Ipod, Blackberry, TV, washing machine, car, PC, laptop – have many things in common but I have a thought that has troubled me this week. It’s a bit complex. It’s open-ended. And it might provoke me for a few more moments.
I always want these objects to go faster. I don’t like it when they go slow. I get frustrated when they take a little longer than I demand. They are designed to make my life ‘more stress-free’ but they fail. I find that many of these objects unfortunately add stress to my life.
I rely on my Blackberry to alarm me out of bed but last week it crashed in the middle of the night. That sparked chaos at 7am! My laptop decided to slow to a halt this week and my day’s work was thrown into a black hole.
More importantly, I think these highly developed machines seem to make me less human. Why do I need to go faster? What is the big rush? Is the end of the world approaching? What’s so amazing about getting things done quicker and also quicker than anyone else?
Isn’t it true that a slow-cooked curry is better than a 2-minute one? Isn’t a slow-cooked stew tasty? Having a bath isn’t quite so life-affirming if it’s quick. Even speeding up a conversation is mechanical and functional.
I am convinced that slowing my life down opens up my awareness of those around me – my wife, my son. It makes me a better listener. It makes me a more thoughtful speaker. It makes me a better teacher.
The psalmist said something which can seem quite bland and insipid, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ – it seems tame and featureless. But it’s not. The background is of war, stress, violence and intimidation. Into this comes the strategy – stillness and knowing. It certainly isn’t escapism. It’s a road for the brave warrior who wants to face the battle, who wants to remain victorious, who dares to believe there’s an alternative to speed.
So, slow down!
What is football? No, seriously, it’s an important question. I know I was on a Philosophy course last weekend, and I tend towards exploring bizarre questions, but if someone was to ask you ‘what’s football?’ what would you say?
Some might answer with an outline of the rules and regulations. A few may give a disdainful answer along the lines of ’22 men chasing a bag of wind’. Some could point to great matches of the past, some may even take you along to a match and talk you through it. A more experienced footballer may get a football out, take you down to the park and organise a game to show you it first-hand.
All of the above would certainly go some way to answering the question. But I struggle with some who talk as if the game played by the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona, Inter Milan, etc is the real game and the local under-8s is just a kickabout. The view of under-8s can often be - its preparation for the future - even the large multinational teams talk of their youth academies as investments for the future. Why can’t it be a great game of football today that can be enjoyed and relished? A little bit like my life or yours. We can spend so much time preparing for the future that we lose out on the present.
Jesus said to his crew that the kingdom of God is within you. Now that’s not ‘it’ll be better soon’ or ‘what takes place in the future is what really counts’. Jesus is repeatedly saying to his followers that running into him today is so much more fun than praying for that meeting to happen in the future.
Take some time to watch a young child. They don’t live for the future. They live for now. They don’t have any concept of an hour, a day or a month into the future. They are caught up in experiencing the now. I think that’s some of what Jesus wants in his followers. He wants us to be like children. He longs for us to run to him. He desires our passion and devotion. He wants to see the fire in our eyes. So I don’t have a plan for my life. I have a relationship with God that is dynamic, ever-changing and transformational. As long as my eyes are on Jesus I believe I will relish every moment.
I don’t care too much for weather forecasters who predict snow in 2 months time. But I love the forecasters who talk about what's going to happen tomorrow morning. Why? I find them a whole lot more reliable. From my experience the weather forecaster at 10.30 on BBC1 gives a fairly accurate forecast of what is going to fall from the sky as I cycle to school - and, more importantly, the wind direction and speed.
Why prattle on about predictions? Well, I sat down the other night to read a couple of articles and I thought I'd dip into my vinyl collection instead of flicking on the radio. I plucked out an old album from Steve Butler, a Glasgow songwriter I admired back in the day. Once I finished reading I dipped into the lyrics of a track I've always loved - 'Best is still to come'. Here they are for your consideration:
Sweat it out – I’ll burst my brain
Trying to do the best for me
Lying awake – worried sick that
Everyone is better than me
Going out I’ll shoot my mouth off
Impressing nobody but me
Stop stop – will I ever grow up Lord
Rescue me from me
You don’t want me just trying hard
Or even free use of my bankers card
So I try to bring my broken heart
But the best is still to come
Coming here that way
How did you do it Lord
Everything you said is everything
I need to know
I don’t need no invitation
I just need my usual second chance
I believe every word is true about you
And that I can leap this final fence
No use me just being alright
Content to settle down
No writer could ever write all you’ve done
But the best is still to come
The best for you
The best for me
I have a future orientation because of Jesus. I look to the future with hope because of Jesus. Sure there will be mistakes. Sure I’ll fall on my face. But I know for certain that my life has the best ahead because of Jesus – grace, healing, forgiveness. The Best Is Still To Come.
I love my job as a teacher for all sorts of reasons. Times of hilarity. Times of inspiration. Moments of joy. And sadness. Days where everything goes so smoothly - and even the opposite can be strangely life-affirming. On some days I feel like I know so little and can learn so much. Not just about my subject or teaching or myself. I am privileged to be able to explore the lives of others and spend time reflecting on their impact on human history.
I was in Chichester Cathedral on Friday as part of a school trip. Year 7 students were being shown round by one of the most gifted guides I have ever encountered. She was genius. She also liked children with questions.
She stood us at the font at one point and drew our attention to a piece of art by Hans Feibusch entitled ‘Baptism of Christ’. She gave us the story behind the painting. It is forthright - this was a significant moment for Jesus. Everything became clearer in the waters of the Jordan. Lights were green for Go – not amber for Wait.
Another detail confirms what some of us already know – the Church isn’t that important! Don’t dismiss me yet as a heretic. It’s all in Jesus foot - his right foot almost steps entirely out of the painting.
The stepping out towards deeper waters points to the significance of Jesus adventure – redeeming the whole world. It is God’s world that is the focus not our experience of baptisms or of the intense experiences of our church. It does seem that many Christians make too much of the church. Does it have a future? Is it in terminal decline? Who do we think belongs to it? Who in reality is welcome within it?
When the church ties itself in knots over questions about its identity - when it turns inwards on itself - then it too often forgets the truth that it is merely a means to an end – God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Is the church able to point beyond itself?
It’s simply a paddling pool - a place with ledges for the unsure and the tentative - a place, more crucially, that is open, free and embracing enough to allow anyone to dip a toe in the water, and to risk splashing about a bit.
Anyone ready for a dip?
Illusions are attractive. They draw us in with their mystery and irrationality. Our eyes feel deceived and intrigued at the same time. They eat up our time and give us some semblance of purpose - we must unravel them.
In our cell group we have jumped into an amazing little book by a guy called Henri Nouwen. (I won’t give the title just now.) Nouwen was drawn in by a painting by Rembrandt in St Petersburg. It beguiled him. It spoke to his soul. This was no illusion. This was reality. This was truth.
Nouwen then explored Rembrandt's life, art and persona. And he came upon this amazing little work entitled ‘Simeon and the Child Jesus’. It is a perspective on a man called Simeon who was holding Jesus as a baby. It is a piece of genius by Rembrandt. He shows someone who has physical sight diminishing, yet spiritual sight intensifying. He is coming to the end of his life, yet so full of life. Rembrandt saw himself in Simeon.
His health was deteriorating. His sight was failing. Yet his spiritual sight was awakening. He was starting to see things a little more clearly. He had spent much of his life chasing the illusions of fame, notoriety and independence. But coming to the end, he began to see reality.
It was, in the words of one of my Year 9 students, 'a chance to see life'. In our classroom this week we had been discussing whether it was essential to suffer before you understood life. We didn't come to any final solutions to that one. But what we agreed this - suffering can open our eyes to what really is and shake us out of our ambivalence.
Now Rembrandt saw the truth at the end of his life. And sometimes we can catch glimpses of this as we walk through some suffering. As Jesus said to his people, 'Blessed are those who see what you see.' I don’t want to wait until I get to the end of my life to truly see. I want to have my eyes opened now to reality not illusions. I want to see truth not idolatry. I want to see what it’s all about. I want to fix my eyes on Jesus.
The title of the book? 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' - see if you can find it.
I like teacakes. They are a lightweight snack. They don’t cost much. They are fine with a cup of tea.
But I've been duped. I was told by some know-it-all dietician that they are not very fattening. They are good to have when you don't want to pile on the calories with unhealthy snacks.
I have now discovered the truth - and it isn't pretty. It was brought to my attention that I should look at the list of ingredients.
At the next visit to the local supermarket on an early Saturday morning I took time to explore the ingredients. It was more like a list of chemicals than anything remotely connected with food. I found to my horror that I had been stuffing myself with a whole load of unnecessary trans fats.
I tried not to think of all the teacakes I had consumed. I tried not to consider the smugness that had enveloped me when having a teacake under the guise of 'not-so-unhealthy-snack".
But sometimes the truth hurts. Other times it feels preferable to adopt the Ostrich position in the nearby sand. But truth has a way of releasing us - even if it's painful.
The phrase 'the truth will set you free' has its origins in Jesus teaching. For me to digest this teaching I now recognise that I have to own up to the lies. Then I can be set free by truth.
There is a temptation to ignore this wisdom. But the consequence is usually a bit messy. Hanging on to lies and convincing myself its the truth always leads to a right old tangle.
So from now on I think I’ll pursue a journey of truth even if it exposes lies and causes a bit of embarrassing humility and repentance. I think I would rather be free and found than lost and bound.
I ventured out on a bike ride from Shoreham to Guilford on the Downs Link recently. Its 40 miles of disused railtrack linking the South Downs to the North Downs. It was also billed as the hottest day of the year - so sunscreen was lavishly spread out across exposed flesh.
Contrary to weather forecast, the ride started off in cloud and I felt a bit foolish with the shades and sunscreen. However 20 miles on, the sun was beating down. It was then I noticed something had changed.
For the first 20 I could manage the path ahead but as soon as the sun came out it became more tricky. Now I cant prove this, and I am open to greater minds on this - but not only was the sunlight brighter but the shade seemed darker too. The contrast made it more difficult for me to navigate.
Leaving aside the possibility of any visual difficulties and/or better scientific explanations for this phenomenon, I think there is some other truth to be explored - namely at the same time as things become brighter, they can also become darker and more difficult to navigate.
When I think about the choices I face as a man who loves Jesus, it can sometimes be difficult to follow Jesus' way. It can also seem easier to be selfish, passive and apathetic. Switch off. Disengage. Disconnect. Isolate.
Maybe the way forward for me is to stay in the light of what Jesus wants for me rather than pursue the destructive lifestyle of the self-obsessed. Reboot. Hook up. Bond. Attach. Pour in. Ignite. Initiate.
I think I'll go and chew on the 'Wise Man and Foolish Man' story that Jesus told - in Matthew 7 - or dive into the wonders of 1 John 1. Those will keep me on the saddle and in the light - even if its difficult.
How many times have you heard the expression "God will never let us go through anything that we can't handle!"? It's a nice Christian quote (not anywhere in Scripture by the way) and I see where people are coming from: 'all things work for the good of those who love Him' or there is no temptation that is bigger than God or that He is loving and safe!
All of the above are true but how could God possibly show His power or show us how to have a supernatural faith if He doesn't put us through things that are too much for us?
I can't tell you a story of serious personal attack because of my faith. I can't tell you that I have ever been in a place where I needed supernatural intervening to rescue me from a horrific reality. But the other day I had to stand in front of 15 extremely important people and do a presentation to show that they could trust us with a large sum of their money to do a project in city centre. There have been times when I have stood in front of people and the sweats start, the words in front of me start to make no sense and I look at all these staring faces looking back at me, the fight or flight systems start to kick in and my mind goes totally blank! This was one of those times......
But I prayed and I asked God to give me the strength to do this for His glory and, as soon as I did, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guarded my heart and mind, I used the energy from the anxiousness to fuel my passion and I gave the presentation of my life!
Now did God let me go through something that I couldn't handle? YES HE DID!!! But it was so that He could show His amazing power! Lord allow me to go through things that are way too big for me so that I and others can see Your power at work in me!
2 Corinthians 12 v 9 (NLT)
"Each time he [Jesus] said "My Grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me."
"Never once did I ever walk alone, never once did you leave us on our own, you are faithful, God you are faithful". The words from a new song by Matt Redman that the 10,000 young people in soul survivor sang at the top of their voices. But I struggled singing it because there have been times when I have screamed at God and asked Him to show me He was there because I felt so alone but He didn't!
So should I convince myself that God is always there even at the times when I feel nothing and see nothing because that is what the preachers and the Bible says for me to do? Or do I allow doubt to creep in, allow my faith to be rocked and start to find arguments to show God isn't there? Or do I ignore it and have a child like relationship with God when I never tackle the big questions?
If I ask the question 'does God exist?' and look at the answer through the eyes of the evil in the world and the times when I don't feel Him or see Him then my answer would be 'probably not!' But if I add to that the fine tuning of the universe, the higher power arguments, the complexity of life itself then my answer would be 'probably!' But then if I add to that the times when He has answered my prayers, revealed Himself to me, the times I have prophesied truth, the miracles I have seen, my relationship with Him when I walk and talk with Him, then my answer would be 'it's a fact that He does!'
So that means that at the times when I do not see Him and do not feel Him, He is there, He is just silent! I once told God that I was sorry that He had to so often break me before I listen to Him. I have learned so much more during my times of suffering and loneliness than I do when on top of the mountain. Not that God doesn't change and mature me in both situations!
So now I can truly sing "Never once did I ever walk alone, never once did you leave us on our own, you are faithful, God you are faithful".
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
It's funny. I watched the riots this week as wave after wave of evil unfolded! But I did not cry!
My heart sank when I saw lawlessness and mob rule. I was angry when I had to watch the police in a no win situation when if they attacked they may be seen as using undue force but took 111 injuries while waiting for the go ahead from the government! But I did not cry!
My anger rose when I saw a young man have his jaw broken and teeth smashed in and then being mugged in broad day light! I asked God to take my anger away and show me how to love! But I did not cry!
Oh but this week I did cry.... I cried so hard! But I cried when I saw a million people waiting with brushes and brooms ready to clear up the mess after the evil is gone! I cried when I saw a website set up to give money to the guy who had his jaw broken! I cried when I saw people making cups of tea for the police officers who stood on the front line for 30 hours without a break! I cried when I heard the father of a son who had been killed by looters asking for people to go home and stay calm........ I pray that I could be that strong.
Love impacts so much more than retaliation, vengeance and anger
1 Corinthians 13 : '......Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends....'
Father God help me to truly love........ in the way that you love us!