service returns

tennis ballGood customer service can make all the difference. I have just got off the phone from someone in a company where they had sent me something that was not quite correct. The young lady with whom I spoke was courteous, sympathetic, knew what she was talking about and offered to find out what was happening. I have used that company before and had dealings with the customer service team on that occasion too, and while there had been a mistake the way it was rectified made all the difference and gave me confidence in going back to them.

I had a meeting earlier this week with someone from our local Council where the ‘can do’ attitude of the person I was meeting was also really encouraging and gave me confidence about working together. Rather than looking for potential difficulties (and I think we would have been hard pressed to find any if I am honest) the approach was ‘we can do this together’. I have worked with a team from the Council before and I know that they will deliver what they say they can and that their desire is to serve the community too.

Both of these encounters have led me to reflect again on how people encounter churches. I did a similar thing about a year ago (you can see that bloggage here – it is called ‘service’ hence this is ‘service returns’) and I feel the need to ponder further. I have mentioned an ‘attitude of gratitude’ that I think God’s Spirit can create within us. I like it as a phrase because it trips off the tongue and rhymes. But I also like it as a concept because it is a positive outlook on life – what can we be grateful for today?

Today I want to push that a bit further though. If God’s Spirit is cultivating an attitude of gratitude, what about if we anticipated that there will be things for which we are grateful? What if we became more ‘can do’ people because we know that God is with us and if he wants it he can make it happen? What if we valued every encounter we have with people as a possible source of us blessing them and being blessed by them?

If you look at Jesus in the gospels he seems to relish being with people. Even unexpected interruptions are welcomed. He even accepts invitations to dinner with people who were criticising him.

So who will you bless today, and how might they be a blessing to you?

looking optimistic

This morning I have been musing on a phrase in my Bible (thanks to Wordlive).

What are the implications of Jesus saying: “Whoever is not against us is for us…” (Mark 9:40)?

glasses and their caseIt’s a phrase that often sneaks under my radar when I look at that passage, but it bears thinking about. It’s an astonishingly optimistic approach that expands the horizons of what God is doing. Except for those who are actively opposing what Jesus and his followers are doing, the rest are included as on their side! It’s a bit like counting any abstentions as votes in favour rather than seeing them as ‘non-votes’ or even counting them as votes that are not in favour.

I received a message in Sunday School through the narrow theology of a well-meaning and deeply faithful follower of Jesus that we are under attack and should adopt a siege mentality. When I was bullied by a few people at school because I was a Christian that sense that the world was against me was reinforced. When I read statistics that under 7% of the population regularly attend Sunday services in church I felt that I was part of a diminishing minority. And today there are Christians who will tell you that the world is out to get us, that Christians are always under attack, that the laws of the land are eroding our freedom to worship and all is doom and gloom.

“Whoever is not against us is for us…” makes me look at the world differently. What are the implications of this for us?

I think it should diminish our persecution complex in comfortable Britain. The majority of non-church attending Britain is not against us. There is a vocal minority of people who are actively seeking to undermine what Jesus is doing, but most people are happy that followers of Jesus exist and are active in society. “Whoever is not against us is for us…”

It should encourage us to be involved in partnerships. Not just with other Christian churches, but other agencies that are willing to work alongside us (even, dare I say, non-Christian ones). If they are willing to work with us we should see them as allies not enemies. “Whoever is not against us is for us…”

It should encourage us to have a broader, more gracious view of what God is doing in the world. His Kingdom is much bigger than the Church and when people are not actively working against his purposes and people we ought to see them as being for him – agents of positive change. “Whoever is not against us is for us…”

It might change the way we do mission. Instead of demanding a twenty page testimony and a statement of faith signed in blood to work with us in our church activities, how about we invite anyone who’d like to join us to join us, and we welcome them as partners regardless of their faith position? “Whoever is not against us is for us…”

It ought to make us view our neighbours and work colleagues differently. If they are not opposed to us then… “Whoever is not against us is for us…”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. “In English,” he said, “A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

disappointing desserts don’t discourage

So far today I have had two ideas for bloggerel to unleash on the unsuspecting world and have discarded them both after having started writing. They seemed like good ideas at the time, but as they evolved and appeared on the screen they did not look anything like as good as I had imagined.

This is a 'Punky' dessert from such a menu: ice cream is inside...

It’s a bit like the desserts you get at some restaurants. The dessert menu in these cases is often laminated and has pictures of the different desserts available – all of which have actually been bought from a wholesaler. When they arrive they don’t often look much like the picture and, even if it is a close approximation, my experience is that they don’t taste as good as I expected from the photo and the description on the laminated menu.

For some reason, however, that does not stop me from trying a different dessert the next time I am presented with a laminated menu as above. Perhaps, I think, this time it will be better. Perhaps, I hope, I had a bad batch. Perhaps, I expect, they don’t all taste like toxic chemicals.

Human optimism is a good thing. It encourages us to try new things. It fuels an indomitable spirit. It helps us take risks and innovate. Without it we may still be wearing animal skins and living in caves.

Of course unfettered optimism can be dangerous. R Kelly sang, “I believe I can fly…” which is optimistic, but simply believing that and jumping off a building unaided is inevitably going to leave a mess on the ground below. And unfettered pessimism is equally dangerous as it inhibits and restricts the risk-taking and innovation that marks out human progress and developments. If Eeyore had been Thomas Edison’s lab assistant we might all be sitting in candlelight.

The difficult thing is knowing how much realism and logic to add to our optimism and how much ambition and dreaming to add to our pessimism. There’s probably a mathematical formula to work that out, but I tend to err on the side of optimistic caution rather than pessimistic recklessness.

And next time I get a laminated dessert menu I will try again.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Remember, the glass is always full. The only question is how much is water and how much is air…

… unless the glass is in a vacuum.

clean your glasses

(You can’t be optimistic through a misty optic!)

Recently I have been working through a process of analysing my strengths and weaknesses and (with the help of the lovely lady called Tracy) have been analysing my preferences – my personal style, how interact with others, and how I make decisions. This has been incredibly beneficial. As well as helping me to understand myself better, and why I think all react in certain ways, it is also helped me realise how people respond to me. I won’t go into all of the details, but one of the helpful reflections is in developing strategies for recognising and responding to those whose way of looking at life is different to my own.

I hope that this will help me as an individual, as a husband and father, as a team member, and as a Minister. I will be trying to work through these findings and may occasionally news about them on this blog. I hope that that will not be too self-indulgent but may help you understand me better, and perhaps even understand yourself a little better too. So, what’s today’s subject?

Apparently I am a ‘glass half full’ sort of person, although that optimism is occasionally misplaced. (It has been pointed out that the glass is always full – it’s just that sometimes it is more full of air than fluid). Except when I’m feeling in a grotty mood (often because I’m tired), I do think that I am a relatively optimistic person. I am not prone to Eeyore moments. I tend to look at life positively and consider possibilities rather than focusing on difficulties and problems. I think to this might be linked to my love of laughter and humour, which I appreciate can come across sometimes as flippancy (sorry if that’s the case for you). I wonder how much this is my natural personality and how much comes from my Christian faith.

In the light of the facts of Jesus’ resurrection I find it difficult to be pessimistic about life. The empty tomb, the testimony of the guards, the transformation of the disciples, the statements by those who met Jesus after his resurrection, the rapid spread of the early church led by eyewitnesses, and my own experiences of Jesus’ presence in my own life all points towards an ultimately optimistic future.

I know that for some people life at the moment might be quite dark and that for others Eeyore might be their patron saint, but that does not alter the facts of my faith. I hope and pray that my optimism does not make you feel uncomfortable or awkward but instead might provide hope and the expectation of a brighter future. If you find me to be over enthusiastic please gently let me know. At the same time, however, please feel free to borrow some of my optimism if yours is lacking.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Grandpa was celebrating his 100th birthday and everybody complimented him on how athletic and well-preserved he appeared. “Folks,” he said to the assembled throng, “I will tell you the secret of my success. I have spent a considerable amount of time in the open air everyday day for some 75 years now.”

The celebrants were impressed and asked how he managed to keep up his rigorous fitness regime.

“Well, you see my wife and I were married 75 years ago. On our wedding night, we made a solemn pledge. Whenever we had a fight, the one who was proved wrong would go outside and take a walk.”

tweeting

We had to sleep with the windows open a couple of nights ago. It was too hot. The open windows let in the cooler air. Job done. Unfortunately they also let in the sound of the dawn chorus.

In the garden, just below our bedroom window, is a large bush / small tree that houses about a million sparrows. Every morning as it gets light the sparrows start tweeting. No, not sending messages of 140 characters to each other on their phones or laptops. They just start going tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet. It is as if they have never experienced the dawn before. Or perhaps they have very short memories and each morning’s sunrise is a surprise. But why do they need to be so noisy about it? Why do they need to tweet their little heads off to let each other know that the day is starting again? And why do they have to do it so blooming early?

I don’t tweet

A bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush but that’s because it is likely to be quieter!

The sparrows in the bush are not the only birds causing us problems. One (or more) have managed to find a way into our loft. I would not mind too much except that they have decided to use our loft as a toilet. That’s not very pleasant, nor is it good manners. They would not like it if I visited their nest and… (let’s not go there). We will have to take measures to close off their point of entry and hope they do not have a set of tools up there that will enable them to break in again.

And then there are the pigeons. There are a few pigeons that frequent our neighbourhood. But there seem to be two in particular who spend their time courting and, erm, well, doing what comes naturally. On the top of our fence. On the roof opposite our kitchen window. On another roof overlooking our garden while we are sitting in the garden (and perilously close to a skylight in that roof). I want to shout at them, “Get a nest!” Why do they insist on procreating around our garden all the time? Are they being filmed for an X-rated film for birds?

So, other than giving me an opportunity to whinge, what is the point of this bloggerel? Well… bear with me… it’s not to do with the pigeon porn, nor is it to do with the unwelcome gifts from the bird in the loft. It’s about the early birds. Each morning they get excited because the sun is coming up. It’s a new day.

Your royal grumpiness struggles in the morning. But I have the same opportunity as the sparrows. God has given me a new day with new opportunities. Opportunities to encounter him in the people I meet as well as in the pages of the Bible. Opportunities to serve as well as to be served. Opportunities to rejoice, be glad, celebrate and give thanks to God for the new day. Tweet, tweet tweet!

By the way, this Easter the joy, surprise and reality of Jesus’ resurrection has come home to me even more strongly than usual. TWEETY TWEET TWEET TWEET!!!

Remember though – the early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Be blessed, be a blessing!

Oompa Loompa stick it on your bumper

I ventured out yesterday and had a coffee with one of our church members. It was nice to be out and about and to begin to resume ‘normal’ contact with people. Thank you Barbara! Barbara showed me a clipping that she saw recently which I found very amusing, so I copy it for you here:


The other day I went up to a local Christian bookstore and saw a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker. I was feeling particularly sassy that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance, followed by a thunderous prayer meeting, so I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.Boy, I’m glad I did! What an uplifting experience that followed!

I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good He is… and I didn’t notice that the light had changed. It is a good thing someone else loves Jesus because if he hadn’t honked, I’d never have noticed!

I found that LOTS of people love Jesus! Why, while I was sitting there, the guy behind started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out of his window and screamed, “For the love of GOD! GO! GO! Jesus Christ, GO!”

What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus! Everyone started honking! I just leaned out of my window and started waving and smiling at all these loving people. I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!

There must have been a man from Florida back there because I heard him yelling something about a “sunny beach”… I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air.

Then I asked my teenage grandson in the back seat what that meant, he said that it was probably a Hawaiian good luck sign or something. Well, I’ve never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back.

My grandson burst out laughing…why, even he was enjoying this religious experience! A couple of the people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking towards me. I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed.

So, I waved to all my sisters and brothers grinning, and drove on through the intersection. I noticed I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and I felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared, so I slowed the car down, leaned out of the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good luck sign one last time as I drove away.

Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I am reticent about posting my allegiance to Jesus on the back of my car. I am unlikely to get myself a ‘Honk if you love Jesus’ bumper sticker. However what I love about that joke is the naivety and optimism of the author. There is a joyful innocence there, even if it also suggests a lack of engagement with the ‘real world’. Today I am going to attempt to be joyful and optimistic (England v Slovenia football match notwithstanding) and hopefully through this others will see my allegiance to Jesus without the need for a bumper sticker.

optimistically disappointed or disappointedly optimistic?

I am delighted to say that I am finally back home. I have had some new holes made in my body that I didn’t have last Friday. In order to patch them up the hospital have stapled me back together. The repairs look like I have some small pasties breaking through the surface of my skin! (Think of the crimped edges rather than the meat and potato contents!!)

I am now battery-powered as well. In order to try to stop the headaches from which I suffer the skilful surgeon at the National Neurology Hospital in London has inserted an Occipital Nerve Stimulator. This gadget (which has been inserted into my tummy and is wired to the nerves in the back of my neck) sends a low voltage pulse into the nerves in the back of my neck. Eventually this will persuade the nerves in my head not to send out pain messages (we hope). It can take up to three months to show any effect, which is disappointing as I was hoping it was going to be an instantaneous effect.

So I am optimistically disappointed or disappointedly optimistic. I think it is the former as while I am disappointed not to have an immediate effect I am still hopeful that it will work eventually. I think that this is different to being disappointedly optimistic as that suggests that my optimism is diminished or is a cause of sadness.

I find that it is difficult not to be optimistic when I am a follower of Jesus. He was the most optimistic person ever, even when his friends deserted him and he was on trial for his life he refused to give up. He knew that the outcome of his efforts was worth the pain, agony and separation that he was experiencing. Nothing we go through compares with that. This does not mean that things always work out okay for those who follow him (which is a misunderstanding of Romans 8:28 – ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’).

There are bad times and sometimes we do not see a positive outcome from our efforts. I recognise that it is possible that my headaches will never stop, but that does not diminish my faith in Jesus and still hope and pray that they will cease. God works for our good even though we cannot always understand how.
Pastie stories:
True story: Near Penzance ‘airport’ there is a public road that runs across in front of the runway. As you approach the road there used to be a sign that warns of low flying aircraft with the word ‘DANGER’ underneath it.

At the other end of the road, after you have gone past the runway is another sign that says, ‘DANGER PAST’. I love the fact that some Cornish wit has added ‘IES’ to the sign!

A man walks into a bar and asks the Barman for a pint a lager and a packet of crisps. When the barman served him the man drank the pint of larger and placed the packet of crisps on his head, then turned around and walked out of the pub.

The same thing happened on the following two days. On the third day the man ordered a pint of lager and a packet of crisps.

The barman said “Sorry mate, I can serve you the drink but I can’t give you any crisps as we have run out!”

The man said, “Ok, then I’ll have a cornish pasty instead.” He drank the lager and put the cornish pasty on his head, turned around and started to walk out. Just as he got to the door the barman called out: “Why did you put that cornish pasty on your head?”

The man replied, “Because you’ve run out of crisps.”

Yes, that may be the lamest joke ever, but it is a joke about pasties and they are not easy to find!