not much has happened

Dear Bloggists, sorry that it has been a while since my last bloggage. Not much has happened in the intervening time…

We have been on holiday to Sweden, meeting up with lots of Sally’s friends (and me making new friends). So I have seen lots of lakes, lots of words that in Swedish are normal but in English are funny (such as the delicious chocolate sweet in this photo).

I have seen castles and visited the Royal Palace at Drottningholm (in my mind a bit like Windsor Palace for the Queen in the UK as it’s a bit out of Stockholm). I have walked in a national park and heard some interesting noises that may or may not have been an elk or a wild boar.

I have discovered a new special concept: fika. This is stopping for tea / coffee and a cake, and can be at any time. Indeed as I write this bloggage I am also enjoying fika with a cup of coffee and the last of the Swedish cinnamon buns we brought back.

I have performed some magic for some of our Swedish friends, and also for an 8 year-old daughter of the friend of one of our Swedish friends on her birthday. It’s quite a challenge performing illusions when you don’t share a language, but it seemed to go well. I think an open mouth and wide eyes means the same thing for audiences in most languages!

And I have performed magic with a message at Heart for Harlow’s town centre service (not long after two women performed songs from Disney’s Frozen, complete with costumes.

I have had the date confirmed for my interview to join the Magic Circle. If I get through the interview I will then have an examination (audition) to perform later on.

We have been welcomed into Membership of our local church, South Woodham Evangelical Church.

Oh yes, and my friend Richard Jones only went and won Britain’s Got Talent! Well done Richard! You can see the two of us performing together last year here at the end of a show when we hired out a local village hall. I guess his days of performing in village halls may be over!

So not much has happened.

It is easy to get caught up and carried away with events, especially when they are either really positive or really negative, and forget that God wants us to involve him in these things too. When it’s good we sometimes forget to be grateful to him. When it’s bad we sometimes forget to call out to him (unless it’s to blame him).

I have written before about having an attitude of gratitude, and I am so grateful for all of the above experiences.

I am grateful that when things are not so good I know that I do not have to face those things alone. I know that He is with me when I walk through the darkest valley and I am grateful that nothing can separate me from his love.

I guess I am even grateful for the ability to be grateful. And I am also grateful that I have someone to be grateful to. If you don’t have a relationship with God, who are you able to be grateful to?

Today why not try listing things for which you are grateful, and be grateful to the One who gave you the ability to be grateful?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Sodium Chloride based nostalgia

There are quite a few passages in the Bible that trouble me. Some trouble me because they are like a mirror and make me reflect on myself and I don’t come out looking too good. Others trouble me because they are so far outside my understanding and experience that I don’t know exactly what to do with them. And, if I am honest, some trouble me because God doesn’t come out of them looking too good.

[gruesome alert] If you are squeamish you may like to skip today’s bloggage – or just skip. This is more of a sketch pad on which I am doodling some thoughts about God than a well-reasoned theological dissertation.

Let me give you one that has been puzzling me recently. It’s in Genesis 19:1-29 and concerns Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his family. It is a sordid tale that starts with two angels turning up at Lot’s door (which is lovely) but then spirals into depravity and hideousness I won’t recount here, but if it was ever made into a Hollywood film like Noah it would definitely be an 18 Certificate (especially if you dare to read beyond verse 29 [shudder].

The narrative ends with Lot and his family fleeing for their lives from Sodom while the Bible tells us that “The Lord rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah…” How do we equate that with the God of love and mercy that we see elsewhere in the Bible? He does not come out of it looking very good.

It gets worse. As they are fleeing Lot’s wife decided to look back and admire the carnage and “she became a pillar of salt.” Really? Just for looking behind her? Come on God, that’s really cruel.Salar 3

I have wondered about this passage for a while and this is what I am hypothesising might have happened… I wonder whether the ‘burning sulphur’ was a meteorite strike. I have no geological evidence for this, but this is my conjecture. God’s warning to Lot to get out of the town immediately and head for the hills may have been because he knew that the meteorite was about to strike and there was no time to lose. God’s injunction not to look back may not have been so much about nostalgic reminiscing for the good times (IRONY alert) in Sodom so much as not wanting them to pause for a moment given the imminence of the event. Perhaps Lot’s wife was not so much turned to salt (sodium chloride) for her nostalgia as she was covered by hot ash and incinerated because she stopped to watch. The white ash would have looked like salt. They were heading for a nearby town and perhaps Lot and his family made it inside the safety of the walls but his wife had stayed outside and… well, you know.

Okay, that may help me understand what could have happened. I am not saying that this is what happened, but it helps me to think that it was possible in that way. It puts a plausible 21st century understanding of the Universe onto bronze age events to help explain what could have happened. If that is the case, this was more of an emergency evacuation than a summary execution.

But it doesn’t entirely let God off the hook. Because the Genesis narrative says that the burning sulphur / meteorite was God’s punishment on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. If that is the case it’s even worse for God’s PR company because that would mean that when he set the Universe in motion and all sorts of celestial bodies starting whizzing around some / one of the smaller ones was set on a trajectory that would impact the earth at Sodom and Gomorrah at precisely that time, and that God would have planned it in advance because he knew of the evil of the inhabitants of those towns…

I am still troubled by this but have a few thoughts. One is that while we know God as a God of love and mercy, he is also a God of justice and we should not take that lightly. The second is that whatever the cosmic event was that destroyed those towns was it a deliberate act of a vengeful God or was it a cosmic event that happened and reminded people of God’s justice? I think that there is a subtle but important difference. Thirdly, is part of the reason that it is portrayed how it is in the Bible that this is how people viewed God in those days (sitting in heaven with his finger poised over a button marked ‘smite’) and we need to read that in the light of the New Testament revelation as well. The fourth is to look at what Jesus said, and he said that it would have been better for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah ‘on the day of judgment’ than for people who refused to welcome his followers who had come with good news.

This suggests that while the towns were destroyed by the cosmic event, the eternal status of the inhabitants was not settled by the cataclysm. I believe that the ‘day of judgment’ is when the God who gave us all free will honours how we have exercised it. If we wanted to be with him, he honours and accepts that. If we did not, he (disappointedly) honours and accepts that. Perhaps there were people in Sodom and Gomorrah who had called out to him even as the place was being destroyed. It would be just like him to respond to that call – like Jesus responded to the thief being executed next to him.

I am still bothered by this passage. But that is partly because I am not God and don’t understand everything. Perhaps it is because I can sometimes get too chummy in my approach to God and forget that he is G-O-D! Maybe it is also because I need to be wiser in how I interpret the Bible, not imposing my own views and prejudices onto it, being willing to wrestle with it and allow it to wrestle with me.

And of course while I hope there is not a meteorite out there with my name on it, I do need to bear in mind that who I am, how I am and what I do is all in the sight of a holy God.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

plugging away

We had a wonderful day at our church yesterday (Sunday). In the morning service we baptised Simon, who has only recently become a follower of Jesus, and he told us his moving testimony about his life and becoming a believer. We also had Sylvia, who was baptised in 1959 but didn’t have the opportunity to share her story at her baptism, so she shared about God’s faithfulness over all those years. We had Silvia who reaffirmed the promises she made at her baptism a number of years ago and told us of her journey of faith and how God had been with her and spoken to her. And we had Leisa, who is going through all sorts of difficulties but wanted to reaffirm her baptismal promises as a way of declaring that God has been with her throughout. And in the evening we were blessed when John, one of our members, led the service and preached about the cost of following Jesus.

As I said, it was a wonderful day.

Last night I opened a bedroom window to get some fresh air into the room on a muggy night. In the very early morning I was awoken by the local birds who were getting very excited about the fact that the sun was coming up again and were telling everyone about it. I decided to close the window to reduce the volume. As I walked to the window in the gloom of our room I trod on an upturned electrical plug (prongs up).

An Electric Plug


And what was the first thing I thought about this morning? Not the blessings of yesterday but the pain of last night. It may be just me but isn’t it true that pain, hardship, difficulty, troubles or whatever negative experiences we have seem to override the positives for us? It may be just me but many words of encouragement can be drowned out by one word of criticism.

It may be just me, or it may be human nature. If it is I am sure that evolutionary biologists will have an explanation for it – perhaps that we need to deal with negative experiences and events in order to overcome them: we can’t spend all our time laughing and rejoicing if we need to fight off a bear or run from attackers.

And it may not just be one-off events or experiences. Long term pain can drain and debilitate. Lengthy adversity can rob us of satisfaction and peace. Ongoing difficulty can destroy moments of joy. I know that too from my personal experience.

In those moments I have found immense satisfaction and strength from these words:

Pull yourself together. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

No. Actually not those words. Those words are unhelpful and inaccurate. Try these:

But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

That may seem trite, but I have found immense encouragement and strength from God when I am going through tough times. Look at those words in the wider context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians:

…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We don’t know what or who the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But it was clearly something significant and dreadful for Paul to describe it in those terms and to plead for God to take it away. God’s response was not to take it away but to reassure Paul that he would have enough grace to cope, and find that God would make up what he lacked.

So whatever difficulties or hardships you face I would encourage you to plead that the Lord would take them away, but be ready for his response that may not be to take them away but instead to give you what you need to cope – even treading on an upturned plug!

Be blessed, be a blessing