retainers

You may recall that I have had tooth scaffolding for a while (see https://nukelear.me.uk/2016/08/18/tooth-scaffolding/ for example). The purpose was to straighten out my teeth that had decided that they didn’t like being where God had intended them to be and had moved, little by little, to a place where they were actually causing me pain.

A couple of weeks ago the tooth scaffolding was finally removed. The treatment was finished – and successful! I was so pleased to be able to eat without pain and without having to spend time cleaning out the debris afterwards. But more than that I was delighted that my teeth looked more like they are supposed to.

My dentist had warned me that unless we take longer-term remedial action then the teeth may drift back into their old positions. So she attached some metalwork to the inside of my teeth to keep them in place, and she created some retainers for me to wear at night. You see when the braces moved the teeth back to where they should be the roots were loosened slightly and there’s a possibility that the teeth may simply revert to the previous painful position if they were not kept in place long enough to become more solidly rooted again and lose the inclination to incline.

The retainers are necessarily a very snug fit. And each evening when I put them in I can sense that they are gently nudging any rogue teeth back to where they should be. It’s not a massive movement but it reminds me of how things could shift if I don’t do what the dentist said.

20170223_112709What are your retainers? All of us can fall into bad, harmful habits that hurt others or ourselves. And while God offers all of us forgiveness, fresh starts and the opportunity to live life the way it is intended to be lived we also still have the tendency to drift back into those things that are less than the best. So alongside God’s forgiveness, fresh starts and the opportunity to live life the way it is intended to be lived we will be best able to continue in that way if we install retainers. For the most part they are common sense…

It could be a daily routine to remind ourselves to keep short accounts with God and others – I use brushing my teeth as a reminder.

It could be asking someone else to pray for us and giving them permission to ask us challenging questions about how we are doing. I have a Spiritual Director who does that for me.

It could be that we make a decision not to put ourselves in temptation’s way – it would not be wise for someone who finds it difficult to resist the temptation to overindulge in chocolate to work in a sweet shop.

Above all I find that keeping close to Jesus makes the most difference. If he’s just someone I think about for an hour on a Sunday he’s not going to make as much difference in my life as if he’s someone with whom I am constantly in conversation. He gives us his Spirit as a retainer – to help us to follow him – but we do have to pay attention and respond to his prompting!

What are your retainers?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

whispering

When I left my last church in order to take up this post a friend gave me a book. It’s The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, and is a year’s devotional reflections that he wrote for President Obama and sent him in a daily email for him to read first thing every day. The thought for this Sunday is as follows:

‘“Let every one of us cultivate, in every word that issues from our mouth, absolute truth. I say cultivate, because to very few people – as may be noticed of most young children – does truth, this rigid, literal veracity, come by nature. To many, even who love it and prize it dearly in others, it comes only after the self-control, watchfulness, and bitter experience of years.” Dinah Craik, A Woman’s Thoughts About Women.

‘“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 (ESV)

‘Truth: the sieve through which our every action must flow. Yes, it’s allowable; yes, it’s beneficial; yes, it’s profitable; but is it true? Only we know the answer – and to this standard we must keep. “Let every one of us cultivate, in every word that issues from our mouth, absolute truth.”

‘Dear God, grow within me the desire for truth in all things so that I might be set free from the bondage of falsehood. Let veracity be my nature. Amen.’

Aside from the challenge of the thought, the fact that each day the President of the USA is receiving a devotional thought like this is encouraging. It reminds me of the role of a slave (perhaps known as an Auriga) in a Roman Triumph whose role was to stand behind the victorious commander and, whilst holding a laurel crown on his head also whisper “Memento homo” in his ear – “Remember you are a man.”

seals whispering

The Bible for us can be like that slave. Through it God’s Spirit whispers in our ear and helps us to keep the right perspective:

When things are going well and we are tempted to pride and self-reliance he whispers in our ear, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

When things are tough and we are tempted to give up he whispers in our ear, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship*. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:15b-17)

Let’s always pay attention to the Spirit’s whispering in our ear through Scripture!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*‘sonship’ here indicates the bestowing of the full legal rights of an adopted male heir in Roman culture

some things I have learnt in 26 years 210 days

Sally and I have now been married for 26 years 210 days (to the date of writing this bloggage). I am not telling you this to brag, but to set a context for today’s bloggage, which is about a few things I have learnt along the way. In my previous role as a local church Minister I used to prepare people for marriage by going through some ‘classes’ with them where we unpacked the vows they would be saying on their wedding day and explored what they would mean in their married life together. This is something I no longer get to do so I thought I would share one or two of the things I have learnt with the rest of the blogosphere. I know that not everyone is married, that not everyone wants to get married and that others want to but aren’t at the moment, and I am not trying to put a metaphorical pie in your face and laugh at you – in fact some of these thoughts might be helpful in your relationships with friends and colleagues.

wedding rings

  1. Communicate. I used to be a lawyer and had some clients who were going through divorces. There were lots of reasons that their relationships had failed, but one thing they all had in common was a failure to communicate with one another. That doesn’t just mean talking to one another, it means talking and listening. It means seeking to explain yourself and seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. It means not assuming that the other person can read your mind. It means not stomping off in a huff. It means not raising your voice (I think that if I have raised my voice it may well be a sign that I am on weaker ground). It means being willing to compromise or even change your mind completely.
  2. Little things matter. I don’t mean negative things like whether or not the toilet seat is left up, or whether the other person has habits that annoy you. What I mean is that both parties to the relationship can enhance it by trying to bless the other person’s socks off – and that can be done in little ways like leaving a note on their pillow; offering to cook tea when you know they have had a busy day; scraping the ice off the car windows if they are the first one who will go out; thoughtful things like that. And if both of you are doing that you will appreciate each other even more.
  3. Thanks. I have often said that one of the most appealing qualities in a human being is an attitude of gratitude. Saying ‘thank you’ regularly is a really important part of a relationship, linking together points one and two. It stops you taking the other person for granted. What do you appreciate about the other person? Tell them.
  4. Kiss daily. When we are in the same house we have developed the habit of kissing each other goodbye when one leaves in the morning and of kissing each other goodnight. The kiss in the morning reminds us of our affection throughout the day. The kiss in the evening is the last thing we do at night and as well as reminding us of our love, it also serves as a check to see if there is anything that remains unresolved from the day. If we don’t feel able to kiss each other then there is still something we need to talk about. Don’t limit the kissing to those occasions, of course, just make them the minimum!
  5. Settle things quickly. This is not just about not living off credit and settling bills quickly, it’s primarily about ensuring that you resolve any disagreements quickly. Don’t allow resentment, anger, hurt or irritation to fester because they are like infected wounds that will only get worse the longer they go untreated. Talk things through. Pray things through. If you still can’t agree, work out where the area of disagreement is and agree to disagree calmly and without blame. If it’s important, get some help. If it’s unimportant, forgive one another and move on.
  6. No lists. I don’t mean shopping lists or to do lists. Lots of people function with those lists and it’s been shown that if you go shopping with a list you are less likely to impulse buy and that will save you money. No, the lists I am referring to here are the lists of things that the other person has done that upset you, annoyed you, hurt you. If you forgive, forgive in the same way that God forgives – absolutely, completely, without resentment, with abundant grace and wiping the slate clean. Once something has been dealt with it should not be allowed to resurface in a later discussion – if it does it probably hasn’t been dealt with properly yet.
  7. Eat together. Sitting down and eating a meal together provides the context for you to discuss events of the day, to listen to each other, to sense how one another is feeling. It is intimate. It is personal. You are giving the other person your undivided attention. That means that phones, tablets, laptops, televisions, radios and other devices are not allowed at the table. All you can bring is yourself and your undivided attention.
  8. Support one another. You may not share all of the interests that the other person has. But at least show some support for them. Encourage them. Ask them about it. Congratulate them if something goes well, commiserate if it doesn’t. Sally is not into magic in the same way that I am, but she supports and encourages me in my interest. She sometimes comes to a show that I do, and I love it that she does that even when she’s not really interested. You don’t have to like all of the same things, but you can like that the other person is interested in that and be interested in them. One spectacular way of supporting one another is by praying for and with one another. You can’t do enough of that.
  9. Love. This may seem strange to be down near the end of my list (although I never said that they were in any sort of order. But loving the other person is important. However it’s also really important to recognise that there are different sorts of love. There’s the romantic, erotic, phwoar type of love. There’s the sort of love that you have for your family – strong enough that you would do anything for them. And there’s what the Bible describes in 1 Corinthians 13 – a description of ‘agape’ love. The romantic, erotic, phwoar type of love comes and goes. It is an emotional response to the other person and our emotions can be influenced by lots of factors. Never give up trying to kindle that sort of love, but it’s not the sort of love on which to base a lasting relationship. Family-love is something that is deep within us. It can be wounded, battered and even destroyed by the destructive behaviour of those we love but it is almost inherent within us at the beginning of our relationship. It can also be nurtured and grow by spending quality time with one another. The ‘agape’ love of the Bible is the one that will be the best foundation for a lasting relationship and the best way to get it is to be in a relationship with God who is love. Ask for his help, his presence, his perspective. Seek to see others the way that he sees them. And realise that this love is an act of will, not an emotional response. In the wedding service I used to ask, “Will you love…” and the response was “I will”. It was a statement if intent: I will seek the best for this person, I will be patient and kind, not self-centred or self-promoting. I will honour the other person. I will keep calm and not keep a list (see above). I will seek the best for them and be honest. I will protect, trust, hope and persevere.
  10. Laugh Laughter is not the best medicine. If it was we wouldn’t need antibiotics we would tell jokes. But laughing together helps break down tension. It helps to relax you. It helps you to enjoy one another’s company. Find out what makes the other person laugh and enjoy it with them. Find out what makes them laugh about you and be glad that you can do that. Be willing to be the butt of their jokes – but keep them in the relationship. DON’T run each other down in the company of others – build each other up.
  11. Final advice. This is something always worth remembering. One good turn gets most of the bedclothes.

There’s so much more that could be (and should be) said. I am not suggesting that Sally and I have the perfect marriage. I am not saying that I always manage all of the above (except for number 4). I am certainly not setting myself up as some sort of marriage guru. But it does help when I am married to my best friend.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

feeding back, moving forward, building up

Last night I went to another meeting of the Mid Essex Magical Society (available to enhance a charity event near you – so long as it’s in Essex). Once a month we hold a Feedback Night. This is not where we try to see how close we can get a microphone to a loudspeaker before getting the loud screeching noise, It’s an opportunity for some of the magicians to perform a routine and receive constructive criticism from the rest of the club. It might be a relatively polished routine that we are looking to enhance or a work in progress where we would appreciate some advice.

Bearing in mind that MEMS is full of brilliant magicians, many of whom are members of the Magic Circle and have years of experience, you would have thought that performing in front of them would be quite scary. In fact it is something that I really appreciate because of the intent, tone and content of the feedback that I receive. The feedback is offered (admittedly because it has been invited by virtue of performing on Feedback Night) in a constructive way: “Have you thought about…”; “I noticed that…”; “You could try…” What is offered is not critical in the negative sense but it is thoughtful and considered, providing the performer with the opportunity to draw on years of experience, ideas, wisdom and skill.

Last night I performed a routine that I used in a service on the previous Sunday morning because after the service I reflected on what I’ve done and came up with an alternative way of performing the trick. I decided to run it past MEMS for their reflection. The feedback I received was very helpful and has given me food for thought (which is actually a pun if you know the routine I performed (actually it’s a pun whether or not you know the routine but you won’t recognise it as a pun unless you know the routine)).

How often do we invite feedback from others? I think most of the time we run away from it because we are afraid of negative criticism. But if we can learn to offer positive, constructive feedback that is designed to enhance and improve and is offered with grace and consideration of how it will be received then I think it is more likely to be welcomed (even better if it is invited rather than offered!).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 we read these words: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” That’s certainly what happens at MEMS. I hope you get that experience too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

advice for modern living

pssst! (photo used with permission from http://www.freeimages.com/profile/bumpyduey)
Listen to this…
(photo used with permission from http://www.freeimages.com/profile/bumpyduey)

Having seen many ‘top ten’ and ‘essential’ lists of things that we need for modern living on t’internet and elsewhere I felt that it was time that I gave you my advice. It is based on no empirical research.

1. Love more

2. Live more

3. Laugh more

You might be a bit disappointed by this list (or if you are a regular bloggist here you might be surprised it was that long!) so let me expand on it a bit.

1. Love more

Love is not something that exists in the abstract. It is not a theory. Love is an act of will that does not depend on the vagaries of emotion and hormones: it is constant, consistent and invincible. It only exists when there is somebody or something to love. Love is seen and experienced by the recipient rather than felt by the one giving it. Love, at its best, is not conditional: it does not need to be reciprocated (but it’s nice when it is). Love seeks the best for the other person: it is not best expressed in extravagant bunches of flowers but in ways that may go unnoticed and even unappreciated. The love I am writing about is not romantic love, sexual love, or even familial love – it is the love best seen at work in Jesus: compassion in action, willing to lay down your life, indomitable. Love more.

2. Live more

I have a feeling that so many of us live life in just three dimensions (or four dimensions if you add ‘time’). We only focus on the things we can touch and see and feel and sit on and drive and watch and type on and so on… But life is much, much more than physical objects. Have you ever had your breath taken away by a view, by a sunset, by a person? Have you ever ever been overwhelmed by love? Have you ever been captivated by a thought? Have you ever been inspired by a piece of music or a song? Have you ever had the feeling that there is more to life, that something is missing? None of those things can be touched or bought or fully comprehended – they are experienced because we are human and are created to experience so much more than just three or four dimensions. We are created for relationships so talk more – talk to those who matter to you, and to those who don’t. We are created with an appreciation of the awesome and the Awesome. We are created to bless and be blessed. We are created to inspire and be inspired. Lift your eyes up from three dimensional life and experience life as it is meant to be lived: live life in all its fullness (as Jesus suggested) including The Dimension that created us in the first place. Live more

3. Laugh more

Laughter is one of the greatest gifts we have. It can be misused and be cruel, mocking, thoughtless, even bullying. But it can also lift us – levity and levitation have the same root! Laughing is possible when we see or sense that something or someone (often ourselves) is just a little out of kilter, just a little incongruous, just a little bit… daft. Laughter is an impulse that helps us not to take ourselves more seriously than we ought. It is a release from stress and strain. It is a moment to look at life sideways and see that the things that dominate us are not as real or scary as they look from front on. It is a way of experiencing and expressing joy. It is infectious. It is physically good for us (releasing good chemicals within our brain and body). It is a gift we can share. It is a gift for humanity. It is a gift from Above. Laugh more.

These are my thoughts as I can distil them for you today. You will have noticed that there is nothing about money, nothing about possessions, nothing about sex or sexuality, nothing about politics, nothing about rules, nothing about obligations, nothing about self-improvement, not even much explicitly about God! But if we all lived like that, would the world be a better or worse place? And actually much of what I have splurged from my consciousness for you above is based on my experience as a follower of Jesus. I am able to do those things not merely because I choose to do them but because his Spirit releases the ability and desire within me.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Time to reflect

This weekend was the fifth anniversary of my Induction at Colchester Baptist Church. Time has flown by!

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of my Ordination. Time has flown by!

So as I am in an anniversaryish mood, I wondered what advice I would give the newly ordained me if I could borrow a Tardis and nip back in time…

  • 9 o’clock is the watershed: phone calls before 9 o’clock in the morning or after 9 o’clock in the evening are not usually good news.
  • Don’t respond hastily to criticism: weigh it, sift it and ask for grace. God might be trying to say something to you and this may be the only way he can get your attention!
  • Greeting people ‘on the door’ afterwards requires you to be an octopus (to shake all the hands), and elephant (to remember everyone’s names) and a woman (to multitask). Or you could get someone to help you.
  • Emails will be very useful in the future, but don’t imagine that by sending an email you have communicated successfully.
  • Computers will be incredibly useful to you, but keep them as your servants not your master. (They will always crash at the most inconvenient of moments.)
  • It’s always a good idea to check your flies before you go into church.
  • Don’t forget dry underpants when packing for a service of Believer’s Baptism.
  • You won’t be able to please everyone: seek to please the One instead.
  • God gave you two ears and just one mouth for a reason.
  • Everyone has already heard the story about the little girl who said “I know the answer’s Jesus but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
  • Encouragement is a better motivator than guilt.
  • This too will pass.
  • You’re not in charge.
  • Always check the bread before Communion (see here for reasons why)

Be blessed, be a blessing.

instructed

One of my sermon PowerPoints with a PIP lego version of me
One of my sermon PowerPoints with a PIP lego version of me

During  recent renovations at our church we installed a video camera system so that wherever you sit in the church you will be able to see what is going on. As part of it we have a picture in picture facility so that, for example, we can show a PowerPoint with the words of a reading and also have on the screen a small screen showing the video of the person reading.

On Sunday morning there were some problems and the PIP (as it is known by technical peeps) would not show the video image over the PowerPoint backgrounds. No amount of pressing the buttons in the right order would work.

This morning, while I was at the church, I decided to call the company that installed the system and ask them to tell me what had gone wrong. In order to do this in the most helpful way I decided it would be a good idea to switch the system on so I could describe the problem accurately and be talked through any solution.

You can guess what happened when I switched the system on this morning.

That’s right.

The problem was still there. (Be honest, did you think I was going to say that it had resolved itself?)

I was just getting ready to call the company when my brain reached into the dark recesses of my memory and reminded me that there were some written instructions for the system and that they said something about what would happen if you did things in the wrong order.

I found the instructions and as I read them I realised that what had happened was that someone had switched it off in the wrong order and that what needed to happen was for that wrong order to be reversed in order to get back to the way the system should work. I did that, and it worked. Problem solved, no loss of face with the company that installed the system, and a sense of achievement.

Except that if we had thought about it on Sunday and consulted the instructions then we could have sorted the problem out quickly and easily. My achievement was not spectacular at all, it was more a saving of face.

How often do we ignore what is glaringly obvious and try alternative solutions?

When the Bible talks about forgiveness, grace and mercy instead we focus on revenge, bitterness and anger. While the Bible speaks of generosity and the blessing of giving, we concentrate on increasing our bank balance and hoarding. When the Bible speaks of freedom from sin we prefer to wallow in guilt.

For best results, follow the maker’s instructions. This is not only good advice for appliances, it should also be stamped clearly on each one of us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.