prestidigitating (look it up)

ahem, don’t look up my sleeves…

Tonight is the second of three magical evenings for me this week. The first was on Tuesday, where I took part in the Mid Essex Magical Society’s annual Stage Show Competition. I didn’t win, but I was pleased with my performance. The other performances were great too, especially those that beat me – they were amazing!

Tonight I take part in a ‘Magic and Curry’ night for South Woodham Evangelical Church. I am looking forward to both parts of the evening, especially making curry disappear. There will be a series of mini routines interspersed with much curry consumption. In a moment I shall be preparing my set list and finalising my routines. That involves rehearsing my patter as much as the tricks themselves – so much magic is accomplished by sleight of mouth as much as by sleight of hand!

Tomorrow I will be performing some walk-around magic at a fundraising event for International Justice Mission –  an international human rights organisation that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Each of these evenings has ‘magic’ in common – although there is no actual magic involved. No witchcraft, sorcery or other dark arts are used, I have not attended Hogwarts, everything that I do is down to skill and practice! But each of them requires a different approach for a different audience. The competition had time limits within which I had to operate (last year I over-ran, this year I was ‘in time’) and there were four judges whom I had to impress as well as an audience to amaze and amuse. I had to try to keep people’s attention and focus on me.

Tonight I have been asked to include some thoughts to make people think about life as well as trying to entertain them. So I hope that the focus will be on Jesus at the end of the evening.

Tomorrow I am part of the background hum that will hopefully mean that those who attend the fundraiser will enjoy themselves but the focus will be (rightly) on IJM and how people can support it.

For me each of these different events is a great opportunity to share one of my passions – learning and performing magic tricks. I am not naturally an extrovert, but put an audience in front of me and I am more than happy to prestidigitate for them (look it up, it’s not rude!) for as long as they can bear it. (I need to remember the adage ‘leave them wanting more’!)

So a few thoughts from these ramblings:

Thought the first – we need to make sure that we are appropriate to the needs of those around us. The magic club competition was not the right environment to be making people think about life in anything like the way I hope to tonight.

Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again
Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again

Thought the second – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves. Churches used to make a virtue out of boredom, with an almost pharasaical fanaticism about making sure that people didn’t smile or laugh in case it was linked to a sin. I suspect there were many faceplants in heaven when we did that in the name of holiness and purity.

Thought the third – God can use whatever gifts we are willing to offer him – even magic tricks!

Thought the fourth – make sure you are not the focus of attention when someone or something else should be.

Thought the fewth – whatever you do, do it for an audience of One.

Be blessed, be a blessing (especially if you will be in one of my audiences!)

bringing together two of my passions – magic and sci-fi

chickenalienmagicIn the midst of a busy time I have only got something here to make you chuckle. This cartoon comes from Savage Chickens, and I think speaks for itself. If you click on the image it will take you to the Savage Chickens website. It is used here with permission

Be blessed, be a blessing

over-run

Stew the Magic Rabbit did not participate so for once I can't blame him!
Stew the Magic Rabbit did not participate so for once I can’t blame him!

Last night I took part in a competition. It was the Mid Essex Magical Society* Stage Magic Competition. I have never competed magically before and was not sure what to expect. It’s not about seeing who can find the most cards a spectator has thought of (I could name 52) or how many ladies you can saw in half (one). Each competitor had 10 minutes to perform a routine that was judged by a panel of three non-magicians.

I was happy with my performance (I didn’t win but was pleased with my placing) but let myself down by over-running. A warning horn honked after 8 minutes and I was in the middle of my final trick – sawing a lady in half. When the bell went at 10 minutes I should have been finished but if I had stopped then the lady would have been left with a jigsaw with a 10 inch blade in her abdomen so I thought it was better to finish.

There are people in my church who would rather like a timing system like that for my sermons. But it is not easy. I have worked with a traffic light system once when I was speaking at a conference. I was taking the Bible Studies and had carefully timed what I was going to say so that it was within the allotted time, bearing in mind that I had an interpreter alongside me which would also take time. On the first day I was pleased that I finished before the green light turned amber.

I knew that the Bible Studies on the next two days would be the same length as I had the same number of sheets of paper from which I was speaking, so was rather perturbed when, as I was speaking on the second day, the amber light came on before I had finished. I kept going and just managed to finish before it went red but it did fluster me somewhat. After the session was over I spoke with the Production team and told them that I was confused about how I could have been that much longer without having said any more. The Producer then admitted to me that because I was so much under on the first day they shortened the time they had allowed me to that amount for the next day, but had neglected to tell me. I was actually well within time! The Production Team are good friends of mine and I forgave them, but it would have been nice to have been told!

Timing is such a tricky thing, yet somehow in my experience God gets it right every time (pun intended). He unexpectedly brings me together with people ‘at the right time’. People send messages of encouragement ‘at the right time’. Things he inspires me to say in sermons speak to people ‘at the right time’. And so on.

And, since the Christmas shops are open and the ads are all over the TV, it’s worth noting that Jesus was born ‘at the right time’. He was born in an era after the Greeks had conquered much of the Mediterranean region and beyond and established a common language. He was born in an era when the Roman Empire provided a fairly stable political landscape and had opened up secure trade and transport links across the whole area. He was born in an era when his people had a heightened sense of expectation that God was about to do something amazing. And isn’t it amazing that he was born just as BC was giving way to AD?!!

These, and many other factors, meant that people were ready for his message of reconciliation with God, freedom, peace and love. After his death and resurrection his friends were relatively easily able to take the good news about him across the whole region and talk to almost anyone about it in a language they understood. And when the records of his life, death and resurrection were written in Ancient Greek (not King James English) they could be understood by anyone who read them or to whom they were read.

It’s not always easy to see ‘the right time’. We often have other ideas about what that time should be (usually ‘now’) when we are waiting for God to respond to our prayers. But with faith and patience (both gifts God’s Spirit gives us) we can learn to wait (im)patiently for God’s perfect timing. And wonderfully he often reveals to us afterwards why the time was right.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A rich man offered to pay for a new church building for his local Baptist Church, on condition that they allowed him to design the interior. He promised it would be appropriate and sensitively designed and unsurprisingly they agreed. The day came for the opening and the Minister arrived early – desperate to see what it looked like.

When he went in it was tastefully decorated and instantly he knew it was a place in which it would be easy to worship God and sense his presence. The only problem was that there was just one pew at the back. Given that the rich man had put so much money and effort into the church building and how tastefully designed it was the Minister didn’t say anything. Nor did any of the congregation. They dutifully filled up the back pew (don’t they always) and once it was full there was a click and a whirr and it glided to the front and a second pew appeared at the back it its place.

The Minister was thrilled. Now the congregation would always be at the front and there wouldn’t be six empty rows in front of him. He was so inspired that when he stood up to preach he got rather carried away.

After 15 minutes he noticed a yellow light came on on the pulpit. He carried on.

After 18 minutes the yellow light started flashing. He carried on.

After 20 minutes the yellow light turned red. He carried on.

Then there was a click and a whirr and the pulpit slowly sank into the ground.

*If you are in Essex and are planning a fundraising event have a word with MEMS – we can provide a magical evening that will raise significant funds for your charity. Have a look at their website and follow the link there to send an email to find out more.

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.