who said that?

I was meeting with some church leaders recently and I said, “The past helps to shape our present but it need not define our future.”

One of the people there asked, “Who said that?”

My answer was not intended to be flippant: “Me.”

They wanted to know who I was quoting, but it was one of the rare occasions when something possibly profound came out of my mouth and I was not aware that I was quoting anyone else. I have since done an internet search for that sentence and while there are others who have written similar sentences and thoughts I am not aware of anyone who has said it in exactly the same way. (If I did inadvertently quote someone else please let me know and I will gladly attribute it to them.)

I have pondered this sentence since: partly because I could not believe I had said something that made sense and sounded like I was quoting from someone intelligent; and partly because I have reflected further on whether it is true. I still think it is. And it can be liberating.

A past success may have enabled us to be in a particular role or enjoy a measure of wealth or fame. But those things can fade if all we do is live on those past glories. I am a long-suffering supporter of a football team that has won domestic and European trophies at the highest level. But the last major trophy was well over 30 years ago and while we still rejoice in that success it is no guarantee of success or survival in the future.

A past failure may have shaped who we are today. But that does not mean that we have to be marked by that failure for the future. We don’t have to wallow in shame and self-pity forever. One of the joys of being a follower of Jesus is that he is in the business of offering forgiveness, fresh starts and freedom from past failure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApparently there’s a saying in countries where there unpaved roads that develop deep ruts in wet weather – choose your rut carefully as you will be in it for a long time.  Once your car wheels have entered a rut you will find it difficult to escape it. The idea is that whether it’s the recent or distant past, events in our life will have shaped and define who we are and where we are today.

But need not remain in a rut. Grace, apologising, seeking and giving forgiveness, reconciliation and renewed hope can help us leave a rut of past failure. Learning from the past, looking with optimism, seeking fresh vision and a willingness to grow can help us leave a rut of past success.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Christmas present

As I am recycling at the moment (eg Nora the Noisy Angel) I thought I would recycle a ‘thought for the week’ I sent to the Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association this week.

giftI had a clever mailing from a well-known Swedish furniture store come through my letter box last week. On the front it said, “Christmas is all about the present.” I groaned inwardly and decided not to open it because it was so far from what Christmas is all about. I was about to recycle it but curiosity got the better of me and I opened it. The text inside reads, “It’s the present (not the presents) that counts. And those moments with loved ones are the best of all…”

“That’s clever,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if I can include that in a Christmas message?” And then I started to reflect on whether it really is all about the present:

Advent is a season of time-travel. We travel back in time to the period before BC became AD and anticipate Jesus’ arrival. We empathise with the longing of his people for God to act. We hope and pray for a better future. We lament. We ache. We wait.

Christmas Carol Services and Nativity Plays are wonderfully nostalgic (which is why they are attended by the regular ‘once a year at Christmas’ part of our church family). They are a familiar touching place with the Unchangeable Story (which we soon discover if we dare to change things too radically). Of course they can also be incredibly poignant and painful for those who are reminded of past loss. In these moments the past is triggering our emotional response to the present.

And yet, in the midst of it, is the small voice of a child crying in a cattle feeding trough reminding us that this is the season of God, the eternal One, with us – Immanuel . In the present.

Christmas really is all about the present, God present with us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

sweet reflections

Perhaps because of the stacks of boxes and tins of chocolates in the stores for Christmas I was reminded today of what Forrest Gump famously said: “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.'”

(I know Forrest Gump is a fictional character in a film, so in fact it was the scriptwriters and author articulated by Tom Hanks, but that is not such a striking statement!)

The quotation from his momma is cute, it’s moving but it’s not true because most boxes of chocolates have a card or a ‘menu’ that shows what the different chocolates will be.

I wonder if a more accurate statement comparing life to a box of chocolates might be: “Life is like a box of chocolates, sooner or later we all come to a sticky end.”

But that’s a bit maudlin for this time of year isn’t it?

However, there is some truth in what ‘momma’ said – there is uncertainty in life, particularly about the future. We all live in the present. We can’t change that without a Tardis (search for Doctor Who online if you don’t know what one of those is). We are unable to move from living in the present moment, even though that moment is constantly moving along the line we call ‘time’. It is now a different time from when you started reading this bloggage (and some of you may be wondering why you have wasted that time!) but you are still in the present. We are shaped and affected by events that are now in the past, and we plan for the future, but we are bound to live only in the present. And we don’t know for certain what the future holds for us. We never know what we’re gonna get.

One more reflection on chocolates (or assortments of sweets generally). I usually find that there is one or more of the assorted confectionery that I don’t really like (especially coffee or cherry). But they are there anyway, mixed in with the ones I do like.

In that sense life is like a box of chocolates – it’s a mixture of things we like and things we don’t. But instead of complaining about the chocolates we don’t like in our life, how about we ask the One who gave us the chocolates in the first place to give us an attitude of gratitude for the ones we do?

Be blessed, be a blessing.