sore jaw

My jaw is sore.

It is a result of last night.

laughing - permission given for blogIt is not aching from being punched, but from laughing. I had an evening that combined three of my favourite things. I went with a friend to see John Archer perform his wonderful comedy magic at a church in Southend. Friendship, magic, and faith all combined in one hilarious evening.

Wonderful.

Today’s bloggage may not be the longest ever but I hope it is illustrative of some of my firmly-held beliefs:

  • my Christian faith permeates and is relevant to every area of my life – there are no areas it does not touch and should not touch.
  • it is good to laugh – especially in church.
  • an experience (good or bad) shared with friends (and family) is an experience enhanced.
  • Jesus loves it when we enjoy ourselves, he told funny stories after all, and God gave us the gift of laughter.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

middle of the road

This week I am preparing some sessions for a Church day away on Saturday. We will be looking at the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), so that is in my mind at the moment.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We are told that we should consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet. Spiritually speaking we cannot bear the 9 different sorts of fruit unless we have consumed that too. We cannot give what we have not received.

[mixed metaphor alert]

middle of the roadThere is an old joke about a man who was speeding at 100mph down the middle of the road. When stopped by the police he said that he was simply obeying what it said on his driving licence: “tear along the dotted line.”

The joke may be corny, but the middle of the road is sometimes the best place to be. Sometimes I have swerved to one side of the road and driven into the ditch: speaking of these as a set of self-improvement targets: attributes to work hard at. At other times, in order to avoid that ditch I have swerved too far off the other side of the road and suggested that as this is God’s work we can’t do anything to cultivate them. But while both are true, the right course is down the middle between them.

We need to pay our part in the process, but it is God’s Spirit at work in us who bears the fruit. We can no more force ourselves to be more loving than a gardener can force a plant to bear fruit. But (like a gardener) we can make sure that we are ready to bear fruit, we can tend the soil, we can ask God to change us, especially where we are particularly deficient.

A couple of verses further on Paul urges us to ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’ We tend the soil by our intention to walk closely with God, to live by his rhythm, consciously to align ourselves with him, prayerfully to listen to him and follow closely. Keeping in step means that we are in close contact, our lives are prayerful, our Bibles are well-worn, we see all that we do as an act of worship to Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

storming the weather

Let’s face it, we Brits are obsessed with the weather. It’s one of the default subjects of conversation, it often makes headline news and we are avid amateur meteorologists with our own ways of predicting what the weather will be.

One of the ancient legends is about St Swithin’s Day:

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

The theory is that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day (15th July) it will rain for the next 40 days. Analysis of weather patterns has proved this to be incorrect. This week we have been told that we have had the coldest Spring in 50 years, and the fifth coldest since 1910. Global Warming (ironically) is among the causes that are being blamed for this unusual weather. I don’t pretend to understand it all, but there is no doubt in my mind that human activity has adversely affected our climate and that we will have to get used to different weather patterns as a result. It may be that in years to come the St Swithin’s Day forecasting method becomes more accurate.

If you want one of these weather stones, click on the image to go to a website that will sell you a personalised one.

One of the things that annoys me about our weather forecasts on TV is the amount of time devoted to telling us what the weather has been and what it is right now. We know what it has been. And all we have to do is look out of the window to know what it is doing right now. We want to know what it will be like. You might as well use one of these high-tech weather forecasting stones (which are available to buy – click on the picture to go to the website).

It has been said that it is not that the weather is wrong, it is that we wear the wrong clothes for the weather. That may be so, but it does help if the weather forecast can be consistent enough for us to be able to put the right clothes on. How often do we find ourselves ill-equipped for the weather – thick jumpers on days that turn out to be hot, t-shirts and shorts when it starts pouring down with rain.

Jesus seems to have had a lot to say about the future (paraphrased by me): don’t worry about tomorrow, worrying won’t change anything; prepare as well as you can for what you expect to happen; you may not know what the future holds, but you can know the one who holds the future.

Trusting God for the future is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not a case of sitting back and waiting for whatever happens, because we have a life to be lived to the full. And it’s not a case of being a control freak and then blaming God when our plans fail. There’s a delicate balance that we need to find, and I think it comes from a close walk with God. He’s not someone to be consulted occasionally: he wants to be involved in our lives – a partnership, a relationship. The more we involve him in our lives, the easier it is to trust him and to sense what he wants us to do. The more I have trusted him in the past (and he has come through for me) the easier it is to trust him now and in the future.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

To tell the weather, Go to your back door and look for the dog.

If the dog is at the door and he is wet, it’s probably raining. But if the dog is standing there really soaking wet, it is probably raining really hard.

If the dog’s fur looks like it’s been rubbed the wrong way, it’s probably windy.

If the dog has snow on his back, it’s probably snowing.

Of course, to be able to tell the weather like this, you have to leave the dog outside all the time, especially if you expect bad weather.

Sincerely,

The CAT

flash crash

lightningThunder: God’s way of telling you that you should have brought the washing in a bit earlier.

Lightning: God’s way of warning you that he’s about to send you a message that you should have brought the washing in a bit earlier.

Thunderbolts and lightning: God’s way of telling you to get ready to start singing about Galileo*.

There’s a little thunderstorm being hosted in the sky above our house at the moment (inconveniently interrupting my sermon preparation with a dash to get the washing in before it got drenched completely). I love thunderstorms. There is a magnificence and power that is unleashed which is inspiring. They are not to be trifled with: lightning strikes contain several hundred million volts of electricity.

Thunderstorms always bring to mind the phrase ‘the fear of the Lord’ from the Bible. Not because they scare me, but because they remind me that he is untameable, magnificent, powerful beyond my imagining. The ‘fear of God’ is not about being scared, but about recognising who He is and who were are in comparison.

If I am tempted to become too chummy and disrespectful with God the fear of God reminds me that he is the “Lord of lords and King of kings forever and ever” (cue Hallelujah chorus).

If I think that I can put him in a box marked ‘Sundays’ the fear of God reminds me that he is the Lord of eternity and time – all the days of my life are his.

If I think that sin doesn’t matter the fear of God reminds me that he takes it incredibly seriously – so much so that without Jesus it excludes us from his presence.

If I worry about things that may lie ahead of me the fear of God reminds me that if God is for me, whom shall I fear?

So, while the thunderstorm may have inconvenienced me, it has also put a healthy fear of God into me.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Bohemian Rhapsody!

fence sitting is uncomfortable

I’ve been working on Sunday evening’s sermon, which will be on the second-half of Acts chapter 5. This is the occasion when the apostles were hauled in front of the religious authorities and so infuriated them with their teaching about Jesus that a majority of people there want to put them to death. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel intervened with these words: “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

I have heard people speak in reverential and hushed tones about Gamaliel’s wisdom here. The prevented bloodshed by stating that there was a clear choice: either this Christianity lark was from God or it wasn’t. If it isn’t then it will fall apart in due course. If it is then you run the risk of offending the Almighty.

To an extent I think he did demonstrate wisdom because he had a sufficiently open mind to recognise that what was happening might be from God. But he also missed the glaringly obvious – if there is a clear choice then surely you have to come down on one side or the other, there is no room for fence sitting. Gamaliel wanted to have his cake and eat it (insert further clichés here, as appropriate).wood fence in nature 1

“Wait and see” is not a particularly adventurous or godly response when we are faced with a choice like the one before Gamaliel and Co. It is risk averse and lacks faith or discernment. Certainly we do not want to get it wrong and be on the anti-God side, but I have a sense that is God would much rather we made a stab at discerning his will and got it wrong than that we sit on the fence. When Jesus told the parable of the talents the servant who did nothing was the one who was castigated and it was his inactivity that was condemned.

This is not saying that we should not seek to discern God’s will. Exactly the opposite is true. But we should not be paralysed by fear of getting it wrong – he is a God of grace after all and will forgive us if we ask: 2nd chances are his stock in trade.

Sitting on the fence is uncomfortable at best and only really makes sense in jokes about what time it is when an elephant sits on your fence.*

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Time to get a new one

count your blessings

I have just received this year’s ‘Count Your Blessings’ leaflet from Christian Aid. In case you don’t know, instead of giving up treats like chocolate and cake, you use the Count Your Blessings calendar through the 40 days of Lent to be inspired to an attitude of gratitude for what we have, pray for those who have less, and do something to help change the lives of the world’s poorest communities.

There’s a version for children, and this year there will be Android and iPhone apps too.

If you haven’t got involved and you want to, go to Christian Aid’s website

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Some one-liners from http://jokes.christiansunite.com 

Gravity always gets me down
This statement is false
Eschew obfuscation
They told me I was gullible and I believed them
It’s bad luck to be superstitious
According to my best recollection, I don’t remember
Honk if you like peace and quiet
The Big Bang Theory: God Spoke and BANG! it happened
Atheism is a non-prophet organization
Despite the cost of living, have you noticed how it remains so popular?
Save the whales: collect the whole set
A day without sunshine is like, night
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese
Corduroy pillows: They’re making headlines!
Gravity – It’s not just a good idea, it’s the LAW!
Life is too complicated in the morning
Nobody’s perfect I’m a Nobody
Ask me about my vow of silence

inadequate prayers

Those who know me at all will know that it is rare that words fail me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the shooting at Sandy Hook School, Newtown, Connecticut, left me speechless. I wanted to express outrage at what had happened, despair at how helpless I felt, pain and grief for the families who had been bereaved, but all I could muster was silence and a lump in my throat.

In the aftermath of the event there have been many knee-jerk reactions. Some may have been wise and helpful, others were extremist and became white noise in the background of the grief. People have been posturing, blaming, demanding action.

I would like to comment on some of those opinions, but for the moment I won’t. Now is not the moment for political posturing it is a moment for prayerful love.

I pray for God’s blessing, peace, strength, love and presence to be with all who are grieving.

 

I feel that this is one of those times when the Holy Spirit takes our emotions and words we cannot express and turns them into prayer in the throne room of heaven.

If you want to know what to pray, here are some suggestions: May this strengthen the resolve of each one of us who is a follower of Jesus to cry out, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” May it inspire us to pray with hope, “Deliver us from evil.” May Jesus show us how we may be part of the answer to our own prayers.

Be blessed, be a blessing

faith is a joke*

Stop right there! Please don’t start lobbing rocks (literal or metaphorical) just yet. Please read on and then decide whether what I have written has any merit. The title of this bloggage is a bit mischievous. It is open to misunderstanding, yes. But it was designed to get your attention, and it did, didn’t it? It’s my little joke.

What I mean is that some people declare that there is a problem with (Christian) faith because it is unprovable. You can’t distil God in a laboratory. You can’t prove him by mathematics. And that causes problems for people who like empirical proof. You can’t prove it, so it must be wrong.

So why is Christian faith a joke? Well, perhaps if I was being honest I should have made the bloggage title a simile: Christian faith is like a joke.

You see a joke is funny because it is. There is something within it that we find inherently amusing. It may be the element of surprise, dissonance with the norm, a clever word-play and so on.

You can analyse a joke. You can dissect it and see how it is constructed: the set up, the punch line and so on. You can decide what genre of joke it belongs to. You can count the number of letters or words. You can look through history to see whether or when it has been told before. You can analyse the level of laughter it causes. But you can’t prove that a joke will be funny. It may have all the right elements but still not be funny. And sometimes a joke will be funny because it breaks all the rules, which is why computer-generated jokes probably won’t work as well as those generated by comedians.

But when you do analyse a joke it loses some of its joke-ness. You can still appreciate it aesthetically, even be impressed by its clever construction, but it will never be as funny. And if you spend your time analysing jokes you miss the point of them. They are meant to make us laugh, to look at ourselves and the world from a different perspective, they are meant to amuse, entertain and be funny. Treating them to scientific rigour is missing the point.

And that’s where the similarity with faith comes. Yes you can analyse what we believe. You can consider the psychology or philosophy behind faith. You can look at faith in human history. You can do all sorts of tests on it. But if you do you are missing the point. Faith, like a joke, is to be engaged with personally not analysed in a lab.

If you ask someone why a particular joke makes them laugh they may not be able to explain why in a manner that satisfies investigative rigour… it just does.  It resonates with them. If you ask a Christian believer why they believe they may not be able to explain why in a manner that satisfies investigative rigour… they just do. It resonates with them. Like a joke, faith is more than the sum of its parts, it is about meaning in the same way that a joke is about laughter or music and art is about transcendence*.

So please can we step aside from the petty and pointless ‘science vs religion’ debates and arguments that are selling so many books? They are about point-scoring not truth-discovering and often seem to work on the basis of inaccurate summaries and caricatures rather than engagement with real people.

Please can we stop being disrespectful to people who do not believe in God, or to those who do?

Please can we stop feeling intellectually superior or spiritually smug about others?

Please let’s not stop discussing these things.

And please let’s not stop analysing and exploring the components of faith (or jokes). However, please let’s use the appropriate tools for the job – not using the scalpel of science when what is needed is the nutcracker of faith; not using the sledgehammer of faith when what is needed is the spanner of science.

Please can we simply be allowed to talk about what we believe and be as passionate and persuasive as we like but recognise that the other person / people may be equally passionate and persuasive about what they believe. This is not an argument for relativism or pluralism, but for respect.

My faith makes sense to me. I find that it stands up to the scrutiny of my conscience and my intellect. My experience of Jesus is foundational to my life. My faith in Jesus motivates me to want to tell others about him because I believe that my life is better with him and I believe that there is a life beyond this world that is open to all who choose it and I want others to have that too. I will be as persuasive and passionate about that as I can. But I won’t force someone else to believe it, I won’t stop being friends with someone who does not share it, I will not condemn someone who cannot accept it, I will respect those who don’t understand it or say it has not proof behind it. Even though I disagree with them.

Faith is like a joke because it has that intangible something that adds something to our life and takes us into the transcendent: something that dies if you dissect it.

Funny that!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(This bloggage was written on 19th October but posted the following week while I am on retreat. The timing may seem to be cowardice, but it was mainly because it came to me while I was at home and I wanted to write it down before I forgot it and then thought I would send it into the world wide web while I am away on retreat so that those who actually enjoy my blog (you know who you both are) don’t feel too bereft in my absence).

*If you find the simile too disrespectful, I think the same process and simile works just as well for music or even art.