listening to the satnav

satnavDo you have a Satellite Navigation System? And if you do, do you talk back to yours, or is it just me? Do you argue with yours, or is it just me? Do you always obey yours?

My satnav has live traffic updates and about a week ago as I was travelling to a meeting it suggested that I should divert around a problem. I couldn’t see why that was necessary especially as I was in a moving flow of traffic, so I ignored it. Then I arrived at a section of road that was flooded and, while passable, required gentle navigation and tested the waterproofness of my car floor (it passed). Then it said that I should divert around another problem ahead. But I could see that stretch of road and it was empty. No flood. No cars. No problem. So I told my satnav not to be such a worrier and carried on without an issue.

On Sunday I was travelling to a church and the satnav was taking me on a lovely country road when it told me to turn right. I was singing along to a song so didn’t think about the instruction – I blindly followed it and indicated right. It was only as I turned right that I questioned what the satnav was doing as I drove down what looked like a farm track. It did come out onto another main road but I wondered whether the satnav would have been better keeping me on the main roads.

Yesterday I was heading to another meeting when the satnav started telling me to leave the dual carriageway I was on and follow a route along more minor roads. I was unconvinced, especially after the experience last week, but wondered whether or not to listen to the satnav anyway especially as it was telling me that if I followed the diversion I would be 15 minutes late for my meeting. So I ignored it and carried on along the dual carriageway.

Then the satnav offered another alternative route if I came off at the next junction. I admired its persistence and began to wonder whether I should listen to it. Just at that point my car radio was interrupted by a local traffic report that told me that the dual carriageway I was on was blocked ahead and that the queues went back for miles.

I decided to listen to my satnav.

I followed an interesting ‘cross country’ route which I imagine was probably the main route before the dual carriageway was constructed. The satnav told me where and when to turn and I was completely at its mercy. And wonderfully I arrived at my destination less than 10 minutes late (I didn’t speed, but the satnav had overestimated the delay).

At certain points in the journey the minor road I was on went parallel to the dual carriageway and I could see the massive tailback with stationary traffic (as opposed to stationery traffic which is made of paper). I tried not to feel smug, but enjoyed the experience of being in moving traffic.

Whose opinion do you trust? Whose voice do you listen to? What are the criteria by which you judge whether or not someone is trustworthy: previous experience; corroboration from other sources; the ‘authority’ of the speaker?

Do you apply those same criteria to questions of faith or how you read the Bible?

Be blessed, be a blessing

I love it when a plan comes together*

Daah Dah Daaaah, Duh Duh Duuuuh. Dah Dah Dah, Dah Da-dada Daaah…

Oh dear

[Theme for the A Team]

I have a feeling that God was humming that to himself this week. Last Sunday I thought we had finished a series of sermons in our morning services about ‘I ams’ of Jesus. No, not dried cat food! Things like, “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the resurrection and the life”. I had left myself an empty sermon slot for this Sunday morning. This was not deliberate. I thought I might have been on holiday (but I’m not). So at the beginning of the week I started to think and pray about what to do this Sunday morning.

Eventually I was led to one chapter in Luke’s gospel. It just felt right. But it also felt too long. Which part of the chapter? Yesterday, when I was ready to start some serious preparation, I began with my daily Bible reading that comes by email. Guess which chapter they were looking at. And not all of it, just a part. I got the message. Hopefully if you are at our church on Sunday morning so will you (or you can download it from our website next week).

And God smiled quietly to himself (and perhaps chuckled a bit). And perhaps he said gently, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

“But what’s the passage?” I hear you ask. Well, that would be telling! No sneak previews this week. All I will say is that it dovetails with last week’s sermon quite well imho.

It’s a shame it’s not like that all the time. Sometimes when I want to hear from him God is conspicuously silent. What do I do at those times? Keep praying. Keep listening. Keep searching. Use the brain God has given me. Work out what feels right and do that.

I love the phrase in the letter that the church in Jerusalem sent to the Gentile believers in Antioch (Acts 15): “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

Now if you read what happened beforehand there was no massive revelation, no writing on the wall, no voice from heaven. There was “much discussion”, a few speeches and a decision. It seemed that the response to the question from the believers in Antioch made sense and felt right. They had peace about it. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them.

God has not provided us with his guidance in order to save us wear and tear on our brains. He’d like us to use them in partnership with him!

At the conclusion of the sermon, the worshipers filed out of the sanctuary to greet the minister. As one of them left, he shook the minister’s hand, thanked him for the sermon and said, “Thanks for the message, Reverend. You know, you must be smarter than Einstein.” Beaming with pride, the minister said, “Why, thank you, brother!”

As the week went by, the minister began to think about the man’s compliment. The more he thought, the more he became baffled as to why anyone would deem him smarter than Einstein. So he decided to ask the man the following Sunday.

The next Sunday he asked the parishioner if he remembered the previous Sunday’s comment about the sermon. The parishioner replied that he did. The minister asked: “Exactly what did you mean that I must be smarter than Einstein?”

The man replied, “Well, Reverend, they say that Einstein was so smart that only ten people in the entire world could understand him. But Reverend, no one can understand you.”

*for the uninitiated, this is what Hannibal would say each week in the A Team after they had constructed some improbable device to get themselves out of trouble.

shivering

When was the last time a shiver went down your spine? What caused it? Was it the cold, something spooky or a reaction to something you ate?

I find that often an awareness of God literally sends a shiver down my spine. It is almost as if I can feel God’s Spirit at work in me and he causes a physical response. I am not suggesting that this should be your experience, it’s just the way that I respond to God’s presence.

I had one of those experiences this morning. I was reading Job 38 with Chris Tomlin’s Indescribable playing in the background. That sent a shiver down my spine as an awareness of God’s greatness from Scripture merged with the song lyrics. It was a reminder of the God whom I serve and worship – so incredible that human descriptions of him are inadequate, but even those inadequate descriptions make me shudder.

Snow covered cars 3
ok - you find an image for 'shiver'!

But what really got my spine tingling was the song that came a little further down my playlist: I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. I was overwhelmed with a sense of the incredible love God has for me.

“How marvellous, how wonderful is my Saviour’s love for me!”

It’s not a hymn I can remember singing much until recently. The words got right deep into me and the more I reflected the more shivers I experienced. I decided that this was the hymn with which we should start our morning service on Sunday.

Then I finished reflecting and looked again at my sermon theme for Sunday morning: Jesus said, “I am with you.” What are the opening lines of the hymn? “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene…” I started to laugh at this and said out loud, “You are good!” He had not only inspired me to worship but he had encouraged me to use a hymn that (unwittingly on my part) linked to the theme of the service!

I realise that if you read my blog on more than an occasional basis it is possible to gain the erroneous impression that I am a super-spiritual person who is always in touch with God, that I am always reflecting on my walk with him and that I constantly hear from him.

Not so. Please rid yourself of any such thoughts. Have a word with my wife if you think this is false modesty! I tend just to record the positives because I am too embarrassed to share the negatives! But we all serve a great God whose love knows no limits and whose grace is greater than our failings.

Shiver.

Shiver joke? (yes it’s tenuous but what do you expect?)

A pirate walks into a pub and the innkeeper says, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. What happened, you look terrible!”

“Shiver me timbers, what do you mean?” the pirate replies, “I’m fine.”

The innkeeper says, “But what about that wooden leg? You didn’t have that before.”

“Arrr,” says the pirate, “We were in a battle at sea and a cannon ball hit my leg but the surgeon fixed me up with a wooden leg, and I’m fine, really.”

“Yeah,” says the innkeeper, “But what about that hook? Last time I saw you, you had both hands.”

“Shiver me timbers,” says the pirate, “We were in another battle and we boarded the enemy ship. I was in a sword fight and my hand was cut off but the surgeon fixed me up with this hook, and I feel great, really.”

“Oh,” says the innkeeper, “What about that eye patch? Last time you were in here you had both eyes.”

“Arrr, shiver me timbers,” says the pirate, “One day when we were at sea, I heard a shout from the scurvy dog in the crow’s nest. I looked up and the egg filling from his sandwich hit me in my eye.”

“What?” exclaimed the innkeeper, “You lost an eye just from some egg sandwich filling?”

“Arrr. Shiver me timbers, Ahaarrr, no.” says the pirate. “I hadn’t got used to the hook.”

will, will, will

A few years ago I had a different existence. I worked in the Mission Department at the Baptist Union of Great Britain. I worked with some brilliant colleagues and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. If I had not been convinced that God had called me to Colchester Baptist Church I would have been delighted to stay there.

But how do we know that God is calling us? We looked at this question at Alpha on Wednesday. I can remember a period of time when I was convinced that God has a specific route through life that he wants us all to follow exactly and feeling paralysed by the thought that if I get it wrong I have blown it.

I have now experienced that God guides us in two ways – his general will and his particular will. Have a look at this file [God’s will] and you will see what I mean.

The green swathe represents God’s general will. This is revealed to us in the Bible. He wants us to be loving, to be generous, to be kind, to be faithful, to be thankful… In many ways this is summarised by the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ explanation of them in the Sermon on the Mount. But think of the 10 Cs as a shorthand summary of the best way to experience and enjoy life – by turning them into positives. So, ‘do not steal’ can become ‘work for what you have’, ‘do not covet’ can become ‘relax if other people have better stuff than you’ and ‘do not commit adultery’ can become ‘do all you can to love and bless your spouse’.

The red dotted line represents someone’s life. We can make different choices in life that will keep us in God’s general will. And we can make choices that will take us outside it, but we can always come back to him and seek forgiveness and a fresh start. There are moments, however, when God may have something specific he wants us to do (‘x’ on the chart). At those moments we again have choices – to obey or not. Even if we disobey, God does not give up on us, he is grace personified!

If you doubt God’s grace, read the book of Jonah. Don’t stop when the fish vomits him up onto the beach, keep going. God asked him to do something specific. He refused. God gave him a second chance… and even took the time and trouble to explain to old grumpypants (aka Jonah) what he was doing.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Have you ever wondered why the people of Nineveh paid so much attention to Jonah? Well, wouldn’t you stop and listen to someone who turned up covered in seaweed, smelling of fish vomit and starting his talk with, “A funny thing happened to me on the way to the theatre…”

adaptability

Remember 1Don’t you just hate it when you think of something important or significant but can’t make a note of it, and when you need to remember that thought all you can remember is that it was important or significant? I have that sensation about this morning’s blog entry. I am sure I had a good idea yesterday but did not have the chance to record it, and now I am reduced to blogging about the failure to remember such an important or significant thought.

Still, it’s not all wasted. At least it has given me something to blog about!

My experience of God is that he does the same with us. He might have something important or significant that he wants us to do, but we forget it, ignore him or simply refuse to do it. Does that mean we have then blown it? Does that mean that God is going to give up on us? No. He adapts to us. He accommodates his plans to our weakness and goes with a different version of Plan A or even moves to Plan B. That’s grace!

As a teenager I can remember being almost paralysed with fear at the idea that God has a specific plan for my life and that I could blow it if I did not follow it specifically. I have come to realise that this is not so. His plans for us are to live as followers of Jesus, to allow his Spirit to change us gently so that we are more like the people he has created us to become. There may be specific moments when he has a specific task that he would like us to carry out, a special calling to follow or something he wants us to say to someone else. But I do not believe that he has a roadmap for my life which I must follow religiously (I use the word advisedly). Rather I believe the analogy is more like he has a destination for me and some places he would like me to visit en route. This is not a free licence to go anywhere and do anything. There are parameters to the journey. There are directions he would not want me to go in and ways he would not want me to drive.

But rather than fret about what they may be, my experience is that I can find the parameters and directions to avoid, the guidance about how to drive in the Bible (his Highway Code, to stretch the analogy to breaking point!). I can discern special moments when his Spirit prompts me in different ways and I find that he usually makes it very clear on those occasions so I can’t claim to have missed them, even if I have ignored or disobeyed him.

Enjoy the journey today!


Three men were trekking through a jungle when they came across a violent, raging river. They had no idea how to cross. So the first man decided to pray.

‘Please, God, give me the strength to cross this river.’ Immediately he grew enormous muscles in his arms and legs, and he managed to swim across the river in a couple of hours, nearly drowning twice.

The second man saw this and he prayed ‘Please, God, give me the strength AND the tools to cross this river.’ A boat appeared from nowhere, and he battled across the river in an hour, nearly capsizing twice.

The third man saw this and prayed ‘Please, God, give me the strength, the tools AND the intelligence to cross this river.’ 

Immediately he turned into a woman. She looked at the map, walked upstream a hundred yards, and crossed over the bridge to the other side.

should have gone to [a certain brand of opticians whose name I will not use as I am not being paid for advertising on this blog, but now you are thinking of them so I have failed in trying not to mention them]

I have just come back from an eye test. I can remember the days when you just had to look at some letters on the wall and the optician would shine a torch in your eyes to have a quick look. Today’s experience was a high-tech equivalent of a medieval torture! I had air puffed into my eyes (to check pressure?), dye put in, eyelids pulled around, photographs taken of the retina (with a flash) and other uncomfortable experiences.

I trust the opticians and assume that all of these ‘tests’ told them important things about my eyes. But it felt that some of the tests could not possibly have told them something useful and I wondered whether at least one of them was simply just for fun – something that the opticians laugh about together when the customers / clients / patients / punters have gone home.

The end result is that my eyes are okay at the moment, that my contact lenses are the right prescription, and that I should update my glasses so that they are the same prescription as my contact lenses. I have also realised that close-up reading is more difficult with my contact lenses in or my glasses on, and was told that it is a consequence of getting older. Don’t they know that I have got a year younger recently (see link)?

All this talk of eye tests has made a connection in my mind between one of Paul’s letters and Ezekiel. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

For the benefit of those who have just woken up and can’t make the obvious connection…

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 
(1Co 13:12)

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. 
(Eze 1:28)

Still not sure? Paul was writing about how we don’t see the whole picture. Mirrors in his day were not the shiny perfectly reflecting items we have today, they would have given a fair picture but it would also have been distorted, with imperfections in the glass. This side of glory we can’t see God’s plans fully.

Ezekiel had an amazing vision (read the whole of chapter 1 if you want) and at the end of it he tells us that his description of it is of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. Not the Lord, not his glory, not the likeness of his glory, but the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD (thanks to Glen Marshall for pointing this out last week). That alone caused him to fall flat on his face.

Our God is more than we can imagine, understand, conceive or know. But he has made himself knowable in Jesus. The incarnation is more than a ‘quart into a pint pot’ illusion, it is God limiting himself so that we can understand him, get to know him and experience him without falling flat on our faces.

Makes you shiver, doesn’t it?


Two friends go out to a club. One friend with a wooden eye says that he’s nervous about girls making fun of him. His friend tells him not to worry.

When they get into the club, the wounded friend eventually gets up enough courage to ask a girl if she’d like to dance.

Excited, she says, “Would I?!”

hands up

 

We had a Church Meeting last night. For non-Baptists, this is the occasion when the gathered church seeks to discern what God wants us to do as a church. I have been in some bad Church Meetings. There are some where they have been dominated by one or two people and the rest of the church has not had the courage to confront them or disagree. I have been in others which have been unnecessarily long. Still others have spent an inordinate amount of time looking at trivial matters. But for me the worst ones are those which have been a church equivalent of a shareholders meeting for a company. It has been business, business, business.

by Dave Walker, taken from BUGB publication ‘Making a Splash!’

I have not been in a meeting like any of those at this church. And last night I was really blessed and encouraged by the way that God’s people at Colchester Baptist Church considered and discerned together on some big questions. We got side-tracked a little on one occasion, but even then the track we went down was important. But we were open, honest, willing to listen to God speaking through each other and keen above all to know what he wanted for us rather than coming with our own agenda for him to ratify.

It was a joy to chair such a meeting.

I wonder why it is that I sometimes feel that discerning God’s will is difficult. It’s almost as if he is deliberately concealing his plans and wants me to struggle to prise them out of his hands. That does not square with God’s personality as revealed in the Bible:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
(Isa 30:21)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Jer 29:11)
“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”
(Isa 65:24)
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
(Joh 16:13)
And plenty more beside that. So I have to conclude that either I am making it more difficult than it should be, or perhaps that the answers are already there and I have no need to be looking for them. I love the phrase in Acts 15 in the letter written from the Council of Jerusalem to believers. They wrote, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’ That is brilliant. They used their brains to work out what seemed good to them and (my interpretation) had a sense of peace and assurance that this was the way ahead. It may well have been that the Spirit put the idea in their head to start with. There was an element of that last night in our meeting.
But I think that often God has already given his answer (as in Isaiah 65, above). Much of God’s will for us is written in the Bible. I am not talking about Bible Bingo where you open the pages at random and stick your finger on a verse. But the 10 Commandments are part of God’s guidance for good living. The Sermon on the Mount has enhanced application and explanation of those principles for life. And so much more. In other words I think that often I want guidance on a specific issue and God is not so worried about the specifics if I am seeking to live by his values and principles.
I don’t think he is too worried about which flavour coffee I buy, but he does want me to consider justice and the effect of my purchasing power on those who have grown the beans – hence I buy Fair Trade coffee. I don’t think he is too worried about the exact words I use when I speak to other people, but he does want me to be loving, to encourage people and build them up. I don’t think he is concerned about which football team* I support, but he does want me to ensure that I enjoy recreation and relaxation as part of my weekly routine.
In the words of Alexandr Orlov: Simples!
Divine Guidance
This guy decides to go ice fishing one day, so he gets up at 2am to have an early start. When he arrives, he gets out his saw and begins carving away at the ice when all of a sudden he hears an echoing voice: “There are no fish under the ice there.”
The dude freaks out looks around but sees no one. So he waits a few minutes then decides there is no one around and keeps carving. A few minutes later the voice comes back, “There are no fish under the ice there!”
“Wow!” thinks the dude to himself, “God is giving me guidance.”
So he once again starts to carve away at another part of the ice. He hears the bellowing voice, “Sir this is the rink manager, and there are no fish under the ice anywhere.”
*Actually it is okay for me because I am supporting the oppressed and weak – Ipswich Town!

 

Inspiration and perspiration

Penny Farthing Bicycle LeaningWriting a sermon is like riding a bike. You have to wear a helmet, bright clothing and lights at night, and you have to avoid potholes and keep your balance. Or… you never forget how to do it. I am hoping it is the latter. Today I am going to be preparing my first sermon for a few weeks following my surgery. I am looking forward to both the preparation and the preaching parts of the process (nice alliteration there!).

 

Technically I am not back ‘in harness’ following the operation – I am doing this in my spare time to fill a gap in the preaching rota at the church. It will give me something constructive to do today. Of course today the weather is gorgeous – blue skies across Colchester and the sun is already beating down. I will take my books and paper outside to do my preparation but I may have to come back inside for the actual writing as the brightness may make it difficult to see the screen on my laptop. Inspiration may come but perspiration certainly will!

Guy with laptop

I am hoping that inspiration comes easily, or at least that I won’t fall asleep in the sunshine as I work (that’s the congregation’s job when I preach). For those of you who have never prepared a sermon, I find it an amazing experience – taking words that were written thousands of years ago by people inspired by the Spirit of God and applying them to today’s culture and circumstances inspired by the same Spirit of God. A wonderful partnership between God and people.

That partnership is not limited to preaching. It’s how all of us live. One of my favourite verses in the Old Testament is:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 

(Isaiah 30:21)

It speaks to me of how God is with us always and if we listen to him carefully he will guide us. He will correct us, encourage us, lead us and point us in the right direction.

True ‘direction’ story from the Reader’s Digest:

When the skipper of an Icelandic trawler accidentally rammed Englishman Jim Hughes’s yacht, he caused £20,000 worth of damage. Exactly a year and a day before, reported the Times, the skipper, Eriker Olafsson, had hit the same boat, causing £27,000 in damage. 

What are the odds of this happening twice? Pretty good, since Olafsson purposely steered toward Hughes to apologize for the previous year’s collision.