Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Big Boy was already in bed, and Little Boy was about to follow.  I picked him up and rubbed my face in his tummy - a sure-fire way to make him laugh.  It got the usual response - hysterical chuckling.  He was wearing a just-washed babygrow, and as I breathed in, the smell instantly reminded me of a deodorant I used back in my teenage years.  We've not changed our wash powder recently, it's not like I'd not smelt clean clothes before, but something about it just took me back.  I even got as far as being in the shop where I bought it.  I can't remember what the deodorant was called (though I do remember it was a roll-on) and I can't remember what the shop was called either.  But the smell takes me back all the same.

Smells do that, don't they.  They have the power to transport us in our minds to other places, and bring back mental pictures of people, events, and so many other things. 

Rain on dusty earth is one of my favourites.  I love rain.  When it rains after a dry period, it takes me back to the smell from my childhood.  Rain on a dusty land wasn't that unusual back in Pakistan, where I grew up.  And maybe the rain brought with it a sense of hope for growth and refreshment.  I love sitting on a patio or veranda and watching the rain come down.  To me, it's a reminder of God's work - rain coming to help everything grow.

How about this passage from John?
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

There's Jesus, sat down at a dinner party thrown in his honour, when Mary comes up and does this amazing act.  She cracks open this bottle of perfume (later in the passage we read it was worth about a year's wages) and pours it on Jesus' feet.  Now, I don't want to get into the money side of things at the moment.  I want you to think about the smell.  What does the passage tell us?  "...the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" 

Mary's act filled the house.  No-one there could fail to notice it.  No-one could carry on their business in the house, whether as guest, servant or owner, without being aware of Mary's act.  Those who were sat there were immersed in the fragrance of Mary's act, her sacrifice.  That got me thinking - what have I done for Jesus that comes anywhere close to this?  Don't get me wrong - I know that elsewhere there are passages which encourage us to serve Him without having to be 'seen' doing it, and to serve Him without worrying about reputation.  But I think this passage is different.  It shows that Mary was willing to do something big and something public to show her love for her Lord.

What about us?  

What have we done that's filled a place with its fragrance?

What actions could we take that overwhelm people with a realisation of our love for Him?

What sacrifice could we make for Him?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Taking a risk.

Ok, so I'm probably on thin ice here.  But I can't stop thinking about God and the lottery...
Let me explain.

Following Muamba's collapse on the football pitch yesterday, the hashtag #prayformuamba became almost instantly trendy.  Today, Gary Cahill scored for Chelsea and revealed a shirt saying 'pray for Muamba'.  Suarez dedicated his goal in Liverpool's quarter-final victory (just thought I'd slip that in...) to Muamba. 
This general consensus that we should be praying for Muamba led to a backlash against prayer, at least on Twitter, and possibly elsewhere. 
For my part, I responded to a tweet that a follower had retweeted, saying "No, there is no power in prayer. It doesn't work." 
My response was simply to say, "Yes it does, I've tried it loads :)"
The 'conversation' continued:
Him:  "Prayer works. One example would be nice."  (For 'prayer works', read, 'prayer works, yeah right...')
Me:  "I imagine I'd find it almost as hard to 'prove' as you would find it to disprove. My examples wd probably be 'coincidences'."
Him:  "No, I can prove it doesn't work quite easily. But the burden of proof is upon the person saying prayer is efficacious."
Me:  "Intrigued to know how you can disprove it... Do you mean prove that people don't get what they've asked for?"

At that point, it stopped.  Now, I should point out that, given I was shattered and went to bed, there was a time delay of about 20 hours between his last tweet and mine.  I'm not, therefore, pretending that my last tweet dealt the killer blow to his argument (!) because he's probably just not noticed that I responded (or can't be bothered to carry on the conversation, which likewise doesn't equal defeat)
But it does rather leave the conversation hanging...  Having trawled through some of his tweets, he seems like a well-read kinda guy, and he's not just spouting arguments and then running away.  But I'm genuinely wondering what was going to come next.  My best guess (as I said in my tweet) is that he would point to 'unanswered' prayer as proof that prayer doesn't work.
Which brings me onto the lottery.
Some UK punter won £38 million on the lottery this weekend.
It wasn't me.
Does that mean I don't believe the lottery exists?  Or does the lottery just not work?  No, of course neither of them are true.  It simply means I've never won it.  Buying a lottery ticket, and not winning, doesn't mean the lottery doesn't work, anymore than praying and not getting the answer you want means that prayer doesn't work. If that WAS how prayer worked, everyone would be praying!  Clearly prayer can't work like that (although it would be amusing when all however-million praying people won the lottery, and had to share the top prize...)
What amazes me is that prayer so often does work.  And I'm not talking about the 'please Lord, help me to have a lovely day', and then rejoicing at bedtime that the day was wonderful and God answered prayer.  (Though, I have to say, I do rejoice and am grateful to God for good days, though that's another story...)  I mean prayers that seem to go against what one would expect to happen.  I know some people would put these all down to coincidences, but I can't accept such a generalisation.  Someone told me once about a poster they'd seen saying, 'when I stop praying, coincidences stop happening'.
I guess I'd also refer to my relationship with my parents.  And, indeed, with my son.
Asking a parent for something, and getting a 'no' or 'not yet' in response very rarely stops us from asking.  With Big Boy, even a 'don't ask again' doesn't stop him from asking...  But if I get a 'no' from my parents, does that mean they don't do anything for me, or that our relationship doesn't work?  Or does it just mean that, (assuming they're right on this occasion) there's still some stuff in life that I need to learn...?
Isn't it the same with prayer?  An 'unanswered' prayer (by which we normally mean we don't get what we wanted) doesn't mean that prayer doesn't work.
It depends on your point of view, of course.  Like anything to do with faith, where you start out will affect what you conclude.  It's easy for me to believe in the virgin birth, because I believe in a God who created the entire universe.  For someone who believes that God doesn't exist, a virgin birth is outside the realms of possibility. Likewise, for me, so called 'unanswered prayer' doesn't tell me that prayer doesn't work.  It tells me something else.
As a Christian, I can see the value of prayer.  It's not a slot machine - put in request, get what you ask for.  It's part of a relationship. 
I believe that I have a relationship with God.  It would be a bit silly NOT to pray! 
I believe that he loves me (and everyone else!) and has the power to do anything.  It would be silly NOT to pray. 
I believe that he loves to listen to me in much the same way as I love to listen to my kids (except he doesn't have 'off days' where he's super-grumpy).  It would be silly NOT to pray.

(Just to declare, as I was writing this, the tweeter in question responded, but I decided to go ahead and finish this (I'm rubbish at concentrating on one thing at a time...) and then allow comments to update it
Dear fellow tweeter, if my guess is wrong, I apologise :)  I would welcome your comments if you fancy writing them here, but would appreciate it, given my intended audience, if you weren't ... uh ... crude.  I'm not saying I don't want you to disagree, in fact, I sort of expect you would.  But I don't want people to be offended by how anything's said.  Thanks!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


I've been reading a book about Hudson Taylor.  He was a missionary to China over 100 years ago.  He did amazing things, and had a staggering faith in God.  He didn't ask people for money, deciding instead to trust God to provide everything that was needed for the mission work to carry on. Here's an extract from the book about a church meeting he spoke at in 1866.  It was at a place called Totteridge, and he was hosted by a guy called John Puget, who was a Colonel.

At the meeting, Hudson Taylor used his large map of China, and described to his audience the size, population and spiritual need of China.  Afterwards Colonel Puget, sensing that many in the hall were impressed by what they had heard, rose to speak.  "Mr Taylor requested that the notices announcing this meeting carried the words, 'No collection'.  However, I do feel that many of you would be distressed if you were not given an opportunity to contribute to the work in China.  As what I'm about to propose emanates [comes] entirely from myself and, I'm sure, expresses the feeling of many in the audience, I trust that Mr Taylor will not object to a collection being taken."
Mr Taylor, however, jumped quickly to his feet.
"Mr Chairman, I beg you to keep to the condition you agreed to. Among other reasons for making no collection, the reason put forward by your kind self is, to my mind, one of the strongest.  My wish is not that members of the audience should be relieved of making such contribution as might now be convenient, under the influence of emotion, but that each one should go home burdened with the deep need of China, and ask God what he would have them to do."

Do you get that?  Colonel Puget says, basically, "Hey, we're all really impressed with what you're doing in China, and we'd like to give you a bit of money for it."  Taylor responds, "No, I want you to go away and think about it.  Don't chuck money in a collection bag, ask God what He wants.  Giving a bit of money now is too easy, and I don't want you to get off that lightly".

The book goes on:
If after thought and prayer they are satisfied that a gift of money is what He wants of them, it can be given to any missionary society having agents in China; or it may be posted to our London office.
But in many cases what God wants is not a money contribution, but personal consecration to His service abroad; or the giving up of a son or a daughter - more precious than silver or gold - to His service.  I think a collection tends to leave the impression that the all-important thing is money, whereas no amount of money can convert a single soul.  What is needed is that men and women filled with the Holy Ghost should give themselves to the work.  There'll never be a shortage of funds for the support of such people.

We've all done it, haven't we?  Those people who shake their charity collection tubs in the high street.  We often put money in just to shut them up.  Hopefully it will stop them shaking the darn thing (at least as long as it takes us to put the money in...).  That's not really a spirit of giving is it?  Hey, if we've got a small child with us, we might do it for the free stickers the charity folks are handing out.  Taylor's saying to the meeting, 'I don't want to let you off with a quick fix gift.  I don't want you going home tonight thinking you've done your bit with a few coins in the collection.  I want you to go home with a weight on your shoulders - the burden of the spiritual needs in China - and to ask God how to deal with it.  If He says give a few coins to the collection, then fine, give money.  But be willing for Him to ask you for much more than that'

A couple of paragraphs on, it's breakfast at Colonel Puget's house, where Taylor had spent the night.  The Colonel invites Taylor into his study:
"Here are the contributions to your work which I was handed last night," he said, "I thought last night, Mr Taylor, you were in the wrong about a collection.  I am now convinced you were quite right.  As I thought in the night of the streams of souls in China ever passing into the dark, I could only cry as you suggested, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"  I think I have obtained the guidance I sought, and here it is."
Colonel Puget handed Hudson Taylor a cheque for five hundred pounds.  "If there had been a collection," he added, "I would have given a few pounds to it."

So there you have it.  It turns out Taylor was right.  Instead of lying in bed thinking about what a lovely evening he'd had, and how he'd been able to give some money to Taylor's work, Colonel Puget has a horrible night's sleep, worrying about the burden of people in China who haven't heard the good news about what God has done for them.  He realised how much more he could do than he originally thought.  Instead of shutting up the voices in his head with a little gift, he listened to them, and gave much more.
And just in case you're wondering, five hundred pounds in 1866 would be worth at least twenty thousand pounds today.

How can we be more generous in what we give to God?


I'm planning a Bible study on 1 John 3:14-18.  Verse 16 says this:  "This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."  [brothers means other Christians, by the way!]
Most of us have probably never had the opportunity to actually die for our Christian brothers and sisters.  But that's not the point.  It's not saying that we should spend our lives waiting for some opportunity to lay down our lives for a fellow Christian.  It's just saying that's how far we should be willing to go.  When we're thinking to ourselves, 'how much should I be willing to give up for my fellow Christians?', the answer is right there in verse 16.  We should be willing to give up everything up to and including our lives.  I think that, all too often, I'm waiting for some big chance to make a showy sacrifice for a fellow Christian; maybe a wad of cash for a needy missionary, or a big chunk of time for some annoying person at church (these things would surely show what a great Christian I am...)  But the fact of the matter is, I have opportunities EVERY DAY to be a loving Christian.  I have chances to show love in all sorts of small ways.  What's the point of waiting for that moment when I can save a fellow Christian from an out-of-control bus, or dive into shark infested waters to pull them out, if I can't even be bothered to say something nice to them at church, or give them a ring during the week when I know they're struggling?  Laying down my life doesn't just apply to how I die, it applies to how I live.  It's all very well being willing to die for someone, but it may well be a better use of your time to live for them while you wait...

Who makes sacrifices for you?  Have you thanked them recently?  If not, do so in the next few days.

Is there someone you can think of who you can lay something in your life down for?

How can you follow Jesus' example better?

This is one of the many posts I'm a bit reluctant to write, because I feel that, by writing it, people might mistakenly think I've got it all sussed.  I haven't.  You could tear me to shreds on my answers to any of the questions above.  I'm trying though.  Mostly.