‘Does God lol?’

Dear Friends

Some time back I was asked the question, ‘Does God LOL?

Before I proffer my answer  I will confess to once concocting a ‘gag’ (as I believe it is called in the business) and it would be remiss of me to let the moment pass without recounting it.

Those of you who have followed my journey for a while will be aware that it was with much trepidation that I entered onto the World Wide Super Highway and I am still somewhat wet behind the ears when it comes to the popular vocabulary employed by my fellow travellers.

Thus it was my good lady wife who helpfully enlightened me as to the meaning of the appendage ‘LOL‘ but not before I had got myself in a bit of a pickle with a message on the Facebook internet portal to old Mr McMurtry (a crusty and cantankerous member of my charge; St.Cliff’s).

Having given much of his time and effort to picking holes in my weekly sermons he ‘messaged’ my good self to inform me that my apparently erroneous theology had finally driven him to pack his proverbial bags and to seek pastures new.

Having recently preached on forgiveness (chiefly for my own benefit to assuage the ire of the fearsome matriarchs of St.Cliff’s kitchens after I inadvertently forgot to return a Brillo pad which I purloined in the services of removing some graffiti to a sign outside our church – one particular member of my team did not appreciate the addition of the letter ‘R’ to the end of the warning; ‘SOFT VERGE‘) I had little choice but to send him on his way with my blessing (and love, or so I thought).

It was only later that I discovered that ‘LOL’ does not in fact stand for Lots of Love (as I had imagined) but Laugh Out Loud.

Having ‘signed off’ my reply to old Mr McMurtry with the aforementioned ‘LOL’ (in all innocence) I was therefore somewhat surprised to find a response, by return, recanting his previous exit strategy and informing me that he was now staying put to spite me for my insensitive ‘LOL’, albeit it inadvertent on my part.

It would appear that I, like St.Paul, must also endure a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (in my case, in the guise of old Mr McMurtry).

Anyway, without further ado, here is my aforementioned ‘gag’ .

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“That is not the question rather, what on earth was the chicken doing in the story of the Good Samaritan in the first place?”

I will admit that my humour may be a little too clever for some but I trust that, with time, the penny will drop and the joke will be got.

So, to the question at hand – ‘Does God LOL?’.

In that God called someone like me to be a veritable minister of the gospel I can only conclude that he most assuredly does.

Onward and upward

Derek

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‘What’s missing?…’

Dear Friends

I readily raise my hand and confess that within the body of this apparently respectable clergyman lurks an inner child just itching to get out.

This latent youthfulness recently sprung to life when, on passing the nearby United Reformed Church and noticing that the last vestiges of this once august building had been finally razed to the ground (with the aid of a very sizeable demolition ball I assume) in readiness for their new building, I simply could not resist scribbling a minor amendment to the dog-eared and faded poster that adorned the lonely wayside pulpit that still stood.

Seemingly ignorant of the fact that there was now no church to be publicised it resolutely proclaimed to one and all that time-honoured (and somewhat corny) message favoured of many a church, namely ‘CH_ _ CH. WHAT’S MISSING? UR’.

Utilising the convenient indelible marker pen that lay resident within my jacket pocket (having confiscated it from young Wayne Peacock who I had caught in the process of similarly appending a mugshot of myself that graced St Cliff’s ‘Welcome Desk’ with a Groucho Marx-esque moustache, which, I should add, did not suit me in the least) I cheekily crossed out the second letter ‘C’ (so that it read CH_ _ _H) and then added the letter ‘C’ to the end of ‘UR’ to reflect the present state of this church.

I trust that those passing by this temporarily defunct ecclesiastical establishment will appreciate the cleverness of my witty word play.

I also trust that St Cliff’s property committee takes a leaf out the the book of our URC brethren and considers likewise bringing our ancient meeting place into the twenty first century.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Football is biblical!’

Dear Friends

Oh what joy it is to read the bible with the veritable eyes of revelation and more so to discover something that has lain hidden from others for two thousand years.

For your information, (I am told that letting my guard down and sharing personal details will warm me to the ‘blogging’ community) I am presently employing a more relaxed method of daily Bible study which boils down to closing my eyes, opening the good book at random, running my finger down the selected page and then beginning my studies from there (having first opened my eyes, of course).

Having had more than my fair share of false starts which has found my index finger drawing my attention to (in no particular order) a rather confusing and contradictory map of the route of the Exodus, the ISBN details and most frustratingly, the blank page that sits between the Old and New Testaments, it was a joyous surprise and a relief (my run of bad luck having finally been broken) to find myself faced with the Acts of the Apostles and chapter thirteen in particular.

My joy was increased when I chanced upon the heading to the page: ‘Barnabus and Paul Sent Off‘.

That nobody has ever spotted this reference to football in the Bible is astounding.
I have made a mental note to write to Mr Kevin Keegan, who, if my memory serves me correctly, is presently the incumbent manager of our ‘boys’ in the English team and to share this wonderful discovery with him.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Brain ache!’

Dear Friends

My mind is presently somewhat addled and I have only but myself to blame for this cranial disorder.

I share this with you en route to partaking of some much needed medication for this painful condition.

Much against my better nature, and the advice of my good lady wife I will admit, I have been reading up on the rival teachings of Arminianism (the notion that people possess free will to accept or reject salvation) and Calvinism (that God sovereignly chooses those whom he will bring to himself) in attempt to impress the theologically stunted of St Cliffs.

My good lady wife considers it the height of foolishness on my part to over tax an intellect which, to my shame, saw me having to re-sit my Cub Scout Astronomer badge on account of not knowing the difference between the subject in hand and its more dubious cousin, namely astrology.

The net result of this unfortunate error on my part was that I informed our all-too-easily influenced (some would say gullible) Akela that the present alignment of Ursa Minor and Saturn suggested that it was a good time to find himself a wife.

What the young Derek did not know was that his esteemed leader not only had ‘another half’ already but that the fruit of this sacred amalgamation was about to break into double figures.

If it had not been for the timely intervention of Baloo (a fervent born again Christian who even went so far as to remove the horoscope page from his daily newspaper before his wife had the chance to indulge herself in this ‘dangerous daliance’) who knows what terrible marital calamity might have ensued.

That Akela did not forsake his wife and children in pursuit of pastures new on the basis of my misguided celestial ‘heads up’ is something for which I will be eternally grateful and for which Baloo (even to this day I know him as nothing but this childish moniker) must surely take the full credit.

Anyway, here is the conundrum dear friends.

Into this much-debated doctrinal dispute (forgive me, but a penchant for all things alliterative is a particular weakness of mine) which has polarised the opinions of theologians into these two opposing camps, I am considering the dropping of a pebble in the hope of seeing what ripples it makes.

My rather clever (and somewhat cheeky, though I say it myself) conundrum is this.

Do the supporters of Arminianism have the liberty as to what they believe only because God has sovereignly chosen them to think like that in the first place?

I am calling this Calvanistic Arminianism (patent pending).

And do proponents of Calvinism hold their beliefs in sovereign election only because God has given them freewill to make such a choice?

I am calling the Arminian Calvinism (ditto).

Onward and upward

Derek

Post Scriptum: I fear that this brief forray into the realms of higher theology will rebound on me and my good lady wife will be proved right.

Onward to the medicine cupboard before my head explodes.

‘The laugh is on me!’

Dear Friends

Having preached on the subtle dangers of duplicity and deception at St.Cliff’s but a few weeks ago I find myself falling foul (albeit inadvertently) to this very evil myself.

With this Sunday’s sermon safely ‘in the bag’ I passed the baton on to our prayer ministry team who were eagerly waiting in the wings to cash in on the fresh opportunities for response that I had presented to my flock.

Leaving them to it I broke my own golden rule and surreptitiously switched on my trusty ‘Nokia 6216 Classic’ before the service had in fact run its course.

I immediately noticed an amusing text that was obviously doing the rounds and it was all I could do to stop myself tittering away like a schoolboy. My attempts to disguise my jollity as a ‘frog in the throat’ did not work and with my shoulders working overtime (in the manner of a former Prime Minister of this fair land) I could hold in the laughter no longer.

It would appear that my sermon had not been quite as challenging as I had hoped and the prayer ministry team found themselves kicking their heels in search of any clientele they could lay their hands on (literally).

It did not take long for my poorly suppressed guffawing to attract the attention of one of their number, Mrs Mildew, and who was on me like a shot.

Assuming (wrongly) that I was experiencing the joy of the Lord (and not the fruit of the aforementioned humorous text) she proceeded to thrust her ministry hand upon my head and to decree with much fervour, “More Lord, more!’

Feeling somewhat disinclined to come clean as to the true reason for my mirth-making (and also being sensitive to the fact that the unfortunate woman had not had a very good ‘hit rate’ of late –  it is perhaps best also that we forget her valiant attempts to pray for someone with hearing loss only to discover that they in fact wanted prayer for an earring loss) I decided that there was nothing for it but to feign laughter in a bid to pretend that her spiritual diagnosis was indeed correct.

I can only assume that her recent catalogue of ministry disappointments had built within her a steely determination to press on regardless and ten minutes later I found myself still having to fake this supposed spiritual encounter.

If it had not been for the sudden appearance of a member of my flock making their way to the ‘ministry area’ (having apparently fallen asleep during my sermon and thus having missed the call for prayer) who knows how long I would have had to maintain this unfortunate charade.

Whilst relieved to have escaped this enforced (and somewhat duplicitous) event I now find myself left with the maxim ‘practice what you preach’ running guiltily around my head and would now assuredly benefit from a member of the prayer ministry team to help ease my conscience.

But with Mrs Mildew the only hand now left manning the proverbial pumps…

A dilemma indeed!

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Once bitten…!’

Dear Friends

Much is made of the community spirit that manifests itself at times such as these, and in this I refer to the present deluge of snow that has befallen this fair land.

Having ventured forth from the warmth and comfort of the manse (forsaking my emergency supply of chocolate digestives) to assist in the clearing of St Cliff’s front path, it did not occur to me that I might lay myself open to the opportunistic high spirits of our youth group whilst engaged in my good deed.

That Millie, our newly installed youth worker, should organise an impromptu snowball fight within the grounds of St Cliff’s was something of which I was unaware, not being familiar with the ‘text’ facility on my mobile phone.

Perhaps I should have removed my clerical vestments prior to venturing forth but old habits die hard.  Having gamely laughed off a ‘direct hit’  from young Charlie Wiggins which necessitated the hasty removal of my sodden dog collar to retrieve the remains of the frozen missile from my person, I would have done well to adopt that helpful maxim of, ‘once bitten, twice shy’.

That I did not simply laid me open to further calamity.

Having naively agreed to the culprit’s offer to make a snow angel as a way of saying sorry I at once assented, believing that St Cliff’s might yet have a seasonal sculpture to outdo that of the Methodists and their snowy monstrosity which purports to be an accurate rendition of John Wesley yet boasting a carrot for its nose at one and the same time.

Had I but known that a snow angel required the services of the human form laying flat in the icy drifts I might have been a little more alert.

I was not!

I have a strong suspicion that it was not only the hand of master Wiggins that floored me but also the outstretched floral wellington boot of Millie.

It is now not only my dog collar that will need to reside overnight in our already clogged-up airing cupboard but almost every garment that I was wearing.

Whilst it would appear that all concerned consider me to be a ‘good sport’ and that our new youth worker seems to have built a rapport with her charges, I cannot but help feel that it has been at my expense.

Fortunately I am preaching on the subject of grace this coming Sunday and I trust that this will help me to overcome the temptation with which I am presently wrestling, namely to turn off the heating in the youth room this Sunday to give them a taste of their own medicine.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘A new year begins!’

Dear Friends

A new year begins and this, I am certain, is going to be St Cliff’s year. I can feel it in my water. Which reminds me, I must make a point of removing my emergency supply of effervescent Alka Seltzer tablets from my trouser pocket when called upon to conduct baptisms.

When Mrs Philpott sprung back to new life from the tepid depths of St Cliff’s baptistry last month she all but cleared the first two rows of the congregation who, fearing that having been buried to her old life she had now risen up, foaming at the mouth, as the first of a new breed of rabid believers.

I have taken it upon myself to write to the chairman of the pharmaceutical company responsible suggesting that perhaps a little less fizz in their product would be no bad thing.

Every cloud has a silver lining and Mrs Philpott assures me that since that unfortunate day she hasn’t suffered half as much from indigestion as she used to. A blessing indeed!

With the festive season but a fading memory I have taken it upon myself to propose to the Christmas Decorations Committee that it would perhaps be in everyone’s interest if next year we purchase either an artificial tree or one that has not the least hint of a root. Notwithstanding, that is, the rather vociferous objections from old Mr McMurtry that allowing a Christmas tree into St Cliff’s is tantamount to heresy being that “there be no mention of them there pagan abominations in the Holy scriptures”.

In that the Bible is also somewhat silent on the subject of Christmas cards I feel duty bound to scrub Mr McMurtry from my Christmas card list post-haste lest I be accused of straying into heresy in this matter as well.

With regard to the said Christmas tree, whilst I recognise that Mrs Roberts’ flower ladies were more than keen to use up the somewhat excessive ‘job lot’ of Baby Bio that came their way courtesy of Mr Roberts (and no doubt the rear end of a lorry at some point, if I know her husband), their daily routine of generous plant food top-ups for our tree only served to encourage the already over-sized tinsel tower that the Christmas Decorations Committee had seen to inflict upon us, to sprout heavenward at a rate of knots that would have put any Apollo rocket launch to shame and left us with not only a superlative hole in the roof but also the only church in the parish that could boast a ‘spire’ at both ends, one of which sported the slightly more garish crowning glory of an intermittently flashing Christmas fairy.

One can only hope that when the bishop joined us for ‘Carols at St Cliff’s’ his perennial neck ailment kept his gaze fixed firmly earthbound.

We can only but wonder what this year has in store for us at St Cliff’s.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Tis the season to be jolly!’

Dear Friends,

Another year has almost passed and once again the season of goodwill toward all men is upon us. Whilst this goodwill may be proceeding bountifully to us from a heavenward direction, its horizontal progress, man to man, is I have to say, more than a tad stop start.

In time-honoured fashion, we at St Cliff’s had willingly embraced the spirit of ecumenism and were more than happy to do our bit by joining with our our brothers and sisters from the other churches in the parish to leaflet drop the village as to the times and occasions of the many and various Christmas services that will inevitably be taking place.

I have to confess that it was all a bit ‘last minute’ for my liking and the first sight any of us had of the said leaflet was but seconds before commencement, thus its content was something to which we had to trust its producers, a decision we were later to regret.

Had it not been for an invitation to partake of mince pies and hot drinking chocolate at the home of old Mrs Williams we would not have had the opportunity to peruse the festive missive that we had been dutifully delivering.

Even by the light of Mrs William’s rather annoying randomly flashing Christmas tree lights it was still possible to make out the variations in print quality which blatantly emphasised the offerings of one particular church over all the other faintly printed ones, St Cliff’s being among their number.

It would not have required the services of Sherlock Holmes to have worked out to which church Mr Stannard, the printer of this ephemeral document, was affiliated.

As if this wasn’t enough, it would now seem that a veritable ecumenical war has broken out as a direct result of this underhand ploy to cream off the Christmas trade with all but our good selves now vigorously engaged in canvassing the parish to promote their particular denominational Christmas offerings.

I have noticed that even Mr Cone, the ice cream man, who I will admit does have a rather lean time of it during the winter season, has been employed in this unseemly fracas with his speaker system being used to announce, in strict rotation with his theme tune of ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’, which is the best church to go to this Christmas.

Such is life, but we at St Cliff’s have decided upon what we consider to be the most obvious of enticements.

I think that perhaps we will simply preach about God breaking into history as a baby, growing up to be a man and dying on behalf of sinful man. That, I suspect, will be sufficient.

Let us now just hope and pray that Mrs Higginbottom, our organist, saves that bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream I bought her as an early Christmas gift until after ‘Carols at St Cliff’s’, in the vain hope that she may yet pull off a rendition of ‘Silent Night’ that isn’t the volume it was last year and which would not only have awoken the Christmas babe from his slumbers but probably most of the residents of St Cliff’s graveyard.

With my best wishes to you this Christmas

Onward and upward

Derek

‘The ghost of Christmas past!’

Dear Friends

With Christmas all but upon us, this normally wondrous season is rather overshadowed by the looming spectre of an unfortunate incident which occurred at last year’s ever-popular ‘Carols at St.Cliff’s’.

It is no secret that I am rather partial to a seasonal mince pie (or two) but this festive indulgence has the embarrassing downside of rogue currants lodging themselves surreptitiously in my teeth.

Had I but known that one of our number, (young Albert Hall – no relation) suffered from a debilitating fear of dentists (having had more than his fair share of dental extractions in his short life) I would have shown a little more more restraint with regard to my cheery demeanour as I welcomed folk to the service.

Greeting him (and his parents) on their arrival at this festive fixture with a toothy grin, my currant-encrusted molars unfortunately gave my visage the appearance of numerous missing teeth and thus triggering one of his ‘episodes’.

If it had not been for the speedy intervention of a member of our prayer ministry team (and the inventive use of the offering bag in the services of quelling his hyperventilation) who knows what would have happened!

Having resolved that this year I would ‘lay off’ the mince pies to avoid a repeat of this calamity, on taking a short cut through St. Cliff’s kitchen (and in a moment of forgetfulness) I secreted into my mouth an abandoned broken morsel of mince pie that lay invitingly on the worktop and then entered the sanctuary ready for this year’s carol fest.

I will confess to not being particularly one for ‘bells and smells’ when it comes to my churchmanship but when visiting a certain Christian resources exhibition earlier in the year I simply could not resist the purchase of some seasonal  ‘Figgy Pudding and Brandy Butter Incense – minimum five services guaranteed!’

My plan was to waft this festive fragrance around at the outset of the carol service to create a suitably Christmassy ambience.

Perhaps it would have been wise to have done a dry run beforehand but hindsight was not on the menu that particular day.

I had not quite realised that there is somewhat of an art to swinging an incense burner but once the smoking receptacle had built up some momentum it was trickier than I thought to dictate both its velocity or for that matter its trajectory.

I fear that had it not been for the late entrance of Mr and Mrs Hall (and their aforementioned son) the smoking burner might have taken off in the manner of a hammer thrower going for gold.

That this did not occur was due in its entirety to these latecomers attempting to slink unnoticed into the vacant front row pews at precisely the moment the maverick incense burner chose to swing back in their direction.

Those of you who have attended one of St.Cliff’s occasional Bowling ‘n’ Burger excursions will be well aware that I rarely achieve the acme of a ‘strike’ and on this occasion too I proved true to my reputation. 

Having floored but two of the three Hall family with the incense burner (like pins in a bowling alley) I was at a loss as to what to do next and thus resorted to smiling pastorally at their almost orphaned son.

You will not need to blessed with the gift of prophecy to see where this is going.

Faced once more with my currant-cursed grin the poor lad keeled over and joined his poleaxed parents on our stony floor.

Such a good ‘hit rate’ for falling to the floor would have been most impressive had it been the fruit of our prayer ministry team, but sadly it was not.

Whilst my mind worked overtime with unhelpful thoughts of litigation, Mrs.Higginbottom, (St.Cliff’s erratic and cacophonous organist), took it upon herself to strike up a festive tune to divert attention away from the ‘incident’.

That her choice of festive melody was ‘Deck the Halls‘ did little to help matters.

Let us hope that next year begins better than this year has ended.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘All I Want for Christmas is You!’

Dear Friends

Christmas looms large and we are once again looking forward with eager anticipation to that ever-popular feature on our church calendar, namely Carols at St Cliff’s.

Last year, in a bid to pep things up a little, I invited my flock to vote for their favourite Christmas carol, the winner to be announced at the aforementioned festive occasion.

Probably as a result of over-indulging in too many pre-service mince pies (which we later discovered had been laced with enough brandy to incinerate a sizeable Christmas pudding) the bishop gamely offered to link his ‘off the cuff’ Christmas epilogue with the winning carol.

I can only think that moving predominantly within ecclesiastical circles (as we both do) it had not occurred to either of us that the general populace nowadays consider the simple inclusion of the sound of sleigh bells or a passing reference to Santa Claus to guarantee a seasonal song inclusion within the canon of that which passes for a carol.

It was therefore not only somewhat embarrassing for the bishop to have to announce that the winning entry was a ditty entitled ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ but the situation was exacerbated by the unwanted attentions of old Miss Wiggins who for some time has made her affections towards the bishop more than clear.

That she happened to be sitting but three feet from the bishop’s gaze did not help matters in the least and whilst he valiantly attempted to connect this popular song with the newborn babe in a manger, the infatuated woman remained unconvinced, assuming it to be a song that was singularly directed at her.

Whilst the bishop has graciously accepted (though with a little trepidation) my invitation for a ‘second crack of the whip’ at this year’s festive evening I have clearly stipulated to one and all that all nominations must carry a biblical theme.

Having once again presented my congregation with the opportunity to partake in the voting process  for this I have been left with a nagging doubt that there lurks a song of the masses which meets my criteria but might yet leave the bishop once again exposed.

Onward and upward

Derek