>Lift high the cross

>Interesting experience this morning. After our Good Friday Reflection we joined other churches in the town of the Walk of Witness. (I had suggested that if it rained it would be a Walk of Wetness but thankfully the rain held off).

When we got there we looked around and while there was a growing crowd and a Salvation Army Band ready to lead us, nobody had brought a large cross. In the past there has been a substantial cross that has been a part of the WoW but it seems that everyone thought someone else was bringing it (or most likely did not think about it at all, like me). One advantage of being a town centre church is that our building is in the town centre (bear with me) which meant I was able to leg it back to the church and collect our 6 foot (2 metre) cross. The WoW had already started so I joined it with the cross half way down the High Street. I don’t know if I imagined it but it seemed to me that the following crowd gave a small cheer when the cross arrived.

What a contrast to the first Good Friday Walk of Witness when Jesus staggered under the weight of his own execution scaffold and it was given to Simon of Cyrene to carry for him. The following crowd of mourners did not cheer the cross but wailed at what was happening (Luke 23:27).

I have found it helpful this year to follow the events from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday through the week. Right now we are in that state of limbo between Jesus’ death and resurrection. At the end of our Reflection this morning I did not pronounce a blessing or say that we had finished. I left it hanging. Someone commented that they did not know what to do. It was a deliberate act on my part to try to allow people a glimpse of the bewilderment that those who had followed Jesus must have felt when he was crucified, dead and buried.

So, to close

When pride is not a deadly sin

Just a quickie today as I have LOADS to prepare for Easter services and events. I dropped in on one of our older members this morning and she was (rightly) proudly telling me about one of her children and their retirement today. Yesterday Hannah brought home an end of term school report of which she is justly proud. I am proud of her too. Earlier in the term I attended a Parents’ evening at Thomas’s school and experienced the monotony of all his teachers telling me how well he was doing. Again parental pride surfaced.

Pride is supposedly one of the seven ‘deadly’ sins. However I think that there is a difference between being proud of what your children have achieved and personal pride that leads to conceit and  vanity. Even our greatest acts of humility and service can be undermined if we allow them to be tainted by pride. On the other hand, being proud of one’s offspring is a close relative of love – we are proud of what they have achieved because we love them and want the best for them.

Parental pride has a good pedigree: “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11). Imagine then the anguish in our heavenly Father’s heart when he saw Jesus mocked, beaten, crucified and dying. He would have felt no less parental pride than at Jesus’ baptism but it was pierced with the agony of separation and loss. That he allowed it without intervening and that Jesus submitted to it willingly shows the extent of God’s love for us: God allowed the eternal relationship of love that is God (Father, Son and Spirit) to be shattered because he loves us so much.

L O N G pause for reflection.

Don’t go on to the joke if you are still reflecting.

True story:
A local news reporter was interviewing a lady on her 100th birthday. He asked her about her life and how she had lived so long. He then asked her if, at the age of 100, she had any worries.

“Oh no, my dear,” she replied. “Not since I got my son into an old people’s home.”

Black Holes

I have discovered a black hole!

On Monday I had a mole removed from my face. The doctor who did it put a small plaster over the wound so I did not get to see it until yesterday. I have a black hole in my face. I am intrigued by it and by how people may react to seeing it. Sympathy is in short order in our household.Thomas was repulsed. Hannah was less interested in it than an injury she picked up at school and Sally finds it amusing. Last night at church only one person made any comment: either everyone had read yesterday’s blog, they were all being very polite, or it is less obvious than I think. What do you think?

Black holes are very topical at the moment. Yesterday the Large Hadron Collider collided two protons for the first time to see what will happen. The aim is to try to discover the building blocks of the universe – the particles that make up particles that make up atoms. The one they  are particularly looking for is a theoretical particle called a ‘Higgs Boson’. To me that sounds like a person working on a pirate ship for Captain Higgs, or what you find in the bathroom of an unsophisticated provincial person*. Some people are worried that they will create a black hole in Switzerland where the LHC is based that may swallow the Alps or even destroy the planet. I am fairly happy to trust that this will not happen, but we can’t be sure.

The LHC project has cost over £4 Billion. Yup, that’s £4,000,000,000. A lot of zeros are involved. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by what they are doing and what may be revealed. But what could £4 Billion do to alleviate world poverty, cancel the debts of poorer countries, provide education for those who have no access, and so on? Is discovering the small building blocks of the universe worth more than human life?

Talking of black holes, I have been watching ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ on BBC2 by Prof Brian Cox. It has been brilliant – describing the intricate and delicate balance of the Universe, explaining how things have been created in language I can understand and showing some astonishingly beautiful pictures that have been taken of space. With my tongue very firmly in my cheek (the left one in case it comes through the black hole in the right one) I would suggest that it almost looks like someone designed it all. Wouldn’t it be great if one day a programme like that not only looked at the ‘how’ but also rearranged the letters and looked at the ‘who’ – science and faith hand in hand?

Anyway, following the success of the LHC scientists have agreed that they can now recreate the way in which the Universe was formed. So they sent their best people to tell God that humans no longer need him because they can create too.

God suggested that to test this theory the scientists and he should have a little competition to see if he was now redundant – each would create Creation. Since God said he had already done it once the scientists should go first. The LHC scientists wound up the elastic bands powering the LHC further than ever before, getting ready to launch two protons against each other at almost the speed of light in order to recreate Creation. Just as they were about to push the button to start it all off God stopped them.

“If you are going to do it how I did it you will have to get your own protons instead of using mine!”

* A Hick’s Basin! [Stop groaning, you should know me better than to assume it was not corny…]

Books – I’ve got them covered

Yesterday I had some VERY minor surgery. I had a troublesome mole removed from my cheek by a GP in Tiptree. It was over incredibly quickly and without pain. The wound was cauterised after the removal (not sure I liked the smell of burning ‘me’) and now there is a black spot on my face. I have been assured that it will disappear in due course, but at least you have been warned if you see me around.

While I was in Tiptree I took the opportunity to visit the Oasis Christian bookshop and was delighted to be able to buy another in Tom Wright’s superb series of New Testament Commentaries: ‘[insert name of book or author] For Everyone’. I bought Mark’s gospel (it was the only one they had there) but would have bought any of them that I did not already have because they are so good.

I thought you (dearest blog reader) would like to see the cover so that you can spot the books elsewhere if you trusted my opinion and decided to buy one or more for yourself. So (no effort is too much for you) I went online to find a picture of the front cover and was surprised to find that in the USA the same commentary is available but with a different cover. 


Presumably someone somewhere did some research that shows that British people are more likely to buy a commentary that has a multicoloured cover whereas in America they will be more likely to buy a commentary if it has people on the front.

I am baffled. It reminds me of a comment from my erstwhile Theology tutor at Spurgeon’s College, Nigel Wright (now the Principal of Spurgeon’s). He wrote a great book a while back on the question of pain and suffering in a world created by God which was published in the UK as ‘The Fair Face of Evil’. In America it was published as (must be said in a deep film trailer-style voice) ‘The Satan Syndrome’.


These reflections lead me to several further thoughts.

Thought the First – Any Christian book written by someone called ‘Wright’ must be good.
Thought the Second – We Brits are not as similar to Americans as we think we are.
Thought the Third – Are we presenting the Good News of Jesus to people in ways that are most culturally appropriate to them?
Thought the Fourth – I need to change the colours of my blog layout so that they are more appropriate (did you notice?).
Thought the Fifth – I need a cup of coffee.
Thought the Sixth – This is not intended to be xenophobic or derogatory. Any relative judgements you have made about Brits or Americans come from within you!
Thought the Seventh – Isn’t ‘xenophobic’ a fabulous word? (Not being xenophobic but the spelling and sound of the word itself as you say it aloud).
Thought the Eight – I have probably lost most of my readers by now so I had better get on with a joke.

A joke.

A librarian was stunned one day when a chicken strolled up to the counter and said, “Buk.”

The librarian picked up the nearest book and gave it to the chicken who tucked it under a wing and left the library clucking happily to herself.

The next day the chicken came back. “Buk, buk.”

The librarian picked up two books and gave them to the chicken who tucked one under each wing and left the library clucking happily to herself.

The following day the chicken was back again. “Buk, buk, buk.”

The librarian gave the chicken three books and the chicken put one under each wing and carried the third in her beak. She left the library (quietly this time as she had a book in her beak). The librarian was intrigued so she followed the chicken out of the library, down the street, into the park, across the bridge and down to the edge of the lake where a frog was waiting for her.

The chicken proudly laid the books in front of the frog. “Buk,buk, buk,” she clucked happily.

The frog looked at the books disdainfully and said, “Reddit, reddit, reddit.”

Stew the Rabbit

I have just come from telling a story to the toddlers and parents of our Bright Sparks group. I say that I told the story, actually it was a story that was told with the help of my assistant – Stew the Rabbit (see photo). He tries to be helpful (and usually fails) but is loved by most people who meet him and keeps the attention of children and adults alike.

Stew has been a regular companion of mine for many years (he ages better than me) – going into schools, taking assemblies and helping me in all age services at church. From the reaction he gets I am fairly confident that he is more popular than me. I don’t mind being upstaged by a bunny so long as the message gets across. Occasionally a child says, “He’s just a puppet!”

My response always flummoxes them, “Yes, but he’s a real puppet!”

Today he showed us a car that he loved but had lost. It was found by someone else and put into a charity shop where Stew saw it but had to buy it back. He gladly did so because he loved his car so much. This was intended to be a modern parable. I am not sure how well it worked. Only time will tell!

Parables are on my mind at the moment as Lynsey and I are planning to explore some of Jesus’ parables at our church holiday soon. Today we will attempt to decide which ones we will explore. While there are the famous ones like the Good Samaritan and the Lost (Prodigal) Son I am tempted to go for some of the less well-known ones…

At this stage I do not know whether Stew will be coming to help me. He’s keen, but then so are Afor Ape and Christopher Peter Duck (Chris P Duck for short).

A ventriloquist was doing his act at a comedy club and was making fun of one particular member of the audience who was wearing a baseball cap. The ventriloquist kept making comments suggesting that the baseball cap-wearing member of the audience was below standard intelligence because…

he was wearing a hat inside to keep the sun out of his eyes

he was in the wrong place if he wanted to play baseball

he was only wearing the hat to make everyone think he wasn’t bald

he had misunderstood when his girlfriend asked for a cappucino and was wearing a cap and chinos

As you will have noticed the jokes were not good and all they succeeded in doing was wind up the cap-wearer.

Finally the cap-wearer had enough. He stood up and shouted: “I’ve had enough!” (see, I told you he’d had enough). “I am fed up with you making comments about how stupid you think I am just because I am wearing a cap inside.”

The ventriloquist started to apologise when the cap-wearer interrupted him.

“Shut up, mate! I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the little fella on your knee.”

Choose whether or not to read this blog

Tonight we have a busy night. It’s one of those nights when I wish I could be truly ubiquitous, or at least in two places simultaneously. Lynsey, my fellow Minister, is hosting the latest Cafe Church at one of our local Costa Cafes. I would like to be there to support her, to enjoy the coffee and be blessed by the event. 

At the same time our Girls’ Brigade Company is holding a Quiz Evening for the girls and their families. I have been invited to to some magic tricks (woohoo!) and to share a brief message (the brief bit may be more difficult than the tricks). I am delighted to accept this invitation and am really looking forward to the evening.

What this illustrates is what all of us experience every day. Life is about choices. Other than breathing in and out (which comes automatically to most of us) we have to make choices from the moment we emerge into the consciousness that passes for awakeness in the mornings. Do I open my eyes or try to go back to sleep? When do I get out of bed? What will I have for breakfast? Bath or shower? What clothes will I wear?

And those choices continue throughout the day. In many ways we are defined by the choices we make and the choices others make that affect us. We even choose how to respond to the consequences of those choices.

The Bible contains an interesting balance of choices when it comes to God. There are passages in the Bible that talk of God choosing us. He chose the people of Israel to be an example to the whole world of what a relationship with him could be like…

Deuteronomy 7:6  “You are a holy nation. The LORD your God has set you apart for himself. He has chosen you to be his special treasure. He chose you out of all of the nations on the face of the earth to be his people.”

He expressed to Jeremiah how he had chosen him for a special purpose*

Jeremiah 1:5  “Before I formed you in your mother’s body I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart to serve me. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” 

Jesus told his followers…

John 15:16  “You did not choose me. Instead, I chose you.”

At the same time it is clear that God has given us all free will. He has given us the ability to choose whether or not to be his friends / children / worshippers / family / people. The account of Adam and Eve deciding on the ingredients for a fruit salad is all about them exercising their freedom to decide whether or not live within God’s parameters. Although the people of Israel were God’s chosen people they also chose on many occasions to ignore him and do their own thing. Many times God commends people for the choices they make –  there would be no point if the choice was not genuinely free.

Theologians have tried to resolve the tensions between these different aspects of choice in creative, complicated and convincing ways. I am of the simple opinion that while God chooses us it is up to us to agree to be a part of his plans. He chooses to limit his sovereignty so that we can choose for ourselves, which is incredible if you choose to think about it!

And now you can choose whether or not to read on for a joke about choosing…

After a very successful career, a Human Relations expert found herself at the pearly gates.

“Welcome to Heaven,” said St.Peter. “Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we’ve never once had a Human Resources Director make it this far, and we’re not really sure what to do with you, so what we’re going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.”

With that St. Peter put the executive into the infernal elevator and she went down to hell. The doors opened, and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club, and standing in front of her were all her friends – fellow executives that she had worked with – and they were all dressed in evening gowns and cheering for her. They ran up, kissed her and talked about old times.

They played an excellent round of golf, and at night went to the country club, where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil, who was actually a really nice guy (kinda cute) and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator.

The elevator went up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates, and she found St. Peter waiting for her. “Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,” he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing enjoying a sense of blissful relaxation. She had a great time, and before she knew it, her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her and asked her to choose.

The woman paused for a second and then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell.”

“That’s the way God wants it,” said St Peter sadly. “He always respects your choices.” So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went down-down-down back to Hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened, she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks. The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.

“I don’t understand,” stammered the woman, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now, all there is is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.”

The Devil looked at her and smiled. “Yesterday, we were recruiting you, today you’re staff.”

* Fans of the film ‘The Jerk’ may snigger here

Behind the blog

I have had many people comment to me about this blog. Not this blog entry, obviously, because it has not been seen by anyone yet and is in the process of being created. The comments are about my blogsite. What intrigues me is that most of them are along the lines of: “I’m amazed you have the time!” not “I have enjoyed the blog entries,” or, “I have found the blogs helpful.”

Now I am NOT trawling for compliments here. My point is that I am fascinated that people wonder how I find the time to write these blogs. What is behind the question?

Some people may think that this is a waste of my time and I should be getting on with more important things.

Others may be under the delusion that I spend hours contemplating and compiling the blog entries rather than simply vomiting out thoughts through my fingers onto the computer. (Sorry for the use of the word ‘vomiting’. Aargh, I just used it again. Sorry. I seem to have digital diarrhoea. Now I have used the word ‘diarrhoea’! Twice. Better stop this parenthesis and get back to the main point.)

It may be that some people think that the blogs are irreverent or irrelevant.

All of the above may be true, and there may be other motivations behind the comments. The reality is that I find that blogging is a useful part of my daily reflections. It forces me to stop and think for a short while (it really doesn’t take me that long to write them – I am surprised that is not obvious). It enables me to make some space and think about what is happening in my life and to listen to see if God is saying anything to me through the noise and busy-ness. And just occasionally I hear from someone who has been helped by a blog what I wrote.

So, please do not fret, dear blog reader. Listening for God’s voice is the most important thing any of us can do. I don’t spend all day creating these blog entries (but am trying to spend my day listening out for God – in my thoughts, other people, circumstances, events, and of course the Bible). And while the entries may be irreverent sometimes I am pleased that just occasionally someone finds them to be relevant – a bit like my sermons!

And now, a blog joke:

A man was driving recklessly up a steep, narrow logging track in his open top sports car. As he went around a sharp bend he swerved to avoid a woman coming down the track on a mountain bike.

The woman screamed at him: “Pig!”

“Cow!” bellowed the man back at her.

As he continued around the corner he crashed into a pig.

OK, it was a joke about logs not blogs.

OK, OK it was a joke about traffic and sexism that mentioned a logging track.

You try and find a good joke about blogs.