choices

colors palette
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Modern life seems to be defined by choice. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we drop off in the evening we are faced with choices:

Do I get out of bed?

What do I have for breakfast?

What do I wear today?

And so on. It seems to me that the more we are trying to make life ‘better’ for ourselves the more choices we have. For example:

When I was growing up you could count the number of available television channels on the fingers of one hand and still have one left to stick in your ear. Today you run out of digits on the first screen of choices as you scroll through the TV guide. And we have to decide which sort of mobile phone we will have – are we android or apple (or are we going to subvert the system by going for something more obscure?)? And then we have to choose the apps we want. And we have to choose passwords… so many passwords! And on your computer what web browser are you going to choose?

I don’t have to keep listing them, you know what I am talking about. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Dumbledore seeks to reassure Harry that he is not the same as Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort): “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

And he is right. We are defined and shaped by the choices we make. How others see us will be in the light of those choices as well as through the lens of the choices they have made.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t realise that we have made a choice. ‘Default settings’ that almost every appliance and gadget and piece of equipment come with are necessary as a starting point for users unless they are to boot them up from scratch, but if we blindly accept them (a choice) we find that someone else has decided what our user experience will be.

And sometimes we make a choice by not choosing anything. If you choose not to vote in an election you are choosing not to participate in the democratic process and must accept that your views are not part of the final outcome. Your choice is to accept that others will decide for you.

There are occasions, of course, when we don’t know that we have made a choice, or we make it unthinkingly. How many times have you accepted the terms and conditions of a website, an app, or a computer program without reading them fully? Of course you have. Nobody has the time to read them all from start to finish. You assume that they are benevolent and innocent.

And I have a feeling that most people have an automatic reaction to thinking about God. Instinctively we click ‘ignore’ because we don’t think we have time for him, or we don’t want believing in him to disrupt our life, or we don’t like the version of God that we have been presented with, or it all seems far too difficult and complex to consider… or… or…

I believe that many people have not given him any more thought than they have the terms and conditions of the latest app they have installed on their phone and have instinctively decided that they don’t want to. Until they are faced with more significant moments in their life when they feel out of their depth and want the comfort of praying to someone or the reassurance of the possibility of divine intervention on their behalf. Or until they meet someone whose relationship with God seems so different to their assumptions about him that they are intrigued and want to know more. Or until someone they know and trust starts to talk about God. Or even until they read some random bloggage on an even more random site…

So have you adopted a ‘default’ setting when it comes to God? Jesus tried to make it really simple for us to make a choice: “Follow me.”

If you are a follower of Jesus is it obvious (in a good way) to people around you?

 

courageous reasoning

With all the love, grace and encouragement I can muster I want to ask you to bear with me and read this bloggage to the end. It may be the most important one I have ever written.

One of the things that an imminent operation on your heart does for you is force you to face your own mortality. I have the utmost confidence in the surgeon and his team and have been assured that the risks of the surgery are minimal, but they are there nonetheless. I have had to think about and prepare for that very small possibility.

Christians believe in life after death (and life before death too). We don’t believe in reincarnation or hanging around as a ghost / spirit, but a full-blown life-as-God-intended no-holds-barred all-consuming experience of God for those who want it once we have curled up our tootsies and shuffled off this mortal coil. And when we come face to face with something that reminds us that we are not indestructible and that life is finite we have to consider whether we really believe what Jesus said.

That’s when the rubber hits the road as I have to consider whether I really believe what I proclaim.

rubber hits road

I want to say a wholehearted, unequivocal “YES!” I believe it with all my heart, mind and soul. I have staked my life on it.

One of my favourite definitions of faith is: “Reason in a courageous mood.”* You take what you can deduce, what you can learn, what you can understand and then extrapolate from that to the next logical step, and that extrapolation leads you to take a step of faith – following the trajectory of your thinking and understanding and acting on it.

So, by way of example, if you had to cross a ravine and there was a bridge there you would need to exercise faith in the bridge in order to use it and cross the ravine. Before you did you might examine the bridge to see how strong it is, you might ask other people who have used the bridge and you might even research online how and when it was constructed. But once you had come to the conclusion that it is strong enough for you to use safely you then have to take the step of faith and put that reasoning into practice by crossing the bridge. And you are encouraged when that faith is vindicated and the bridge holds.

All that I have read, considered, discerned and understood about Jesus of Nazareth confirms to me that I believe him and I believe in him. What he said makes incredible sense. What the contemporary records say about him reveal an extraordinary person. And the evidence for his resurrection is (in my view) pretty conclusive. All that points me to the conclusion that he is who he claimed to be: God with us. He is worth following and trusting and through faith in him I am able to have a relationship with God that is life in all its fullness now and beyond death. My reason has become courageous and I have been blessed, inspired and encouraged to find that this faith has been vindicated.

I want to say a hearty “Amen, amen, amen!” to these words written by Paul to the early church in Rome (Romans 8):

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? [If you read the preceding verses you see that ‘these things’ are pain, suffering and death.] If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You have to make your own mind up about this, but please do so on an informed basis. Faith may be reason in a courageous mood but for many people lack of faith is not cowardly reason, it’s simply that they have never considered it. The difficult thing is that although you can investigate, research, discuss, listen and discern about the Christian faith, ultimately you’ll only experience it in its fullness by taking the step of faith. It’s like a stained-glass window. From the outside you can see lots of the shapes and images in a stained-glass window but you will only really experience it in all its glory once you go inside a church and look at the light shining through it – that’s the way they were designed.

stained glass 3

If you would not say that you are a follower of Jesus and if you consider me to be someone you trust then I want to encourage you to consider his claims carefully and investigate them for yourself. Then you can decide whether to get courageous with the reason.

If you are a follower of Jesus, don’t privatise your faith – live it 24/7. If it’s good news for you it’s good news for everyone.

If maybe you are a follower of Jesus but you’ve not been actively following him you will know that he would love to welcome you back into a closer walk with him – you only have to take the first step and you’ll find that he’s already there with you.

If you have never considered these things I hope and pray that we could have a conversation about it once I have recovered from the operation, but don’t feel you have to wait for that moment – talk with another Christian.

The reason I believe all of this is not because I am a Baptist Minister. I am a Baptist Minister because I believe that this is the most important thing in life (and death) and it’s worth dedicating my life to.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I believe this is attributed to LP Jacks from 1928, but I first heard it from one of my spiritual heroes, friends and Senior Minister in my first church: Revd David Richardson

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

evicted

Emergency ExitToday is my eviction anniversary*. 48 years ago I was unceremoniously evicted from the comforting, nurturing, nourishing place I had spent the first 9 months of my existence into a cold, bright, noisy environment that I had never imagined existed. I don’t think I wanted to leave the womb-warmth – which may explain why most babies start crying soon after they emerge.

But so much has happened for me since that I am rather glad that I was evicted (and I am sure my Mum was!). It may have been somewhat traumatic at the time (for me and my mother) but that trauma has been followed by growth, learning, friendship, love, companionship, excitement, sadness, distress, struggles and so much more. I have gone from the relative comfort of monochrome existence to the astonishing experience of beyond-high-definition multi-coloured life with more pixels than you can imagine and billions of colours and shades.

How often is that true for us? We like our comfort zones, our security blankets, our safety. Change threatens that security and we cannot be sure that it will be better so we often prefer to stay where we are than risk an unknown future. Yet, there is so much more to experience of life. If we stay in the womb we won’t experience all of that.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Thank you to so many of you for your birthday greetings, that means a lot to me.

gulp

signature required
signature required

Today I have been signing my life away. Or at least, that’s how it feels. I have been asked to act as guarantor for someone. Whilst I know them and trust them and I have no reason to doubt that they will pay what they owe it still felt a bit ‘gulp’ when I clicked ‘send’ on the form because I was committing myself to pay what someone else owed and I have not got complete control over the situation because I am relying on the other person’s integrity and honesty.

As part of the process I needed to give details of someone else who would act as a reference for me to act as guarantor for the person who was taking out the contract. I wondered whether the referee would also need someone to act as referee for them, and so on, until we found someone who worked for the company that was asking for all of these references and guarantees – the Ultimate Referee.

In life there are no guarantees. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is full of examples of this, such as: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).

That is a fairly fatalistic approach to life which the ‘Teacher’ (possibly Solomon) who is philosophising on life through the book finds depressing until he finds that there is an Ultimate Referee in whom things make more sense.

Jesus said similar things in the Sermon on the Mount (from Matthew 6):

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It’s good to know that there’s an Ultimate Referee in whom we can trust.

Be blessed, be a blessing

recycled bloggage

Da dada da da da daaaah!

Dear bloggists, apologies to any of you who are Ministers within the Eastern Baptist Association as you will have received this from me in an email last week but I am recycling it for bloggists who are either Ministers in the Association but haven’t read it or aren’t and won’t have received it… and maybe it won’t hurt to be reminded of it if you have read it before…

I love the opening bars to Also Sprach Zarathustra, otherwise known as the theme to 2001 A Space Odyssey. It starts with a long ominous tone… on top of which the horn section boldly plays a series of ascending notes that finish with a flurry.

Baaaarr, Baaaarr, Baaaaaaaarr, Baraaarr!

The timpani drums start to sound

Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam

The drums seem to herald the repeat of the horns, which finish on a higher note

Baaaarr, Baaaarr, Baaaaaaaarr, Baraaarr!

Back come the timpani

Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam

And the horns take us on the same ascending journey, but this time rising to a powerful higher crescendo that then leads into a triumphant fanfare.

Baaaarr, Baaaarr, Baaaaaaaar, Baraaar! Bar, bar bar, bar, bar bar bar, bar bar bar, baaar, baaar, baaaaaar!

Or something like that! Whether or not you know the music my attempt to describe it is rather lacking. It may give you a sense of what is happening but it does not give you the full experience that the music itself gives when you listen to it with the volume turned up to 11!

I think that piece of music should play automatically when we start to read Genesis 1:1-5:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

Those opening sentences of the Bible are a bit like my attempt to describe Also Sprach Zarathustra. They clearly do not do the cosmic events justice. But they do give us a sense of what was happening. And most of all they tell us that “In the beginning God…” May you know that at the beginning of a new year for you and your church / ministry: in the beginning God. Before all else and above all else, God. Before sermons and Church Meeting agendas and Deacons and plans and time management and joys and sorrows and all that life entails, God.

May all your beginnings begin with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

in case

I noticed recently that my mobile phone was getting a bit bashed. It had dropped out of my pocket a few times and the casing was a bit chipped and scratched. The screen had survived (thankfully) but I wondered what I should do to enable the phone to survive at least beyond the length of the contract.

I looked online at different options. In the past I have bought a case for it that covered it completely and opened up a bit like a book but found that it was a bit cumbersome and awkward for those moments when I actually wanted to use the phone like a phone and talk to someone with it. Also, if truth be told, the case I bought was rather cheap and did not last very long.

I did look at whether I could buy a replacement casing for the phone and just replace the innards. I could buy a new back fairly cheaply but because it has a touch screen and that is bonded to the innards replacing the whole thing would be very difficult and expensive. And the bits that were chipped and scratched were the bits that were bonded to the screen that was bonded to the innards.

Then I found what I felt was the ideal solution. It is a cover that slides over the casing and also covers the edges that are chipped and scratched. It will protect the casing from further damage and, while rugged is also lightweight so I don’t feel like I am holding a brick against my ear on the occasions when I actually want to use the phone like a phone and talk to someone. I bought the cover online and it arrived very promptly, is built specifically for the model of phone that I own and looks quite good too.

However (didn’t you just know that there was a ‘however’?) there is a drawback. I have a holder for my phone in my car so I can use it hands-free and also utilise the satellite navigation app. Now that there is a cover on the phone it is just a little bit bulkier than the phone holder can comfortably accommodate. It’s marginal and I only discovered it when I was driving along and the phone jumped out of the holder and landed edge-first on my knee cap (painfully proving how hard the cover is). I have had to improvise a solution that includes a couple of strategically placed elastic bands pulling the arms of the holder together in order to keep the phone where I want it.

At this point, for those who have not switched off because of boredom, you will almost certainly be asking yourself (and me ‘virtually’) what the point of this little bloggage is. It’s not about phones, covers, or protecting what we own. The point is that life is a bit like this little episode. We find that one action has implications and repercussions for us in other areas. I have found that in accepting the call to a new role has implications and repercussions for my church, my family and for me. It also has implications and repercussions for my new colleagues and the churches I will be serving. On a less significant level, for example, getting locked out of your house might not only mean that you have a long wait outside, it may impact your neighbours (if they take pity on you), other members of your family (if you ask them to come and let you in) and for your health (if you get wet or sunburnt). [I should add that the second illustration is purely hypothetical and any similarity to actual events is purely coincidental.]

DESCRIPTION: Texting with God CAPTION: And the second way in which it is a bit like life is that we also have to improvise a lot. We don’t always know exactly what to do and have to improvise what we think is the best thing to do in the circumstances. Sometimes we discover that the implications and repercussions of the actions of others cause us to improvise a response.

So, if you are still with me at this point, let me make one more point. It is in the form of a paraphrase of part of the Bible (Romans 12:1-2, from The Message):

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Be blessed, be a blessing