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

scarred love

 

There have been several major tragic events in the UK in the past few weeks, involving significant loss of life and injury, and my heart goes out to all who have been bereaved or injured.

Recognising and honouring the incredible acts of selfless generosity and heroism that have been shown in response to these events is one way in which we can respond with hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. Responses in these extreme circumstances are of hope not hate, of kindness not cruelty, of love not loathing, of heroism not hesitation. These responses (to me) reveal glimpses of the intended qualities of the One who created human nature.

There are different levels of human culpability in these horrendous events (by which I mean that I am not wishing to prejudge the outcome of any inquiry, trial, etc). We have to accept that if humans had not acted in certain ways these tragedies may have been avoided or far less tragic. We also recognise that there is a pernicious quality to the evil side of life.

 

So what do we do?

Scream

Rage

Weep

Sit in dumbfounded silence

wpid-20140217_131122.jpg

All of these and more. I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about how we feel as a first step towards being honest with one another. What emotions are we feeling? Why do we feel these things?

One response to these sorts of event is regret expressed as ‘if only’. If only’ regrets can be corrosive. They can eat away at our ability to confront the impact of what has happened and begin the long process of coming come to terms with it and how we feel about it. But I can’t help feeling a deep sense of ‘if only’ regret on behalf of the victims. All suffering and death is a vile reminder that things are not as they should be, but somehow when the victims are those we would deem to be ‘innocent’ that exacerbates our sense of outrage and indignation that it should maraud savagely into our relatively well-ordered society. So we wonder whether it could have been prevented?

‘If only’ also looks for someone to blame: someone should have done something differently. Often that ‘someone’ is someone who is not known to us. It is much more difficult to cope with when ‘if only’ points the finger of blame and someone closer to home, or even to us. The ‘if only’ blame requires someone to resign or to be convicted or to apologise. And while collectively we may feel better when that happens we transfer the blame to that person / organisation and we distance ourselves from it. But the regret remains.

If you want to blame someone, by all means blame God. If you want to complain about the injustice then give him your best shot. He can cope with the raging lashing-out of hurting people.

Writing this post today I remembered writing a lament to God a few years ago for those who died when a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. I was surprised to find that this was 18th July 2014 – how was it so long ago and how had I forgotten all about it?

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

One of the consequences of our global news social media world is that, while we feel the impact of each new tragedy more keenly because we see footage from camera phones from those who were there and we hear eyewitness accounts almost as they happen, we move onto the next one fairly rapidly with an almost macabre fascination. I could easily change the words above to reflect the most recent events. And in a few weeks’ time perhaps (please God no) there will be new events to replace those…

But when you are screaming at God when these things happen, ask him where he was and is.

God is not indifferent to our suffering.

At the risk of being insensitive to those who are suffering in ways far beyond anything I can imagine I do believe that part of the answer to that is that he is with us, he is in the pain, he feels the impact, he is screaming the screams of anguish. Why? Because he loves each one of us with love that goes far beyond that of any parent or child. He loves us because he made us lovingly. When his beloved ones are damaged, ruined, destroyed, and defiled his love – even though it remains undiminished – becomes a scarred love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the antidote

Yesterday’s bloggage title may have reaffirmed a sense of low self-esteem for some of you, but I hope that you carried on and read the affirmation at the end of it.

ScienceToday I want to offer an antidote to ‘we’re not worth it’ attitudes if you missed the second half or didn’t feel worthy of the affirmation…

Have you ever made, drawn, designed, created, invented, built or enhanced anything? It could be a cake or a castle, an airfix model or a painting, a well-received piece of work or a tidy bedroom. Anything.

How did you feel at the end of it? Remember that sense of pride, accomplishment, satisfaction?

When God looks at you, his beloved one, his created one, he has that same sensation. He is proud of who you are (despite your imperfections). He is glad he imagined you into being. He is happy that you are growing, learning, improving, living…

He doesn’t make mistakes. And he doesn’t make prototypes. You are the one and only you.

With God’s help you can be the best ‘you’ imaginable. You can be more than you can imagine if you open yourself up to his Spirit. Empowered by God’s Spirit you can live life in all its fullness and in doing so you can bless, encourage, inspire and support others. as they seek to be the best ‘them’ they can be.

God’s grace is such that he even takes our mistakes and can transform them, or use them, or help us to learn and grow from them.

To paraphrase Numbers 6:23 from the Bible:

May you experience God’s blessing and that he is holding you. May you know his smile upon you and his grace in all your circumstances. May you sense him looking fondly at you and relax in his arms.

Be blessed, be a blessing

You are not a mistake.

Bearing up

bearing up
bearing up (not me nor my teddy bear, but you get the idea!)

Don’t try to analyse what’s going on in my head – that’s dangerous territory – but this morning I was reminiscing about the teddy bear I had as a child. His name was ‘Teddy’ (I was as original then as I am now). He was given to me when I was born and I had the same teddy bear throughout my childhood.

He even saved my life! See this bloggage for the story

During his active time with me he had several new skins, and some new stuffing, but he was still my bear.

(That reminds me of the roadsweeper who said that he had had the same broom for 50 years. The local news reporter came to interview him for such an amazing feat and asked him how he had managed to keep the same broom for 50 years. The roadsweeper said, “Well it has had 12 new heads and three new handles, but it’s the same broom!”)

We all grow and change. Not just physically (believe it or not but I once had hair on the top of my head!) but emotionally and spiritually too. I am not the same as I was as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult and even as I was last year. God’s Spirit is gradually changing me. But I am the same person. God’s renewal is not like giving us new skin and new stuffing, or new broom heads and broom handles. His renewal is more of a refining, an enhancing, a purifying process in which we are gently being transformed to become more like the people he has created us to be and less like the tarnished, imperfect version that we had become.

I am nowhere near the finished article. Oh no. Definitely not. (Please never put your ministers on pedestals because we will fall off.) I am a work in progress, but hopefully in each of us people can catch a glimpse of God through his Spirit at work in us as they see how he has changed us. It’s another way in which we can be free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

God’s trophy cabinet

I put my size eleven feet in it recently. I forgot to do something I said I would do and as a result some people were upset. What would you do in those circumstances?

Shrug, accept that we are all fallible and carry on…

Worry about it and make yourself upset…

Write a note of apology and post it…

Go and see the people you have upset to apologise…

Write a blog about it…

Some of above…

None of the above…

I am not going to tell you what I did, save that God’s grace has been abundant in the outcome.

I wonder if sometimes people forget that others will make mistakes. We sometimes put people on pedestals of perceived perfection (and alliteration) and then are surprised when they fall off. We find it particularly difficult when they are people from whom we expect ‘better’. If someone is regularly letting us down we may have lower expectations from them, but if someone has been consistently helpful and then fails we can feel more let down because of the contrast.

TrophyI don’t think God sees it that way. Just as he has no hierarchy of sin (unlike some of us) he has not got a range of expectations for us. He hopes for the best for every one of us. His Spirit within us is aiming as high as possible as he bears fruit within us and gifts us for works of mission and service.

Jesus doesn’t put us on pedestals, he has us in his trophy cabinet: he thinks we are wonderful. He sees us as his pride and joy! We cause him delight.

And when we let him (and others) down, he is gracious enough to forgive us and help us make a fresh start. And he wipes the slate clean. That may be why he does not have a range of expectations of us. He does not hold onto our past failures and hold them against us. He sees each fresh start as exactly that. Fresh. New. Clean. Shiny. Full of possibilities.

The people I let down have been very gracious and forgiving. Their response to my apology has helped me to reflect on God’s response too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

A joke about pride…

A big-time negotiator was out fishing one day when he caught a strange looking fish. He reeled the fish in, unhooked it, and threw it on the ground next to him. The fish started writhing in agony and, to the negotiator’s surprise, said, “Please throw me back into the lake and I’ll grant you three wishes.”

“Any three wishes, huh?” the negotiator mused as visions of expensive fast cars and beautiful women paraded through his head.

“Fish,” he finally exclaimed, “Give me five wishes and I’ll throw you back.”

“Sorry,” the fish answered while struggling for breath, “only three wishes.”

The negotiator’s pride was at stake and after giving the matter some thought he announced, “What do you take me for? A sucker? I’ll settle for four wishes.”

“Only three,” the fish murmured weakly.

Fuming, the man debated the pros and cons of accepting the three wishes or continuing to bargain for that one extra wish. Finally, the negotiator decided it wasn’t worth looking a gift fish in the mouth and said “All right fish, you win, three wishes.”

Unfortunately, by then the fish was dead.

blinking icons

If you are a PC user (Windows 7) you will know that in the bottom right hand corner of the screen is usually a set of small icons that indicate the main open programs that are running at the time. Most of them are fairly static. Occasionally you get I get a little blue circle on an icon to indicate that it is busy doing something in the background. Sometimes (and usually causing alarm) there is a little red cross on the flag, indicating that something important needs attention.

But the disappointing thing is that the icon that indicates that I am connected to the internet is static. It’s just a little picture of a computer that is connected to something. It used to be the case (in an earlier version of Windows) that there would be two little computers in the icon and the screen on each one would flash when the computer was sending or receiving information. I liked that, especially when it got frantic! That showed me that something was happening. This morning I noticed a little icon going frantic. It is the icon for Google Sync, which synchronises my calendar on this computer with the calendar on my tablet. There were arrows going up and down like mad things, illustrating that the program was doing its job and syncing. But this does not mean that the static icons are indicating that the other programs aren’t doing anything. In fact I don’t want the anti-virus icon to start flashing alerts, that would be really alarming!

As a Minister it is sometimes tempting to think that God’s only at work in the people in whom it is obvious that he is at work. When we can see someone who is actively putting their faith into action (most obviously seen in Baptist churches through Believer’s Baptism) we rejoice. But that does not mean that God is not at work in the lives of the people who are gently, quietly, surreptitiously going about their lives. It seems to me that God more often works through the unspectacular than the spectacular.

That’s one of the many ways in which he surprises us. It’s along the lines of Jesus saying that greatness is seen in service. He spoke of seeds germinating unseen in the ground before bearing fruit. He spoke of hidden treasure and of yeast working unseen yet permeating the dough. He entered this world hidden away in a stable. He achieved his aims by dying.

Don’t envy those in whom spectacular things are happening. Don’t think that God is not working through you and in you simply because your experience seems more mundane. God may well be at work under the surface, behind the scenes, without frantic action on your icon. Be faithful, be consistent, be a good free sample of Jesus, and you are doing all that he wants!

Be blessed, be a blessing

A bloke was struggling with his new computer, so he called the help desk.

The man on the phone started to talk in computer jargon, talking about mice, icons, RAM and the like, which confused the poor bloke further.

“Listen,” the bloke politely said, “This is all going over my head. Please explain what I should do as if I were a four-year-old.”

“Okay,” the computer technician replied. “Son, could you please put your mum on the phone?”

getting trollied?

No, this is not a bloggage about drunkenness, although it begins with a confession:

I have trolley-lust. There’s something about trollies that I love. It may be that they are so simple, yet so useful (like me?). It may be that they are so mundane and ordinary that we take them for granted (like me?). It may be that they have been around almost as long as wheels have been put on axles (like… er no).

I have recently realised that not only do I like trollies a lot. I now need one. A while ago I did a magic show at Cafechurch in Bluewater Shopping Centre and carried the box of tricks (literally) all the way from my car to the Costa Coffee shop. And back. And afterwards I realised that I had hurt my back. I could have done with a trolley.

I have also recently bought a boat (see this bloggage) and have realised that I will need a trolley to help me convey it to the launch sites because it is so big and there’s kit to go with it.

So I have been looking into buying a trolley, guided by my wife Sally (the voice of wisdom). I really liked this trolley, which is on offer in Robert Dyas at the moment  thumbnail(click on pic for link). It’s big, got rugged wheels and looks like it means business. But the voice of wisdom asked if it wasn’t too big and bulky. Would I fit it into the back of my car for when I needed to transfer items from the car to another venue. She was right (as she usually is) and I have reluctantly agreed that this is not the trolley for me.

But this setback has not diminished my trolley-lust, nor has it made me think that I don’t need one. If anything it heightened my awareness of the need, especially as I have just agreed to do another magic show soon where I will need to lug boxes of tricks from the car. So I searched online for trollies and saw some spectacularly superlative trollies. I also understood more about them. The one pictured above is actually more of a cart than a trolley. And the sort of trolley with two handles, a scoop at the bottom and just two wheels is called a ‘sack trolley’. Who knew?

Hand TrolleyThen, just as I was despairing of ever finding the right trolley for me (budget, size and capability) I came across this one. It’s a sack trolley. But it also transforms into a cart!!! It combines the best of both worlds, and is small enough to load into my car along with the stuff that will need to be trolley-transported.

Do you want to see what it looks like as a cart?

I know you do really.

Here it is…Hand Trolley

Isn’t it magnificent? Just what is needed! And at the moment (May 2012) it’s on special offer!! Woooo Hoooo! [clicks and orders]. (If you want one too, click on the image above.)

I may be getting a bit carried away at the moment (really?) but I think there’s something even more exciting that may happen. You see because I ordered it online, it’s going to be delivered to our house. And what if (deep breath, calm down)… what if it’s transferred from the lorry to our house on another trolley?! That may be the ultimate in trolleyness.

Before you start sending the men in white coats around to our house (and bearing in mind they may strap me to a trolley, which would be self-defeating), I should try to get to the point of this bloggage.

Tucked away in the New Testament is a tiny little letter that Paul wrote to a friend called Philemon. It seems (from the back story) that Paul had met a runaway slave from Philemon’s household by the name of Onesimus. (Bear in mind that slavery in those days was commonplace and that there is a biblical injunction to treat them well – almost as employees). How Paul had met him we don’t know, but he had been helpful to Paul and had become a believer. Paul was sending him back to Philemon (where the law said he should be flogged, or worse, for running away) with this letter in which he asked Philemon to welcome him back as a brother in Christ.

Onesimus means ‘useful’. In the letter Paul makes a pun on this by saying that he had been useless to Philemon (perhaps he was a poor worker) but had become useful to him, and will be useful to Philemon.

The point of all this? The things and people we take for granted can all be useful to God (including us). What we may consider to be useless is useful in God’s eyes. Jesus took a bunch of ordinary people and transformed them into a new movement. He took a boat and turned it into a pulpit. He took a packed lunch and turned it into mass catering. He took bread and wine and turned them into an encounter with him. He took his own death and turned it into new life for all who love him.

Don’t write anyone or anything off. It’s all useful to God – even more useful than a trolley that converts into a cart.

Be blessed, be a blessing.