and the winner is…

So the headline news today is that in a well-hyped ceremony to give awards to people who have done their job well some of the people were announced as the winners of an award and then someone else realised it was a mistake and that some other people should have been given the award.

Meanwhile, in other news, three quarters of a million people are trapped in Western Mosul as Iraqi forces seek to expel the IS fighters; people are still dying every day as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe; people around the world (and in the UK) are being bought and sold as slaves; famine is beginning to stalk its prey in South Sudan; politicians are seeking to evade public scrutiny by declaring those who criticise as ‘fake news’ (it happened in the UK yesterday when our Home Secretary tried to defend the Government’s decision to stop taking any more unaccompanied refugee children under the ‘Dubs Amendment’)…
You get the idea.

I am not saying that it was surprising that at an awards ceremony as well-organised as the Oscars the wrong film should be announced as the winner of ‘best picture’. It’s difficult to imagine quite what went wrong, or how embarrassed people felt when the error was realised. But should this be the first headline on the news today? Is this the most important thing that has happened in our world?

I suspect that ‘envelopegate’ or whatever this gets dubbed will be forgotten soon enough, except perhaps by those who made the mistake – it may haunt them for a while, and maybe we should spare a thought for them. Their mistake was made public – broadcast across the world and then becoming headline news. Most of our mistakes are less well publicised (thank the Lord).

I try to remember to offer prayers when I hear of tragedies and crises whether they are global, national, local or personal. I know that lots of you do too. I know that lots of churches do. Will we pray as fervently for those caught up in ‘envelopegate’ as in the other issues I highlighted?

Can we get a bit of perspective back, please, and focus more on the more important things – matters of life and death?

Can we show some grace and compassion to all, please, recognising that everyone makes mistakes?

Can we get worked up enough about the important things in life to pray about them, and then to take action and be part of the answer to that prayer?

Be blessed, be a blessing

sweeping changes

broom-2

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

A while ago I read the passage above and wrote some reflections on it based on sermons I had heard about it which always criticised Martha and commended Mary. I wondered if there were other ways of looking at what happened…

Bad Martha?

Busy Martha

Distracted Martha

Humiliated Martha? (Jesus defended Mary)

Hurt Martha?

Jealous Martha? (would she have liked to be listening to Jesus too?)

Brave Martha (for telling Jesus what to do)

Being hospitable Martha

Caring Martha

Faithful Martha (exercising the gift of hospitality)

Neglected Martha (working in the background and nobody had noticed)

Devoted Mary

Wise Mary

Spiritual Mary

Smug Mary? (Jesus commended her)

Naughty Mary (going against cultural norms by sitting with the men)

Thoughtless Mary?

Inhospitable Mary?

Selfish Mary?

Scroll through to John 11:17-32. When their brother, Lazarus, died who showed faith In Jesus and who blamed him for her brother’s death? Who’s the spiritual one and who’s the practical one now?

Be blessed, be a blessing

prioritisationing

What are your priorities?priorities

That’s a good and important question. I can remember a session at Bible College where we looked at this and how you set priorities. We used an urgency / importance matrix like the one below:

The idea is that you evaluate how urgent and how important things are, and then prioritise them accordingly. That is good advice and has been helpful to me as it is very easy to get caught up in only dealing with the things that are urgent (but not necessarily important) as they are the things that seem to have the most pressing deadline.

Recently I heard someone who gave a different perspective on prioritising. You see, pedantically and semantically speaking, you can’t have more than one priority. The question with which I began the bloggage is a non-question because by definition the thing that has priority is the thing that takes precedence over everything else. There can only be one priority. You might be able to work out a lot of other things that are important and / or urgent and work out in what order you are going to deal with them but only one of them is the priority.

So, to change the question I started with, what is your priority? What is the one person or thing that is more important to you than anything or anyone else?

Whatever that is, it’s your god (or God). It’s the thing that has first call on your energy, attention, thoughts, resources, time and so much more. It’s what you worship. Do you need to change your priority?

Be blessed, be a blessing?

the parable of the banquet (revisited)

Embed from Getty Images

It was a very posh do. In a very expensive restaurant. The chef had three Michelin Stars and more were expected. There was normally a waiting list of six to eight months just to get a table. But since he was also the host of the event the chef reserved the whole place for his invited guests.

It was a very posh do. The invited guests all turned up (surprising some of you) in beautiful gowns (the women) and black tie (the men). The tables were arranged in a circle so there was no top table (surprising others of you) and people were allowed to sit where they wanted. The chef had prepared an amazing menu of food for his invited guests. There were twelve courses (if you count the champagne cocktails on arrival and the after dinner mints and coffee). It was the best food that the guests had ever tasted.

It was a very posh do.  Each course was brought to the table by waiters and waitresses who were impeccable in their attire, deferential in their manner and superb in their service. No sooner had a course finished than the waiters and waitresses swooped, removed the debris, cleaned and re-laid tables as necessary and brought the next course in a seamless stream of serene service.

It was a very posh do. At the end of the meal the host thanked the guests for coming. The guests all thanked the waiters and waitresses. They left significant tips for them. Some guests had made sure that they remembered the names of those who had served them and made sure that they thanked them personally. In the end one of the guests proposed three cheers for the waiters and waitresses and there was a thunderous series of cheers. The waiters and waitresses felt very good about all of this.

The chef, meanwhile, had gone home.

Be blessed, be a blessing

expending your energy

power buttonToday I had an email from our energy supplier to tell me that a new statement was available online. Earlier this year we changed from one of the main suppliers to a smaller one that seeks to use more renewable energy while at the same time actually being cheaper than some of the main ones. That seemed like a good deal.

I checked online and looked at our usage (partly estimated because we haven’t been with them a year) on a clever chart which showed how our Direct Debit related to our projected annual costs. At the moment, in the summer months, our energy usage is much lower than it will be in the winter. We use less gas because there is no need for the heating to be on. We use less electricity because it is lighter for longer.

At the moment we are in credit with the energy supplier (and they are paying good interest on that credit – better than my bank!). During the summer we will no doubt build up a lot of credit, which we will then use up in the winter. I am hoping that at the end of the year it will all balance out. It seems reminiscent to me of Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh in the Bible – to store up food in the years of plenty ready for the years of famine.

Our consumer culture seems to discourage that approach. If we have the resources then the ubiquitous advertisements will urge and entice us to spend it on newer versions of what we already have, or on new things that we don’t have. If we don’t have the resources then that’s okay, stick it on your credit card and pay it back later. If you can’t get a credit card or you have already maxed it out, no problem – take a so-called payday loan and repay it at iniquitous interest rates that bear no relation to the actual cost of borrowing.

Buy now, spend now, live for the moment – don’t worry about the future.

This is the moment where the preacher really lays into the culture. Get ready. Brace yourself…

Luke 12:16-21 New International Version – UK

16 And [Jesus] told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

18 ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

Hold on, is Jesus actually endorsing the consumerist approach here? Is he really suggesting that saving and planning for the future is wrong and pointless?

Well, no.

He was actually parodying the ‘more, more, more’ mindset that is behind our consumerist lifestyle: the part of us that responds willing to the enticing adverts. I missed off the last line of what Jesus said in that parable – this is the actual ending:

 

20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

21 ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’

And a little later on Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It’s not that prudent planning for the future is wrong. What is wrong is a dependence on ourselves, our resources and our plans and a failure to recognise that there is a God-dimension to all of this. Our Father in heaven wants us to acknowledge and rely on him for our daily bread. He wants us to recognise how valuable we are to him and how much he is looking out for us. He wants us to realise that living a comfortable lifestyle is not the aim and purpose of life: he created us for eternity with him that will surpass anything we can imagine.

Saving and planning for the future is not bad. Living within our means is not wrong. In fact they are commendable and worthy approaches to life. But if that’s the limit of our forward thinking we are investing in the wrong things.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the lost zeros

In 2007 I was in Ghana for a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance. I changed a small amount of currency into the Ghanaian currency, cedi. I was impressed by the ‘wodge’ of notes that I got, especially with all the 000’s.DSCF0907 I felt wealthy. (And when I saw how some people lived I realised I really was, but that’s another story).

Then, while I was in Ghana, the currency was devalued. Essentially they knocked off lots of zeros from the value of each note. The old notes were suddenly worth a lot less and after six months would no longer be legal tender and would be worthless. It felt strange paying for things that were worth a couple of cedis with notes that had thousands of cedis on written them but were in fact worth only a few cedis!

Because the notes were worth so much less I brought a couple back home with me and gave them to my children as souvenirs. They ‘filed’ them in their bedrooms…

…Just recently a couple of these thousand cedi notes re-emerged and the children looked up their value on the internet. They did not know that they were no longer legal tender and were rather excited to think that they had banknotes worth thousands of pounds. The excitement diminished somewhat when I told them that they were worthless.

That’s a lesson that Jesus tried to teach us. In his parable about a wealthy farmer who kept building bigger barns to store his increasing crops. He planned to build a big enough nest egg on which to retire and then…

…let’s just say he experienced an unexpected devaluation in his currency.

Jesus described him as a fool for focusing on what wouldn’t last.

Be blessed, be a blessing

em-fassis

cloudNo, you aren’t experiencing some sort of strange cyber double vision. The image in this bloggage* is the category cloud from the blog. I try to tag most of my bloggages. Apparently it makes it easier for people to find me. But it also reveals, through this clever cloud thingy, the emphases in my reflections.

If you aren’t familiar with these cloud thingies, the larger the word the more frequently I have written about that subject. I am pleased about the relative size of those words and how that represents the emphasis of my bloggerel*.

I would love to think that those are also the most popular words used in our church and I hope also that they represent the emphasis of my life. I can’t claim that they always do, but that is my aspiration and ambition.

What would a category cloud of your life look like?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*If you are unsure about these words, let me explain. ‘Bloggage’ relates to a blog post. ‘Bloggerel’ relates to the words and thoughts within a post.

just a thought…

what to underline and what to delete? That's the question...
underlining or deleting?

This is not a criticism. Let me get that out there first. I am using something that happened this week to make a wider point.

This week the Church of England met in Synod. Without making any judgements at all it is interesting to me to consider how many of the subjects of discussion and debate at Synod were subjects about which Jesus was completely silent…

Remember, this is not a criticism, but an observation.

I recognise that some of the subjects were issues that did not exist in Jesus’ day. I recognise that he had plenty to say about values, attitudes and behaviour of his followers which had relevance to the subjects under consideration. And I am not saying that the subjects were unimportant or irrelevant. No (just in case you disbelieve me).

But (and here’s the wider application) I do wonder how much of what gets Christians hot under our collars and takes up time and space in church life is stuff that Jesus is not as bothered about. I am not going to list any by way of example because I don’t want this to be seen as an attack or support for any particular issues or causes that would distract from my theme.

A while back it was popular for us to ask “WWJD?” – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ Perhaps we should also have “WAJP?” on church meeting agendas (local, regional, national, international), on our prayer lists, and our sermon subjects: ‘What Are Jesus’ Priorities?’ How different would those agendas be if we really took that seriously? How different would our praying be? How different would our sermons be?

Just a thought…

Be blessed, be a blessing

enter the matrix

I am not sure when I first came across the matrix that is supposed to help you prioritise

Click on the image to go to the source website

I have always found it helpful, but there are a couple of problems:

Who decides whether something is urgent or important? What I consider important, for example, may be considered unimportant by others.

What happens to the not urgent and not important stuff? Do we ever get around to it?

If you put this matrix onto the gospel narratives about Jesus it doesn’t seem to fit. Surely going to his friend Lazarus when he was gravely ill was urgent and important, but Jesus waited a few more days and Lazarus died (okay, yes Jesus did raise him back to life later).

In the midst of a crowd, on the way to see a sick girl, a woman touched his cloak. Surely that’s unimportant and not urgent, especially compared to the child? But Jesus stops and asks who did it in order to bless that woman whose faith in Jesus healed her. (And yes, later Jesus did heal the girl, who had died by the time he got there).

But he seems to spend a lot of his time with people whose needs were considered unimportant by the majority. He got angry with his friends who considered blessing children to be unimportant and not urgent and turned them away.

Get the idea?

So, onto the matrix above I would like to superimpose several layers. One is what I consider urgent and important. Another is what the church I serve considers urgent and important and the third is what God considers urgent and important. Where they match – hallelujah! Where they don’t, God’s matrix takes priority.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

compromising circumstances

Inside with no fearA businessman gets on an aeroplane and sits down in the first class section of the plane. The stewardess rushes over to him and tells him he must move to standard class because he doesn’t have a first class ticket. The businessman replies, “I’m a businessman, I’m smart, I have a good job, and I’m staying in first class until we reach Jamaica.”

The disgusted stewardess gets the head stewardess who asks the businessman to leave. The businessman yet again repeats “I’m a businessman, I’m smart, I have a good job and I’m staying in first class until we reach Jamaica.” The head stewardess doesn’t even know what to do at this point because they still have to get the rest of the passengers seated to take off; the businessman is causing a problem with boarding now, so the stewardess gets the copilot.

The copilot goes up to the businessman and whispers in his ear. Immediately the businessman gets up and goes to his seat in the standard class section. The head stewardess asks the copilot in amazement what he said to get him to move to the correct seat. The copilot replies, “I told him the front half of the aeroplane wasn’t going to Jamaica.”

As a family we are starting to consider where to go for our summer holiday next year. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Jamaica is not a likely destination. One of the difficulties in deciding (within a certain budget) is that there are competing interests. One person might want to spend all day basking in sunshine on the beach, another might want to spend all day in the shade. Someone might want to go to a lively resort and another to somewhere peaceful and secluded. One person might like the idea of a self catering holiday last another might fancy and all in, full board experience. And that’s before we’ve even narrowed it down to countries. It probably sounds like there’s a big argument about this. In fact there isn’t, we just haven’t been able to make up our minds yet!

Ultimately what we choose is likely to be a compromise. That might seem like bad news. The word compromise seems to me to be tainted with negativity and the inability to reach a successful conclusion. But compromise is not necessarily a bad thing. If the ultimate goal or cause towards which we are all aiming is something that we all consider to be worthwhile then our own preferences becomes secondary to that goal or cause. In those circumstances compromise enables us to achieve something far better together than we could obtain if one of us got our own way. I think we always have to consider what is most important in any decision-making and keep that as our priority, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by things that are less important or even petty.

In our case each of us would let go of some of our preferences for the sake of having a shared family holiday.

And what about in other areas of life? Is getting our own way more important than bigger goals that we share with others?

What about church? Do we want to get our own way at all costs, or are we willing to compromise for the sake of our shared goals of worshipping Jesus Christ, following him and making him known?

Be blessed, be a blessing.