caption

Apparently thirteen is supposed to be unlucky because there were thirteen people at the Last Supper – Jesus’ last meal before his arrest, trial and execution (people tend to forget the resurrection bit).

But did you know that beneath the fresco of the Last Supper painted by Leonardo da Vinci there used to be a caption that has been eroded and erased by time and weather?

Jesus: “Come around this side of the table, lads, or you won’t be in the picture!”

Are you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

w-eight-ing

As I type this bloggage I am also in a ‘Virtual Waiting Room’, waiting to see if I am able to buy some tickets to see a singer in concert. The idea (a good one if it works) is that those in the Virtual Waiting Room are assigned a place in a virtual queue and when that place becomes available I will be able to select from the remaining available tickets.

At the moment the message says, “It will be your turn soon.”

waitingIt has been saying that since the ticket office opened 20 minutes ago.

I am reminded of our fruitless attempts to buy tickets to watch an event (any event) at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. We entered our details and waited. And eventually were told that we were unsuccessful.

But there would be a second ballot and all of those who were unsuccessful the first time would be at the head of the queue the second time.

So we entered the second ballot. And waited.

And were unsuccessful.

But the Paralympic tickets would soon go on sale, and we thought we surely ought to get some of them so we entered the ballot. And waited.

And were unsuccessful.

In the Virtual Waiting Room there is a bar (no not that sort of bar, a long line on the screen) along which creeps a blue line showing that it is checking my ‘Waiting Room Status’. The blue line fills the bar and there’s a pause at the end, each time with the hope that I might be next in the queue. But each time it goes back to the beginning. Just like our fruitless attempts to buy 2012 tickets the anticipation builds each time, only for hopes to be dashed.

The season of Advent is about waiting. Anticipation. Hope. Because we know that Christmas Day will happen on 25th December we perhaps lose some of how it felt over 2000 years ago when people were waiting for God to send his Messiah, the Christ, the One. Many times their hopes were raised when different rebel leaders took on the oppressors of the day and people wondered if he was the One. And each time the blue line reached the end of the bar and their hopes were dashed. It wasn’t now.

“It will be your turn soon.” promised the Prophets.

But it never seemed to happen.

I wonder if that’s how you’re feeling about a prayer you have been praying for years and there doesn’t seem to be an answer. Or perhaps you have been waiting for a promise from God to be fulfilled and it hasn’t happened yet.

**Doorbell rings, I had to leave my desk, aaargh, what if I get to the front of the virtual queue right then? Ah… it was just a delivery. Check status. “It will be your turn soon” (26 minutes and counting)**

Among the many different messages of Advent and Christmas is this: God’s timing is perfect. Waiting is an aspect of faith. Don’t give up. The answer may not be when you were expecting it, or what you were expecting, but it will be God-given so you can be confident in it.

If you doubt this, have a look at Luke 2:22-38…

Be blessed, be a blessing*

 

 

*Did I get the tickets – you’ll have to wait to find out!

( 51 minutes and still waiting)

the magic of Christmas

playing cards 2Regular bloggists among you will know that I am rather keen on magic tricks. I don’t have any special magic powers, I went to a normal school rather than Hogwarts, I am not in league with the Devil and don’t access the ‘dark side’: it’s all down to skill, technique, practice and sleight of mouth.

So today, as a special treat, I am going to perform an illusion for you on my blog.

I want you to try not to think of anything in advance of this, but I am going to attempt a bloggage-mind-reading. Clear your mind [insert ‘that didn’t take as long as it should’ type magician joke here].

For those who are unfamiliar with them, let me explain about playing cards. Playing cards come in four suits – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades. They are marked from 1-10 (one also known as the ace) followed by three court cards – Jack, Queen and King. That makes 52 different cards in a deck of cards (plus Jokers if you want to be pedantic).

Now, when I tell you I want you to think of any playing card apart from Jokers. Not yet! When I tell you.

Okay, think of a card. You may have thought of the Queen of Hearts but that’s not surprising because it’s in the picture.

So now change your mind and think of a different card with a different suit.

Now change your mind one more time and think of another different card, not the first one.

You are thinking of…

[dramatic pause]

[extended dramatic pause]

[additional text to put my mind-reading answer further down the page, forcing you to scroll down to it and making sure that it was less likely to have been on the screen when you started thinking of cards so you can’t claim I influenced you]

You are thinking of…

[drum roll]

the seven of spades.

This is the moment where you leap up screaming, “That’s amazing!” (I hope you are on a train at the moment!). You will be wondering how I did that and are either extolling my skill and calling the BBC to demand I have my own TV show or are calling a psychologist to sort out the mess I have just made with your mind.

Actually most of you won’t have leapt up screaming, “That’s amazing!” Most of you will have been thinking of a different card. Now you may be feeling rather disappointed and let down because what I promised and what you had hoped for was not what you got. But try to imagine how you would have felt if I had chosen your card – a freely chosen card that I could not have known when I wrote this bloggage.

All I did was create an expectation and choose a random card. I had a 1 in 52 chance of being right. Most of the time I will be wrong, but probability suggests that some of you will have been thinking of the seven of spades. And for those people, for a moment, the improbable or even the impossible happened.

Advent has been a season of expectation and hope. We reflect on God’s promises and how, at the time of Jesus’ birth many people felt disappointed and let down because they were not getting what they hoped for. We reflect on our own hopes and how sometimes they go unfulfilled.

But we also anticipate how, when Jesus was born, those promises were fulfilled. Not in a spectacular way for everyone but in a subtle way to a few. And for those few there was a realisation that the impossible and improbable had happened to them and it overflowed in joy.

The wonderful thing is that now, because the improbable and impossible has happened, we can all experience it for ourselves because it’s available to us all. Jesus the God-human born in Bethlehem can be born in you too.

This will be my last bloggage before Christmas, so I pray for a hope-fulfilled, fear-turned-to-joy, peace-on-earth Christmas for you all.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

are we there yet?

One of the things we do in our Team within the Eastern Baptist Association is share a ‘thought for the week’ with Ministers in the Association. It is sent by email each week. This week it was my turn and, in the spirit of recycling, I am posting it here too. If you are an EBA Minister and have already received this by email I am sorry that you have had it twice…

20140327_121204The family car is finally packed. The children are finally strapped into their seats with their favourite toys. The journey has started and everyone is finally able to relax. And then, from the back seat, come the chilling words that will be repeated all the way for the rest of the journey:

“Are we there yet?”

At the start of the season of Advent (this Sunday) we reflect on the promises of God.

Isaiah 2:2-5:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

“Are we there yet?”

It was because the destination was so wonderful that the Advent expectation, anticipation (and impatience) was so high by the time of Christ. Consider it for a moment: in the last days God’s reign will be obvious to all; people from all nations will stream to him to learn from him and follow his guidance;  his word will be proclaimed; his justice will be experienced; his peace will be universal.

“Are we there yet?”

Well, no. But we are on the way. Advent is a season of hopefulness and anticipation. We have the advantage of knowing how God will bring all of this about (starting with a baby in a cattle feeding trough). But we also have a call to make God’s reign obvious, to learn from him and follow him, to proclaim his word, to seek his justice and be agents of his peace today so that his Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Be blessed, be a blessing

danger

The internet is a dangerous place.

Not because of the scams that are out to ensnare the unwary, the pornography that seems to be everywhere, the emails that offer medical assistance or opportunities to receive millions of pounds from complete strangers if I give them my bank details. Although those (and others) do make the internet a dangerous place.

No, it’s dangerous because it gives you access to information you didn’t use to be able to access. Even if you had an up to date complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica (other Encyclopaedias are available) you would not have had access to as much information as is now available at the click of a button.

For example, if I type ‘Elmer Fudd’ into a search engine [types ‘Elmer Fudd’] I am offered information about cartoons, offered T shirts and other merchandise, provided with links to videos, given the option to change my language setting in the search engine to ‘Ewmer Fudd’ (go on, you know you want to), offered sound clips, shown how to draw him, provided with background information about him, and much more besides. A while back because I mentioned Elmer Fudd a lot in this blog it was listed 23rd in the list of sites for people to visit to find out about him. That’s dangerous!

But I still have not got to the nub of the danger. The thing is that sometimes we can have too much information. No, don’t think I am going all ‘Big Brother’ on you (the book, not the TV programme). But if, for example. I had a health symptom that I looked up on the internet I would be offered all sorts of possibilities and before I know it I could be sure I was having a heart attack when in fact I had just bruised my left arm. (That actually happened to me. Have a look at this bloggage if you are interested.)

I wonder how much of a doctor’s time is spent having to reassure patients that their internet-search-based-self-diagnosis is not correct.

Let me give you another example – help with a golf swing. I was having some problems with the ball not going in the intended direction (I still am) and did a search for an answer. I was offered so many different solutions I was completely confused and ended up even less confident about what to do than when I had started.

What if you typed ‘Meaning of life’? I just did and the range of options for answers to that question are staggering.

Or if you do a search for ‘Colchester church’, do you decide to go to the first church that is offered? Careful if you do!Capture

It’s dangerous because you can end up either with more information than is helpful, or you can end up receiving information that is just wrong. Who or what do you trust? Do you accept that the sites the search engine offers you on the first page are the ones that are right?

As we are in the season of Advent I felt it was good to have another look at how Luke opens his gospel – right at the start of chapter 1 before we get to angels, shepherds, stables and babies…

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account…

This Christmas I invite you to investigate carefully what you understand about Jesus of Nazareth. You may have been a follower of his for all your life, you may be a recent follower, you may be an inquirer or event an ardent critic. But don’t take my words or anyone else’s words for it – investigate for yourself by going back to the eyewitness accounts*. Examine them afresh for yourself and see what they say to you.

But be warned – that’s dangerous too because it can transform your life!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*ie Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (I’d start with Luke, but that’s not essential)