sailing fast

click the picture to go to the website

Have you seen any video footage of the America’s Cup yacht racing that is taking place at the moment? It’s astonishing! Have a look at the video footage and photos on the America’s Cup website and you’ll see what I mean.

There are two 72ft long catamarans with wing sails the size of a Jumbo Jet’s wing hurtling across San Francisco bay at speeds of over 50mph ! When they get going they lower some ‘fins’ that enable the boats to ride on hydrofoils and almost literally fly across the water. 

It seems a long, long way from the first race in 1851 between schooners that led to the America’s Cup series. Whilst I don’t doubt that it was still exciting in Queen Victoria’s day, the technology and speed of today’s racing is almost beyond comparison. Perhaps the only similarities are that there are two boats racing and that they are powered only by the wind.

I suspect that there are many people who feel that life is like that. The pace of life has accelerated beyond all recognition. New technology has changed the way that we communicate, access information, enjoy leisure and so much more.

I guess we have a choice. We can hearken back to the ‘good old days’ or we can embrace the change, hang on tight and enjoy the ride.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Change is not always bad, nor is it inevitable from a vending machine!



Thermostat 2

A very brief thought today because I am very busy. I have had plenty of time to reflect, just not much time to turn that into a bloggage. So here’s the brief thought inspired by the weather:

Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

Do you know the difference?

Can other people see that difference in you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Milton Jones tweeted today: Just found out about the Channel Islands. Last week’s holiday in jersey far hotter than necessary.


Yesterday my computer decided to go slow. It was running well below optimal and I could not work out why. I was not running lots of programs, I was not asking it to do anything particularly difficult. I was stumped.

Until I saw a little icon in the system tray (that’s the bit in the bottom right of a windows screen). It was telling me that there were some updates that the computer needed to do. Bless it’s little cotton socks it was trying to download almost 400MB of updates in the background so as not to disturb me. However by trying not to disturb me it disturbed me. On their own none of the updates were particularly large but there were loads of them: hence the large amount of data being downloaded. 

A thought occurred to me as I decided to close everything else down and let the computer get on with it: sometimes when God’s Spirit is at work within us he is at work ‘in the background’ – subtly, gently, imperceptibly changing us to become more like the people God created us to be. But those gradual cumulative updates make a big difference to us over time. It’s not just the passage of time and gaining of experience that helps to transform us, if we ask him to envelope into God’s Spirit changes our operating system, installs new features and enhances our performance.

ZX81 in between a copy of the "ZX81 BASIC Programming" manual and a cassette tape recorder, with a black-and-white Ferguson TV set on the background.
Click on the picture to go to Wikipedia’s wonderful entry all about the ZX81

A further thought occurred to me this morning as I reflected on the size of the cumulative updates. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81. It ran Sinclair BASIC, operated in black and white on a TV screen, and had a massive 1K of memory. Programs had to be loaded via a cassette tape recorder. I can remember being thrilled when I acquired a 16K RAM pack: that gave me so much more scope not only to run amazing programs such as 3-D Monster Maze but to write my own programs. I wrote a program illustrating the different badges in the Boys Brigade awards scheme (for which I was awarded a badge) that even had a little animated Boys Brigade lad who scrolled across the screen and saluted. I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

Then I was bought a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48K and colour!). This was the pinnacle of computing. It still ran Sinclair BASIC but now I had so many more commands at my disposal, so much more memory, and enhanced graphics with colours. If you have ever owned a ZX Spectrum and have played Elite you will know just how amazing that little computer was. (If you haven’t you have missed out). I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

When I started at Bible College I bought an Amstrad word processor. It had its own monochrome green screen, a separate keyboard and printer, and even saved files onto discs. It had 256K of memory which I upgraded to 512K! I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

Then a friend of mine at college told me he was selling his 286 PC which had its own colour monitor, 4 MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard disk. It was running some newfangled operating system called Windows 3.1 and had icons you clicked on the screen with something called a mouse. I bought it off him and bought a new form of printer called an inkjet printer that produced wonderful quality. I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

Since then I have had a succession of computers. Each one has been faster, more impressive, has had more features, has had newer operating systems, and so on until I get to a computer that downloads 400 MB of data just to update itself. And each time I have thought to myself that I couldn’t imagine needing anything more. Until a few years down the line that computer has struggled to cope with newer software and the need to do things faster and more complex ways.

What is the point of telling you this computer history? Well, other than giving me a nostalgia buzz it strikes me that if I had remained content with my Sinclair ZX81 and really couldn’t imagine needing anything more I would have missed out on so much. Sometimes we can resist change because we don’t like the idea of change, or because we are comfortable with the way things are. But change is not always bad. The changes God wants to bring about within us are for our benefit and to help us to become more like the people he has created us to become. Why resist that?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

toxic church

‘News International’ has become ‘News UK’ in an attempt at what the BBC News website is calling “brand decontamination”. Following a procession of bad publicity and scandals the organisation has changed its name. A change of name won’t change much. I suspect it will not make much difference unless there is an associated change of culture and attitude, and even then it will take a long time to change the public perception and erase the residual collective memory we have about News International. 

WARNING ICON GLOSSY 14The concept of ‘brand decontamination’ is an interesting one. It suggests that brands can become toxic and become a liability. I wonder whether ‘church’ might be in danger of heading that way and need decontamination? There have been too many scandals (one is too many) associated with churches in recent years. The public and painful debates in the Church of England have also contributed to this effect, particularly given how they were portrayed in the media. It doesn’t help that lazy journalism talks about “the Church” when it means “The Church of England” or the “Roman Catholic Church”, but I suspect that potential toxicity cannot be attributed only to that.

So what can we do? I suppose the first thing is to work out whether we should be bothered about it at all. After all, Jesus warned us that our reputation would be tarnished as his followers and that we can expect opposition (and persecution). But those are because of who he is, not because of our failures. We should be concerned not because of our reputation but because of how it reflects on his. If churches are the visible representation of Jesus today (his body) then we should be worried if people think his character to be ugly, cruel, even evil because of us.

Should we change our name in order to effect a brand decontamination? Suggestions for a new name are welcome (just hit ‘leave a reply’ above)! But unless we undergo a corporate character and culture change it may be as ineffective as I suspect News UK’s re-branding will be. And that is where we have a distinct advantage. We are followers of the One who is able to change us. We are disciples of the forgiver, the reconciler, the fresh-start-giver, the transformer. He has filled us with his Spirit who will bear fruit within us that will help us to be more like Jesus.

On balance I don’t think we need a brand decontamination. What we need is openness to God’s Spirit, a willingness to change, and a desire to be the best free samples of Jesus that we can. And surely admitting our mistakes, seeking forgiveness and starting afresh is a much better approach than re-branding – that goes for us as individuals and as groups of Christians (aka ‘church’).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Bearing up

bearing up
bearing up (not me nor my teddy bear, but you get the idea!)

Don’t try to analyse what’s going on in my head – that’s dangerous territory – but this morning I was reminiscing about the teddy bear I had as a child. His name was ‘Teddy’ (I was as original then as I am now). He was given to me when I was born and I had the same teddy bear throughout my childhood.

He even saved my life! See this bloggage for the story

During his active time with me he had several new skins, and some new stuffing, but he was still my bear.

(That reminds me of the roadsweeper who said that he had had the same broom for 50 years. The local news reporter came to interview him for such an amazing feat and asked him how he had managed to keep the same broom for 50 years. The roadsweeper said, “Well it has had 12 new heads and three new handles, but it’s the same broom!”)

We all grow and change. Not just physically (believe it or not but I once had hair on the top of my head!) but emotionally and spiritually too. I am not the same as I was as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult and even as I was last year. God’s Spirit is gradually changing me. But I am the same person. God’s renewal is not like giving us new skin and new stuffing, or new broom heads and broom handles. His renewal is more of a refining, an enhancing, a purifying process in which we are gently being transformed to become more like the people he has created us to be and less like the tarnished, imperfect version that we had become.

I am nowhere near the finished article. Oh no. Definitely not. (Please never put your ministers on pedestals because we will fall off.) I am a work in progress, but hopefully in each of us people can catch a glimpse of God through his Spirit at work in us as they see how he has changed us. It’s another way in which we can be free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

cliché time once again

money - coinsI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: change is inevitable… except from a vending machine.

I know that’s not very original, but it still makes me chuckle.

None of us like change, but it is a fact of life: we are all getting older and that brings about change (male pattern baldness for example – see my picture in about me); society and organisations evolve and adapt which necessitates change; seasons come and go bringing different weather patterns.

I think one of the things that we fear most about change is when the change is sudden and unexpected (take the reaction to Pope Benedict’s unexpected resignation, for example). sudden and unexpected change is much more difficult to adapt to than gradual change because the latter enables us to acclimatise whereas we have to react instantly to the former. The often used analogy is that if you were to drop a frog into a pan of boiling water it would jump out immediately but if you put it into cold water and gradually raise the temperature it will not notice the change until it is too late. That analogy does seem rather unfair on hypothetical frogs and also suggests that the outcome of change is negative. That is not always the case.

Regular bloggists here will know that back in November I had an operation to renew an occipital nerve stimulator that I have installed within my body in order to moderate a chronic migraine. The effect of the stimulator is very gradual and I have been impatient to be able to say that it is definitely working whilst not being able to say for sure if that is the case given that the change is so gradual. I’m pleased to be able to say that it is definitely making a difference and that the likelihood is that (as with the previous ONS) the migraine should soon be a thing of the past and at the moment is running at a much diminished level. Thank you for your prayers and support.

The change that God brings about within each one of us, because his Spirit is within us, is often (and perhaps usually) gradual too. Occasionally God makes dramatic and sudden changes within us that my experience is that for the most part change is almost imperceptible. It is only as we look back that we realise how much God has changed this. We find that his Spirit is bearing fruit in our lives and changing us to become more like the people he has created us to be. Even the image of fruit bearing should remind us that it will be a gradual process: fruit does not grow overnight!

I think we should all have badges that say, “Please be patient with me, I am a work in progress.” God is at work in each one of us in different ways doing different things changing different aspects of our life and personality as is best for each one of us. We need to be very careful that we do not tell other people what changes God should be bringing about in their life – that’s his job. We need to be very careful to that we do not impose what God is doing with us as the standard for everybody else.

God’s new community, a.k.a. church, should be a place of grace not of rules. It should be a place where we recognise that we are all works in progress and nobody has the right to judge anybody else about the rate of progress or the aspects of their life that God is currently working on. Jesus reserved his harshest words for religious people who were confident of their own righteousness and pointed fingers, excluded and condemned others. Please God don’t let us be like that. Let us be free samples of Jesus the gracious, welcoming, blessing, joyful, incarnate one who is God’s “yes”.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Uncertainty principles

We are hosting a barbecue tonight. In order to give our potential guests enough warning that they were able to come we had made the invitation at the weekend. The problem is that we live in Britain and it’s summer. There’s no guarantee that the weather will be suitable for barbecues at any given time. We hope that it’s going to be nice weather so that we can all go outside and enjoy the garden while I cremate the food.

The last time we had a barbecue the sun decided to hide behind some rainclouds and the rainclouds decided to empty themselves on us. Cooking a barbecue under an umbrella is difficult because you have to use one hand to hold the brolly and because it also seems to be a collecting point for the smoke! But we will manage.

The weather forecast gives us a guide. It tells us that heavy rain is on its way, but it should be gone by the time our guests arrive. I hope so.

Life is full of uncertainty. Because we exist in a unidirectional timeline we can only know what has happened and what is happening. We cannot know the future. Anyone who claims to be able to do so is either lucky or a fool (or a lucky fool). I’m not talking about prophecy here, but the normal, everyday, run of the mill life that we lead. We may plan on the basis of what we hope or expect but we cannot know for sure what will happen.

This means we have to be adaptable. Refusing to respond to changed circumstances results in confusion and calamity.

I think one of the biggest difficulties that churches face is adapting to change. The old joke is: how many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? Change??!

But churches are slow to adapt to change, if they change at all. Perhaps one reason is the struggle we have determining what aspects of our faith are immutable, unchangeable, and what are variable according to cultural change. We may well be confident in the timeless truth of the Bible, but while we are happy to wear clothes made of mixed fibres and break a Levitical rule we are unhappy when people suggest that other rules can be broken. See, for example, the public struggles in the Church of England about women in leadership and human sexuality. Can we say that the truth is timeless while interpreting that truth in different ways in each era? I think we find ourselves in difficulty when we try to use the Bible as a rigid rule book rather than a revelation of God’s principles for life. To me the Bible reveals more about God’s mercy, care for the marginalised and grace than it does about religious rule-keeping. Have a’look at Jesus’ responses to the religious rule regulators in the New Testament… we can respond more easily if we live by principles rather than rules.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

And hopefully the weather will be nice tonight.