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.

Blessed by the Bishop

Baptists don’t do bishops. Our ancestors got rid of them from their concept of church along with many other things that they disagreed with 400 years ago. Yes we have people in regional, national and international roles but they have no actual power over individual churches although we are blessed by having them. (I’m not just saying that because I used to work in the national office!)

But this morning I was blessed immensely by the Archbishop of York, Rt Rev John Sentamu. Not in person, you realise! He was on ‘Pause for Thought’ on Chris Evans’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show. He was brilliant. He explained the incarnation and the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection in just a couple of minutes and still managed to be engaging and approachable. Who else would have thought about combining the ‘Hongi’ Maori greeting (touching noses) with the Christian gospel? He is the sort of public face of churches that we need in this country, given that the media completely ignores churches that are not Church of England or Roman Catholic.

In the next few hours the show will be available to listen to again on the website above: I would encourage you to listen (it was on at about 9.20 am – drag the slider on the iplayer to about 2 hours 20 minutes if you don’t have time to listen to the whole show).

In the past I have described myself as ‘Ecumenically Promiscuous’* – meaning that I will work with anyone for the sake of the good news of Jesus. (*If you heard this phrase from John Baxter-Brown without him crediting me, now you know the origin!) If there were more Archbishop Sentamus I would probably be even more ecumenically promiscuous – finding it easier to work with Christians of other flavours because we are all united in proclaiming the good news. I also found myself thinking ‘I wish I was more like Archbishop Sentamu’. Then I realised that he is probably thinking ‘I wish I was more like Jesus.’ 

There’s my answer.

Yesterday’s post did not contain a joke and I received a complaint. Today I will remedy that by posting a ‘Bishop-related’ joke. It is clean but may cause you to groan: you have been warned!

Following the death of Quasimodo. the Bishop of the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame sent word throughout the streets of Paris that a new bellringer would need to be appointed. The Bishop decided that he would conduct the interviews himself and went up into the belfry to interview the candidates. After observing several applicants demonstrate their skills he decided to call it a day when an armless man approached him announcing that he was there to apply for the post. The Bishop incredulously declared, ” My Son, you have no arms!”

“No matter” replied the man. He then proceeded to strike the bells with his face, producing the most beautiful melody on the carillon. The Bishop was astonished, believing he had indeed found a suitable replacement for Quasimodo. But in rushing forward to strike a bell the armless man tripped and plunged headlong out of the belfry to his death in the street below. The stunned Bishop rushed to his side. When he reached the street, a crowd had gathered around the fallen figure, drawn by the beauty of the music they had heard. As they parted in silence to allow the Bishop through, one of the number asked ” Bishop, who was this man?”

“I don’t know his name” replied the Bishop sadly, ” But his face rings a bell.”

The following day, despite the sadness that weighed heavily on his heart following the death of the armless camponologist, the Bishop continued his interviews for a bell ringer for Notre Dame. The first man to approach addressed him, “Your Grace, I am the brother of the poor armless wretch who fell to his death from this belfry yesterday. I pray that you will allow me to replace him.” The Bishop agreed to an audition, but as the man reached to strike the first bell, he groaned, clutched at his chest, collapsed, and died on the spot. Two monks, hearing the cries of grief from the Bishop at the tragedy, rushed up the stairs. “What happened? Who is this man?” they cried. 

” I don’t know his name” exclaimed the distraught Bishop…

…” I don’t know his name… but he’s a dead ringer for his brother.”

Being overtaken

My position in our household has changed. I have been overtaken. I used to be the tallest person in the family, even despite losing the additional height afforded by having hair. Now, however, I have been overtaken in height by Thomas, my 15 year-old son. It’s not as if I have shrunk (other than my hairline).

It feels a bit like a game of Mario Kart I was playing against him a while ago. I was happily zooming along in the lead with the finishing line in sight, not anticipating anything preventing me from taking the victory and gloating joyfully (but graciously), when all of a sudden Thomas overtook me and beat me on the line. It seems that he appeared from nowhere, and the same feels true of his sudden growth spurt. How did it happen?

I may seem bitter or regretful about this relegation, but I am not. I find it remarkable that the small(ish) baby I held in my arms 15 and a bit years ago has now grown taller than me. I am proud of the way he has grown and matured as a person (as I am also of my daughter, Hannah, but thankfully she has not yet grown taller than me). I felt that fatherly pride last Sunday in a special way.

Last Sunday morning both of them took part in leading our church as members of the youth group who took over the morning service. In addition to the ‘normal’ parts of our service like singing, Bible readings and praying we also had a ‘Cool Wall’ of Bible characters (see Top Gear for an explanation), a great drama depicting the early part of David’s life and then his victory over Goliath and an exuberance of youthful joy and enthusiasm as they all took part in different ways.

Hannah played the drums, narrated a drama and spoke about what life is like for her at school and Thomas played keyboard, acted in the drama (as Goliath, appropriately) and preached the sermon! I sat there being blessed both by what the all young people said and did as a member of the congregation and being blessed by what Thomas and Hannah were doing in particular as a proud dad.

That’s how God feels when he looks at you as you follow Jesus.

Evangelism is like flossing


I’m currently “at queue position two… in the queue.” That’s what the machine I am dealing with on the phone is telling me, and has been telling me for the past ten minutes. I’m trying to make an appointment for a dental check up, which is not something I am thrilled about) and they are not making it easy for me. I am beginning to lose my patience with the machine’s repetitious messages and beeps. I wonder whether the machine is working and whether I will ever get to “speak to a member of our team” as the machine keeps inviting.

One thing that the waiting is doing is enabling me to practice my one-handed typing, but it is not doing anything else positive for me. I am sure that when the dental surgery installed the system they thought that it was user-friendly and helpful for us patients. To be honest it is having the opposite effect and they may well lose one of their patients if this goes on much longer.

I have now hung up. (Two-handed typing resumes – can you tell the difference?) I can’t spend all day listening to a machine telling me that I am “at queue position two… in the queue.” I would like to move up the queue. I would like to talk to a person. I will be very polite if I ever get to speak to one (see ‘Bless a Bureaucrat Day’ Blog on 9th March). I will now probably visit the surgery in person to make the appointment and will refrain from starting with “Your conversation is important to me, please hold. You are at queue position two… in the queue. Your conversation will be initiated soon.” Instead I will smile sweetly (to show that I have been looking after my gnashers) and ask gently for an appointment so that a dentist can gaze into my mouth and tell me I should floss more regularly.

I know what I ought to be doing, and I try hard to remember to do it – honestly – but I end up feeling guilty every time I sit in the dentists’ chair and try not to exaggerate when I am asked how often I floss. Is that how people feel when they come to church? Do they feel guilty when I try to encourage them to share their faith – they know what they ought to be doing and try hard to remember to do it – honestly – but they end up feeling guilty every time they sit in the pew and try not to exaggerate when I ask how often they talk about Jesus to their friends.

Hmmm. A wise lecturer at Spurgeon’s College, where I trained, said that people respond far better to encouragement than to challenge. I know I ought to be encouraging, and I try hard to remember to do it – honestly – but I end up feeling awkward every time I stand in the pulpit and try not to make people feel guilty. Much grace is needed!