dusty to dustier

We’re having some building work done at our house at the moment – converting the garage into a study. The builders are doing a good job and it looks like this might be the last bloggage written in my upstairs temporary study as we anticipate being able to move everything downstairs into the new study over the weekend. Today’s photo is of a wonderful moment when the front wall had been built but the window was not ready and in order to secure the room overnight the builders cut the garage door in half. Some people have suggested that it looks like I was opening my own takeaway (suggested names included Nuclear Waffles (I don’t!); In Cod We Trust; nick’s kEBAbs; The Piece of Cod Which Passes All Understanding; and Fission Chips) or the story in the Thomas the Tank Engine series when Henry refused to come out of a tunnel so they bricked it up…

Even though most of the work has taken place in a sealed room and dust sheets have been used it is noticeable that most of the house seems to be coated with a thin film of dust at the moment. I have swept it up from time to time but it keeps coming back. On their own each individual speck of dust would not be noticeable, but when it gathers with its friends you can see it and it makes everything look grubby, dull and neglected.

I think dust is a good analogy for the things in our life that we’d rather weren’t there – the things the Bible calls ‘sin’. I don’t think many of us have lots of big boulder-sized sins to confess. But the little things, which on their own wouldn’t bother us, slowly accumulate until spiritually we feel grubby, dull and neglected. Little things like the occasional ‘white lie’, putting someone down, an unkind thought, selfishness, a quick gossip… you know the sort of thing.

Regular sweeping helps, but if we leave it until each Sunday to do that we will find we are quite dusty by the end of each week. And if we leave it longer than that we will find that the dust will seriously affect our relationship with God.

I find that I need trigger moments to help me dust daily – when I wash or clean or dust physically I also have a spiritual clean out too, I try to think about whether I have accumulated any dust recently and seek to sort it out.

“I am sorry, please forgive me” are six powerful words.Keep a short account with God and with other people.

And of course it would be much better if we didn’t get dusty in the first place. That’s where God’s Spirit comes in. If we ask him to and are willing to respond to him, he helps us to think before we speak. He nudges us before we act. He changes the way that we think about people so we think about them more the way God thinks about them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.


paper, paper everywhere

One of the things I promised myself is that during my sabbatical leave I would sort out my desk. There are piles of papers that need filing, binning or shredding. There are bits and pieces that need to go back in their proper places. Somewhere there are books still to be read. There are loads of bits of paper I have acquired relating to my sabbatical studies. And there’s what I would call ‘assorted debris’. It accumulates because either I don’t have the time to deal with it, or because it’s something I would rather not deal with at the moment.

Today’s the day. I am going to deal with the desk. It is long overdue. But once it’s sorted, how do I prevent it from re-acquiring the clutter? There are several answers to this. One is to put all the new clutter and paperwork in another place. That way the desk remains visibly tidy and I can work at it. But the clutter has simply been relocated.

Another is to have what our pastoral studies tutor called ‘dustbin days’. Once a month he recommended to us trainee Ministers that we have a day set aside to do all the adminny stuff we have been putting off. That way the piles of papers don’t reach the ceiling and the chances of overlooking something important are diminished. It’s helpful advice and I will include it in my list of things to get around to… if I can find it on my desk.

A third approach is to deal with the items as they arrive and sort them as they are completed. It’s by far the best approach. But it requires time and discipline. And, if I am honest, it may require the help of someone else. I was at my most administratively efficient when I worked as a litigation lawyer and had my own secretary. I was efficient because my secretary was efficient. I had to keep up with her. Yes, she would deal with things like filing but I had to ensure that I was able to lay my hands on papers I needed to use, so I also had to keep a tidy desk and have a system where I knew where I had put everything.

When I worked in the office of the Baptist Union of Great Britain I had a three-tier filing tray. I called it my ‘hokey cokey filing system’: I labelled one tray ‘in’ (for letters and so on that were arriving on my desk). I labelled one tray ‘out’ (for letters and so on that were leaving my desk). And, yes, I had one that was labelled ‘shake it all about’ which was for letters and so on that needed to stay on my desk while I dealt with them. I had to be disciplined to keep ‘out’ and ‘shake it all about’ relatively empty because they were underneath others so they had limited capacity.

I guess we apply the same sort of approaches to our lives. There are things we would rather not deal with and keep putting off, or have become ‘too busy’ to deal with. Yet they lie around, cluttering up our lives. That apology we need to offer or accept. That forgiveness we need to ask for. That persistent sin that we keep falling into.

On Sundays I think many of us operate on the ‘relocation’ model. We put aside all those things and present ourselves at church looking like we have everything in order. But when we get home it’s still there.

Some of us operate ‘dustbin days’. Every so often we reach a moment where we feel we have to deal with these things and make an effort to sort them out (usually starting on our knees asking God for his forgiveness and help). But the debris builds up again.

The best approach is to deal with stuff as it arrives in our lives. That way it does not have time to fester (like the three-week-old sandwich underneath a pile of unopened letters)* and we can keep short accounts with God and with others, which is a healthier way of living.

And perhaps the ‘hokey cokey’ is not a bad approach. Some things in our life can be dealt with quickly: ‘in’ and ‘out’. But some needs to be shaken around a bit, we need to dip into it and out of it, we need to play with it and discover what approach is best to deal with it. I suspect Jesus would quite like to join us in putting our right leg in, our right leg out…

And by the way, ‘administration’ is listed by Paul as a spiritual gift. I think I need to pray for it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A young minister had just started in a church and felt really excited. He sat in his study and there was a knock at the door. The Minister was thrilled to have a visitor, but wanted to appear busy.

He picked up the phone just as the man came in. “Yes, that’s right. I can see you later today, but I only have half an hour. Yes, I’ll expect you ten past two. Alright. No later. I’m a very busy man.”

He hung up and turned to the man waiting. “May I help you?”

“No,” said the man, “I just came in to install the phone.”

grinding away the grot

Today a very nice man is sorting out some rust on Sally’s car and some damaged paintwork (already there when I bought the car) on my car. I am confident that he will do a good job, but it is a little unnerving having someone take a sanding disc to your car and start making loud grinding noises on the paintwork. I am sure that at the moment there is more of a mess than there was before he started (he’s only about an hour in) but it’s like the old adage: if you want to make omelettes you have to break some eggs. If you want lovely paintwork on your car you have to get rid of the grot first.

And if you want a healthy relationship with God, you have to be prepared to grind away the grot in your life. It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable but it is worth doing. And God gives us his Spirit to help us:

Paul puts it in drastic language in Colossians 3:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

But there’s a counterbalance. Paul did not just tell us to put to death what belongs to our earthly nature, he has a range of positive things to replace them and the desire to do them:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I love the practicality of this. Addicts know that stopping addictive behaviour is very difficult. But it is easier to do if you replace that negative addition with a positive attribute, activity or attitude.

Listen to some worship songs (and sing along?) if you are tempted to think or act in a way that is spiritually unhealthy.

Ask for God’s peace instead of angst, perhaps taking time out to go and relax rather than blowing your top.

Remember that you are forgiven if you are tempted to hold a grudge.

Try and do what is loving in any given circumstance.

Whatever you do, do it with an attitude of gratitude to God, and do it all as an act of worship to him.

All of these have the effect of drawing us closer to God, and that has the effect of making us want to get closer still and sin less.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Dear Insurance Company,

I am writing in response to your request for additional information. In block number three of the accident reporting form, I put “poor planning” as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more and I trust that the following details are sufficient:

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-storey building. When I completed my work, I discovered that I had a large pile of bricks left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley, which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the sixth floor.

Securing the rope at the ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks. You will note in block number 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh 135 pounds. Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley. Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground – and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles and lacerations of my legs and lower body. The encounter with the barrel, slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks and fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked. I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks in pain, unable to move, and watching the barrel six stories above – I again lost my presence of mind.

I let go of the rope!

i can’t believe it’s not clutter

Sometimes I don’t know what bloggerel I will write until I sit down and start typing. Sometimes I don’t know until after I have started typing. Sometimes you don’t know even when I have finished!

Today I was sitting at my desk, looking for inspiration, when I realised just how untidy my desk has become. There is a pile of books that is unread. There are small piles of papers representing different things I need to do. There are notes on scraps of paper – telephone messages and initial thoughts and plans for future services. There are two in trays that are overflowing with correspondence. This is not correspondence that I need to respond to, I try to do that fairly quickly, it is paperwork that I need to file either in a drawer or in a bin.

When I was at Bible College I remember the advice of one of our lecturers that we should have a “dustbin day” once a month where we go through all of the accumulated paperwork and sort it out. At the time I can remember thinking that that was a good idea and I resolved to do so. Sadly that resolution has not been kept to and has now resulted in a pile of papers almost 12 inches high in my in trays. And now the problem is that the pile is so big that it will take a considerable effort and intention to work my way through it, never mind all the other bits and pieces on my desk.

Perhaps during the summer I will force myself to do so.

I think we can sometimes have the same attitude towards the things in our lives that are spiritually cluttering us up. If we deal with them regularly then we can keep them under control, but if we allow them to accumulate gradually they can grow insignificance and size. I wonder if this is what happens to some people who slip away from church and fall away from the relationship with God. Other things gradually grow insignificance and importance and they either become too big to face or overwhelm us to the point that we feel we can’t cope any more. It is always good to keep short accounts with our bank, credit cards, friends and family… and God.

One of the things that I used to remind me to do this regularly is that I have built an association in my mind with washing my face in the morning and evening and being washed spiritually clean. As I wash my face I ask God to forgive me for things for which only to be forgiven and to cleanse me afresh by his Spirit. you might have other associations that you might like to make but if we are to prevent the clutter of our lives overwhelming us it is good to do some regular filing and binning.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

True story, allegedly, tangentially related to filing:

Joseph Owens of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, didn’t think police were listening to his complaints that someone was harassing him, so he came up with a brilliant plan. Owens convinced his friend to shoot him in the shoulder with a shotgun so police would take him seriously. After a trip to the emergency room, Owens faced up to four years in prison for filing a false police report.