divine comedy

laughToday is another rescheduled day off because of work on my normal day off. So this bloggage is (in true Blue Peter craft activity style) one I made earlier. Yesterday, in fact. Enjoy.

I was preparing for Sunday morning’s service, which is an amazing service in which we will baptise 3 believers by immersion and also share bread and wine in communion. I was praying and trying to work out what I should speak about. A phrase came to mind and I started to wonder whether there was a passage in the Bible towards which I was being led. In particular it felt like I should be looking at a parable told by Jesus – but which one?

I consulted one of my big reference books that lists all of Jesus’ parables and was drawn to the parable of the Mustard Seed. It’s one of the ones that we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I looked at my Bible – first in Mark, then Matthew, then Luke.

I should point out at this stage that we are preaching our way through Luke’s gospel in our morning services at the moment.

So, back to the story. As I looked at Luke’s gospel I realised that this parable appears in chapter 13, which I thought we would soon be exploring in our series. I was miffed because I thought I was hearing what God wanted but as we would be looking at this passage in a couple of weeks’ time it did not feel right to speak on it this week as well.

I then consulted the preaching plan that we have prepared up to Christmas. “Oh,” thought I, surprised. “We have already worked out a passage for the service on Sunday.” I had completely forgotten that.

So I turned the the passage and, yes you are ahead of me, it is the passage with the parable I was considering, and also including an encounter Jesus had with someone that further reflects the thought that began this whole process (and which I had not had before).

At this point I almost heard a snigger from on high as I realised I was the (willing and glad) victim of a divine prank. He’d known all along that this was what I should be preaching on (the plan was prepared weeks ago) and led me on an exciting and then disappointing journey of discovery only to find that he had led me back to where we had started. I had to admit that I had been well and truly ‘got’ and simply uttered the words of appreciation: “Nice one!”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Biblical puns

Parking Meter

“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” This quip is attributed to businessman Robert C.Gallagher. It is clever because of the play on the word ‘change’ and because most of us have been frustrated by vending machines.

If you have explored my blog you will know that I love wordplay. Last night I had the joy of seeing Milton Jones onstage and hearing him deliver some brilliant wordplay coupled with superb comic timing. In case you are likely to go and see him on tour I won’t share any of his jokes with you at this point, although I can’t guarantee I would mention some of them in the future.

There’s actually some clever wordplay in the Bible as well. In the Old Testament when Samson vanquished his enemies armed only with a donkey’s jawbone he quipped, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made asses of them.” (Judges 15:16) To add insult to injury (literally) he renamed the place Jawbone Hill.

Jesus renamed his impulsive and somewhat flaky disciple, calling him “Peter” which means ‘rock’. Whilst we may well affirm with the ability to see his future recorded in the book of Acts, when Jesus told him that he was the rock on which he would build his church I imagine the rest of the disciples were sniggering behind their hands. it was an ironic name on a par with Robin Hood’s larger-than-life friend Little John.

I get the feeling that sometimes when we read how God feels about us we think he is using wordplay or being ironic. Does he really think we are “beloved”? Can he really call us “friend” or even his children? Remember, this is God we’re talking about here. He has created and sustains the whole universe and yet cherishes each one of us, knowing us all by name and knowing everything about us (go on, insert your own joke here about him knowing the number of hairs on my head).

And if that was not enough, he loves us with an unquenchable and inexhaustible love. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, tells us the depth of God’s love for us and what he has done to reconcile us to himself. To quote a famous brand of cosmetics he would say, “Because you’re worth it.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

Here are a few more puns for you:

Do bakers in the Army go into battle all buns glazing?

A friend went for a job as a gold prospector, but it didn’t pan out.

Dead batteries are free of charge.

Another friend was a monorail enthusiast: he had a one track mind.

The local Catholic church has just bought a minibus to bring people to services. they call it mass transport.

I can hear you screaming, so I will stop there.


lol, hmmm

Following yesterday’s heavy bloggage, today there is some levity…

I have just acquired a book by Milton Jones: “10 second sermons.” Don’t get too excited if you are part of the church where I minister, I am not planning to emulate him. But I thought it would be worth sharing some of them with you. They are funny, but like the best parables there is a hidden message that can make you go ‘hmmm’.

You can order the book from most online booksellers and local bookshops will be able to get it for you too. You can even get it as a Kindle book.10 Second Sermons: ... and even Quicker Illustrations

If being a Christian is only about not doing certain things, then that’s a bit like a celebrity chef who is more famous for his allergies and intolerances.

I am quite prepared for you to say what you want about my faith as long as I can say what I like about your lack of it.

Sometimes people think of church as being like a giant helicopter. They don’t want to get too close in case they get sucked into the rotas.

Others think of it as a Winnie the Pooh pyjama suit. Safe and warm, but they hope to goodness no one sees them in it.

Sometimes religion can seem like the last person in a long game of Chinese whispers. Once Jesus said, ‘Love God and each other’, and now we have the Easter Bunny!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Jester minute

I sometimes wonder if I am too frivolous. Not just with the bloggerel that I churn out, although I do feel somewhat lightweight compared to other more worthy and theologically profound blogs, but generally.

I can often see something from a slightly different perspective that is at least humorous, if not funny. I like that. It helps me keep perspective on things and also helps me not to take myself too seriously. Heaven forbid that I do that (literally, please!).

My wife does not wake up grumpy in the mornings. She lets me sleep. (badum tsch!) One of the warning signs that I need to heed is that I am probably overtired / stressed if I am permanently grumpy and can’t see the funny side of things any longer. I am not good first thing in the morning (which is why early morning prayer meetings are difficult for me), but I am not talking about body-clock regulated grumpiness, but a general ‘grrrr’ feeling. I think that is one reason why I find writing bloggages helpful. It forces me to stop, to slow down, to reflect, and gives me an opportunity to flex my funny muscles and God an opportunity to turn my grumps into grins.

When I worked for the Baptist Union of Great Britain (other Baptist Unions are available) I used to take part in monthly ‘Management Team’ meetings, where we considered significant and difficult issues around the life of the BUGB family. I often found myself in those meetings sensing humorous moments and sometimes articulated them. I had annual appraisals and on one occasion I asked my appraiser whether I was too flippant in the meetings. After all, we were discussing significant and difficult issues. His comment to me was refreshingly honest – that these humorous interludes helped the meeting from getting too heavy or overly serious.

jesterI did not see that as a licence to be flippant, but it did remind me of the role of the court jester in ye dayes of olde. Their role was not simply to be a stand-up comic, but to point out absurdities and introduce moments of levity in the royal day. Don’t expect me to wear brightly coloured quadrant tunics and breeches, nor indeed a silly hat with bells on it, but I think there is some wisdom in that approach.

God has created us with the capacity to see humour. That enables us to see things differently, to approach things from a different perspective, to relax and laugh. And in the laughter we sometimes find profound moments. Jesus’ friends laughing at camels being forced through the eye of a needle suddenly had to readdress their preconceived ideas about who was most acceptable to God. The audience laughing at a slapstick image of exploding wineskins realised that Jesus was not patching up the old religious way of life but was offering them something new – a living relationship with God. It’s one reason why I tell jokes in my sermons – it helps people relax so that God can speak.

I suspect that Jesus finds it easier to work with us when we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps in the apparently frivolous lie nuggets of truth to be discovered. Perhaps in the light-hearted moments his Spirit has opportunities to refresh us. Maybe in the moments when we are most intense and serious God is laughing at us… after all, how many meetings does it take to decide whether we should have curtains or blinds and what colour they should be?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It’s interesting that quite a few humour-related words start with ‘F’: fun, funny, frivolous, frivolity, flippant… I heard a story (and because of my source I am fairly sure it is true) of a youth worker who was saying a prayer at a youth camp. It went something like this:

“Lord, thank you for fun, friendship, family, fellowship, food and anything else beginning with ‘F’. Amen.”

Cue much juvenile sniggering.

wood you believe it?

I had a sense of satisfaction on Saturday after I successfully installed two shelves onto a wall in my study. Not only have they stayed up, but when I put the spirit level on them at the end they were both perfectly level! I am a DIY Expert!

Or not.

I can correctly identify 11 different types of wood: as proved by my victory in the wood recognition test at a recent blokes’ carpentry morning. (Those hours watching DIY and carpentry programmes on TV have not been wasted!). I know which end of a hammer to use when hitting nails into something. I still have (and am still using) the wooden book stand that I made at school 30+ years ago.

But these things do not make me an expert. They prove that I managed to follow the shelf-installation instructions correctly. They prove that I have remembered some things I saw on TV. They prove that my woodwork teacher taught me well.

I love making things out of wood, but I don’t have the time, the tools, the patience or the skill to do it well. That is why (to my shame) the wooden items I have made and which still remain intact in our house are:

wooden bookstand (as previously described)
small wooden stand (with inside shelf) designed as a small bedside table for my son.
wooden shelves with dividers designed as a homework organiser for my son.
wooden shelves that were mounted on the wall in my daughter’s bedroom in a previous house, now floor-standing in her bedroom
wooden framework used in ‘sawing a person in half’ magic trick

Thankfully some of these will never be seen by anyone with even the remotest amount of skill in carpentry and joinery.

I wonder how Jesus got on in Joseph’s workshop? Was he instantly an expert in all sorts of joinery and carpentry or did he have to learn, to improve, to serve an apprenticeship? I suspect it is the latter. He grew in wisdom and knowledge just like the rest of us.

Wouldn’t you love to see some of the things he made? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of his early pieces were as dodgy as some of mine? And what about the later ones, when he had mastered the techniques? Never mind a Chippendale chair, what about an original Jesus BarJoseph?

I am coming full-circle (almost). When we were getting the answers to the wood-recognition test at the Nelson Woodcraft workshop, David told us about the different sorts of wood and you could see the appreciation and knowledge that he had for the different pieces of wood: the inherent beauty and strength contained within them. I suspect Jesus had an even greater appreciation of the wood he was using, since he was in the original design team for the trees!

And he was in the original design team for you and me. He has the greatest possible appreciation for you and me.

Be blessed.


A smile on God’s face

I am convinced that God has a sense of humour. You only have to consider the fact that he called me to be a Minister to have your hackles of suspicion raised. A little more theological deduction and you may suggest that having a sense of humour is inherently human and God made us… therefore he must have a sense of humour to give us. Not entirely convincing as an argument because it would follow that therefore he must also have a trunk like an elephant, stripes like a zebra, leaves like different trees, a mouth that closes on flies like a venus fly-trap and every other attribute of his Created order.

When I was at the vicar factory where they tried to train me I wrote my dissertation on a Theology of Humour (subtitled ‘A serious look at the lighter side of God’). I loved writing it and discovering humour in unexpected places throughout the Bible. I won’t bore you with it now, but one of the joys was discovering humour in Jesus. We miss much of it because we do not share the same sense of humour as first century Jews, but it is there all right. I sense that so much of what he said was with a sparkle in his eye and a broad grin.

At first this seemed so out of character with the dour, serious Man of Sorrows that I learnt about growing up going to church that I could not cope with it. It felt wrong. But then I realised that if Jesus was fully human then he must have had a sense of humour as well. (As Jesus is also fully God, we can say through theological deduction that therefore God does have a sense of humour). So you see him smiling knowingly as he tells people that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe that this was Hebrew humour, based on hyperbole (exaggeration to an extreme). Jesus was not saying it was impossible, he was simply cracking a joke to show just how hard it is.

I had a conversation with someone today who was asking about when Jesus said that we should hate our parents and siblings. Was he serious? Well, I wonder whether he was cracking another hyperbolic joke here. The point was not that we should hate our family, rather that we should be 100% devoted to God and that he should have our first loyalty.

People who listen to my sermons are usually treated (!?) to a joke or two. I think it is good to season what is said with a little joy and levity – if it was good enough for Jesus who am I to argue? So here’s a chuckle to conclude:

The old man placed an order for one hamburger, French fries and a drink.
He unwrapped the plain hamburger and carefully cut it in half, placing one half in front of his wife.
He then carefully counted out the French fries, dividing them into two piles and neatly placed one pile in front of his wife.
He took a sip of the drink, his wife took a sip and then set the cup down between them. As he began to eat his few bites of hamburger, the people around them were looking over and whispering.
Obviously they were thinking, ‘That poor old couple – all they can afford is one meal for the two of them.’
As the man began to eat his fries a young man came to the table and politely offered to buy another meal for the old couple. The old man said, they were just fine – they were used to sharing everything
People closer to the table noticed the little old lady hadn’t eaten a bite.
She sat there watching her husband eat and occasionally taking turns sipping the drink.
Again, the young man came over and begged them to let him buy another meal for them. This time the old woman said ‘No, thank you, we are used to sharing everything.’
Finally, as the old man finished and was wiping his face neatly with the napkin, the young man again came over to the little old lady who had yet to eat a single bite of food and asked ‘What is it you are waiting for?’
She answered
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