I’m just saying…

iStock_000008457626MediumI am not someone who sees demons lurking around every corner and considers that everything that goes wrong is the result of the devil having a go at me. I think that sometimes in this world we have to acknowledge that the bumper sticker was right: s**t happens.

But just occasionally when stuff goes wrong I have paused and wondered about the timing. I was speaking at a youth camp a long time ago (when I had hair – yes that long ago!). On the evening where I was particularly asking the young people to consider their relationship with Jesus and whether any of them wanted to make a commitment I had planned for us to sing a song after the talk during which the young people could consider their response. I switched on the overhead projector (remember them?) and the bulb blew. No problem, there was a spare, which I slid into place using the convenient lever at the front of the machine and switched it on. The same thing happened (the projector had been fine all week). I abandoned the plan to sing and carried on. God was gracious and young people came to faith despite the tech failure.

After the session I switched the OHP on again and it worked fine. The timing was, erm, interesting. That’s all I am saying.

This morning I am beginning work on a significant sermon for Sunday. The significance is not because of me, but because of what I (and the other church leaders) feel should be said. I switched my computer on and it chugged into action. Then it ran i n c r e d i b l y   s l o w l y. Then in crashed. I restarted it and it all came back to life, except that the antivirus software would not work and was flashing alarm messages at me. I used the online chat facility with the nice man from the AV company and the problem was resolved.

But it was a time consuming distraction. The timing was, erm, interesting. That’s all I am saying.

Even though s**t happens, and it happens to good people as well as those we might consider deserve it, we should not discount that there is evil at large in the world: not personified by a red character with horns, a pointy tail and a fork; but personified by greed, lust, rage, deceit and other less pleasant characteristics we have. And just occasionally, when God wants to do something significant, stuff happens that makes you think that the opposition is not keen and that it is trying to distract us.

The good news is that there is Good News and that God is more powerful than anything. The Cross of Christ is the moment when evil is doomed to defeat and love wins. We need not fear – even the sting of death has been drawn – and I sometimes think that when stuff ‘happens’ it is a good sign, because (to use a CS Lewis metaphor) Aslan is on the move and the White Witch is getting twitchy!

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!”

witnessing

This morning I gladly witnessed some signatures for some friends in our church. It’s something I do on a regular basis. I was chatting with my friends as I signed to verify their signatures and recalled that I have verified peoples’ identity for their passport applications, countersigned visa and residency applications, signed wedding certificates, witnessed wills, and supported applications for children who are part of our church to be admitted to church schools.

I am very happy to do this, not merely because it is helping someone out but also because it is a tiny way of reaffirming the status of clergy in our society. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a saint (just ask my wife). I am not looking to be put on a pedestal (it’s way too easy to fall off them) and I am not looking to be revered (even though I am a Reverend). The reason I am glad to reaffirm the status of clergy in our society is that our reputation and thus the reputation of the church and therefore the reputation of Jesus has been somewhat tarnished. Sadly the public falls from grace of a few have sullied the reputation of many.

There is an ancient story of a small boy who came back from Sunday School and was asked what they had talked about.

“Sin.”

“What did they say about sin?”

“I’m not sure. But I think they were against it.”

Yes. Absolutely. We are against sin. But (and regularly bloggites here will know this of me) I am always acutely conscious that Jesus told his followers not to judge others. He warned against hypocrisy (and reserved his harshest words to condemn religious leaders who were hypocritical). He told us not to attempt to sort out a minor defect in someone else’s life while we require major surgery in ours. When I feel my fingers tighten around a stone in my hand I remember a man drawing in the sand and asking me if I am without sin.

So, yes I am against sin. First and foremost I am against it in my own life. I regularly need to ask for God’s grace and forgiveness for the times when I allow his reputation and my life to be tarnished. I need to ask for fresh starts on a daily basis. I need a fresh infilling of his companion-Spirit to help me.

But also I pray that those who don’t mind throwing stones at churches will recognise that we are also places of grace, forgiveness, healing and fresh starts. We are all striving to be more like the people God created us to be, but we are not perfect. Forgive us if we ever project a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Please God may we project a ‘just like you, but forgiven’ attitude instead.

Perhaps if we are tempted to condemn someone we should fill our mouths with humble pie instead?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

loopholes?

gavelWhat do you do when there are no rules? What happens when new and as yet envisaged circumstances arise for which no rules have been written? To an extent that seems to be what is happening with social media and how it is being used in our society. we are having to work out the best ways to use social media and what to do with use that could be deemed inappropriate. The companies that run the social media software have their own rules and parameters, but they do not have the same weight as laws written in statute or handed down by courts as legal precedent. There has been significant litigation recently from people who claim that they have been libelled through what has been posted on social media. There was another case not so long ago where a ‘super injunction’ became redundant through the sheer volume of sharing of the subject of the injunction that spread virally through social media. Lawyers have great fun (at our expense) exploiting legal loopholes in these circumstances.

So what do we do?

One possible response is anarchy: everyone does what they want. The problem with that is that you will end up with conflict between those whose actions are incompatible with each other. Another possible response is that someone makes up the rules as we go along. Of course that ‘someone’ has to be given authority that everyone accepts, and we would have to accept short-term chaos until the rules have been written. A third possible response is that we rely on our legal system to extend and apply existing laws as far as possible based on precedent and ‘common law’. but that is cumbersome and expensive and there is a legal maxim that ‘difficult cases make bad law’.

So how do you apply that to the Bible? The Bible has nothing explicit to say about nuclear weapons, the Internet, global warming and many other significant influences on our contemporary lifestyle. The 10 Commandments say nothing about driving cars. If we were to seek to live our life solely by the rules in the Bible there will be significant gaps where we would have to say that it has nothing to say.

That is where we rely on principle rather than rule to guide us. Arguably you could summarise the principles of a biblical lifestyle as living lovingly and justly. That is very crude summary that it would cover any and every situation. We could ask ourselves what is the most loving thing to do and what is the just thing to do. If there is conflict between the two I would always err on the side of love. When godly love and justice combine we end up with grace, forgiveness and mercy and we find ourselves at the foot of the cross.

Some people are much more comfortable living by rules while others find them rigid and insufficiently flexible. Others are happiest living by principles while some find that too vague and uncertain. Obviously a happy balance has to be found but it is worth recognising that behind every rule is a principle. Principles of love and justice lie behind the 10 Commandments for example. And if you extend them through those specific Commandments you can find freedom and certainty in the same place, which I think is what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount.

For example, the 10 Commandments say “you shall not murder” and Jesus said that we have broken the Commandment if we are angry with another person. The principle could be that because we are called to love as God loves we should respect and honour everybody. we should keep our emotions in check because we can be hurtful and violent with our words as well as our behaviour.

if we start from godly principles we will find that the Bible has plenty to say about every subject. They may not be explicitly worded rules and regulations but principles of love and justice are always topical.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

cynicism

Cap & DiplomaIs it just me, or are scams getting more elaborate? Are criminal minds getting more intelligent? Look at how many super-villains have PhD qualifications: Dr Evil, Dr No, Dr Octopus, Dr Doofenshmirtz and even Professor Moriarty! Where are they getting these qualifications?

Yesterday I heard of an elaborate scam where someone contacts the victim and tells them that they have a delivery coming. The delivery is a bunch of flowers and chocolates, but unfortunately the delivery note and card have gone astray. In order to verify delivery and their identity the recipient is asked to swipe their credit card through a hand held device. The criminals now have all they need to duplicate the card and go on a spending spree.

Most scams and cons work on the basis that people are naturally greedy. We want something for nothing when it is offered, or at least want something for less than it’s worth. Of course the maxim, “If it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true” is well worth applying in those circumstances. As is, “Don’t give out your credit card details if you did not initiate the transaction.”

I wonder whether scams and frauds like these are the reason why some people are more cautious and reticent about church and God. It looks too good to be true that they are being offered grace, love and forgiveness free of charge. It looks too good to be true that this community of people exist for the benefit of those who are not yet members (to paraphrase Archbishop William Temple). What’s the catch?

Well, perhaps people should be cynical. It’s true that the grace, love and forgiveness are not free of charge. They are not available as a transaction for us, but are the foundations of a relationship with a loving God which he has initiated but in which we need to participate. And just as the forgiveness cost him everything, the transformation in us may cost us friends, ambitions, time… We do people a disservice if we say that it’s free and there’s no cost involved.

It’s sadly also true that many churches don’t exist (solely) for the benefit of non-members. Visitors can receive a less-than-warm welcome in some churches, and I am not just talking about cold buildings and lukewarm coffee. The notices we share in our services are more often than not about what is happening in the church for church people.

But when it’s as God intended… woohoo!

Please God help us to be more like the way you intended us to be, help me to be a better free sample of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

life in all its fullness

DSCF1884Just a short thought today as I have been out for most of the day…

When Jesus told people that he had come to give them “Life in all its fullness” did they realise that the fullness of life includes pain and suffering as well as joy and excitement? Did they understand that the fullness of life includes doubt as well as certainty? Did they expect fullness of life to include moments when God seems distant and silent as well as those times when we are aware of his awe and wonder? Did they think that forgiveness is only needed after hurt has been caused?

I doubt it.

But then we don’t often think of it in those ways too. We want the good, the exciting, the joyful and forget that character is more often forged in the furnace than among feathers.

Yet they are all experiences of life. The difference with Jesus’ offer of “life in all its fullness” is that there is a God dimension in our life too. He is there with us in pain and suffering as well as joy and excitement. He understands our doubt and certainty. He has not abandoned us even when he seems distant and silent – he is just as close as when we are aware of his awe and wonder.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Cosmetic Splurgery

Cream jarLast weekend Sally (my lovely wife) and I had a weekend off. We went away (leaving the children at home alone for the first time (ages 17 and 15 in case you were about to call the authorities)) and stayed at a hotel. It was a lovely, relaxing, special, re-creational time for us as a couple. Ostensibly it was to celebrate our recent wedding anniversary, but it was good to spend some quality ‘us’ time.

During the weekend I started to feel a bit guilty. Wasn’t it a bit self-indulgent to do this? Weren’t we being a bit extravagant? Had we ‘splurged out wastefully?

‘As these thoughts started to build into worry a phrase from an advert came to mind: “You’re worth it.”

On the whole I ignore adverts from cosmetic companies. I may perk up if they offer a cheap, painless and permanent way of replacing hair, but until then they will remain mainly ignored. Except for the ones that tell us what wonderful new chemicals are included in these products in order to make them sound more effective: ‘Pro-youthfulskinium 5’; ‘Dewrinklifier A’; ‘Sagliftupium B72’ and so on*. Those adverts make me laugh because someone somewhere has decided that people are more likely to buy these skincare products if they have new wonder-chemicals in them.

The other that I have clearly noticed is for a range of cosmetics by a French-sounding company whose slogan is ‘You’re worth it’. I guess it’s designed to make you feel that buying and using these products is important to show yourself how inherently valuable you are.

So, back to my thoughts / worry / guilt. I believe that this was a direct message from God: “You’re worth it.” That is not an excuse to be self-indulgent, extravagant or wasteful. But it was a reminder that our marriage is important and the time we had taken off to spend together was worth it. Our relationship is worth it. Sally is worth it. I’m worth it (ooh, that looks so self-obsessed and unhumble. I hope you understand what I mean).

It got me thinking about what we deny ourselves because we don’t think we are worth it, or don’t think…

Do we allow TV to replace conversation in our family? Turn it off. You’re worth it.

Do we forget to spend time with friends? Make a call. They’re worth it, you’re worth it.

Do you fail to get enough sleep because you work too hard? Slow down, you’re worth it.

Do you deflect compliments? Accept them (graciously), you’re worth it.

Do you think you are unimportant to God? Jesus hanging on the cross is God saying, “You’re worth it.”

You’ll notice that none of these things costs us anything. One of them cost God everything.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*None of these is currently the name of a chemical in one of those products, but if you ever hear those names used, please let me know so I can collect the royalties.

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.

a model citizen

I have bought a boat. It is a sailing boat. A friend needed to make some space and, having enjoyed sailing it with him in the past, I offered to buy it from him.

Yes, she’s a model yacht, but she’s still a big vessel (63 inches in length). Yesterday we rigged her for the first time (outdoors because the mast is too high!) and she looked splendid. There’s still some work to be done to make her ready to sail again, but it won’t be long.

What I found so relaxing when I sailed her previously is that the principles of sailing still apply, even if scaled down. You still have to be aware of the wind direction and speed. You still have to adjust the sails and your course. You can still have comparative silence as she glides almost effortlessly across the water. And, if you want, you can still get up quite a speed.

I am hoping that I will be able to share this relaxing hobby with others in due course, once I am confident I know what I am doing, just as my friend shared it with me. If you’d like to join me, let me know.

Some of you will have got ahead of me here, but I’m not going to go off on a ‘share your faith’ bloggage. Rather I am going to change tack (see what I did there) and suggest that as wonderful and relaxing as sailing a model boat is, it’s not sailing in a boat. You don’t travel anywhere (unless it gets stuck and you have to wade out to it). It’s great, but not the full monty, the whole experience, the big picture.

I wonder how much God looks at us as churches and as individuals and thinks, “Why are they messing about with models when they could be doing the real thing?”

Does he look at our services and think, “That’s lovely, but I would rather you worshipped me with your whole life”?

Does he look at the way we are with one another and think, “You are being kind, which is a Spiritual Fruit, well done, but it’s so much better when you love one another”?

Be blessed, be a blessing (full scale!).

The model husband

There are several men in the changing room of a golf club club, following a day’s driving, pitching, chipping, putting (and looking in the undergrowth for lost balls). Suddenly a cell phone that was on one of the benches rings. A man picks it up and the following conversation ensues:

“Hello?”

“Honey, It’s me.”

“Sugar!”

“Are you at the golf club?”

“Yes.”

“Great! I am at the shops. I saw a beautiful coat… It is absolutely gorgeous!! Can I buy it?”

“What’s the price?”

“Only £1,500.00”

“Well, OK, go ahead and get, if you like it that much…”

“Ahhh and I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the latest models. I saw one I really liked. I spoke with the salesman and he gave me a really good price … and since we need to exchange the BMW that we bought last year…”

“What price did he quote you?”

“Only £60,000…”

“OK, but for that price I want it with all the options.”

“Great!, before we hang up, something else…”

“What?”

“It might look like a lot, but I was reconciling your bank account and…I stopped by the estate agent this morning and I saw the house we had looked at last year … it’s been reduced!! Remember? The one with a pool, tennis court, acre of garden, beachfront property…”

“How much are they asking?”

“Only £450,000… a magnificent price, and I see that we have that much in the bank to cover…”

“Well, then go ahead and buy it, but just bid £440,000. OK?”

“OK, sweetie… Thanks! I’ll see you later!! I love you!!!”

“Bye… I do too…”

The man hangs up, switches the phone off, raises his hand while holding the phone and asks to all those present: “Does anyone know whose phone this is?”