blind to the truth?

20160402_114517Recently I acquired a study. The garage in our house has been converted into a study. It’s a lovely space in which to work, study and meet people and makes my life a lot easier. It’s also downstairs, which helps (not too many upstairs garages though, so I guess you realised that). And it’s much closer to the coffee-making facilities in our house.

The front of our house faces south. And it was only after we had some vertical blinds installed that I realised the significance of this: if it’s a sunny day when I twist the blinds open in the morning I have to twist them to the right so that the sun does not shine directly through into my eyes. Later in the day, after the sun has traversed (or, for the cosmic pedants the earth has rotated) I have to twist the blinds to the left for the same reason. It’s not something that is bothersome, but it’s not something I had considered until the first sunny day when I was in my study.

I think that the ability to be flexible, adaptable and open-minded is one that all of us need to develop because the environment and circumstances in which we exist changes around us. I think most people suffer from change-inertia. It’s not necessarily that we don’t like change but it takes so much effort that we’d rather not bother thank you very much. However if we don’t change and adapt to the changing circumstances around us in the same way as if I failed to adjust the the blinds we may find that we can’t operate effectively because those changed circumstances make it more difficult.

It seems to me that churches suffer from change-inertia. Christians are like all people who tend to like things the way they have always been. Keeping church the way it has always been is perhaps a bit like a spiritual security blanket and if things change in church one of the fixed points of a person’s faith has changed and that can be uncomfortable. I understand that.

But I don’t think it’s healthy. Because if one of the fixed points of a person’s faith is the way a church has always been then their faith is in the wrong thing. We are supposed to be followers of Jesus and put our faith in him not in traditions, preferences, buildings, or even other people. And following Jesus involves change. That is at the heart of the word ‘repentance’ (a change of direction back towards God). It is inherent in what the Holy Spirit is doing within us – changing us to become more like the people God created us to be. And if you look at how Jesus engaged with the religious people and traditions of his day he was all about change! I would go so far as to suggest that if a church does not want to change (if the change is Jesus-led) then they are in danger of becoming a church-preservation society and not a church.

I may be coming across a bit strong here, but it bothers me that if churches do not change and adapt to the changes in culture around them they will be seen as out of date, irrelevant, and old fashioned and that people will then think of Jesus in the same way and ignore him. We’re supposed to be free samples of Jesus not of our own preferences and traditions. And if we refuse to adapt to our changing environment and become irrelevant while remaining in a happy holy huddle we are not only being selfish but disobedient to Jesus by not going to make disciples.

Now before anyone starts branding me a heretic and picking up virtual stones to lob at me or my blog can I say that I am not suggesting that we change the core of our message. Churches must always be ‘on-message’ when it comes to Jesus. But we can change the way that we say it. For example, Christians may (or may not) know what I mean if I say, “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” But for most people outside church if they hear that they will imagine I am engaged in some sort of animal cruelty and may call the RSPCA.

Jesus used language and illustrations that were contemporary for his day, but were also radical and challenging to the status quo and that is a problem for us if we refuse to change and adapt. Many of the amazing stories he told are culturally irrelevant to the Western post-modern society in which I live. (Don’t lob those virtual stones yet, read on). His parable about a Good Samaritan needs a lot of explanation to people today (explaining the depth of the historical animosity between Jesus’ Jewish listeners and the Samaritan people of his day, the religious cleanliness rules that would have prevented the priest and Levite from carrying out their duties if they had touched the beaten up victim, for example) even though the message is relevant today (perhaps more than ever). Today in telling the same story we might talk about the parable of the Good Immigrant who goes out of her way to look after a Right Wing Racist thug who was beaten up by a rival gang (who might still be hanging around) and was ignored by the leaders of his gang who ran away and a vicar who was on her way to a PCC meeting. It’s the same point Jesus was making about who your neighbour is but set in a different cultural context.

So how would you communicate the truth of “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb” to someone who knows nothing about the Biblical imagery or theology of that statement?

Do we adapt to our ever changing world, or do we keep the blinds as they were and end up unable to see what we are called to do?

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the router

Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.

network cableThey decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.

I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!

This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!

I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!

It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.

But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.

But the upgrade is worth it. If we let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

every cloud has a watery lining

Today I was supposed to be going to a meeting. But the situation changed unexpectedly this morning and I have been unable to go to the meeting. I am frustrated and disappointed about that as it sounds like it would have been a really good occasion. But the change in circumstances as a result of this morning’s unexpected event means that now I have a little more time to catch up on admin and do some preparation that I was struggling to find space for. It’s not so much that every cloud has a silver lining so much as making the most of a situation.

dark-cloud-1539729“Every cloud has a silver lining” is a bizarre idiomatic proverb. It’s certainly not literally true. On the occasions when I have been in an aeroplane and it is flowing through a cloud it just goes grey and watery, not shiny and silvery. You can imagine that if it was literally silver inside by now we would be mining clouds! Who was it who first coined the phrase? (You can find some references to it here).

The problem is that even if you take the proverb in its metaphorical sense it’s still not true. Things don’t always turn out all right. Sometimes good does not come out of bad. Sometimes the bumper sticker is right (even if it’s not very eloquent): s#*t happens.

When you read some of the Psalms in the Bible the psalmist is going through dark times and there is no light at the end of the tunnel (not even the light of an oncoming train). And Jesus never promised anybody an easy ride for following him. In fact he suggested exactly the opposite was true: if you follow him you can expect persecution, opposition and s#*t happening.

So, you might be wondering, what’s the point? What do we gain from following Jesus, trying to live a life that pleases God and ending up getting persecuted?

The first thing (and you often find this in the Psalms) is a recognition that God is with us even in the darkest Valley. Everybody in this world experiences dark times but an awareness that God is with you, whilst it might not make things brighter, is a reassurance. Jesus gives us his Spirit who is with us whatever we go through and who can interpret the deepest groans of our being that we are unable to articulate and turn them into prayer.

Furthermore the Bible teaches us that stuff is not the most important thing in this life. Stuff breaks, rots, corrodes, becomes obsolete and loses value. Even money is finite and elusive. We leave this world as we came into it (I don’t necessarily mean naked and crying): empty-handed. But there is more to life than stuff and money and even more to life than living. I do believe in life before death but I also believe in life after death. That faith, hope, and expectation means that whilst I might struggle to find a silver lining inside a cloud I know that beyond the clouds is the brightest sunlight.

Be blessed, be a blessing

writing?

Some of you will have deduced from the increased flow of bloggages that I am now back in harness. The shoulder surgery seems to have been successful and while it is still painful to move in some directions I am gaining greater mobility each day (thank you if you prayed or asked about it). The house move went well and (despite the weather) the shed is now built and is ready for us to fill it with gubbins from the garage to release that space… (see Tuesday’s bloggage for details about the sequencing).

Today is a day dedicated to writing. There are some documents I have been working on that are unfinished and need more attention, and yesterday I promised that I would write something else for a meeting coming up next month. Of course, when I say ‘writing’ I mean that I will be putting fingers to keyboard, or I might use my voice recognition software (although I may get complaints from the room next door as the walls are not soundproofed).

fountain-penBut only a few years ago if I had said I was going to do some writing I would have meant that I was going to pick up one of those ancient artefacts known as a ‘pen’ and make symbols on some parchment that resemble letters, numbers and words. It’s archaic, I know, but there are times when I still do that. Even though there are touch screens, voice controls, mice and keyboards that make interacting with technology very easy there is something pleasant, perhaps even therapeutic, about taking a pen and writing on paper. I even use a fountain pen with a nib sometimes!

Oh, nostalgia… it’s not what it used to be.

When Jesus was responding to some of his critics he told a couple of slapstick parables (Luke 5):

36 He told them this parable: ‘No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, “The old is better.”’

It’s ridiculous to buy a new coat and cut out a patch from it to repair an old one. And if ytou were going to store new, still fermenting wine you needed new, flexible wineskins (leather bottles that preceded glass ones) that would expand as the fermentation took place. If you used old, rigid wineskins they would burst.

But Jesus seems to be commending nostalgia at the end of this, doesn’t he? Which is strange bearing in mind what he had been saying beforehand. I think, bearing in mind the slapstick humour and the thrust of the parables that new is good, he was parodying the intransigent, reluctant-to-change attitude he had encountered from his critics. He was talking about and demonstrating God’s new, exciting, radical Kingdom and inviting people to be part of it but instead some were preferring the comfortable, fusty, safe ways of the past.

How often have we missed out on what God is doing because we’ve never done it that way before?

Be blessed, be a blessing

mostly armless

Not quite my what my office chair looks like (there's no spotlight!)
Not quite my what my office chair looks like (there’s no spotlight!)

When I was a teenager I had a computer game called ‘Elite’. It was a space-based game in which you flew your space ship around a Universe with thousands of planets – trading, bounty-hunting, asteroid-mining, pirating and other space-related activity. It was astonishing just how much the programmers crammed into 48k of memory.

Yes, young people, 48k. Not 48 MB or 48GB. 48k. Just so you know, a MB is 1000k.

When you began playing the game you would be classified as ‘harmless’. After a while, when you had successfully defended yourself against attackers or had dealt with some bad guys you became classified as ‘mostly harmless’… and so on until you became ‘Elite’.

They’ve recently reissued ‘Elite’ on a much, much grander scale and while it is very enjoyable and far more complex (it is linked to t’internet so you can play with / against other people around the world) it perhaps lacks the charm of the wire frame graphics squeezed into 48k of Random Access Memory.

So why did I call this bloggage ‘mostly armless’? Well the thought came from my office chair. It has arms that attach to the back and seat. Over the years the covering on the arms has become a bit worn and frayed and even Duct Tape can’t successfully repair them (I know, amazing isn’t it!). I recently took them off in order to see if I could repair them more easily like that and the back of the chair didn’t fall off. So I decided to see how well the back is secured to the seat.

It’s well-secured with heavy duty bolts.

So I decided to see if I could operate without the arms for a while. From a Health and Safety at work point of view it must be causing serious headaches because I am not now following the manufacturer’s instructions (bad) yet my chair does not have arms so can fit better under the desk (good). I will keep checking the heavy duty bolts to make sure it is not going to fall apart.

Without the arms I have discovered a freedom. I can get onto the chair much more easily. It will slide under my desk completely so can be pushed out of the way better (in my cramped space). My arms hand down at the correct angle for typing on my keyboard so my posture is better.

And I have also discovered that there are phantom arms. I keep trying to push on them to sit up straight. I keep trying to grab hold of them to turn the chair around.

I know that I will adapt to the new mostly armless chair. I think I prefer it. But it does feel strange – almost like a new chair.

Christians talk about how God’s Spirit is changing us. He is slowly but surely working on our character, personality, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, behaviour to help us to become more like the people God created us to be. We’re all a work-in-progress. But sometimes he asks us to make more radical changes.

It might be scary. It might feel strange. It might be risky. It might be unorthodox. But if we trust him, it will bring freedom.

So if you have been putting off being baptised, you have been avoiding talking to that person about your faith, you have been holding back from trying out your gifts, you’ve been resisting renewing your relationship with Jesus, you have stopped going to church and find it difficult to go back, and you know what God’s Spirit is prompting you to do about it, I would encourage you to go for it. Ask some of your friends to pray for you as you do it and take off those arms.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

tweeting

Blackbird Chicks In NestMany years ago a chick in a nest noticed something. At the end of every day it got dark. But every morning, after the chick had started tweeting that it was hungry (through its beak not the microblogging site) the sky grew lighter and eventually the day arrived.

The chick was fascinated by this. Every morning it would tweet its little heart out and every morning the sun would rise. The chick told its siblings and encouraged them to tweet too – to ensure that the sun returned each day.

Chicks in other nests started to complain about being woken up so early by all the tweeting, but when the first chick explained that it was their tweeting that guaranteed that the sun would come back they joined in too.

Once the chicks had fledged and left the nests they all continued the tradition because they didn’t want to risk the sun not coming up. Everywhere they went they told other birds about it and the news spread far and wide. Migrating birds took the news to other continents and it was not long before birds all across the world knew that their tweeting in the morning was what guaranteed that the sun would come up.

Each new generation of birds was told that their tweeting in the morning awoke the sun from its slumber and each new generation of birds tweeted their hearts out each day. They believed that they were making a difference to the whole world – this was their contribution to life.

Different birds tried to outdo each other with the length, volume, quality and variety of their morning tweeting. Over time the real reason for the morning tweeting became less important than the tweeting itself. When asked why they tweeted in the morning they just shrugged their wings and admitted that they didn’t know why they did it – it was what birds did, wasn’t it?

Today, all across the world, birds tweet each morning. Many of them actually don’t start tweeting until the dawn has started to arrive, the sky has started to lighten and the sun has started to peek over the horizon. But that doesn’t matter to them. What matters is that they tweet because that’s what they do in the morning, isn’t it?

Do we ever stop to ask ourselves why we do what we do? We do it because we have always done it. We do it like that because we have always done it that way. We do it because we don’t know any different. We do it because that’s what we do.

Tweet, tweet, tweet.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(It’s been said that when Jesus returns the last seven words heard (uttered by Christians) will be, “We’ve never done it that way before!”)

new use

2015-02-06 17.55.43What are you supposed to do with your son’s bedroom while he is away at University? Do you leave it just as it was when he left, like some sort of shrine – unwilling to change anything so it is just as he left it when he returns; or afraid to change things in case that discourages him from returning? To do so honours his memory and that he is part of the family.

But it also means that there is wasted space in the house.

I know of one family where the moment the older sibling went away to University the younger sibling slept in his room on the first night to preserve his memory and liked the room so much that the next day they moved into his room and ‘evicted’ him. Good use of space, but how did the older sibling feel about ‘his space’ having been invaded by his sister? Did he feel unwanted?

I think I have come up with a compromise. This photo is of our son’s bedroom. He does not normally have a golf putting mat in his bedroom but while he is away I feel it is making good use of the space to turn his bedroom into a putting room. It means that I don’t have to keep getting the putting mat out and putting (that’s ‘put’ as in ‘foot’ not as in ‘but’) it away each time. It means that I can have a quick putt ‘en passant’ on the basis that little and often is better than long and infrequent. And it can be put away for his return or if we have guests who need to be accommodated.

It’s temporary.

I wonder if that’s how many Christians treat church on Sunday? On Sunday we change our behaviour, we do things differently, we allow God to fill us and make resolutions about how we will be different this week. But it’s temporary. It’s not long before we make way for old habits* to return, or indeed invite new ones in. And then next time we go to church we start all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not seek to change and to get rid of old habits and I am not saying that resolve on Sunday does not make a difference. But going to church is not meant to be the equivalent of a weekly detox that allows us to indulge for the rest of the week.

Christians are under new management. Compromise is not a part of the new arrangement. Someone has moved in and ‘evicted’ the old occupant. Sunday is when we reaffirm our commitment to these new occupancy arrangements, when we may need to do a bit of tidying up, when we hear about his plans for the use of the room, and when we express how we feel about this.

The dissonance within us occurs when we fail completely to evict the old tenant – the two are not good roommates. It occurs when we forget the new occupant is there. It happens when we go back to the old habits.It is the result of compromise.

I heard recently that research has shown that the way to overcome old habits* and establish new patterns of behaviour is to have a conscious plan, to focus daily on the new ambition and targets, to put obstacles in the way of the old habits you want to break, and reward yourself when you are doing well rather than beating yourself up if you fail.

Hmmm, sounds familiar: daily prayer and bible reading has been a pattern for Christians throughout history. And now we know why it works!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*if you prefer ‘biblical’ language, call it ‘sin’