three rings

old phone 2It used to be ‘three rings’. ‘Ring ring, ring ring, ring ring’.

In the dim and distant past, before mobile phones were a commonplace part of our experience, when people were travelling somewhere and needed to let someone else know that they had arrived safely they would give ‘three rings’. They would dial (probably actually on a rotary dial, young people) the number, let it ring three times and then ring off.

It meant that the call didn’t cost anything, no lengthy phone conversation was needed, and the person at the other end would know that their friend / loved one had arrived safely at their destination.

There were a few problems. One was that sometimes, when you listened at the other end, it would start with a ‘half ring’ – ‘ring’ before going into full ‘ring ring’ rings. Did that first half ring count as a proper ring? If it did, then you should hang up after another two rings, but would the person at the other end know that it counted? If you went for another ‘ring ring’ so there were three of them, the person at the other end might think it was four rings so it wasn’t you and pick up the phone, negating the reason for doing three rings.

And, when you think about it, it was technically six rings (or five), not three.

And of course there were also the times when the person you were ringing forgot to wait for three rings and picked up the phone anyway.

A seemingly simple process was fraught with complexity!

Today all we have to do is send a text message to another mobile phone, or an instant message on social media.

But we still have to remember to send a message. The technology may be better but, a bit like with my satnav (see Monday) the weakest part is the human part.

Prayer is an instantaneous and low-cost way of communicating with God. You don’t need special words, you don’t need to be in a special place, you don’t even need to dial. All you have to do is remember to pray. God’s there, listening and waiting. However the weakest part is still the human part isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

late mistake

Hot Air Balloon
Getting bigger and hot air – the themes of today’s bloggage in one image

I seem to have got bigger. No, I’m not talking about my weight or waist size thank you very much (cheek!). In the last few days I have started my new role as a Regional Minister and my area of responsibility has expanded somewhat – seeking to support and encourage 60 churches across most of Essex (and 120 more spread across the whole of East Anglia).

Yesterday was my first day ‘on the road’. I have bought myself a ‘hands free’ unit to help me with this. I like it because it links to my phone via Bluetooth and to my car radio via an FM signal so I can play music from my phone through my stereo – and when I make or receive calls the system cleverly mutes the music and I can hear the call through the stereo. Very convenient. Very clever.

But any system is only as strong as its weakest component. Often that component is homo sapiens. Last night it certainly was.

I was travelling back home after spending some time with a church and decided to call home and let them know what time I expected to be back. I tried in vain to get the system to work as I thought it should and pressed one button twice. On my phone that should activate the voice-activated help system. But on the Bluetooth gadget I discovered that it told the phone to redial the last number that had been dialled.

Unfortunately I didn’t know it was doing this until the phone started ringing and I couldn’t work out how to stop it. Neither could I work out who it was calling because the phone screen was blank. A voice I did not recognise answered the phone and I realised what had happened. I desperately tried to remember who I had called last and thought it had been my new colleague, Simon. I said hello and that it was Nick calling, ready to explain that I had not meant to call.

It wasn’t Simon. It was a member of a Minister’s family I had called earlier in the day. They didn’t know Nick. So they terminated the call. Fair enough. I would probably have done the same if I had had a strange call late in the evening.

It was at that moment that my phone chose to tell me who I had called. Now I had a dilemma. Should I call back and disturb them again to explain what had happened or wait until today to offer my apology. I opted for the latter approach. I hope that they will understand and laugh.

What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you admit it, ask for forgiveness and seek to start again? Do you tell a little white lie to try to cover it up or at least minimise the error? Do you refuse to accept that you were at fault? Or do you go the whole hog and try to cover it up Bart Simpson-style: “I didn’t do it, you can’t prove anything!”?

Which is the approach that is most likely to lead to or enhance healthy relationships? It’s the same with your relationship with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the ring of truth!?

God’s timing is incredible (you’d expect it to be really) but it’s wonderful when he uses us as part of his split second timing. This has happened twice in my experience in the last couple of days: phone calls have been made at exactly the right time. On one occasion the person had just been praying that someone would get in touch with them and a friend rang them. On the other occasion I had been prevented from contacting the person on three previous occasions and when I eventually got through it was exactly the right moment to speak with them.

We could put this down to coincidence, but I think that is rather unlikely (!) given how frequently it happens. We could put this down to us being super spiritually in tune with God (!) but I think this is rather unlikely given how it’s not true (for me at least). So I have to put it down to God’s intervention at the right time – and he graciously has used us for that. In the passage where Jesus was somewhat obscurely talking about sheep and goats and the end time (Matthew 25) he refers to the way in which when we do something for someone else we are doing it for him. Obviously he did not mention phone calls or e-mails but I think that he uses these today as much as he uses feeding people, living thirsty people something to drink, welcoming strangers, or visiting the sick. That’s not to say we should neglect these other things!

Some people call these occasions “divine appointments”. I’m not entirely sure about that name but I do feel really blessed when I have been able to be used like that.

Be blessed, be a blessing (even unwittingly!)

incommunicado

Our phone line is out of action at home. I don’t know why. One minute it was working fine, the next… nothing. So if you are trying to contact us at home, sorry. It also means that our internet access is down. If you send me an email I can read it on my Blackberry but may not be able to do anything like read attachments for a while. Sorry.

It is amazing how debilitating it is when something as simple as the phone line breaks. We rely so much on technology. Last week I wanted to contact someone for whom I had no phone number and who was ‘ex-directory’. I resorted to ancient technology and wrote a letter… by hand! My fountain pen must have felt as if it was its birthday!

Now the astute among you will be wondering how I am writing this blog and publishing it online if I have no internet access at home. Well, I am in the Minister’s office at church, where the internet is still working. I have to make the most of it before I head back home and go more or less incommunicado.

We've been cut off - by line fault, not for non-payment!

I have been thrilled recently at how many people who are new to our church, or are visiting us, have found us from our church website (link here if you are interested). I think it is a lovely design and easy to navigate (kudos to Sara Lewis for the design and maintenance). But it is clearly one way in which people are looking to find a church. It does help us that our name ‘Colchester Baptist Church’ contains two of the most likely words that people who are looking for a church in Colchester will type into a search engine: ‘Colchester’ and ‘church’. It means that we appear on the first page of results. I am tempted to suggest that we change our name to ‘AAA Colchester Baptist Church’ if others start cottoning on to this!

The thread that ties all of these disparate thoughts together is the realisation that technology like the internet is an integral part of our lives, and we miss it when we can’t access it. I can say ‘our’ with confidence because you are reading this, which means you are online. Those who are not online will be blissfully unaware of the bloggerel I write. As churches we need to realise that the internet is here to stay and engage appropriately with the technology.

Perhaps in the future we will have virtual  online congregations alongside our physical gathered congregation – using social networking or video conferencing to engage with what is happening in the service. When it comes to the offering they can hit ‘donate’ and go to a separate secure page in which they can input card / bank details. When it comes to the sermon they could have the Powerpoint graphics streamed to their computer at the same time as they go on the screen in church. There is scope for online baptisms with streaming from a local swimming pool (pun intended) linked to the church. Prayers could be submitted by email. And if there is a response to be made a pop-up could appear at the right moment: “Do you wish to go forward? Yes / No”

This is a bit tongue in cheek (I hope you realise that) but at the same time, if we fail to communicate in the language of the people we are in danger of reversing the effect of Pentecost and making it impossible for people to hear the good news in their own language.

To help you learn the new language here are a few new words, taken from last night’s sermon:

What would you think if I said that someone had a ‘microwave mentality’? It doesn’t mean that they love ready meals. It means that their attitude to life is that if something can’t be done in five minutes it’s not worth doing.

How about ‘shoop da whoop’? It’s a computer gaming term and is the sound that describes a laser gun being fired.

Or how about ‘chairdrobe’? This is the art of piling all your clothes on a chair in place of a wardrobe or chest of drawers. Apparently if the chairdrobe is full you can use the floordrobe.

man vs machine

I would like to talk with a person.

I believe that most people think this and loathe the automated phone systems that pretend to be interested in you but in reality are just a series of choice-generated recorded messages that don’t tell you what you need to know. I really dislike it when I get a call from a machine. I had one yesterday that started off, “Please don’t hang up.” I hung up. And I don’t think I am alone in resenting the complicated menus where we have to press different numbers to navigate our way to find the correct person whose line is busy or join the back of an extensive queue.

Yes I know I am sounding like a grumpy old man, but I dare you to disagree with me!

So, if these are fairly universal loathings and grumbles, why do companies insist on using them? Is there a marketing man somewhere from the companies that install these systems who is doing a fantastic job pulling the wool over the eyes of the customer service departments that use them? Are companies actually under the (false) impression that we love these systems and if we could also spend a long time listening to terrible music we will be even happier when we eventually talk to a human?

But I think I understand what the companies are thinking, especially about the complicated menus. Surely the idea is that if they can direct us first time to a specialist advisor who can help us with our problems we will be happier than if we spend time being bounced from department to department.

I am so glad that God is omniscient, omnicompetent and omnipresent. That way when I pray I get straight through to the one who can help me. First time. Every time. Makes me wonder why I don’t call him more often…

Ring, ring

“Hello, you are through to God. Thank you for calling. Your call is important to me. 
If you are calling with a request to win the lottery, please press 1 fourteen million times as those are the chances of you winning.

If you would like an angelic visitation please press 2. Someone will visit you, but be prepared not to recognise them.

If you would like to complain about something that is going on in your life, please press 3 and leave a message. I will get back to you but you will find that my answer is more profound than you are wanting.

If you would like to ask for forgiveness, please press 4. By the time the tone has sounded you will be forgiven, just try not to do it again, please.
If you would like to know the meaning of life, please press 42 and listen to me giggle.

For all other enquiries, please press 0 and someone will be with you soon.

If you would like to listen to me, please hold and wait. You may find it helpful to have an open Bible in front of you. Please. It would be nice.”

does not do exactly what it says on the screen

A while ago I blogged about my lovely new phone that thought it was an iphone but wasn’t. When I ordered it my phone company told me I had 30 days in which to change my mind. “Ha!” I thought (for my thoughts are sometimes little). “I will never want to exchange this phone-sized handful of gorgeousness. I will never tire of the lovely touch screen. The colours and sounds are too lovely to even contemplate getting rid of.”

So today I phoned my phone company and arranged to exchange the phone (26 days after delivery).

I still can’t quite believe it.

The problem is that while it looks gorgeous and has some wonderful features, it does not do all that it says it will. The blurb and even the manual talk glowingly about how it synchronises with Outlook’s Calendar. That is one of the prime functions I want. However the software that comes with the phone and synchronises it with the computer simply says that this function will be available “soon”. No suggestion of when “soon” will be. And then there’s the failure of the system to send and receive emails, even though every single setting is correct.

I have had enough and am migrating to a Blackberry. It promises all of the functions I need and while it does not have a gorgeous touch screen it will be a much more useful gadget.BlackBerry® Curve 8520

Substance wins over style. Eventually.

I wonder if this is a modern parable. The parable of the foolish technophile. He was seduced by the good looks and wonderful promises of a phone that ultimately did not deliver and realised (just in time) that he was better off with a more reliable and less glamorous phone. So it is with our faith. Sometimes other lifestyles (and perhaps even other faiths) can look more attractive. But ultimately they will not deliver what they promise and it is only good old Jesus on whom we can rely. The grass may look greener on the other side, but in reality we will find that it is artificial turf!
Bernard, who is noted for his gracious manners, was awakened one morning at four forty four a.m. by his ringing telephone. . .

“Your dog’s barking, and it’s keeping me awake,” said an angry voice.

Bernard thanked the caller and politely asked his name and number before hanging up.

The next morning at precisely four forty four a.m., Bernard called his neighbour back.

“Good morning, Mr. Williams…. Just called to say that I don’t have a dog.”

>have I got good news for you?

>Have I mentioned yet that I have a lovely new phone? It’s lovely. And it’s new. My contract was running out so my network provider contacted me and said I could renew a couple of months early if I wanted (one way to keep me) and offered me a lovely new phone on a cheaper monthly rate. Very difficult to turn down. So I didn’t.

As you can see it’s shiny. And it thinks its an iPhone. I know it isn’t but I haven’t told the phone yet in case it sulks.
The scene has now been set…
So earlier this month I was minding my own business when my mobile phone rang. The nice man on the other end of the phone said he was from …. mobile phones and as my contract was running out soon I was eligible for an upgrade. I had mixed emotions. I was chuffed at the possibilities of a new phone – I just love gadgets. I was surprised that my contract had nearly expired as I had lost track of it. And I was suspicious.
He asked me for my special password, which I gave him to confirm he was talking to me and not some rogue who had picked up my phone. Then he started talking about the options and I said that I needed more time to think about it and was not going to make a change at that moment. So he said he would phone back a couple of days later. And he didn’t.
At this point I wondered whether he was someone who was trying to get hold of my credit card details by pretending that he was from my mobile phone network, since the call was unexpected. I have heard rumours of such scams so I emailed my mobile network and asked them if they knew the number that had called me and whether what he had said was true. I also changed my special password!
I had a call back from my network very quickly to say that yes he was from them and yes I was eligible and yes I had done the right thing in checking.
I had mixed emotions (again!). I was pleased that I had not been scammed, I was chuffed again at the possibility of having a phone that was new and lovely. And I felt bad that I had not trusted the chap who had called first. I have got over the last emotion: it is better to be cautious in those circumstances.
But it got me thinking about how people receive the good news of Jesus when we offer it to them. And how does my approach to them affect the way they receive the good news? Are they suspicious? Are they surprised? Are they chuffed? Because if what I believe is true then it is far better news than that someone is eligible for a lovely new phone, and it is even more exciting than a phone that thinks its an iPhone. It is truly life-changing.