bad news good news

This week Microsoft announced that they were pulling the plug on their clipart. Apparently it was because so many of us now search for images online that there has not been much demand for clipart. That’s bad news. Not because I am a big fan of clipart. And I do search for images (royalty free) online.

sheep cartoon
a captured screenshot from a PowerPoint slide I created, hence the crosshairs!

But it’s bad news for those of us who are not good at drawing – it was a real blessing to be able to create images by using clipart. A few years ago I created this cartoon (left) using clipart. I had a concept but I needed ready-made components to be able to make the concept a reality. Now that Microsoft has withdrawn clipart I am either going to have to learn to draw, or find another source for the components I need.

I think that I have always had an affinity for the shepherds and angels part of the Christmas events.  I think the whole episode lends itself to all sorts of comedic interpretations and slants – for example the cartoon below (again created using clipart)Christmas Card 09, or Nora the Noisy Angel (last year). But most of all I like it because it shows that the incredible good news of God’s gift to humanity in Jesus is for everyone – even (or especially) those who were excluded from mainstream society.

Which indeed is “Good news of great joy for all people.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

Friday 13th (bwah hah hah hah) [sinister laugh]

Dum dum daaaaah [spooky music]

CalendarToday is Friday 13th, 2013. Superstitious people are somewhat skittish today. What they will be like at 13:13 is anybody’s guess!

It seems to be accepted that Friday 13th is an unlucky day because there were 13 at the Last Supper and Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Some other theories are also available, and the exact origins are lost in the mists of time, but the Easter origins are as good as any.

Except that the idea that the Last Supper and Good Friday are unlucky is based on a very weak understanding of what was going on. The Last Supper is right up there as one of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ ministry. It is the moment when his predictions of his arrest and trial become realities. It is the moment when Jesus washes their feet (including Judas’s feet) to demonstrate servant leadership and humility. It is the moment when Judas leaves the band of disciples and prepares to lead the team of soldiers to arrest Jesus. It is the moment when Jesus took elements from the familiar Passover meal and used them to give us tangible reminders of who he was and what he was doing.

The bread which Jesus used may well have been the piece of unleavened bread that represented the priest or mediator between God and humanity. In the Passover Meal it is traditionally wrapped up and hidden away just as his body would be.

There are several ‘cups’ that are drunk during the meal. The one that is drunk ‘after supper’ is known as the ‘cup of redemption’ and reminds of the sacrificial death of the lambs on that first Passover and the blood that was daubed on the door frames to save the people. It was a cup that represented freedom bought at a price.

There’s no bad luck there. It was premeditated, planned and perfectly provided.

And yes Good Friday is the darkest day in human history. It’s the day when we tried to extinguish the Light of the World. But Jesus had been telling his friends that it was going to happen. He had been explaining that it was necessary to fulfil all that he was saying and doing. And he had been explaining that on the third day he would be raised to life again.

Jesus’ death was tragic. But it is not unlucky. It was planned, premeditated and perfectly provided. If anything it is the best news for humankind that we have ever had.

So instead of being trepidatious today try being confident that Friday 13th reminds you of the extent of God’s love and our reconciliation with him that Jesus achieved in his death.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A famous art collector is walking through the city when he notices a mangy cat lapping milk from a saucer in the doorway of a store and he does a double take.

He knows that the saucer is extremely old and very valuable, so he walks casually into the store and offers to buy the cat for two dollars.

The store owner replies, “I’m sorry, but the cat isn’t for sale.

The collector says, “Please, I need a hungry cat around the house to catch mice. I’ll pay you twenty dollars for that cat.” And the owner says “Sold,” and hands over the cat.

The collector continues, “Hey, for the twenty bucks I wonder if you could throw in that old saucer. The cat’s used to it and it’ll save me from having to get a dish.”

To which the owner says, “Sorry buddy, but that’s my lucky saucer. So far this week I’ve sold sixty-eight cats.”

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.

ready? steady? go!

I am feeling a bit self-chuffed. It might even be pride if that was not a sin (!). Regular bloggites will know that I enjoy learning and performing magic tricks. Well I have now invented a trick. I think it is quite good, magician friends to whom I have performed it also think it is quite good, and even a magic trick manufacturer liked it (but not enough for them to buy the rights and make my fortune!).

The trick is based around improbabilities, beating incredible odds. I am not going to go into it now, but if you ask me nicely and persuasively I will reluctantly perform it for you.

Okay, you won’t have to work very hard at all: I am always ready to share it because I am so pleased with it, and with the responses I get from those to whom I perform it. And obviously that reminds me of sandals. You know what I mean, so I don’t need to explain it any further do I?

What?

You haven’t a clue what I am blogging about? (What’s new?)

Roman_legion_at_attackIn his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul encouraged them in their following of Jesus by using the image of a Roman soldier’s armour and telling them that there is spiritual armour we can wear too. Alongside the obvious (helmet, shield, breastplate, sword) he also mentioned what I call ‘good news shoes’.

“… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15)

Apparently Roman soldiers used to wear heavy duty sandals that would help them to march for long distances and give them grip in slippery conditions. Paul used that image to talk about how ready we are to share the good news of Jesus. How far will we go to tell someone the good news or be good news to them? Do we need extra grip? Interestingly he talks of ‘readiness’. If you have your army sandals on you are ready to roll.

I have reflected on my readiness to share magic tricks and whether I am as ready (or even more ready) to share the gospel of peace with others? If I am pleased and impressed (and trying and failing to be humble) with my magic trick, how much more pleased, excited and impressed should I be about the good news of Jesus?

Get your sandals on.

(Socks are optional).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Son rise

After what some of you may consider to have been a surfeit of pomes (sic) last week, when I was in a reflective mood, this week I am returning to the more ‘normal’ style of bloggage. Except that I’m going to cheat slightly and post a reflection based on something I said in Sunday evening’s sermon at our church. So, apologies to anybody who has already heard this.

Sunrise & Sunset 2
To be fair, this is not an image of the sun rising over Horsham!

In my first church, in Horsham, we used to have a sunrise service on Easter Sunday mornings. We would trudge and squelch our way across some fields and up a hill that overlooks the town. Usually it was after the sun had risen but it was still very early in the morning and we would reflect on the events of the first Easter Sunday.

On one occasion I asked some of the teenage girls in the church to interrupt me as I was speaking. The idea was that while I was speaking about the encounter that the women had with the risen Jesus they would rush down the hill through the crowd shouting, “Jesus is alive! We’ve seen him, we’ve met him!” The girls were quite excited about this and sneaked to the back of the crowd to await the cue. My idea was that I would try to bring a little realism to the narrative. I didn’t count on a retired minister who was part of our church.

As the girls started to make a commotion and ran down the hill shouting, “Jesus is alive!” Gordon turned around to them and told them to be quiet and stop messing around.
The girls were a little taken aback by this but thankfully they decided to continue and ran down the hill as arranged. They were not going to be shushed by anyone!

Sometimes churches are like Gordon: we can unwittingly try to stop the good news of Jesus from spreading. I think everybody is hard-wired not to like change but somehow when we get together in churches we can be even more resistant. Perhaps because God is unchanging we think we ought to be as well.

Gordon also typifies the reaction of the disciples on Easter Sunday when the women burst into their room and told them that Jesus was alive. They were told to stop being so silly and calm down. What did they think they were doing interrupting a serious and important meeting with their excited and exuberant shouting?

Thankfully, just like the girls on the hill overlooking Horsham, those women would not be silenced. They had the greatest news in history and they wanted everyone to have an opportunity to hear it.

Over to you.

Be blessed, be a blessing

bad ads

Is it just me, or are adverts becoming more annoying? Not necessarily the ones on TV, but the ones that intrude on our daily routines.

I just had a panic online when a pop-up advert I was not expecting popped up and told me there was a problem that needed fixing. I know enough not to click on them, but getting rid of them by clicking on the ‘x’ always fills me with dread in case someone has changed things around and it actually means ‘accept’ rather than ‘go away’. It led me to post a warning on Facebook, just in case, until I had checked it out and been assured that it was not a genuine problem.

I have discovered that sometimes adverts appear at the bottom of bloggages here. I have to say that I have no control over them and am not endorsing any of them, I am not sponsored by any of them and I get no revenue from any of them.

There are adverts all over Facebook. They may or may not be genuine, but I am not going to click on them, just in case.

And don’t get me started on the spam emails offering me… ahem, you know… or telling me that someone I have never met wants to give me millions of pounds, or that I have won lotteries that I have not entered.

Then there is the amount of junk that gets lobbed through our letterboxes every day. It must be about a tree a week that is paying the price for us being told that our (rented) house is valuable and estate agents would like to Crammed mailboxsell it for us, that someone who can only afford a cheaply photocopied piece of paper is qualified to come and clean our carpets, that there is takeaway food available, and so on…

And now they are knocking on our doors trying to get us to sign up for charities, change our electricity suppliers and buy double glazing (don’t they ever check the windows before they knock?).

This is not so much a grumpy old man whinge as an observation. Don’t these people realise that they are annoying us? Don’t they realise that the more they annoy us the less likely we are to respond to their adverts?

I hope and pray that churches never fall into that trap. It seems to me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are close with their persistent campaign of door-knocking that has now become such a cliche that it is almost comical. It seems to me that people who stand on street corners haranguing passers-by with quotes from the Bible and telling them that they should turn or burn are in the same league.

I’m not suggesting that we should keep quiet, or that we should not be sharing the most amazing news the planet has ever had. Far from it. But please let’s think about whether we are going to be more annoying that a blessing. I doubt that many people have been irritated into the Kingdom of God!

Which list of words seems more attractive to you:

Love, service, friendship, blessing, support, encouragement, peace, prayer,  generous

Sin, death, hell, shouting, cold calling, interrupting, uninvited

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Responding to an advert:

A large, well established, Canadian lumber camp advertised that they were looking for a good lumberjack. The very next day, a skinny little man showed up at the camp with his axe, and knocked on the head lumberjacks’ door.

The head lumberjack took one look at the little man and told him to leave. “Just give me a chance to show you what I can do,” said the skinny man.

“Okay, see that giant redwood over there?” said the lumberjack. “Take your axe and go cut it down.”

The skinny man headed for the tree, and in five minutes he was back knocking on the lumberjack’s door.

“I cut the tree down,” said the man. The lumberjack couldn’t believe his eyes and said, “Where did you get the skill to chop down trees like that?”

“In the Sahara Forest,” replied the puny man.

“You mean the Sahara Desert,” said the lumberjack.

The little man laughed and answered back, “Oh sure, that’s what they call it now!”

insurance

I had a leaflet arrive along with an order that I received yesterday. It was for ‘Specialist Golf Insurance’. For just £29.99 per year my golf could be insured. I was intrigued by the concept of ‘Specialist Golf Insurance’ so did not bin the leaflet immediately. I wanted to see what would be covered…

There is a ‘new for old’ policy for golf equipment that is stolen, lost or damaged.

It covers personal liability for up to £5million (in case I get sued for a wayward shot?)

It covers personal accidents (presumably from all the scratches I get rummaging around in the bushes looking for wayward balls that are not stopped by hitting people).

There is cover for accidental damage to Third Party Property (presumably windows damaged by wayward shots that miss the people and the bushes).

There is cover for dental treatment. Yes, you did read that right: dental treatment. I assume that’s for when you hit a wayward shot against a tree and it pings back and breaks your teeth, Tom and Jerry style.

There is an amount to cover hiring golf equipment if you have suffered loss or theft.

And there’s an amount to cover repaying some of your Club Subscription, presumably if you are recovering from the dental treatment mentioned above.

There is one more aspect to the cover, which I love.

There is £150 available for if you score a hole in one, to cover the bar bill. (It is traditional to buy everyone a drink in the bar after you have scored a hole in one).

I love the idea of insuring against such a brilliant thing happening. Personally I can’t imagine ever hitting a green in one, never mind getting the ball in the hole with just one shot, but it does happen and if you take out this insurance you will be protected from a hefty bar bill.

I wonder if the Baptist Insurance Company should offer the following extras on their policies for churches.

Insuring against someone coming to faith: provides a sum of money to have a party in the church when someone becomes a Christian.

Insuring against baptisms: provides money for towels, increased water useage and mopping up afterwards.

Insuring against new members: buys membership cards, additional printing of minutes and agendas for meetings and any additional printing, pays for an extra cushion for the hard pews.

Insuring against God moving in the church: pays for tissues (tears of joy or sadness), sedation for Ministers (when someone says that the sermon spoke to them), replacing burnt dinners because the service went on longer, therapy for children’s group leaders who have longer with the little darlings than expected.

I hope you realise my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I wrote the above, but the idea of insuring against good news got me thinking silly thoughts.

How about we think of all the good things that God is doing at the moment and instead of insuring against them we thank God for them, encourage one another with them and tell people beyond the church about them?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(I have not currently taken out the insurance)