the best laid plans

Today I am having a day off, and it is proving to be quite a mixed event. In anticipating the day ahead of me I had some plans in mind of what I was going to do to relax. And since I woke up other things have started to invade the space I have today and are taking control. I had planned to go out, but as Robbie Burns wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gan aglay.”

For example, it’s a nice sunny day today. So we could do with me doing a couple of loads of washing. But that means me being around to load and unload the washing machine and then to hang out the wet clothes. This is best done in the morning so there is a good opportunity for the clothes to dry. So I need to stay home this morning.

And then I had some messages that several different items that have been ordered online are going to be delivered today. One is a pair of concert tickets I ordered months ago, the other are a couple of items I only ordered yesterday and which were despatched in record time. It is good to receive notifications that these items will be delivered today, but I don’t know when so I have to wait in for both of those to be delivered. And one of them contains a light that will need fixing up outside the house, so that’s another job for the day. If you have read any of my bloggages about deliveries then you will know I have low-level paranoia about this so I have already checked that the doorbell works and that the sign showing where it is is still visible.

And then there’s the reason for this photo. No, I am not intentionally pointing to the frown lines on my head, I am trying to show the mark on my head that was caused by me getting dressed this morning. I bent down to open a drawer in order to get some clothes out and made several misjudgements: (a) how far away I was from the chest of drawers (b) how long my arms were to reach down into the bottom drawer (c) that my head was connected to my torso and when I bent forwards my head would move towards the top of the chest of drawers (d) how dopey I am.

I leant forward and down into the bottom drawer but before my hands could reach the clothes I was trying to get my head reached the top of the chest of drawers. It wasn’t a major impact. I am not concussed or in need of a visit to hospital. It was more of a surprise. But for a while there was a noticeable red mark and it may be that a bruise emerges (hypochondriac? me?). The initial red mark was much more noticeable than this photograph shows and it made me wonder about going out today as people might stare at me.

The combination of all of these things (coupled with me taking the time to write this bloggage) means that I may well not go out today because of a number of circumstances beyond my control.

How often do we have to adjust our plans and ideas because of circumstances beyond our control? Unless you have decided to become a hermit and live a self-sufficient lifestyle in a remote cave somewhere (in which case how have you got internet access to read this?) you will be living in the reality that other people will make an impact on your life. Sometimes that may be negative, other times it may be positive. But we have to respond and react to all of these other people as well as to many other unforeseen events.

It has been said that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. I think that’s rather a sad parody of how things are. I think God really does want us to share our thoughts, ambitions, plans and hopes with him. But not so he can mock us and hit the ‘smite’ key on is computer. Rather it is with the attitude that as he is God it would be a rather wise thing to consult and involve him in our life. The pattern for prayer that Jesus taught encourages people to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that if we pray and share our plans with God in that attitude it makes him smile rather than laugh – smile because he delights to work with us to help shape our lives, to walk with us in the tough times and dance with us in the joyful ones.

Although there may have been a divine snigger when I banged my head this morning!

Be blessed, be a blessing

bother

“I’m all hot and bothered!”

“I can’t be bothered!”

“Oh, bother!”

The catchphrase of Catherine Tate’s teenage character, Lauren, was, “Am I bovvered though?”

Embed from Getty Images

All of these expressions suggest that being bothered is a bad thing. They suggest that it is something that interrupts and distracts from our priorities. It is something that causes distress. Or it is an expletive.

But I think God wants us all to be bothered. He wants us to be upset by injustice, poverty, suffering and aggression. He wants us to be disturbed by events we see and hear on the news. He wants us to be bothered by them.

And then he wants us to bother to do something about it. He wants us to take the trouble to do something. It may start with praying. But it may not end there. It may take us into uncomfortable territory. We may be accused of being political (I was chided by an MP for taking a political stance). We may find ourselves being inconvenienced. We may even find ourselves getting hot and bothered.

But that’s what he wants. Cause that’s also what he’s done. He bothered.

Be blessed, be a blessing

who do you want to see?

Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600
Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

Responses to yesterday (if you don’t know it, it may help you to read yesterday’s bloggage before you carry on) were a bit interesting. After telling our church that I have been called to a new role there was a stunned silence. I could see on people’s faces that they were a bit surprised / shocked / upset / stunned [delete as appropriate].

I told the church at the end of the service, just before we sang ‘To God be the glory’, which gave us all a chance to refocus on him.

Afterwards, once they had recovered, the wonderful people at our church were very warm, encouraging, kind and uplifting. I had hoped that they wouldn’t string the bunting out straight away (‘Hooray he’s going’) or wear black armbands (‘It’s terrible news’) and bless them, they blessed me so much.

Later in the day the news was announced by the EBA and I then posted it on here. Subsequently I have had lots of very kind messages on Facebook, emails and text messages. They are very encouraging and blessed me no end, especially as I was so down about telling the church. Thank you all.

But the thing that blessed me most was when, after the service, someone came up to me and (while briefly mentioning my news) wanted to say that God had spoken to me through the sermon. That meant more to me than anything kind or thoughtful that anyone has said to me or written to me about the move. Don’t get me wrong, don’t get in a huff if you sent me a message or said something kind, but I was blessed because for that person the most important thing in the service was not me, but Jesus and what he had said to him.

“YES!” That’s my prayer each time I stand in a pulpit and it was so encouraging that it had happened yesterday in the midst of everything else.

I remember a small Baptist chapel in rural Devon that I visited before I trained at Bible college. I was cutting my preaching teeth (and the congregations probably bore the teethmarks afterwards) and trying to discern whether God was calling me to be a Minister. As I entered the pulpit (and you had to climb up into it) there was a small piece of paper sellotaped to the lectern top. On it were these words:

“Sir, we would see Jesus.”

It was a message from the congregation to the preacher. I am not sure if they changed it when a lady preacher came. But it has lodged in my memory and is my prayer for all who are sitting in congregations when I stand up to preach – look at Jesus.

I rejoice that this happened yesterday.

But it can happen to us each day if we are living sermons (or free samples of Jesus).

Or, flipping the context around, when you go to church is it to meet your friends, hear the preacher or to see Jesus?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

be bald, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you…

Nick was wondering whether God had misheard his prayers for boldness

Yesterday I posted this picture on Facebook with the caption ‘Nick was wondering whether God had misheard his prayers for boldness’. The pun was intentional.

It was inspired (?) by the preparation I had been doing for Sunday evening, looking at Acts 4 and noticing that the Christians prayed for boldness. It was in the face of the first serious opposition the church had faced since Jesus had ascended into heaven.

Rather than praying that God would smite their opponents, or at least stop them from being so mean, or praying that God would help them to survive, they prayed for boldness to proclaim the message of Jesus. I love that!

So often when I have problems I pray that God will solve them for me. On the occasions when I have been criticised I have prayed for truth and grace. On the few occasions when people have opposed what I have been doing I have prayed for perseverance and that God would vindicate me (not so gracious, I know). But I rarely pray simply for boldness to proclaim the message of Jesus.

If I am called to be a free sample of Jesus, then my first prayer should always be about being able to do that as well as God’s Spirit enables me to. The rest of my life is secondary. This morning I was with a colleague taking an assembly at a school whose motto is ‘God first, other second, self last.’

Amen!

Be blessed, be a (bold) blessing.

 

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.

unmission

The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus: Come, Follow, Wait, GoI have just finished reading another book for my Sabbatical: The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus by Andrew Watson. The book has a chequered history. Not the publication, the actual copy.

It was a gift to me from a group of people I served while working for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, over four years ago. One of the group was tasked with providing it for me and only finally got around to it this year. It has then sat on a bookshelf waiting for my sabbatical leave in order for me to read it.

I am glad I have. It has been helpful in confirming some of my leadership styles, challenging others and inspiring me to think of new ways of doing things. One of the suggestions is that as well as pithy mission statements we should also consider some ‘unmission statements’. These are statements articulating what we are not called to do. The idea is that if we articulate these things we can stop doing them, or can stop ourselves from starting to do them.

I am starting to work on my ‘unmission statement’, and I suspect that it will grow and develop over the rest of my sabbatical leave. For that reason I am not going to reveal any items from it just yet, but here are some generic categories.

Some of the things on the list are obvious because I am not gifted in those areas, have no interest or need to be involved in them and there are gifted and brilliant people who are doing those things already. Some of the things on this part of list are things I think I am good at but other people can do them better. These are the Bezalel items. (Bezalel was delegated to design and create the fancy bits for the Tabernacle, not something Moses needed to do or would have been any good at).

Some of the things on the list are things that I do because they are urgent but not because they are important. These are my Jethro items. (He was Moses’ Father-in-law and advised Moses to delegate some tasks to others).

Some of the things on the list are things that I could do easily, but by me doing them I am preventing other people from using their gifts and talents in those areas. These are my Elisha items. (Elisha was called to take over from Elijah but had a period of apprenticeship).

Some of the things on the list (the most difficult group) are things I enjoy doing but are not a good use of my time and can distract me from the things that are on God’s ‘To Do’ list for me. These are my Galilee items. (Peter and the disciples went fishing in Galilee after Jesus’ death and resurrection).

I need to be careful not to put things on the list that I don’t like doing but which God is asking me to do. I am calling these items my ‘burning bush’ items. (Moses at the burning bush had a whole lot of excuses about why he should not do what God wanted him to, including the brutally honest, “Please send someone else!”).

So what should be on your ‘unmission statement’?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

Some infernal beatitudes:

Blessed are those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians in Church.

Blessed are those who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked.

Blessed are those who are touchy. Soon they will stop going to church.

Blessed are those who always want to get their own way.

Blessed are those who have no time to pray.

Blessed are those who gossip.

Blessed are you when you read this and think it has everything to do with other people, and nothing to do with you.

 

outside the door

It is scary visiting some people in their offices. Waiting outside you feel nervous, sweaty-palmed and experience what the more uncouth among us call ‘SBT’. (For those of a delicate disposition you can ignore this acronym but if you are curious and can’t work it out, it’s set out at the bottom of the page*.)

The Head Teacher (as a child or a parent!)

A High Court Judge in his chambers (I had to do that once as a rookie lawyer)

The Bank Manager

You may have others you would add to the list. I think it is because they are in a position of power or authority. Decisions they make will affect us and it is beyond our control.

Today Sally and I are going to visit a new bank to talk about the possibility of transferring our account. They are a bank with a strong ethical trading policy that our current bank shows no signs of matching. Today we are in the position of power. It is up to us to choose whether or not to take our little amount of banking business to them.

Except of course that we will not be the only ones making a choice. The bank will be considering whether we are a good risk. They will check our identity and our credit rating. It is possible that we might choose them but they choose not to have us.

One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the complexity and marvel that is choice. God has chosen to create us with the freedom to choose whether or not to be with him. That is a choice he made because he wants us to want him, not to be compelled to love him or to be like robots who affirm our allegiance at the press of a button. So it is up to us whether or not to choose him.

Except that because he is both in and beyond time he knows already what our choice will be. Does this mean that it is predetermined, that in fact it is not a real choice because the outcome is already known? Does this mean that in effect God has already chosen those who will choose him? This is part of the conundrum that theologians call ‘election’ and ‘predestination’.

My understanding is that we have to hold several things in tension.

We have absolute free choice.

Because he is beyond time, God knows what that choice will be. It is not like a magic trick where the outcome of an apparent free choice is determined by the magician, it is still a completely free choice.

God longs for every single human being on the planet to choose him. He chooses us all. But because he has given us free will it is up to us to choose him reciprocally. Unless or until we do that God’s choice is ineffective.

That does not stop him wooing, inviting, encouraging, offering, loving, fanning a spark of faith into flame… that is part of what his Spirit does within us as he longs for us to choose to be a part of God’s family. As the image in Revelation 3:20 reminds us, he is outside our door knocking and waiting for us to invite him in.

And when we do choose to come to him he offers complete forgiveness, a fresh start, abundant grace and instant membership of his family. No SBT here!

How does it make you feel to know that God chooses YOU. Yes, he chooses everyone else, but God, the Supreme Being, the Ultimate, THE ONE, chooses YOU. You are special. You are unique. Just like everyone else!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*SBT = squeaky bum time