Tag: faith

faith in a spin?

Today I put my faith in the weather forecast. It told me that although it was going to be very cloudy it was not going to rain and there would be a good breeze.

‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘just right for doing some loads of washing.’

Stop sniggering.

So I put a load of washing in the machine, keeping one eye on the looming black clouds.

Stop giggling.

Then, when the machine had finished its cycle I hung out the washing to dry. Outside.

washing lineMeanwhile the clouds got darker and more ominous-looking. So I put another load of washing in the machine.

Stop chortling.

Then, when that was finished and hung out I put the rest of the washing in the machine. I ignored the moisture in the air.

Stop laughing.

No, seriously, stop laughing. Because it didn’t rain. The ominous clouds dispersed and now the sun is coming out. The washing is drying well in the breeze.

I began the day by wondering whether it would be worth doing some washing. I knew that it was needed. Then I did my research into the weather, checking out forecasts that were specifically for our town. Based on that research I decided that it looked like a good day to do some washing, even though looking at the sky you would have reached the opposite conclusion. I trusted the weather forecast.

But if all I did was trust the weather forecast the washing would still be sitting in the washing bin. I had to do something with my trust. I had to put it into action. That’s faith.

Some people reckon having faith means that you bypass your brain and take a leap into the unknown. That’s not what I have experienced.

Faith is putting the washing out on an ominously cloudy day because you trust the weather forecast. Of course there are a lot more reliable things and people in whom we can put our faith than a weather forecast but it’s the same process.

Faith is what happens when you take your research, your experience, your understanding, your hopes, your dream, your needs and your intelligence, blend them all together and then act on them.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the lovely notebook

Is it just me, or do others really enjoy having a new notebook or diary (if you still use a paper one)? There’s something attractive about having a notebook with crisp, pristine pages. I love it. I anticipate what I will use it for. I make myself promises that I won’t scribble or cross things out. I will only ever use nice pens to write in the book, and I will always use my best writing.

Recently for my birthday some kind friends of mine bought me this notebook.

20170313_103140

It was made in Italy and it’s got a lovely leather cover with that leather strap to keep it closed. It’s got my initials embossed on the front. The paper is lovely quality. I love it.

The only problem is that I haven’t used it yet. The book is too nice just to be used for taking phone messages or reminders.I want it to be used for something important and special. I want it to contain things that I will want to come back to and look over again in the future. I don’t want to spoil it with scruffy, rushed notes, or with poor quality handwriting, or with scratchy pens.

So the book is still in pristine condition.

But it’s not being used. It’s not able to fulfil its purpose. It’s being denied the opportunity to do all that it was created to be and do because I am concerned that it will not be used in the way that it deserves to be used.

Do we sometimes deny ourselves, or others, an opportunity to try something and to grow and flourish from it because we are afraid?

Do we sometimes forget that we have been given gifts, skills and personality in order to bless, delight and encourage others and keep them to ourselves instead?

Do we want to protect people or ourselves from harm and thus avoid taking any risks?

I have an idea of what to do with the book. I have resolved to use it.

What about you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

doubt that is bigger than ants

antA while back I remember reading a little phrase that stuck with me because it needed to be mulled and pondered and reflected on: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” Apparently it was Frederick Buechner who wrote that in Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC.

I found it amusing, and then a little bit provocative. Does doubt really keep faith alive and moving? Do we actually need doubt to help keep our faith vibrant? And I am not just talking about Christian faith here, but whatever or whoever it is in we put our faith. You see, if we doubt then we question and if we question then we explore and if we explore then we find new vistas, new ways of thinking about what we believe, new understanding, and perhaps even new / renewed faith. If we have no doubts we have no need to question. I think that is what Buechner is trying to tell us.

However I don’t think that ‘ants in the pants’ is enough. That suggests a sort of irritant, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that makes you squirm. Doubt can be like that, but big doubt, real doubt, foundation-shaking doubt can be dark, all-embracing and menacing. It can be the monster under the bed ready to torment and keep you awake. It can be a highly corrosive acid that eats away the flesh. It can be the black ice on the journey of faith that causes a multiple vehicle pileup.

This is the sort of ‘is there really a God?’ or ‘how can God be like that?’ type of doubt that causes faith to scream in pain and won’t be placated by patronising platitudes. It’s the sort of doubt that demands answers. It’s the sort of doubt that can make or break faith.

If you are experiencing that sort of doubt then you need a few things to help you deal with it.

You need good friends who will support you without judging as you work things through.

You need space and time to explore things properly.

You need grace to be able to explore previously-held beliefs and see whether they still hold true.

You need be determined to persevering through the difficult terrain.

You need to want to come through the doubt (some people prefer to wallow in it).

If you are a Christian I suggest that you spend time looking again at Jesus in the gospels and see what he has to say about faith and doubt.

And, whether or not you call it ‘prayer’ you need to seek wisdom ‘above’ to help you discern truth from lies.

It’s the sort of experience that John of the Cross called the ‘dark night of the soul’. It’s an experience that strips away a faith that we have received but not owned, that dis-empowers our own futile attempts to get to know God on our own terms and provokes within us a desire for a deeper, simpler intimacy with God. Those who have been through it, endured and emerged find that their faith is deepened, stronger and somehow much more relevant to life. It is something lived rather than something thought, it is something experienced rather than something understood. And such a faith enables us to hold faith and doubt in tension.

I think that faith and doubt are siblings – two responses to the innate human suspicion that there is more to life than simply ‘me’. In the Bible Jesus was asked by a desperate father to heal his son. In response to Jesus nudging him in the direction of faith the father exclaimed: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) The siblings are both present as the father wrestled with the reality of a son whose affliction was incurable and was causing him to injure himself and the possibility that Jesus could heal him but what if he didn’t and yet he has healed others…

That’s honest faith. That’s faith that has been wrestling with doubt and has just about emerged victorious but bruised and scarred.

If you are experiencing doubts I hope and pray that beyond a search for answers you will find truth, hope, peace and love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

prayer support

I’ve just been writing my monthly prayer diary, which is sent to a group of people who have offered to pray for me and the Ministry to which God has called me. As I was about to send it out I remembered that my Grandparents told me that they used to pray for me every day. I didn’t doubt it for one moment.

spot the torch
Crowds of people in Colchester cheering on the Olympic Torch Relay

Of course I am certain that they also prayed daily for their children, their other grandchildren, and quite a lot of other people and situations around the world. That was one of their qualities and gifts to others. And whilst I do know that many other people were praying for me, it was one of the things I felt I had lost when they died and joined the great crowd of witnesses cheering on from the galleries of heaven.

So now, knowing that there are others who have promised to pray for me daily, I realise I have not lost that spiritual support and encouragement of others, it’s just been passed on to others. I try to offer the same support to others too.

Yesterday morning I was preaching from Mark 2, the righteous vandals who ripped open a roof to lower their paraplegic friend in front of Jesus. Among the many things that are significant in that passage, as I was speaking it struck me afresh how Jesus acted “When he saw their faith.” Not the faith of the man on the mattress in front of him, but the faith of the four friends peering anxiously through the hole they had made in the roof. It reminded me of how we bring other people into the presence of Jesus in prayer and in faith, and God acts in response to that faith.

So, if you have ever prayed for me, thank you for your faith. If you pray for other people. Thank you for your faith. If you are in need of prayer, and know that others are praying for you, be encouraged that God acts in response to the faith of those who bring people into his presence.

And how much faith do you need? Just enough to pray – God does the rest!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

oh behave!

What's this picture got to do with the bloggage? Can you make sense of it? It's a  metre rule (folding)...
What’s this picture got to do with the bloggage? Can you make sense of it? It’s a metre rule (folding)…

How do you know how to behave in church and as church? You watch what others are doing don’t you. I was in a church a while back (preaching) which had a very different tradition to the one I was used to. There was standing, sitting, kneeling, responding, singing, praying, chanting and incense waving and a couple of different books to navigate.

The problem was that I was sat right at the front on my own because I was due to preach. I was facing forward so there wasn’t anyone I could copy. My peripheral vision earned its keep that day as I strained to see what everyone else was doing. It felt very strange.

Of course that’s how lots of people see and experience church – not just the services but the whole package. We have different buildings (mostly); use different language (or when we use familiar language we might mean something different – “I’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb” might get you a visit from the RSPCA outside a church building) (or we don’t use language that is used outside church); we seem obsessed with notices (in the services and on numerous noticeboards; we say that we love everyone (and then have an unofficial list of people we don’t love); we run all sorts of activities with volunteers who work selflessly but venerate the few who are paid to be there (or pillory them)… and much more besides

It’s a miracle that anyone finds faith in Jesus through the church, isn’t it?

Actually, yes.

And the miracle happens mainly when we are ‘normal’ but offer to pray for someone in trouble. The miracle happens when we are everyday people who talk about what Jesus means to us. The miracle happens when Christians are down to earth people who have an awareness of heaven. The miracle happens when we allow his Spirit to help make us into good free samples of Jesus rather than when we are trying to be impressive churches.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

whether the weather

Following on from yesterday’s bloggage, today is the day when the shed is going to be put up. The nice men from the shed company have just arrived and the heavens have opened! We’re on the lookout for groups of animals moving around in twos.

It has been said that there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes. That may be true normally but when work needs doing outside the weather can be wrong. Crops require the right weather to grow and then we need the right weather to harvest them. When England play at cricket we need the right weather (sadly sometimes it’s a need for rain to avoid a defeat). Sun dials don’t work well in the rain. And when blokes turn up to put up a shed they need it to be less than torrential: otherwise they may be tempted to build it upside down and turn it into a boat!

But is it the wrong weather? Or is it that our lives are insufficiently flexible to enable us to change in response to the weather? I recognise that events like harvesting crops are relatively fixed but so, on the whole, are the seasons to enable farmers to plant, grow and harvest so there is limited flexibility even there.

You may be wondering where this line of reasoning is going. I wasn’t sure myself when I started. But the thought struck me (given the British obsession with the weather – it gives us something to talk about when we’re stuck for subjects) that perhaps we need to relax our modern lifestyles and obsessions with time and timeliness. Perhaps we need to be more flexible (I can already hear administrators and event organisers screaming) about things. The Bible has the concept of Kairos – God’s timing. And it is clear through the Bible, through history and in my own life that God’s timing is not always what we hope or expect but it’s always good. And wise people will adjust their timing and expectation to fit in with God’s.

The question is whether we will.

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.