hey you!

Do you ever get the feeling that God is trying to get your attention or tell you something?

Have you ever found that the same message keeps coming to you from different and disparate places and people?

Have you ever looked at your Bible and the words have jumped off the page?

If so, here’s some advice for you.

Listen to him!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

attention!

Picture of Life Guard, London - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.comIn addition to my usual routine of reflection, Bible reading, prayer and blogging I have set aside time in my diary every couple of weeks specifically for “reflection, reading and praying” (that’s what it says in my diary).

Today (when I wrote this rather than when it is published) is one of those days. I plan to read some books, to spend some time in quiet prayer, to reflect and listen to God, and also to crank up my speakers to 10 (they don’t go to 11) and listen to some inspiring music and worship songs. This will not all happen simultaneously.

One of the things I have found is that multitasking does not work so well when it comes to focused time with God. Yes, on other occasions I know that I can offer a quick prayer when I am in the middle of doing something else. Yes I use ‘moments’ and events to remind me to pray during the day. Yes, I try to be in conversation with God through the day.

But if I am trying to concentrate on him I need to do just that. Who is God? What is he like? How is he revealed in Jesus? Ask yourself those questions and then ask yourself whether, if that’s true, it’s right to give him less than your full attention at times?

Be blessed, be a blessing

I hit him back first

There is a Garfield cartoon strip where Odie (the dog) is sitting near Garfield (the cat if you didn’t know). Odie is not doing anything in particular, he is just sitting when WHAP! Garfield thumps him. When confronted by Jon, his owner, Garfield’s response is, “I hit him back first.”

Pre-emptive strikes seem to be part of our world now. It is militarily and strategically more effective to get your punch in before the other side can. If you know that the other side can inflict serious damage to you, it is seen as best to try to take out that capability. We hit them back first.

Punch 2Sadly it seems that this approach is no longer reserved for comic strips and military campaigns. I note with sadness how some politicians not only run each other down after the event, but they get their punches in early by commenting about what is expected to be said or expected to happen. I recognise with real disappointment that it is also something that happens in relationships – someone fears that the other person will say or do something that will hurt them so they go on the offensive. They get the verbal punches in first.

Do you recognise it in yourself? No?

There are times when I think ahead about an event or a meeting and in my mind I play out what might happen. If I imagine a ‘worst case scenario’ I can find myself planning what I will say or do in response. So, before I go into that meeting I already have negative thoughts about what may or may not happen. I have planned my (defensive) response before anything has occurred.

I need God’s grace to help me. I need his grace so that I am looking for the positive, not assuming the negative. I need his grace to help me not to want to be defensive but lovingly to seek truth. I need his grace to help me to realise that I need to listen and learn much more than I need to talk.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

When I was at school my Mum used to sew name labels in my clothes. She used to do the same for my older sister. One day she hit on an idea to help save the cost of having two lots of labels made up. She got them made with both our initials on them, one at the start of the label and the other at the end. She would fold the end over that was not needed. The labels looked like this:

H LEAR N

My sister had ‘H LEAR’ in all her clothes. In all my clothes there was a reminder that I was to LEAR N!

Ding Dong merrily on high volume

I can hear the sound of ringing. No it’s not Christmas bells! Last night I went to a concert with one of the world’s biggest Paul Weller fans, to whom I happen to be married. It was a concert in support of the charity Crisis and Paul Weller was the headline act. It was loud! (And yes I am aware that that may well be a sign that I’m getting older.)

I confess I am not one of the world’s biggest Paul Weller fans, but I recognise that he has written some decent tunes (my wife Sally will claim that is a serious understatement) and is an extremely accomplished musician and singer. I was looking forward to being able to hear him sing some of those songs with which I have become familiar.

mixing deskThe problem I found with last night was that the sound levels were abysmal. Because the volume of the instruments was so high they had to turn up the vocal mics even higher and the voices were distorting terribly. We could not hear the lyrics and even one of the world’s biggest Paul Weller fans was struggling to discern what he was singing. I could not understand why the sound technicians were not doing something about it until I stood near the back where they were based and discovered that it sounded better where they were stood (albeit not perfect).

Reflecting on this experience, and with ringing still in my ears, first of all I want to speak up on behalf of sound and video technicians in churches. They are always the unsung heroes if everything goes smoothly because nobody notices them. If there is a loud squeak, however, or the wrong slide comes up on the screen then everybody notices. I was at a church recently where there were one or two technical problems. I got really irritated by a man who was stood right in front of me who insisted on turning around and staring at the technicians every time something went wrong. In the end I shifted slightly so that I was stood between him and them in an effort to protect them and perhaps persuade him to concentrate on worshipping Jesus.

So first of all, two pleas on behalf of our sound and video technicians. The first is that if something goes wrong, try to avoid turning around and staring at them. It won’t help them, they’re trying their best, they know something is wrong. The second is to encourage you to thank them, acknowledge their contribution that has enabled you to worship Jesus.

The other thing that I reflected on from last night’s experience is to ask whether you are able to hear the lyrics. Sometimes the volume of all our preparations for Christmas is so loud that we are unable to hear the good news of Immanuel. Sometimes we are so busy rushing around, sorting out, planning, making sure everything is in place that the volume of the hassle and bother drowns out the voice saying, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” And I’m not just talking about all our present buying, wrapping, card writing, food buying and so on. In churches we can get so busy preparing everything for Carol services, nativity plays and so on that even though we are desperate for others to hear the message of Christmas, we can’t hear it ourselves.

What is God saying to you this Christmas?

Be blessed, be a blessing

resolutions that happen to be made at the start of a new year

Do you ever wonder what other people really think about you? Beneath the superficial greetings and pleasantries, what do they like about you? What do they struggle with? I am not being paranoid or self-obsessed (am I?), but I am in the middle of a process at the moment where I am considering the real me – strengths and weaknesses, warts and all- and seeking to see how I can be better.

I am making some resolutions about myself which coincidentally happen to be occurring at the beginning of January, but have nothing to do with New Year’s Resolutions: these are deeper and (perhaps) will affect how people perceive me and interact with the real me.

  1. Smile – ever since I was little people have asked me what is worrying me. I think my natural ‘relaxed’ face looks a bit worried / concerned. So smiling will help to counteract this. But it can come across as superficial, so what I am praying and seeking is that the joy in my life shows more in my face; that the pleasure of being with other people causes my mouth to curve upwards; that the knowledge of being adopted into The Royal Family shines out more from within through my face. People naturally prefer us to smile at them than scowl!
  2. Listen. I am aware that I can talk a lot. I wonder if sometimes it’s a defence mechanism because I am a bit introverted. I struggle to make small-talk (never been good at that) so I respond by waffling on about me and telling endless jokes. This blog gives me the opportunity to spout forth about me (pretentious? moi?) so I resolve to listen more to other people. I am trying to learn ways of training myself to shut up and show people that I am interested in them by asking the right questions and listening to what they say in response.
  3. Honesty. Ministers can project ‘supercope’. I wonder sometimes if we have to in order to survive. We are expected to be there for people, to prepare fresh sermons each week, to lead meetings, to visit, to pray, to serve. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I LOVE this calling. But I am not doing myself or anyone else any favours if I am coming across as having it all together all the time, always getting everything right and being able to do everything. I am realising that I am not good at everything. (well, duh!). I am realising that I need to delegate better, and more. I am realising that I need to tell the inner control-freak to calm down a bit. I am realising that I need to release people to use their gifts. And part of this is being honest with myself and them – admitting when I get things wrong, admitting that I need help, admitting that I am not superminister (I wear my pants inside my trousers).

Those three seem good places to start. You may be thinking that they are not very spiritual, but I would disagree. The changes will take place best if I work with God’s Spirit to help me. The changes can be superficial if they are not embedded within the real me, and the best way of doing that is to ask for the Creator to carry out an upgrade!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A strong young man at the construction site was bragging that he could outdo anyone in a feat of strength. He made a special case of making fun of Morris, one of the older workmen. After several minutes, Morris had enough.

“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?” he said. “I will bet a week’s wages that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to that outbuilding that you won’t be able to wheel back.”

“You’re on, old man,” the braggart replied. “It’s a bet! Let’s see what you got.”

Morris reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles. Then, nodding to the young man, he said, “All right. Get in.”

God’s megaphone

This morning I have been considering some aspects of listening to God, in preparation for Sunday morning at CBC. One of the passages I have considered, and will probably mention on Sunday, is that of Samuel’s call.

The narrative is lovely – of a naive young boy who hears God speaking in the night but doesn’t realise it’s God so keeps going to the priest, Eli, and asking him what he wants. It’s almost comedic… until Eli twigs what’s happening and tells Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” and God gives Samuel a painfully difficult message to give to Eli.

But the context of this passage is all important. The last words of the book of Judges are that Israel had no king and “everyone did as they saw fit.” The words that open 1 Samuel 3 are that “in those days the word of the Lord was rare.”

Methinks to two are linked inextricably. I suspect that it was not that God had stopped speaking that ‘the word of the Lord was rare’ but that people had stopped listening. They had got out of practice, they had forgotten what he sounded like, and if they were honest they didn’t want to hear anyway. People couldn’t hear God because they were ignoring him and pursuing their own priorities. People didn’t hear God calling them back because they were a long way away and didn’t want to listen anyway. There’s a cycle of inevitable decline built in to this – you are drifting away from God so you don’t hear him so clearly so you drift further away so you don’t hear him so clearly…

God breaks in to this cycle of desperate decline through a child and delivers a message that brings people up short and back to their knees. It needn’t be through a child. He has a universal megaphone through which he speaks – and it manifests itself as other people, emotions and feelings, bible verses, imagination, ideas, and an incredible number of other ways… even (dare I say it) through blogs!

Be blessed, be a blessing

The stressed housewife sprang to the telephone when it rang and listened with relief to the kindly voice in her ear. “How are you, darling?” she said. “What kind of a day are you having?”

“Oh, mother,” said the housewife, breaking into bitter tears, “I’ve had such a bad day. The baby won’t eat and the washing machine broke down. I haven’t had a chance to go shopping, and besides, I’ve just sprained my ankle and I have to hobble around. On top of that, the house is a mess and I’m supposed to have two couples to dinner tonight.”

The mother was shocked and was at once all sympathy. “Oh, darling,” she said, “sit down, relax, and close your eyes. I’ll be over in half an hour. I’ll do your shopping, clean up the house, and cook your dinner for you. I’ll feed the baby and I’ll call a repairman I know who’ll be at your house to fix the washing machine promptly. Now stop crying. I’ll do everything. In fact, I’ll even call George at the office and tell him he ought to come home and help out for once.”

“George?” said the housewife. “Who’s George?”

“Why, George! Your husband!….Is this 2231374?

“No, this is 2231375.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I have the wrong number.”
There was a short pause and the housewife said, “Does this mean you’re not coming over?”

what sort are you?

A seemingly random question, to which I will return at the end of this blog: if you were to describe yourself as a car or a motorbike, what sort of car or bike would you be?

This is predominantly a week of preparation for me. As well as having to prepare for two services (incl sermons) for Sunday I have prepared a story to tell at Bright Sparks (like an activity-rich toddler group), and still need to work on a school assembly tomorrow for years 1-3, an Alpha talk for Wednesday and a couple of sessions for a 20s-30s group from another church on Saturday. It’s all a bit busy and I am worried I will go stir crazy in my study.

So it was initially with disappointment that I noticed that on Thursday I am spending the day away from the study at a ‘retreat’ / ‘reflection’ day with a number of local Baptist Ministers. I can’t spare the time.

Except that if I don’t spare the time I will be diminished in my relationship with God and therefore in my ministry. I do find that I am blessed, energised and encouraged in preparation. But it is not the same as spending focused time with God. There is a temptation to allow my preparation to become my personal devotional time. But it is not the same as coming to God with an open Bible, an empty agenda and space in the day. There is a temptation to allow myself to seek to worship God only in the songs I sing on Sundays. But it is not the same as living a life of worship and thankfulness.

So it is with a glad heart that I am going to spend the day away on Thursday. I am looking forward to what God may say and do.

So what sort of car or motorbike are you*? It doesn’t matter which you are, none of them will go once they have run out of petrol. Neither will you if you don’t refuel spiritually.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I went into town the other day, I was only away from the car for about 5 minutes and when I came out there was a traffic warden writing a parking ticket. So I went up to him and said, ‘Come on buddy, how about giving a guy a break?’

He ignored me and continued writing the ticket.

So I called him a yellow and black striped parking fascist. He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having bald tires!!

So I told him he had a face like a horse. He finished the second ticket and put it on the car with the first. Then he started writing a third ticket!!

This went on for about 20 minutes, the more I abused him, the more tickets he wrote.

I didn’t care. My car was parked around the corner.

*I reckon I may be a Ford Mondeo with a sun roof – family oriented, fairly bog-standard, with a bit missing on top.

deacons

Tonight we have a Deacons’ Meeting. I look forward to them as they are opportunities for us to seek God’s will together andI enjoy the company of all of the Deacons. They sometimes go on a long time. They very occasionally get side-tracked into trivia. We always try to focus our minds on our church purpose:

To follow Jesus Christ and make him known.

If it doesn’t fit in with the purpose statement it is not a high priority. As the person who usually chairs the meeting it is my task to try to keep us focused while enabling everyone to speak and share their thoughts so we have as many opportunities as possible to hear God speak to us through one another.

We don’t often have a formal vote when making decisions. Usually we work on the basis that we can reach a consensus. On the few occasions when we have not been able to come to a view we have taken that to the Church and said, “We don’t know, what is God saying to all of us in this?” Those have been great occasions as we have sought together to discern God’s will.

Why am I telling you this? Partly because I am blessed and encouraged by these meetings and I wanted to let the world know that Deacons Meetings need not be dreaded. All of our Deacons are godly people who seek to use their intellect, experience, skills, gifts and discernment in listening to God. I know that helps!

I am also telling you partly because I have been reminded today of how important it is to listen to God and how easy it is to ignore him, even when he is shouting loudly at us, because we have already made up our minds what we are doing.

“Thy will be done” is a very significant part of the Lord’s Prayer!

In American churches they sometimes refer to Deacons as ‘The Church Board’

“There will be a meeting of the Board immediately after the service,” announced the pastor.

After the close of the service, the Church Board gathered at the back of the auditorium for the announced meeting. But there was a stranger in their midst — a visitor who had never attended their church before.

“My friend,” said the pastor, “Didn’t you understand that this is a meeting of the Board?”

“Yes,” said the visitor, “and after today’s sermon, I suppose I’m just about as bored as anyone else who came to this meeting.”

>199 not out

>I have just noticed that this is the 199th blog entry I have made. I mention that not because I deserve a medal (my readers deserve that if they have read all 199) but because I am astonished at how much drivel I have managed to pour out into the blogisphere since I started. Nearly 200?! Hopefully that means that my head is empty of 199 random thoughts and ideas that otherwise would still be floating around unconsidered and unmanifested.


In honour of this almost-milestone and in anticipation that because I have a busy day tomorrow I may not get around to posting something tomorrow, I will celebrate today.


Woohoo.


Consider that an understated celebration of a constant stream of internet-based communication.


This reminds me of something that Kofi Manful said in the Bible Studies he was leading at the conference I was at last week. He said that God is always broadcasting to us, but it is up to us to tune in to his frequency and we decide how often we tune in. God is not silent, but we can drown him out or tune in to other sources of input and guidance in our busy lives. I found that a very helpful thought and am trying to keep myself tuned in and listening more often by pausing at regular times, by reading my Bible more prayerfully and by asking God intentional questions such as, “what are you saying to me?” and “is there anyone you want me to visit or speak to?”


Sometimes all I hear is spiritual static. Not because God is not broadcasting but because I have changed the channel without realising it. Sometimes I do hear him, though, through phone calls from other people, through apparently chance encounters, through circumstances that all fit together so neatly it is as if someone had it planned…


I think the celebrations deserve the funniest joke in the world to accompany them…


The funniest joke in the world (a Monty Python sketch, as described on Wikipediavisit youtube and see it for yourself if Monty Python does not offend you.

During World War II, Ernest Scribbler, a British “manufacturer of jokes” (Michael Palin), creates “the funniest joke in the world” and promptly dies laughing. His mother (Eric Idle) reads the joke, at first believing it to be a suicide note, and also dies laughing. A Scotland Yard inspector (Graham Chapman) retrieves the joke, but despite the playing of somber music on gramophone records and the chanting of laments by fellow policemen to create a depressing mood, also dies laughing.

The British Army test the joke on Salisbury Plain, then translate it into German. Each translator only translates one word of the joke, so as not to be killed by reading the whole joke. One of them saw two words of the joke and had to spend a few weeks in hospital. This German version is said to be “over 60,000 times as powerful as Britain’s great pre-war joke”, a reference to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement. The nonsensical German translation is used for the first time on 8 July 1944 in the Ardennes, causing German soldiers to fall down dead from laughter:

Venn ist das nurnstuck git und Slotermeyer? Ya! Beigerhund das oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!

To a German speaker, the joke contains a number of nonsense words, and does not translate into anything meaningful. 


In the version of the sketch featured in And Now For Something Completely Different, another scene of the joke being used in open warfare is shown, with Tommies running through an open field amid artillery fire shouting the joke at the Germans, who die laughing in response. Afterward, a German field hospital is shown with Germans in blood-stained bandages, laughing incessantly.

In a following scene, a British officer from the Joke Brigade (Michael Palin) has been taken prisoner and is being interrogated and tortured by Nazi Gestapo officers. The torturing is completely benign, the interrogator fake-slapping him, and another officer clapping his hands to make the slap noise, but the prisoner is eventually persuaded to recite the joke after being tickled. One of the Nazi officers (Graham Chapman) erupts in laughter and dies. The second (John Cleese) retorts “Zat’s not funny!” but then he too starts to giggle hysterically before falling down dead. Another captor (Terry Gilliam) notices the two deceased officers and points his gun at Palin, who recites the joke to the captor, who is also killed by the joke.


The Germans attempt counter-jokes. Eventually their best joke is used in action (“There were zwei peanuts, walking down the straße, und one was a salted… peanut”), but proves in English to be hopelessly bad. The British joke is laid to rest when “peace broke out” at the end of the war as countries agree to a Joke Warfare ban at the Geneva convention. In 1950, the last paper copy of the joke is under a monument bearing the inscription “To the Unknown Joke”.




feeling a bit of an ass (ie ‘donkey’ not the other use of the word!)

To my loyal reader, I am sorry. Yesterday I was rather tired and could not muster the energy and enthusiasm to blog. It has nothing to do with England’s exit from the World Cup at the hands of Germany. And it’s nothing to do with the goal that was not given that may have changed the result. A friend has sent me a photo that proves the ball did not go over the line.

I think the reason I was unable to gird my creative loins yesterday may be something to do with the warm weather. I think it may also be that I overdid things on Sunday. I preached in our church for the first time since before the operation and it felt quite an ordeal. I struggled to feel like I was connecting with people. The words were coming out of my mouth but I did not feel like I was communicating. It’s not often that happens, but I don’t like it when it does.

I do find, however, that on those occasions God still manages to say something helpful to someone despite me. I reckon it’s a bit like Balaam and his donkey. Balaam was an Old Testament prophet who (like Jonah) disobeyed God and did his own thing…

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him.

Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.

Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again.

Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff.

Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

“No,” he said.

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell face down. The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.”

Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

Donkey(Numbers 22:21-34)

If God can speak to someone through a donkey, he can do so through me, through you, through anyone and anything. The corollary of that is that we need to keep our spiritual eyes and ears open to receive what he may be saying to us.

A man bought a donkey from a preacher. The preacher told the man that this donkey had been trained in a very unique way, (being the donkey of a preacher). The only way to make the donkey go, was to say, “Hallelujah!” The only way to make the donkey stop, was to say, “Amen!”

The man was pleased with his purchase and immediately got on the animal to try out the preacher’s instructions. “Hallelujah!” shouted the man. The donkey began to trot. “Amen!” shouted the man. The donkey stopped immediately. “This is great!” said the man. With a “Hallelujah,” he rode off very proud of his new purchase.

The man traveled for a long time through some mountains. Soon he was heading toward a cliff. He could not remember the word to make the donkey stop. “Stop,” said the man. “Halt!” he cried. The donkey just kept going. “Oh, no… Bible!….Church!…Please Stop!!” shouted the man. The donkey just began to trot faster. He was getting closer and closer to the cliff edge. Finally, in desperation, the man said a prayer. “Please, dear Lord. Please make this donkey stop before I go off the end of this mountain, In Jesus name, AMEN.”

The donkey came to an abrupt stop just one step from the edge of the cliff.

“HALLELUJAH!”, shouted the man.