x = 10 10 10

Image result for thinker

Rene Descartes is thought to have nailed it when he said, “Je pense, donc je suis.” Or, in Latin: “Cogito ergo sum.” In English we translate it as: “I think, therefore I am.”

It’s really clever. I can prove I exist because I have consciousness and because I have consciousness I am able to prove I exist. It’s almost a circular argument along the lines of whether the chicken or the egg existed first, but the genius of Descartes is that he enables us to enter that circle by the way he phrased the statement.

There have been later developments of this…

“I’m pink, therefore I’m spam.”

“I stink, therefore I scram.”

“I drink, therefore a dram.”

“I sink, therefore I swam.”

(You may suspect that some of these are not so much ‘later developments’ as ‘hot off the press poor quality puns’, and you’d be right).

But while Monsieur Descartes’ ability to prove existence is quite incroyable it does seem a little bit, erm, limiting if all we do is exist. I wonder whether beyond ‘I think, therefore I am’ we ought to consider something like: “I love, therefore I live.”

Existence is all very well, but it’s a bit lonely on our own. To be in relationship with others is far more exhilarating and the pinnacle of a relationship is to love and be loved. Not a mushy romantic love; nor a passionate sexual love; not even a familial kinship love. But he sort of self-giving love that wants the best for others and is not based on feelings that can change or on what the other person has done for us but on an a sense of the innate value of others. In loving that way we become truly alive.

And because love does not exist without someone to love it demands relationships so we go beyond existence on our own and find community, fellowship, friendship, companionship, belonging and the joy of being known.

If that sounds good, then don’t be surprised because it’s what Jesus was saying nearly 2000 years ago! It’s the way that God loves us and enables us to love others. It’s the way to experience life in all its fullness. It’s what is described in 1 Corinthians 13.

The art is to put it into practice.

Be blessed, be a blessing

By the way, if you don’t understand the title, x is tens… existence

the danger of ducks

ducks 2Have you heard the phrase ‘getting all your ducks in a row’? (That’s row as in line, not row as in moving a boat with oars, or row as in having an argument). I am not entirely sure what the origin is of the phrase… perhaps it refers to the way in which ducklings seem to follow their mother in a line, or perhaps it’s something to do with the image above. The phrase refers to the need to be organised and schedule things in the right order so that you can achieve a task. Why that conjours up and image of ducks I don’t know.

But I have been trying for a while to get all my ducks in a row. You may have read previously bloggages I have written about needing to get things organised around moving house and the work that needs to take place here in order to provide an office downstairs. But it’s not just in big things that the anatidae need to be lined up in order. We need to achieve this task every day: you get out of bed before you wash; you put breakfast cereal into a bowl before adding milk (bowls are rather essential unless you eat directly out of the packet!); you put your socks on before your shoes… and so on. For the most part we do it automatically, without thinking.

Ducks can be dangerous once in a line because we can forget about them.

And it’s quite easy to do that with following Jesus: it becomes part of our routine – automatic. And in one way that is good. Following Jesus should be a natural part of life, we should be getting our spiritual ducks in a line. But if we do it without thinking we are in danger of losing some of the significance of what we are doing and why we are doing it. And we are in danger of taking it for granted and forgetting the astonishing truths about being a follower of Jesus – who he is, what he has done, that he calls us ‘friends’ and ‘siblings’, that we are able to pray ‘in his name’, that we can live life in Technicolor (R) rather than monochrome, that we need no longer fear death, that he is with us by his Spirit 24:7 and is with us even in the darkest valley… and so on. If we follow Jesus without thinking we are in danger of missing out on special moments when we read the Bible and pray and encounter him.

If we follow Jesus without thinking we are in danger of becoming fans rather than followers. And that’s a step on a journey that distances us from him.

Try to be conscious about your faith. Yes it should be natural, but give yourself some markers in the day to remind you that you are a follower of Jesus. For example, I try to use looking in the mirror when I am washing as a marker to remind me that I may need to ask him (and others) for forgiveness; I have daily emails that arrive from WordLive that share Bible passages and thoughts…

Don’t take your faith for granted. It’s far too important and amazing for that.

Be blessed, be a blessing

10 second sermons? you’re having a laugh!

Regular bloggists among you will know that I like a good joke. Actually, regular bloggists among you will be questioning what I consider to be a ‘good’ joke, but be like Paddington and the Brown family and bear with me here (what do you mean that’s not a good joke?).

I recently bought a copy of Milton Jones‘s Even More Concise 10 Second Sermons, the aptly-named sequel to 10 Second Sermons. These books contain very brief and yet very pithy (and often funny) observations by Milton Jones on life and faith. Let me give you a couple of examples to whet your appetite (I am not on commission but the books are available to be ordered from local bookshops or online retailers – published by DLT):

A lot of organised religion seems like a man who was told that the only thing he could give God could be found in a mirror. So he went off and made God a hugely elaborate ornamental mirror.

Praying seems to be like trying to undo a knot. You never know quite what’s going to work, it’s just important to keep going. (Also, best check what you’re trying to undo isn’t holding up something else important.)

‘Upholding Christian values’ can be a way of insulating myself from the world, which is the ultimate un-Christian value.

Brilliant, aren’t they? You could ponder each one for ages and there would still be more to reflect on.

How about these:

Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.’

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

It seems Jesus was rather good at the pithy, humorous observational comedy too. (If you’re not sure about the humour try pushing a camel through the eye of a needle, enjoy the slapstick of the second observations and think about a blind guide. And the final observation is perhaps the earliest occurrence of ‘waiter, there’s a fly in my soup’ with the kicker that you missed the camel!

Humour can be a very effective way of communicating truth because it disarms and then comes at you from an unexpected direction to make you laugh (the reflex action) and then, maybe, reflect.

Which one of the six sayings above has God spoken to you through today?

Be blessed, be a blessing

beware the thoughts that sneak up on you…

Tonight at our church we are holding our monthly prayer meeting. If you are a regular bloggite here you will know that we have been exploring different aspects of prayer in our morning services at the moment. I have been trying to encourage people to pray together (see last Sunday morning’s sermon – or rather listen to it: ‘Teach us to pray together’) and invited people to come along tonight.

As I have started to think, pray and prepare for this evening’s meeting I have felt a certain amount of pressure to make it a good one, given that I have particularly invited people to come along. I have tried to think of innovative and helpful ways in which we can pray together. I have tried to remember what has been helpful in the past. I have considered the different resources on my shelves. I was even tempted to google* ‘brilliant prayer meetings’. But before I ran away with myself, a subtly subversive thought landed gently in my mind. It floated gossamer-like into my consciousness. It shimmered delicately towards me, smiling benignly and benevolently.

And then it smacked me around the head with a piece of 4 by 2! (Yes, that’s why there’s a picture of a plank)

I don’t need to come up with innovative ideas or the prayer meeting. I don’t need to offer an amazing experience. I don’t need to bing** ‘brilliant prayer meetings’. As I have been saying for the past couple of months, prayer is a privilege. It’s a conversation between us and God. Yes, GOD! The ALMIGHTY! KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS FOREVER AND EVER HALLELUJAH HALLELUJAH

If that is not enough of an incentive, what else could be? There’s nothing I could do or say that would be able to improve on that reality! Of course, being the holy and spiritual person that I am this reality took a while to dawn on me…

I have still prepared for the meeting tonight. But it will be less about the gimmicks and more about God. The God who came into the world to be with us in Jesus. The God who is with us and in us and around us and before us and after us and…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Prayer-related joke that opened last Sunday morning’s sermon…

Johnny had been misbehaving and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then said a prayer.

“That’s good”, said the pleased mother. “If you ask God to help you not misbehave, He will help you.”

“Oh, I didn’t ask Him to help me not misbehave,” said Johnny. “I asked Him to help you put up with me.”

*other search engines are available

**other search engines are available! ‘Binging’ doesn’t seem to work as well as ‘googling’ as a word, does it?

Deep Thought

On Tuesday night we held the first of a new gathering at our church under the general title of ‘Deep Thought’. The name comes from the computer in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Deep Thought) that was built to come up with the answer to “life, the universe and everything.” Our new gathering is a safe space in which we can ask the big questions of life, the universe and everything.

We have a couple of ground rules: there are no daft questions and we must respect everyone’s perspective and understanding that they bring to the group, even if we disagree with them. On the first evening it felt that everyone kept to the ground rules, even when opposing, deeply-held, convictions were expressed.

We decided to start with the easy questions first so looked at evil and suffering. We went off on interesting tangents at times (which was fine so long as we did not go too far away) and explored some deep thoughts. The general response from those at the gathering was that it was good to do and we will do it again (once the Christmas rush is over).

I am very happy with the way the gathering went. I am also very happy with the premise of the group – that we can ask deep questions of God without offending him. It’s not that he does not mind us asking this big questions, expressing doubts, admitting that we don’t know all the answers (or even all the questions), and having differing opinions about some of the answers to some of the questions. I think he actively encourages it. Why else would he make himself known to us humans? Why else would he become incarnate and live among us? Why else would he provide us with the ability to ask ‘why’?

I believe that, far from undermining my faith in God, asking big questions of him and our experience of life can help to strengthen it. I can reason, discuss, debate (in the correct sense of the word, not argue), discern, discover and explore God and his world and the more I do so the more I experience of him, and the more I realise I don’t know or understand. The more I know, the more I realise I know less than I thought I did and the less I know the greater my appreciation of the One who made, sustains and is involved in life. [Sir Humphrey Appleby is alive and well!]

In the words of the desperate father who brought his sick son to Jesus: “I do believe. Help my unbelief.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

A college student was in a philosophy class, where there was a class discussion about whether or not God exists, The professor had the following logic:

“Has anyone in this class heard God?” Nobody spoke.

“Has anyone in this class touched God?” Again, nobody spoke.

“Has anyone in this class seen God?” When nobody spoke for the third time, he simply stated, “Then there is no God.”

The student did not like the sound of this at all, and asked for permission to speak. The professor granted it, and the student stood up and asked the following questions of his classmates:

“Has anyone in this class heard our professor’s brain?” Silence.

“Has anyone in this class touched our professor’s brain?” Absolute silence.

“Has anyone in this class seen our professor’s brain?” When nobody in the class dared to speak, the student concluded, “Then, according to our professor’s logic, it must be true that our professor has no brain!”

The student received an “A” in the class.

Swiss Army Ministers

I am still processing a lot of the ideas, information and inspiration that I received from the conference this week. (Did you notice the alliteration? I am a Baptist minister who trained at Spurgeon’s College!).

[brings thought process back to the matter in hand] Ahem.

When I trained at Spurgeon’s College (note joined up link) I was trained as a Swiss Army Minister. That is a Minister who is able and expected to fulfil all the roles needed for being a Minister in a church. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Most churches need their Ministers to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master of at least one.

But I was struck at the conference by the thought that Paul’s five-fold description of ministry in Ephesians 4 from verse 11…

It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,    12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

… is Swiss Army Ministry in many churches. The Minister is expected to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. This places an incredible burden and responsibility on her or him, and indeed probably places unrealistic expectations on her or him. Paul was speaking of different people being called to those roles, not ONE person fulfilling all those roles. Yes, there will be aspects of all of the roles that will be fulfilled by a Minister, but can we really be omnicompetent? I know I am not (even if I sometimes delude myself that I am or start to believe my ego).

In churches of any size that is difficult to do. In larger churches it is impossible for one person to fulfil all of those roles adequately. This is why larger churches need teams of people that complement each other (and hopefully compliment each other too). This is why churches that are not larger need to make sure that the roles are being fulfilled by different people within the church and not expect their Minister to do them all.

I can remember at Spurgeon’s College being asked what my personal mission statement is. I said that it was to do myself out of a job. My naive ambition was so to equip my church that they did not need me any more! As I look back on 17 years of being a Minister I realise that more often than not I have tried to be a Swiss Army Minister and in the attempt or in the projection of being such a person I can disable others from fulfilling their Ministry.

I am in the process of trying to explore the five-fold ministry and consider which of them is my primary gift. That is NOT to say that the others are less important. What it does mean is that I need to work harder on the others to ensure that other people are released, encouraged and trained to use theirs so that instead of a Swiss Army Minister we have a whole toolkit of ministers (aka the Church).

And let’s never forget the purpose of ministry – “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

So what are you?

Corporal Jones was assigned to the military induction center, where he advised new recruits about their government benefits, especially their insurance.

It wasn’t long before Captain Smith noticed that Corporal Jones had almost a 100% record for insurance sales, which had never happened before. Rather than ask about this, the Captain stood in the back of the room and listened to Jones’s sales pitch.

Jones explained the basics of the Insurance to the new recruits, and then said: “If you have Insurance and go into battle and are killed, the government has to pay £200,000 to your beneficiaries. If you don’t have insurance, and you go into battle and get killed, the government only has to pay a maximum of £6000.”

“Now,” he concluded, “which bunch do you think they are going to send into battle first?”

thinking outside the blue sky

Yesterday I attended a roadshow that was telling us about the forthcoming changes to Baptist Ministers’ pensions. It was well-presented and clearly explained, and I was impressed with the depth of knowledge of those who were sharing this with us. I think the changes are needed, prudent and wise. I won’t attempt to try to explain in detail what is happening, suffice to say that there is a £60million black hole in the existing pension scheme that means it is unsustainable in its current form.


That’s a big black hole.

We’d need to win the Euromillions Lottery on a mega rollover week in order to fill the hole. Now there’s an idea. Why not use the existing fund to buy tickets that cover every possible permutation, then we would guarantee winning the top prize and fill the hole. Except that there’s no guarantee we would be the only winners. And it’s supporting the lottery, which is not something that we would want to do as an organisation.

But it’s thinking outside the box. It’s blue sky thinking. It’s looking in unlikely places for the answers.Box

By the way, where is this box: outside of which thinking is to be encouraged? Can we only come up with good ideas on cloudless days? That precludes us from thinking much in the summer in this country…[Thinks for a moment. Lightbulb goes on] aaaha! That’s why we all go on holiday in the summer: our brains are less imaginative because the sky is overcast or it is raining!

At our last Deacons’ Meeting we were challenged by these verses:

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3, NIV)

The question was asked, “What can you imagine?” And the rejoinder was offered: “God can do immeasurably more than that!” One person said that they could imagine that the church would be full on Sundays within a year. With what I can only attribute to his grace laced with his sense of humour, last Sunday God filled the place as we were visited by over 30 students from the University who are looking at different churches around Colchester! But if that verse is true, why couldn’t God do that?

I was challenged to consider whether sometimes I am thinking in a dark corner of a small box on a rainy day when it comes to what I hope and imagine God will do. I have not heard a promise from him that he will fill the church within a year, but I have heard promises of his faithful presence, his power and encouragement, his joy and his peace, his strength and his compassion. If we are all free samples of that to the world God may yet fill the church – and every other church!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Three clergymen split on a lottery ticket and they won the grand prize of a million pounds. The first one, an Anglican Vicar says “this is a blessing, but how much do we keep for ourselves and how much should we give to God”?

After a few minutes he said “I know we’ll draw a circle and throw the money up in the air,whatever lands out of the circle we’ll keep and whatever lands in the circle we’ll give to God.”

The Catholic Priest pipes up and says, “You know it’s a little windy, I think we should throw the money up in the air and whatever lands inside the circle we keep and whatever lands outside of the circle we give to God.”

They then turn to the Baptist Minister and ask his opinion, and the minister thinks for a moment and says: “I think we should throw the money up in the air and and whatever God wants he can keep and his generosity he will allow the rest to fall to the ground for us.”