how are you?

inspiredI wonder if you know anyone who, when you ask them how they are, says, “Oh, I mustn’t complain,” and then they proceed to complain for the next ten minutes?

I am sure I do that sometimes – if not in those exact words at least in spirit. I think we can all tend towards it because the difficult things we face in life can dominate our perspective and fill our horizon. Perhaps anthropologists have an explanation that relates to the need to focus on problem-solving in order to survive, I don’t know. I am not suggesting that we ignore our problems and difficulties like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand*.

But today I am remembering someone who when you asked him how he was would say, “Oh, I mustn’t complain.” And then he wouldn’t. If you pressed him he would say, “I have a lot to be thankful for.”

And that is incredible because if anyone had a lot to complain about he did. He suffered with a lot of debilitating health problems but he coped with them by refusing to focus on them, but instead focused on the good things in his life, the things for which he was grateful. And it wasn’t just words because if you asked he would have a ready list of things for which he was grateful.

He genuinely had an attitude of gratitude.

And what’s more, because of his faith in Jesus he had someone to be grateful to! The Bible is full of moments when people express thanks to God, but sometimes we forget don’t we?

What are you thankful for today? Make those things your focus and see how that changes things.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*There’s no evidence that ostriches do put their head in the sand. Apparently they put their heads on the ground to listen for approaching trouble and from a distance it looks like they are burying their head in the sand…

humbled and blessed

Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity

Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity

Yesterday I was given a large plastic bag. It contained lots and lots of cards and pictures and letters that children from a local school had made to say ‘thank you’ to Stew the Rabbit (and me) for supporting the school during my time at the church, especially the Assemblies.

I was blessed and encouraged by the time that they had spent making the cards, drawing the pictures and writing the letters. I was blessed and encouraged by the kind ‘we’ll miss you’ messages – some were even for me rather than Stew!

But most of all I was humbled and blessed by those who had thanked me for telling them about Jesus. That’s the main reason I went and it was so wonderful that they had recognised this and appreciated it.

The church will continue to support and bless that school, but those children who wrote and drew and created had no idea how much they have blessed me. Stew will be writing a thank you note back!

It reminded me of how important it is to say ‘thank you’ and how much something we might perceive as a simple act can multiply in impact in the life of the person on the receiving end.

Be blessed, be a blessing

so long and thanks for all the fishing

Da dada da da da daaaah!

Da dada da da da daaaah!

Today’s is my last bloggage!

…while I am working for the wonderful people at Colchester Baptist Church*. To use one of Jesus’ analogies for following him, we have been fishing for people together (see this bloggage to understand the nukelearfishing bit a bit more) but after today I will be in a different boat.

PTWOING! (That’s the sound of an analogy being overstretched and giving way).

I have decided that today’s bloggage is not going to be sad, downcast, weepy or upset. It is a party bloggage – a celebration bloggage.

It is a celebration of lives changed through encountering Jesus through the ministry of the church (aka the people).

It is a celebration of every time I have had an opportunity to use my baptismal towel (which was given to me for that purpose by some friends when I left my previous role to come to Colchester).

It is a celebration of companionship in the gospel – travelling together with the same group of people on the journey of faith is a wonderful privilege.

It is a celebration of emotions – we have laughed together (sometimes even at my jokes), we have cried together, and we have shared lots of other emotions together too.

It’s a celebration of grace. I am by no means a perfect Minister (just ask my family or the church) but when I have made mistakes and asked for forgiveness those in the church who have been hurt have shown amazing grace.

It’s a celebration of events. Weddings, funerals, infant dedications, birthdays, anniversaries… all have marked significant moments in people’s lives and I have been privileged to share in them.

It’s a celebration of sadness. There are few greater privileges than accompanying people as they travel ‘through the darkest valley’.

It’s a celebration of growth. I am not the same Minister who was called to the church in the spring of 2008. I have learnt. I hope I have matured. I have understood more of how much I don’t understand. But I have seen many people grow in their faith and that is brilliant.

It’s a celebration of high fiving. I consider it an immense blessing to have worked alongside the other minister in the church: my colleague, Lynsey. We have not physically high fived much, but there has been such a sense of teamwork, support, encouragement and joy in working with her. That has been based on mutual respect, honesty, laughter, tears and agape.

It’s a celebration of blessing. I sign off most bloggages with ‘be blessed, be a blessing.’ I know that I have been so blessed and if I have been only half that blessing to the church and community I will be content.

But most of all it’s a celebration of Jesus. Churches and Ministers are nothing without him. We’re just social clubs full of do-gooders. But with him, inspired by his Spirit, wow! We can be good free samples…

So celebrate with me!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*The bad news for you is that I will be continuing to unleash bloggages on an unsuspecting world in my new role.

building temples

Okay, it's not Solomon's Temple but one at Segesta in Sicily. Photo (c) me

Okay, it’s not Solomon’s Temple but one at Segesta in Sicily. Photo (c) me

The passages in the Bible that I have been look at recently are about the Temple that King Solomon built.

Well, let’s be honest, he didn’t build it himself. He gave the order and a team of skilled craftsmen and labourers set to work to build it. There’s no record of him even laying a ceremonial stone (have a look at many Baptist Church buildings in the UK and you’ll see stones laid by important people). His involvement in the building project was distinctly ‘hands off’.

But Solomon “built the temple”!

A couple of thoughts occurred to me. One was whether we can ever give enough credit to those around us whose work goes unnoticed and unrecognised until they don’t do it. We all notice soon enough if the streets aren’t cleaned or bins aren’t emptied. We’d all complain if they stopped repairing traffic lights when they break down. I have mentioned before that we don’t give a thought to those who work to supply us with electricity, gas and water until the supply is interrupted and then we don’t think about the hazards the repairer have to cope with to restore our comfortable lifestyle.

You can apply that thought to churches.

A second thought was whether we take too much credit for our own achievements. Listen to most acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies and you will hear a list of people ‘without whom…’ But what if you don’t get an award in which to share the credit? I was speaking with someone recently about the church I serve and was speaking very positively about it (meaning the people). And I realised that while I am one of the ministers in that church and I seek to serve, support, encourage and bless the people who are the church, the credit for what the church is like must go to the people allowing God to work through them and working with him.

You can apply that thought to other environments (work, sport, leisure…).

Solomon built the temple.

What have you built recently? Who didn’t get the credit? Why not see if you can find an opportunity to thank them?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

service returns

tennis ballGood customer service can make all the difference. I have just got off the phone from someone in a company where they had sent me something that was not quite correct. The young lady with whom I spoke was courteous, sympathetic, knew what she was talking about and offered to find out what was happening. I have used that company before and had dealings with the customer service team on that occasion too, and while there had been a mistake the way it was rectified made all the difference and gave me confidence in going back to them.

I had a meeting earlier this week with someone from our local Council where the ‘can do’ attitude of the person I was meeting was also really encouraging and gave me confidence about working together. Rather than looking for potential difficulties (and I think we would have been hard pressed to find any if I am honest) the approach was ‘we can do this together’. I have worked with a team from the Council before and I know that they will deliver what they say they can and that their desire is to serve the community too.

Both of these encounters have led me to reflect again on how people encounter churches. I did a similar thing about a year ago (you can see that bloggage here – it is called ‘service’ hence this is ‘service returns’) and I feel the need to ponder further. I have mentioned an ‘attitude of gratitude’ that I think God’s Spirit can create within us. I like it as a phrase because it trips off the tongue and rhymes. But I also like it as a concept because it is a positive outlook on life – what can we be grateful for today?

Today I want to push that a bit further though. If God’s Spirit is cultivating an attitude of gratitude, what about if we anticipated that there will be things for which we are grateful? What if we became more ‘can do’ people because we know that God is with us and if he wants it he can make it happen? What if we valued every encounter we have with people as a possible source of us blessing them and being blessed by them?

If you look at Jesus in the gospels he seems to relish being with people. Even unexpected interruptions are welcomed. He even accepts invitations to dinner with people who were criticising him.

So who will you bless today, and how might they be a blessing to you?

thanks

Last night we had a wonderful Carols by Candlelight service. There are so many people to thank that it’s almost impossible to do so without risking leaving someone important out. So instead I am going to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone involved – whether you were part of the congregation or choir, a musician or sound / video operator, a reader or speaker, a refreshment-server or setter-up-erer, a cleaner-up-afterwards-er or a candle-lighter, a welcomer or steward, a putting-the-words-on-the-latop-er or car park organiser, and so on.

Of course I have just done what I said I wouldn’t and have written a list of participants that risks leaving someone out. So, if your role is not listed above please forgive me and accept my gratitude to you for doing what you did. Having an attitude of gratitude is important, as is expressing thanks personally.

As a child I can remember what a chore I considered it to have to write ‘thank you’ letters after Christmas to the Grandparents, uncles and aunts and others who had been kind enough to give me a gift. I would put it off as long as possible, but eventually (usually under threat of sanction) I would write the letters. What I didn’t consider was the impact on those who received my handwritten letters, which I hope expressed genuine gratitude even if they were written under coercion.

Now I am acutely aware of how precious it is when someone says ‘thank you’ – verbally in person or over the phone, by email, in a letter (handwritten or typed), in a text, in a tweet, on Facebook and even in responses to these bloggages. There are so many different communication methods we can use to say ‘thank you’ and express appreciation that there’s not really a good excuse for us failing to do so.

laugh

One of the problems for those who have no Christian faith is that they run out of people to thank. If the Universe is an accident and not brought into being by the Designer then when we are blessed by events beyond human intervention to whom do you express gratitude? When a view takes your breath away, when good things happen, when a thought makes you smile, when you feel blessed, (to paraphrase the Ghostbusters) who you gonna thank?

Perhaps this Christ-mas you could thank the One who the heart of it all rather than a man in a red suit.

Be blessed, be a blessing

sweet reflections

Perhaps because of the stacks of boxes and tins of chocolates in the stores for Christmas I was reminded today of what Forrest Gump famously said: “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.'”

(I know Forrest Gump is a fictional character in a film, so in fact it was the scriptwriters and author articulated by Tom Hanks, but that is not such a striking statement!)

The quotation from his momma is cute, it’s moving but it’s not true because most boxes of chocolates have a card or a ‘menu’ that shows what the different chocolates will be.

I wonder if a more accurate statement comparing life to a box of chocolates might be: “Life is like a box of chocolates, sooner or later we all come to a sticky end.”

But that’s a bit maudlin for this time of year isn’t it?

However, there is some truth in what ‘momma’ said – there is uncertainty in life, particularly about the future. We all live in the present. We can’t change that without a Tardis (search for Doctor Who online if you don’t know what one of those is). We are unable to move from living in the present moment, even though that moment is constantly moving along the line we call ‘time’. It is now a different time from when you started reading this bloggage (and some of you may be wondering why you have wasted that time!) but you are still in the present. We are shaped and affected by events that are now in the past, and we plan for the future, but we are bound to live only in the present. And we don’t know for certain what the future holds for us. We never know what we’re gonna get.

One more reflection on chocolates (or assortments of sweets generally). I usually find that there is one or more of the assorted confectionery that I don’t really like (especially coffee or cherry). But they are there anyway, mixed in with the ones I do like.

In that sense life is like a box of chocolates – it’s a mixture of things we like and things we don’t. But instead of complaining about the chocolates we don’t like in our life, how about we ask the One who gave us the chocolates in the first place to give us an attitude of gratitude for the ones we do?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

a face of grace?

laughing ladyWhat are your pet peeves? What are the apparently insignificant things that cause you stress that is out of proportion to the size of the item causing that stress? Let me suggest a few common ones and see if any of them tick your boxes.

Management speak (like ‘tick your boxes’) instead of plain English.

Toilet seats left up.

Toothpaste tubes squeezed from the middle.

People who are walking along and then stop suddenly in front of you.

Automated calls offering you loans or to recover your payment protection insurance.

People who cough without covering their mouths.

People who don’t say ‘thank you’ when you have stopped your car to let them through.

This list is not entirely autobiographical, I promise. It is based on inadequate research (aka Google search (other search engines are available)). But the last one is one of my own personal ones. It does not take much – even a brief wave of the hand – to acknowledge someone else’s courtesy. I have written bloggerel in the past about having an attitude of gratitude and have probably complained about this lack of thanking on those occasions too. I have even taken to thanking people with a wave when they don’t thank me, which rather confuses them.

But I have decided that alongside an attitude of gratitude I need a face of grace. Who am I to decide that someone else should thank me? Why is my action deserving of a response? Am I so shallow that I want recognition for stopping my car? Is that how Jesus would respond?

So I have resolved that instead of the wave to those who don’t thank me (which is, if I am honest, delivered with a hint (or more) of irony) I am going to smile at them. I am going to ask God’s blessing on them (and on those who thank me too), and instead of getting stressed about it I am going to try to be blessed about it. I think it is a similar approach to ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘walking the extra mile’. It is a response of grace in place of irritation and agitation. I suspect it will also cause me less stress.

Go back to your answer earlier about your pet peeves. How can you show a face of grace in response?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer. When asked to define “great” he said, “I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level. Stuff that will make them scream, cry, and howl in pain and anger!”

He now works for Microsoft, writing error messages.

thanks

“Thank you.”

These two words are seriously under-rated, especially when put together. As well as being the polite response to somebody else’s actions, there is something deeper going on when we use them alongside each other (in that order).

‘Thank you’ is a phrase that offers recognition – we have recognised what somebody else has done, it has not gone unnoticed.

It is a phrase that shows appreciation – we are expressing something of the value that we place on the actions, which may be out of proportion to the actions. It may be that the phrase feels inadequate because the action was so significant to us. Or it may be that the appreciation is greater than the apparent value of the action because of what it means to us: for example, the simple act of holding a door open for someone may seem insignificant but to that person it may be an act of kindness that changes their mood or perception of others.

‘Thank you’ also demonstrates the value we place on someone else – we aren’t taking them for granted or assuming that what they have done ought to have been done anyway.

It speaks of a job well done; a kindness that was appreciated; a generosity that was a blessing; love that is received.

It’s always nice when someone says. “Thank you.” Awareness of that should help motivate me to be a thanker, to have an attitude of gratitude.

And if we are thankful to other people, how much more should be we thankful to God? Yes, life may be lobbing too many lemons at us for us to be able to make lemonade, but there are always blessings from God if we take the time to look for them. They may be masked by being in the shadow of the rotten stuff that is happening. They may seem insignificant on their own. But look for them, identify them and thank God for them and you will find that you receive an automatic attitude adjustment.

These are the lyrics from Alanis Morissette’s song, ‘Thank you’:

how bout getting off these antibiotics
how bout stopping eating when I’m full up
how bout them transparent dangling carrots
how bout that ever elusive kudo

thank you india
thank you terror
thank you disillusionment
thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you thank you silence

how bout me not blaming you for everything
how bout me enjoying the moment for once
how bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
how bout grieving it all one at a time

thank you india
thank you terror
thank you disillusionment
thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you thank you silence

the moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
the moment I jumped off of it
was the moment I touched down

how bout no longer being masochistic
how bout remembering your divinity
how bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
how bout not equating death with stopping

thank you india
thank you providence
thank you disillusionment
thank you nothingness
thank you clarity
thank you thank you silence

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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