do less, be more (continued)

Carrying on from the last bloggage, I am exploring Mark 1:35-39

A summary of what happened is that Jesus seems to have found himself a good place and time. Jesus went off to a place with few distractions where he was unlikely to be interrupted.

He went very early because he knew the rest of the day would be busy. The fact that the disciples mounted a full-scale manhunt for him suggests that they were not used to him doing this, but if you read the gospels there are lots of times when Jesus took himself off to pray. He set aside time and space to talk with his Father. It’s not that he didn’t talk with him through the day, but he knew the value of giving God his full attention.

Sally will tell you that I am not a morning person so getting up very early to pray is not likely to bless me. But I can find other times in the day when I know I have space and can give God my full attention.

When he gave his Father his full attention prayer flowed. We don’t know what he said,but from other prayers he prayed we know he would remind himself who his heavenly Father is, he prayed for guidance, strength, for the state of his relationship with his Father and other people, he would pray that God’s will be done…

That feels like a good model for our praying doesn’t it? And of course it’s actually the model we call the Lord’s prayer.

Are you feeling guilty yet?

It’s really easy for us to look at Jesus, or at other people and their amazing prayer lives and feel like a failure. My prayer life is nothing like what I have just described.

But God wants us to be us, not to be someone else.When it comes to praying we can be really good at beating ourselves up because we don’t think we’re very good at it. Or we wallow in guilt because we don’t pray as much as the preacher says we ought to. Or we resolve on a Sunday that this week we’re going to do better, and have forgotten that resolve by the time we tuck into our Sunday roast at home.

If you come away from today thinking, “I must try harder,” or “I must do better” then I will have failed. Because that’s not the message I am bringing you. You see Jesus didn’t pray out of a sense of duty or obligation. He prayed because it was natural for him to talk with his Father,and because he was full of the Holy Spirit whose role is to enhance our relationship with God. Jesus must have found immense benefit and blessing in praying. If he didn’t he wouldn’t have got up so early to do it. He made time and space to give his Father his full attention.

Recently I have joined a gym. It’s part of my desire to continue my rehabilitation following surgery earlier in the year. When I started at the gym I found most of the exercises were hard and left me feeling exhausted. The next day my muscles ached terribly. But I have been going to the gym twice a week for most weeks since and I have found that the exercises are becoming a bit easier. I can lift a little more weight, walk and row and cycle a bit faster and further. And I find I am even enjoying it.

To compare our prayer life with going to the gym is rather inadequate but the similarity is that while we may struggle at first,the more we pray the easier it gets.

Let me change the image. When I first started going out with Sally we didn’t really know each other very well. We had to get to know how each other thought, we had to understand each other better and in order to do that we had to talk with each other. We have been married for over 29 years now and conversation between us is much easier because we know each other so well. Sometimes we know what the other one is going to say even before they say it.

So it is with God in prayer. The more you talk with him the better you get to know him and the easier the conversation (prayer)flows. And to help you get started I would suggest that you may find it helpful to find a space where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. You may find it helpful to find a time when you have not got lots of other things to do. And when you are in that space, tell God what’s on your mind.

Be honest with him because he already knows it anyway,but by being honest with him you’re being honest with yourself. If you don’t know what to pray, remember the things Jesus prayed about – use the Lord’s Prayer if that helps you. But instead of rattling through it pause and think about each phrase and tell God what images and thoughts it conjures up in your mind. What does it mean that you pray to your Father in heaven? What does it mean to say that his name is holy?

If you struggle to pray on your own, find someone or a couple of people you know and trust and join together on a regular basis to share and pray together. Or you could join a home group. Find support in your local church.

Relationships are deepened and enhanced by spending special time with the other person and giving them your full attention, and that includes our relationship with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

has God become god?

I am musing about a question that has bounced around in my brain for decades. I am not suggesting that I have just come up with THE answer: I have probably just discovered some more questions. I have decided to do some God-thinking here about it. Apologies if you came to this bloggage hoping for something different.

The perpetual question is: why do Christians (me included) keep on doing wrong things? I should make clear that ‘wrong things’ covers a multitude of sins. Literally. It includes the little things that don’t bother us (such as ‘a little white lie’) through to the things that create a scandal when they become public. And everything in between.

You see if we Christians really put into practice what we say we believe surely we would not fall down flat on our moral faces, would we? If we live in a relationship with GOD (caps intended to convey bigness, majesty, divinity, and all of the rest of the attributes we would give him) and are filled with his Spirit to help us to live in a way that follows Jesus and reflects that relationship then surely we wouldn’t give in to temptation, we wouldn’t get things wrong, we wouldn’t wander from the path, we wouldn’t trip up… or any other euphemistic metaphor you want to use.

inspired“Ah,” I hear some of your say, “but God has given us all free will and that means we can choose how to live and what to do.”

Yes he has. But having free will is as much the freedom to choose to do what is right, albeit with the potential that we will choose to do what is wrong. Why don’t we always choose to do what is right? The reality of free will does not explain why Christians let themselves and God down, it just explains how it is possible.

“OK,” others say, “But add to free will the reality there is evil in the world that tempts us and seeks to distort the way God intended things and mask our experience of God.”

Again, yes. Evil has the capacity to take what is good and use it nefariously. For example, ‘leadership’ is important for human organisation and society to run smoothly. At its best it can empower, encourage and serve the well-being of all. But it can become distorted towards tyranny and even dictatorship if unchecked. The presence of evil in the world explains what is happening behind the scenes when anyone does something ‘wrong’.

But it still doesn’t explain why Christians, who have had an experience / awareness / understanding (limited) of God would give in to unwise short-term pleasures in place of doing what they know would be right. However it’s important to recognise that nobody is perfect and we are all still subject to an inherent bias away from God that we have learned and perfected throughout our life. We won’t always get it right. Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in a very honest admission of his struggles (Romans 7 (NIVUK):

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The internal battle between the old and new, between the bias towards evil and the desire to serve God, between good and evil is clear in this passage. And it’s something that I know all Christians wrestle with. We are all a work in progress. The war has been won but the battles rage on. An eventual awareness of that is what stopped people stoning a woman who’d been dragged before Jesus when caught in the act of adultery: “The one who is without sin should throw the first stone!” was Jesus’ intervention.

Maybe there’s also something biological here (and that can be distorted by evil working on our free will). We humans are organic beings and our complex systems (created to allow us to respond to outside stimuli in appropriate ways) include the capacity to experience pleasure. In his generosity of creation God has made us with the capacity to enjoy. The hormonal surge of pleasure we can experience in positive circumstances can be very powerful and even diminish our capacity to think rationally. It can distort our thinking in the heat of the moment. How often have you heard, “I wasn’t thinking” as a pseudo-defence when someone has been caught out? Is it that the pleasure-urge is so powerful that for Christians it can override our consciousness of God in the pursuit of short-term pleasure? For example, a Christian should know that gossiping about another person is wrong but the pleasure of having an audience (and their reaction to us) and being able to denigrate someone else might take over before they have thought clearly about what they are saying.

There are some things everyone would classify as wrong – murder for example. But while there is a life-sentence for murder there would be an outcry of someone was given a life-sentence for parking on a double-yellow line (it’s a no parking zone for non-Brits who may be reading this). But with God there’s no hierarchy of wrong. If it’s wrong it’s wrong. But maybe because we have a judicial system that gives different sentences for different crimes we have inadvertently allowed ourselves (maybe subconsciously) to categorise things that way for God. Perhaps we have allowed ourselves to become tolerant of some things because we deem them to be less serious offences to him. We allow the occasional lie, the hidden malicious thought, the occasional cruel mockery because the harm is not so great.

And then there’s grace. God’s grace. Christians know deep down that God loves us and if we come to him genuinely seeking forgiveness and restoration he will do that. Every time. Is the knowledge of that aspect of God’s character distorted (by evil?) to cheapen God’s grace? Do we know so much about his grace and forget how much evil is abhorrent to him? As we remind ourselves of the lengths God went to in order to deal with the problem of human rebellion against him because he loves us so much, have we lost sight of how much that human rebellion offends / hurts / injures / scandalises / exasperates God?

Yet when the rubber hits the road I can’t help wondering whether the real problem is that for many Christians God has become god. Is it possible that in a well-meaning attempt to help people understand who God is we have diminished him? Is it possible that emphasising God’s love (which can never be over-emphasised) and approachability in Jesus we have lost some of the awe and wonder? Could it be that the many other things that demand our time and attention become elevated in importance above and beyond the primacy of our relationship with God?

This may all seem rather down-beat and depressing. So let me offer some positives too. I remind myself that with free will comes the freedom to choose good as well as the freedom to choose bad – bad is not inevitable. I remind myself that God has given us his Spirit and that he does prompt us in the right direction (even if we choose to ignore him) – he counterbalances the bias towards evil and can even diminish it over time. I remind myself that love wins in the battle between good and evil. I remind myself that God’s good plan for people is that we enjoy ourselves. I remind myself that God is for LIFE and not just for Sundays and when my relationship with him is a daily, hourly, constant experience I am more likely to choose God’s way. I remind myself that I am not alone – I have family and friends who encourage and support and pray for me (as I do for them).

I remind myself that Jesus taught his followers to pray “deliver us from evil” so praying about it is a good idea to reengage myself with his help. I ask that God will help me become more aware of who he is, how he is, what he is and ever more aware of him.

It helps.

I’m not perfect. I am not sinless. I want to be. But I know that I can’t be without God’s help and that this side of eternity I will always struggle with the allure of evil, as all of us will. But please God help me so that my relationship with you deepens daily and may one of the outcomes of that be that I sin less.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

a tidy desk is a sign of…

It’s been said that “a tidy desk is a sign of a tidy mind”. Or how about, “A tidy desk is a sign of a full desk drawer.”

But Albert Einstein apparently said that, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

paperworkThis week, among other things, I am going to tidy my desk (make of that what you will!). I have narrowed down my options to two viable alternatives based on the above (note ‘tidy’ not ’empty’!):

Alternative the first – scoop up all paperwork, stray documents, empty mugs and items that don’t currently have a home and deposit them in an empty drawer / cupboard.

Alternative the second – look through all of the papers on the desk and either respond, file or discard, take any empty mugs to the kitchen and clean them and find a home for any homeless items.

Both alternatives will result in me having a tidy desk.

Alternative the first is quicker and perhaps even in the short term more satisfying. But it will leave items still to be dealt with (and now more difficult to find / remember) and may result in the growth of new life forms if the mugs remain uncleaned for a long period of time, or at best the coffee dregs at the bottom of the mugs will have welded itself to the mug and be difficult to remove.

Alternative the second may take a bit more effort. It may take a bit more time. But at the end the tidy desk will not simply be a space free of clutter it will also be a reminder to me that I have dealt with everything.

How often in life do we deal with problems, difficulties, letting other people down, unforgiveness and other ‘clutter’ by scooping it up and lobbing it in an empty drawer or cupboard? We can give the impression that everything is fine and lovely but those things remain undealt with. They will not go away if we ignore them and indeed they can get worse so that we have a bigger issue to deal with when we finally have to deal with them.

It’s wise to try to sort out problems in our relationships with others and with God sooner rather than later. Occasional ‘spring cleans’ will take a lot longer and be harder work for us that regular ‘housekeeping’ and a relationship is always healthier and closer if there is not ‘stuff’ between you.

If you read Psalm 32 you will read about the difference it makes to us when we hide the stuff we really need to deal with and the contrast with how it feels when we have sought forgiveness.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

grrrrr computers

tempting
tempting

I had one of those grrrrr moments over the weekend when my hitherto reliable computer decided it was time to become unreliable. (Before I go any further I would like to make it clear they do not want any “should have bought a Mac” comments please!)

Windows users will know that in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen is the icon for the Start menu. This is the place from which you access your programs and the bits of software that lurk behind the interface and which contain various settings that allow you to customise your experience. Rather annoyingly my Start menu decided to stop. When I clicked on it I got a “critical error” message with a reassuring comment that Windows would try to resolve the problem when I signed in again.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

You get the picture. I checked various online forums and discovered that I was not unique in having this problem. Eventually I found a link on Microsoft’s support website that enabled me to have an online chat with one of their “Answer Tech” people. She was very polite, sympathised with my problems, and reassured me that she could sort them out.

And eventually she did. It involved creating a whole new me – or at least a new profile – and more or less starting again. The process of starting again took a very long time (and is still not complete). I have had to transfer all my files across. I’ve had to find a way of setting up my email accounts so that I did not lose the emails to which I need to reply (and those which I saved). I’ve had to try to remember passwords for websites and programs that I have forgotten.

grrrrr

But in the midst of the grrrrr have been a couple of moments when I have been able to stop and assess whether or not I needed to reinstall certain software. It’s the sort of software that keeps telling you how important it is and how necessary it is for you to synchronise your life on your computer with various mobile devices. And I’ve sometimes wondered whether it is as necessary and important as it thinks it is but never had the courage or time to turn it off and see what happens. But now, with the new me, I am able to run programs without the software and am finding that actually it s not as essential as it has been telling me.

And actually the timing is quite good because for the last month every time I have switched on the computer the apparently essential software has reminded me that my year’s support is about to expire and I need to pay them some money in order to keep it going. Now I realise I don’t need to. This will save me some money and also stop the annoying pop-up messages. Win win!

And it made me wonder how much of what I consider to be essential to my life really is that important. Last week and Sally and I swapped cars so she could go a long journey in more comfort and I found myself disliking her car because it was not as comfortable or fast or luxurious as mine and didn’t have all of the gadgets and gizmos that mine came with. But it’s a car. It goes. It stops. It’s more than most people have in this world. Cue another attitude adjustment to turn up the attitude of gratitude.

In the Bible many people found themselves challenged to address what is important and essential in life by their encounters with Jesus. When it boils down to it it’s not stuff that matters. The bottom line is that convenience is not essential. You can even live without all of the things that you consider to be priceless because of their sentimental value (even though that might hurt a bit). If you had to do a reinstall of your life there are lots of things you could do without.

What really matters is the quality of the relationships we have with other people and with God. Those are the irreplaceable essential vitally important things, aren’t they? They are what’s really priceless.

So how much do you value them? Are they the priority in your life? Does it show?

Be blessed, be a blessing

watch it

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

About 15 years ago, when I moved on my first church, the church very kindly gave me some money as a leaving gift. I decided that I wanted to spend it on something that would last so I bought myself a watch (my previous one was a cheap and cheerful purchase, probably from a garage forecourt shop).

The watch that I bought was a kinetic watch that took the energy of my everyday arm movements and stored it to make the hands and movements of the watch turn. So long as I moved my arm normally the watch was kept fully charged. Slowly, over the years, the watch’s ability to hold a charge diminished until it got to the point where if I took the watch off at night it would have run down by the morning. As I did not want to wear my watch during the night (too much risk of scratching myself with it and it tends to get a bit sweaty under the watch) I looked into the possibility of replacing the capacitor in the watch. When I discovered how expensive these things are I decided that now might be the time to buy myself a new watch.

When I moved on from my last church they were kind enough to give me some money as a leaving gift as well and as I had not spent this I decided that it would be rather a nice thing to buy a watch again. I looked into the possibility of buying another kinetic watch but they are rather expensive. Then I looked at other forms of self winding watches and found one that I like the look of on a well-known Internet auction site. It was being sold by a company that resold items which had been returned to a well-known high street catalogue-based retailer and was significantly cheaper than the normal retail price.

I bought it and have been very happy with it. But there is one difference between this and my kinetic watch. Whilst this watch uses my arm movements to wind the spring in the watch this only extends the length of time between winds to a couple of days, it does not keep the watch wound in perpetuity. It took me a while to realise this and then get used to it. Because I can see the spring through the face of the watch I can tell when it needs winding.

But I sometimes forget and only realise that the watch needed winding overnight when I check the time later in the day and realise that it is a couple of hours out. Thankfully because timepieces are relatively ubiquitous (on my computer, phone, tablet as well as on my desk, on the wall, in the car…) I’m usually able to find the correct time and reset the watch.

It seems to me that Christians are sometimes like kinetic watches. We make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ and then imagine that through our regular attendance at church our relationship with him is maintained. And to an extent it will be, but it will slowly run down and you may well find yourself frustrated and feeling spiritually worn out after a while. What Jesus was demonstrating to his followers (and that includes us) was that a relationship with “Our Father in heaven” is more like my ‘self-winding’ watch that benefits from regular attention.

Prayer can be as much a part of our daily living as breathing is (it is like oxygen for our soul). Reading the Bible need not be something special but can be routine (like regular meals for our soul). All that we say and do can be dedicated as an act of worship if we consciously decide that it will be – giving our best to honour God.

And if that sounds like I am making my Christian faith seem quite mundane and every day then hallelujah! I am not diminishing the honour and privilege and grace of a relationship with God through Jesus, don’t get me wrong. That God is even interested in me is incredible, never mind that he loves me as much as he does! But he wants to be part of our everyday ordinary working walking eating sleeping watching telly sending emails talking with people texting driving drinking internetting laughing crying surprising mundane lives. I think he longs to be a natural part of everyone’s life – so much so that we don’t consciously have to remember him because he is involved in everything.

Does that sound idealistic? Does it sound impossible? It is on our own, which is why Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to us in order to help us in our relationship with God. He is with us always. He’s constantly nudging, speaking, encouraging, suggesting, reminding, provoking, praying, listening, hoping, blessing and seeking a response from us so that in partnership with him our awareness of God (Father, Son, Spirit) grows and our relationship deepens. All you need to do is ask for it to start. And then like my self-winding watch give him your regular attention. It doesn’t happen overnight but the more we involve God in everything the more we find he is involved in everything already and has simply been waiting for us to realise that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Warning: ink levels low

This may not be the most earth-shattering announcement you will read today: my printer is running out of black ink. It used to be that we would not discover this until the printer actually had run out of ink and the printed material came out faded, feint or just blank. That could be incredibly annoying, especially if it happened in the middle of a long print-run, and even more-so if it happened when the shops were closed and we didn’t have a replacement cartridge.

low inkSo I am grateful that my printer has told my computer to tell me that it is running out of black ink, and that it has considerately done so before it has actually run out of ink in order to give me time to get a replacement cartridge.

I think the same applies to us if our relationship with God is going a bit faint (as opposed to feint). There are signs: a lack of desire to go to church; a loss of enthusiasm for reading our Bible and for praying; a nagging sense that we are not as close to God as we used to be. These are all indicators that the cartridge is running low. Of course we don’t replace it, but it needs replenishing. And (perhaps ironically) the very things that we lose interest in are the very things that can help us reconnect with God.

If you sense the faint-ness creeping in, ask God’s Spirit to rekindle the desire to worship. Ask him to help you to regain that desire to read the Bible and to pray. Seek his help to renew your faith. If you want to know a good place to begin the replenishing I would suggest you start with a gospel. Reconnect with the Jesus who is at the heart of our faith. Put yourself in the middle of the crowd as you watch and listen to him. Join in at the back of the group of disciples as he teaches them. Watch from a distance as you see him arrested, tried, crucified. Join in the celebrations as he is resurrected.

Be blessed, be a blessing

of camels and needles

You’d almost think I have some sort of plan for this blog (only ‘almost’). Yesterday I wrote bloggerel about grace, based on Jesus saying to a rich young man, “You lack one thing…”

I wrote that I would come back to the passage itself and today that’s my intention. You can find the passage in Luke 18:18-30.

In the context of Luke’s gospel this passage comes as part of a series of encounters Jesus had with different people where he confronted contemporary concepts of ‘greatness’ and how God views us differently to the way that humans look at each other. It seems to me that the rich young man who approached Jesus wanted him to validate his ticket into heaven. He reckoned he was good enough to get into God’s good books and, to the outside observer, he would have been a prime candidate. He was a good man (notice that he called Jesus ‘good’ and perhaps wanted him to reciprocate). He was rich, which was (and is?) seen as a sign of God’s blessing on him.

But what he lacked was the ability to put God first in his life. He was religiously righteous, but it was a skin deep religiosity that was not bearing fruit in his life. He knew about God but he did not know God. He was living for himself – keeping the law – but failed to sense God’s heart. Why did Jesus tell him to give all his money to the poor? It was not just to see if he would let go of his money and the hold it had on him – if that was the case Jesus could have told him to give the money to anyone. It was to see if he shared God’s love and compassion for the poor and needy and if he was willing to do something about it.

DESCRIPTION: Man lying trampled on the ground, camel walking off CAPTION: AND THEN HE HAD A MUCH BETTER IDEA OF EXACTLY HOW HARD IT WAS FOR RICH FOLK TO GET INTO HEAVENThe narrative moves on from this point to a consideration of how to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Creative ideas have been offered in response to this including that it referred to a small gate into Jerusalem through which camels would only fit if they had been unloaded first (no archaeological or historical evidence of this) or perhaps a contemporary suggestion of using a liquidiser (apologies to the squeamish) but they did not exist in Jesus’ day. It is quite likely that he was using a contemporary idiom or joke about things that were difficult to make the point that it is incredibly difficult for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.

Why? Because we are tempted to rely on our own resources much more readily than we are to rely on God. Because we can easily get distracted from God by ‘stuff’. Because we can become self-absorbed and fail to see things how God sees them (ignoring the poor, for example).

You will have noticed that I said ‘we’ in the last paragraph. Judging wealth purely on average income I am including in the ‘we’ anyone whose monthly wage is greater than £1000. That is the average wage of the world based on averaging all of the average wages. However only a quarter of the world’s population earn this amount. The average monthly wage of the poorest in the world is about £21. So you are part of the ‘we’ if you earn more than that a month.

How’s it looking for your camel? How’s your relationship with God? How’s your relationship with your wealth? 

Be blessed, be a blessing.