the inner toddler

I like to think of myself as being fairly laid back. Most of the time I am able to reflect calmly and intelligently on events and then respond appropriately (possibly). But I know that when I am tired I get grumpy more easily and little things that would not bother me normally now irritate me intensely.

Normally if my phone is not working properly I calmly resolve the problem (by turning it off and on again). But if I am tired and ratty all of a sudden the problem becomes much more difficult to resolve. I repeat the same process on the phone, somehow expecting that doing the same thing will bring a different result (d’oh!!).

One of the problems with this is that I know that I am acting irrationally and that I have moved up the grumpy index but I can’t stop myself. It’s almost as if I have to get to the full toddler strop before I can calm down and revert to adult again. My wife knows me well enough that she can tell me that I am being silly and to calm down, and sometimes that works, but the more tired I am the harder it is to stop.

grumpy index

In order to prevent the world being full of stroppy adult toddlers and prevent global catastrophes from happening on the whim of someone who’s not over-tired God has built in to us a rhythm of life that includes sleep and recreation. We tamper with or ignore these at our peril. It’s not a sign of superhuman-ness to exist on a couple of hours sleep a night. It’s not a commendable trait to work 24/7 and never take any time to rest, relax and be refreshed. The inevitable outcome is that you will end up behaving like a toddler – selfish, prone to irrational outbursts, ignoring the effect you have on others and demanding attention.

So how do we reverse the climb up the grumpy index? Build in regular relaxation, find things that make you laugh, find people who energise you and whose company you enjoy, maybe even take yourself off to the naughty step to calm down a bit… and as you realise that the inner toddler has taken control ask your heavenly Father to calm you down and renew his Spirit’s presence in you.

Be blessed, be a blessing

there and back again

As a child I used to love the animated short stories on TV from Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green. If you’ve never seen them then find them and watch them – they have a charm and innocence that is special. Many of the characters had their own rhymes or songs that accompanied their actions, especially if they were travelling somewhere. “Pugh, Pugh, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb” accompanied the firemen sliding down the pole in order to get into their fire engine, for example. In Chigley most episodes involved Lord Belborough driving his own personal steam train to help someone out (just go with the plot, don’t get all Network Rail on us!). His journeys would be accompanied by the song that began, “Time flies by when you’re the driver of a a train and you ride on the footplate there and back again…” That song came into my mind today, but let me try to explain why:

One of the things I am encouraged to do in order to aid my recovery following the surgery earlier in the year is to go for walks. I have tried to do this, gradually increasing the length of the walks around the estate on which we live. Some days the walks have been longer than others – it depends on how much energy I have in my legs.

On one of my walks with my wife a while back we started walking up a slope towards some local shops (I had expressed that one of my targets was to be able to walk to the shops). I was surprised at how much steeper the slope felt than I had expected and, about two-thirds of the way up, Sally pointed out that I had stopped talking and asked if I was okay. Disappointingly I had to admit that my legs felt really weak and that I was not going to get up the slope. So we turned around and walked home.

I was determined I was not going to be defeated by it. So a few days later we tried again and, to my amazement, about two-thirds of the way up the slope my legs felt really weak and I had to turn around again.

Now the slope had become my nemesis. I was not going to be defeated by something as simple as a slope.

As you can see from this photo it doesn’t look that tough, but it was too much for my weakened legs. I set myself the target of being able to walk to the local shops that were the other side of the slope. I even set that as a goal within the cardiac rehab process that I had just begun.

Frustratingly I had another setback shortly after beginning the cardiac rehab process which meant I had to put it on hold, but the slope was still there in the back of my mind, taunting me. So a short while later Sally and I set off with the express purpose of conquering the slope. It was hard work and my legs felt like jelly at the top, but I made it. I didn’t have enough in me to complete the journey to shops but the slope had been defeated.

Last weekend I decided that it was time to show the slope once and for all who was the boss. So, having arranged for Sally to meet me at the shops with her car, I set off. At the top of the slope my legs felt like they were on fire, but I kept going and got to the shops. I was elated – so much so that I couldn’t stop myself posting the achievement on Facebook. Lots of my friends very kindly and encouragingly ‘liked’ the post and wrote encouraging comments below the post, which was really a blessing. But in my heart I felt as if I hadn’t really completed the mission. I had only gone one way.

So this morning I set off to the shops again with no backup driver. I needed some tablets from the pharmacy in the parade of shops so that was my motivation. But this time I was going to walk back home afterwards. As previously by the time I reached the top of the slope my legs were burning. I paused to catch my breath at a lamppost at the top of the slope and then pressed on to the shops as planned. I got my tablets and set off back home.

Now the good thing about slopes is that while they may prove to be an obstacle in one direction, they are an assistance in the other direction. The upward slope that inhibited me became a downward slope that made my walk back home manageable and I arrived home tired but triumphant. I had achieved my goal. There’s a lot more to be done in terms of rehab, but it felt like a big step (or lots of little steps) in the right direction. There and back again – without the aid of Lord Belborough’s train or my wife’s car!

And it also made me ponder – what can feel like an obstacle and a difficulty when we look at it from one direction can prove to be a blessing and assistance from another. For example: my unexpected need for a heart operation and subsequent convalescence has been hard to cope with physically but it has also revealed to me an amazing level of friendship, support, prayers and encouragement that I had not expected. And while it’s taking longer than I had anticipated it’s also giving me an opportunity to live life at a slower pace and appreciate the many blessings I have. I see life differently now because of what I have been through. I definitely would not be so insensitive as to suggest that everything bad that happens has an equally positive side to it, but (often with hindsight) if we look for them some blessings are there too and often manifest themselves in other people. They may not make the bad stuff tolerable, but it’s amazing how bright even the smallest pinprick of light looks in the darkest places.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the right time to change

person wearing leather wrist watch
Photo by Jonathan Miksanek on Pexels.com (not my wristwatch or wrist!)

Yesterday I had another of my regular visits to hospital to see various specialists and also have some more blood tests. I would have thought by now they’d know whether or not my blood had passed the test and was fully qualified as blood, but apparently not.

I’ve described my progress following my heart surgery as ‘two steps forwards and one step back’. That adds up to progress overall, but it’s frustrating when I am in a ‘step back’ phase, as I am now. The appointments yesterday were positive and hopeful but the cardiac rehab process is still on hold until at least next week, which means my return to ‘normal life’ (whether it ever was normal is debatable) is on hold too.

Anyway, that little diversion by way of an update distracted me from my reflection. In order to test my blood they have to take some of it away to a laboratory and this (inevitably) involves someone jabbing me with a needle. Yesterday my veins decided that they had had enough of being speared so for a while they refused to give up any blood. The doctor who was impaling me tried five times before he finally managed to hit a gusher.

The five attempts were not without cost. I suspect that my hand is going to resemble a rainbow soon with the bruising that is ominously threatening behind a mask of off-yellow discolouration. And my wrist is really sore as it took the brunt of the assault. That would not be a problem normally, but it’s my left wrist.

I am a conventional watch-wearer, normally locating it on my left wrist. But because of the aftermath of needlegate yesterday it’s too uncomfortable to wear my watch on my left wrist at the moment, so it’s located on my right wrist.

“Big deal,” you might (rightly) think. But I am finding that this minor adjustment feels really strange. The watch feels heavy on my right wrist. It feels strange, unusual, even uncomfortable on my right wrist and I am very conscious of it whereas on my left I rarely think about my watch unless I am consulting it to discover the time.

And it struck me afresh how difficult most of us humans find change. There are some people who embrace change and seems to struggle with regularity and consistency, but most of us (I reckon) find change uncomfortable, unusual and strange. We are acutely aware of what has changed and how different it looks and feels and we don’t like it. So we become ‘change-averse’. We can even fear change because it might not be something we like, and moreover we are usually not fully in control because changes can bring unexpected consequences.

If you want an example of a change-averse organisation then look at most churches. Even those with brand-new premises will be doing things in the same way they have done them for decades (or longer). That’s not a criticism, maintaining links with the past is important and for some people to reconnect with church they need to find something familiar. But the change-averseness that I am thinking of is the knee-jerk reaction against any proposals or actions that threaten ‘the way we’ve always done things’.

Leaderships need to take some responsibility for this: introducing possible change is an art form and should be done with grace, patience and discernment. Grace – recognising that for some people this will be traumatic – patience – realising that the majority of the church has not been on the same journey as the leadership and it will take some time for them to catch up – and discernment – receiving and weighing responses that are given and sifting them to find out whether God has hidden any pearls of wisdom in the field of unhappiness. Possible change that is well-introduced, well-led and adaptably implemented can bless everyone and bring them together. The opposite is also true.

And leaderships must be open to the possibility that they have heard God wrongly and that the proposed change is not what he wants. Humility is still a virtue isn’t it?

But it’s not all down to the leadership. The rest of us have to recognise that the way things are done in church can become a sort of spiritual security-blanket. We are comfortable with the way things are (why do you think we are part of that church?) and locate our spiritual well-being as an aspect of our comfortableness. If something threatens that then we don’t like it.

When I am tempted to hide my head under my spiritual security-blanket I need to remind myself of a few things:

  • My spiritual security is in my relationship with Jesus not in the church I attend.
  • Jesus embraced, introduced and inspired change – re-read a Gospel and see how much he changed and how much he spoke about change.
  • God, while unchanging, has put change into the rhythm of life (the seasons) and through his prophets says things like, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
  • Even if I am uncomfortable with change I should look to see where God is in all of this, not seek to impose my own preferences (thinly disguised as ‘thus saith the Lord’) on others.

So for the time being (pun intended) I shall continue to wear my watch on my right hand and allow it to remind me not only of the time but also that change, while uncomfortable, can also be beneficial.

I have some questions…

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are times when I read what another Christian has written or said and I wonder whether I am reading the same Bible as them because I can’t justify their behaviour based on what I read in my Bible.

Now I realise that in writing this bloggage I am opening myself up to an accusation that I am making judgements about other people, and that’s something Jesus said we should not do. So I am writing this in the form of four sets of open questions based on my observations rather than accusations against anyone in particular. And I am writing this to Christians – the rest of you can relax…

I ask these questions of myself as much as anyone else and if I am being honest I am uncomfortable with some of my own answers – as always I am NOT suggesting that I live a fully-sorted life as a follower of Jesus. But I want to be open to his Spirit’s transformational prompting.

  1. Where in the Bible does it say that it’s right to use unpleasant, vitriolic, and hateful language against someone with whom you disagree? Doesn’t the Bible say that the way people will know we are followers of Jesus by the way that we love one another? How can it be right that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second one was to love others, yet some comments that Christians have posted online about fellow-believers and some behaviour between Christians appear to be devoid of love and full of hate? And how are some of the hideous comments made against those who don’t claim a Christian faith showing them what God’s love and grace are like?
  2. Where does it say that it’s okay to condemn someone for interpreting the Bible differently from you by denouncing them as ‘unbiblical’ (which presumably means that the denouncer has absolute confidence that their interpretation is entirely ‘biblical’ and there’s no chance they could be wrong)? Wasn’t Jesus regarded as ‘unbiblical’ in his day? Where does the Bible tell us that we should consider ourselves better than others, using our superiority to tell them how and why they are wrong and we are right?
  3. Why do Christians spend so much energy arguing about relatively trivial things like doctrinal differences and not spend as much time and energy tackling poverty, injustice and conflict? Jesus spoke much more about the use of and love of money than he did about doctrine didn’t he?
  4. Given how much Christians have been forgiven, and how much Jesus said we should forgive, how come some of us find it so difficult to apologise to other Christians when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness? Is admitting we are wrong so difficult?

I realise that this is rather an incendiary post, and it REALLY isn’t my intention to have a go at anyone in particular. My hope is that this little bloggage might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behaviour and open us up to God’s Spirit changing us to become more like the Jesus we follow.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Three weeks I’ll never forget

So, dear bloggists, the time has come for me to let you know what’s been happening for the past 4 weeks. I will try to be brief, but a lot has happened. If you read my previous bloggage you’ll know that I went into hospital on 12th February for an aortic root replacement operation. If you don’t like medical dramas you may like to skip to the bottom of the bloggage and read the conclusion after the heading below. And as you read bear in mind that I am writing this at home so it ends well. And one final warning – this is quite a long bloggage and while it doesn’t mention everything that happened or everyone who visited, it contains the ‘highlights’ of my three weeks in hospital.

The surgeon had told me that they considered it to be serious but routine and I went in feeling confident that I would be back home and beginning my convalescence within the 7-10 days that are usual. I have no memory at all beyond having to shave myself all over (yes, there was more hair on my head than on my body, which hasn’t happened for many years!) and put on a gown the night before. The next thing I can remember is being in intensive care after the operation and it was Wednesday. The operation had gone very well and I had the expected number of tubes, wires and apparatus attached to me, including an external pacemaker to help my heart regain its rhythm after having been stopped during the operation.

Over the next few days I improved enough to be able to go to the critical care section and the number of attachments slowly reduced. But there were a couple of occasions when, without warning, I blacked out. The doctors felt that the external pacemaker was not talking properly to my heart and talked about me perhaps needing an internal pacemaker because half of my heart was not returning to normal without a pacemaker’s help.

I enjoyed my birthday in hospital (although I was still a little spaced out on painkillers) and was thrilled that my wife and both children had come to see me. That meant so much. On the following day (19th Feb) I was sat in the chair beside my bed ready to eat my breakfast. The next thing I remember is waking up on the floor with an anxious-looking nurse about 6 inches from my face asking if I could hear her.

“Hello,” I said, wondering what had happened to breakfast. Apparently I had pitched forward from my chair, hitting the breakfast table on the way down and had ended up unconscious on the floor. After a lengthy period of time as the doctors checked me out they declared that I was ready to go back to bed and told me that I must remain there. They also said that this episode confirmed to them that the external pacemaker was not doing its job and that I would almost certainly have to have an internal, permanent pacemaker fitted. I spent the rest of the day in bed, being checked on regularly by nurses. In the middle of the afternoon another patient I knew well came around to see me.

As I looked at him I felt very woozy and said, “Sorry, I don’t think I’m up for a visit at the moment…”

The next thing I remember is being flat on my back on the bed surrounded by very concerned doctors and nurses who sounded very relieved that I was conscious again. This time had been really serious and I had gone into cardiac arrest. Only the quick thinking and actions of a doctor who shocked me back to life with a defibrillator had saved my life!

As I slowly came to the doctors were saying that they wanted me back in intensive care immediately with a view to having a permanent pacemaker fitted as soon as was possible. My wife, children and my Mum and her husband were all coming to see me and were somewhat surprised that I was not on the ward. I was able to chat with them very briefly and tell them that they were fitting a permanent pacemaker, but had asked that they weren’t told about the cardiac arrest as I didn’t want them to worry even more. Astonishingly the pacemaker was installed under local anaesthetic, although while I was conscious for the operation I have no memory of it. I was back in intensive care within an hour and a half and able to tell my family what an eventful day I had had.

Over the next few days as I recovered from the second surgery I was moved back upstairs to critical care (only one floor but felt like significant progress). On 21st I was finding myself feeling really breathless and a scan revealed that my left lung had filled with fluid. Apparently this often happens as the body’s defence mechanism against physical trauma so off I went for a drain to be fitted. Back on the ward I was feeling fine and looking forward to my visitors that afternoon as my dad, my sister and her daughter were coming to see me in addition to the ever-faithful Sally and Hannah.

One of the incredible privileges I had was meeting the doctor who saved my life with the defibrillator and being able to thank him personally. It’s an incredible experience being able to shake the hand and thank the person who saved you – I still get goosebumps thinking about it!

Just as my visitors arrived the pain levels from the drain increased massively. Every breath felt like I was being stabbed and oral morphine was not helping. It can’t have been an easy visit for those who had travelled so far to see me because I was not good company at all. Unknown to me my sister, who is a nurse, went and had a word with the nurses and suggested that they increase the pain relief, which they did, and for which I am so grateful. It became bearable once again.

Over the next few days the number of wires and tubes in me reduced until on Saturday afternoon a couple of nurses interrupted Sally and Hannah’s visit to say that they were going to remove the last couple of connections. Sally and Hannah went off to the patient lounge to wait and one of the highlights of my time in hospital was being able to walk unaided to the patient lounge to get them. The look of joy on Hannah’s face will remain with me for a very long time.

On the next day I threw myself into my exercise regime, determined to be fit enough to go home very soon. On the Monday I felt tired but put it down to having perhaps overdone things on the Sunday. But when the doctors came around on their normal ward rounds they used some words I didn’t understand and said that they wanted me to have a scan to make sure everything was okay. The operator came around later that morning and gave me a form of ultrasound scan. She told me that once the doctors had seen it they would come and speak with me. I wasn’t worried. I was wireless and ready to go home. By now I had progressed along the corridor from critical care to the more general care, and the expectation was that from there patients headed out of the ward and went home.

In the afternoon a doctor came to see me and said that the sac around my heart had filled with fluid after the operations, which is a usual defence mechanism, but that instead of slowly draining away it was still filling up. It was going to need an operation to drain it and they wanted to do it sooner rather than later as my heart was struggling in all the fluid. Sally came in at her usual time and while she was with me a selection of different anaethsetists and doctors came to see us to talk about what has going to happen. It was incredibly reassuring to hear one of them say that this was the simplest procedure that they do. But it did mean another general anasthetic and as it came close to the time for the operation there was a lengthy discussion about the implications of me having both a pacemaker and an occipital nerve stimulator inside me. Because by now it was evening all of the people they needed to consult had gone home and they made the decision to wait until the next morning so that they could be certain. I was VERY happy with that plan.

So, the next morning (26th February) I had a third operation and ended back in intensive care. Someone described it as feeling like a game of snakes and ladders where you almost make it to the finish and then land on a long snake that takes you almost back to the beginning. And I’d landed there twice! This time my stay in intensive care was measured in hours not days and I was soon heading back upstairs to critical care, complete with two buckets to collect the fluid. Over the next couple of days the amount of fluid was monitored (you would not believe how much was collected) and when there was negligible change over 24 hours they decided that the drains had done they job and could be removed. I won’t describe that process other than to say, “Ouch!”

With the drains out it wasn’t long before I was back at the low care end of the corridor and beginning to anticipate going home. There were various blood parameters to get right and another scan to check that the fluid really had gone (and stayed gone) but on Tuesday 6th March, just over 3 weeks since I was admitted, I finally came home.

I don’t know if you feel slightly strange when you come home after having been away on holiday, but it felt like that – only magnified considerably. I wandered around looking at what was familiar yet unfamiliar. It felt incredibly surreal. There was a brief moment when I wondered whether this was a wonderful dream, but that I would wake up back in my hospital bed. Thankfully that sensation receded and slowly but surely it started to feel ‘normal’ again. Sally cooked me a wonderful roast beef dinner followed by blackberry and apple pie (she’d asked me what I fancied) and each mouthful felt like a privilege (particularly bearing in mind how awful the hospital food was).

Start here if you’re squeamish

So how do I reflect on all that has happened?

  • I feel an immense sense of privilege at all of the time, effort, expertise and expense that was given on my behalf to bring me to this place.
  • I am humbled at the level of support, care and love that I have experienced from the hospital staff, from my family and friends. I am also blessed beyond measure by the number of people who have been praying for me. It was almost tangible to me!
  • When I think about all that has happened to me I feel great joy that I am still here.
  • I want to praise the NHS from the rooftops. Everyone I met was so amazing. There were little moments, like the lady who brought our fresh water jugs and wiped the bottom of them so that the tables were not flooded, and massive moments, like thanking the doctor who saved my life! Let’s make sure this incredible service is never taken for granted or undermined.
  • I have experienced the depth and breadth of my family’s love for me in ways I could never have imagined beforehand. They are amazing people and I love them so much.
  • My faith in Jesus Christ has only been enhanced by all that has happened. I have known a sense of peace about everything that has never wavered, even in the most difficult of moments. And it’s the peace from God that the Bible talks about that defies human understanding. I have a greatly enhanced attitude of gratitude and know the One to whom I am most grateful!
  • I have gained a greater appreciation of the blessings of life, and indeed of life itself. I intend to make the most of what I have been given, and receive what lies ahead as a gift to be cherished, and life as something in which to flourish and bless as many others as I can.

If you have prayed for me, thought of me, sent me a card or facebook message (even just ‘liking’ one of my occasional posts), if you have supported my family and friends, if you are someone who has been taking care of me in hospital, however you have offered some encouragement, THANK YOU. It means so much to me.

There is still a lot of recuperating to do. I have ten significant new wounds in my body that will take time to heal; my stamina will need rebuilding gradually, and then it’s a process of cardiac rehab exercises once I have seen my surgeon in the middle of April. But I am determined to make the most of it! If you are interested in coming for a visit please phone in advance to check that I will be around (rather than at one of the many appointments) and allow us to space things out so it’s not too tiring (and if you call in an evening to make arrangements with Sally that would bless me).

courageous reasoning

With all the love, grace and encouragement I can muster I want to ask you to bear with me and read this bloggage to the end. It may be the most important one I have ever written.

One of the things that an imminent operation on your heart does for you is force you to face your own mortality. I have the utmost confidence in the surgeon and his team and have been assured that the risks of the surgery are minimal, but they are there nonetheless. I have had to think about and prepare for that very small possibility.

Christians believe in life after death (and life before death too). We don’t believe in reincarnation or hanging around as a ghost / spirit, but a full-blown life-as-God-intended no-holds-barred all-consuming experience of God for those who want it once we have curled up our tootsies and shuffled off this mortal coil. And when we come face to face with something that reminds us that we are not indestructible and that life is finite we have to consider whether we really believe what Jesus said.

That’s when the rubber hits the road as I have to consider whether I really believe what I proclaim.

rubber hits road

I want to say a wholehearted, unequivocal “YES!” I believe it with all my heart, mind and soul. I have staked my life on it.

One of my favourite definitions of faith is: “Reason in a courageous mood.”* You take what you can deduce, what you can learn, what you can understand and then extrapolate from that to the next logical step, and that extrapolation leads you to take a step of faith – following the trajectory of your thinking and understanding and acting on it.

So, by way of example, if you had to cross a ravine and there was a bridge there you would need to exercise faith in the bridge in order to use it and cross the ravine. Before you did you might examine the bridge to see how strong it is, you might ask other people who have used the bridge and you might even research online how and when it was constructed. But once you had come to the conclusion that it is strong enough for you to use safely you then have to take the step of faith and put that reasoning into practice by crossing the bridge. And you are encouraged when that faith is vindicated and the bridge holds.

All that I have read, considered, discerned and understood about Jesus of Nazareth confirms to me that I believe him and I believe in him. What he said makes incredible sense. What the contemporary records say about him reveal an extraordinary person. And the evidence for his resurrection is (in my view) pretty conclusive. All that points me to the conclusion that he is who he claimed to be: God with us. He is worth following and trusting and through faith in him I am able to have a relationship with God that is life in all its fullness now and beyond death. My reason has become courageous and I have been blessed, inspired and encouraged to find that this faith has been vindicated.

I want to say a hearty “Amen, amen, amen!” to these words written by Paul to the early church in Rome (Romans 8):

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? [If you read the preceding verses you see that ‘these things’ are pain, suffering and death.] If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You have to make your own mind up about this, but please do so on an informed basis. Faith may be reason in a courageous mood but for many people lack of faith is not cowardly reason, it’s simply that they have never considered it. The difficult thing is that although you can investigate, research, discuss, listen and discern about the Christian faith, ultimately you’ll only experience it in its fullness by taking the step of faith. It’s like a stained-glass window. From the outside you can see lots of the shapes and images in a stained-glass window but you will only really experience it in all its glory once you go inside a church and look at the light shining through it – that’s the way they were designed.

stained glass 3

If you would not say that you are a follower of Jesus and if you consider me to be someone you trust then I want to encourage you to consider his claims carefully and investigate them for yourself. Then you can decide whether to get courageous with the reason.

If you are a follower of Jesus, don’t privatise your faith – live it 24/7. If it’s good news for you it’s good news for everyone.

If maybe you are a follower of Jesus but you’ve not been actively following him you will know that he would love to welcome you back into a closer walk with him – you only have to take the first step and you’ll find that he’s already there with you.

If you have never considered these things I hope and pray that we could have a conversation about it once I have recovered from the operation, but don’t feel you have to wait for that moment – talk with another Christian.

The reason I believe all of this is not because I am a Baptist Minister. I am a Baptist Minister because I believe that this is the most important thing in life (and death) and it’s worth dedicating my life to.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I believe this is attributed to LP Jacks from 1928, but I first heard it from one of my spiritual heroes, friends and Senior Minister in my first church: Revd David Richardson

thoughts on communion

This bloggage began its life as a ‘Thought for the week’ shared with the Ministers I serve in the Eastern Baptist Association. As you will see I have extended my thinking a little since the original ‘Thought’.

As you probably know by now I am about to undergo some surgery on 13th February, which will be followed by a period of convalescence. I was told about it about 3 months ago and have been on the waiting list ever since. (This is not a complaint about waiting lists – there were people with greater clinical need than me further up the list.) Because I could have been called at short notice at any time I have not been able to commit to meetings and events in my diary. That means that preaching engagements have been postponed because churches need a little more certainty about who will take the service than ‘I should be able to make it’. It has been frustrating. But it has also been liberating as I have found more space in my diary than I am used to and have taken the opportunity to catch up with people I haven’t had a chance to, I have done more reading than usual, and I have exercised the gift of administration and got on top of my emails and paperwork – almost emptying both the virtual and real inboxes. Now, however, I have some certainty.

One thing that has happened several times since the operation date was confirmed has made me chuckle. People have spoken to me about “the last time I will see you” or “your last meeting”. Now I know (or hope) that they have meant “the last time I will see you until after you return to work” and “your last meeting before you go on sick leave” but the apparent finality made me chuckle and I couldn’t help commenting on it along the lines of, “Do you know something I don’t?” and “That’s a bit final!” This morning as I recalled those conversations I had a glimpse of what Jesus may have felt as he was sharing the Last Supper with his closest friends. I had not really paid much attention to the element of provisional finality in what Jesus said before sharing bread and wine with the Twelve. And I had not given enough attention to how eager Jesus was to share the meal with them. “Eagerly desired” doesn’t really do justice to the passionate desire he had to share the Passover that ‘one last time’ (until…) – the Greek word ‘epithoumeo’ has the sense of ‘desperately longing for’, ‘setting one’s heart on’ and even ‘lusting after’! With that in mind, read Luke’s record of the Last Supper – (Luke 22:14-20).

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

At one time I was booked to have the operation just before Christmas and to be in hospital for the festive season. I was keen just to get it over with but my wife, Sally, was eager that we should have the whole family around the table for that meal. It was only in conversation with her after the operation was postponed that I realised just how important it was to her: she had set her heart on me being there because it meant something. That has helped me realise how eager Jesus would have been to share the meal with those he loved. Passover was a big deal: it meant something.

Jesus knew what lay ahead of him, and that made him even more desperate to share that special meal with these people who had become special to him. It meant something.pexels-photo-632043.jpeg

So how eager am I to share bread and wine with those I love? Sometimes, perhaps because of frequency or regularity, we may take sharing communion for granted. We add it onto the end of a service or perhaps even forget that it’s that Sunday in the month until we see that the elements have been prepared (have you had that experience too?). I am reminded of my Father’s ‘Priesting’ (Ordination in the C of E) which concluded with him leading the celebration of Communion. I was sat at the front and had received bread and wine from my Dad (what a moment!) so was watching the rest of the congregation line up. And I could see a man struggling forward from the back of the church with two walking sticks. He was really unstable and I wasn’t sure he would make it to the front. Each step looked precarious and painful but he was determined that he was going to receive bread and wine from my father on that special occasion so he persevered. It meant something!

When we share bread and wine in church do we eagerly desire to eat the meal with those we love and serve? We ought to because it means something.

pexels-photo-669730.jpegThis is the point at which my thinking has extended since I wrote the ‘Thought’. You see Jesus “eagerly desired” to share the Passover with the Twelve – his closest friends and his constant companions for the past 3 years. The very next verse in the passage reads:

21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.

Jesus shared the meal with Judas – the one he knew had already agreed to betray him. Not only that, he eagerly desired to share the meal with Judas as one of the Twelve, even though he knew that Judas had become disillusioned with him and was going to betray him.

In many churches (and I have done this sometimes) Christians seem to feel the need to either to protect people from sharing in the Lord’s Supper if they are not believers or to protect the Lord’s Supper from people who are not believers (or both). But Jesus was desperate to share this meal with a man whom he knew had decided to become his enemy! Who, or what, are we protecting when we say something like, “If you love Jesus you are welcome to take bread and wine”? And some traditions even exclude you from taking communion unless you can prove you are a Christian! One of the most heartbreaking moments in my ministry was when we had a leader from another sharing in a service in our church and when it came to communion they felt constrained by obedience to their church tradition not to share with us. They had tears running down their face at that moment because they eagerly desired to eat and drink with us.

And with the greatest of respect to those traditions, and even mine, I think we have got it so wrong. This is a meal of welcome, a meal in which an olive-branch of reconciliation is offered, a meal in which even those who feel like enemies are included. It’s also an encounter with the core of the Christian faith – a tangible, tasteable and inspirational connection with Jesus as we are reminded of the extent of his love for us and the extraordinary lengths God went to in order to offer us forgiveness and a fresh start with him. If that is the case, surely we’d want everyone to have that, wouldn’t we?

“Stop right there, you heretic!” I hear you think. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, tells them that they should be very careful before they eat bread and wine together – there are dire consequences for doing so wrongly (1 Corinthians 11):

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

Yup! I completely agree with you. But let’s remember that Paul was writing to a church of Christians about their behaviour, not about the behaviour of people who weren’t Christians. And the “unworthy manner” surely relates to the particular practice he was angry at where rich people ate separately from the poorer people in the church and gorged themselves while the others had meagre rations. Look at the whole of 1 Corinthians 11 (I have added italics to show the aspects of his teaching that all relate to this) and I think you’ll see what I mean.

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and ill, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

Examining ourselves is not about whether or not we are followers of Jesus, it’s about whether our behaviour has excluded some people and is creating or emphasising divisions in the church. Paul suggests that if it is, then even if the elements are right we aren’t actually sharing in the Lord’s Supper!

If you disagree with me, that’s your prerogative. And if I am asked to come to lead a service in your church and that includes leading communion I will try to respect your traditions but I will also want to be as inclusive as possible in the manner of Jesus, whom I follow and serve.

Be blessed, be a blessing.