ready? steady? go!

I am feeling a bit self-chuffed. It might even be pride if that was not a sin (!). Regular bloggites will know that I enjoy learning and performing magic tricks. Well I have now invented a trick. I think it is quite good, magician friends to whom I have performed it also think it is quite good, and even a magic trick manufacturer liked it (but not enough for them to buy the rights and make my fortune!).

The trick is based around improbabilities, beating incredible odds. I am not going to go into it now, but if you ask me nicely and persuasively I will reluctantly perform it for you.

Okay, you won’t have to work very hard at all: I am always ready to share it because I am so pleased with it, and with the responses I get from those to whom I perform it. And obviously that reminds me of sandals. You know what I mean, so I don’t need to explain it any further do I?

What?

You haven’t a clue what I am blogging about? (What’s new?)

Roman_legion_at_attackIn his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul encouraged them in their following of Jesus by using the image of a Roman soldier’s armour and telling them that there is spiritual armour we can wear too. Alongside the obvious (helmet, shield, breastplate, sword) he also mentioned what I call ‘good news shoes’.

“… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15)

Apparently Roman soldiers used to wear heavy duty sandals that would help them to march for long distances and give them grip in slippery conditions. Paul used that image to talk about how ready we are to share the good news of Jesus. How far will we go to tell someone the good news or be good news to them? Do we need extra grip? Interestingly he talks of ‘readiness’. If you have your army sandals on you are ready to roll.

I have reflected on my readiness to share magic tricks and whether I am as ready (or even more ready) to share the gospel of peace with others? If I am pleased and impressed (and trying and failing to be humble) with my magic trick, how much more pleased, excited and impressed should I be about the good news of Jesus?

Get your sandals on.

(Socks are optional).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the power of anonymous prayer

prayAs a Minister I have the privilege of being part of people’s lives in ways that others don’t. Some of these people’s needs and circumstances are known to others who also pray for them and offer support and practical encouragement. Others are known to just a few, or even just to me.

And I cherish that precious gift. I try to handle that confidence (in both senses) that has been placed in me with gentleness and integrity. I do not take it for granted. It is an immense privilege, but also a significant responsibility. I often feel ill-equipped and inadequate but recognise that simply standing alongside someone in difficult circumstances can be what God wants me to do – I don’t have to have all the answers.

And because I feel ill-equipped and inadequate it leads me to my knees (usually metaphorically) in prayer. I need to ask for God’s blessing on these people. I need to ask him to use me to bless them. And at the same time I need support. I have a way of doing this without breaching confidences.

So where someone has shared something specific with me and asked me to keep it confidential I might ask others in the church to pray in a general way. To use a silly (and fictitious) example: if someone shared with me that they were struggling with an addiction to jelly babies I might ask people in the church to pray for people who are struggling with addiction. At the same time I often reassure the person who has shared the confidence that I am not going to name them, but that by involving others in prayer on the general issue I am also (covertly) asking them to pray for that person. Those general prayers include them. And God is able to join the dots!

This not only increases the amount of prayer that is offered for that person, it also hopefully reassures them that they are not alone. The rest of the church is praying for them, albeit not by name. And others who are struggling with similar issues are also blessed by prayer.

Given how strongly gossip is condemned in the pages of the Bible I sometimes worry that our ‘for your prayers’ moments can become gossip. This way of praying generally for people while those in the know have them specifically in mind avoids that possibility.

So this bloggage is a request from me – if I ask you (in person, in our weekly news sheet, or even through this blog) to pray about an issue please will you do so, recognising that there are almost certainly individual circumstances behind the generalisation? That will bless me, because I am more supported in prayer, it will bless the people (whose confidence is preserved but who are more supported in prayer) and it will bless you because you are involved in the ministry of the church.

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.”

unconnected thoughts

>when I'm calling you oo oo oo oo oo ooToday we have changed our Broadband and Phone supplier. I realised that it was happening when I switched my computer on this morning and it told me that it was having problems connecting to the internet. When I checked our landline there was almost complete silence with a just hint of gentle static hiss.

It felt very strange not being able to send or receive emails, make phone calls, check information on the internet and so on. I had to rely on books made of paper rather than doing a quick online search when I wanted to find something out. Nobody was able to call me (they would have got an engaged tone). It was eerie. It was frustrating. It was liberating.

Sometimes it seems like God has switched off the connection between me and him. It feels like there are problems getting in touch with him and all I hear from him is almost complete silence with a just hint of gentle static hiss. When I read my Bible I find myself reading words rather than feeling that God is speaking to me. When I pray I feel like nobody is listening.

That can be disconcerting: I don’t want God to be silent. It can be frustrating: why won’t he answer? But can it also be liberating? Is God silent sometimes to help us to learn and grow? When I was learning to ride a bike I started off with stabilisers. Then one day my parents announced that we were going for a bike ride / walk and that they were taking the stabilisers off. That was scary. I didn’t want them to. But they promised that as long as I needed them they would hold me upright by holding onto the seat.

Off I pedalled and my dad ran alongside me. Every so often I would realise that it felt different and would look around to see if he was still holding me. He wasn’t and I wobbled to a halt. I was annoyed that he had let go. I wanted the security of him being there holding me up. I did not want to be unconnected. But then gradually I realised that for the time that he had let go I had been riding my bike on my own. I gained in confidence and I have not looked back since (except when performing manoeuvres and have wanted to avoid being squashed by vehicles).

This is not the only answer to why God is silent but I think that sometimes it is because he wants us to try and use our faith on our own. I don’t mean that he wants us to do things in our own strength, but he wants us to put our faith into action, to go with what we know and to use the gifts and talents he has given us. He’s still with us, just like my parents, but he is also encouraging us to grow in our faith. We grow in spiritual maturity when we put our faith into action instead of remaining with spiritual stabilisers on.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

flash crash

lightningThunder: God’s way of telling you that you should have brought the washing in a bit earlier.

Lightning: God’s way of warning you that he’s about to send you a message that you should have brought the washing in a bit earlier.

Thunderbolts and lightning: God’s way of telling you to get ready to start singing about Galileo*.

There’s a little thunderstorm being hosted in the sky above our house at the moment (inconveniently interrupting my sermon preparation with a dash to get the washing in before it got drenched completely). I love thunderstorms. There is a magnificence and power that is unleashed which is inspiring. They are not to be trifled with: lightning strikes contain several hundred million volts of electricity.

Thunderstorms always bring to mind the phrase ‘the fear of the Lord’ from the Bible. Not because they scare me, but because they remind me that he is untameable, magnificent, powerful beyond my imagining. The ‘fear of God’ is not about being scared, but about recognising who He is and who were are in comparison.

If I am tempted to become too chummy and disrespectful with God the fear of God reminds me that he is the “Lord of lords and King of kings forever and ever” (cue Hallelujah chorus).

If I think that I can put him in a box marked ‘Sundays’ the fear of God reminds me that he is the Lord of eternity and time – all the days of my life are his.

If I think that sin doesn’t matter the fear of God reminds me that he takes it incredibly seriously – so much so that without Jesus it excludes us from his presence.

If I worry about things that may lie ahead of me the fear of God reminds me that if God is for me, whom shall I fear?

So, while the thunderstorm may have inconvenienced me, it has also put a healthy fear of God into me.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Bohemian Rhapsody!

If I could turn back time…

This morning on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show (yes, I am a Radio 2 listener now) they were attempting to give away some tickets to a concert tonight. People had texted in the day before and they called one person back to offer them the tickets on the basis that they would be prepared to cancel their arrangements today and go to the concert.

The first person who was called turned off their phone (perhaps by mistake) and the call failed. The next person they called did not pick up. Neither did the following one. Finally on the fourth attempt the person they were calling picked up and was given the tickets. The man was very happy, but how must those other people be feeling?

Did the first person hit the wrong button on their phone? Were the others driving or in another room and unable to get to answer the phone in time? Are they now feeling really disappointed at the missed opportunity? Do they regret not answering in time?

It is easy to let regrets over missed opportunities take root in our lives. They can easily take on a significance greater than the missed event. I have written about regret before in bloggages: “If only” are two of the saddest words in the English language when we put them together. They suggest sadness, disappointment, unfulfilled potential, a desire to be able to turn back time and do things differently.

SundialBut we experience time in a linear fashion and it is only going in one direction: forwards. Unless or until someone invents a working time machine (and if they do, I would like them to come back in time and tap me on the shoulder now to…. aaaaarggh. Who are you? The Doctor? Oh. Thank you for reading my bloggage in the future).

Subject to the words in parenthesis ever becoming more than silliness, what I said before still stands. We only experience time going forwards. We cannot go back. We can ask for forgiveness and / receive it. We can attempt to repair any damage we have caused. We can seek to pick up loose threads and start afresh. But we can’t undo what has been done.

Except that God is beyond time. He is not bound by our unidrectional experience. He did limit himself to that in Christ for 33 years, living within our time-space continuum, and he does exist within it now, yet he is also able to see the beginning and the end of time (as well as being the source of the beginning and end). The Cross of Christ is the moment in time when eternity breaks in. Jesus’ death is the means by which all humanity can be reconciled to God – those before him, those who witnessed it, and those who live after him. It could be seen as a fracture in the space-time continuum (Yes, alright Doctor, I know that it’s made up of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff). It’s the moment when past and future failings are dealt with and reconciliation with God is made possible. And Jesus’ resurrection is what seals the deal.

He can help turn ‘if only’ into the cathartic ‘I’m sorry’, or ‘please forgive me’, or ‘can we start again please’? He won’t turn back time but he will help to transform the effects of what has happened in the past. When we turn to him for forgiveness he wipes the slate clean from his perspective. He can also help us to release regrets linked to the past. He can help heal wounds, soothe the pain of memories, calm trouble thoughts. He is the God of fresh starts.

Be blessed, be a blessing

And apologies to any non-Doctor Who fans for the oblique references.

Son rise

After what some of you may consider to have been a surfeit of pomes (sic) last week, when I was in a reflective mood, this week I am returning to the more ‘normal’ style of bloggage. Except that I’m going to cheat slightly and post a reflection based on something I said in Sunday evening’s sermon at our church. So, apologies to anybody who has already heard this.

Sunrise & Sunset 2
To be fair, this is not an image of the sun rising over Horsham!

In my first church, in Horsham, we used to have a sunrise service on Easter Sunday mornings. We would trudge and squelch our way across some fields and up a hill that overlooks the town. Usually it was after the sun had risen but it was still very early in the morning and we would reflect on the events of the first Easter Sunday.

On one occasion I asked some of the teenage girls in the church to interrupt me as I was speaking. The idea was that while I was speaking about the encounter that the women had with the risen Jesus they would rush down the hill through the crowd shouting, “Jesus is alive! We’ve seen him, we’ve met him!” The girls were quite excited about this and sneaked to the back of the crowd to await the cue. My idea was that I would try to bring a little realism to the narrative. I didn’t count on a retired minister who was part of our church.

As the girls started to make a commotion and ran down the hill shouting, “Jesus is alive!” Gordon turned around to them and told them to be quiet and stop messing around.
The girls were a little taken aback by this but thankfully they decided to continue and ran down the hill as arranged. They were not going to be shushed by anyone!

Sometimes churches are like Gordon: we can unwittingly try to stop the good news of Jesus from spreading. I think everybody is hard-wired not to like change but somehow when we get together in churches we can be even more resistant. Perhaps because God is unchanging we think we ought to be as well.

Gordon also typifies the reaction of the disciples on Easter Sunday when the women burst into their room and told them that Jesus was alive. They were told to stop being so silly and calm down. What did they think they were doing interrupting a serious and important meeting with their excited and exuberant shouting?

Thankfully, just like the girls on the hill overlooking Horsham, those women would not be silenced. They had the greatest news in history and they wanted everyone to have an opportunity to hear it.

Over to you.

Be blessed, be a blessing