Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Don't settle for second best

Off to the Lakes, car saying it needs petrol, offer small prize to first person who spots a petrol station. (small prize is, you don't have to push the car...). One spotted on the right. Difficult to turn across the traffic, then hard to get back out again. No matter, car fuelled. Drive over brow of hill, petrol station on left, easier and cheaper. Rats, should have waited 30 seconds....

God told Abraham he would be the father of a great nation. Waited years, still no kids. Go have sex with your wife's servant, create a natiuon who will continue to oppose you till the present day. Or, we're an apostle short, God has said we should have 12, let's hold a lottery... Oh, God seemed to have it covered with this guy called Paul...

Jesus, my friend is really sick, please come and pray for him. Why aren't you coming, why aren't you healing him? Jesus, he's dead - why didn't you come, don't you love us? Oh. He's alive.

I wonder how often our impatience to see God fuflill His promises leads us to accept what is second best? We look for a healing when God wants to show us resurrection power. We look for the small miracle when God wants the big...

Years ago we visited a museum in London with our young daughter. It was a hot day and we were all quite tired at the end. 'Can I have an ice-cream please' Of course says loving, generous Father. Except there aren't any. Walk for ages, no ice-cream sellers. Finally find a newsagent - still no ice-creams, but at least a lolly (popsickle for our American readers!). But it isn't what she wanted, isn't what she asked for, isn't what I had offered. So she holds it at arms length, taking one lick every couple of minutes. It starts to melt, dripping down her hand, her arm, onto her T-Shirt a real mess... At which point a wasp appears and it is much more interested in the lolly... starts buzzing round trying to land on the sugary goodness. Daughter in fear and and annoyance starts to wave looly around like some demented sword fight, wasp gets angrier. Loving Father says 'Throw it away, you dodn't want it in the first place, if you don't throw it away, you will get stung'. Daughter fights all the harder; thaty which she didn't ask for, that which she didn't want has now become the most treaured of possessions. Loving Father tries again. 'Trust me, drop it, throw it away, you don't want it and you will get hurt'. Daughter pauses, reflects then makes the agonising decision. To trust Dad or hold on to the lolly. A the wasp moves in for the sting, she lets go of the lolly and it slides to the grouond, quickly followed by the wasp. Daughter now distraught and messy, but un-stung. We walk round the corner and there, right in front of us is an ice-cream seller. Daughter transformed into happy, messy girl with the biggest ice-cream in the known universe.

As I handed her the ice-cream I felt God say to me 'That's just like you David. I know the desires of your heart, I long to give you the things that will fulfill and bring joy and gladness. But too often you have grasped at what is second best. You cling on to that which you didn't really want and which in the end will kill you. And because your hands are full of the things that will kill, you cannot receive from me the things that will bring life'.

I looked at the ice-cream. I looked at the messy child. I looked at her beaming, happy face. She had trusted her Dad.

So, we got to the Lakes. As we approached, the scenery was stunning. I pulled into the side of the road to take some photo's. Surely it couldn't get better than this. I grabbed hold of it, took pictures of it. Then we drove round the corner. Turned out that once more I had almost settled for second best.

What about you? What are you clinging onto that will kill, that is second best, that is stopping you from receiving God's best? Have you stopped short, waiting for a too small miracle? Hear again the Father's voice: 'Press in to the best, let go of second best. I love you way more than that'.

Monday, 18 October 2010


I started having singing lessons a few weeks ago. Part of regaining my voice, learning how to sing (always avoided it before now, cos was told I couldn't sing) Great fun, been Yumming and Nging, and arring, eeeing, and oooing :) Wrote this song too this week`:

My voice
Silent and resting, till morning is there
my voice has been waiting for others to hear
its a lie that I have had nothing to say
and its crumbling and tumbling far far away

For I have a voice that has something to say
I have a voice that silent can't stay
My voice was just hidden till out it could fly
like an eagle with wings free in the sky

Truth it shall speak, with love in its tone,
honest enough to admit wrong and own
thankfullness flowing as it is set free
My voice is to be for my fathers glory

For I have a voice that has something to say
I have a voice that silent can't stay
My voice was just hidden till out it could fly
like an eagle with wings free in the sky

Injustice shall quake as the sound is released,
and chains shall be broken and prisoners released
The love of my father shall pour out in song
and he will heal in his power the broken so wronged

For I have a voice that has something to say
I have a voice that silent can't stay
My voice was just hidden till out it could fly
like an eagle with wings free in the sky

Isn't it easy for us to take peoples voices away, take their responsibility and choice away too, disempower them as people from being able to make choices. From the seemingly trivial ‘you can’t sing’ to the more obviously profound words from a mother ‘You are unwanted, you should never have been born’.

I think we Brits have built a culture of disempowerment. From ridiculous health & safety rules that cocoon and prevent risk taking, to the joy we take in running others down with our slightly pessimistic, underdog worldview. Time and again I hear people focus on the thing that didn't go so well rather than on the wonderful things that happened. The child gets a 'B' and is told “that's what happens when you don't work hard enough” instead of being praised for their achievement.

But it isn't just individuals who get disempowered so easily, As a leader, we go into a meeting looking at our watch. Later we say 'I really want to give time for you to give me feedback'. Then we wonder why no-one says anything, why later the group seems not to trust us...

Yeah, it can work in church too. Disempowerment seeps out when it seems only the best do stuff. Others feel they are not able to do it like that and withdraw. Then the body loses out: A few end up working their butts off (often resenting it) while the rest feel unable to do anything! God sees us as a body, each with a part to play, not competing, but spurring each other on, learning from each other, working together, sharpening each other up.

It seems to me that we have a built in bias towards being disempowered. A thousand positive statements are undermined by the one negative comment... Mature people in every other way, suddenly back off, give up become demotivated through a misspoken word... So easy for anyone who has been given the right to speak into our lives – parents, spouse, close friends, those in authority – to say a word that kills rather than lifts up.

Jesus by contrast spent his time empowering people. Zaccheus, the world may call you small and mean. I call you to generosity and hospitality. Mary, the world calls you a demonised prostitute. I call you holy, beloved. Peter, the world derides you as an uneducated fisherman. I say you have rock-like faith on which I will build church.

Yet Jesus did this in the midst of words and actions that could so easily have disempowered him. Far from being an empowerer, he could so easily have become a condemner. Call yourself a prophet, you’re just a bastard from nowhere. Think you’re the messiah, you can’t even save yourself. You’re going to build a kingdom – even your closest friends are running away. But even when he was reviled, betrayed, he kept on empowering others. On the cross he commissions John.

So how does Jesus do it? Because he himself has first been empowered. After years of faithful service, believing God for who he was, as he presents himself in faith for baptism, he hears the Father’s words ‘This is my son in whom I am well pleased’. Empowered by those words of affirmation, he goes to the desert, faces the onslaught from the enemy then comes back it says ‘empowered by the Holy Spirit’

What about us? Do we disempower others, accidentally, deliberately, as a result of our own insecurity, our own disempowerment? Or do we consciously look for ways to empower and build up others, because we to have heard the Father’s voice in our life, confirming who we are in Him, attesting to his love for us? Words that allow us to brush off the disempowerment of those who should know and do better. 

Catherine & David
So here’s a challenge for us all this week. How about every time we are about to say something that might disempower, we invert it and say something that brings life? The waitress may have spilt the coffee. Don’t tell her she’s clumsy, say how much you appreciate the fact that she has taken on the role! The child may have taken too long to do something. Sit down and explain it, teach it, reassure the child that it’s ok, that it is loved, then encourage it to take the risk of trying again.

And add comments to the blog with your stories of how the world changed, how the kingdom broke in.

Monday, 11 October 2010

How it ends

Ever been in the middle of something - a project, a problem and you can't see a way out? Of course, most of the time we work through it and get to the end. Afterwards we can look back and rejoice that it worked out well. Ever thought then that it would have been nice to know the outcome when you were in the middle of it all? How much peace we would have had, how much more confidence would we have had in the midst?

Some of you will be curious as to how the decorating turned out. Well, with the help of Catherine in the preparation and Roger in the paintng of the walls, I can now reveal that the project is complete and looks great! Thanks friends! To be honest, I wish I could have seen a photo of the finished job whilst we were picking millimetre size bits of paint off the doors - it would have encouraged me no end to know that soon there would be an end!

I've got lots of friends who are in the middle of some pretty difficult times. For some of you it feels like there is no way out;

Nehemiah was in such a crisis. The news he had received was devastating. As a senior court official he knew he had to hide his personal concerns to avoid them impacting the King. He couldn't. His job, his life, were on the line and he didn't care, the news was so bad. He went to look himself and realised everything everyone had said was true. It really was irredeemably bad. When he tried to claw his way out of the mess, individuals mocked him. When the project began to make some painfully slow progress, the number and strength of the opposition grew. Finally, even those who he might have expected to stand with him - family, friends, also turned against him.

Ever felt like Nehemiah? You've tried and tried but it seems to get harder not easier. The more you desperately seek to push through, the more it seems come and stand against you. Then comes the thing that defeats us so many times. The lack of support or even the outright opposition from those we love and trust.

What started out for Nehemiah as the opposition of one or two became armies ranged against him, whole people groups opposed to the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls. What began as a seemingly impossible task  had become derided and opposed in the end by even his own people. By the end of chapter 5 it has got so bad that the next part begins "So, finally". And as you read it your heart sinks. The only conclusion possible is: "So finally, they gave up" or "So finally they decided to put the project on hold till a more favourable time".

But chapter 6 starts like this. Despite the opposition, despite the seeming impossibility.

"And so, the wall was finished".

You know what? He just keeps going. One brick after another. He takes practical steps to protect himself and the work, but he just keeps going. It hurts like hell. Read the story. But one brick after another, trusting God, he keeps going - until, despite how it looked, the wall was finished.

I want to shout out loud - 'I know how it ends! Christ in you wins! You share in an overwhelming victory! Your enemies get to watch the King of Kings treat you to a victory banquet! There comes a day when in the light of the unending glory and joy that you are experiencing, that you look back and declare "it was worth it".

I know how it ends, therefore rejoice and be at peace even in the midst of the darkness!'

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Falling in love
It's a chemical, pheremone thing. It's designed to override the rational, reduce the need for food and to produce an overwhelming protection instinct. It lasts for up to two years to enable nurture through pregnancy, birth and weaning.

I know, I'm just a romantic at heart.

Love changes everything:
Hands and faces,
Earth and sky,
Love changes everything:
How you live and
How you die

Can make the summer fly,
Or a night
Seem like a lifetime.

Yes, Love,
Love changes everything:
Now I tremble
At your name.
Nothing in the
World will ever
Be the same.

Love changes everything:
Days are longer,
Words mean more.
Love changes everything:
Pain is deeper
Than before.

Will turn your world around,
And that world
Will last for ever.

Yes, Love,
Love changes everything,
Brings you glory,
Brings you shame.
Nothing in the
World will ever
Be the same.
Into the world we go,
Planning futures,
Shaping years.
Bursts in, and suddenly
All our wisdom

Makes fools of everyone:
All the rules
We make are broken.

Yes, Love,
Love changes everyone.
Live or perish
In its flame.
Love will never,
Never let you
Be the same.

It's great isn't it? Makes us feel alive in a way that perhaps nothing else does. It stirs all those noble feelings, self-sacrifice, wholehearted giving, loyalty, uncompromising hope. All very good things indeed. But based on chemistry not choice.

Seems to me that too often what people desire is the experience, the feeling of 'being in love' rather than the person who they are 'in love' with. Now of course the majority of people are wise enough to know that all this and manage to work through it to a healthier basis for a long-term relationship. But many don't. Time and again we read about people who say 'I just don't love them anymore' or 'we fell out of love'. By which I guess is meant 'I no longer have these overwhelmingly positive feelings'. 

So, my first point would be that 'falling in love' is not a good indicator of anything! Pretty much any man and woman who like each other and progressively share more of themselves, gaining common experiences along the way can do that! In fact I'd go further. Under those circumstances, unless a deliberate effort is made to stop it, it is almost inevitable. Song of Solomon says 'Don't stir up love until it's ready'  This is what it means.

I'm not saying we shouldn't expect feelings, emotions to play a significant part, of course they should! I'm not saying we should avoid falling in love! I'm simply pointing out that if these become the basis of our decision making, it will end badly. At some point the feelings will change, we will stop 'being in love'. If these feelings have remained the only basis for the relationship, then it will founder.

Which of course leaves sex............