Category: God knows us

zooom

So, dear Bloggists, I have been away for a week with Sally (the wonderful lady to whom I am married) in the Lake District. That is why this page has been silent for the past week – sorry. We had a fantastic time. We walked over hills and down valleys and around lakes. We saw some astonishingly beautiful scenery. We ate some delicious meals. We spent quality time with one another.

I also took some photos. We have recently acquired a new camera as our old one broke and we have some significant family events coming up. It’s what is known as a ‘Bridge camera’ – halfway between a point and shoot compact camera and a complex Single Lens Reflex camera. It has rather a long zoom on it, though. In fact a combination of optical and digital zoom means that it has 84x zoom on it. I didn’t really know what that looked like until I took the photographs below.

We had stopped for a break on a walk around Derwent Water and looked across at Catbells. It was a beautiful view so I decided to take a photograph, resting the camera on a post that was part of the landing stage on which we were sitting in order to keep it stable. This is the view that we had.IMG_0060

After I had taken the photo I look across again and I thought I could just about make out some tiny shapes on the skyline that might be people so I decided to see if I could zoom in on them with the camera. then zoomed in… as far as the zoom would go. This is what I saw!

IMG_0059

I was astonished at the level of detail that was achieved from the camera. It was exactly the same view as the first image, I had not moved the camera at all. But instead of mountains and trees and lake and landing stage, there were visibly discernible people and dogs walking across the top of Catbells.

Reflecting on these two images has led me to reflect again on Psalm 8:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

  You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

It’s easy to get sucked in by our own ego and think that we are bigger and more important than we are. At times like that perhaps we need to look at the zoomed out picture and realise that we are specks on the horizon.

It’s also easy to believe our own lack of self-worth and think that we are insignificant and irrelevant. At times like that perhaps we need to look at the zoomed in picture and realise that we are significant individuals who are worth noticing.

It’s important for us to see people the same way. It’s important to understand that those who intimidate us occupy about the same amount of space that we do on this planet. It’s important for us to understand that some people have a much lower opinion of themselves than we do. How does that understanding change the way that we respond to them?

And then perhaps we need to realise that God sees us from both perspectives. He sees the whole big picture of life, the Universe and everything, and he sees the details of each person: our needs, our concerns, our joys and our sadness. And both views matter to him intensely. Knowing that he sees the big picture can be reassuring when we can’t. Knowing that he sees the individual issues and is interesting can be reassuring when we can’t see a way ahead. That knowledge is possible if we look with the eyes of faith.

Be blessed, be a blessing

honest soul searching

This is a ‘thought for the week’ that I wrote this week for the Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association. I offer it to you for your reflection…

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I have been reflecting on Psalm 139 recently. To save those of you who can’t remember it entirely word-for-word I have copied it below (NIV UK)

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

It’s an amazing poetic reflection on who we are isn’t it? When I read the psalm I find it helps me to get a healthier perspective on who I am in Christ, and who God is.

We are fully known – even before we speak God knows our thoughts and what we are going to say. We are constantly in his presence, we can never hide from him (even naked in a garden or in the belly of a great fish). He knows the way ahead even if to us it seems bleak or impossible to discern and he will hold our hand and guide us. We are the complex and complicated product of his knitting (and he doesn’t drop stitches). God’s thoughts are way beyond our counting and comprehension and yet he shares some of them with us.

And that’s often where I have wanted to stop. Or if I have to go on I prefer to jump to verse 23. Why did David have to spoil things by pouring out a litany of bile and hatred against the wicked and those he counts as his enemies? That’s not likely to end up in the latest worship song is it? But I wonder whether verses 19-22 are actually the heart of this psalm. I think that they are the reason David wrote the psalm in the first place: he wanted to be entirely honest with God and himself and set it in the context of his awareness of who he was in God.

The first 18 verses are the (wondrous, amazing, inspiring, truth-laden) preamble. If God knew him so intimately; if he was so incredibly made by God; if he could never leave God’s presence; if God knows the way ahead: then it was pointless for David to be trying to pretend to God and himself that he was not incredibly upset by some people. There was no sense in him smiling sweetly and brushing it all under the carpet to keep up appearances. He had to tell God how it really was for him. And he was livid. He couldn’t cope with the wicked, blood-soaked things he saw others doing. He couldn’t cope with how people were misusing God’s name (perhaps invoking him on their side to bolster their cause). He had genuine hatred for the way that people hated God. So he let God have it. In both senses of that phrase.

Maybe there was an element of catharsis here. Maybe it was therapeutic. Maybe it was giving it over to God. It was, above all else, honest. I believe that David also knew that there was a good chance that he had overstepped the mark in his rant… hence verses 23 and 24. He asked that God would reveal to him if there were elements in his attitude that were akin to the things he had just railed against. He didn’t want to be guilty of the things he was accusing others of doing.

If we find ourselves wanting to say, “Amen” to verses 19-22 about other people, we must also pray verses 23 and 24 about ourselves because God knows all about us we should be honest with him and with ourselves. When I read this psalm I am reminded of what Jesus had to say about specks of dust and planks, blind guides and the danger of judging others.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Be blessed, be a blessing

not much has happened

Dear Bloggists, sorry that it has been a while since my last bloggage. Not much has happened in the intervening time…

We have been on holiday to Sweden, meeting up with lots of Sally’s friends (and me making new friends). So I have seen lots of lakes, lots of words that in Swedish are normal but in English are funny (such as the delicious chocolate sweet in this photo).

I have seen castles and visited the Royal Palace at Drottningholm (in my mind a bit like Windsor Palace for the Queen in the UK as it’s a bit out of Stockholm). I have walked in a national park and heard some interesting noises that may or may not have been an elk or a wild boar.

I have discovered a new special concept: fika. This is stopping for tea / coffee and a cake, and can be at any time. Indeed as I write this bloggage I am also enjoying fika with a cup of coffee and the last of the Swedish cinnamon buns we brought back.

I have performed some magic for some of our Swedish friends, and also for an 8 year-old daughter of the friend of one of our Swedish friends on her birthday. It’s quite a challenge performing illusions when you don’t share a language, but it seemed to go well. I think an open mouth and wide eyes means the same thing for audiences in most languages!

And I have performed magic with a message at Heart for Harlow’s town centre service (not long after two women performed songs from Disney’s Frozen, complete with costumes.

I have had the date confirmed for my interview to join the Magic Circle. If I get through the interview I will then have an examination (audition) to perform later on.

We have been welcomed into Membership of our local church, South Woodham Evangelical Church.

Oh yes, and my friend Richard Jones only went and won Britain’s Got Talent! Well done Richard! You can see the two of us performing together last year here at the end of a show when we hired out a local village hall. I guess his days of performing in village halls may be over!

So not much has happened.

It is easy to get caught up and carried away with events, especially when they are either really positive or really negative, and forget that God wants us to involve him in these things too. When it’s good we sometimes forget to be grateful to him. When it’s bad we sometimes forget to call out to him (unless it’s to blame him).

I have written before about having an attitude of gratitude, and I am so grateful for all of the above experiences.

I am grateful that when things are not so good I know that I do not have to face those things alone. I know that He is with me when I walk through the darkest valley and I am grateful that nothing can separate me from his love.

I guess I am even grateful for the ability to be grateful. And I am also grateful that I have someone to be grateful to. If you don’t have a relationship with God, who are you able to be grateful to?

Today why not try listing things for which you are grateful, and be grateful to the One who gave you the ability to be grateful?

Be blessed, be a blessing

knowing me, knowing you

Ahaaaa.

I am currently attending a course about transforming conflict. A part of it includes reflecting on a personality analysis of myself. It’s far more sophisticated than these ‘what muppet are you?’ quizzes that seem to populate Facebook.

I’m not going to tell you the details about myself because I have a lot more to learn about myself. But it is important to know yourself and how you respond in calm and stormy conditions. If not, it’ll probably be more difficult to help others if you don’t know what sort of approach you prefer to use.

It’s difficult not to react against being categorised and labelled. We’re all unique individuals (just like everyone else) and the blend of personality, experience, ideas and skills, and much more beside, mean that there is nobody else like you on this planet that contains 7 billion of us. Does that make you feel special or scared?

You are you. It helps to understand how you think and what makes you tick but nobody else can be you. One of the things that God wants to do is to help you to be the best you you can be.

If you will let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

image
There's nobody else like me. Aren't you pleased?

Big Bother is watching you

Ahoy there blogmates!

It will now be much more difficult to find somewhere to sit in our church…

security camera
our camera is a lot more discrete!

…where you can’t see what is going on. We have installed a video camera and some extra screens so that wherever you sit you should be able to see what is happening. We had a demo yesterday from the installers and it is very good. I am impressed with the quality of the video image and also with the zoom range and flexibility of the camera. The camera is one that is designed primarily as a security camera but the resolution is brilliant.

The operator has incredible flexibility to be able to zoom in, pan around and zoom out on most places downstairs and parts of the balcony too! While the prime purpose is to enable people to see what is happening at the front, it will also enable us to zoom in on members of the congregation.

We can focus on those who have fallen asleep in the sermon.

We can zoom in on someone’s sermon ‘notes’ to see if they are writing or doodling.

We can see who is joining in with activities or sitting on their hands (metaphorically or literally).

We can look at people who are chatting to each other rather than paying attention.

We can see who sneaks in late.

We can watch the behaviour of young people who sit opposite the camera in the balcony.

We can see who is not in church but noting the empty place where they usually sit.

And so on.

Mischievous operators at the training session yesterday were suggesting that they could allocate some of the 100+ preset positions for the camera to where people regularly sit, especially if they are likely to drop off, doodle, etc…

Never mind ‘Big Brother is watching you’, this will be ‘Big Brother or Sister in the Lord is watching you’!

Of course we would not do that. (This is also a message to camera operators!). We would not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. The purpose of the camera is to help us be more inclusive of everyone in the church, not embarrass people.

But it is a reminder that nothing we do is beyond God’s view. That may make us feel uncomfortable or guilty (in which case a quick session of forgiveness-seeking will help us out) but it is actually something that can encourage and bless. Nothing that happens to us goes unnoticed by God. Nothing that upsets us is missed or ignored. Nothing that makes us scream in anguish or frustration leads God to wonder what that was about. So when we come to him in prayer about these things he already knows. It is not a surprise to him. He wants to invite us to pray about them so that we can more consciously involve him in them, we can more overtly acknowledge his presence, we can more readily seek and accept his will.

If or when you come to our church I hope the new technology will enable you to feel more involved, included and better able to participate in the service. God’s participating in that too!

Be blessed, be a blessing.


True story (unverified)
A man successfully broke into a bank after hours and stole the bank’s video camera (never mind all the money there!). 

While it was recording. 

Remotely. 

(That is, the videotape recorder was located elsewhere in the bank, so he didn’t get the videotape of himself stealing the camera.) 

wood you believe it?

I had a sense of satisfaction on Saturday after I successfully installed two shelves onto a wall in my study. Not only have they stayed up, but when I put the spirit level on them at the end they were both perfectly level! I am a DIY Expert!

Or not.

I can correctly identify 11 different types of wood: as proved by my victory in the wood recognition test at a recent blokes’ carpentry morning. (Those hours watching DIY and carpentry programmes on TV have not been wasted!). I know which end of a hammer to use when hitting nails into something. I still have (and am still using) the wooden book stand that I made at school 30+ years ago.

But these things do not make me an expert. They prove that I managed to follow the shelf-installation instructions correctly. They prove that I have remembered some things I saw on TV. They prove that my woodwork teacher taught me well.

I love making things out of wood, but I don’t have the time, the tools, the patience or the skill to do it well. That is why (to my shame) the wooden items I have made and which still remain intact in our house are:

wooden bookstand (as previously described)
small wooden stand (with inside shelf) designed as a small bedside table for my son.
wooden shelves with dividers designed as a homework organiser for my son.
wooden shelves that were mounted on the wall in my daughter’s bedroom in a previous house, now floor-standing in her bedroom
wooden framework used in ‘sawing a person in half’ magic trick

Thankfully some of these will never be seen by anyone with even the remotest amount of skill in carpentry and joinery.

I wonder how Jesus got on in Joseph’s workshop? Was he instantly an expert in all sorts of joinery and carpentry or did he have to learn, to improve, to serve an apprenticeship? I suspect it is the latter. He grew in wisdom and knowledge just like the rest of us.

Wouldn’t you love to see some of the things he made? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of his early pieces were as dodgy as some of mine? And what about the later ones, when he had mastered the techniques? Never mind a Chippendale chair, what about an original Jesus BarJoseph?

I am coming full-circle (almost). When we were getting the answers to the wood-recognition test at the Nelson Woodcraft workshop, David told us about the different sorts of wood and you could see the appreciation and knowledge that he had for the different pieces of wood: the inherent beauty and strength contained within them. I suspect Jesus had an even greater appreciation of the wood he was using, since he was in the original design team for the trees!

And he was in the original design team for you and me. He has the greatest possible appreciation for you and me.

Be blessed.

DESCRIPTION: Joseph having discussion with some guy, in background Jesus is ministering to someone CAPTION: WHAT THE HECK IS A GUY SUPPOSED TO SAY WHEN HIS SON'S CARPENTRY IS STARTING TO SUFFER DUE TO EXCESSIVE MINISTERING?!?

I don’t believe it

Sometimes you have to stop and throw your hands up. In a moment I want to make some comments about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but first I want to scream at the screen “WHY?” Not “WHY?” about the earthquake, tsunami, suffering and death but about this news story:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12756366

British bureaucracy has prevented a team of rescue experts from helping out. I hope we are proud.

OK, rant over.

So what are we to make of what has happened? Well the first thing to say is that if it does not drive us to our knees in lament and intercession there is something seriously wrong. One of the things that evangelicals seem to have lost in our search for certainty is the ability to lament to God and tell him exactly how we feel. He is big enough to take our questions, our doubts, our anger and all the rest of the things churning around within us in the face of such devastation. Have you told him?

The second is to point out that God is not immune from suffering either. He experienced devastating emotional pain when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in the face of his impending separation from his eternal relationship with his Father. God experienced bereavement when Jesus cried out “It is finished!” and died. And God is not remote and watching us from a distance. He loves every single person on this planet.

So how could he allow this to happen? Surely if he loved those people in Japan he would have saved them? This is taking us into the deep and dark language of theodicy – how come a benevolent omnipotent God allows evil things to happen? I believe that in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster these questions need to be articulated honestly but not necessarily answered. Short answers can seem trite and unsatisfactory and longer answers are irrelevant when prayers need praying and action needs taking.

This does not mean that there are no answers. There are clues towards them in Jesus’ death and resurrection (hope in the face of death); in the good that rises in the face of evil (such as the intention of the rescue team in the story above); in the way that the world has to be to allow free will and the possibility of human rebellion; in the sin of people that leads to disastrous decisions (building a slum in an area prone to landslides because it is the only cheap land around); in evil as a cosmic force not just a personal problem…

There are no easy answers, which is why it is often called a ‘mystery’.

The nature of God as seen in Jesus in the face of suffering leads me back to him rather than to answers. When crowds of suffering people came to him, Jesus ‘had compassion’ on them. In Greek the word is ‘splanchizomai’. It describes a physical gut-level response. Jesus was affected by human suffering. He still is. God is far from indifferent to human suffering. He does not have an easy answer to the problem either.