updates

I think modern technology is, on the whole, wonderful. It has transformed so much of my life. I began working (in a solicitor’s office) having just two options if I wanted to communicate with someone who was not in the office. I could send a letter or I could phone. Now I have email, text messaging, I can send photos, I have video calling, and so much more. It all so convenient and helpful.

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Except for those moments when my technology decides it needs to do an update. It feels like they always choose the most inconvenient moments to do this. I know that this isn’t true and that it’s probably only that I notice and remember the inconvenient times and ignore the others, but that’s how it feels. I wrote a bloggage about the most inconvenient one – you can read it here.

It seems to me (and it may just be that I have more gadgets) that updates are a more frequent occurrence than they used to be. Rarely does a day go by when one or more of my gadgets announce that they updating a program or app or operating system.

And is it just me, or do you also feel that when an update has happened you want to see some changes, improvements and benefits from having the updated version?

But that doesn’t seem to happen very often. I am told that an update is happening and then that it has completed, but most of the time I can’t see or experience any difference after the update. I know that some of the updates will have been to fix bugs or improve security or to enhance compatibility but there’s a part of me that wants to see a tangible improvement in my user experience for having had the upgrade – more than just a change from version 16.3.4.5.334.1 to version 16.3.4.5.334.2

Reflecting on this recently (while my phone was carrying out some upgrades) I realised that we are changed and transformed in a similar way. We don’t often see dramatic changes and significant upgrades to who we are – mostly we are changed and improve incrementally and imperceptibly.

This should not surprise me. After all, the Bible talks about the changes that the Spirit of God brings about in me are spiritual fruit – and fruit grows gradually. Over time you will be able to see a difference, but on a daily or even weekly basis you won’t notice anything different.

How does he bring about these changes? With our permission, and with our involvement. He won’t go against our wishes, we have to want him to transform us. And he wants us to participate in the process by putting into practice the fruits he is growing in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. The more we deliberately seek to act in these ways the more naturally they will be part of who we are and how we are.

I hope that Nick version 16.3.4.5.334.2 is an improvement on Nick version 16.3.4.5.334.1 but you may not notice it. I hope that there is a more noticeable difference from Nick version 1.0!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

the saga of the mouth scaffolding continued

braces
not my mouth

Yesterday evening I was frustrated. You may be aware (if you read my previous bloggage) that I currently have scaffolding on my teeth (aka mouth braces) in an attempt to relocate my teeth to where God intended them to be. And it imposes limitations on me that I dislike (sometimes intensely).

One of the things about which I have to be cautious is what I eat. For example, I need to avoid hard, crunchy foods: “nothing harder than a pretzel.” That is difficult because pretzel hardness varies between types of pretzel. It’s not a universal constant and therefore is not an ideal benchmark against which to measure hardness of food. But I understand the point.

The wires on the braces are held to the mounting points by strong latex ‘elastic bands’ and I have to be careful because certain foods can stain the bands so that they are almost fluorescent. Chief culprit is Indian food, especially if it contains turmeric. My dentist advised me to abstain from curry until the night before I see her because of the staining effect, and since she changes over the latex elastics each time I see her I only have the glow in the dark mouth scaffolding for one night.

Today I am not scheduled to see the dentist. Last night I was performing some magic with a message for a men’s group that was meeting in a curry house. The curry smells made me salivate. The starters on the table looked so tempting. The menu was full of food I enjoy eating. But I resisted and instead had an omelette and chips. It was dispiriting to be eating a (nice) omelette and chips while my table companions were tucking into the food I really wanted to eat.

It reminded me again of the need for discipline (see the preceding bloggage), and the need to realise that a brief moment of enjoyment may have longer term consequences. I was aware of how easy it is to be tempted: starting with a poppadom and some mango chutney would be okay. And probably a small kebab as a starter wouldn’t hurt. And then the Bombay Potato alongside a kebab would taste nice. And if I have gone that far I might as well order a naan bread, and some rice, and I might as well have a curry because I have probably already stained the elastics so why not indulge myself.

Being disciplined at the start makes it easier not to give in to temptation later – personal resistance seems to diminish the further you slide down the slippery slope.

One of the things I am trying to do is not only listen for Wisdom’s voice but respond to it.

  • Staying up late to finish watching a film may seem harmless, but Wisdom suggests that rest of the film could be recorded and that we would benefit from a good night’s sleep which means that the next day we will be fresher and healthier. And Wisdom also gently reminds us of how grumpy we are when we are tired and how that will affect other people.
  • Having that extra doughnut may seem really attractive because we really like doughnuts, but Wisdom suggests that the doughnut looks better on the plate than it does on the hips, that we have already eaten enough and that a balanced diet is not a doughnut in each hand. And Wisdom also gently reminds us that someone else might enjoy that doughnut.
  • Running with your basket in hand to the till that is just opening at the supermarket so you can nip in front of the lady with her fractious child in the trolley and a big load of shopping may not seem that harmless. But Wisdom asks us whether we are really in that much of a hurry and to think about how upset the child already is. Wisdom gently suggests that by allowing her to go first the Mum can deal with her upset child sooner.
  • The other driver may have driven thoughtlessly and caused us to brake suddenly. They may need to be taught a lesson. But Wisdom whispers to remind us that we all make mistakes, that nobody was hurt and that the other driver may be really embarrassed by what they have done. Wisdom gently suggests that by giving them a bit more room rather than driving on their bumper flashing our lights we are increasing the amount of goodwill on the roads and that can only be a good thing.

These may seem trivial examples, but I believe that Wisdom (or God’s Spirit) speaks to us all the time, and it’s up to us whether or not we listen and how we respond. It’s easy for us to get caught up in a moment and ignore Wisdom’s voice. One of the ways in which we translate a word used for the Holy Spirit in the Bible is ‘counsellor’. Not as in ‘therapist’ but as in ‘adviser’ or’wise guide’. If Wisdom is God’s Spirit why would we ignore him?

Be blessed, be a blessing

sunny side up

“How do you like your eggs in the morning?” sings Helen O’Connell in the opening line to an old duet with Dean Martin…

“I like mine with a kiss” Dean Martin replies.

This song (or extracts from it) have been played regularly on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 for the past few years. Until this morning it has just been earpaper (something in the background you don’t notice – like wallpaper for the ears). But this morning I listened to it and I pondered.

First of all, I would have to say that it depends on who is on the other end of the kiss, doesn’t it? A kiss is generally seen as a sign of affection (or greeting) but there are many different levels of intimacy suggested by a kiss and much of that depends on who the other pair of lips belong to. (This particularly is relevant if your name is Jesus and the other person is called Judas!)

Dean Martin continues, “Boiled or fried, I’m satisfied as long as I get my kiss.” I admire his preference for affection above his preference for how his yolk and albumen will be cooked and served. But I have to admit that I like my egg is cooked and served in a particular fashion and a kiss is not necessarily going to make me less fussy (particularly if it a kiss of a less affectionate nature).

Of course I am being a picky pedant and I do understand what the song is trying to say. But my ponderings on this song this morning made me think a little further about eggs and the ways in which they are cooked. When I was growing up I was aware of four different ways of cooking eggs: boiled (with or without soldiers); scrambled; poached; and fried. Today there seem to be so many more options, so many that this song might be very different if it was written today:

“How do you like your eggs in the morning?”

“I like mine with a kiss. Hard or soft boiled, fried sunny side up or down, hard or soft scrambled, over easy or over medium or over hard, poached, baked, Spanish fried, or omelette, it’s hard to decide and a kiss may distract me from making up my mind.”

fried eggI don’t know what your preference for your eggs may be (you may indeed have an intolerance for eggs, or just not like them) but I prefer my day to be sunny side up. An egg that is cooked ‘sunny side up’ is one where the yolk sits on top (as in the picture above). When I describe a day as ‘sunny side up’ I don’t mean that everything is hunky-dory, fluffy and lovely, and perfect (although that would be nice). What I mean is that it helps to have a positive outlook on the day – to look for the encouragements, the blessings, the joys and the smiles.

When you look at a glass do you see it as half-full or half-empty? Or do you say, “Wow, I have a glass with some water in it!”?

When someone cuts you up in your car do you shake your fist angrily or think, “I am so glad we didn’t collide”?

If someone is unpleasant to you do you bottle up the hurt and hope that someone else is unpleasant to them (or even respond in kind yourself) or do you hope that their unpleasantness may have been cathartic for them and that they may have a better day now, and perhaps think that it could have been worse if they were unpleasant to someone else?

You may think that I am being an idealist here, and unrealistic. And I would have to admit that I am. But it’s an ideal to which I aspire and one that I know I can’t do on my own. It’s an ideal that I want God’s Spirit to make real in my life. It’s the ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘walk the extra mile’ life that Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a life that refuses to hold on to negative emotions and always looks to find the silver lining in the cloud.

I believe it starts with an attitude shift. It starts when we are able to pray, “Help me to love people like you do”. The prayer below is attributed to St Francis of Assisi and embodies the attitude shift beautifully:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

whispering

When I left my last church in order to take up this post a friend gave me a book. It’s The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, and is a year’s devotional reflections that he wrote for President Obama and sent him in a daily email for him to read first thing every day. The thought for this Sunday is as follows:

‘“Let every one of us cultivate, in every word that issues from our mouth, absolute truth. I say cultivate, because to very few people – as may be noticed of most young children – does truth, this rigid, literal veracity, come by nature. To many, even who love it and prize it dearly in others, it comes only after the self-control, watchfulness, and bitter experience of years.” Dinah Craik, A Woman’s Thoughts About Women.

‘“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 (ESV)

‘Truth: the sieve through which our every action must flow. Yes, it’s allowable; yes, it’s beneficial; yes, it’s profitable; but is it true? Only we know the answer – and to this standard we must keep. “Let every one of us cultivate, in every word that issues from our mouth, absolute truth.”

‘Dear God, grow within me the desire for truth in all things so that I might be set free from the bondage of falsehood. Let veracity be my nature. Amen.’

Aside from the challenge of the thought, the fact that each day the President of the USA is receiving a devotional thought like this is encouraging. It reminds me of the role of a slave (perhaps known as an Auriga) in a Roman Triumph whose role was to stand behind the victorious commander and, whilst holding a laurel crown on his head also whisper “Memento homo” in his ear – “Remember you are a man.”

seals whispering

The Bible for us can be like that slave. Through it God’s Spirit whispers in our ear and helps us to keep the right perspective:

When things are going well and we are tempted to pride and self-reliance he whispers in our ear, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

When things are tough and we are tempted to give up he whispers in our ear, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship*. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:15b-17)

Let’s always pay attention to the Spirit’s whispering in our ear through Scripture!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*‘sonship’ here indicates the bestowing of the full legal rights of an adopted male heir in Roman culture

dusty to dustier

We’re having some building work done at our house at the moment – converting the garage into a study. The builders are doing a good job and it looks like this might be the last bloggage written in my upstairs temporary study as we anticipate being able to move everything downstairs into the new study over the weekend. Today’s photo is of a wonderful moment when the front wall had been built but the window was not ready and in order to secure the room overnight the builders cut the garage door in half. Some people have suggested that it looks like I was opening my own takeaway (suggested names included Nuclear Waffles (I don’t!); In Cod We Trust; nick’s kEBAbs; The Piece of Cod Which Passes All Understanding; and Fission Chips) or the story in the Thomas the Tank Engine series when Henry refused to come out of a tunnel so they bricked it up…

Even though most of the work has taken place in a sealed room and dust sheets have been used it is noticeable that most of the house seems to be coated with a thin film of dust at the moment. I have swept it up from time to time but it keeps coming back. On their own each individual speck of dust would not be noticeable, but when it gathers with its friends you can see it and it makes everything look grubby, dull and neglected.

I think dust is a good analogy for the things in our life that we’d rather weren’t there – the things the Bible calls ‘sin’. I don’t think many of us have lots of big boulder-sized sins to confess. But the little things, which on their own wouldn’t bother us, slowly accumulate until spiritually we feel grubby, dull and neglected. Little things like the occasional ‘white lie’, putting someone down, an unkind thought, selfishness, a quick gossip… you know the sort of thing.

Regular sweeping helps, but if we leave it until each Sunday to do that we will find we are quite dusty by the end of each week. And if we leave it longer than that we will find that the dust will seriously affect our relationship with God.

I find that I need trigger moments to help me dust daily – when I wash or clean or dust physically I also have a spiritual clean out too, I try to think about whether I have accumulated any dust recently and seek to sort it out.

“I am sorry, please forgive me” are six powerful words.Keep a short account with God and with other people.

And of course it would be much better if we didn’t get dusty in the first place. That’s where God’s Spirit comes in. If we ask him to and are willing to respond to him, he helps us to think before we speak. He nudges us before we act. He changes the way that we think about people so we think about them more the way God thinks about them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

recycled thought

Each week one of the Regional Ministers in our team sends out a ‘Thought for the Week’ to the Ministers in our Association. This week was my turn and I have decided to recycle that thought for you too rather than having to create something new for you, dear bloggists. I hope you don’t mind having ‘hand-me-down’ bloggages!

Each weekday those who have national and regional roles within BUGB are invited to pray the same prayer together. Thursday’s prayer is:

O Christ, the Master Carpenter, who at the last through wood and nails purchased our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the workshop of your world so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand. We ask it for your own name’s sake. Amen

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I really like this prayer. It is particularly poignant as at the moment building work is taking place at our Manse to convert the garage into a study and I can hear the sound of wood being sawn even as I type. Jesus was apprenticed in the family firm: Joseph Bar Jacob and Sons. Being a Carpenter in Jesus’ day meant you were the local odd job man. The Carpenter was the one called on to mend leaky roofs (especially when four hooligans wreck it in order to lower a paralysed friend through it); they made furniture; they built fences and stables (and mangers); they helped build houses; they were the handymen that others called on when a job was beyond them. And when working with wood the carpenter would start with trees and logs not planks that were neatly sawn, planed and sanded. They worked with raw materials, perhaps even cutting down the trees in the first place.

Jesus was used to taking gnarled, misshapen, rough pieces of wood and reshaping, honing, trimming and combining them with other pieces to make things that were useful and functional: things that were an important part of everyday life. Maybe that’s where the idea of ‘church’ came from! I have a friend who is a joiner and when he looks at a tree or a log he is looking at what it could become, imagining the possibilities and appreciating the beauty of the wood. That’s how Jesus looks at us: all of us need to be ready to submit to the Master Carpenter’s tools that shape us – reading the Bible, praying, listening for his voice in others, going through difficult times, receiving encouragement, working alongside others, and in all of life allowing his Spirit to hone us as he gives us the gifts we need and the fruit of his work is seen in our lives. As the prayer reminds us (if we needed reminding) all of Jesus’ followers are a work in progress – Ministers included. All come ‘rough-hewn’. And all can be fashioned to a truer beauty.

And of course, as this prayer reminds us, wood is a theme for Jesus’ life: the one who was laid in a (probably) roughly made manger at his birth and worked as a carpenter until he was 30 was nailed to a roughly made cross at his death. Unlike the crosses at the front of many churches this was not a well-joined, planed, sanded and varnished cross. Just two massive branches crudely lashed and nailed together to bear his weight as Jesus bore the weight of the world’s sin. Crude. Brutal. E.ffective. Daily we return to the foot of the roughly made cross in repentance and faith, aware of our need of forgiveness and a fresh start. Daily we wonder at the love the Father has for us that he would ask the Son to die for us. And daily we ask him to continue the work of shaping, honing, planing, and refining us and using us with others to build his Kingdom.

Be blessed, be a blessing

watch it

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About 15 years ago, when I moved on my first church, the church very kindly gave me some money as a leaving gift. I decided that I wanted to spend it on something that would last so I bought myself a watch (my previous one was a cheap and cheerful purchase, probably from a garage forecourt shop).

The watch that I bought was a kinetic watch that took the energy of my everyday arm movements and stored it to make the hands and movements of the watch turn. So long as I moved my arm normally the watch was kept fully charged. Slowly, over the years, the watch’s ability to hold a charge diminished until it got to the point where if I took the watch off at night it would have run down by the morning. As I did not want to wear my watch during the night (too much risk of scratching myself with it and it tends to get a bit sweaty under the watch) I looked into the possibility of replacing the capacitor in the watch. When I discovered how expensive these things are I decided that now might be the time to buy myself a new watch.

When I moved on from my last church they were kind enough to give me some money as a leaving gift as well and as I had not spent this I decided that it would be rather a nice thing to buy a watch again. I looked into the possibility of buying another kinetic watch but they are rather expensive. Then I looked at other forms of self winding watches and found one that I like the look of on a well-known Internet auction site. It was being sold by a company that resold items which had been returned to a well-known high street catalogue-based retailer and was significantly cheaper than the normal retail price.

I bought it and have been very happy with it. But there is one difference between this and my kinetic watch. Whilst this watch uses my arm movements to wind the spring in the watch this only extends the length of time between winds to a couple of days, it does not keep the watch wound in perpetuity. It took me a while to realise this and then get used to it. Because I can see the spring through the face of the watch I can tell when it needs winding.

But I sometimes forget and only realise that the watch needed winding overnight when I check the time later in the day and realise that it is a couple of hours out. Thankfully because timepieces are relatively ubiquitous (on my computer, phone, tablet as well as on my desk, on the wall, in the car…) I’m usually able to find the correct time and reset the watch.

It seems to me that Christians are sometimes like kinetic watches. We make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ and then imagine that through our regular attendance at church our relationship with him is maintained. And to an extent it will be, but it will slowly run down and you may well find yourself frustrated and feeling spiritually worn out after a while. What Jesus was demonstrating to his followers (and that includes us) was that a relationship with “Our Father in heaven” is more like my ‘self-winding’ watch that benefits from regular attention.

Prayer can be as much a part of our daily living as breathing is (it is like oxygen for our soul). Reading the Bible need not be something special but can be routine (like regular meals for our soul). All that we say and do can be dedicated as an act of worship if we consciously decide that it will be – giving our best to honour God.

And if that sounds like I am making my Christian faith seem quite mundane and every day then hallelujah! I am not diminishing the honour and privilege and grace of a relationship with God through Jesus, don’t get me wrong. That God is even interested in me is incredible, never mind that he loves me as much as he does! But he wants to be part of our everyday ordinary working walking eating sleeping watching telly sending emails talking with people texting driving drinking internetting laughing crying surprising mundane lives. I think he longs to be a natural part of everyone’s life – so much so that we don’t consciously have to remember him because he is involved in everything.

Does that sound idealistic? Does it sound impossible? It is on our own, which is why Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to us in order to help us in our relationship with God. He is with us always. He’s constantly nudging, speaking, encouraging, suggesting, reminding, provoking, praying, listening, hoping, blessing and seeking a response from us so that in partnership with him our awareness of God (Father, Son, Spirit) grows and our relationship deepens. All you need to do is ask for it to start. And then like my self-winding watch give him your regular attention. It doesn’t happen overnight but the more we involve God in everything the more we find he is involved in everything already and has simply been waiting for us to realise that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.