I hate preparations. I hate getting ready and packing for holidays and always drive my wife mad leaving it to the last minute. I give the impression of being disorganised but I don’t think that I am. I can see Viv shaking her head.
In my defence, I try to live in a way that makes me prepared. I don’t pack early because I already know that I have everything that I want to take and know that all I have to do is put my things in a case and do my best to force it shut. Also, I’ve usually been mentally preparing for a little while before. For example, clothes. I know in my mind what I would like to take and in the week before I’ve been avoiding wearing those things or have made sure that they’ve gone into the wash. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes the t-shirt I really want isn’t clean but so far it hasn’t really mattered that much (so far!). To be fair Viv prepares in advance too but we just approach the whole thing from a different angle.
The way I see it, I leave things to the last minute only when I know that the big important preparations are all done.
When I have applied for a job, I certainly didn’t leave things too late. I read through all of the paperwork carefully and tried to identify exactly what was being asked. I then had a better idea if the job was for me. Then I prepared my answers specifically for that place and explicitly to answer every question or expectation set out in the paperwork. All of this takes time and effort, but I figure that if I can’t be bothered to do the preparation then I don’t really want the job.
Now preparation is a real advent theme and advent begins tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be celebrating the hope of Jesus return as lord and judge. With that hope comes a clear warning – Will you be ready (see Luke 21.25-36)?
Will I be prepared? Well the simple answer is NO; at least not completely. There is no chance of me being perfect any time soon, but I still make sure that I’m as prepared as I can be. This is an ‘interview’ that I really want to get right so I prepare myself. I go through the routine I do for a job interview.
First, I carefully read the paperwork! I read my Bible and read that Jesus will come as judge. I read that this will be frightening to many and confusing. I also read that Jesus will return completely unexpectedly. So what can I do? I can’t swat up for a particular day. Jesus would see straight through me anyway and ask me about last week or last year! So there is nothing special I can do, except try to let the Spirit make me into a good Christian every day. I need to make sure that I am as like Jesus as possible so that I don’t need to run around panicking when it’s already too late.
So preparing for Jesus’ return means getting on and living my life for him, day by day – no short-cuts or exceptions. So back to that paperwork again; back to the Bible. In the Bible I find Paul giving good advice on how to get ready. I read Paul praying:
May the Lord make your love for each other and for everyone else grow by leaps and bounds. That’s how our love for you has grown. And when our Lord comes with all of his people, I pray that he will make your hearts pure and innocent in the sight of God the Father. (1 Thessalonians 3.12-13 CEV)
So I need to pray, and I need to ask others to pray for me too. Then I need to pray for others so that they can be ready too. And what do I pray for? To be ready of course… – but what does that mean day by day? I look back at Paul’s advice and find that I am to pray that God will help my love to grow in leaps and bounds, love for those that I meet, in church and out of it.
Wow! The light has just come on. All this preparation is God working in me. I can’t get ready. Only the Spirit can make me ready by giving me more and more godlike love. I need to let the Spirit work in me to make me pure and innocent and full of love. So like Paul I pray:
Father, I’m not perfect – something I’m sure you know only too well. I can never get myself ready for Jesus coming back, I’m barely ready for the things that this world throws at me each day! I pray Father that you continue to pour out your Spirit into me so that I can be more pure and innocent. Father, help me to love as Jesus loved – Oh, and please don’t let me know or I’ll just get big headed and ruin the whole thing! Amen.
I’ve just read of the cinema chains Odeon, Cineworld and Vue refusing to show a 1 minute advert from the Church of England (BBC report here). The advert features different people praying the Lord’s Prayer. A peaceful expression of a faith is banned for Christmas. So sad, pathetic even. I pay to see a film but I still end up sitting through adds for things I don’t want and certainly don’t need. I’m sure 1 minute of the Lord’s Prayer would have cheered people this Christmas.
Rant over: See the Advert here: https://youtu.be/vlUXh4mx4gI
1. Attended their church faithfully over many years;
2. Given sizeable donations to their church and/ or charities; or
3. Both 1 and 2.
I love most sea food. I say most because there are some fish that I just haven’t been able to bring myself to try, at least not yet. Jellied eels are one food that still defeats me, they just look ‘wrong’ and all of that jelly just repels me. One thing that I do love are anchovies. I remember when they seemed to come with every pizza. I miss them but usually forget to ask for them specially. I love them but the ones in the tins are just so salty. The other day I was in the delicatessen in our little town. It is always dangerous for me to go in there: Well it is mostly dangerous for my wallet and my waistline. This time I spotted a pot of anchovies in oil and asked to try one. The assistant (who hates fish) carefully ‘fished’ one out for me. I held it by the tail, dropped it into my mouth whole and stared at her in shock. I think she thought that I was about to throw up, but then I smiled. The taste was so completely different from what I had expected. There was no saltiness at all. I could taste the fish and an intense sweetness that I was just not expecting. Never in a million years did I ever expect to be able to describe a fish as sweet, but there was the proof on my tongue.
I love it when life throws up surprises for me like that anchovy. I particularly like it when I discover something that I could never have imagined before. It thrills me that God has filled this created world with such variety, wonder and freshness. At the very least it can be a partial antidote to all that is wrong. I have found God to be the God of surprises. The more I think that I have got to know him the more I discover something new about God. It is this that, at least in part, keeps my relationship with God vibrant. It is this that makes it a relationship rather than merely an academic study of the strange concept of ‘God’.
The fact that God is the God of surprises should be no surprise. It is very much the experience of Jesus’ followers and of the early church described in the New Testament. The disciples were utterly shocked when Jesus said to them,
“It’s hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom!” The disciples were shocked to hear this. So Jesus told them again, “It’s terribly hard to get into God’s kingdom! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.” (Mark 10.23 -25 CEV)
The disciples new that it was only God who could bless someone, so it followed that it must have been God who blessed the rich with their riches. So no wonder they were shocked at Jesus’ words. If the ‘blessed’ couldn’t get in to God’s kingdom then how could anyone get in? What chance was there for them? They were shocked by this, but eventually realised that Jesus was saying that getting into the kingdom of God was a gift that only God could give, not something that anyone could buy with money or even with good living.
The disciples had many more surprises to come to terms with, not least that Jesus would have to suffer and even die if the way into this kingdom was to be opened to anyone at all. Then later, after the resurrection, almost everything that they had taken for granted about how God wanted them to live was changed:
The Sabbath – gone very quickly. Indeed, the first Christians considered the Jews lazy for taking Saturday off.
Food laws – again these went in the first few years of Christianity as all foods were declared clean.
Circumcision – the central mark of Jewish identity for any man. But this quickly went too.
Jesus – God and human – something blasphemous to most Jews.
The Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – again blasphemous to most Jews.
So what surprises has God go in store for me now? What is God trying to show the people here where I live? What is he trying to get us to see? It could be valuing again something that has been considered to be old fashioned. Here I think about how the old 1662 Prayer Book worship attracts people even today, and its use seems to be growing again.
Surprises, by definition, are a surprise so how can I be sure that I hear God and respond? Honestly, I don’t have any guarantee. But I have found that taking time to listen and respond to God makes it that little bit easier to be ready for His surprises. Listening to and with others helps too. I’ve found so many times that the things that I get confused about are crystal clear to others around me.
I get this feeling that God is saying something surprising and challenging about the refugees, about the natural world, and the climate, about family life, what it is to be a Christian, and so much more. I once wished to be one of those early Christians, right at the start of it all: With all the changes, challenges and surprises around at the moment, perhaps I have been granted my prayer.
God is the God of surprises, so be careful what you wish for, God might just answer your prayer.
A moving new poem:
A sea of books
I set sail on the sea of books;
My fleet of novels
Amid a wind of acclaim.
Hope was not enough
Armour against the tides;
Their bright flags faded,
Tattered and ragged,
Ripped by the storms.
Then came the days
When piracy threatened
And every author cried
“It’s a jungle out there!”
And eyed others askance,
Seeing fellows as rivals
And former friends as foes.
The sea became too busy,
Impossible to navigate,
Books thronged, thick as flies
On a week old corpse.
I called my books home
And weary and gratefully
They came back to harbour,
Hulks in a haven,
Safe from sinking and shame.
Source: A sea of books