skoda jokes?

I drive a Skoda. There, I have admitted it in public. Years ago Skodas were the butt of many jokes but nowadays they are very well made, reliable cars that frequently top customer satisfaction surveys. What do you mean you’ve never heard any Skoda jokes?

A man walked into a garage and asked if they had a wing mirror for his Skoda. The garage owner thought about it for a moment and then said, “Yes, that sounds like a fair swap.”

Or

What do you call a convertible Skoda with the roof down?
A skip.

Or

What do you call a convertible Skoda with twin exhausts and the roof down?
A wheelbarrow.

Or

How do you double the value of a Skoda?
Fill up the fuel tank.

Or

Why do Skodas have heated rear windscreens?
To keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it.

Or

What do you call a Skoda driver who says he’s had a speeding ticket?
A liar

Or

How do you make your Skoda more sporty?
Wear trainers when driving it.

Had enough? I think you get the idea. Anyway, as I was saying, I now drive a Skoda and it is very comfortable and reliable. One of the reasons why Skoda’s reputation has changed for the better is that they were taken over by Volkswagen.

And at this point some of you have a sense of the direction in which this bloggage might be headed. Because mine is a diesel Skoda. And some diesel Skodas (made by Volkswagen) apparently have the software cheat in their system that enabled them to beat the emissions tests while not meeting that standard in normal use. The problem is that I didn’t know whether my car is one of those affected. Skoda has admitted that over 130,000 cars are affected in the UK so it is possible that mine is one of them.

Eventually I found a Skoda recall website and, after putting in my VIN I was informed that yes my car is on the naughty list. I received a very apologetic message and now wait to hear from Skoda to tell me what they are going to do about it.

At one level I don’t feel particularly let down. My car drives very well and I am quite happy with it.

But one of the reasons that I bought this particular car was that it had such low emissions that it qualified for the lowest possible vehicle excise duty (just above ‘nil’). Over the life of the car that would save a lot of money. Now it seems that is not true. And there is speculation that if Skoda have to change the settings on the engine somehow that might reduce performance/fuel economy in order to achieve the claimed low emissions. And I don’t think I’ll be very happy if that’s the case either way.

We don’t like being lied to do we? We like to think that we can trust people and businesses. We feel let down when we find that they have acted dishonestly. At its most extreme we might even feel conned or betrayed. Some people have expressed something approaching outrage at what VW and their associated manufacturers have done.

If I find myself heading in that direction I have to remember that I am by no means perfect. I lie sometimes. And when I remember that I let go of the stones in my hands and melt away into the crowd. Yet even as I do I hear a voice saying, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Fresh starts are available for all. Even Skodas!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I can see clearly now…

If you don’t wear glasses you may not fully empathise with this bloggage, but give it a go anyway (you could try spraying cleaning spray on a mirror and having a look at it before you clean it to get the similar effect).

Embed from Getty Images

Glasses-wearers among you will know that during the day glasses accumulate gunk, dust, smudges and other unwanted gubbins. It just happens. (It makes you wonder about how much gubbins our skin accumulates in a day). But the thing is that it happens gradually. Glasses-wearers will be unaware of the build-up (unless it’s an obvious glob of gloop in the middle of the lens or a big smear) until they take off the glasses and have a look at them. Then we realise just how much has accumulated and we clean them. We may ‘huff’ on them with our breath or use a specialist cleaning fluid along with either a designated cleaning cloth, a handkerchief (hopefully clean), the corner of a shirt or jumper, or any piece of rag we can find).

And when we put the glasses back on suddenly we realise how dirty the lenses had become. We can see clearly now the gunk has gone.

And I think there’s an element of that for all of us. In our daily living we accumulate grime – the little lie, the unkind thought, the angry word, the selfish act… and we don’t realise how grimy we are until we stop and take a look at ourselves. One of the reasons why it’s good to be in regular contact with God and consciously to spend time with him is that it is good to ask him to clean us up regularly rather than allowing these things to accumulate. Why? Well they separate us from him and they can tarnish and diminish our positive experience of life: guilt, shame, hurt and upset all detract and diminish us as people. They don’t come from God, they come from our failure to live in the way that he designed us to live.

The good news is that he is always ready to clean us up – in Jesus he’s done all that’s necessary, all we need to do is ask.

Be blessed, be a blessing

at four ment

(If you are fresh to this blog you may be somewhat confused by the title of this bloggage: if so I suggest you look at the preceding three entries and you should get the idea!)

[To get the best out of this bloggage you may need to have some music in the background such as The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet (played behind ‘Our Tune’ on Radio 1 in the 1980s and 1990s). And there may also be a cheesy story alert!]

They had been inseparable almost since the day they were born. Their birthdays were only a couple of days apart and their mothers had met at ante-natal classes. Once Julia and Brad (named after … Roberts and … Pitt respectively) had been born their mothers would meet up most weeks and the children soon got to know each other. They went to the same parent and toddler group, same pre-school, same classes at school and even to the same University. They were almost like brother and sister – to borrow a line from Forrest Gump they were like peas and carrots.

The problem came when Brad got his first girlfriend when they were at University. There had never been any romantic feelings between Brad and Julia, but when Brad started spending time with Sarah Julia got jealous. She felt like Sarah was stealing Brad away from her and Julia started to criticise her to all their mutual friends. Sarah was too clingy or too needy or lacked commitment or was too talkative or was too quiet…

Sarah tried to get on with Julia, but Julia was having none of it. Nothing Sarah did was acceptable. Brad was aware of some tension between them but didn’t realise the extent of Julia’s hatred for Sarah. One evening he told Julia that he was going to propose to Sarah the next day. Julia was overcome with jealousy and, in a desperate attempt to stop him, she told Brad that she had heard that Sarah was sleeping with one of her tutors to get good grades.

Brad had always trusted Julia. He had no reason to doubt her. He could not face seeing Sarah. Instead he wrote a long, bitter email to her telling her how much he had loved her and how betrayed he felt by her deception and unfaithfulness. He clicked ‘send’ with a heavy heart and went around to see Julia.

Julia was delighted to see him and thought that things would go back to the way they had always been between them. Instead, as they talked, she realised how miserable she had made her best friend with her lie and how she had shattered his relationship with Sarah. Suddenly she knew that she could not hurt Brad any more and told him what she had done. She asked him to forgive her but Brad left without saying a word.

Over the next 48 hours Brad refused to speak to Julia. He blocked her phone number on his mobile, redirected her emails direct to the ‘deleted items’ folder, refused to answer the door to her and ignored her if he saw her around the campus. Through their friends Julia heard that Sarah had been heartbroken when she received Brad’s email and that the relationship was over.

Julia tried everything she could to mend the relationship between Sarah and Brad, but her lie had broken the trust between them. She tried everything she could to mend the relationship between herself and Brad but to no avail She realised that she had hurt him so badly that there was nothing she could do to mend the relationship.

On the morning of the third day Julia was surprised to receive a bouquet of flowers from Brad, with a card asking her to meet him. She rushed to meet him, her heart beating so loudly that she was sure everyone around her could hear it – even above the music in the restaurant where Brad was waiting for her. She walked slowly to the table where he was sitting, feeling awkward and embarrassed, but Brad leapt to his feet, rushed towards her and embraced her.

They sat down and Brad looked at Julia. “You hurt me really badly,” he said. “Your lie wrecked our friendship as well as my relationship with Sarah. I have spent the last couple of days thinking about nothing else – that’s why I wouldn’t talk to you or respond to your emails. But your friendship is more important to me than anything else. I forgive you… I want you to know that my love for you as my closest friend is stronger than the pain of the hurt. I don’t hold anything against you. Please can we be best friends again?”

Jesus’ death on the cross is how God has absorbed the pain and hurt of our rebellion against him / falling short of his standards / sin. Through his death he shows us how much God loves us. We broke the relationship but he wants to restore it, starting with offering complete forgiveness and freedom from guilt. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God. If you want a Bible passage to consider, try:

Romans 5:10-11 New International Version – UK

10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Or have a look at Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Luke 15 and see how the Father takes the initiative with both of them.

Next time, the epic battle.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

decluttering

Hopefully in the next couple of months we will be moving house. In anticipation of that we are starting the process of clearing out the clutter that we have accumulated in 7 years of living here (plus some that we have brought with us from previous houses!). It’s amazing how much stuff just gathers dust because, while you no longer have any use for it, you can’t be bothered / bear to get rid of it.

At the moment I am re-reading a number of books that I have had for ages. They are books I enjoyed reading when I bought them. When I had finished reading them I then put them on a bookshelf – presumably as evidence for other people that I can read, like hunting trophies on the wall. Why have I kept them? Antelibroinertia (new word that means the failure to get rid of books you have read because you have not got around to it). So I am giving them one last read and then they will be taken to a charity shop.

Closet Clutter Monster

Maybe it’s time to declutter!

Other ‘stuff’ is going. We have an old snooker table that was rescued from a church youth club when they were replacing it (probably 20 years ago!) and which we have hardly ever used because we have not had space for it. (You don’t just need space for the table, you need at least a snooker cue’s length of space around it if you are going to play.) That is going to a good home through a local recycling website. We need to get rid of some old bicycles (one to a bike-recycler and the other on a well known auction website).

And I have plenty of ‘useful’ cables and pieces of wood that I will have to sort through and send to the recycling centre (they are kept because one day they might be useful).

And there’s plenty more.

I hope that as we de-clutter we can bless some local charities and people, (and hopefully not just move the clutter to fill up someone else’s house.)

We all gather clutter in our lives too, don’t we. We have the clutter of tasks that we have not yet got around to doing and which slowly accumulate until we can’t bear to look at them. We have the clutter of hopes, dreams and ambitions that are unfulfilled and, if we are honest, are never going to be fulfilled (I probably won’t be playing in goal for Ipswich Town FC in the FA Cup Final). We have the clutter of promises that we have made but have not yet kept, or those made to us which have not been met, with associated hurt. We have the clutter of relationships that we have either broken or neglected and which we are now too ashamed or frightened to do anything about. We have the clutter of disappointments accumulated over a lifetime of living. We have the clutter of habits that we have acquired that are not healthy for us but which we daren’t deal with because that may be too painful…

So how do we de-clutter those things? I am not sure that we can do it all on our own. That’s where friends and family can come in useful – people who won’t judge us, make fun of us or abandon us but who will love us no matter what.

And be assured that God’s got the same attitude to you. He’s waiting for us. Not (despite popular opinion) to smite and condemn and judge and sentence, but to embrace, to restore, to renovate, to offer grace and forgiveness. If you doubt it, read Luke Chapter 15. Who are you in the stories?

So what about it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

of smoking, stinking, shaking and spiders

smokeWe had a bit of a mishap yesterday.

(By way of an aside, doesn’t mishap look like it is spelt wrongly? It looks like mi-shap not mis-hap. But I digress. Come to think of it, digress looks more like dig-ress than di-gress…)

Anyhoo, back to the mishap (still looks like it’s spelt incorrectly). A saucepan of water in which we were boiling potatoes accidentally boiled dry and created quite a lot of acrid smoke. The smoke detectors detected it and screamed as loud as they could about it, but the smoke still got everywhere before we could react. And the smell is lingering. It seems to have worked its way into everything.

So I have discovered a lot about odour elimination from t’internet. They seem to come down to two different approaches. One is to replace the smell with a more pleasant one and the other is to seek to absorb the odour. Masking the odour is only a short term solution. Once the pleasant-smelling mask has wafted away the unpleasant odour will still be there. It seems that there is no short cut solution – I have had to do a lot of shaking and vacking (not singing the song) to put an odour absorber into the carpet before sucking it and the powder into the push and vac (aka vacuum cleaner). I have sprayed odour absorbing spray on the curtains and cleaned surfaces with appropriate odour reducing cleaner. I have also lit candles that have a pleasant fragrance which overcomes the stinky smoky smell. I have discovered (thankfully in time) that there is a significant difference between ‘white vinegar’ and ‘distilled (malt) vinegar’. And I hope that soon the smoky smell will have vanished.

As I was shaking and vacking (still not singing the song) I got to reflecting on how this is almost a parable for how we treat the things in our life that are spiritually unhealthy (aka ‘sin’). Sometimes we might try to mask them by covering our tracks and hoping nobody finds out. Sometimes we might even try to overcome the stench with pleasant-smelling good deeds. But the problem will still be there.

The stink of sin has to be absorbed and we have to be deep cleaned and there’s only one way of sorting that out – which is where Jesus enters the story naked and crying (before being wrapped in blankets and laid in a cattle feeding trough) and heads towards the moment where he is naked and crying out in abandonment as he is brutally executed on our behalf.

But that does not mean that we can sit back and do nothing. We have to seek that deep cleansing, and if we are sensible will seek the help of God’s Spirit to enable us to change our habits and attitudes so that we are less prone to giving in to temptation. We will also need to be involved in some cleaning up of our own if our mess has affected others.

So, the parable of the smoke ends. Except that as I was cleaning a wall I noticed that a spider had been busy building a web and it reminded me of an apposite tale with which to conclude:

A lady was a regular attender at the church prayer meeting and each time she would pray a similar prayer including a request that Jesus would “clear out the cobwebs from our lives.” Eventually the Minister could no longer resist and she blurted out, “No Jesus, don’t do it! Just kill the spider!”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

late mistake

Hot Air Balloon

Getting bigger and hot air – the themes of today’s bloggage in one image

I seem to have got bigger. No, I’m not talking about my weight or waist size thank you very much (cheek!). In the last few days I have started my new role as a Regional Minister and my area of responsibility has expanded somewhat – seeking to support and encourage 60 churches across most of Essex (and 120 more spread across the whole of East Anglia).

Yesterday was my first day ‘on the road’. I have bought myself a ‘hands free’ unit to help me with this. I like it because it links to my phone via Bluetooth and to my car radio via an FM signal so I can play music from my phone through my stereo – and when I make or receive calls the system cleverly mutes the music and I can hear the call through the stereo. Very convenient. Very clever.

But any system is only as strong as its weakest component. Often that component is homo sapiens. Last night it certainly was.

I was travelling back home after spending some time with a church and decided to call home and let them know what time I expected to be back. I tried in vain to get the system to work as I thought it should and pressed one button twice. On my phone that should activate the voice-activated help system. But on the Bluetooth gadget I discovered that it told the phone to redial the last number that had been dialled.

Unfortunately I didn’t know it was doing this until the phone started ringing and I couldn’t work out how to stop it. Neither could I work out who it was calling because the phone screen was blank. A voice I did not recognise answered the phone and I realised what had happened. I desperately tried to remember who I had called last and thought it had been my new colleague, Simon. I said hello and that it was Nick calling, ready to explain that I had not meant to call.

It wasn’t Simon. It was a member of a Minister’s family I had called earlier in the day. They didn’t know Nick. So they terminated the call. Fair enough. I would probably have done the same if I had had a strange call late in the evening.

It was at that moment that my phone chose to tell me who I had called. Now I had a dilemma. Should I call back and disturb them again to explain what had happened or wait until today to offer my apology. I opted for the latter approach. I hope that they will understand and laugh.

What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you admit it, ask for forgiveness and seek to start again? Do you tell a little white lie to try to cover it up or at least minimise the error? Do you refuse to accept that you were at fault? Or do you go the whole hog and try to cover it up Bart Simpson-style: “I didn’t do it, you can’t prove anything!”?

Which is the approach that is most likely to lead to or enhance healthy relationships? It’s the same with your relationship with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

when time travel would have been useful

SYSTEM ERROR!Yesterday you were subjected to two bloggages in one day. I apologise. Nobody should have to suffer that!

I had been reflecting and writing the second one (about theology from a joke) and had intended to schedule it for delivery today. I thought I had successfully set that up and hit ‘publish’ only for the system to throw a small wobbly and I had to go back to a previously saved draft – which had not been scheduled. I didn’t realise that and ‘published’ immediately. The bloggage went out into the world and, short of going back in time, there was nothing I could do about it.

Once you have released a bloggage into the wild it cannot be recalled. It’s the same with things we say or do that hurt others – once they have happened we can’t make them unhappen. But we can, when we realise our error, admit it, seek forgiveness, try to repair damage and learn from what happened.

You can do that with God too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

slip, slap, splosh

Today’s bloggage is going to be like Zacchaeus – quite short.

Capture

click on the image to link to the BBC website for the video

Occasionally this week I have been watching the Commonwealth Games. Two thoughts occurred to me as I was watching a poor Australian springboard diver who slipped on the board as he was in mid-spring and ended up landing on his back.

As I resisted the urge to chuckle I thought, “Ouch!”

Then I thought: “Poor man, he has trained for years for this and one small slip makes him look silly and ruins his chances.”

We all make mistakes, we all perform below our own expectations, never mind the expectations of others or God. The good news is that most of the time our mistakes are not as public or displayed on the internet. The great news is that when we ask God for a fresh start he wipes the record clean: we don’t even have to get a court order to have search engines remove the links…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

in a spin

I have been preparing for Sunday evening and looking at Acts chapter 23. This is what happened previously, as described in Acts chapter 22:

Paul had been attacked by a mob in Jerusalem and rescued in the nick of time by some Roman soldiers, who had to carry him into the barracks because of the hostile crowd trying to kill him. In their sensitive and proportionate way the Romans decided to find out what had happened by placing him in chains and stretching Paul out to flog him and interrogate him. At this point Paul gently dropped into the conversation that he was a Roman citizen…

[Bear in mind that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be placed in chains and tortured. Indeed it was so serious an offence that the commander may have feared he would suffer what he was about to subject Paul to.]

Suddenly the mood changed, Paul was released from chains and they decided not to flog him after all. He was brought in front of the commander and treated much more humanely. Later a plot was discovered to assassinate Paul so for his protection the commander had him escorted out of the city by about 470 soldiers and taken to the Regional Governor. The commander also sent a letter of explanation. This is what it said:

To His Excellency, Governor Felix

Greetings,

This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen…

PinwheelSome serious first-century spin-doctoring had taken place. The order of events was changed, no mention was made of chains, floggings or interrogation. The commander was covering his back and making himself into a hero for protecting a Roman citizen. His story had a rather big hole in it: he did not say how, in the midst of a howling lynch-mob, he had ascertained that Paul was a Roman citizen prior to intervening!

When we have made a mistake we can be tempted to try to cover it up, to spin what happened, to try to present things in a more positive light. We can blame someone else. We can tell half-truths. We can try to save our own skin or our reputation. We can try to make ourselves look good.

But in my experience it is better to admit when we have made a mistake, to apologise, to ask for grace and forgiveness and to make a fresh start. That’s worth doing when it comes to other people. It is the way of Christ-like humility. And of course, since he already knows the truth and there’s no point in trying to fool him, it’s the right approach to God too.

If we find ourselves in the position of the one who has been wronged, we also need to follow the way of Christ-like humility: the way of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. When we do we often find release and joy. In the Lord’s prayer we pray for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others. It’s difficult to ask for forgiveness when we have not forgiven. But it is also a joy to be forgiven and to forgive.

Be blessed, be a blessing.