Category: relying on God

zooom

So, dear Bloggists, I have been away for a week with Sally (the wonderful lady to whom I am married) in the Lake District. That is why this page has been silent for the past week – sorry. We had a fantastic time. We walked over hills and down valleys and around lakes. We saw some astonishingly beautiful scenery. We ate some delicious meals. We spent quality time with one another.

I also took some photos. We have recently acquired a new camera as our old one broke and we have some significant family events coming up. It’s what is known as a ‘Bridge camera’ – halfway between a point and shoot compact camera and a complex Single Lens Reflex camera. It has rather a long zoom on it, though. In fact a combination of optical and digital zoom means that it has 84x zoom on it. I didn’t really know what that looked like until I took the photographs below.

We had stopped for a break on a walk around Derwent Water and looked across at Catbells. It was a beautiful view so I decided to take a photograph, resting the camera on a post that was part of the landing stage on which we were sitting in order to keep it stable. This is the view that we had.IMG_0060

After I had taken the photo I look across again and I thought I could just about make out some tiny shapes on the skyline that might be people so I decided to see if I could zoom in on them with the camera. then zoomed in… as far as the zoom would go. This is what I saw!

IMG_0059

I was astonished at the level of detail that was achieved from the camera. It was exactly the same view as the first image, I had not moved the camera at all. But instead of mountains and trees and lake and landing stage, there were visibly discernible people and dogs walking across the top of Catbells.

Reflecting on these two images has led me to reflect again on Psalm 8:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

  You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

It’s easy to get sucked in by our own ego and think that we are bigger and more important than we are. At times like that perhaps we need to look at the zoomed out picture and realise that we are specks on the horizon.

It’s also easy to believe our own lack of self-worth and think that we are insignificant and irrelevant. At times like that perhaps we need to look at the zoomed in picture and realise that we are significant individuals who are worth noticing.

It’s important for us to see people the same way. It’s important to understand that those who intimidate us occupy about the same amount of space that we do on this planet. It’s important for us to understand that some people have a much lower opinion of themselves than we do. How does that understanding change the way that we respond to them?

And then perhaps we need to realise that God sees us from both perspectives. He sees the whole big picture of life, the Universe and everything, and he sees the details of each person: our needs, our concerns, our joys and our sadness. And both views matter to him intensely. Knowing that he sees the big picture can be reassuring when we can’t. Knowing that he sees the individual issues and is interesting can be reassuring when we can’t see a way ahead. That knowledge is possible if we look with the eyes of faith.

Be blessed, be a blessing

scar

If you are one of the poor souls who reads my bloggages regularly you will know that from time to time I mention that I suffer from Chronic Migraine and Cluster Headaches. From about 2002 onwards there has been a constant Migraine headache going on inside my skull. The only variation was in intensity of the pain levels. To go with this is a regular routine of Cluster Headaches. The CH attacks make the migraine feel pleasant by comparison and are debilitating beyond belief.

Before you start getting the handkerchiefs out for a sob story let me say that since I had an operation to install an Occipital Nerve Stimulator I have been more or less Migraine and Cluster Headache free while it has been working, which is life-transforming. The headaches are still there. They are still firing away, which I discovered to my painful cost when the battery in my first ONS expired and the headache pain resurfaced almost instantaneously. But the ONS means that my brain no longer pays attention to the pain signals.

(If you don’t like the idea of surgical implantation you might like to skip the next paragraph and pick up the bloggage below the picture).

I am SO grateful to have this gadget implanted within me and to feel the reassurring ‘fizz’ in the back of my head where the wires are implanted. Each week I sit for a while and re-charge the battery that is inserted just under the skin at the top of my chest (no, I don’t plug in, it’s an induction charging process).

charge
recharging

 

 

(If you skipped the last paragraph, welcome back). The great news for me is that because of this implant I am pain free on the whole. The headaches are there still, but I can’t feel them because my brain has been tricked into ignoring the pain signals.

However, occasionally I get a bit self-conscious about the bits and pieces inside me. Last weekend I attended the Baptist Assembly and as we were sitting in a row in the auditorium one of my self-conscious moments came over me as I realised that all of the people behind me were able to see the scar in the back of my head (oops, sorry, another potential squeam moment). I started to wonder what they were thinking about it, and if they were put off by it. I started to feel uncomfortable about it and wanted to put a hat on to hide it.

And then I realised that most people weren’t likely to be feeling as awkward about it as I was. I realised that if anyone asked me about it I would be able to tell them about the wonderful life-transforming nature of the surgery that led to that scar. And I realised that, once again, I was grateful that I have the scar rather than the headaches. I still wouldn’t mind if my hair regrew in that area and covered it (or indeed the rest of my scalp too) but I became comfortable once again in my own skin, scars and all.

That then got me thinking about how people can be really uncomfortable about how other people perceive them. We all want to be liked and appreciated. We don’t want other people to think badly of us. We try to keep our weaknesses and failures and difficulties hidden from others.

But as a follower of Jesus I want people to know that I have not got myself completely sorted, I still make mistakes, I still let people down, I still get things wrong. I want people to know that I am a work in progress. And while I don’t rejoice or revel in these things they are like the visible scar on the back of my head and I am happy that they are visible because they are testimony to the change that God is bringing about in me. I want people to know that my relationship with God, the example, teaching, forgiveness and fresh start offered by Jesus Christ and the personal experience and presence of the Spirit of God make all the difference in the world to me. Slowly but surely I am being changed to become a better person. The scars and wounds of fragile human nature and fecklessness are still present, but they now point to the fact that my identity in God has been changed to ‘forgiven’.

Just as my ONS means that my headaches no longer have the debilitating effect on me they once had, and it gives me the opportunity to live life with a broader smile on my face, so my relationship with God described above makes all the difference. It’s not that I am perfect and that bad stuff will no longer affect me – far from it. The bad stuff still happens but it happens in the wider context of God’s forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, his gentle presence, a certainty, a hope and a meaning for life within me that are life-transforming for me.

And my story includes an experience that without that forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, presence, certainty, hope and meaning for life within me during the darkest days of the rampant Migraines and Cluster Headaches I would not have been able to live in even the semblance of coping that I had. God’s grace was enough when there was nothing else but pain. The pain didn’t go away, but the all-consuming meaninglessness of it was given a different context of life, hope, love and strength that came from God, not from within.

I hope and pray that you might experience that for yourself too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

plugging away

We had a wonderful day at our church yesterday (Sunday). In the morning service we baptised Simon, who has only recently become a follower of Jesus, and he told us his moving testimony about his life and becoming a believer. We also had Sylvia, who was baptised in 1959 but didn’t have the opportunity to share her story at her baptism, so she shared about God’s faithfulness over all those years. We had Silvia who reaffirmed the promises she made at her baptism a number of years ago and told us of her journey of faith and how God had been with her and spoken to her. And we had Leisa, who is going through all sorts of difficulties but wanted to reaffirm her baptismal promises as a way of declaring that God has been with her throughout. And in the evening we were blessed when John, one of our members, led the service and preached about the cost of following Jesus.

As I said, it was a wonderful day.

Last night I opened a bedroom window to get some fresh air into the room on a muggy night. In the very early morning I was awoken by the local birds who were getting very excited about the fact that the sun was coming up again and were telling everyone about it. I decided to close the window to reduce the volume. As I walked to the window in the gloom of our room I trod on an upturned electrical plug (prongs up).

An Electric Plug

OUCH!

And what was the first thing I thought about this morning? Not the blessings of yesterday but the pain of last night. It may be just me but isn’t it true that pain, hardship, difficulty, troubles or whatever negative experiences we have seem to override the positives for us? It may be just me but many words of encouragement can be drowned out by one word of criticism.

It may be just me, or it may be human nature. If it is I am sure that evolutionary biologists will have an explanation for it – perhaps that we need to deal with negative experiences and events in order to overcome them: we can’t spend all our time laughing and rejoicing if we need to fight off a bear or run from attackers.

And it may not just be one-off events or experiences. Long term pain can drain and debilitate. Lengthy adversity can rob us of satisfaction and peace. Ongoing difficulty can destroy moments of joy. I know that too from my personal experience.

In those moments I have found immense satisfaction and strength from these words:

Pull yourself together. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

No. Actually not those words. Those words are unhelpful and inaccurate. Try these:

But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

That may seem trite, but I have found immense encouragement and strength from God when I am going through tough times. Look at those words in the wider context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians:

…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We don’t know what or who the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But it was clearly something significant and dreadful for Paul to describe it in those terms and to plead for God to take it away. God’s response was not to take it away but to reassure Paul that he would have enough grace to cope, and find that God would make up what he lacked.

So whatever difficulties or hardships you face I would encourage you to plead that the Lord would take them away, but be ready for his response that may not be to take them away but instead to give you what you need to cope – even treading on an upturned plug!

Be blessed, be a blessing

of camels and needles

You’d almost think I have some sort of plan for this blog (only ‘almost’). Yesterday I wrote bloggerel about grace, based on Jesus saying to a rich young man, “You lack one thing…”

I wrote that I would come back to the passage itself and today that’s my intention. You can find the passage in Luke 18:18-30.

In the context of Luke’s gospel this passage comes as part of a series of encounters Jesus had with different people where he confronted contemporary concepts of ‘greatness’ and how God views us differently to the way that humans look at each other. It seems to me that the rich young man who approached Jesus wanted him to validate his ticket into heaven. He reckoned he was good enough to get into God’s good books and, to the outside observer, he would have been a prime candidate. He was a good man (notice that he called Jesus ‘good’ and perhaps wanted him to reciprocate). He was rich, which was (and is?) seen as a sign of God’s blessing on him.

But what he lacked was the ability to put God first in his life. He was religiously righteous, but it was a skin deep religiosity that was not bearing fruit in his life. He knew about God but he did not know God. He was living for himself – keeping the law – but failed to sense God’s heart. Why did Jesus tell him to give all his money to the poor? It was not just to see if he would let go of his money and the hold it had on him – if that was the case Jesus could have told him to give the money to anyone. It was to see if he shared God’s love and compassion for the poor and needy and if he was willing to do something about it.

DESCRIPTION: Man lying trampled on the ground, camel walking off CAPTION: AND THEN HE HAD A MUCH BETTER IDEA OF EXACTLY HOW HARD IT WAS FOR RICH FOLK TO GET INTO HEAVENThe narrative moves on from this point to a consideration of how to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Creative ideas have been offered in response to this including that it referred to a small gate into Jerusalem through which camels would only fit if they had been unloaded first (no archaeological or historical evidence of this) or perhaps a contemporary suggestion of using a liquidiser (apologies to the squeamish) but they did not exist in Jesus’ day. It is quite likely that he was using a contemporary idiom or joke about things that were difficult to make the point that it is incredibly difficult for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.

Why? Because we are tempted to rely on our own resources much more readily than we are to rely on God. Because we can easily get distracted from God by ‘stuff’. Because we can become self-absorbed and fail to see things how God sees them (ignoring the poor, for example).

You will have noticed that I said ‘we’ in the last paragraph. Judging wealth purely on average income I am including in the ‘we’ anyone whose monthly wage is greater than £1000. That is the average wage of the world based on averaging all of the average wages. However only a quarter of the world’s population earn this amount. The average monthly wage of the poorest in the world is about £21. So you are part of the ‘we’ if you earn more than that a month.

How’s it looking for your camel? How’s your relationship with God? How’s your relationship with your wealth? 

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

autopilot

Computers apparently take the fun out of everything. That seems to be the message that we get from motoring programmes because invariably when they are testing a car around a track the presenters turn off the computer aided traction control systems. This is followed by lots of tyre smoke, high-speed cornering, power slides and whoops of delight. I am not sure what it says about me but I have a traction control system on my car and I am terrified that the idea of turning it off. I am blessed by the cruise control however.

Flight 1549 on the Hudson, picture from http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Computers are also very good at flying aeroplanes. Autopilots enable an aeroplane to fly on a predetermined course and altitude without deviation, and auto land systems can even land an aeroplane successfully. I am glad that these systems exist on passenger aircraft but they would be no good for the Red Arrows! and they cannot adapt to emergency situations. When US Airways flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese and needed to make an emergency landing it needed the skill and experience of Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger to land it spectacularly on the Hudson River enabling all 155 occupants to evacuate safely.

This morning I am preparing the next session in our “Expedition Through the Bible” course that I am leading at our church. This week we are looking at how we interpret what we read and is part of it I will be explaining how I prepare a sermon. The process of trying to explain the process of sermon preparation has made me realise that when I approach a passage I am on autopilot: my preparation processes happen automatically and without me thinking too much about them. That does not make it a fair process, any more than the ability to drive without having to think too much about what you are doing makes that bad. But it has been helpful for me just to pause and reflect on the process that I go through in order to try and ensure that I am not relying solely on a tried and tested routine and excluding God from some aspects of that preparation.

I guess that same principle applies to all aspects of our lives. Something is we do automatically, without thinking about it, without involving God and it.  It is worth pausing sometimes and reflecting on how we are living to make sure that we are not excluding God from any aspect of our lives. And yet when we pause and reflect we will find that involving God makes a difference. It is like turning off the traction control system on a car or the autopilot on an aeroplane. Suddenly it is a little bit riskier, a little bit more dangerous, more faith filled, less conventional. But instead of us being behind the wheel or the yoke we relinquish control to God and strap ourselves in beside him!

Be blessed, be a blessing.