startling news about God – we are better than him

fanfare trumpetAhem*

[Loud Fanfare]

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce the amazing, astounding, awesome list of things that we humans are better at than God.

Yes, you did read that right. This is the amazing, astounding, awesome list of things that we humans are better at than God.

  1. Remembering. God says that if we ask him for forgiveness in the name of Jesus he will remember our sins no more. But while we humans may forgive, forgetting is another matter. When the moment arises we will remember.
  2. Advertising. You would have thought that being the Supreme Being God would have sorted out his PR a bit better. Surely he would have put evidence of his existence everywhere, written into our DNA and written large across the sky? Instead his primary promotional strategy relies on human beings like me telling others about Jesus. People like me who are much better at pushing ourselves forwards, showing off and making sure that everyone knows how amazing we are than we are at talking about Jesus.
  3. Obeying rules. This one is surprising isn’t it? We are better at following rules than God is! We obey the rules of the Universe, and we can’t help it. Winemaking requires grapes and takes a long time, especially for the best wine. Water above zero degrees centigrade does not bear the weight of a fully grown human. People who have been dead for days remain dead. Jesus broke all of those rules.
  4. Delegation. God delegated the task of looking after this planet and one another to humans who are selfish and on the whole will seek to meet their own needs at the expense of others. And while he has given us a set of guidance instructions and run occasional refresher seminars he has, on the whole, left us to it. We would not have made that mistake – we would run a project like that with a much more hands-on management approach and sack people the moment they got out of line.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*This bloggage comes with a grade 1 irony alert. If you don’t do or get irony, I suggest you look at another of my bloggages.

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!”

flash crash

lightningThunder: God’s way of telling you that you should have brought the washing in a bit earlier.

Lightning: God’s way of warning you that he’s about to send you a message that you should have brought the washing in a bit earlier.

Thunderbolts and lightning: God’s way of telling you to get ready to start singing about Galileo*.

There’s a little thunderstorm being hosted in the sky above our house at the moment (inconveniently interrupting my sermon preparation with a dash to get the washing in before it got drenched completely). I love thunderstorms. There is a magnificence and power that is unleashed which is inspiring. They are not to be trifled with: lightning strikes contain several hundred million volts of electricity.

Thunderstorms always bring to mind the phrase ‘the fear of the Lord’ from the Bible. Not because they scare me, but because they remind me that he is untameable, magnificent, powerful beyond my imagining. The ‘fear of God’ is not about being scared, but about recognising who He is and who were are in comparison.

If I am tempted to become too chummy and disrespectful with God the fear of God reminds me that he is the “Lord of lords and King of kings forever and ever” (cue Hallelujah chorus).

If I think that I can put him in a box marked ‘Sundays’ the fear of God reminds me that he is the Lord of eternity and time – all the days of my life are his.

If I think that sin doesn’t matter the fear of God reminds me that he takes it incredibly seriously – so much so that without Jesus it excludes us from his presence.

If I worry about things that may lie ahead of me the fear of God reminds me that if God is for me, whom shall I fear?

So, while the thunderstorm may have inconvenienced me, it has also put a healthy fear of God into me.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Bohemian Rhapsody!

Freshly found fragments from Genesis 6

“Ahem”

“Eh? What? Who’s that?!”

“Ahem, it’s God.”

“Oh. Hello.”

“I’d like you to do something for me.”

“Of course. Anything. You name it, I’ll do it.”

“Wonderful. I would like you to build me a boat.”Carpenter Series 1

“A boat? You want to go sailing?”

“No. A big boat.”

“A big boat. Here, in the desert?”

“Yes, I can’t think of a better place to build a boat.”

“Ooookaaaay. You do realise that there are not many trees around here to use to build a little boat, never mind a big boat?”

“Yup.”

“And you do realise that I have never built a boat before in my life.”

“Yup.”

“And you do realise that everyone is going to think I have lost my marbles.”

“Yup.”

“And you still want me to build you a big boat?”

“Yup.”

“Why does it have to be so big?”

“Ahem, well, you are going to have some companions.”

“Some companions?”

“Yup.”

[God whispers in Noah’s ear].

“You have got to be kidding me God!”

“If I was kidding I would have started with ‘Have you heard the one about the bloke who built an enormous boat in the desert…'”

“So you are serious about this.”

“Yup.”

“Ahem. You know I said ‘You name it, I’ll do it’…”

 

Even God’s foolishness is wiser than the most intelligent human thought ever.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

clichéd

Aren’t clichés wonderful?

I would like to engage in some blue sky thinking by thinking outside of the box. Perhaps I will fly a kite, or pop some thoughts in my mental microwave and see what goes ‘ping’. It may be safer to let sleeping dogs lie in case I let the cat out of the bag, but I am firing on all cylinders so I am going to jump in with both feet.

Mental microwaves aside (that comes from the classic British comedy ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’) these statements have entered our language and have acquired a meaning all of their own.

The origins of the word ‘cliché’ are unsurprisingly French. According to the fount of all knowledge, aka Wikipedia, the word is borrowed from French. In printing, a cliché was a printing plate cast from movable type. This is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly as a single slug of metal. “Cliché” came to mean such a ready-made phrase.metal type from letterpress 3

While it may have made sense for printers to create these clichés I worry that Christians have done the same. We have decided that God is like this or that and have defined him, confined him, and perhaps even refined him (in the sense that we have tamed him). We have our preset ideas of what God is like, what he would do, what he wouldn’t do. We decide the limits of God’s activity and the boundaries of his love and grace.

The film ‘Dogma’ (which I love, but you do need an internal ‘bleep’ for all the swearing) is based on the premise that because the Catholic Church has declared something and claims to speak for God, he is bound by their dogma. The end of the film (no spoilers) explodes the preconceptions about God wonderfully.

On Sunday morning I was sitting in a church service where the preacher was talking about worship. I realised that I was guilty of having too small a vision of God. Indeed any ‘vision’ of God is too small. Our finite capacity is always going to be inadequate to describe him. That sends a shiver down my spine. Even if I spent my whole life describing and defining God I would still have too small an understanding and description of God.

This is one reason why the incarnation is so amazing. In Jesus the mystery and majesty of God is somehow merged with humanity so that we can see something of what God is like in ways that we can understand. But please let’s not try to confine, define or refine Jesus either. Rather than the quaint Victorian portaits of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus with birds perching on his shoulders and children at his feet I find it easier to think in terms of his characteristics.

Gracious

Loving

Forgiving

Kind

Winsome

Funny

Perceptive

Engaging

Relevant

Generous

Accessible

and so on…

The limits of human vocabulary mean that this list would ultimately be finite, but it would be amazing. Behind each word in my mind are accounts of what he said and did that are recorded in the Gospels. But they are not the whole story (check out the last words of John 20 if you are not sure about that). They help us catch a glimpse of what he is like and in turn through him we have a tiny representation of God the Father.

Time for another shiver down the spine I think.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

A sign was hung in an office window. It read:

Help wanted.
Must type 70 words a minute.
Must be computer literate.
Must be bilingual.
An equal opportunity employer.

A dog was ambling down the street and saw the sign. He looked at it for a moment, pulled it down with his mouth, and walked into the manager’s office, making it clear he wished to apply for the job.

The office manager laughed and said, “I can’t hire a dog for this job.”

The dog pointed to the line: “An equal opportunity employer.”

So the manager said, “OK, take this letter and type it.”

The dog went off to the word processor and returned a minute later with the finished letter, perfectly formatted.

The manager said, “Alright, here’s a problem. Write a computer program for it and run it.”

Fifteen minutes later, the dog came back with the correct answer.

The manager still wasn’t convinced. “I still can’t hire you for this position. You’ve got to be bilingual.”

The dog looked up at the manager and said, “Meow.”

iblog

I have been wondering about marketing recently and am marvelling at how apple have revolutionised things simply by adding a little letter i in front of their products. Somehow it seems to add a little something to a product, making us think it is new, innovative and exciting.

Other companies seem to have cottoned on to this and we see i appearing everywhere – places where it has not normally been placed. Churches have avoided this. I have yet to hear of ichurch or iminister.  And to be honest I would rather not come across these concepts. It seems rather a lame attempt at making it seem cool.

Of course, we know that i is not a new innovation: in Exodus 3, when Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God revealed his identity as ‘I am who I am’. That phrase has many possible meanings and interpretations, but to me the essence is that God does not need to define himself by reference to anyone or anything else. He simply is.

When I wonder about where I fit into the scheme of things, when I struggle to understand who God is, ‘I am who I am’ is more than enough. He is beyond equivalent comparison, beyond adequate description, beyond complete definition. He is the original iGod.

Yet he has made himself known in Jesus, who joined in the game by saying, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’

Be blessed, be a blessing.

finding faith

Last night’s Deep Thought at our church was fascinating. ‘Deep Thought’ is the name for an open discussion group where we consider big questions of life, the Universe and everything. It is named after the computer in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that was designed to answer that question and came up with the answer… I won’t spoil it for you by giving the answer, but I know some of you shouted it at the screen at that moment!

We were considering why it isn’t easier to find God. Most people in this country have declared themselves to be Christian (according the the latest census data) but seem to keep God at arm’s length or further away: only involving him when things go wrong and they need a helping hand. The vast majority of people who walk past our church each day probably don’t give God a second thought.

The discussion meandered gently through how we discover God in other people, within ourselves, in tough times, in unexpected places, in nature, even in the Bible (irony alert), and in scientific discovery! Actually he’s not quiet at all, and if you look honestly and openly you can find him!

But he seems to keep his distance as well. There are no big signs in the sky that declare that God made this. There are no lightning bolts from the sky when people ask if there is a God. And it struck me again this morning that Jesus seemed to spend a lot of his time telling people who had correctly identified him as the Son of God to be quiet and not tell anyone!

Why the distance? We felt that it is because God gives us free will and if he made himself too obvious that would override our freedom. He has to give us space and the opportunity to disbelieve in order for our choice to be absolutely our choice. Yet we also felt that God is poised at the edge of that distance, ready to respond immediately to anyone who starts to move towards him. The distance is no greater than it needs to be.

We commented on how many people had turned to praying for Fabrice Muamba. Quite what they will do with this new-found faith in God who hears prayer as he continues his almost miraculous recovery I am not sure. I suspect that for many people it will be a return to normal. But perhaps one or two will have edged closer to God as a result and will find him – in people, in experiences, in the Bible, wherever they look. Perhaps they will find him in us if we are free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Apparently true story about finding in unexpected places:

A German “tourist” supposedly on a golf holiday, showed up at customs with his golf bag. While making idle chatter about golf, the customs official realized that the tourist did not know what a handicap is. The customs official asked the tourist to demonstrate his swing, which he did – backwards!

A substantial amount of narcotics was found in the golf bag.

many are called but few want to be chosen

I am fascinated by what is happening to the England football team. They seriously underperformed at the recent World Cup and people have said it is because they were too tired. Well lots of the other teams at the World Cup have players who play in the English Premier League and their get up and go had not got up and gone.

Now we have a situation where Fabio Capello, the manager (for the non-football followers), has named a squad of players he wants to choose from for the friendly international against Hungary on Wednesday and subsequently two of them have said that they no longer want to play international football. Didn’t Fabio speak with them when he selected them? Did he simply assume that they would want to play because it was England?

It seems to me that there is a serious lack of communication going on there.


what not to do 1what not to do 3

Communication between people is one of the most important things that we can do. When I was a lawyer I handled some matrimonial cases and in all of them you could trace much of what led to the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship to a failure to communicate with each other. Perhaps one of them was hurt and did not tell the other, so the hurt festered. Perhaps one of them said cruel things to the other and did not apologise. Perhaps they forgot to tell each other that they loved each other and started to think that they did not. Perhaps they had started to talk about their own needs and rights rather than considering those of their partner first. Perhaps they had failed to be honest with each other.

Of course there are many other factors at work when a relationship breaks down, it’s not just about a failure to communicate properly. But it invariably exacerbates or exaggerates the problems.

That, of course, is also true of our relationship with God. It is weakened when we do not communicate clearly. That is not just about us praying more, but also about us listening, seeking God’s voice. It is about us reading the Bible and wanting to discover more about God and ourselves through it. It is about us being honest with God and ourselves. It is about apologies and forgiveness, conversation that involves all aspects of our lives, feelings and facts. God wants us to communicate with him, and he wants to communicate with us. The issue is really whether we give him the time and attention he deserves.

Communicate clearly…
Spotted in a toilet of an office:
Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.

In an office:
After tea break staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board.

In lifts in Hong Kong:
When there is a fire, do not use the lift. (WHEN not if!)

An AST customer was asked by a manager to “send a copy of your defective disks to us”. A few days later, a letter arrived from the customer with a xeroxed copy of the disks.

A Dell manager was giving some help to a customer and told him to put the disk in the drive and close the door. The customer told the manager to hold on and was heard to put the phone down, get up from their chair, cross the room and close the door.

Compaq management had to consider changing the phrase “Press any key” in all their manuals because of the flood of calls asking where the “Any” key was.

“I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy. But that could change.” — Dan Quayle

“I want to make sure everybody who has a job wants a job” –George Bush, during his first Presidential campaign.

shudder

One of my favourite cartoon films is Disney’s The Lion King. It may be the last of the great animated cartoons in the classic style (as opposed to computer-generated animation) and has all the right ingredients: great characters voiced wonderfully by great actors; a mixture of humour and pathos; a baddy; love; and catchy songs.

I was reflecting on one of my favourite scenes in yesterday morning’s sermon. You can watch a low quality clip of the scene here.  The hyenas are reflecting on Muphasa (the Lion King) and how even his name makes them shudder. I made the comment that there are times when I have a similar experience with God. When I read passages like Revelation 4 and consider all that is going on in worshipping God it sends a shiver down my spine. I have had that same experience as I have stood on top of Ben Nevis and looked across at the mountains around. I have had that experience as I have prayed quietly on my own. I have also had that experience in church on Sundays, believe it or not! It happens in singing songs and hymns. It happens as I listen to people read the Bible, pray or preach. It happens often when I take communion.

I had one such experience this morning. I subscribe to Scripture Union’s WordLive Bible Studies that arrive in my email inbox every morning and this morning was a continuation of a series looking at Moses leading the Hebrews from captivity in Egypt through the desert towards the Promised Land. Today we are at Exodus 33.

7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped at the entrances to their tents. 11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

The shudder came when I read ‘The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.’ Just think about that for a moment.

That’s incredible!

Moses and God having a cosy chat.

Stunning!

Yet he offers us the same opportunity all day, every day. We can talk with him as one speaks to a friend. WHY don’t I take advantage of that more often?

Jesus and Moses were playing golf one day on the Old Course at St Andrews. This course has a burn (stream) that runs through the course, and on the first hole Moses expressed his doubts that Jesus could make the shot over the burn that protects the green.

“Watch this, Moses, I think I can do it,” exclaimed Jesus. “I’ve seen Seve Ballesteros make this shot, and if Seve Ballesteros can do it, then so can I.”

Moses rolled his eyes and let Jesus try. Sure enough, the ball splashed into the water. Moses parted the water for Jesus, who went in to retrieve his ball.

Jesus, however, was not ready to give up.

“I know I can do this, Moses – I’ve seen Seve Ballesteros do it, and if he can do it, then so can I.”

True to form, however, Jesus’ ball ended up back in the water. Moses parted the water, and Jesus went in to retrieve the ball.

“Look, Jesus,” said Moses. “Try again if you like, but I’m not parting the water for you again.”

“Fair enough, Moses,” said Jesus. “But you know, I’ve seen Seve Ballesteros make this shot, and if Seve Ballesteros can do it, then so can I.”

Once again, Jesus’ ball was in the water. Jesus proceeded to walk upon the water to get it.

Another group of golfers came up behind Moses and saw Jesus walking on the water. “Holy Cow!” one of them said to Moses. “Who does that guy think he is? Jesus ?”

“No,” said Moses, rolling his eyes. “He thinks he’s Seve Ballesteros.”