three rings

old phone 2It used to be ‘three rings’. ‘Ring ring, ring ring, ring ring’.

In the dim and distant past, before mobile phones were a commonplace part of our experience, when people were travelling somewhere and needed to let someone else know that they had arrived safely they would give ‘three rings’. They would dial (probably actually on a rotary dial, young people) the number, let it ring three times and then ring off.

It meant that the call didn’t cost anything, no lengthy phone conversation was needed, and the person at the other end would know that their friend / loved one had arrived safely at their destination.

There were a few problems. One was that sometimes, when you listened at the other end, it would start with a ‘half ring’ – ‘ring’ before going into full ‘ring ring’ rings. Did that first half ring count as a proper ring? If it did, then you should hang up after another two rings, but would the person at the other end know that it counted? If you went for another ‘ring ring’ so there were three of them, the person at the other end might think it was four rings so it wasn’t you and pick up the phone, negating the reason for doing three rings.

And, when you think about it, it was technically six rings (or five), not three.

And of course there were also the times when the person you were ringing forgot to wait for three rings and picked up the phone anyway.

A seemingly simple process was fraught with complexity!

Today all we have to do is send a text message to another mobile phone, or an instant message on social media.

But we still have to remember to send a message. The technology may be better but, a bit like with my satnav (see Monday) the weakest part is the human part.

Prayer is an instantaneous and low-cost way of communicating with God. You don’t need special words, you don’t need to be in a special place, you don’t even need to dial. All you have to do is remember to pray. God’s there, listening and waiting. However the weakest part is still the human part isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

ringtone

image

It used to be the case (many years ago) that all telephones made the same sound when someone was trying to contact you: ‘ring, ring… ring, ring’. Then came the advent of electronic phones that could make a trilling sound. And then came the advent of mobile phones with several different ringtones (including the annoying nokia one if you had one of their phones). Nowadays most mobile phones have the capability to play an extract from a song that you have on the phone or any number of interesting sounds. If you are travelling on public transport it is quite entertaining listening to the different ringtones that people have.

A while ago I had the opening bars to a song as my ringtone. It is a guitar riff that I rather like and I thought also was likely to get my attention if my phone went off in public, distinguishing it from other ringtones. It was ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones. I used to have it set to the loudest setting because I used to keep my phone in a pocket and it could get a but muffled and easy to ignore.

Ba baaah, ba ba baah ba baah ba ba ba. (he he he, you now may well have that ear worm in your head for the rest of the day)

I had left my phone in my jacket pocket, and my jacket was hidden behind a screen in church. The building was empty as everyone else was either in the hall drinking tea and coffee or had gone home. But a couple from the church were in the building sorting out flowers. When my phone rang.

Ba baaah, ba ba baah ba baah ba ba ba
Ba baaah, ba ba baah ba baah ba ba ba
“I can’t get no… satisfaction”

My phone sang its lungs out, rather surprising the couple at first, and then when they realised what the song was they wondered whose ringtone it would be. I came back into the church to get my jacket while they were still there and they told me what had happened and I sheepishly had to own up to that song being my ringtone.

This morning I have been reading Ephesians 4:17-32 and the accompanying notes made reference to how Paul had highlighted behaviour in the first century AD that is still true today – people pursue personal satisfaction while becoming desensitised to questions of ‘right or wrong’. It’s the basis of our economic system – acquire more to be satisfied. But it’s a lie because stuff does not satisfy permanently. And the lie is hidden behind a deception because they always offer more and new and different to keep us dissatisfied. The lie of personal satisfaction is what motivates some to hide their wealth offshore in tax havens to avoid paying tax in order that they might have a bit more. It’s not just for the wealthy, though, it pervades all aspects of society – it’s what fuels the pornography industry, it’s what perpetuates the fashion industry, it’s what enables the iniquitous short term loan industry to get away with charging such high interest rates… it’s all driven by the little lie that if we could only have a bit more then we would achieve personal satisfaction. And sadly it’s a lie that churches can buy into too – trying to be satisfied by singing favourite songs or hymns, listening to our favourite preacher, building the best buildings…

However the only way to be satisfied is to stop trying to be satisfied. The lie makes pursuit of satisfaction a goal in itself because the end is unachievable. Satisfaction comes when we accept that we aren’t made to fill our lives with pleasure, we are made to be content. And that contentment comes from being in a right relationship with our Creator – for best results follow the maker’s instructions. If we put our satisfaction-seeking efforts into seeking God’s will and doing that we will find that we become content with less because we have got what matters most. And we do that by submitting ourselves to God, following Jesus and allowing God’s Spirit to make a difference in our lives – we can’t do it on our own. You can’t get no satisfaction, but you can get contentment.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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late mistake

Hot Air Balloon
Getting bigger and hot air – the themes of today’s bloggage in one image

I seem to have got bigger. No, I’m not talking about my weight or waist size thank you very much (cheek!). In the last few days I have started my new role as a Regional Minister and my area of responsibility has expanded somewhat – seeking to support and encourage 60 churches across most of Essex (and 120 more spread across the whole of East Anglia).

Yesterday was my first day ‘on the road’. I have bought myself a ‘hands free’ unit to help me with this. I like it because it links to my phone via Bluetooth and to my car radio via an FM signal so I can play music from my phone through my stereo – and when I make or receive calls the system cleverly mutes the music and I can hear the call through the stereo. Very convenient. Very clever.

But any system is only as strong as its weakest component. Often that component is homo sapiens. Last night it certainly was.

I was travelling back home after spending some time with a church and decided to call home and let them know what time I expected to be back. I tried in vain to get the system to work as I thought it should and pressed one button twice. On my phone that should activate the voice-activated help system. But on the Bluetooth gadget I discovered that it told the phone to redial the last number that had been dialled.

Unfortunately I didn’t know it was doing this until the phone started ringing and I couldn’t work out how to stop it. Neither could I work out who it was calling because the phone screen was blank. A voice I did not recognise answered the phone and I realised what had happened. I desperately tried to remember who I had called last and thought it had been my new colleague, Simon. I said hello and that it was Nick calling, ready to explain that I had not meant to call.

It wasn’t Simon. It was a member of a Minister’s family I had called earlier in the day. They didn’t know Nick. So they terminated the call. Fair enough. I would probably have done the same if I had had a strange call late in the evening.

It was at that moment that my phone chose to tell me who I had called. Now I had a dilemma. Should I call back and disturb them again to explain what had happened or wait until today to offer my apology. I opted for the latter approach. I hope that they will understand and laugh.

What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you admit it, ask for forgiveness and seek to start again? Do you tell a little white lie to try to cover it up or at least minimise the error? Do you refuse to accept that you were at fault? Or do you go the whole hog and try to cover it up Bart Simpson-style: “I didn’t do it, you can’t prove anything!”?

Which is the approach that is most likely to lead to or enhance healthy relationships? It’s the same with your relationship with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the effect of irritation

old phone 2I’d had enough. I couldn’t cope with it any more. I snapped.

And with vouchers saved judiciously over several years I bought a new set of phone handsets for our home landline. The reason was that I was fed up with the regular bombardment of unsolicited phone calls — recorded and live – trying to get me to sign up for house insulation (it’s well insulated), new windows (our house is rented), claim for payment protection insurance refunds (I have never had PPI) and all manner of other annoying scams. I have never, and will never, signed up for anything where I have been cold-called but these people don’t seem to realise that.

So I bought new handsets. They are special phones that intercept all calls and filter out any that are unwanted. This means that when someone calls for the first time (unless I have been able to add them to the ‘welcome’ list) they will hear a message asking them to identify themselves. We then get called by the system and hear the caller’s name. At that point we can choose to allow the call once, always, never, or send it to the answering machine.

If you call our house (other than to sell us stuff) I am sorry that you will get a message to start with – but it should only be the once. After the system knows that we want you to call us you will be able to call us as you usually do without interception or delay. It is the effect of irritation.

I think it’s brilliant that phones can now do this, and with a certain amount of glee check the system regularly to see how many nuisance calls have been intercepted.

I also think it’s awful that such phones are necessary. We are bombarded by unsolicited attempts to sell us stuff and sign us up for stuff that comes through the letterbox, knocks at our door, harasses us through our phone line, sends unsavoury emails, lobs unwanted text messages, stops us in the street and who knows what they will come up with next.

The suspicious part of me wonders whether all of the unsolicited phone calls are actually sent by companies that came up with a way of blocking phone calls and wanted to create a market for them. But that couldn’t be true. Could it? You see what this has done to us – we are suspicious and cautious about approaches by strangers. When I am stopped in the street I always try to be polite but start by saying that I never give out my details or sign up for anything in the street. That deters some, but the more persistent keep going and say that they don’t want anything from me… only to ask me a little later for some way of contacting me to get me to sign up later.

I do like approaching the people who are trying to gain support for charities that we already support. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to be able to tell them that we already support the worthy cause they are promoting. I got a high five from the last one!

The purpose of this bloggage is twofold. The first fold is to encourage you to persist, say your name when prompted, and wait for us to answer if you try to contact us and get the interception machine. Don’t be put off.

The second fold is to ask us to consider our approach when Christians are sharing our faith. Does it come across as an attempt to sign someone up for our cause, to get them to sign on the dotted line, to make a snap decision based on a ‘chance’ encounter? If so, perhaps we should not be surprised if people don’t want to listen – it’s the effect of irritation.

We need to reconsider, reimagine and restore our approach: instead of selling Jesus to people we should take every opportunity to offer people grace, acceptance, dignity, peace, prayer and so much more that our culture leeches out of them. We have good news to give away not bad news to sell. It might simply look like a hug, a listening ear, a free cup of tea, a Foodbank parcel, an affirmation of value, or any number of grace-rich encounters… [insert your own examples here]

It all sounds suspiciously like us being free samples of Jesus (see previous bloggages!).

Be blessed, be a blessing

Emergency blog

Today’s entry is my 999th on my blog. Hence it is an emergency blog. I realise that this joke only really works in the UK, where the telephone number to dial for the emergency services is 999. There are other numbers in other parts of the world (eg 911 in USA, 112 in Europe), which could be confusing.

And now there are other three digit numbers to dial in other circumstances. For example, 101 is the number to dial for the police in non-emergency situations. 111 is being introduced for when you need medical help fast but it’s not an emergency. Of course the problem comes with discerning what amounts to a non-emergency situation. Is there a list somewhere that we should consult? Or is it the case that if we have not got the time to consult a list it’s an emergency, and if we do have the time it’s not an emergency?

Old Phone 3The number 999 was selected as the number to summon emergency services at a time when telephones had dials rather than buttons (or touch screens). I have often wondered why this was chosen given that it took longer for the dial to rotate when dialling 999 than any other three digit number. The BBC website has provided me with an answer:

The General Post Office, which ran the telephone network, proposed a three digit number that could trigger a special signal and flashing light at the exchange. The operators could then divert their attention to these priority calls.

In order to find the new emergency number in the dark or thick smoke it was suggested an end number was used so it could be found easily by touch.

111 was rejected because it could be triggered by faulty equipment or lines rubbing together. 222 would have connected to the Abbey local telephone exchange as numbers in the early telephone network represented the first three letters (ABBey = 222, 1 was not used due to the accidental triggering). 000 could not be used as the first 0 would have dialled the operator.

999 was deemed the sensible choice

So now I know. I assumed that there would be a good reason, but I would never have arrived at that conclusion.

You may be wondering what vaguely spiritual point I am going to make from all of this. If I am completely honest I am wondering the same thing!

[pondering followed by a lightbulb moment]

Do we treat God like an emergency service? Do we only call on him when we are in trouble? Do we only pray when we need something? He’s sufficiently gracious that he will even respond to those prayers, but he’d much rather we had a constant dialogue with him. That is even more than 101 or 111. It’s a constantly open phone line. Thoughts can be prayers. Ideas can be prayers. Conversations with other people can be prayers. Reading a book can be a prayer. Doing chores can be a prayer. Even bloggages can be prayers!

How is that possible? By consciously offering them to God, recognising his Spirit’s presence and engagement with us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

(The next bloggage will be number 1000. I have been contemplating that for a while and have felt self-generated pressure to make it awesome and memorable. But it’s only a number. It may not be any more profound that number one, or even number 999!)