One of my sermon PowerPoints with a PIP lego version of me

One of my sermon PowerPoints with a PIP lego version of me

During  recent renovations at our church we installed a video camera system so that wherever you sit in the church you will be able to see what is going on. As part of it we have a picture in picture facility so that, for example, we can show a PowerPoint with the words of a reading and also have on the screen a small screen showing the video of the person reading.

On Sunday morning there were some problems and the PIP (as it is known by technical peeps) would not show the video image over the PowerPoint backgrounds. No amount of pressing the buttons in the right order would work.

This morning, while I was at the church, I decided to call the company that installed the system and ask them to tell me what had gone wrong. In order to do this in the most helpful way I decided it would be a good idea to switch the system on so I could describe the problem accurately and be talked through any solution.

You can guess what happened when I switched the system on this morning.

That’s right.

The problem was still there. (Be honest, did you think I was going to say that it had resolved itself?)

I was just getting ready to call the company when my brain reached into the dark recesses of my memory and reminded me that there were some written instructions for the system and that they said something about what would happen if you did things in the wrong order.

I found the instructions and as I read them I realised that what had happened was that someone had switched it off in the wrong order and that what needed to happen was for that wrong order to be reversed in order to get back to the way the system should work. I did that, and it worked. Problem solved, no loss of face with the company that installed the system, and a sense of achievement.

Except that if we had thought about it on Sunday and consulted the instructions then we could have sorted the problem out quickly and easily. My achievement was not spectacular at all, it was more a saving of face.

How often do we ignore what is glaringly obvious and try alternative solutions?

When the Bible talks about forgiveness, grace and mercy instead we focus on revenge, bitterness and anger. While the Bible speaks of generosity and the blessing of giving, we concentrate on increasing our bank balance and hoarding. When the Bible speaks of freedom from sin we prefer to wallow in guilt.

For best results, follow the maker’s instructions. This is not only good advice for appliances, it should also be stamped clearly on each one of us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.


Isn’t it amazing what skills you pick up? I feel like I am now a fully qualified tumble dryer repair man following my exploits at the weekend. The door catch on our tumble dryer had broken and as it was out of the warranty period for a free repair we had ordered all the components to replace the door catch mechanism. They arrived on Saturday and, armed with a little knowledge from the Internet, I set to work to replace it all.

It literally took blood, sweat and tears (or at least growls of frustration) in order to replace the components. The instructions on the Internet seem to have been written by somebody whose hands were half the width of mine and his fingers were twice the length of mine. I found it virtually impossible to get my hand down through the tiny gap between the drum and the body of the tumble dryer in order to release the door catch mechanism, unplug the cables and then reverse the process to install the new one. I still have the scars on my hands from where I encountered sharp edges inside the machine.

The alternative to fixing the machine

Eventually I succeeded and with a real sense of accomplishment switched on the tumble dryer. A warning light lit up on the panel telling me that I needed to clean the filter. I attempted to ignore it the machine just beeped back at me. I decided that that was probably a good thing to do and managed to retrieve a considerable amount of fluff from inside the machine. However each time I thought I cleaned out enough fluff and switched the machine back on the same warning light lit up and the machine belligerently beeped again. By the time the fluff had all gone and I even managed to retrieve some money and other debris that had found its way into the fluff filter I could not understand why the machine was insisting on beeping and flashing its light at me.

There was nothing else that I could think of until I went back in my mind through the installation process I had endured. I remembered wondering whether or not I had connected the sensor correctly on the door catch mechanism. But I could not access it with my normal shaped hands. It was at this point that I had a small moment of revelation. I looked again at the construction of the machine and realised that by undoing a few screws I could remove the side panel of the tumble dryer. I did this and immediately had perfect access to the door catch mechanism and was able to see that I had indeed plugged in the sensor cable incorrectly. 5 seconds later and the repair was complete.

I reinstalled the side panel and, with trembling fingers, switched on the tumble dryer once again. The warning light went out and the tumble dryer remained mute. I rejoiced. I had beaten the machine. Humankind was still the dominant species. (Yes, I do realise that I am slightly over stating this significance of my achievement but right at that moment I felt a sense of achievement.)

Reflecting on this episode has made me think about the scars that tell the story of my victory and I could make a cheesy link here to the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet. Feel free to make it if you would like to.

But actually the dominant thought I had was that it would have been so much more helpful if the Internet advice I had found (which was for the specific model of tumble dryer that sits in the corner of our kitchen) had said that it would be a lot easier if you removed the side panel. Instead of taking over an hour and resulting in the loss of blood, sweat and tears I could have completed the job in 5 or 10 minutes with no damage to myself or the machine. I would not have been beeped at, lights would not have flashed at me and I would not have felt the need to growl back.

Clear instructions are incredibly helpful. A satellite navigation system would be no good if it said “somewhere along here you have to turn left and your destination will be in this general vicinity”. A recipe would be fairly unhelpful if it said “take some ingredients, anything you can see, but the main a bowl, mix them up and stick them in the oven at whatever temperature you think would be helpful to use. Wait until you think they’re ready.”

So why do we give ambiguous instructions to people who are seeking God? I’m not knocking courses like Alpha, Christianity Explored or other ways of introducing people to the truth of what Christians believe. They are very useful and positive ways to help people. But in the book of Acts when Peter had finished preaching (Acts 2) when the crowd asked him, “What must we do to be saved?” He didn’t tell them to come on a course he told them what they need to hear. Yes I know that there were contextual circumstances that made it the right approach and it won’t always be the most appropriate response that I do wonder if sometimes we Christians overcomplicate matters and give people the impression that following Jesus is a fundamentally complex process.

What was Peter’s response? “Repent and be baptised… in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Be blessed, be a blessing