements to wind the spring in the watch this only extends the length of time between winds to a couple of days, it does not keep the watch wound in perpetuity. It took me a while to realise this and then get used to it. Because I can see the spring through the face of the watch I can tell when it needs winding.

But I sometimes forget and only realise that the watch needed winding overnight when I check the time later in the day and realise that it is a couple of hours out. Thankfully because timepieces are relatively ubiquitous (on my computer, phone, tablet as well as on my desk, on the wall, in the car…) I’m usually able to find the correct time and reset the watch.

It seems to me that Christians are sometimes like kinetic watches. We make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ and then imagine that through our regular attendance at church our relationship with him is maintained. And to an extent it will be, but it will slowly run down and you may well find yourself frustrated and feeling spiritually worn out after a while. What Jesus was demonstrating to his followers (and that includes us) was that a relationship with “Our Father in heaven” is more like my ‘self-winding’ watch that benefits from regular attention.

Prayer can be as much a part of our daily living as breathing is (it is like oxygen for our soul). Reading the Bible need not be something special but can be routine (like regular meals for our soul). All that we say and do can be dedicated as an act of worship if we consciously decide that it will be – giving our best to honour God.

And if that sounds like I am making my Christian faith seem quite mundane and every day then hallelujah! I am not diminishing the honour and privilege and grace of a relationship with God through Jesus, don’t get me wrong. That God is even interested in me is incredible, never mind that he loves me as much as he does! But he wants to be part of our everyday ordinary working walking eating sleeping watching telly sending emails talking with people texting driving drinking internetting laughing crying surprising mundane lives. I think he longs to be a natural part of everyone’s life – so much so that we don’t consciously have to remember him because he is involved in everything.

Does that sound idealistic? Does it sound impossible? It is on our own, which is why Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to us in order to help us in our relationship with God. He is with us always. He’s constantly nudging, speaking, encouraging, suggesting, reminding, provoking, praying, listening, hoping, blessing and seeking a response from us so that in partnership with him our awareness of God (Father, Son, Spirit) grows and our relationship deepens. All you need to do is ask for it to start. And then like my self-winding watch give him your regular attention. It doesn’t happen overnight but the more we involve God in everything the more we find he is involved in everything already and has simply been waiting for us to realise that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.