relax

Hellooo! I am back from my retreat last week. It was a lovely relaxing, refreshing time in many ways – spiritually and physically. I thoroughly recommend it.

A couple of highlights:

The retreat was specifically for Ministers / Clergy. At the start we were told that there was a strict ‘no shop talk’ rule. That meant we were not to talk about our churches, our ministries, theology or anything else church-related.

At first that sounded a bit heavy. After all, we were all clergy peeps. But I found it liberating. We were forced to talk to each other about aspects of our lives that had nothing to do with our work. We were not defined by what we do, we were able to be normal human beings for a while.

As I reflected on that I wondered what would happen if we introduced a similar rule at our church for a day. Perhaps we should do that at our next church holiday! How about at the next party you attend – ‘no talk about your work’ would make the conversations a bit more wide-ranging. How about putting it into our daily routines – making ‘what do you do?’ the last question we would ask someone instead of the first, so we get to know people as individuals rather than defining them by their employment status.

The second aspect of the retreat that I wish to mention is the countryside. I am a Devon lad. I am quite patriotic about the county in which I was born and raised. I can trace my family back many generations in Devon. The retreat centre is set in the middle of beautiful countryside and I was blessed by the opportunity to explore it a bit on my own and on guided walks (even though on one of them we walked up and down the same lane 3 times before we got it right).

There is something so peaceful and relaxing about rural Devon. The rolling hills just keep going into the distance like waves on the sea. There is a wonderful expanse of green, divided up by tall hedges and crossed by a network of lanes that connect the farms and villages in an almost maze-like quality. Everything slows down. Including you. The pictures here are from a couple of my walks and I would encourage you to stop and look at them. Breathe gently, hear the rural sounds, the chirping of birds, the rush of the water and feel the gentle breeze on your face. Enjoy the countryside, allow yourself to smile.

Relaxing is good for us. It’s why God designed a day off into the routine of life. Who are we to think we know better?

And the third aspect of the retreat? I was impressed by the gentle service of the community that hosted us. They were kindness personified. They were great free samples of Jesus.

I think that there are several reasons for this: perhaps most significant is their commitment to a daily routine of prayer and worship. You can better imitate someone if you actively spend time with them on a regular basis. What’s your routine?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A man left the courtroom in a wheelchair, with a cheque for £1million from the insurance company. The insurance company still suspected fraud and their detective followed the man down the street.

“You won’t get away with this,” he said.”I’ll be following you and watching you for the rest of your life.”

“No worries,” the man replied.” You can watch all you like. You can follow me on my holiday to France. You can follow me to Lourdes. You can watch someone pray for me. And you can watch a miracle take place.”

run away, run away!

This will probably be the last bloggage… for a week.

(I can hear a strange noise all of a sudden. It sounds like cheering)

The Sheldon Centre, where I will be retreating

This weekend I am heading down to Devon for a week’s retreat* at the Society of Mary and Martha. It’s a retreat designed for Ministers and is called a ‘12,000 mile service’. The website says that “Guests are free to choose their own pace and activities as the week unfolds. A chance to recharge batteries, take out dents in the bodywork or test the brakes, perhaps?”

I would rather not have any comments about dents in my bodywork, please, and I will be going into hospital in Mid November to get a rechargeable battery fitted, so perhaps what I need to concentrate on is testing the brakes.

The sabbatical leave that I am currently enjoying has been a wonderful experience. I have stopped the busy activity associated with being a Minister and have had the opportunity to rest, relax, refresh, read, refocus and practice my alliteration. One of the things that has come to me afresh is the need to ensure that when the sabbatical time is over I need to make sure that I put regular and frequent time and space in the diary to do those things (perhaps not practicing the alliteration). Once every seven (or in my case nine) years is not sufficient to maintain yourself at peak spiritual condition. That is not only true for Ministers, it’s true for all of us.

For some people Sundays are those moments in their week. (Often less so for Ministers because it can be our busiest day). But can we honestly say that our relationship with God is going to be at its deepest and most amazing with just an hour a week spent focusing on him? Can we even think that this will be the case if we give him fifteen minutes every day as we do our daily Bible reading?

I have friends with whom I have not spoken or corresponded for months / years. It’s wonderful when we do catch up, but I can’t say that there is any depth to those relationships. Not when you compare them to the relationships I have with my wife and my children with whom I share so much more of my life. They get to see the good and the bad. They get to share the laughter and the tears. They experience the joy and the pain.

That may seem very obvious, but that does not make it any less true. If we confine our relationship with God to special moments in our day then we are short-changing him and ourselves. We are treating him like a hamster that we take out of its cage once a day to play with and enjoy and then put back to allow them to get on with running around in his little wheel while we run around in ours. God deserves and wants so much more than that for us.

I have sometimes felt that being a Minister is a bit like being a hamster running in a wheel. You run as fast as your little legs can carry you but if you are not careful and you don’t keep up the wheel will keep on turning and you will be spun around madly. That’s true for all of us, not just Ministers, which is why God designed a sabbatical for each one of us. It’s his commandment (not recommendation) to rest, recreate and relax for one day in seven (sabbath). The idea was not that we dedicate one day a week to being with God, but that we take one day a week to be refreshed. (If you feel like a hamster in a wheel, watch this video and enjoy the ride – perhaps there’s a team ministry analogy here?).

So how? Well I am sure I have blogged about this before, but I find it helps to associate different activities with him. When I wash at a sink and look in the mirror in front of me I try to remember that it’s a moment to reflect on whether I need God to cleanse and forgive me for anything. In my car I will sometimes put a CD of worship music on and sing my lungs out as I drive around. Regular time reading the Bible is essential: but don’t short-change yourself by limiting yourself to a quick burst in the morning.

But above all, have a dialogue with Jesus. The twelve disciples had that privilege as they travelled around first century Israel with him, but we have that privilege too – he is with us by his Spirit. Ask him about what you are doing, or going to be doing. Ask him to speak to you through it or through someone whom you will meet. Tell him how you’re feeling. When something makes you laugh, thank Jesus for the joy. When something makes you weep, thank him that he is there with you and ask that you will sense his presence (through others or more directly through peace within). Whatever you do has a Jesus-related dimension and as you involve him in your daily life more and more you will find that he feels closer (even though he has never been away).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*retreat = running away, in case you wonder what the bloggage title has to do with the bloggerel here. Actually it’s often more tactical than that, but I had in mind the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur and his knights beat a hasty retreat from the onslaught of their foes.

interrogatory insights

What’s the most difficult question you’ve ever been asked?Question mark

Perhaps it was a question in an examination that stretched your understanding and ability to (or beyond) breaking point.

Maybe it was a question that tested your loyalty to someone else, or put you on the horns of a moral dilemma.

It could be that it was, “Will you marry me?” – to which my wonderful wife answered, “Oh heck!” (later saying yes, as you will have deduced).

Perhaps it was a question that caused you to have to reach into the darkest recesses of your memory to recall an event or a person.

It could be relatively simple, such as, “How are you?” when the answer is incredibly complicated and you aren’t sure whether you can trust that person or are not sure that they want the full unexpurgated version of your life story right now.

Or how about ‘What’s the most difficult question you’ve ever been asked?’

At the moment a lot of people who are kind enough to show an interest in me and my sabbatical leave are asking me, “How’s the sabbatical going?” It’s not the most difficult question in the world at face value, but I am not sure what the criteria are by which I am expected to respond…

Time is passing at its normal rate so the leave is counting down (just gone past one month).

I am enjoying reading the books that I have set aside to read, and I am ahead of my reading target at this stage.

I have been able to arrange to visit some other churches to ask the questions that are coming out of my reading and thinking.

I am coming up with some interesting ideas, thoughts and possibilities.

I am relaxed.

On all of the above criteria, the sabbatical leave is going well. Thank you for asking.

But that’s all from my perspective. I wonder how God thinks it’s going.

I don’t know if I can answer that on his behalf. If you have any insights…

And if you want to know the most difficult question I have ever been asked, it’s this:

“Will you follow me?”

I’m spending the rest of my life trying to be a good answer to that question.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

how do you do it?

As regular readers of this blog will know I love magic tricks. I love watching them, learning them, performing them, and seeing the audience reaction (if it’s good!). It seems to me that the question I get asked more than any other is: “How did you do that?”

My response might be a cheeky ‘very well’, or a more mysterious ‘aha’, or perhaps a silly ‘I could tell you but then I’d have to shoot you’ (or variations on any of those themes).

I am also finding that when I come across people who actually read the bloggerel*I post here (and are willing to admit it to me) they often ask me the same sort of question: “How do you do it?” or “How do you come up with so many thoughts?”

Rather than ‘very well’ (which would be big-headed and wrong) or ‘aha’ (which is unhelpful) or ‘I could tell you but…’ (which is simply bonkers) I try to explain that each bloggage* is part of my daily reflection. I remember at the vicar factory where I trained (Spurgeons) we were encouraged to be reflective practitioners. In other words, we were encouraged to think about what he have done, or will do, and try to learn from those events, seeking to discover more about my life as a follower of Jesus, my attempts to be a free sample of Jesus and (often) things that make me laugh. Sometimes it’s prayerful, sometimes it becomes a prayer as I write, sometimes it is me thinking aloud (although the ‘click’ of the keys is the only physical sound unless I am dictating to my computer). The nukelearfishing blog is simply where I regurgitate those reflections and inflict them on the unsuspecting bloggernet*.

How do you do it? (You can have fun with that question if you say it like Joey from Friends!)

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*For the uninitiated: ‘bloggage’ is the name I give to any individual blog post (blog + baggage + blockage = bloggage (or something like that)); ‘bloggerel’ refers to the content of a bloggage (blog = doggerel = bloggerel); ‘bloggernet’ is where bloggages of bloggerel are stored and accessed online (blog + internet… but you worked that one out!).

A Christian response to robbery?

Two fellers (in America) were in desparate need of cash, but admittedly were a bit cowardly. So the one suggested they break into the local Amish shop. The logic being that since the Amish were non-resistant, even if they were caught, no harm could befall them. Thus they carried out their plot.

However, just as they were breaking into the cash register, the owner turned on the lights and confronted them, a shotgun pointed directly at them.

Calmly, the Amish man said, “Boys, I would never do thee any harm yet you are standing where I am about to shoot.”

tales of the unexpected

I normally wear contact lenses. In itself that is not a particularly revolutionary statement. However there is a follow-on statement: there are times when I don’t wear the lenses and have to wear glasses. Again, in itself, that is not a particularly unusual statement: many people wear glasses. Things become more complicated, however, when you add into the equation a new computer headset. The one that I have been using to speak to my computer (as I am now) broke recently and I’ve had to replace them in order to carry on dictating directly into my computer.

When I was looking at replacement headsets I considered getting a like-for-like replacement with a band that goes over the top of my head. Then I saw a headset with a strap that goes around the back of my head (see picture) and I decided that that would be more comfortable given that I don’t have any hair on the top of my head to cushion the strap from the former type and it tended to leave indentations in my head.

So I bought the headset that goes around the back of my head and have been using it very comfortably ever since. Until this morning. Today is the first day that I have worn my glasses instead of my contact lenses since I bought the new headset and I have discovered that there is a significant load placed on my ears by wearing both the glasses and the headset (which hooks over one’s ears so that it doesn’t slip off). It’s not an unbearable load but it was certainly unexpected, and one that I had not considered at the time of purchase. in fact it’s not uncomfortable at all if I readjust the headset once my glasses are on my head. Hopefully now you can see the significance of the statements in the first paragraph.

I sometimes think that life would be an awful lot easier if we could foresee all of the unforeseen events. (Of course that would mean that they weren’t unforeseen, but I think you know what I mean.) We often say that life would be a lot easier if we had 20:20 vision for the future as well as 20:20 hindsight, or that life is a lot easier when lived in reverse. but the reality is that none of this is possible, save for the occasional moment when God offers us a sneak preview through a dream, vision or supernatural insight. So the important thing is not so much being able to foresee the unforeseen as to respond appropriately to whatever comes around the corner, even the unexpected.

Where is all this bloggerel leading? Well, I have found that because I believe in God who is in ultimate control I try (hopefully) to respond to the unexpected things that life throws at me (‘googlies’ in cricket terms; ‘curveballs’ in baseball terms; ‘*^%£!’ in expletive terms) in a Christlike way. I think that means: pausing before reacting; praying before responding; laughing before shouting; adapting and adopting as appropriate.

I’m no saint.

I don’t always get it right.

But when I need it I find God’s Spirit gives me a healthy dose of grace in order to cope. Sometimes that’s all I’ve got. Usually that’s all I need.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The California State Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, hunters, fishermen and golfers to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears while in the Yosemite and Mammoth areas.

They advise people to wear noise-producing devices such as little bells on their clothing to alert but not startle the bear unexpectedly. They also advise carrying pepper spray in case of an encounter with a bear.

It is also a good idea to watch for fresh signs of bear activity and know the difference between black bear and grizzly bear droppings.

Black bear droppings are smaller and contain berries and possibly squirrel fur.

Grizzly bear droppings have little bells in them and smell like pepper spray.

looking at my reflection

It’s always difficult on a busy day to find the time to stop, pause and reflect. But those are the days when I need to do it most. So here goes.

Stop being busy, stop thinking about my to do list, stop reacting and responding to the demands on my time. Stop.

Pause for breath, pause for prayer, pause to be quiet, pause to listen. Pause.

Reflect on what has happened, reflect on what will happen, but above all, reflect on Jesus – where I have met him (places, Bible, people), what he is doing (in others, through others, in me), what he is saying (to others, through others, to me and through me) and how he has used me today. Reflect.

It’s a simple enough process, but one that I find I need to programme into my day, otherwise it gets squeezed out.

Go on, give it a go.

 

Reflecting on English:

In celebration of the complexities of the English language, we bring you the following conclusion: English is a stupid language.

There is no egg in the eggplant.

No ham in the hamburger.

And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.

English muffins were not invented in England.

French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted but if we examine its paradoxes we find:-

that Quicksand takes you down slowly

Boxing rings are square

And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig

If writers write, how come fingers don’t fing?

If the plural of tooth is teeth shouldn’t the plural of phone booth be phone beeth?

If the teacher taught, why didn’t the preacher praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables why don’t humanitarians eat humans?

Why do people recite at a play yet play at a recital?

How can the weather be as hot as hell on one day and as cold as hell on another?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language whereby a house can burn up as it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out. A bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers and it reflects the creativity of the human race (Which of course isn’t a race at all)

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.

intro-speck-tion

contact lensMy eye is irritated at the moment. I usually wear contact lenses and it feels like there is a tiny bit of grit or something else under the lens. The contact lens-wearers out there will be empathising with me right now. Those of you who don’t wear them can’t really understand.

It was quite funny, therefore, that my daily bible reading this morning included Jesus using the example of someone with a plank in their own eye trying to help someone else get a speck of dust out of their eye. It’s another of his funny images using hyperbole (exaggeration) to get a laugh. Can you imagine someone wandering around oblivious to the plank of wood in their own eye but worried about the speck in someone elses? It’s ridiculous.

But it happens.

It happens when I am ready to criticise someone else without examining myself first. It happens when I am annoyed by something someone else has said or done and I have not stopped to think why they have said or done that thing, merely reacted at how it affected me. It can happen at any place and any time. Before I know it I can be busy worrying about someone or something else without first considering myself. That is one of the things blogging does for me – it makes me stop and consider the health of my relationship with Jesus.

So what should you do if someone comes up to you with a plank in their eye while worrying about a speck in your eye? Grace. Grace. Grace. Grace. Otherwise the speck may grow in size quite rapidly and before you know it there’s a whole woodworking workshop in there!


Vaguely dust-related joke…
A collector of rare books ran into an acquaintance who told him he had just thrown away an old Bible that he found in a dusty [there it is!], old box. He happened to mention that Guten-somebody-or-other had printed it. 

“Not Gutenberg?” gasped the collector.

“Yes, that was it!”

“You idiot! You’ve thrown away one of the first books ever printed. A copy recently sold at auction for half a million pounds!”

“Oh, I don’t think this book would have been worth anything close to that much,” replied the man. “It was scribbled all over in the margins by some guy named Martin Luther.”

mind the gap

 

When you ride on a train, do you ever stop to listen? No, not to the one-sided phone calls, the conversations and (if you are unlucky) the snoring of the person next to you. Have you ever listened to the sound of the train itself? The regular clackety-clack of the train wheels as they travel unerringly along the track. Have you ever stopped to wonder why they go clackety-clack? It’s the gaps. Between the sections of rail are gaps that are left to allow for expansion on warm days. This is the traditional way of laying rails. Faster tracks nowadays are welded so that there is no clackety-clack and solve the expansion issue in other ways.

I have a busy day ahead. Wall-to-wall meetings with my colleague, an ecumenical group in Colchester, the police (!) and a prayer meeting in the evening. I don’t mind being busy, in fact I prefer it to having nothing to do. But I am conscious that it leaves little space for reflection and processing. I need gaps, just like the rails. [Yes, that’s the tenuous link!]

Those gaps allow not just for the meetings to expand (as they sometimes do) but also for me to think about what has happened and anticipate the next event. They allow me to pray consider and ponder.

This is important. If you doubt me, look at Jesus and his ‘time outs’. He made sure that he had space in his life. If he needed it…

On vacation, a man and his wife check into a hotel. The husband wants to have a snack at the restaurant, but his wife is extremely tired so she decides to go on up to their room to rest.

She lies down on the bed… just then, a train passes by very close to the window and shakes the room so hard she’s thrown out of the bed.

Thinking this must be a freak occurrence, she lies down once more. But just a few minutes later a train again shakes the room so violently, she’s pitched to the floor.

Exasperated, she calls the front desk and asks for the manager who says he’ll be right up.

The manager is skeptical but the wife insists the story is true.

“Look… lie here on the bed — you’ll be thrown right to the floor!” So he lies down next to the wife.

Just then the husband walks in. He takes one look at the manager lying in bed with his wife and yells, “Hey! What are you doing in here!?”

The manager calmly replies, “Would you believe I’m waiting for a train?”

 

reflecting on an awesome photo

What do you make of this picture? I can’t remember where I found it online (so if it was from your website, thank you and I hope you don’t mind me using it here). The picture fascinates me for many reasons:

Reason the first: how disciplined must those dogs be?! All of them look ready to pounce on the cat but are holding back. I wish I had that sort of self-control.

Reason the second: how brave is that cat? It seems completely unphased by the horde of onlooking canines. It is happily going about its business regardless of the potential for disaster. How often do I hold back because of fear rather than stepping out in faith?

Reason the third: is it a genuine picture? Did this really happen or has some genius created the picture with the aid of clever software and a diabolical sense of humour? Reasons I am unsure about the genuineness are that the cat is walking through a puddle (or is it a poodle?) and they usually avoid water; and there are no ripples in the puddle. But are there times when I am looking at things the wrong way, or making assumptions that are untrue?

Reason the fourth: every time I look at it I smile. The potential for captions, what happened next or the back story behind the picture is fantastic. Can I be the cause of making other people smile – not because of my failings but because I bring joy to them?

Reason the fifth: sometimes I may be feeling like the cat and sometimes I may be like one of the dogs. In either case the picture reminds me to think of how people feel if they are the dogs or cats in those circumstances.

No joke today, just the picture to enjoy!