the saga of the mouth scaffolding continued

braces
not my mouth

Yesterday evening I was frustrated. You may be aware (if you read my previous bloggage) that I currently have scaffolding on my teeth (aka mouth braces) in an attempt to relocate my teeth to where God intended them to be. And it imposes limitations on me that I dislike (sometimes intensely).

One of the things about which I have to be cautious is what I eat. For example, I need to avoid hard, crunchy foods: “nothing harder than a pretzel.” That is difficult because pretzel hardness varies between types of pretzel. It’s not a universal constant and therefore is not an ideal benchmark against which to measure hardness of food. But I understand the point.

The wires on the braces are held to the mounting points by strong latex ‘elastic bands’ and I have to be careful because certain foods can stain the bands so that they are almost fluorescent. Chief culprit is Indian food, especially if it contains turmeric. My dentist advised me to abstain from curry until the night before I see her because of the staining effect, and since she changes over the latex elastics each time I see her I only have the glow in the dark mouth scaffolding for one night.

Today I am not scheduled to see the dentist. Last night I was performing some magic with a message for a men’s group that was meeting in a curry house. The curry smells made me salivate. The starters on the table looked so tempting. The menu was full of food I enjoy eating. But I resisted and instead had an omelette and chips. It was dispiriting to be eating a (nice) omelette and chips while my table companions were tucking into the food I really wanted to eat.

It reminded me again of the need for discipline (see the preceding bloggage), and the need to realise that a brief moment of enjoyment may have longer term consequences. I was aware of how easy it is to be tempted: starting with a poppadom and some mango chutney would be okay. And probably a small kebab as a starter wouldn’t hurt. And then the Bombay Potato alongside a kebab would taste nice. And if I have gone that far I might as well order a naan bread, and some rice, and I might as well have a curry because I have probably already stained the elastics so why not indulge myself.

Being disciplined at the start makes it easier not to give in to temptation later – personal resistance seems to diminish the further you slide down the slippery slope.

One of the things I am trying to do is not only listen for Wisdom’s voice but respond to it.

  • Staying up late to finish watching a film may seem harmless, but Wisdom suggests that rest of the film could be recorded and that we would benefit from a good night’s sleep which means that the next day we will be fresher and healthier. And Wisdom also gently reminds us of how grumpy we are when we are tired and how that will affect other people.
  • Having that extra doughnut may seem really attractive because we really like doughnuts, but Wisdom suggests that the doughnut looks better on the plate than it does on the hips, that we have already eaten enough and that a balanced diet is not a doughnut in each hand. And Wisdom also gently reminds us that someone else might enjoy that doughnut.
  • Running with your basket in hand to the till that is just opening at the supermarket so you can nip in front of the lady with her fractious child in the trolley and a big load of shopping may not seem that harmless. But Wisdom asks us whether we are really in that much of a hurry and to think about how upset the child already is. Wisdom gently suggests that by allowing her to go first the Mum can deal with her upset child sooner.
  • The other driver may have driven thoughtlessly and caused us to brake suddenly. They may need to be taught a lesson. But Wisdom whispers to remind us that we all make mistakes, that nobody was hurt and that the other driver may be really embarrassed by what they have done. Wisdom gently suggests that by giving them a bit more room rather than driving on their bumper flashing our lights we are increasing the amount of goodwill on the roads and that can only be a good thing.

These may seem trivial examples, but I believe that Wisdom (or God’s Spirit) speaks to us all the time, and it’s up to us whether or not we listen and how we respond. It’s easy for us to get caught up in a moment and ignore Wisdom’s voice. One of the ways in which we translate a word used for the Holy Spirit in the Bible is ‘counsellor’. Not as in ‘therapist’ but as in ‘adviser’ or’wise guide’. If Wisdom is God’s Spirit why would we ignore him?

Be blessed, be a blessing

why we find it difficult at Thames Station

Subway Station In MunichYou must have heard the misunderstood Lord’s Prayer which includes asking ‘Lead us not into Thames Station’… It’s a childish joke that masks a deeper truth (other than that there isn’t a ‘Thames’ station): we don’t like admitting that we all struggle with temptation.

Temptation has many different disguises that we prefer. Temptation towards gluttony and greed is blamed on advertising. Temptation towards criminal behaviour is blamed on social environment or upbringing. Temptation towards gossip is blamed on ‘sharing news’ (for prayer if it’s in church). Temptation towards sexual infidelity is blamed on the ubiquitous sexual images in the media and on the internet. Temptation towards unrighteous anger (which can be quite an adrenaline rush) is blamed on the person who provoked us or lack of sleep. And so on. There’s always someone or something else we can blame for the temptation, and by extension we can then blame those people or things when we give in to the temptation. Because being tempted is not the problem, it’s giving in to the temptation.

When Jesus taught people to pray that they would not be led into temptation in his pattern for prayer he knew that it was one of the biggest problems we face as human beings. Something within us yearns for what we should not have and ought not to do. Wouldn’t the story of Adam and Eve have been different if God had not pointed out the tree with the forbidden fruit? Until they were told they couldn’t have it they weren’t bothered about the fruit but suddenly it was attractive because it was illicit. That story is our story. Not with talking snakes (usually) and fruit (unless it’s more than your five a day) but the excitement, the ‘what if’, the adrenaline rush, the secrecy, the danger and all that leads us to the moment of consummation.

And then, afterwards, the guilt and shame, the cover up and blame. We would rather not think of or face the hideous consequences of our actions that outweigh the thrill of the moment, and they are out of our minds when we are about to give in, but they are still there: inequality and injustice for others to support our lifestyle; victims of crime with physical and emotional scars as well as the actual crime itself; reputations destroyed; relationships wrecked and innocence sacrificed; cruel words spoken that cannot be unspoken…

Years ago preachers used to try to frighten people into being good by terrifying them with images of hellfire and damnation, much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and if you have no teeth, teeth will be provided). It’s not very fashionable today. But is it possible that because we have not been offered a sensible alternative we find it easier to give in to temptation?

So what’s the alternative? A fuller, better, deeper, wider, more personal and intimate, more awesome and bewildering appreciation of who God is, what he has done for us and how much he wants the best for us all – he wants to call us all his children. I find that it’s not really about how close I am to God (that’s a metaphor that falls down when we accept that he’s everywhere) but about orientation and direction. If I am focused on him, moving towards him, concentrating on him, then temptations lose their appeal because he is more inviting and engaging. Surely that is how we are delivered from evil – by the overwhelming goodness of good. If I am looking around elsewhere and am facing away from him then the allure of the illicit is stronger.

Do we find it difficult if we find ourselves in Thames Station because we are not looking at our Destination? Rather we are looking at the kiosks and stalls around that may waylay us and distract us from our ultimate purpose.

It starts with our intention (which goes back to another part of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘your will be done…’) and continues with our strength and willingness to listen to the alternatives to giving in to the temptation: instead of gluttony and greed we can be generous; instead of criminal behaviour we can try to be a blessing; instead of gossip we can affirm and encourage; rather than sexual infidelity we can focus our attention on those who have a right to receive it (and use the ‘off’ switch or close the window); instead of giving in to unrighteous anger we can try to see things from the perspective of others and seek justice for the oppressed…

If that all seems too good to be true, it is. Except that God gives us his Spirit to make it possible if we ask him. So there’s your starting point: ask for directions.

Be blessed, be a blessing

dew see the webs?

little webs

As I looked out of our kitchen window this morning I noticed lots of tiny cobwebs on the lawn, made visible by the dew that had settled on them overnight. I have not seen so many before. The photos here only show one in relative close up and a few clustered together, but there are lots of them all over the lawn. There are some very busy little spiders in our garden. 

close upBut I don’t think they will be catching many flies today. Not because I am mean and am going to cut the grass, but because the flies will be able to see where the webs are. Usually the fibres are gossamer thin and you only know they are there when you land on them (if you are a fly) or walk into them and get a face full. Today the flies know all about the webs and won’t be going anywhere near them.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if the temptations and ‘traps’ we fall into were clearly marked? Wouldn’t it be so much better for us if they had flashing neon signs attached (the equivalent of dew on a web?) saying “warning!” That way we would not fall into them.

Except that God has provided us with a warning system. It’s called a conscience. And his Spirit sounds that alarm when we are in danger of falling into a temptation trap. That’s how he answers the prayer ‘lead us not into temptation…’ Our problem is not that there is no dew on the web (or neon sign) so much as that we sometimes are not paying attention to God or listening to our conscience, and sometimes we just simply want to be disobedient.

Unlike when a fly lands in a web, however, there are no traps, temptations or messes that God can’t retrieve us from if we turn back to him. He’s so gracious that his response isn’t “I warned you didn’t I?” – it’s “welcome back, let’s make a fresh start.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

PS sorry about the pun in the title!