Tainted Windows

Yesterday my teenage daughter came to me and said she was bored and needed money and could I pay her for washing the windows of our house? I explained to her that I could get a professional window cleaner to do the whole house inside and out including the conservatory for less than €50. I also explained that it was not a simple job and that it would take her several hours just to do the downstairs windows inside and out to the standard a professional would do. But she insisted and we agreed on a price and I helped her out with some tips. Only I forgot one and that was to ensure that the cloth she used for buffing was clean – or use newspapers which also works.

So she got through a lot of windows. At the back of the house is our conservatory which is mainly glass. The sun sets on that side and here in these northern climes we get long evenings of low sun. Having spent 2-3 hours cleaning windows the sun began to reveal things as it does when shining low into windows in the early morning or late evening. Every smear mark, every missed part of every window was shown up.  Needless to say she was quite discouraged.

However in the morning I came down to the conservatory. It was a bright morning but the sun was on the other side of the house. No joke, you couldn’t see any of the smears without looking very closely. All the windows looked clean!

Yesterday I also was listening to a man giving a TED talk. He had done more good in his life for more people than many a Christian man. He claimed to be a humanist and gay and had helped raise millions for charity. By some light he seemed a good man. But still I wonder, if the Son shines His gaze on his life, will it look as well as in the duller light of our understanding of good?

Isaiah said all our good works look like dirty underwear in His sight. (Isaiah 64:6)

I think I’ll trust in Jesus for my righteousness. I’ll also let Him do the judging about what that means in my life or in anyone else’s. What about you?

Perfect Love

John mentions perfect love in 1 John 4:18 in a way that seems to indicate – taken along with the rest of his writings – that he had first hand experience of it.  I’m not sure I have now because I experienced a level of love I have never had before both mentally and emotionally last night and it has left me realising that I have a lot more to know.

It wasn’t a mushy thing nor a cold, crucified kind of love.  It reminded me more of the kind of love that Paul talks about in Ephesians 3:17 – a rooted and grounded kind of love.  Like all God things ultimately it is a revelation.  It sounds simple when you describe it but the experience is profound, moving and revealing all at once.

I fancy myself as a bit of a mystic.  My mind is on heavenly things a lot.  The truth is that it is probably on earthy things more often but, as I said, I like to think in mystic ways.  I’m partial to Akiane Kramarik’s way of thinking about things and I would have a lot of time for the ideas explored in the various Star Trek series and movies.  Thankfully as someone impacted by Jesus in an experiential and life changing way I don’t have time to explore that kind of mysticism much.  As Paul says (in 1 Corinthians 8: 5) there are many gods and many lords and they are all more powerful than me without Christ – or at least most of them are I guess.  I’m better off ensuring I know the Lord of lords and God of gods first and it will take me a lifetime to do that.

But that kind of mystical tendency has left me floating a few inches above the ground most of the time I think.  Or at least that is what it seemed like when God showed me His love for me in a fresh new way last night.  Being rooted and grounded in love is to be totally in touch with the here and now.  God showed me last night that in the here and now He has done nothing but protect, love and esteem me for the last 35 years.  It is just in my imaginations that I have been fearful, imagining what suffering together with Christ might mean.

He doesn’t want me to suffer, period.

15 Minutes

Whether it is because our lives are too busy, or because our attention spans have dropped away due to social media, but for whatever reason it seems increasingly difficult to find time to do anything – at least if you mean by the word “time” anything greater than about 15 minutes.

We can all usually find 15 minutes:

  • 15 minute coffee break
  • 15 minutes on Facebook (normally turns into 30 though)
  • 15 minutes over a meal (which should be at least 30 but often isn’t)
  • 15 minutes power napping

So recently I’ve been trying 15 minutes praying (having been prompted about this in a number of ways). First thing in the morning before doing anything else, sitting on the edge of my bed. When I get home in the evening from work. Last thing at night. Seems to work. You should try it.

Now it has taken me 15 minutes to write this blog (including time being distracted by someone’s birthday on Facebook) which is enough time. Anymore and you will probably not read it.

Next 15 minutes of exercise. Hopefully I’ll also get 15 minutes of teaching myself the electric organ before the day is out.

Isn’t it amazing what you can do with 15 minutes?

Chosen Part 2: A Strange Flight

I was sitting on the third bus on the Dusseldorf Airport apron and it was going nowhere.

Next, someone is calling my name. I see an official on the apron with my bag in front of him. He explained to me that 121 people had been booked into the plane when in fact there was only 119 seats on it. He apologised for the inconvenience but they had been asking for volunteers and only one person had come forward. They then chose me from the other 120 passengers! They would compensate me for missing the plane by giving me free accommodation, a meal, a flight back the next day (Saturday) and £150 (which was quite a lot in 1996). And they hoped that was OK. No explanation as to why they chose me.

I stood forlornly on the apron waving goodbye to the other 119 passengers and joined my fellow detainee for the meal back at the airport hotel. I can’t remember much about the meal. My fellow inmate explained that he had volunteered to come off the plane partly because of the £150 but mainly because his fellow passenger was his boss from the Dept. of Transport who was in a foul humour at being messed about so much by Aer Lingus.

I rang Olive again, and again, and again. Some things don’t change much over the years and my wife’s tendency is still to either not have her mobile phone or to have it on silent or buried in her handbag where she can’t hear it. Bless her. Anyway, she could have saved herself a trip to the airport if she had decided to turn it on before she reached there. When she did eventually reach the airport she rang me with rather a strange opening line: “Hi love, I see your flight has been cancelled…” I was about to say: “No, I’m just not on it.” but that didn’t make sense so I checked with her again. It had definitely been cancelled.

I looked up at my fellow prisoner and told him. By this stage we had been about 2 hours at our meal and the cooks had gone home. So we wandered up to the hotel reception and sure enough, there were the other 119 passengers and the crew coming in the door. They had spent 3 hours on the tarmac only to discover that there was a technical fault with the airplane.

Sadly for those who weren’t chosen, a technical fault is not one that Aer Lingus compensated passengers for at the time. So the next day I got home on an earlier flight than they did and happily took my £150 compensation.

120 to one. Not bad, Dad.

Chosen Part 1: A Strange Airport

This is a true story.  Sometime in mid 1996 I was in Kiel, Germany at a GSM standards meeting. It was Friday evening and I was on my way home, looking forward to the weekend.

The first leg of the journey was by train from Kiel to Hamburg Airport where I took a plane to Dusseldorf. It was then that things began to become a bit surreal. When I got off the plane I got onto a bus which brought us to a tent/ marquee. Everyone got off the bus and calmly walked into the marquee as if there was nothing unusual about using a tent to receive passengers from an airplane in a first world country. I was wondering was there a special wedding being planned or something.

Things got even more surreal after I entered the tent. The first thing I saw was a conveyor belt with luggage on it. The thing that was different about this conveyor belt was that it wasn’t a loop – if you didn’t get your luggage off it, it fell into an ever increasing pile at the end of the belt! I watched this for a while a bit bemused. I could see the airport employee loading the belt from behind a tent flap. He saw me looking at him with my bag. The dream like nature of the whole experience was reinforced when he pointed at the bag and signed that it was going straight to Dublin, which it was….

I walked on. At this stage it had begun to rain. Water was dripping down between the joints in the marquees. I walked from the arrivals marquee towards a check-in marquee. There was a long line of what looked like hot dog stands stretched out the length of the tent with queues of people at each one.
I walked along the line looking for my flight number. These were written on sheets of paper in thick black felt marker and tacked to the top of each stand. I queued up with some others at the stand with my flight number on it. At the side of each stand was what looked like a bathroom weighing scales with a couple of wires out of it. People were putting their luggage on the scales.

Dusseldorf Airport Passport hotdog stand The girl behind the stand looked a bit flustered. She almost seemed to be crying when I asked her what happened: “Oh” she said, “we only got the franchise to manage the Aer Lingus luggage two weeks before the airport burnt down!”
I had been out of the country and had missed the news about the airport burning down. On the 11th April 1996, a fire broke out inside the passenger terminal at Dusseldorf Airport and 17 people were killed. I arrived a couple of weeks later.

Things made a bit more sense now. After getting my tickets I walked on to the X-ray machines which were sitting on pallets on the grass and towards the duty free tent. I pointed at what I wanted for Olive and the woman behind the counter entered the value into a handheld calculator and put my money in a grey petty cash box. I don’t think I got a receipt but then nothing was surprising me much any more. I walked over to the departures tent, found departure flap number 11 and sat down on a wooden form at the back of the area.

Much and all as I wanted to get home I was in no rush to get on the plane so I let the first and second bus leave and got on the third one.

That bus sat on the apron outside the tent and went nowhere. I could see a man remonstrating with an Aer Lingus official further along the apron.  I didn’t know it but things were about to get even more surreal…. (to be continued)

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Part 2)

I was sharing my last blog with my family the other night and my eldest daughter (14) challenged me to sum it up in one sentence.  So here goes:

Faith comes by hearing Jesus Christ speaking by the Holy Spirit the Word of God into your heart and mind and not just by seeing words on a page or hearing them from someone else.

So here are a few first hand examples:

I know a man (as Paul might have said in 2 Cor 12:2) who was in a middle eastern country some years ago living in a rented accommodation with his wife.  The landlady lived on the top floor of the same apartment with her brother and sister. When the man went up to pay his rent for the first time he was asked about why he and his wife were there.  So he explained that they were there primarily to help Christians in the country.  At her sister’s prompting the landlady then asked if the man could pray for her since she had a continuous head ache/ migraine that she could not get rid of by any medicine or doctors.  So the man prayed and God showed him clearly the reason she had the headache.  She had the headache because there was someone who had done something in the past to her that she had never forgiven him for (a word of knowledge 1 Cor. 12:8).  After the man had got up the courage to say this to the landlady, her sister immediately piped up and said, “Yes, you know so-and-so that did such-and-such to you 13 years ago!”  So the landlady prayed forgiveness for the person and was healed of her headache.  A few weeks later she was still thanking God for the healing and telling others.  That could have been the start of a series of healings except that the man through whom the healing had come said to the first of the cousins that came with sick children that they could pray themselves, they didn’t need him to pray for them.  However the problem was that these people didn’t know how to hear God speak to them.  He often wondered what would have happened if the selfishness and false humility hadn’t kicked in just then, over 25 years ago now.

The above is an example of where the word of God in response to a prayer was “yes”.  Not long after that we were involved in another situation where the answer to many prayers that looked for the answer “please heal” was “no”.

In the mission organisation we were involved in, one of the wives of a missionary in North Africa was seriously ill.  The leaders of the movement and many others started praying and fasting for her.  At that time the idea that “if you have enough faith you can see her healed” was prevalent among them.  So they tried to work up the faith, quoting the usual Scriptures and speaking forth healing in Jesus name as many do.  Thankfully there were others who were also trying to find out what God wanted.  After a few weeks, there was no sign of the woman improving, she was in fact getting worse.  Everyone then met at a leader’s meeting to seek the Lord further and we were invited along to wash the dishes and generally serve the leaders (something we were delighted to do since we would also be able to attend the prayer times which, with that group, were always powerful and exciting).  The Lord’s presence was palpable and we all knew He was with us.  One of the main leaders then got up and explained how he and his wife had believed for weeks that Ann* was going to be healed but that still it hadn’t happened.  He now thought that actually God wanted them to let her go (he heard the Word of God).  After waiting on the Lord we then all felt as if her spirit had gone to be with the Lord.  We later found out that she had indeed passed on at about the same time.

*Not her real name.

Letting Grace do her work

Jesus Christ Prince of Peace (painting by Akiane)

My youngest just “is”. She is impossible to describe but she does me good every day. Unaffected, innocent, pure, without a trace of worry and unconscious of the good she is doing, she works on my soul like a tonic reminding me every day of her namesake’s work in my spirit soul body. There is turmoil in my being at times, probably like everyone, and the cure now seems to be to let Grace do “her” work. The being I am is far too great, terrible and fantastic for me to handle, only Grace can do that. Sin shall not have dominion over me, not because I follow any law, but because of Grace. For I am not under law and she works continuously even when I am not conscious of her.

Or should that be He works?

Different View Points

The role of the Holy Spirit

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 12-1

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16 (NIV)

A learned intellectual interprets John 3:16

A man with 2 Ph.Ds specialising in NT studies who has not believed and encountered God in the Spirit would have a cognitive understanding of the passage.  He might discuss it in this way:

“The passage says that “God” loved the world so much that he gave his “son” for it.  According to this passage by John the mechanism for living for eternity is to believe in “the son”, i.e. the man Jesus.  I would say that it is true that anyone who has the Christian faith can be deluded into thinking they will live forever and that that is not a bad thing.  For most people, having the hope that they will live forever should keep them happy through difficult times.  It is noticeable that the Christian gospel has a great effect in poor countries where the consolations of this life are far less and the hope for an eternal life of happiness most required.

Jesus was a man, an extraordinary man, but simply believing in him could not make someone live forever and, obviously, doesn’t since all people die.  Though I can see how people who do believe in him must be consoled in difficulty, I cannot see how doing so could possibly make people live forever.

Anyway the idea that God, if he exists in the form described in the NT, would have a son is foolishness and the whole idea expressed in this passage is also foolishness if interpreted in a literal sense.  But the message in this passage is one of the best means there is for pacifying and comforting people in trouble with no other hope, as so many are in this world,.”

A mature believer interprets John 3:16

This is how a mature believer (like me) might interpret it:

“When I met God on the back of a bus travelling from Mullingar to Galway on May 7th 1980, one of the first things He did was convict me of the truth of all the Scriptures including this one.  I believe that God is and that He is good.  I believe He has a Son, Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour, whom He sent to earth, who came of His own volition and who died a horrible death so that my sins might be taken out of the way and so I can have eternal life.

The life to come is not an extension of the time frame of this present body I am in but a new life in a new eternal body which is maintained by the Spirit of God Himself.

I continue to believe and act accordingly since I have the Spirit of God in me leading me into all truth.

I continually remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and continue to believe and receive eternal life, the deposit of which starts in this life with the Holy Spirit within me.  I don’t just have a cognitive understanding of this passage but a fully engaged, continuing life experience with the author of it.”

A 9 year old child interprets John 3:16 having just given her life to Jesus

“Daddy, Jesus died for me!”

Dream – Lessons in Creativity from the Creator

Knock, knock, knock!  I had heard that sharp sound before in middle of the night, and it had woken me up before, on at least two occasions.  The last two times I initially thought it was someone knocking on the door downstairs but then realised it had just been a dream, turned over and went back to sleep.  But a bit like the young Samuel in the bible, this third time I realised that this was actually God trying to get my attention.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).

So I went to open the door and there Jesus was, all white and shining and making the inside of my head house look positively disgraceful.  I stood awkwardly at the door, saying that the place wasn’t tidy and, actually, it was quite dirty in places and I didn’t think it was ready for him to come in.

1078-reclaimed-wood-dining-table-1

But he countered by saying that he was friends with sinners and quite used to that kind of condition and could he come in anyway?

He came in and sat down on the other side of the rough wooden table that seemed to be the main piece of furniture in my head room.  It was no great shakes, in fact all the artefacts that I had in the room looked rough and unfinished.

I had “stumbled upon” a site on creativity before I went to bed.  In it Scott Berkun makes the profound observation that “an idea is a combination of other ideas”.

Jesus sat at the table and I talked to him about that.  He said to make him a meal, it seemed that he had a cake in mind in particular.  I went to my cupboards and started looking for ingredients.  I was quite happy because I seemed to have some really good ingredients in the cupboards.

And then the dream stopped or I woke up or something.

By “God-incidence” my daughter was making a cake the next morning.

Now a cake is not an intuitive thing.  Mixing a combination of raw eggs, sugar, flour and margarine together in a bowl (in the right order) and then putting it into an oven for a certain time at the right temperature is not something that is easy to think up.  It is hard to imagine that those ingredients put together would make something that, in combination, is so different from its constituent parts.

But of course that is what God does all the time.  He is the only original thinker.  He came up with the basic building blocks and put them together in different combinations so that we would get the idea.  A soft metal (sodium) combined in the right way with a poisonous gas (chloride) give us a flavour enhancer and preserver (common table salt).  Two gases combined together in the right way give us water.  And so it goes on.  God has about 90 ingredients that he combines in the most creative ways imaginable.  His favourite ingredient is carbon and his favourite combination is water.   Its another study altogether to look into why that might be so.

So now I’m going to bring out my ingredients and ask God for a recipe that pleases him.

Notes from a Cardiac Unit

So I went to the doctor with a pulled muscle, got an ECG and ended up in the cardiac unit of Naas Hospital.  I have atrial fibrillation which, although a bit unusual at my age, is not particularly life threatening.  Thinking back I’ve probably had it for months.  They will thin my blood over the next six weeks to remove any clots and then restart my heart.  Just like computers, restarting seems to solve a lot of problems.  It should go back to a normal rhythm then, if not well they will have to try some more drugs.

During the middle of last night I got up to go to the loo and began to feel very weak.  Of course this has happened before but now I knew it was my heart it changed my perception of what was happening.  I really thought that perhaps I could die and was not particularly happy about that.  My youngest is nine and I think she would find it hard, as indeed so would the others.  There was also a level of fear and no sense of the Lord’s presence.  So it was a challenge to pull my mind around to the idea that I had to face that portal some day anyway and if today was the day…  I’m not sure I passed that test very well.  The next time though I should be better prepared.  I learnt how much I depend on feelings.  It is a clear and lovely thing to depend on the truth alone and to press on through the feelings.

The cardiac unit is a place where death is ever possible probably more intensely so than in many other parts of the hospital.  Death can be sudden though none of the people here have yet suffered a heart attack in the time I have been here.  A. from Newbridge suffered a heart attack at the weekend.  It was a life changing experience for him and he wants to change his life henceforth, stop wasting time.  It was great to be able to give him the Purpose Driven Life to read.  He knows others in Open Arms and will come along on a Sunday he says.  Perhaps he is the main reason I am here.  He is only 46.

Ellen has dementia, she is in a room on her own off the main ward.  She makes everyone wonder what they would be like if their brain was affected that way.  Her most common phrase is:  “I want a cup of tea. Are you deaf?” To which the very patient nurses reply either “How are you Ellen?” or “I gave you a cup of tea already but you did not drink it.”  She normally replies with unprintable expletives.  She can also scream at the top of her voice if they come near her to change her or bathe her.  This is a bit disconcerting.  There is probably nothing more challenging than brain disease since it can change your personality so much and it is not clear why.  It strikes at the heart of our identity as people.  Whenever I indulge in thoughts I shouldn’t (and that happens) I remind myself that these could embed and show up at some later stage of dementia or Alzheimer’s should I get that.  Somehow the idea that everything will be shouted from the housetops in heaven is not as much of a deterrent as the possibility of me doing that myself to all and sundry in my old age.

The other two inmates are older.  I don’t think I want to end up in here in my old age.  Old age…. remember your Creator while you are young….before the days come when you say I have no pleasure in them.

As I said to a bunch of medical students on the first day I was here:  “We are all going to die, it’s just a question of timing.”  Unless the Lord comes for us before then of course.