a momentary interlude

To keep the suspense for my final atonement instalment I am making you wait until next week with a brief momentary interlude: here’s the ‘thought for the week’ that I shared with EBA Ministers this week…

Rain Clouds ComingDon’t we just love the weather in this country? I’m not talking about any particular type or weather:  just weather in general. It’s often the topic of our conversations (especially when we can’t think of anything else to say). And it always seems to provide us with something to complain about. Yesterday I was on a train that was delayed because it was so hot that the rails warped – cue complaints from other passengers about the wrong type of sun (and then reminiscences about the wrong type of snow)! The weather is too wet, too dry, too cold, too hot, too windy, too foggy… It is said that there is never the wrong type of weather when we go out, just the wrong type of clothes. I am not sure that always applies (what’s the right sort of clothing to wear in a tornado?) but I take the general point.

If your church is running outdoor events this summer I am sure that people (perhaps including you) will be praying for good weather. That’s understandable, isn’t it? We believe in a God who can make it rain continuously for 40 days and 40 nights (otherwise known as the traditional English summer); who can calm storms; who oversees the seasons to enable crops to grow and be harvested; and much more besides. So why can’t we ask him to give us the right weather for our church fete / barbecue / outreach / fun day / picnic / [insert alternative event here]? Surely he’s interested in those events going well, isn’t he? And we often thank him at the end of a successful event where we had the appropriate weather.

But what do we do when we get the wrong weather? Did God decide that he didn’t like our church fete / barbecue / outreach / fun day / picnic / [insert alternative event here]? Did we not pray fervently enough? Did God want us to learn something when he sent the hurricane through the garden party? I think the problem comes when we forget that the global weather system is a closed system. The weather here is like it because of the interaction between weather systems, cold fronts, warm fronts, cloud formation, rain cycles and so on. Precipitation happens. And if God started intervening for all of the church events every time we prayed can you imagine the chaos it would cause elsewhere around the world? There are enough problems caused by weather (in a creation that was already groaning and which human interventions through pollution have made worse) without our church fete causing more of them!

When we pray for good weather for our event we may pray with the best of motives but we are praying with blinkers on. It could even be said that we are praying selfishly. When he taught his followers to pray Jesus didn’t mention the weather. But he did urge us to pray that God’s Kingdom would come, seen in the way that his will is done on earth in the same way as it is in heaven. That is a prayer about our attitude and involvement. It is a prayer of submission: to our Abba in heaven and his priority, his mission, his purposes, his will. Only when we have genuinely been able to pray that sort of prayer should we come asking about our needs and relationships – physical and spiritual. (Perhaps instead of praying for the right weather we should be praying for a Godly response to the weather we get.)

Lynn Green (General Secretary of BUGB) has called us to a new season of prayer (you can read more about it at http://www.baptist.org.uk/Groups/260844/Beacons_of_Prayer.aspx) and that surely involves us first lifting our eyes from the pressing things that dominate our thoughts and time and energy and starting with ‘Thy Kingdom come…’

Be blessed, be a blessing

(I can’t get no)

Guitar Silhouette 1
rock music!

[Guitar riff]

da daa

da da daaaa da daa da da da

da da daaaa da daa da da da

da da daaaa da daa da da da

da da daaaa da daa da da

So begins one of the iconic openings of a song: (I can’t get no) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. (Now you know what that da da da stuff represents and you won’t be able to remove that earworm anytime soon). Immediately you hear the opening few bars you know the song.

For a while I had it as a ringtone on my phone. I changed it after my phone had rung in my bag when the bag was tucked away at the front of a church (the church service had finished). There was a couple in the church who were very surprised to hear this song start playing and couldn’t work out where the music was coming from!

I find it interesting that the song title is ‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’. Setting aside the linguistics for a while, I wonder how many people know the song as ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ and don’t realise that originally it was just ‘satisfaction’. The bit in brackets has become part of the title now because it is an integral part of the song.

I think that this song ought to be the anthem for Western consumer culture. Our whole economic system depends on the (unwitting) acceptance of the premise that we are dissatisfied. What we have in not sufficient. It does not satisfy. We have accepted that there is more to life than we currently have. But we have bought the lie that we can buy satisfaction. And because we are kept dissatisfied we therefore need to buy new, improved versions of what we already have; we need to buy the latest fashions; we need faster, more powerful, safer, stronger, cleaner… and our manufacturers and retailers sell more goods and make bigger profits, some of which is used to develop and promote new versions of what we have bought which we will buy because we are made to be dissatisfied with them… phew, it’s exhausting isn’t it?

I think that the song also ought to be the anthem for our ability to become addicted to things. Why do people take drugs, drink alcohol, overindulge in food, become obsessed with pornography and go to extremes to get more and more money? One of the reasons is that they are not satisfied with how things are – they have accepted that there is more to life than they currently experience but have bought the lie that it can be found in a pill, at the bottom of a bottle, on a plate, on the seedy side of the internet or in their bank balance. There is no such thing as ‘enough’.

Contrast that with Paul’s attitude in the letter he wrote to the Philippians (chapter 4 (NIV)):

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Did you notice how much joy, peace, contentment, sufficiency and satisfaction there is in this passage? Paul discovered that people are right when they are dissatisfied with life as it is – there is more to life. But he found contentment when he found that missing extra element – focusing your attention on Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “Above all else try to ensure that God’s will is done and done well and you’ll gain the right perspective on the rest of life.”*

It’s not something we can do on our own, but he gives us his Spirit to help give us the desire to do it, the opportunities to do it and the will to keep on.

In those circumstances you could happily take away the phrase in brackets from our theme song!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*My iffy translation of Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

un-god

The Laughing Christ
The Laughing Christ

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Have you come across that before?

Or how about: “If you tell God that you don’t want to do something that’s what he will want you to do.”

If the latter is true: I don’t want to drive an Aston Martin car, I don’t want to have a perfect golf swing and I don’t want to have my own TV magic show.

[Still waiting for all of those three to happen].

I think I know what people are trying to say when they say these sorts of thing. It sometimes seems to be the case that God asks us to do the things we are most reluctant to do. Have a look at Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3 or read the book of Jonah. And I know too that my plans and thoughts may well lack God’s imagination, vision and expansiveness.

But behind these ideas is also a hint that God is a bit mean, vindictive, cruel, unkind… What sort of God would mock me? What sort of God would deliberately decide to ask me to do the things I least want to do? Not the sort of God I believe in. It’s very un-God.

These ideas say more about me than about him. They suggest that my understanding of him is too limited if I think he won’t want me to discuss my plans with him. They suggest that I have a restricted relationship with him where I am less than honest with him (or myself). They indicate that my knowledge of him is hampered by negativity and that I have not grasped just how much God is ‘for’ me. I don’t think God laughs at me in a mocking way, but I think he smiles at me in a loving, warm, ‘bless you’ way.

I don’t think God laughs when I tell him my plans. But if he is God and I am me, I would do well to listen to him and allow my plans to be shaped by him. And if his plans differ significantly from mine he is gracious enough to allow me to choose which ones I want to follow, to pick me up if (when) I get it wrong, and to make a fresh start.

I don’t think God is looking for me to do the opposite to what I want to do. But if he is God and I am me, perhaps I would do well to be willing to do what he wants, as he probably knows better than I do. Perhaps rather than asking him to send someone else or running away to Joppa (see Moses and Jonah, above) I could consider that what he wants would be good to do even if it is difficult, uncomfortable, or didn’t appear in my list of 100 things I would like to do in my life. After all I won’t be doing it alone or in my own strength. (And if I am then I need to make another attitude adjustment!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.