the saga of the mouth scaffolding continued

not my mouth

Yesterday evening I was frustrated. You may be aware (if you read my previous bloggage) that I currently have scaffolding on my teeth (aka mouth braces) in an attempt to relocate my teeth to where God intended them to be. And it imposes limitations on me that I dislike (sometimes intensely).

One of the things about which I have to be cautious is what I eat. For example, I need to avoid hard, crunchy foods: “nothing harder than a pretzel.” That is difficult because pretzel hardness varies between types of pretzel. It’s not a universal constant and therefore is not an ideal benchmark against which to measure hardness of food. But I understand the point.

The wires on the braces are held to the mounting points by strong latex ‘elastic bands’ and I have to be careful because certain foods can stain the bands so that they are almost fluorescent. Chief culprit is Indian food, especially if it contains turmeric. My dentist advised me to abstain from curry until the night before I see her because of the staining effect, and since she changes over the latex elastics each time I see her I only have the glow in the dark mouth scaffolding for one night.

Today I am not scheduled to see the dentist. Last night I was performing some magic with a message for a men’s group that was meeting in a curry house. The curry smells made me salivate. The starters on the table looked so tempting. The menu was full of food I enjoy eating. But I resisted and instead had an omelette and chips. It was dispiriting to be eating a (nice) omelette and chips while my table companions were tucking into the food I really wanted to eat.

It reminded me again of the need for discipline (see the preceding bloggage), and the need to realise that a brief moment of enjoyment may have longer term consequences. I was aware of how easy it is to be tempted: starting with a poppadom and some mango chutney would be okay. And probably a small kebab as a starter wouldn’t hurt. And then the Bombay Potato alongside a kebab would taste nice. And if I have gone that far I might as well order a naan bread, and some rice, and I might as well have a curry because I have probably already stained the elastics so why not indulge myself.

Being disciplined at the start makes it easier not to give in to temptation later – personal resistance seems to diminish the further you slide down the slippery slope.

One of the things I am trying to do is not only listen for Wisdom’s voice but respond to it.

  • Staying up late to finish watching a film may seem harmless, but Wisdom suggests that rest of the film could be recorded and that we would benefit from a good night’s sleep which means that the next day we will be fresher and healthier. And Wisdom also gently reminds us of how grumpy we are when we are tired and how that will affect other people.
  • Having that extra doughnut may seem really attractive because we really like doughnuts, but Wisdom suggests that the doughnut looks better on the plate than it does on the hips, that we have already eaten enough and that a balanced diet is not a doughnut in each hand. And Wisdom also gently reminds us that someone else might enjoy that doughnut.
  • Running with your basket in hand to the till that is just opening at the supermarket so you can nip in front of the lady with her fractious child in the trolley and a big load of shopping may not seem that harmless. But Wisdom asks us whether we are really in that much of a hurry and to think about how upset the child already is. Wisdom gently suggests that by allowing her to go first the Mum can deal with her upset child sooner.
  • The other driver may have driven thoughtlessly and caused us to brake suddenly. They may need to be taught a lesson. But Wisdom whispers to remind us that we all make mistakes, that nobody was hurt and that the other driver may be really embarrassed by what they have done. Wisdom gently suggests that by giving them a bit more room rather than driving on their bumper flashing our lights we are increasing the amount of goodwill on the roads and that can only be a good thing.

These may seem trivial examples, but I believe that Wisdom (or God’s Spirit) speaks to us all the time, and it’s up to us whether or not we listen and how we respond. It’s easy for us to get caught up in a moment and ignore Wisdom’s voice. One of the ways in which we translate a word used for the Holy Spirit in the Bible is ‘counsellor’. Not as in ‘therapist’ but as in ‘adviser’ or’wise guide’. If Wisdom is God’s Spirit why would we ignore him?

Be blessed, be a blessing

dew see the webs?

little webs

As I looked out of our kitchen window this morning I noticed lots of tiny cobwebs on the lawn, made visible by the dew that had settled on them overnight. I have not seen so many before. The photos here only show one in relative close up and a few clustered together, but there are lots of them all over the lawn. There are some very busy little spiders in our garden. 

close upBut I don’t think they will be catching many flies today. Not because I am mean and am going to cut the grass, but because the flies will be able to see where the webs are. Usually the fibres are gossamer thin and you only know they are there when you land on them (if you are a fly) or walk into them and get a face full. Today the flies know all about the webs and won’t be going anywhere near them.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if the temptations and ‘traps’ we fall into were clearly marked? Wouldn’t it be so much better for us if they had flashing neon signs attached (the equivalent of dew on a web?) saying “warning!” That way we would not fall into them.

Except that God has provided us with a warning system. It’s called a conscience. And his Spirit sounds that alarm when we are in danger of falling into a temptation trap. That’s how he answers the prayer ‘lead us not into temptation…’ Our problem is not that there is no dew on the web (or neon sign) so much as that we sometimes are not paying attention to God or listening to our conscience, and sometimes we just simply want to be disobedient.

Unlike when a fly lands in a web, however, there are no traps, temptations or messes that God can’t retrieve us from if we turn back to him. He’s so gracious that his response isn’t “I warned you didn’t I?” – it’s “welcome back, let’s make a fresh start.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

PS sorry about the pun in the title!


lessons for dummies

In my study I have a dummy. Some of you may have suspected that for a long time! Actually I think the technical name is a mannequin. I bought it in order to be able to photograph it in different poses and use them as photographs to accompany words on PowerPoint slides that I use alongside my sermons. If you look at the picture on the left perhaps you will since the emotion that I was trying to convey: sadness (I guess it could also be sorrow or counting up to 10 in hide and seek).

The observant among you will have noticed that in the background of the picture is a little bit of a finger. Don’t panic, it was still attached to the rest of my hand. The problem is that my mannequin was fairly cheap and whilst he is relatively poseable, he is also a little bit more springy than some of his more expensive relatives, which means he does not always stay in the pose in which I have put him. Sometimes he needs a helping hand (literally) and I have to carry out some contortions to take the photograph whilst holding the mannequin in position.

I guess the parallels for the Christian life are relatively obvious here. We don’t always stay how God would like us to be and perhaps our inherent bias selfishness means that we won’t always do what God wants. I find Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 7 both comforting and challenging:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good as it is, it is no longer I myself do it, but it is sin living in me… For I have the desire to do what is good, that I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I to do it, but it is sin living in me that does it… what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I guess all of us can identify with Paul and his struggle with sin. Like my mannequin we don’t always remain as we would like, never mind as God would like. We are always subject to temptation and, sadly, we sometimes give in. Even despite our best intentions we don’t always get it right. Paul tells us that this is because we are not yet perfect: sin still influences our lives.

The good news is in the last sentence. Like my mannequin receives a helping hand from me, God delivers us through Jesus. He gives us his Spirit to help us and he will always offer us a way out of tempting circumstances. Whilst there may be occasions when we spring back from the God wants us, is gracious and patient and will forgive and restore us if we come back to him. Two of the most incredible words in the world are ‘grace’ and ‘love’. We see them embodied in Jesus and people can see them embodied in us too when they see us experience that and demonstrate it as free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

No direct link in the following joke, I just like it!

God created the donkey and told him: “You will work tireless from sun up to sun down, carrying heavy bags on your back, you’ll eat grass, you will not have intelligence and you will live 50 years. You will be a DONKEY!”

The donkey answered: “I’ll be a donkey, but living 50 years is too much, give me only 20 years.”

And God gave him 20 years.

God created the dog and told him: “You will look after the man’s house, you will be his best friend, you will eat whatever they give you and you will live 25 years. You will be a DOG!”

The dog answered: “God, living 25 years is too much, give only 10.”

God gave him 10 years.

God created the monkey and told him: “You will jump from branch to branch, you will do silly things, you will be amusing and you will live 20 years.”

The monkey answered: “God, living 20 years is too much, give me only 10 years.”

And God agreed.

Finally, God created man, and told him: “You will be Man, the only rational being on this earth, you will use your intelligence to control other animals, you will dominate the world and you will live for 20 years.”

The man answered: “God, I’ll be man, but living 20 years is not enough, why don’t you give me the 30 years that the donkey refused, the 20 years that the dog did not want and the 10 years that the monkey refused?”

That was what God did, and since then, men live 20 years like a human, then he enters adulthood and spends 30 years like a donkey, working and carrying the load on his back, then when his children leave home, spends 15 years like a dog, looking after the house and eating whatever is given to him, then he gets into retirement, and spends 10 years like a monkey, jumping from house to house or from children to children, doing silly things to amuse the grandchildren.

lead us not into temptation

Don’t you just love computers? I imagine that by virtue of the fact that you are reading this you are at least computer competent, if not proficient. Perhaps you see your computer as a useful piece of equipment to help you in you life / work, or maybe you are a technophile and are fascinated and thrilled by what it can do and what you could do with it next.

But they are also a real pain when they go wrong. We had a recent virus / spyware scare on our home computer and the thought that someone else may be able to access our data was frightening. I realised just how reliant we have become on the machine and how vulnerable we are to those who want to do nasty things to it or use it to do nasty things to our bank accounts.

I am aware too just how vulnerable I am to nasty influences in my own life. In our morning services at the moment we are exploring the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). As wonderful and inspiring it is to know that God is changing us in that way, it is also sobering to think of the alternatives, which Paul lists in the preceding verses.

When I hear (thankfully occasional) stories of colleagues in the Ministry who have been removed because of conduct unbecoming to the office of Minister I shudder. Not just because of the impact of their conduct on the lives of their family, those with whom the unbecoming conduct took place, the church, and those whose impression of God is adversely affected by hearing the news. But because I think “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

All of us are vulnerable to temptation. Jesus was tempted so it is incredibly presumptuous and naive to imagine that we will not be. All of us have areas of our lives in which we are more vulnerable than others. We need to be vigilant and have accountable relationships with others who will help us avoid giving into temptation. But the ‘grace of God’ in the thought above is also crucial. It is he who has saved me. It is he who is changing me by his Spirit. It is he who will help me avoid temptation more than anyone or anything else.

When temptation comes my way I sense an inner warning. It’s not an alarm bell, flashing lights or a voice, but  I would describe it as a pause in my life in which God’s Spirit gives me a moment to consider what is happening. At that moment I have a choice about what to do next. Ignore God or listen to him? That is part of his grace at work in my life – he helps me make conscious decisions rather than stumble ahead blindly. Paul invites his readers to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (follow closely in his footsteps) and I am aware that it is when I am in step that I find it easiest to pay attention to the pause and to respond as God would want me to and exhibit some more evidence that he is bearing fruit within me.

What temptations? Well, I think that they begin with attitudes rather than behaviour and while none of it would class as ‘conduct unbecoming’ of a Minister it is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus. And it is usually the temptation to act in a way that denies that God’s Spirit is bearing fruit in my life. The temptations are to be… unloving, joyless, angry, impatient, unkind, ‘ungood’, faithless, abrasive and lose control of myself.

Please God help me choose your way every time.

A small town prosecuting lawyer called his first witness to the stand in a trial – a grandmotherly, elderly woman. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?”

She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a rising big shot when you haven’t the brains to realise you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Williams, do you know the defence lawyer?”

She again replied, “Why, yes I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. I used to baby-sit him for his parents. And he, too, has been a real disappointment to me. He’s lazy, bigoted, he has a drinking problem. The man can’t build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the shoddiest in the entire state. Yes, I know him.”

At this point, the judge called the courtroom to order and called both lawyers to the bench. In a very quiet voice, he said with menace, “If either of you asks her if she knows me, you’ll be in jail for contempt within 5 minutes!”