Fresh starts

Yes, it’s been a long time since my last bloggage, and I am sorry. However, I am hoping to be able to do this more regularly now (stop groaning). And what better way of making a fresh start than writing about fresh starts?

As you can see from the picture, at Mutley Baptist Church we have decided to call the first Sunday in September ‘Fresh Start Sunday’. There are two reasons for this:

The first is to recognise that for children, young people and staff, this marks the start of a fresh academic year. There may be new schools, new teachers, new people to get to know, and (my favourite) fresh new stationery and unspoiled exercise books and folders. On Fresh Start Sunday we’ll be marking that and will pray a blessing on all for whom this is a fresh start in that way.

But the second aspect of Fresh Start Sunday is a recognition that, especially after the summer vacation, this may be a good time to make a fresh start with us as a church and with God. As part of the service we will share communion together and part of that will be an opportunity for us all to make that fresh start.

I think a third aspect of FSS (see how easily it has become abbreviated, in just a couple of paragraphs of bloggage) is that as a church we’re making a fresh start with some fresh values. I’ll post something about them soon, but while they are not new ideas (we believe they reflect how God wants his people to be) we adopted them at our last Church Meeting and are now seeking his Spirit’s help to live them. Our Autumn morning services will reflect on each of them.

Of course, we don’t have to have a special church service to make a fresh start with God. His grace is so incredibly all-encompassing that he’s always ready for us to make a fresh start with him. If I am honest, I need to do that daily (or even more frequently sometimes) because it’s really easy to forget him, take him for granted or ignore him. I find that when I take a breath, a pause from busyness, I can sense his Spirit nudging me gently and reminding me that he’s here for me.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the lost ring

wedding ring

This is my wedding ring. Actually it’s the ring Sally gave me when we got engaged: I had given her an engagement ring and I too wanted an engagement ring in order to show everyone I was engaged to her. For our wedding she got it engraved with the date of the wedding so that it would become my wedding ring. 1-7-89.

No, cynical peeps, the date was not there in case I forgot it. It’s a date that is engraved in my mind – I counted down towards it for about 6 months in my diary! The date is purely there to show the change of use.

The observant among you will have noticed that I have a different, much chunkier, gold band on my wedding finger. The reason for that can be seen if you look closely at the ‘9’ in ’89’ inside the ring. Eventually the ring cracked and broke. I wore it out! So we got a second, chunkier wedding ring to replace it and the original was put in a safe place. I had planned that one day I would get it restored.

The problem is that as time passed I completely forgot where that safe place was. I thought it was in my bedside cabinet, but even though I have emptied it several times and looked inside every place and container inside the drawers (and behind the drawers) it wasn’t there. I looked in Sally’s bedside cabinet as she has some precious things in there – some of our children’s milk teeth that were returned to us by the Tooth Fairy (in case our children read this and are worried); letters and poems that I have written to her over the years and other things that have no intrinsic value but lots of sentimental value. I thought that probably my old wedding ring would have been in there with those things. But no, it wasn’t there either.

I had even resorted to asking Sally to look for it – she is the looker in our house – but she couldn’t find it. So we assumed that somehow it had been lost in one of the house moves or accidentally thrown out in one of our tidying sessions. I forgot all about it.

Until today.

I was rummaging in one of the sets of drawers in my study – looking for a bulldog clip – when I noticed a section in an organising tray in the bottom of the drawer that had been covered over by a piece of debris. When I lifted it up I was thrilled to see my old wedding ring!

Wooo Hooo!

It’s not because it is very valuable (although as Sally was a student when she bought it for me it was relatively expensive).

It’s not because it proves that I am married to Sally. I have almost 27 years of being together with her, two wonderful children and lots of people who know that we are married to show that.

It’s because it was given to me by her at that special moment when we were wed and when it had gone missing that link to that amazing day had vanished. The value was in the giver and what the gift represented. It meant so much to me.

Some people treat their faith a bit like that ring. It was really important at first. It meant something. Perhaps you were baptised. But over time it became a bit tarnished and perhaps even was a bit damaged by other people or circumstances and eventually, rather than getting it restored, it got put in a safe place and forgotten about.

And then, when you least expect it, perhaps when you have forgotten about it, you rediscover it. You find that it had been nearby all the time. God hadn’t gone anywhere, but you’d had been looking in the wrong place. He’s just been waiting for you.

I am going to get the ring restored now. It is going to be made as good as new.

How about you?

Be blessed, be a blessing.


speaking my mind

speechSome of you who have persevered with me for many years will recall that I used to dictate bloggages using voice recognition software. After a while I stopped using it (partly because it could be a little frustrating, partly because I found the microphone headset uncomfortable, partly because background noise kept giving erroneous results, partly because I got out of practice, but mostly because it kept crashing and would not install on my new computer).

Even though I had stopped using the software I was still a registered user as far as the software company was concerned and recently they sent me a special offer to buy the latest version at a considerable discount. I ummed and aahed for a while (which really would have confused the voice recognition software) and eventually decided that I would invest in the latest version. The new version was promising far more accurate voice recognition and that it could use the built-in microphone in my computer rather than me needing to wear a headset. It also promised compatibility with the operating system on my computer. And, to be fair, it is living up to all those promises.

As always I have to be careful that I review what I have ‘written’ because it can still misunderstand me (sometimes with hilarious results, but usually just awkwardly and annoyingly). But reviewing what I have written is not a bad practice: it’s always better to check before sending anything. And while the sound of my dictation can annoy the person in the next room once some changes have taken place at home that will be nobody nearby to annoy.

Even though I did not consider myself a current user of the software it is interesting that the software manufacturer still regarded me as a registered user. It reminds me a little bit of some churches who have not reviewed their membership lists for ages and have people on them who have not darken the doors for decades but still regard them as members and daren’t approach them to suggest a change for fear of upsetting the long-absent member. A long time ago I was in a church that reviewed such an out of date membership list and there were two prevailing attitudes of those involved in the process:

1. If they haven’t been here for so long we should just delete them (and let them know that we have deleted them because they have not been around).
2. We ought to get back in touch with them and apologise for the fact that we have not been in touch recently. Perhaps we could offer to start again or at least meet to talk if there are reasons why a person has not been in attendance recently.

I much prefer the second, conciliatory, approach. It’s not quite a special offer of a reduced rate for the latest edition of the software, but surely we can offer humility, grace, reconciliation, an apology for losing touch and the opportunity to start again, can’t we? After all isn’t that what God offers everyone through Jesus?

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

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.

memories that make you shudder

Have you done things in the past that make you shudder when you remember them? I was reminded of one of those today when I heard a news report about the possibility of a smoking ban being introduced in UK prisons. Let me set the scene…

I was about 21, fairly fresh out of University with a Law Degree. I was working for a wonderful provincial firm of Solicitors in South Devon in the Litigation Department. We carried out civil and criminal litigation, including being Duty Solicitors for police stations. There were some people who became ‘regulars’ of ours and on one occasion we had a call from Exeter Police that one of our clients was under arrest in their cells and had asked for us.

My boss, for whom I have the greatest of respect, asked me to go and see the client. He gave me some money because the client had said he was out of cigarettes and told me to buy him some and some matches. He told me that this would calm him down and help him to listen to my advice. I did as asked (don’t ask me which brand I bought even though it’s the only packet of cigarettes I have ever bought) and drove up to Exeter with them in my briefcase (which I carried so I looked like I knew what I was doing).

I went to the custody section and was shown into a room where I could meet my client in confidence. He came in and I passed him the cigarettes and matches, which he gratefully took and I listened to his story. I can’t remember much about what we said (and of course I couldn’t tell you anyway) but at the end of the time he was happy with the advice I had given. The police were not going to interview him immediately so I left and drove back to the office.

Later that day I had a phone call put through from the switchboard. It was Exeter Police. I assumed it was to do with my client. It was the Custody Sergeant. He asked if I had visited my client that day and I confirmed that I had. Then he asked if I had given him some cigarettes and matches. I said that I had. Then he said something that made my blood run cold.


My client had been sitting in his cell lighting matches and flicking them around the cell as they burned. Thankfully the cells were pretty spartan and he had not set light to the mattress, but the police officer gently pointed out that he could have caused a fire, he could have been injured and it’s possible the police station might have been set alight. he calmly reminded me that if I wanted to give clients anything at a police station I should do so through the custody officers not simply pass them over.

I was horrified at my mistake. I remember going very red with embarrassment (I could feel my cheeks burning) and offering profuse apologies. I certainly learnt that lesson and (as you can tell) have never forgotten it.

Today’s news about smoking and prisons brought it all back. But what it has also reminded me is of the gracious way in which the Custody Sergeant dealt with me. He had seen me when I came into the police station and it would have been clear (despite my briefcase) that I was very new to all of this. He could have screamed down the phone at me and told me I was a blithering idiot (and I would have agreed) but instead he had been calm and courteous and had explained what I should have done.

Today that is a reminder to me of God’s grace to me – he does not scream at me when I get things wrong but patiently and calmly points me back in the right direction, receives my apology and helps me to learn the lesson.

It is also a reminder to me of how we can all better relate to each other. This is especially poignant because on Sunday evening I am looking at the moment in Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas had a major falling out and went their separate ways. How we need the help of God’s Spirit to help us emulate Jesus at times when we disagree or even argue. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control anyone?

And with God’s grace he can also take the memories that make us shudder and offer fresh starts if we offer them to him openly and honestly.

Be blessed, be a blessing

defeat hurts

I have been having some problems with my golf shoes. Yes, I know that most of you will be tempted at this stage to roll your eyes, sigh and click onto another website, but do bear with me. This is not really a bloggage about golf.

footprint 2The problem is that the shoes I have cause blisters when I play a round of golf. They fitted fine in the shop but when I walk around a golf course they rub a bit and that rubbing results in blisters. I have tried lots of remedies. I have tried putting blister cushions on my heels but they rubbed off and I got blisters. I used plasters on my feet. They came off, the shoes still rubbed and I got blisters. I tried sticking heel grips onto the back of the shoes. They came off, the shoes rubbed and I got blisters. I consulted the internet. The shoes still rubbed and I got blisters. I used anti-blister gel. The shoes still rubbed and I got blisters.

I am having one last try with some socks designed to wick away moisture, the anti-blister gel, and new insoles in the shoes. I hope that will work the next time I play. Otherwise it might be that I need to get new golf shoes.

I reckon there are occasions when things seem to be okay but there is a gentle abrasion that ultimately leads to problems. For example a little white lie can gradually rub into a full blown deception, loss of face, hurt and disappointment. Or a small piece of news ‘for your prayers’ can turn into a blister of gossip that causes a lot of pain.

I suspect that I may be postponing the inevitable when I am trying different things to sort out my golf shoes. I may have to admit defeat (for the sake of de feet) and get new shoes. What inevitable event are you postponing by failing to admit the obvious?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth?

Yesterday we arrived back home after a lovely holiday in Lanzarote. Not too much sunburn and lots of relaxing. I highly recommend these holydays.

This morning I woke up in my post-holyday bliss and happily tucked into some toast and a cup of coffee.

Today I was due to have a tooth extracted under sedation.

After I had finished my toast I suddenly realised that I was supposed to have fasted for four hours before the extraction and my toast and coffee had been consumed well within that period. D’oh!!

Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth as I realised I had blown it, that I would be stuck with the troublesome tooth for a lot longer and that I would have to eat a serious amount of humble pie (on the other side of my mouth) when I explained to the dental clinic what I had done.

I phoned the clinic that will be removing the tooth and explained what I had done, expecting a grumpy or begrudging response along with a complaint about how it was messing them around and how much rebooked appointments cost them.

Woe, woe and thrice woe!

Woe, woe and thrice woe!

Instead the lady on the other end of the phone was incredibly gracious and understanding. She immediately offered to rebook the appointment and wasn’t at all grumpy or complaining.

Bless her (and all receptionists who have a thankless task). No, literally, bless her!

It reminded me a little of God’s grace – when we mess things up and come back to him he does not complain about how many times we have come back to him before. He does not get grumpy. He does not begrudgingly forgive. He doesn’t even point out how much it cost him to be able to offer us forgiveness.

Instead he offers an open-armed, warm-hearted, generous-smiling embrace and immediately and graciously forgives. As he sees us making the mistake or committing the sin he already has forgiveness lined up for that. All we have to do is recognise our need of it and ask for it.

And he does not even limit it to that. His forgiveness is part of a package deal that includes full reconciliation with himself, a refilling with his Spirit, a clean slate and a party in heaven in our honour.

Now that’s grace with a capital GR! He offers it because he loves us. It’s as simple and as profound as that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

One day, a man walks into a dentist’s office and asks how much it will cost to extract wisdom teeth.

“Eighty pounds,” the dentist says.

“That’s a ridiculous amount,” the man says. “Isn’t there a cheaper way?”

“Well,” the dentist says, “if you don’t use an anaesthetic, I can knock it down to £60.”

“That’s still too expensive,” the man says.

“Okay,” says the dentist. “If I save on anaesthesia and simply rip the teeth out with a pair of pliers, I could get away with charging £20.”

“Nope,” moans the man, “it’s still too much.”

“Hmm,” says the dentist, scratching his head. “If I let one of my students do it for the experience, I suppose I could charge you just £10.”

“Marvellous,” says the man, “book my son in for next Tuesday!”

If I could turn back time…

This morning on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show (yes, I am a Radio 2 listener now) they were attempting to give away some tickets to a concert tonight. People had texted in the day before and they called one person back to offer them the tickets on the basis that they would be prepared to cancel their arrangements today and go to the concert.

The first person who was called turned off their phone (perhaps by mistake) and the call failed. The next person they called did not pick up. Neither did the following one. Finally on the fourth attempt the person they were calling picked up and was given the tickets. The man was very happy, but how must those other people be feeling?

Did the first person hit the wrong button on their phone? Were the others driving or in another room and unable to get to answer the phone in time? Are they now feeling really disappointed at the missed opportunity? Do they regret not answering in time?

It is easy to let regrets over missed opportunities take root in our lives. They can easily take on a significance greater than the missed event. I have written about regret before in bloggages: “If only” are two of the saddest words in the English language when we put them together. They suggest sadness, disappointment, unfulfilled potential, a desire to be able to turn back time and do things differently.

SundialBut we experience time in a linear fashion and it is only going in one direction: forwards. Unless or until someone invents a working time machine (and if they do, I would like them to come back in time and tap me on the shoulder now to…. aaaaarggh. Who are you? The Doctor? Oh. Thank you for reading my bloggage in the future).

Subject to the words in parenthesis ever becoming more than silliness, what I said before still stands. We only experience time going forwards. We cannot go back. We can ask for forgiveness and / receive it. We can attempt to repair any damage we have caused. We can seek to pick up loose threads and start afresh. But we can’t undo what has been done.

Except that God is beyond time. He is not bound by our unidrectional experience. He did limit himself to that in Christ for 33 years, living within our time-space continuum, and he does exist within it now, yet he is also able to see the beginning and the end of time (as well as being the source of the beginning and end). The Cross of Christ is the moment in time when eternity breaks in. Jesus’ death is the means by which all humanity can be reconciled to God – those before him, those who witnessed it, and those who live after him. It could be seen as a fracture in the space-time continuum (Yes, alright Doctor, I know that it’s made up of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff). It’s the moment when past and future failings are dealt with and reconciliation with God is made possible. And Jesus’ resurrection is what seals the deal.

He can help turn ‘if only’ into the cathartic ‘I’m sorry’, or ‘please forgive me’, or ‘can we start again please’? He won’t turn back time but he will help to transform the effects of what has happened in the past. When we turn to him for forgiveness he wipes the slate clean from his perspective. He can also help us to release regrets linked to the past. He can help heal wounds, soothe the pain of memories, calm trouble thoughts. He is the God of fresh starts.

Be blessed, be a blessing

And apologies to any non-Doctor Who fans for the oblique references.