Category: Holy Spirit

sunny side up

“How do you like your eggs in the morning?” sings Helen O’Connell in the opening line to an old duet with Dean Martin…

“I like mine with a kiss” Dean Martin replies.

This song (or extracts from it) have been played regularly on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 for the past few years. Until this morning it has just been earpaper (something in the background you don’t notice – like wallpaper for the ears). But this morning I listened to it and I pondered.

First of all, I would have to say that it depends on who is on the other end of the kiss, doesn’t it? A kiss is generally seen as a sign of affection (or greeting) but there are many different levels of intimacy suggested by a kiss and much of that depends on who the other pair of lips belong to. (This particularly is relevant if your name is Jesus and the other person is called Judas!)

Dean Martin continues, “Boiled or fried, I’m satisfied as long as I get my kiss.” I admire his preference for affection above his preference for how his yolk and albumen will be cooked and served. But I have to admit that I like my egg is cooked and served in a particular fashion and a kiss is not necessarily going to make me less fussy (particularly if it a kiss of a less affectionate nature).

Of course I am being a picky pedant and I do understand what the song is trying to say. But my ponderings on this song this morning made me think a little further about eggs and the ways in which they are cooked. When I was growing up I was aware of four different ways of cooking eggs: boiled (with or without soldiers); scrambled; poached; and fried. Today there seem to be so many more options, so many that this song might be very different if it was written today:

“How do you like your eggs in the morning?”

“I like mine with a kiss. Hard or soft boiled, fried sunny side up or down, hard or soft scrambled, over easy or over medium or over hard, poached, baked, Spanish fried, or omelette, it’s hard to decide and a kiss may distract me from making up my mind.”

fried eggI don’t know what your preference for your eggs may be (you may indeed have an intolerance for eggs, or just not like them) but I prefer my day to be sunny side up. An egg that is cooked ‘sunny side up’ is one where the yolk sits on top (as in the picture above). When I describe a day as ‘sunny side up’ I don’t mean that everything is hunky-dory, fluffy and lovely, and perfect (although that would be nice). What I mean is that it helps to have a positive outlook on the day – to look for the encouragements, the blessings, the joys and the smiles.

When you look at a glass do you see it as half-full or half-empty? Or do you say, “Wow, I have a glass with some water in it!”?

When someone cuts you up in your car do you shake your fist angrily or think, “I am so glad we didn’t collide”?

If someone is unpleasant to you do you bottle up the hurt and hope that someone else is unpleasant to them (or even respond in kind yourself) or do you hope that their unpleasantness may have been cathartic for them and that they may have a better day now, and perhaps think that it could have been worse if they were unpleasant to someone else?

You may think that I am being an idealist here, and unrealistic. And I would have to admit that I am. But it’s an ideal to which I aspire and one that I know I can’t do on my own. It’s an ideal that I want God’s Spirit to make real in my life. It’s the ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘walk the extra mile’ life that Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a life that refuses to hold on to negative emotions and always looks to find the silver lining in the cloud.

I believe it starts with an attitude shift. It starts when we are able to pray, “Help me to love people like you do”. The prayer below is attributed to St Francis of Assisi and embodies the attitude shift beautifully:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

worn out or worn in?

tennis ballDon’t you feel sorry for the groundsmen at the  Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships? Before play began on Monday they must have worked tirelessly to get the courts into pristine condition. The grass was perfect, the lines were precise so that it was looking at its absolute best. This comes from the Wimbledon website:

It takes around 15 months to prepare a Championships’ standard court before it can be played on.

This is the process:

  • The courts are constructed and seeded in April
  • The courts will then be cut once the new grass reaches 15mm, and then cut three times a week in May to keep at 15mm
  • During The Championships the height of grass will be 8mm, it will be cut every day
  • For the remainder of the summer the courts will only be cut three times a week and watered as they need to mature and naturally firm up
  • At the end of summer six tonnes of soil will be put on each court to make sure the playing surfaces are level
  • In the spring of 2015 Courts 14 and 15 will be included into the pre-Championships programme of grass court preparation
  • The height of cut will be reduced from their winter height of 13mm to the playing height of 8mm, this starts in March and will be ready for Members’ day in May
  • In early May we put the white line markings on the courts
  • During the playing season the grass is cut every other day
  • The courts will get rolled once a week in May with a one-tonne roller to firm the surface so that it is ready to play on
  • In June we start to restrict the amount of water we put on the courts, this also helps firm the surface
  • During The Championships we cut the courts and mark out the lines every day
  • We put a little bit of water on the courts at night during The Championships to help the grass survive

Wow! What a lot of effort to get the courts into top condition – and as soon as the first match starts to be played the courts deteriorate. By the end of the Championships there are very obvious bare patches where the players have been running and sliding and turning. The courts look nothing like they did at the start.

Does it break the hearts of the head groundsman, Neil Stubley, and his team when they see the condition of the courts at the end of the fortnight?

Or do they look on it as a job well done and rejoice because the courts have been used for the purpose for which they were laid and tended and grown? Do they feel glad that the players had good courts on which to play, that the crowds enjoyed themselves and that the event was a success? The courts may be worn, looking the worse for wear and rather shabby, but they will have done what they were designed to do. They could have refused to let anyone play on the courts and preserve them in top condition, but that is not what the courts are designed for.

Do we sometimes put more effort into preserving appearances and making sure everything looks good, not risking anything and trying to remain untouched by life rather than allowing ourselves to fulfil the purpose for which we exist, getting on with it and accepting that this will wear us down, that we will not be the same.

There’s a cheesy old joke that the first historical mention of tennis is in the Bible – Genesis 41:46 – “Joseph was thirty years old when he served in Pharaoh’s court.” [groan] But if you read Joseph’s story you will see someone who took a lot of knocks in life, was definitely not kept in pristine condition, but at the end of the narrative could say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) He may not have played tennis, but he certainly knew that his purpose was to be the person God called him to be in whatever circumstances he found himself.

So who and where are the people who need you to get alongside them, support them, encourage them and get stuck in with them? In whose court are you serving? And how are you tended and renewed? The Head Groundsman of life has given us his Spirit to tend us, help repair us, support us and encourage us as we fulfil our purpose (if we seek him). How do you think he feels when we seek to preserve ourselves and keep ourselves in pristine condition (untouched by life) instead?

Be blessed, be a blessing

whispering

When I left my last church in order to take up this post a friend gave me a book. It’s The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, and is a year’s devotional reflections that he wrote for President Obama and sent him in a daily email for him to read first thing every day. The thought for this Sunday is as follows:

‘“Let every one of us cultivate, in every word that issues from our mouth, absolute truth. I say cultivate, because to very few people – as may be noticed of most young children – does truth, this rigid, literal veracity, come by nature. To many, even who love it and prize it dearly in others, it comes only after the self-control, watchfulness, and bitter experience of years.” Dinah Craik, A Woman’s Thoughts About Women.

‘“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 (ESV)

‘Truth: the sieve through which our every action must flow. Yes, it’s allowable; yes, it’s beneficial; yes, it’s profitable; but is it true? Only we know the answer – and to this standard we must keep. “Let every one of us cultivate, in every word that issues from our mouth, absolute truth.”

‘Dear God, grow within me the desire for truth in all things so that I might be set free from the bondage of falsehood. Let veracity be my nature. Amen.’

Aside from the challenge of the thought, the fact that each day the President of the USA is receiving a devotional thought like this is encouraging. It reminds me of the role of a slave (perhaps known as an Auriga) in a Roman Triumph whose role was to stand behind the victorious commander and, whilst holding a laurel crown on his head also whisper “Memento homo” in his ear – “Remember you are a man.”

seals whispering

The Bible for us can be like that slave. Through it God’s Spirit whispers in our ear and helps us to keep the right perspective:

When things are going well and we are tempted to pride and self-reliance he whispers in our ear, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

When things are tough and we are tempted to give up he whispers in our ear, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship*. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:15b-17)

Let’s always pay attention to the Spirit’s whispering in our ear through Scripture!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*‘sonship’ here indicates the bestowing of the full legal rights of an adopted male heir in Roman culture

the parable of the router

Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.

network cableThey decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.

I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!

This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!

I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!

It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.

But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.

But the upgrade is worth it. If we let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

dusty to dustier

We’re having some building work done at our house at the moment – converting the garage into a study. The builders are doing a good job and it looks like this might be the last bloggage written in my upstairs temporary study as we anticipate being able to move everything downstairs into the new study over the weekend. Today’s photo is of a wonderful moment when the front wall had been built but the window was not ready and in order to secure the room overnight the builders cut the garage door in half. Some people have suggested that it looks like I was opening my own takeaway (suggested names included Nuclear Waffles (I don’t!); In Cod We Trust; nick’s kEBAbs; The Piece of Cod Which Passes All Understanding; and Fission Chips) or the story in the Thomas the Tank Engine series when Henry refused to come out of a tunnel so they bricked it up…

Even though most of the work has taken place in a sealed room and dust sheets have been used it is noticeable that most of the house seems to be coated with a thin film of dust at the moment. I have swept it up from time to time but it keeps coming back. On their own each individual speck of dust would not be noticeable, but when it gathers with its friends you can see it and it makes everything look grubby, dull and neglected.

I think dust is a good analogy for the things in our life that we’d rather weren’t there – the things the Bible calls ‘sin’. I don’t think many of us have lots of big boulder-sized sins to confess. But the little things, which on their own wouldn’t bother us, slowly accumulate until spiritually we feel grubby, dull and neglected. Little things like the occasional ‘white lie’, putting someone down, an unkind thought, selfishness, a quick gossip… you know the sort of thing.

Regular sweeping helps, but if we leave it until each Sunday to do that we will find we are quite dusty by the end of each week. And if we leave it longer than that we will find that the dust will seriously affect our relationship with God.

I find that I need trigger moments to help me dust daily – when I wash or clean or dust physically I also have a spiritual clean out too, I try to think about whether I have accumulated any dust recently and seek to sort it out.

“I am sorry, please forgive me” are six powerful words.Keep a short account with God and with other people.

And of course it would be much better if we didn’t get dusty in the first place. That’s where God’s Spirit comes in. If we ask him to and are willing to respond to him, he helps us to think before we speak. He nudges us before we act. He changes the way that we think about people so we think about them more the way God thinks about them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

recycled thought

Each week one of the Regional Ministers in our team sends out a ‘Thought for the Week’ to the Ministers in our Association. This week was my turn and I have decided to recycle that thought for you too rather than having to create something new for you, dear bloggists. I hope you don’t mind having ‘hand-me-down’ bloggages!

Each weekday those who have national and regional roles within BUGB are invited to pray the same prayer together. Thursday’s prayer is:

O Christ, the Master Carpenter, who at the last through wood and nails purchased our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the workshop of your world so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand. We ask it for your own name’s sake. Amen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I really like this prayer. It is particularly poignant as at the moment building work is taking place at our Manse to convert the garage into a study and I can hear the sound of wood being sawn even as I type. Jesus was apprenticed in the family firm: Joseph Bar Jacob and Sons. Being a Carpenter in Jesus’ day meant you were the local odd job man. The Carpenter was the one called on to mend leaky roofs (especially when four hooligans wreck it in order to lower a paralysed friend through it); they made furniture; they built fences and stables (and mangers); they helped build houses; they were the handymen that others called on when a job was beyond them. And when working with wood the carpenter would start with trees and logs not planks that were neatly sawn, planed and sanded. They worked with raw materials, perhaps even cutting down the trees in the first place.

Jesus was used to taking gnarled, misshapen, rough pieces of wood and reshaping, honing, trimming and combining them with other pieces to make things that were useful and functional: things that were an important part of everyday life. Maybe that’s where the idea of ‘church’ came from! I have a friend who is a joiner and when he looks at a tree or a log he is looking at what it could become, imagining the possibilities and appreciating the beauty of the wood. That’s how Jesus looks at us: all of us need to be ready to submit to the Master Carpenter’s tools that shape us – reading the Bible, praying, listening for his voice in others, going through difficult times, receiving encouragement, working alongside others, and in all of life allowing his Spirit to hone us as he gives us the gifts we need and the fruit of his work is seen in our lives. As the prayer reminds us (if we needed reminding) all of Jesus’ followers are a work in progress – Ministers included. All come ‘rough-hewn’. And all can be fashioned to a truer beauty.

And of course, as this prayer reminds us, wood is a theme for Jesus’ life: the one who was laid in a (probably) roughly made manger at his birth and worked as a carpenter until he was 30 was nailed to a roughly made cross at his death. Unlike the crosses at the front of many churches this was not a well-joined, planed, sanded and varnished cross. Just two massive branches crudely lashed and nailed together to bear his weight as Jesus bore the weight of the world’s sin. Crude. Brutal. E.ffective. Daily we return to the foot of the roughly made cross in repentance and faith, aware of our need of forgiveness and a fresh start. Daily we wonder at the love the Father has for us that he would ask the Son to die for us. And daily we ask him to continue the work of shaping, honing, planing, and refining us and using us with others to build his Kingdom.

Be blessed, be a blessing

23

Today is Christmas Eve Eve: the night before the night before Christmas.

Husbands who are more organised than most will use today to buy their wives a Christmas present, rather than relying on the last minute rush tomorrow.

Children are looking forward to Christmas, but can’t ramp up the excitement to Christmas Eve levels because it’s very difficult to sustain it for too long.

Television schedulers want to put programmes and films on that are Christmassy, but they will save the best until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

It’s not a particularly special day, is it? It’s something of an anticlimax before the main event (if that is possible).

I wonder if you feel like 23rd December. Expectations, hopes and dreams for 2015 have not been realised yet. You’ve been waiting for life to improve, and so far things have not got better. You are anticipating that the good times are just around the corner, but the corner doesn’t seem to get any closer. It’s always Christmas Eve Eve.

Or maybe that’s not you, but I am sure you know people who feel that way.

I can’t promise you that I know when (or even if) things will improve. But the experience of Christians through two millennia is that Jesus is with us as much in disappointment, unfulfilled ambitions and dark times as he is in celebrations, achievements and the brightest moments. Perhaps (if possible) moreso.

He promised his friends and followers (and we can be both) that he would give them his Spirit as a ‘paraclete’ (that’s the English version of a Greek word). There are many nuances to that word – it is someone on whom you lean for strength and support as you limp along; it is someone who offers you wise words and guidance; it is someone who comforts and uplifts; it is someone who speaks up for you (and advocate); it is an encourager.

If you want to see what that looks like, he is as Jesus was with the poor, downtrodden, oppressed, ignored, forgotten, unhappy, struggling people of his day. And because he is with all believers in the same way, he can also inspire people to do those things and be those things too.

You can see it in action in this YouTube clip of Derek Redmond at the Barcelona Olympics. The other person is his Dad.

For whom can you be a paraclete this Christmas Eve Eve?

Be blessed, be a blessing