Itching ears.

There’s a passage in the Apostle Paul’s letter to his friend, Timothy, where he says this:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

And I think that that’s a pretty true-to-life comment.  We like to hear easy stuff, comfortable stuff, doctrine (teachings) that suit what we want to hear.  But this week, I’ve been thinking about something that’s kinda similar to this.  See, I am becoming increasingly aware of a habit I have.  And as I become more aware of it, I recognise that it’s something I really need to tackle.

The passage above is talking specifically about doctrine and what we believe.  We all have a tendency to gather people around us who say what we want to hear, and thus drown out what we don’t want to hear.  But I have a habit of selecting things to do and watch and listen to that will drown out everything else, not just doctrine.

Facebook and Twitter feed this nasty habit.  So I watch pointless rubbish.  Or even highly entertaining and informative stuff.  But it’s not with a view to doing anything but drowning out other stuff.  It’s a highly effective way of avoiding things of value that are absolutely crying out for my attention.  And I’m not just talking about the hoovering, either.  A relationship that needs strengthening can be postponed with a quick bit of kissing kittens on youtube.  A prayer need that is pressing can be put on hold for a little foray into the world of the best/worst/slowest/funniest penalty kicks ever taken.  The chance to ping someone a little message of encouragement can give way to watching some funny if rather pointless series of Australian comedian sketches.  And the list goes on.  My itching ears would rather hear the stuff that demands nothing of me.  My itching eyes (yes, I know, that’s rather a gross concept) would rather see stuff that amuses/entertains me than stuff that challenges me.  I’m taking the ostrich’s approach, but instead of burying my head in the sand, I bury it in my laptop. 

It’s like I’m screwing my eyes shut to the important things, putting my fingers in my ears and shouting, “la la la la la la la la la” just to drown out the stuff that makes me uncomfortable.

Is it just me?

Can anyone out there help?

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Reflected Glory.

Last week, we had a visit here at school from an Old Reptonian (i.e., someone who used to attend the school!).  This is not altogether an unusual thing.  ORs come back from time to time for various reasons.  On this occasion, however, it was a bit different.  This time, it was somebody I actually knew, despite the fact that he finished school here in the 1950s.  You see, this was Sir Nicholas Barrington – the British Ambassador/High Commissioner to Pakistan.  He was in that role as I was growing up in Pakistan.  And we’d met on a number of occasions.  Mum and Dad had eaten at the High Commissioner’s residence.  Mum met Princess Diana there.  Sir Nicholas attended the same church as us, and he and I both did a reading in the same united carol service many, many years ago.  I first realised that Sir Nicholas was an OR when I was sat in our first Carol Concert here at Repton back in 2008.  As I listened to the band playing, my eyes drifted around the building we were in, where there are numerous boards charting the history of the school – ORs who attended top universities and won honours, various scholarships, Heads of School, and many others beside.  It was as I was glancing down the Heads of School board (that is, the senior pupil, not the Headmaster!) I found the name ‘Nicholas Barrington’.  Research over the following days showed that this was, indeed, the Sir Nicholas I knew.  So when an occasion to meet him came up, I went for it.  I went and had afternoon tea with him before he delivered a talk to our History and Politics students.  I also told everyone I could that I knew him – it seemed kind of cool. Always worth emphasising the ‘Sir’, when telling them, too.

Reflected glory, you see.

File:Joshua Leakey 2015 (cropped).jpg

© Copyright Jamie Peters Photography 2015

And then, imagine my surprise when I picked up the paper last week and saw that someone had been awarded the Victoria Cross.  But not just anybody.  No, this was someone I knew.  For those not familiar with it, The Victoria Cross (according to Wikipedia!)  “…is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces…”  And the recipient was none other than Josh Leakey.  Someone I knew when he was just a young lad.  And again, another chance to tell people that I know someone famous.  He’s even got his own Wikipedia page now…

Ah, more reflected glory.

And as I was mulling over this exciting week of knowing important people, and basking in the reflected glory, something struck me (no, it wasn’t my three-year-old; that happened later).  I really like knowing famous people.  Of course, my definition of ‘famous’ probably doesn’t completely match everyone’s definition.  Because I only know sort-of-not-particularly-famous people, so have to compensate by considering them to be very important indeed.   But I love the chance to comment on the famous people I know.  When I picked up the paper and saw Josh’s name in the Victoria Cross article, I was genuinely excited – my initial overriding emotion was a sort of ‘that’s so cool’ feeling.  And perhaps a bit of pride in Josh’s achievements.  But I guess that can then be overtaken by feelings of ‘look everyone – someone I know is pretty darn important’.  And however famous people are who I know, and whatever amazing exploits previously-unfamous-people I know are involved in, that is fundamentally not the place I should be going for reflected glory.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

That’s from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.  And it shows a reflected glory that is far better than anything I’ll get from anywhere else.  But how often do I get excited about it?  How often do I tell other people that I know the creator of the universe?  How often do I reflect His glory?  And it’s not just a reflected glory, it’s a transforming glory.  A glory that changes me to be more in His likeness.  And that’s far better than tea with an Ambassador, or finding an old friend’s name in the paper.

I can’t think of anyone whose glory I’d rather reflect.

Over to you…

If you’re a Christian, when do you most reflect God’s glory, and when do you most struggle to do so?

If you’re not a Christian, or just not sure, do you want to be transformed – changed into His likeness?  Because it’s an amazing invitation.

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Knowing Jesus.

I preached again on Sunday (at this point, I always think of my vicar friends, who must be shrugging and thinking ‘meh, join the club’).

The link is here

And the basic thrust of it was that it pays to know Jesus.  The passage was Matthew 11:20-30.  We watched this rather rousing video:

Which is a slightly edited version of a fairly well-known thing that was doing the rounds a few years ago (and was recorded a while before that…)

But the main drive, really, was that it’s pretty amazing that we can know Jesus at all.  And when we really do know Jesus, it demands repentance (a turning to Him and submitting to His Kingship) and brings rest.  Not a rest that involves doing nothing.  Not a rest that relies on what we’re doing or where we are, but a rest that comes from where we’re going and who we’re with.  That is to say, it’s a rest that brings peace, not idleness.

And I was listening to a friend’s sermon this morning, as I walked the dog, and was reminded of the fact that I am ‘in Christ’, and as such, I am holy.  Although we think of our imperfections often, we need to remember we are holy.  God looks at me and sees Jesus’ perfection.

It pays to know Jesus.

Do you know Him?

P.S.  If you get a chance to listen to the sermon, I’d really welcome some feedback.  I’m still kinda new to this preaching thing (perhaps not chronologically, but certainly in terms of frequency!).

If this blog post feels as fractured and poorly-written to you as it feels to me, I apologise.  I’m rather weary, and have five other ‘talks’ to write this week, so am a bit pressed for time…

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The cross isn’t very obvious.

Lent seems to have crept up on me a bit this year.  There are plenty of reasons for that.  We’ve had a shaky start to the year; our church doesn’t really ‘do’ much in the way of liturgy and church calendar; I’m kinda busy (achieving little but with much to do).  And as a result, I haven’t really devoted much thought to Lent and what I was going to do.

But I was chatting with Big Boy (who’s 8) this afternoon about Ash Wednesday and we decided we’d go to the Ash Wednesday service at the chapel here at school.

As we wandered down, we talked about ash as a symbol of sorrow.  We talked about Lent and stuff.  It was a fairly small congregation and I tried to keep Big Boy going with some of the language with which he’s not so familiar.  We went up together for the imposition of ashes, and these words were said:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,       Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

We went back to our seats and Big Boy turned to me.  He looked at the smudge of ash on my forehead and said, ‘The cross isn’t very obvious’.  And when he said that, I realised what I’d do with Lent.  I’d work on that.  Not potter around with ash on my forehead for the next 40 days, but rather to make a conscious effort to make the cross more obvious in my life.  You see, I reckon the cross probably isn’t as obvious in my life as it should be.  If people look at me, do they see evidence of the cross?  Or do they just see another person pottering through life?

To be honest, I don’t know precisely how I’m going to ‘make the cross more obvious’.  It isn’t really a measurable thing in many ways.  It’s not chocolate, or carbs, or upping the prayer quota.  It’s not a weekly fast, it’s not a more disciplined approach to Bible reading.  But I think it’s important nonetheless.  I wish people were able to look at me and see the marks of the cross.  And perhaps I’ll be able to blog a bit more about it as things come up.

What about you?  Are you doing anything to mark the season of Lent?

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What do you see?

Earlier today, I watched (again) Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s Got Talent.  If you’ve got a spare 7 minutes and 3 seconds, feel free to watch it (you don’t need to watch the whole thing to get the general gist).

It wasn’t simply an idle way to fill time, I was musing over what people see.  If you don’t have time to watch it, here’s a précis…

47 year-old lady with slightly erratic hair and slightly eccentric manner takes to the stage.  She’s questioned by Simon Cowell (judge chap) and when she shares her ‘dream’ (“I’m trying to be a professional singer”) we cut to a member of the audience making an ‘as-if’ sort of face (1:20).  What did she see?  Piers Morgan (another judge chap) asks what she’s going to sing.  ‘I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables’ is her response.  And Piers’ response is as dubious as the audience member we’ve just panned to (1:37).  What did he see?

And then we have it.  Kabblammo.  She starts singing (you could always watch for 20 seconds from 1:50 if you’ve not watched any of it).  And she’s a surprise.  The faces of the three judges and Ant and Dec, the presenters, are quite a picture.  They hadn’t seen it coming.  “Yous didn’t expect that, did you, did you?  No” exclaims Ant.

What do we see when we see people?

Because even my little précis at the top there is about what I see.  The hair, the clothes, the manner.  The approach, the eyebrows.  And often we don’t just see it, do we?  We take it a step further and draw all sorts of conclusions.  Now, I suppose you could argue that this is a useful ability – if a guy with a crazy look in his eyes and an axe in his hand came running towards you, perhaps you need to be able to discern his intentions.  But that scenario is mercifully rare. 

Susan Boyle walked onto stage drenched in promise.  But none of us saw it.  Piers called it “the biggest surprise I have had in three years of the show”, while Amanda Holden says, “I honestly think that we were all being very cynical and I think that’s the biggest wake-up call ever”.

I think perhaps I need a wake-up call.

Can you imagine God’s view?  Present at every single birth since the beginning of time.  Every newborn saturated in promise.  Every life started in His gaze.  So many beginnings soaked in hope.  When we meet people, is that what we see?  God’s knowledge of each one is complete, and His love for us is unwavering.  When I see or discover something about someone that I don’t much like, how do I respond?  I think often I need to be more careful about what it is I’m seeing when I look at people. 

When I meet people, or even just look at them as they pass me by, what do I see?  Is it anywhere near what God sees?

Over to you:

What are we in danger of missing? 

Are there people who you haven’t really seen at all?

One last thought … if Susan Boyle hadn’t smashed out a cracking rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, what would we think of her then?

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In all its glory.

WavesLast week, during the prayers in church, the phrase, “Creation, in all its glory” was used.  You’ve probably heard it before.  I certainly had.  And it does strike a chord, doesn’t it?  This week, I’ve noticed the tulips growing, the daffs are keeping pace, and the snowdrops are peeking out from the soil.  As I write, the wind is whipping up a gale (not quite literally) as a sort of reminder of the power of creation.  Every week, my gorgeous boys are growiIMG_0641ng and developing (despite their reluctance to sleep, but that’s another story).  We’re having a haircut tonight to keep one element of growth in check!  I adore the seasons, and how they speak of an order and a rhythm to life.  Creation is truly stunning.  On a large scale, and on an absolutely minute scale, creation is marvellous.

So when I hear someone in church thanking God for, “Creation, in all its glory”, my first response is to nod sagely (at least in my head, if not actually with my head).  But when I heard it last week, something pinged in my little mind.

Creation absolutely isn’t in all its glory

And thinking about it, there are two parts to this claim.  First, although creation was created glorious, the Bible makes it quite clear that the world we’re living in at the moment is not ‘creation, in all its glory’.  No, we live in a fallen world.  Frankly, we don’t need the Bible to tell us the world isn’t perfect.  It’s messed up, broken, put out of joint.  However you choose to describe it, it certainly isn’t ‘in all its glory’.  But the Bible does tell us why.  And the Bible also tells us that restoration and re-creation is coming.

I don’t know about you, but I like creation.  Flowers?  Intricate, fragrant, varied.  Love Lake Saiful Maluk‘em.  Trees?  Majestic, colourful, fruitful.  Stunning.  And mountains.  Oh, I miss the mountains.  Proper mountains, not the little humps we get here in England.  Sometimes I ache for the smell of the pines, the granduer of the scene and the mist creeping in through the windows.  But show me a part of creation that you love, that you find awe-inspiring, and then imagine it being better.  Because however glorious you think it is, know that it isn’t ‘all’ its glory.  The best is yet to come.

And the other part of the problem with saying ‘creation in all its glory’ is that, fundamentally, it’s not creation that should be taking the credit.  That bud waiting to explode into new life, heralding spring.  It’s great, but it’s a clue.  That glacier, inching its way down a mountain side, it’s powerful, but it’s just a pointer.  That first cry of a baby being born? A signpost.  A shimmering fish skitting his way through a coral reef is like a signature.  Creation is a beacon.  It doesn’t deserve any more credit than a painting.  The artist should receive the adulation, not the artwork.  The architect and builders should receive praise, not the building.  Creation doesn’t deserve our awe – the creator does.

Over to you:

What’s your favourite bit of creation?

Do you think there’s a particular aspect of God’s character that this reflects?

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New.

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions?  And how are they going?  I decided that I wasn’t going to make any until the 17th of January.  Apparently, this is sometimes referred to as ‘Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day’.  It’s apparently the day the resolve often gives out…  But anyway, this post isn’t about New Year’s Resolutions.

It’s about ‘New’.

I wonder what the word New means to you.  Perhaps you got a bunch of new presents at Christmas.  Perhaps it’s the New Year that springs to mind.  Maybe there’s a new family member, a new favourite telly programme.  A new term, a new job, a new habit.  A new you?

‘New’ often means that something has changed.  Who you are, what you have, how you live.

One of the presents I was given at Christmas was most definitely not ‘New’.  It was made by my Granny.  Here it is: photo-1 (2)As it happens, it’s a verse that’s cropped up a few times in recent days.  Chatting with some lads I meet with weekly, we discussed the word ‘New’, and I then drew their attention to this verse, thinking about what it means.  When I picked up our elder son from his church club, he was weilding a 2015 calendar with the verse printed at the bottom.  Then today, I was reading an article about Bob Fu in Christianity magazine, and there was the verse again.

Right now, I’m feeling far from new.  I feel a bit bedraggled and old.  And really rather tired.  But the fact of the matter is, I have been made new.  That’s something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis.  The wonder of the gospel is that we are made new.

Over to you…

Any tips on feeling ‘made new’?

(I apologise for any confusing dating in this post – it was written over a period of two weeks, for reasons which I may explain elsewhere…)

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