>The Return of the Redeye

>ping pong paddle 3Take one large house on the Suffolk coast in the shadow of a nuclear power station. Add about 80 people of all ages. Allow to blend for about five days. Garnish with good weather, new friendships, exploration of the Bible, late night conversations, wide games and several people falling in the boating lake. Et voila! You have a wonderful church holiday at Sizewell Hall. Thanks to everyone who was there, who visited, who organised, cooked, led groups, prayed for us and who played in the table tennis tournament (I am too modest to mention who won it).



I came back having had a wonderful time, but very tired. I feel like I could sleep for a week!


While we were there someone commented that it was a bit like the Acts 2 church community where we shared so much of our time, space and selves. They are onto something there. Is this one reason why God seems to speak powerfully on occasions when groups of Christians go away together, whether it is to big events like Sprinkle Harvest or Roll Survivor or whether it is a youth group going away for a weekend or a church holiday like ours at Sizewell Hall? Of course there are other reasons too, such as being away from distractions, being put into a different context, intentionally going somewhere to encounter God as well as being part of a temporary community.


One of the things that is different from the Acts 2 church, however, is that they were outreach-focused. All of the events I have described are focused inwards, on those who are attending. The Acts 2 church grew not because they were so lovely to each other but because they were expressing their faith practically. I am constantly challenged by the phrase ‘they gave to anyone as they had need’. The traditional way of seeing that is to think that it is about looking after the needs of all the new believers. But the ‘anyone’ is not qualified. If they really did look after the needs of anyone who was in need I think that would explain how they grew so rapidly and how people were being added daily to their number.


So what happens on these wonderful occasions away is only really significant if we put into practice what God has said to us while we have been away when we get back.


Two stories about holidays, at least one of which is true:


Two ladies went on a skiing holiday with a Christian travel group. While out on the slopes one day one of them felt the need to relieve herself. Obviously there were no toilets so her friend suggested she go behind a pile of rocks where no one could see her. The lady ski-ed over to the rocks and crouched down, one-piece ski suit around her ankles.


Unfortunately she had not taken her skis off, and they were pointing downhill. Before she knew what was happening she was sliding down the hill with her ski suit around her ankles!

The poor lady was mortified and spent the rest of the holiday locked in her hotel room. On the last night while the rest of the group were having a closing talk and worship session she sneaked down to the bar. While she was there she saw a man with a broken leg. Full of compassion she walked over to him and started up a conversation.

‘How did you break your leg?’ she asked.

‘Well it’s a funny story,’ said the man in plaster. ‘I was out on the slopes earlier in the week when I saw the funniest sight. I saw a woman zooming down the mountain with her ski suit around her ankles. I was laughing so much I fell over and broke my ankle…’

An ardent traveller decided to spend most of her Mediterranean holiday sunbathing on the roof of her hotel. She wore a swimsuit the first day, but on the second, she decided that no one could see her way up there, and she slipped out of it for an overall tan. She’d hardly started when she heard someone running up the stairs. She was lying on her stomach, so she just pulled a towel over her rear.


“Excuse me, miss,” said the flustered hotel manager, out of breath from dashing up the stairs. “The hotel doesn’t mind you sunbathing on the roof but we would very much appreciate you wearing a bathing suit as you did yesterday.”

“What difference does it make,” the lady asked rather calmly. “No one can see me up here, and besides, I’m covered with a towel.”

“Not exactly,” said the manager. “You’re lying on the dining room skylight.”

>Cosmetic surgery for cars

>

My car has been having cosmetic surgery. No, not bumper botox or silicone implants in the airbags, it has had a paint job. Around Christmas I managed to catch the corner of a wall with it as I was pulling out of a parking space and this left some deep scratches in the paintwork on the offside (right) rear door and beyond. Through a member of our church I found a man who does bodywork repairs in his own workshop and does so at a reasonable rate.

I left the car with him on Saturday and we collected it yesterday. He has done a great job. You can’t tell where the scrape was. Not only that but he washed the car thoroughly so that when I collected it it was gleaming, even in the rain.

The car repair reminded me of my theme from yesterday of how God deliberately chooses not to remember my sins that he has forgiven. It is as if it never happened. Of course I have to bear the human consequences of my actions and may need to apologise or make amends to those who are affected by what I do when I fall short of God’s ideal. But for God the repair is perfect. You would never know there had been anything wrong. We gleam again – good as new! That’s God’s grace at work: giving me what I can never earn and do not deserve because he loves me.

Some car repair humour:

Mechanic to customer: “I’m afraid I could not get the parts to repair your brakes, so I’ve made your horn louder.”


Customer: “My car is making a funny noise.”
Mechanic: “Can you describe it?”
Customer: “It is coming from under the bonnet and sounds like: ‘Please help me, please, please, please can ANYBODY help me?’
Mechanic: “Hmm, that sounds serious. It sounds like your engine is about to die.”
Customer: “Maybe, but it’s been getting quieter recently so perhaps it’s going away on its own.”

Customer (angrily): “Listen, when you installed this premium battery three months ago you said it would be the last battery my car would ever need. It has stopped working after only three months!”
Mechanic (horrified): “I’m very sorry,” he apologised. “I didn’t think your car would last that long.”

A man was having difficulty selling his ancient car. The car had over 300,000 miles on the clock and nobody was interested. He was chatting with his friend about the problem. His friend whispered behind his hand, “There is a way to make the car easier to sell, but it’s not legal.”

“That doesn’t matter,” replied the chap, “I just need to sell the car so I can get a better one.”

“Okay,” said his friend. “This is the address of a mate of mine. He owns a car repair business. Tell him I sent you, and he will turn the clock on your car back to about 50,000 miles. Then you can sell your car with no problems.”

The following weekend, the man made the trip to the mechanic. About one month after that he bumped into his friend again. “Hi! Have you sold your car yet?”

“No way,” replied the man, “Why would I want to sell a car that has only done 50,000 miles?”

>Pachydermatitis

>To keep things fresh, this entry starts with lots of jokes rather than ending with one:



Q: Where do you find elephants?
A: It depends on where you lost them.

Q: Why do elephants wear blue tennis shoes?
A: Because the white ones get dirty too fast.

Q: Why do elephants live in herds?
A: To get a wholesale reduction on the blue tennis shoes.

Q: Why do elephants float on their backs?
A: So they don’t get their tennis shoes wet.

Q: How many elephants can you fit in a taxi?
A: Four. (One next to the driver and 3 in back)

Q: How many giraffes can you fit in a taxi?
A: None, it’s full of elephants.

Q: What sport do elephants play in a taxi?
A: Squash.

Q: How do you know when an elephant is visiting your house?
A: There’s a taxi outside with three elephants in it.

Q: How do you put an elephant into the refrigerator?
A: Open door, put elephant in, close door.

Q: How do you put a giraffe into refrigerator?
A: Open door, get elephant out, put giraffe in, close door.

Q: How can you tell when there’s been an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: Footprints in the butter.

Q: How can you tell when there is an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: Blue tennis shoes are left outside.

Q: How can you tell when there are two elephants in you refrigerator?
A: It’s rather hard to close the door.

Q: How can you tell when there are four elephants in your refrigerator?
A: There’s a taxi waiting outside.

Q: Why are there so many elephants running around free?
A: Your fridge is not large enough to hold them all.

I have anonymised the following true story to protect the identity of the main protagonist. A while ago a member of staff was leaving a Christian organisation (let’s call it the Baptist Onion of Little Britain for the sake of argument) to go on Maternity Leave. The tradition was that when a member of staff left the rest would gather together to give gifts, say goodbye and to offer a prayer. On this occasion the person who was leading the prayer (we’ll call him David Toffee) made a freudian slip.

The lady in question was very pregnant and in his prayer David Toffee meant to thank God for her ‘elegance’. However, what he actually thanked God for was her ‘elephants’!

Is it blasphemous to snigger in a prayer?

So why all the pachyderm references? Well, elephants are notorious for having a very long memory (so they can remember where they left their blue tennis shoes?). I find that my memory for names is poor, no matter how hard I try. It’s almost as bad as remembering where I left things.

God must have the best memory of all. Everything that has happened in time is known to him. When the Bible talks about him not remembering my sin any more when I have asked for forgiveness it is not because he forgets, it is because he actively chooses not to remember. It is as if it never existed as far as he is concerned. He no longer counts those things against me.

That’s what Jesus’ death can do for me. That’s always worth remembering.

>Noises off

>

What can you hear from where you are right now? I can hear one of my children playing Quidditch (on the Playstation) and the other watching TV. I can hear the click clack of my fingers hitting the keys of my keyboard as I type. I can hear the ticking of a clock I was given when I left Didcot. I can hear the washing machine turning relentlessly in a vain effort to keep up with the unstoppable flow of dirty clothes generated by this family. I can hear the creaking of the chair on which I am sitting. I can almost hear the cogs turning slowly in my head as I try to kick start my brain for the day ahead.


I don’t often stop like that and listen. It is an interesting exercise because now I am very much aware of all of the activity around me. While I am shut in my study, seemingly isolated from the rest of the world, there is activity all around me: I am not alone.


It’s a helpful reminder to me that I am never alone. I have God’s Spirit with me always – guiding, encouraging, prompting, nurturing, wooing, blessing, enlightening, challenging, informing, inspiring, giving, braking, loving, reassuring, growing, speaking, listening, cultivating, empowering, filling, answering, refreshing, exploring, amusing, provoking, leading, wondering, accompanying, suffering, sharing, reminding, interpreting, guarding, strengthening, breathing, acting, humouring… it’s a good thing he doesn’t get tired!

I have sometimes used an illustration where I take a large jar and put marbles in it representing different aspects of our lives (eating, sleeping, watching TV, school, work…) until the jar is full. When people agree that the jar is full I take a jug of water and pour it into the jar. It fills the gaps and surrounds all the marbles. There is space for a lot of water. I suggest that this is what God wants to do in our lives, to be involved in every aspect of what we say and do. This is similar to the following wise words:

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2″ in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was.
So the professor then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The students laughed. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognise that this is your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff.”
“If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.” 

“Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.” 

But then…
A student then took the jar which the other students and the professor agreed was full, and proceeded to pour in a glass of beer. Of course the beer filled the remaining spaces within the jar making the jar truly full.
The moral of this tale is:
– that no matter how full your life is, there is always room for BEER

Money, money money

I have been collecting spare change for a while now. I have a money box shaped like the Trotters’ Yellow Three-wheeler van from Only Fools and Horses and any penny or two penny coins that I have had at the end of the day have gone in there. It is now very heavy.

When does change become ‘spare change’. At what point does the money in my pocket become surplus to requirements? When does it stop being useful money? Is it that the coins which are relatively worthless weigh a lot for little value and it’s therefore easier to decant them to another place rather than have them wear a hole in my pocket or cause my trousers to fall down? Or is it that I have so much money that I discard any that I do not think I need? While I might prefer the first explanation it has made me think about my relative wealth that I can even have the concept of ‘spare change’ at all. There are many people in Colchester, never mind across the world, whose circumstances are such that no money ever becomes spare. I sense a heavy donation to Christian Aid coming on.

How would the money feel about being considered ‘spare’? Would it resent the idea that I consider it relatively worthless? Would it point out that on its own it may not be very useful but that with lots of its friends it is very effective? (is that a parable?)

 

A fifty pence piece, a five pound note and a twenty pound note were discussing their lives. The fifty pence said that it seemed to have spent most of its life being bounced from pocket and purse into offering bags in churches. The five pound note said that it too had spent some time in church offering bags but seemed to spend longer in wallets and purses. The twenty pound note paused.


“What’s a church?”

>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