Old Testament satnav

Image result for the man who took seven baths

When I was a child I used to love this book. It was about an Old Testament Syrian General called Naaman (you can read about him in 2 Kings 5). The story was told in rhyme and I asked for it as my bedtime story so often that I knew the whole story off by heart. My parents used to get so bored with it that they would make deliberate mistakes as they read it to try to see if I noticed. I did.

I was reminded of Naaman today, by my satnav. No, it didn’t get all ‘Old Testament’ on me: “At the roundabout take the third exit and then cross the Red Sea…” What happened was that I had installed a system update on it a while ago and ever since then it had developed a fault: when there was an instruction prior to a roundabout it used to say (for example) “Turn left, then cross the roundabout, third exit.” But after the update it just said “Turn left, then cross the roundabout.”

That was insufficient information – it meant that I didn’t know where to position my car approaching the roundabout or which way to indicate until I had got much closer to the roundabout, by which time it may have been too late. I sent an email to the support team at my satnav and explained the situation and received an email back telling me to reset the satnav.

I could not see how that would make a difference. It felt too easy. It felt like the old ‘turn it off and on again’ or ‘press ctrl+alt+delete’ approach to technical problems. I had already installed a new operating system and surely that would have involved a reset. And anyway, I didn’t want to risk losing all of the saved places that I had in the satnav.

So I wrote back to the tech support man and pointed all of this out. I wanted to know why a system reset would make a difference. I wanted a better answer.

And then I thought that perhaps the tech support man knew what he was talking about. I reckoned that maybe this was a problem they had come across before and that this was a solution that had worked. And anyway, all of my places were backed up in the cloud. And what could it hurt?

So I did a reset.

And then I reloaded my saved places and re-linked it to my phone to receive live traffic updates. And then I switched it on and set my next destination.

Lo and behold, thus spake the satnav: “Turn left, then enter the roundabout and take the third exit.” Ooh, new improved instructions and not only that but the voice was restored to the politely-spoken voice I remembered from before the update! Sarah the satnav was back to her best.

Ah. Time to eat some humble pie. I have written back to the tech support man and apologised for my attitude… I learnt a lesson in trusting others, letting go of pride and realising I don’t know everything. That was Naaman’s lesson too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

achieving the ordinary

thumbs up 2I was proud of myself today. I remembered to do something without being reminded, I found that I had thought about it beforehand (even though I had forgotten that I had thought about it beforehand) and had all that I needed in order to do what I had to do. I felt pleased that I had been able to complete what could have been a lengthy task in a matter of a few minutes because of the preparation I had done.

So is the thought today that preparation makes life easier (like ‘a stitch in time saves nine’)? Well it could be, but no.

Is the thought today that remembering things is important (with or without electronic reminders or knots tied in handkerchiefs)? It could be, but no.

The reflection I had was to ask myself why I was so proud of doing something that well organised people would have done without thinking. Why was I so pleased that I had achieved what I needed to do? It was not as if it was something I have not done before, and it is not as if it is something that nobody else ever does. Why was I expecting some sort of gold star or certificate of merit for doing something ‘normal’?

I think it’s because I surprised myself. I was not expecting to have done so well. I thought that I had failed to prepare and was prepared to fail. And I wanted others to know that I had done well. Pride was motivating me to elevate my ordinary achievement into the realm of the extraordinary. It can do that. We can assume that others may have the same low expectations of us that we have and hope that if we exceed them they will share in our surprise and pride in the achievement.

Before I get to introspective and start beating myself I remember too that God’s expectations of us are both realistic and optimistic. He knows what we are capable of, and he also knows that we are capable of not achieving those things. He knows that we can beat ourselves up when we fail, and overemphasising our achievements when we succeed. And his response to us is the same regardless: I love you.

That is not an unconditional love based on our achievements (or lack of). It is an absolute. Our value and esteem in God’s eyes cannot be enhanced in any way because it is already at maximum – I love you.

Be blessed, be a blessing

(At this point, are you itching to find out what it was? I’m sorry but that itch will remain unscratched!)

God’s trophy cabinet

I put my size eleven feet in it recently. I forgot to do something I said I would do and as a result some people were upset. What would you do in those circumstances?

Shrug, accept that we are all fallible and carry on…

Worry about it and make yourself upset…

Write a note of apology and post it…

Go and see the people you have upset to apologise…

Write a blog about it…

Some of above…

None of the above…

I am not going to tell you what I did, save that God’s grace has been abundant in the outcome.

I wonder if sometimes people forget that others will make mistakes. We sometimes put people on pedestals of perceived perfection (and alliteration) and then are surprised when they fall off. We find it particularly difficult when they are people from whom we expect ‘better’. If someone is regularly letting us down we may have lower expectations from them, but if someone has been consistently helpful and then fails we can feel more let down because of the contrast.

TrophyI don’t think God sees it that way. Just as he has no hierarchy of sin (unlike some of us) he has not got a range of expectations for us. He hopes for the best for every one of us. His Spirit within us is aiming as high as possible as he bears fruit within us and gifts us for works of mission and service.

Jesus doesn’t put us on pedestals, he has us in his trophy cabinet: he thinks we are wonderful. He sees us as his pride and joy! We cause him delight.

And when we let him (and others) down, he is gracious enough to forgive us and help us make a fresh start. And he wipes the slate clean. That may be why he does not have a range of expectations of us. He does not hold onto our past failures and hold them against us. He sees each fresh start as exactly that. Fresh. New. Clean. Shiny. Full of possibilities.

The people I let down have been very gracious and forgiving. Their response to my apology has helped me to reflect on God’s response too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.


A joke about pride…

A big-time negotiator was out fishing one day when he caught a strange looking fish. He reeled the fish in, unhooked it, and threw it on the ground next to him. The fish started writhing in agony and, to the negotiator’s surprise, said, “Please throw me back into the lake and I’ll grant you three wishes.”

“Any three wishes, huh?” the negotiator mused as visions of expensive fast cars and beautiful women paraded through his head.

“Fish,” he finally exclaimed, “Give me five wishes and I’ll throw you back.”

“Sorry,” the fish answered while struggling for breath, “only three wishes.”

The negotiator’s pride was at stake and after giving the matter some thought he announced, “What do you take me for? A sucker? I’ll settle for four wishes.”

“Only three,” the fish murmured weakly.

Fuming, the man debated the pros and cons of accepting the three wishes or continuing to bargain for that one extra wish. Finally, the negotiator decided it wasn’t worth looking a gift fish in the mouth and said “All right fish, you win, three wishes.”

Unfortunately, by then the fish was dead.

>don’t miss the important details

>Last Sunday evening I began the service by referring to Isaiah 6 (the first half). It struck me as I was preparing that I often jump over the first phrase in order to consider the vision of God and how he cleansed and commissioned Isaiah. In doing so I miss an important detail

Indeed the passage is one that was foundational in God calling me to be a Baptist minister. I was reading it prayerfully one day and was caught up in the imagery. I read Isaiah’s sense of woe at being in the presence of Almighty God and felt that myself. I experienced the sense of relief at the forgiveness that was given. Then I read God’s words: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and before I read the words I felt myself wanting to shout, “Me, me, I’ll go!”

crownAnyway, back to last Sunday evening. Isaiah 6 begins with the phrase: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne…” King Uzziah had become king of Judah at the age of 16. He reigned for 52 years and under his reign there was peace and prosperity that had not been known for many years. His death would have been a shock to the people who had seen him as a good king, even though he had got too big for his boots in later years, became proud of his own achievements and was afflicted with leprosy for trying to do what only the priests should do. However the people’s sense of security and well-being would have been shaken badly and there would have been an outpouring of grief a little like that when Princess Diana died.

It is significant that it was at this moment that God chose to call Isaiah to go and speak on his behalf to his people. When their world was shaken and the things on which they were relying had been seen to be transitory God re-announced his presence.

It’s very easy for us to rely on things and people other than God. They are visible, he is invisible. They are physical, he is spirit. That’s why so often in the Old Testament the people of God turned to idols and away from God. But when the things on which we rely are taken from us or threatened, then we find that God is still there for us. He will not let us fall.

Pride comes before a fail
At the conclusion of the sermon, the worshippers filed out of the sanctuary to greet the minister. As one of them left, he shook the minister’s hand, thanked him for the sermon and said, “Thanks for the message, Reverend. You know, you must be smarter than Einstein.” Beaming with pride, the minister said, “Why, thank you, brother!” 
As the week went by, the minister began to think about the man’s compliment. The more he thought, the more he became baffled as to why anyone would deem him smarter than Einstein. So he decided to ask the man the following Sunday. 
The next Sunday he asked the parishioner if he remembered the previous Sunday’s comment about the sermon. The parishioner replied that he did. The minister asked: “Exactly what did you mean that I must be smarter than Einstein?” 
The man replied, “Well, Reverend, they say that Einstein was so smart that only ten people in the entire world could understand him. But Reverend, no one can understand you.”

When pride is not a deadly sin

Just a quickie today as I have LOADS to prepare for Easter services and events. I dropped in on one of our older members this morning and she was (rightly) proudly telling me about one of her children and their retirement today. Yesterday Hannah brought home an end of term school report of which she is justly proud. I am proud of her too. Earlier in the term I attended a Parents’ evening at Thomas’s school and experienced the monotony of all his teachers telling me how well he was doing. Again parental pride surfaced.

Pride is supposedly one of the seven ‘deadly’ sins. However I think that there is a difference between being proud of what your children have achieved and personal pride that leads to conceit and  vanity. Even our greatest acts of humility and service can be undermined if we allow them to be tainted by pride. On the other hand, being proud of one’s offspring is a close relative of love – we are proud of what they have achieved because we love them and want the best for them.

Parental pride has a good pedigree: “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11). Imagine then the anguish in our heavenly Father’s heart when he saw Jesus mocked, beaten, crucified and dying. He would have felt no less parental pride than at Jesus’ baptism but it was pierced with the agony of separation and loss. That he allowed it without intervening and that Jesus submitted to it willingly shows the extent of God’s love for us: God allowed the eternal relationship of love that is God (Father, Son and Spirit) to be shattered because he loves us so much.

L O N G pause for reflection.

Don’t go on to the joke if you are still reflecting.

True story:
A local news reporter was interviewing a lady on her 100th birthday. He asked her about her life and how she had lived so long. He then asked her if, at the age of 100, she had any worries.

“Oh no, my dear,” she replied. “Not since I got my son into an old people’s home.”

Being overtaken

My position in our household has changed. I have been overtaken. I used to be the tallest person in the family, even despite losing the additional height afforded by having hair. Now, however, I have been overtaken in height by Thomas, my 15 year-old son. It’s not as if I have shrunk (other than my hairline).

It feels a bit like a game of Mario Kart I was playing against him a while ago. I was happily zooming along in the lead with the finishing line in sight, not anticipating anything preventing me from taking the victory and gloating joyfully (but graciously), when all of a sudden Thomas overtook me and beat me on the line. It seems that he appeared from nowhere, and the same feels true of his sudden growth spurt. How did it happen?

I may seem bitter or regretful about this relegation, but I am not. I find it remarkable that the small(ish) baby I held in my arms 15 and a bit years ago has now grown taller than me. I am proud of the way he has grown and matured as a person (as I am also of my daughter, Hannah, but thankfully she has not yet grown taller than me). I felt that fatherly pride last Sunday in a special way.

Last Sunday morning both of them took part in leading our church as members of the youth group who took over the morning service. In addition to the ‘normal’ parts of our service like singing, Bible readings and praying we also had a ‘Cool Wall’ of Bible characters (see Top Gear for an explanation), a great drama depicting the early part of David’s life and then his victory over Goliath and an exuberance of youthful joy and enthusiasm as they all took part in different ways.

Hannah played the drums, narrated a drama and spoke about what life is like for her at school and Thomas played keyboard, acted in the drama (as Goliath, appropriately) and preached the sermon! I sat there being blessed both by what the all young people said and did as a member of the congregation and being blessed by what Thomas and Hannah were doing in particular as a proud dad.

That’s how God feels when he looks at you as you follow Jesus.