the parable of the router

Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.

network cableThey decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.

I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!

This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!

I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!

It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.

But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.

But the upgrade is worth it. If we let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the little things

It’s all the little details that take time isn’t it? Moving house was not, on the grand scale of things, too traumatic an event. Strong men moved our belongings into a big lorry, drove the lorry to a new house, and then unloaded our belongings into the new house from the big lorry.

The removal firm we used, although not a picture of them moving our stuff!

Of course we still had to unload all of the boxes and find homes for everything (and remember where we put things). Opening the boxes was a little bit like playing hide and seek with our possessions as we didn’t know exactly which box contained what items. But even that was big picture activity.

Since then we keep uncovering little bits and pieces that we need to do/change/restart/start related to our new location. Who knew that there were so many different and disparate organisations that needed to be informed of a change of address? And who knew how many of them will charge us for the privilege of changing our details (harrumph, harrumph, harrumph)? Who knew how many old documents needed shredding and new ones need filing in their place? And on top of that we have had to find new window cleaners, remember a different day for refuse and recycling collections, find out where the local shops are (and work out what you can and can’t buy in them), and find a local church in which to settle.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m not saying we have a tough life. Not at all. We feel so blessed. All I am observing is that there are so many little things that need sorting out even after we’ve sorted out the big things. And I think it’s the same with my faith. To me the big picture is fairly clear: God loves me and wants to have a relationship with me, I have stuffed up and wrecked our relationship, God has sorted it out through Jesus. Now I know that theology is an awful lot more nuanced than that but if the best I can manage on Monday morning.

But the little things keep needing to be sorted out. I constantly need to keep a short account with God – asking for forgiveness and a fresh start on a daily basis. I need to remember to spend quality time with him on a daily basis. Reading and understanding my Bible isn’t always easy. Praying doesn’t always come naturally. Forgiving other people as I have been forgiven isn’t easy sometimes. Accepting God’s will isn’t always comfortable. Listening to God is not always easy when there are lots of other “noises” (literal and metaphorical) that drown him out. Trying to see things how Jesus sees them and respond how he would respond is tricky. And it’s not even 10 o’clock yet!

It would be easy to get despondent about all this but two things give me hope. One of them is God’s indomitable unlimited lavishly poured out grace. God is so gracious and patient with me. Even if I let him down for the hundredth time in a day his grace is more than sufficient for me to come back, ask for forgiveness and a fresh start and receive them from him. The other is that he has given us his Spirit to help us. On our own it would be impossible for us to live in a way that honours God we serve and seeks to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. It would be easier for me to lift myself off the ground and stay floating in midair (without the aid of any magical props!). But God’s spirit is constantly nudging, encouraging, inspiring, speaking, enhancing, cultivating fruit, giving gifts, surprising, blessing, and being just like Jesus in us and with us and through us.

Without both of these my Christian faith is simply a set of rules and guidelines and principles for living (and failing). But with them it is a vibrant, living relationship with God Almighty: by no means a relationship of equals but, as I have said, God’s grace is sufficient for me – and you. Even for the little things as well as the big ones.

Perhaps especially so.

Be blessed, be a blessing

joy

laughing lady
Not a SWEG!

I can remember one of my Ministers when I was a teenager joking about Christians who have a SWEG: slimy, wet, evangelical grin. He was commenting on the superficial artificial saccharine smile that we share with one another to convey that we have everything under control and that we love Jesus.

I wonder if the root cause of SWEGs can be found in one of the fruits of the Spirit – joy. We sell God short if we reduce that to ‘feeling happy’. In our ‘instant gratification’ culture we find that happiness is something to pursue (especially if you are American). But the reason it needs to be pursued is that it is elusive, it is transitory, it is like sand that you can hold in your hand but will run through your fingers so that you need to scoop it up again.

Joy is not happiness. Don’t get me wrong, you can be joyful when you are happy. And Christians can be happy (honestly!) But you can also be joyful when you are sad. Joy is not primarily about our emotional state: it is about our spiritual state. We are joyful because of Jesus. If you read the Gospels you find that many times people who met him left rejoicing.  It is the natural response to an encounter with him. His death and resurrection are the cause of astonishing joy. He is the source of our joy because of who he is and what he has said and done.

God’s Spirit grows this fruit as he reminds us of Jesus and all that he has done for us. Spiritual joy is perhaps best described as a state of awareness of Jesus. It is a recognition that no matter what life can throw at us it cannot take Jesus from us, nor can it take us from him. It is a recognition that he is at work in us by his Spirit. That is why the early Christians were able to rejoice when they were persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Our joy does not depend on transitory circumstances it is based on the absolute certainty of our faith.

Be blessed, be a blessing

A mangy looking guy walks into a very classy restaurant and orders a steak. The waitress says: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can pay for your meal.”

The guy admits, “You’re right. I don’t have any money, but if I show you something you haven’t seen before, will you give me my supper?”

The waitress, both curious and compassionate, says, “Only if what you show me isn’t risque.”

“Deal!” says the guy and reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a hamster. He puts the hamster on the ground and it runs across the room, directly to a piano. The hamster then proceeds to climb up the piano, and starts playing Gershwin songs.

The waitress says, “You’re right. I’ve never seen anything like that before. That hamster is truly good on the piano.” The guy sits back and enjoys a fine steak supper with all the trimmings.

Shortly thereafter, he asks the waitress, “Can I have a piece of that fine blueberry pie I see on the dessert cart over there?”

“Only if you got another miracle up your sleeve”, says the waitress. The guy reaches into his coat again and pulls out a frog. He puts the frog on the table, and the frog starts to sing up a storm!

A stranger from a nearby table runs over to the guy and offers him $300 for the frog. The guy says “It’s a deal.” He takes the three hundred and gives the stranger the frog. The stranger runs out of the restaurant with dollar signs in his eyes and a big smile on his face.

The waitress says to the guy “Are you some kind of nut? You sold a singing frog for $300? It must have been worth millions!”

“No”, says the guy. “The hamster is also a ventriloquist.”

middle of the road

This week I am preparing some sessions for a Church day away on Saturday. We will be looking at the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), so that is in my mind at the moment.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We are told that we should consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet. Spiritually speaking we cannot bear the 9 different sorts of fruit unless we have consumed that too. We cannot give what we have not received.

[mixed metaphor alert]

middle of the roadThere is an old joke about a man who was speeding at 100mph down the middle of the road. When stopped by the police he said that he was simply obeying what it said on his driving licence: “tear along the dotted line.”

The joke may be corny, but the middle of the road is sometimes the best place to be. Sometimes I have swerved to one side of the road and driven into the ditch: speaking of these as a set of self-improvement targets: attributes to work hard at. At other times, in order to avoid that ditch I have swerved too far off the other side of the road and suggested that as this is God’s work we can’t do anything to cultivate them. But while both are true, the right course is down the middle between them.

We need to pay our part in the process, but it is God’s Spirit at work in us who bears the fruit. We can no more force ourselves to be more loving than a gardener can force a plant to bear fruit. But (like a gardener) we can make sure that we are ready to bear fruit, we can tend the soil, we can ask God to change us, especially where we are particularly deficient.

A couple of verses further on Paul urges us to ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’ We tend the soil by our intention to walk closely with God, to live by his rhythm, consciously to align ourselves with him, prayerfully to listen to him and follow closely. Keeping in step means that we are in close contact, our lives are prayerful, our Bibles are well-worn, we see all that we do as an act of worship to Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

fruitful gifts

Dear bloggists

I hope that you did not feel too short-changed by yesterday’s bloggage. I could not resist being a bit cheeky and hope that it might have at least caused the corners of your mouth to curve upwards slightly. Today I am getting a bit more serious…

"I want yours!"
“I want yours!”

A while ago I wrote a poem about prayer-envy (it’s the prayer pome if you scroll down on that page). I could have written a similar one about preaching envy, pastoring envy, memory envy and so on… There are so many people whose gifts as Ministers are so much better than mine. I am not saying this out of false humility (my family will tell you that!). I am not saying this because I actually have the envy I have hinted at above. And I am not saying this because I am have issues around self-esteem. I am saying it because it is true: there are many Ministers who are better at these things than I am.

But while I may not be as good as them, God has still called me, equipped me and wants me to get on with being the best I can be as his Spirit encourages, trains, supports, inspires and transforms me. He has given me the array of gifts he has given me in order to fulfil the task to which he has called me: and he wants to help me to make the most of them. He wants me to learn, to grow, to improve, to emulate what I see of Jesus in others and his Spirit is at work in me to help that happen.

And that’s where the rubber hits the road. I should not try to be the other Ministers, I should not try to do things in the same way that they do them. But if I see something Christ-like in them I should ask for God’s help to be like that. It’s not about emulating behaviour, but about character-transformation.

Sometimes it seems to me that we make an unnatural division between spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts. God gives all of us gifts and talents. But believe it or not we can use them in ways that are ungodly – in ways that are unlike Jesus. He wants us to use them lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, revealing his goodness, faithfully, gently and with godly self-control. God’s spiritual gifts and fruit are intrinsically linked. If I can do that more and more I will be happy, content and relaxed.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The heart of the matter

I’ve been contemplating the recent decision by the Church of England General Synod. Personally, I was saddened and disappointed that they were unable to agree to have women as bishops. Part of me wants to throw my hands up in the air and sound exasperated.

But I keep seeing a man writing in dirt and asking those without discrimination to cast the first stone.

It is true that our denomination has ordained women for much longer than the Church of England, and we have women in National / Regional positions that are the closest equivalent we have to Bishops. But there are still far more men than women who are ordained Ministers in our denomination. And there are still churches that will not consider calling a woman to be their Minister, albeit on theological grounds (with which I disagree).

It’s interesting to see the reaction of the non church sector of society. The media has portrayed this as the Church* being out of touch with society, but I reckon that there is a bloke writing in the dirt of our culture asking those who are without discrimination to cast the first stone. The problem is that society is out of touch with God. Human beings have allowed (or deliberately introduced) discrimination to tarnish and taint all aspects of our lives. When we see differences of any sort between ourselves and others and allow them to influence us we are out of touch with God. He is the one who created human beings, male and female.

Our society is riven with discrimination. If you doubt me, look at the profile of the highest earners in our country. How many are women? How many are of non-white ethnic origin? How do the proportions relate to the actual proportions in the country as a whole?

How many Director Generals of the BBC have not been white men? How many editors and journalists are not white men? How come women earn less than men for the same jobs? What proportion of MPs and Lords at Parliament are not white men?

There may be “Yes, but…” answers to these questions, but they are indicative of the reality at the heart of our society, that human beings are selfish at heart and those who have power will not easily surrender it. In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act became law. Yet while there has been progress, I do not think a change in the law can change society. Laws will be necessary, but they work best when they reflect society rather than trying to shape society.

So what can we do?

We need to recognise that while culture and society seem to have a life of their own, in fact they are the products of a collection of individual human beings. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Each of us needs to do some soul-searching and be honest with ourselves. We are all subject to selfish bias. We all look out for ourselves first and foremost, and I think we allow prejudice to self-justify that (consciously or sub-consciously).

The antidote is godly selflessness motivated by godly love. When we are able to see all people as those who are loved by God, all people as those for whom Jesus made the ultimate selfless sacrifice, it is more difficult to elevate ourselves at the cost of others, or to suppress or oppress others because we consider them to be less than us. God does not discriminate. He does not even reject those who reject him, rather he respects our free will so much that reluctantly he accepts the decision of those who don’t want anything to do with him: yet he will always welcome them with open arms if they change their mind.

And while we may be able to do some things about this ourselves, actually we need God’s Spirit within us to change us, to make us more godly, more selfless, more loving, more like Jesus. We need him to bear more fruit within us. And I’m afraid that until more people in our society acknowledge their need of him, we will not eradicate the evil of discrimination from our society.

But surely those who are followers of Jesus can set an example? It can start with me and you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Once again the media have carelessly talked about ‘the church’ in their reporting, lumping all churches under the umbrella of the Church of England.

good customer service(s)

Yesterday evening as I was driving our car gently down Colchester High Street towards church we heard a loud ‘thump’ from the rear of the car. It sounded like I had driven over something, but there was nothing in the mirrors. As I drove on there was a knocking sound from the back of the car that had not been there before. Cue worried face. Having only recently bought the car I was worried that something serious (and expensive) had gone wrong, and that I would be without the car for several important activities this week.

The knocking was only occasional, when I went over bumps (even gently) but it was not going away. So last night I went online and searched for answers about what it could be. There were several discussion forums in which that problem was described and all the solutions sounded very expensive and quite serious.

This morning as I was driving (gently) to go to take some school assemblies I had a brainwave. I remembered that Sally’s car had had a similar knocking noise a while ago and it had been one of the rubber mounts that hold the exhaust onto the car which had perished. I took the car to our local, friendly, trustworthy garage and asked the nice man there whether he could have a look.

There was no sucking of air through his teeth, no checking of worksheets and calling, “Dave, when could we fit this in?” The nice man simply took the keys and said he would have a look.

A few minutes later he was back, confirming my diagnosis and saying that as it was a quick job they could do it then and there. There are some video cameras in the waiting room, showing the workshop, and I noticed the nice man hop onto a bicycle and disappear out of shot, only to return a few minutes later. He had cycled around to the spares shop to get the part!

Just a few minutes later and the car was finished. The labour cost was very cheap and the part even cheaper. Excellent. I left as a happy customer.

I don’t do commercial endorsements on the blog but if you live in the Colchester area and want to know of a reliable garage with great customer service, let me know.

So, wouldn’t it be brilliant if people came away from our churches with that same feeling? I had a chat with someone at our church yesterday who had come for the first time and complained that the service was too interesting and not at all like the boring stereotype that had kept him away before. I think that was a backhanded compliment!

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if people came away from encounters with us at work, leisure, home or wherever they meet us and have the same feeling: having been blessed by a free sample of Jesus?

How do we do that? It’s not something we can generate ourselves. We need to ask, allow and assist God’s Spirit to bear his fruit in our lives and in our churches. How’s that for a church growth strategy: being a church of people who are bearing spiritual fruit.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control. Who wouldn’t be attracted by people who are like that? This is not a charter for niceness. It’s a mandate for mission – being free samples of the One in whom and on whom and through whom this spiritual fruit grew and grows in abundance.

Yes please God.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A 4-year-old boy was asked to say a prayer of thanks before Christmas dinner. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mummy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food. He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the Yorkshire Pudding, even the gravy.

Then he paused, and everyone waited–and waited. After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, “If I thank God for the brussels sprouts won’t he know that I’m lying?”