fruity

Recent tragic events where high profile people have taken their life or had their reputation destroyed, and the ‘abdication’ of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have brought into the spotlight issues about kindness.

One of the issues is how people use social media. A response to these events that has grown from the general public has been a rise in awareness of the need for kindness. I have been tempted for a while to unsubscribe from some of the social media sites I use because of the abusive nature of some of the comments and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the social media companies to monitor and clamp down on this. I find it abhorrent how some people feel justified in writing hideous things about other people, often only known to them by their public reputation, and can’t begin to understand how painful and hurtful it must be to be on the receiving end of this. (I have not left yet because I feel it is important to try to be a positive influence in the cesspool* of hatred, trying to write positive words of encouragement in the face of the abuse.)

And I almost weep as I write this, but Christians can be some of the worst in being judgmental and condemning others who hold different views to them. How that fits with Jesus saying that people will know that we are his followers if we love one another I don’t know.

Of course it’s not just social media. Look again at how the mainstream media treat people in the public gaze. Every so often when there is a tragedy or they get caught being unethical or illegal they talk about self-regulation and not being intrusive into people’s lives but it seems that they can’t help themselves and before you know it they have crept back into their old ways. And we (the general public) encourage them. If people didn’t buy the newspapers or watch the TV programmes they would either have to change their ways or fade into obscurity, but we fuel their intrusive, abusive and accusative approach to ‘journalism’ by avidly consuming what is presented to us.

It strikes me that recent the call for kindness may be tapping into something that is in the heart of human consciousness. I think it’s part of the way that God put us together – a glimpse of his nature inherent within us. And it’s something the Bible talks about, and which God’s Spirit cultivates within us if we seek it, nurture it and practice it (in Galatians 5, NIVUK):

22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I don’t think we can generate these things on our own. We need to seek the help of the One who created them. Pray that these things would become hallmarks of who you are. And if you are a follower of Jesus think about your social media profile and see how much of that fruit is evident…

But we can’t leave it to him either. Find ways of doing these things and you will find that they grow faster within you – God’s Spirit will have fertile soil to do his work. And notice that all of them are for the benefit of others (in part or in whole). They are not much good to us if we are not in relationships with other people. But other people will be blessed if we bear that fruit.

And I may be a bit ideological here but what if we all bear more of that fruit, even just a little bit? How much more like heaven on earth will our existence be?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*If you think I am being melodramatic or overly critical here, just read some of the comments below almost any news article online or when a high profile person makes a mistake.

updates

I think modern technology is, on the whole, wonderful. It has transformed so much of my life. I began working (in a solicitor’s office) having just two options if I wanted to communicate with someone who was not in the office. I could send a letter or I could phone. Now I have email, text messaging, I can send photos, I have video calling, and so much more. It all so convenient and helpful.

https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5101/5572152632_8c9c864871_b.jpg

Except for those moments when my technology decides it needs to do an update. It feels like they always choose the most inconvenient moments to do this. I know that this isn’t true and that it’s probably only that I notice and remember the inconvenient times and ignore the others, but that’s how it feels. I wrote a bloggage about the most inconvenient one – you can read it here.

It seems to me (and it may just be that I have more gadgets) that updates are a more frequent occurrence than they used to be. Rarely does a day go by when one or more of my gadgets announce that they updating a program or app or operating system.

And is it just me, or do you also feel that when an update has happened you want to see some changes, improvements and benefits from having the updated version?

But that doesn’t seem to happen very often. I am told that an update is happening and then that it has completed, but most of the time I can’t see or experience any difference after the update. I know that some of the updates will have been to fix bugs or improve security or to enhance compatibility but there’s a part of me that wants to see a tangible improvement in my user experience for having had the upgrade – more than just a change from version 16.3.4.5.334.1 to version 16.3.4.5.334.2

Reflecting on this recently (while my phone was carrying out some upgrades) I realised that we are changed and transformed in a similar way. We don’t often see dramatic changes and significant upgrades to who we are – mostly we are changed and improve incrementally and imperceptibly.

This should not surprise me. After all, the Bible talks about the changes that the Spirit of God brings about in me are spiritual fruit – and fruit grows gradually. Over time you will be able to see a difference, but on a daily or even weekly basis you won’t notice anything different.

How does he bring about these changes? With our permission, and with our involvement. He won’t go against our wishes, we have to want him to transform us. And he wants us to participate in the process by putting into practice the fruits he is growing in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. The more we deliberately seek to act in these ways the more naturally they will be part of who we are and how we are.

I hope that Nick version 16.3.4.5.334.2 is an improvement on Nick version 16.3.4.5.334.1 but you may not notice it. I hope that there is a more noticeable difference from Nick version 1.0!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

the parable of the router

Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.

network cableThey decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.

I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!

This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!

I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!

It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.

But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.

But the upgrade is worth it. If we let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

joy

laughingI think joy is seriously underrated. It’s associated with all sorts of physical actions: smiling, laughter, feeling good. It has brothers and sisters and cousins: happiness, humour, lightness, pleasantness… You can sometimes see it in a person’s face, in their eyes, in their smile, and even in their posture and gait!

But joy is special. Joy, while it links to the emotions, is not a simple emotion. Happiness comes and goes, it can be superficial. But joy is more foundational. It underlies a lot of life. It can be there even when we are sad. It can be present even when we feel nothing. It sometimes breaks through and surfaces in laughter, smiling, a good feeling, but it is not always felt.

Joy is a an attitude as well as an emotion. It is a way of looking at life that says, “I know that there is more to life than this and I will not let my life be defined by the superficial.”

For followers of Jesus we acknowledge that joy is from God. It is one of the things that his Spirit nurtures and grows within us. It is that twinkle in the eye, that brief knowing smile, that silent chuckle when we remember all that Jesus has done for us and that he calls us his friends, that because of his death God calls us his children. And that cannot be taken away from us. Which is why it can be there when we are sad, or when we feel nothing. As our awareness of how much God loves us grows so the joy grows – just as we experience human joy when we know that we are loved by another.

There’s an old joke that some Christians have a deep joy: it’s so deep they can’t find it. There’s a smidgeon of truth there, but please God none of us have buried it so deep that we can no longer experience it. And if we have, let’s pray that he brings it closer to the surface – start by re-engaging with Jesus!

Be blessed, be a blessing

being a good patient

waiting-for-my-planeThis bloggage is nothing to do with my surgery or subsequent transformation into a Minion (see previous bloggages if you don’t know what I mean).

Way back in February I ordered an illusion from a manufacturer in the USA. And they sent it off to me in the post. I waited.

And waited.

I was patient.

And I waited some more.

Eventually I ran out of patience and emailed the company to say that it hadn’t arrived and we agreed that it was not going to arrive so they said they would send another one. The thing is that they make the illusions themselves so they had to make another one before they could send it.

Time passed.

Eventually they told me that another one was on the way.

(It was now May)

So I waited.

I was still patient (mostly).

I waited some more.

And eventually I contacted the company and they agreed that it was not going to arrive.

So they made another one…

And I waited.

Then (at the beginning of August) they sent the third one, just as the first one arrived back at the company marked ‘undeliverable’ with no explanation about why that was the case.

So now, guess what?

I am waiting.

I now have a tracking number that enables me to know that the package is currently at Chicago’s O’Hare airport waiting to cross the Atlantic.

But I have no idea if or when it will make it to me, especially as we are moving house on Tuesday next week and while I am redirecting the post I don’t know if this will be included in that.

They say that patience is a virtue.

I think it is more than that. I think (agreeing with St Paul in the Bible) that it is a fruit that God’s Spirit grows in us as we allow ourselves to be open to him. And I am not just talking about patience in waiting for parcels, events or even people. I think it is primarily about patience in waiting for God’s timing. That comes with a growing acceptance that God (who sees everything) has a far far better idea of what is going on and what the best thing would be than my best and most certain plan ever could be. It comes with a willingness to pray ‘Thy will be done’ and mean it. It comes with a willingness and determination to wait for THE moment even if it means staying in a slimy pit, walking through the darkest valley or even being willing to remain there until we shuffle off this mortal coil.

That’s not easy. But it’s much more than a virtue. It’s hard. It’s robust. It’s a determined attitude. It’s a willingness to surrender to God. It’s not easy to understand. And it’s not something we can manufacture.

But when we really do allow the fruit to grow (and help create the right conditions for it to flourish through a ‘Thy will be done’ approach to life) we will find that it is also a source of peace, strength, comfort and hope.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

out of all proportion

When our children were very young I started something that became a family ‘thing’. I was messing around with them and, resting my head on top of one of our son’s head, I jiggled my jaw back and forth. It made him laugh so I did it again. Our daughter didn’t see what I had done but she wanted it done too, so I jiggled my jaw on top of her head too. But neither of them saw exactly what I was doing. It felt funny to them but they couldn’t work out what I was doing.

They really wanted to know what I was doing and for ‘no partic’lar reason’ (to quote Forrest Gump) I decided I wouldn’t tell them. The more I refused to tell them the more they wanted to know and the more they wanted to know the more I refused to tell them. From then on, occasionally I would jiggle my jaw on top of one of their heads without the other one seeing what I was doing (and the jigglee had no idea). Each time they wanted to know what I was doing.

old enough to know the ‘thing’

When this had grown into a family ‘thing’ I told them that I would tell them the secret when they were 18 and not before. And so the ‘thing’ kept going. When our son reached 18 he remembered about it and asked for the secret so I told him on condition that he couldn’t tell our daughter because she was not yet 18. She turned 18 at the end of June this year and earlier this week she suddenly remembered that she was now entitled to know the secret of the ‘thing’.

I showed her how I was merely jiggling my jaw from side to side on top of her head. She couldn’t believe that’s all it was. It was the family ‘thing’ and now she knew (she laughed hard when she found out the secret) but there was also a bit of a disappointment that it was so simple. But there’s now no more family ‘thing’.

Incidentally that’s why magicians don’t tell you how we do our illusions: if you found out how illusion was performed you would probably be disappointed and the illusion would be ruined for you because now you would not see and enjoy the performance of the illusion you would just be thinking about how it is done.

But sometimes it’s best to burst the balloon because sometimes things are blown up out of all proportion and become much bigger than they need to. That disagreement that escalated to an argument and became a row and then led to the breakdown of a friendship. That upset that became hurt feelings that festered into resentment and became septic hatred. That misunderstanding that was unresolved and dug itself into entrenchment that ossified into confrontational positions.

These things can be prevented with a good dose of Christlike love, grace, forgiveness, humility and gentleness. These characteristics are not something we can generate ourselves, but God’s Spirit blesses us with them and nurtures them in response to our desire for them. They are indominatable and irresistible. I think that’s what Paul meant when he wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22-26)

And these things can help to deflate the balloon (less messy than bursting it but non-alliterative). It starts with a recognition of the value of what has been lost: that a friendship is more important than being right; that a relationship is more valuable than hatred; that collaboration is better than confrontation. And that recognition leads to action, to someone making the first move towards reconciliation. Which also points me back to my recent series on the atonement – God loves us than we can ever know and has made the first move towards reconciliation.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

lump in throat time

welcomepic2Last weekend was my last as Minister at Colchester Baptist Church. I want to thank everyone at the church for a wonderful send off. I had a lump in my throat the whole weekend, tears in my eyes occasionally and they’ve come back even as I write this bloggage.

We had a party on the Saturday night – with games and party food and a magician (me). If you look on Facebook you may see some of the photos, but I wish to add a disclaimer – I had no control over what was happening most of the time! It was a fantastic party and it was lovely that so many people from the church (past and present) were there. Thank you to everyone for organising, contributing and coming to such a special time.

On Sunday we had our usual two services, but with a difference. The first one had a very special time when my fantastic colleague, Lynsey, gave some gifts that underlined two consistent themes of my ministry (encouraging people to be good free samples of Jesus; and being blessed in order to be a blessing); gave Stew the Rabbit a carrot, and came closest to making my cry with a hug. Other people said nice things in the service (including a lovely poem by one of the children), Sally was given a bunch of flowers to mark that I was leaving but she isn’t for a while, and we were prayed for.

It was very emotional. But with a lot of prayer, a few watery eyes, some deep breaths, an occasional squeaky word and some God-given composure I got through without breaking down in tears. I did feel like crying though!

Then, in the evening, we had a Songs of Praise evening where we sang the church’s top ten Christian hymns and songs and heard from different people about why those songs and hymns were important to them.

It was a very special day. Thank you to everyone for all that you did, for cards, gifts and kind words.

I did lose my composure at the very end of the Songs of Praise when I tried to say ‘thank you’. But I am not surprised: the church means so much tome and I could not easily say ‘goodbye’. I was grateful that the organist played a long voluntary at the end so I could regain my composure!

I had the privilege of sharing some last words with the church in the morning service and share them here with you. (Next week the sermon may be online on the church website if you want to listen to it – it may simply be called ‘fruit’).

“Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord God will be with you wherever you go.”

“Remain in Jesus and bear fruit.”

And

“May the fruit of the Spirit grow in you.”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Time to go and find a hanky!

what does a free sample of Jesus look like?

Hair Pieces  77
Free samples of hair pieces. NO COMMENTS PLEASE!

Regular bloggists among you will know that I often refer to Christians (and churches) as ‘free samples of Jesus’. It was pointed out to me today that I have never really said exactly what I mean by that, so this bloggage is an attempt to rectify that…

In essence what I mean is that as God’s Spirit works in us he changes us. It’s often subtle, sometimes dramatic, but the changes make us a little bit more like Jesus. We become a bit more loving, slightly more inclusive, a smidgeon more gracious… and a bit less intolerant, slightly less religious, a smidgeon less irritable. There are a lot more ways in which we are changed. The Bible shows us a contrast between old us and renewed us:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

That’s from Galatians 5. Part of being free samples of Jesus is that aspects of our life that used to be in the first list are diminishing and those that are in the second list are increasing as God’s Spirit acts in our life. I often think that the second list is a good summary of the character of Jesus, so if those things are being enhanced in us we are becoming better free samples of him to those around us. It happens in us as we ‘keep in step’ with God’s Spirit. Following Jesus is not just an idea, a concept, or a philosophy – it is a way of life. It has implications for every area of our life.

What it actually looks like will be different for each of us, and the same for all of us. It will be different because we all have different experiences, meet people in different places, and have to respond and react to different circumstances. But it will be the same because we are asking God’s Spirit to help us to emulate Jesus in those experiences, with those people and in response to those circumstances.

A free sample of Jesus might respond to someone who cuts them up in their car by smiling and offering a quick ‘bless you’ prayer rather than gesticulating and complaining.

A free sample of Jesus might receive angry criticism with gentle grace and pray for the person who is so angry.

A free sample of Jesus might offer to work extra unpaid hours at work sometimes in response to the boss reducing the length of their lunch break to increase productivity.

A free sample of Jesus might cook a meal for someone else without wanting or expecting anything in return.

A free sample of Jesus might well not only be nice to those who are nice to them, but will seek to bless everyone – perhaps especially those who are cruel to them.

A while back there was a flurry of activity selling wristbands with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) on them, and I have wondered if all I am doing is re-packaging that. Perhaps, but you may be able to discern in the examples above that I have tried to take Jesus’ teaching and examples from his life and apply them to 21st Century living. To be a good free sample of Jesus means that we have to know what he is like in order to emulate him. If you want to be like him, starting finding out about him…

Be blessed, be a blessing

joy

laughing lady
Not a SWEG!

I can remember one of my Ministers when I was a teenager joking about Christians who have a SWEG: slimy, wet, evangelical grin. He was commenting on the superficial artificial saccharine smile that we share with one another to convey that we have everything under control and that we love Jesus.

I wonder if the root cause of SWEGs can be found in one of the fruits of the Spirit – joy. We sell God short if we reduce that to ‘feeling happy’. In our ‘instant gratification’ culture we find that happiness is something to pursue (especially if you are American). But the reason it needs to be pursued is that it is elusive, it is transitory, it is like sand that you can hold in your hand but will run through your fingers so that you need to scoop it up again.

Joy is not happiness. Don’t get me wrong, you can be joyful when you are happy. And Christians can be happy (honestly!) But you can also be joyful when you are sad. Joy is not primarily about our emotional state: it is about our spiritual state. We are joyful because of Jesus. If you read the Gospels you find that many times people who met him left rejoicing.  It is the natural response to an encounter with him. His death and resurrection are the cause of astonishing joy. He is the source of our joy because of who he is and what he has said and done.

God’s Spirit grows this fruit as he reminds us of Jesus and all that he has done for us. Spiritual joy is perhaps best described as a state of awareness of Jesus. It is a recognition that no matter what life can throw at us it cannot take Jesus from us, nor can it take us from him. It is a recognition that he is at work in us by his Spirit. That is why the early Christians were able to rejoice when they were persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Our joy does not depend on transitory circumstances it is based on the absolute certainty of our faith.

Be blessed, be a blessing

A mangy looking guy walks into a very classy restaurant and orders a steak. The waitress says: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can pay for your meal.”

The guy admits, “You’re right. I don’t have any money, but if I show you something you haven’t seen before, will you give me my supper?”

The waitress, both curious and compassionate, says, “Only if what you show me isn’t risque.”

“Deal!” says the guy and reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a hamster. He puts the hamster on the ground and it runs across the room, directly to a piano. The hamster then proceeds to climb up the piano, and starts playing Gershwin songs.

The waitress says, “You’re right. I’ve never seen anything like that before. That hamster is truly good on the piano.” The guy sits back and enjoys a fine steak supper with all the trimmings.

Shortly thereafter, he asks the waitress, “Can I have a piece of that fine blueberry pie I see on the dessert cart over there?”

“Only if you got another miracle up your sleeve”, says the waitress. The guy reaches into his coat again and pulls out a frog. He puts the frog on the table, and the frog starts to sing up a storm!

A stranger from a nearby table runs over to the guy and offers him $300 for the frog. The guy says “It’s a deal.” He takes the three hundred and gives the stranger the frog. The stranger runs out of the restaurant with dollar signs in his eyes and a big smile on his face.

The waitress says to the guy “Are you some kind of nut? You sold a singing frog for $300? It must have been worth millions!”

“No”, says the guy. “The hamster is also a ventriloquist.”

middle of the road

This week I am preparing some sessions for a Church day away on Saturday. We will be looking at the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), so that is in my mind at the moment.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We are told that we should consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet. Spiritually speaking we cannot bear the 9 different sorts of fruit unless we have consumed that too. We cannot give what we have not received.

[mixed metaphor alert]

middle of the roadThere is an old joke about a man who was speeding at 100mph down the middle of the road. When stopped by the police he said that he was simply obeying what it said on his driving licence: “tear along the dotted line.”

The joke may be corny, but the middle of the road is sometimes the best place to be. Sometimes I have swerved to one side of the road and driven into the ditch: speaking of these as a set of self-improvement targets: attributes to work hard at. At other times, in order to avoid that ditch I have swerved too far off the other side of the road and suggested that as this is God’s work we can’t do anything to cultivate them. But while both are true, the right course is down the middle between them.

We need to pay our part in the process, but it is God’s Spirit at work in us who bears the fruit. We can no more force ourselves to be more loving than a gardener can force a plant to bear fruit. But (like a gardener) we can make sure that we are ready to bear fruit, we can tend the soil, we can ask God to change us, especially where we are particularly deficient.

A couple of verses further on Paul urges us to ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’ We tend the soil by our intention to walk closely with God, to live by his rhythm, consciously to align ourselves with him, prayerfully to listen to him and follow closely. Keeping in step means that we are in close contact, our lives are prayerful, our Bibles are well-worn, we see all that we do as an act of worship to Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.