28 December 2011

A Prayer for 2012


May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most,
and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God's love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

Anonymous

23 December 2011

20 December 2011

Expect the Unexpected!

Interesting phrase, eh? How can we ever predict what twists and turns life throws at us from time to time?

Take today. I'm writing this entry whilst sitting in my car waiting to be towed back home. My father-in-law, who is coming out to tow me home, should have been in hospital for admission today, but his stay was unexpectedly cancelled - but only after I had driven him to the hospital. By now I should be out helping my wife's Cub Scout pack, but I had to change my plans to pick up my father-in-law again from the hospital. My car then suddenly packed up, leaving everyone stranded, so he then had to make his way home to pick his car up, so he in turn could rescue me.

How ever could I have predicted that convaluted sequence of events? And it's not even 2pm. What else could happen today?

Watch this space.

18 December 2011

Pondering...

Luke 2:19 NIV
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

I've blogged on this before, but there's more on this verse that came to light following the meetings today.

The first part of this verse uses the Greek word συνετήρει (sunetērei), which is here translated as 'treasured' but in essence means to keep close, i.e. preserve. The term 'pondering' in the original Greek is συμβάλλουσα (sumballousa) which means to throw together, hence to discuss, consider.

The English word we use for Mary's meditation on the extraordinary events of the Nativity is based on the Latin root ponderare, which actually means to weigh.

Reflecting on all these words, we have young Mary committing every detail of what happened to memory; keeping them close, turning them over and over in her mind, her heart. In trying to 'weigh up' all these facts, she took note of it all so that it could be quietly reflected on.

Interestingly, this Latin root also gives us the word 'pondus'. It's the word for a weight on a line used when a ship entered shallow water. It's how sailors used to find out exactly where the sea bed was. Hence the saying, 'to get to the bottom of it' - to be able to work out what is currently not obvious.

Following all those events in Bethlehem, Mary pondered, quietly obeying God without fully understanding what was happening, yet reflecting on it and committing it to memory. Which is doubtless how the Gospel writers recorded the events of Jesus' birth in such detail...

So that we can get to the bottom of it, too.

Happy Christmas.

16 December 2011

Blogging on the move

I can't stand commuting. It's tedious, time-consuming and there's too many tetchy travellers! I'd rather drive - but that's not an option at the moment.

However, today I discovered a new essential to have. One that makes my daily commute much more bearable. It's the Blogger app for the iPod!

Now I can gather my thoughts together for this blog straight away. Together with my Bible app, my Facebook app and my music collection, I have practically all I need in one place now!

And I wrote this entire post whilst on the 17:08 from London Cannon Street!

My Soapbox

I don't know why, but I feel like having a bit of a rant. Here's a few niggles that I need to get off my chest today.

Stereotyping individuals - wrong! Accept it - people are all different, no two are alike. So why do some people insist on branding certain types of folk? They tell me that all benefit claimants are on the fiddle; all asylum seekers and street homeless are in fact secretly rich; that all long-term unemployed are lazy. Not so, not so. Why not get to know these folk as individuals, make your own mind up. Don't fill my inbox up with angry emails full of hatred and half-truths. Find out; then get out and do something about it...

When travelling on public transport, why oh why don't people let the departing passengers off the train first? There's always announcements about this. Why do some people insist on pushing past - have they got a more pressing need for a seat than I do? It makes me mad!

And another thing - why do some people ignore my emails? I send some people a whole host of queries about issues that I know are important, and nothing ever comes back. However, ignore just one thing of theirs and the complaints fly in. It's not fair!

No, it's not fair, says the still, small voice inside me. However, you still need to keep doing things the right way. That's your job. Don't conform to the world. Show them a transformed life. No point in getting mad; show them a different way. Live a selfless life; not a selfish one.

Glad I cleared the air a bit today....

13 December 2011

Contentment - In Search Of A Definition

Lord, I would place my hand in thine,
nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
since 'tis my God that leadeth me.

(He Leadeth Me, verse 3 - words by Joseph H. Gilmore)

Thinking back once again on the subject of contentment, I discover that it's a different concept from happiness, which is something that I guess that most people strive for. Understandable, I suppose - remember, it's engrained into our modern culture. Even the United States Declaration of Independence states that there are certain rights that we each have - among these are 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness'!

No, what we are talking about here is something much more subtle. It's about learning to be content in your current situation. A situation which might best be described as 'less than perfect'. A situation that is made much more bearable because you are not alone. Christ is there with you.

And He is with you when you seek to help others, bringing that same sense of contentment to others when you minister to them, in His name.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (The Message)
A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough.

"The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment." - Doug Larson

12 December 2011

Surprised By Joy

James 1:2 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds...

The above verse of scripture was emailed to me this morning - and only seeks to underline something that came to light following the meetings at the Army yesterday. You see, I understand all what was said yesterday about mission; the Great Commission if you will. I understand the sacrifice; I understand the need to minister to 'others'. No problem with any of that.

There's just one aspect that seems to be eluding me. An understanding of the joy that comes out of this service. The same joy mentioned in the above passage. The joy experienced and mentioned throughout the Christmas story.

And, looking back over this blog, it seems to be a subject that's been eluding me for a while. Is there something that I've yet to consider; something that seems to be robbing me of that joy?

Heading into the latter part of the Advent season, then, the goal then is to find that joy. That deep satisfaction that comes from knowing God, hearing His voice and obeying. The quality that allows us to be strong; able to face those kinds of trials.

In 1955, C S Lewis published a book which related the story of the author's conversion. It was entitled "Surprised by Joy".

That's the sort of surprise I am looking for this Christmas.

8 December 2011

Looking For The Light

"...there's a light at the end of the tunnel 
There's a light at the end of the tunnel 
The inside might be as black as the night 
But at the end of the tunnel there's a light."
(from Starlight Express - music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Richard Stilgoe)

This week's turning out to be quite a dark one. After struggling with my 'sense of humour failure' last weekend, other things have happened in the last few days that have... complicated matters. I try to rise above it, laugh it off, but this week there's so many issues; they threaten to overwhelm me.

I'm very reliant on my Lord this week to see me through.
He assures me that there is, indeed, a light at the end of the tunnel.
I believe Him.
But it's so dark that I just can't see it yet.
I strain to see... but I think I have lost my bearings.
I can't see which way to look.Which way?

I can't see it yet, but I know it's there. I know there's a light.

Psalm 107:13-16 (NIV)  
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,and broke away their chains. 
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, 
for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

3 December 2011

Sense Of Humour Failure

Today's been a super day overall - it saw this year's first carolling engagement for the Corps. A great time was had by all, singing together; and we got a good reception from the passers-by in the shopping centre.

However, I couldn't help but mull over a few stray negative comments during the day. It's hard to shake these off. Should I care? Am I suffering from what someone called 'sense of humour failure'?

Take it to the Lord in prayer? I certainly did. And He put the day back together again, putting the whole thing back into context. Worrying about such trivial things, well they're just not worth it. Look what you achieved today; how you told others about the Christmas message.

I still need to find the ability to laugh these things off - it's a quality I seem to have lost in recent years - but it's a start.

Matthew 6:34 (NIV)
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

28 November 2011

Where's The Bridge?

troubled water (noun): a situation or condition of disorder or confusion.

After a fairly long period of things going so well for me, I find myself in a period of troubled water once again. All of a sudden, life seems incredibly difficult. Even the easy stuff becomes incredibly complex. In fact, nothing is easy. And I wish I knew why... what has happened? What has changed?

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

(lyrics from 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', written by Paul Simon)

Lord, help me. Be that bridge for me, today. See me through this.

21 November 2011

Bad Dreams

Ever had one of those nights?

Last night seemed to drag on forever. Throughout the night hours I was presented with reoccurring sequences from my own life. The cast was made up of former colleagues and acquaintances of mine, people I remember fondly - but this time these people were discouraging, disrespectful, even downright rude about my personal life, about where I am today.

And then I woke up. Realising the entire thing was only a dream helped somewhat, but the experience did unease me for a while. Is that what these people really think about me? Was any of what was being said to me in my dreams really true?

I've made this a matter of prayer today. And, in the midst of the dialogue with my Lord, He reminded me that He loves me. He reminded me that we battle against a foe who deals in lies and half-truths. He reminded me of all of the victories that had been won in my life recently. And He reminded me that a retreating force often tries to regroup and attack again on another front.

The Doug Horley song we've used so often to end Sunday School in recent years is on top of my mind tonight:

WONDERFUL LORD, wonderful God,
You are my shield, my protector.
I can lie down, go off to sleep,
Knowing You’re watching over me.
Wonderful Lord, wonderful God,
Help me to trust You forever.
I need not fear, ’cause You are near,
I can lie down and sleep in peace.
Copyright © 2003 Thankyou Music

Sweet dreams, tonight...

14 November 2011

Don't Lie To Me!



The death of Osama bin Laden apparently resulted in millions of posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter. However, some of those included a quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr that, unfortunately, had never been uttered by King.

So, how do you work out what is truth and what is fiction in your inbox? Tricky. Although it's a great way of keeping in contact, there's a whole host of misinformation, myths, and urban legends out there.

So, here's some good mythbusting sites which you may wish to use:

http://www.snopes.com/

http://www.breakthechain.org/

http://www.truthorfiction.com/

...and always keep an open mind!

"The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted." - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

9 November 2011

Essentials

A recent study by The Children's Society asked a group of children aged between eight and fifteen to identify a list of possessions that they believed were now 'essential' for someone of their age. As the father of a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old, I was very interested in their findings.

Although the study did show there were several luxury items in their final 'must-have' list (iPods, the right sort of trainers, satellite TV), the top five essentials included the use of a garden or open space and 'at least one family holiday away from home each year'.

The number one item which children most commonly missed out on in the 21st Century? It's pocket money, with more than a third of those polled (37 per cent) saying they did not receive any, and 22 per cent saying they missed having it (presumably, this means the children miss have spending money of their own, as the current economic climate means that parents have to watch their outgoings more closely).

You often hear people say that our children 'have too much nowadays'. Interesting, then, to see that the only one material 'possession' that appeared in the top five items was a personal music player. And I remember how important my transistor radio was to me as a teenager!

Here's the top ten they produced, which they've listed in order of importance:

• Some money that you can save each month
• A garden at home or some outdoor space nearby
• Some pocket money each week
• At least one family holiday away from home each year
• A personal music player
• Monthly trips or days out with your family
• A pair of designer or brand name trainers
• The right kind of clothes to fit in
• A family car
• Cable or satellite TV at home

Read the summary of the report here - and their conclusions!

7 November 2011

A is for Acrimony...

I'm aware of a constant battle against feelings of bitterness in my life. I've blogged about this all too often; found myself praying for a way forward on a daily basis. The most frustrating part of these 'attacks' is the surprise; the speed of these overpowering negative feelings takes its toll on me; on such days there's a risk of these feelings overwhelming me. Friends have tried to help me identify the root cause of my resentment; to help me to deal with it, diagnose the 'trigger'. One friend concluded that it's because I've been 'fighting battles on several fronts'.

Recently I've passed a couple of important milestones in my life. The end of an era perhaps, one or two changes that I hope has finally resolved some of these matters. If so, it's an ideal opportunity for me to start again with a clean slate. It's a little early yet, however I'm keen to see whether the changes that have occurred will make the difference.

So it's back to basics for me. I'm studying my A, B, C in anticipation of the forthcoming week. Is it to be:

... A is for Acrimony?
... B is for Bitterness?
... or C is for Cautiously Optimistic?


So far, so good. :)

29 October 2011

In All Honesty: part four, Relative Truth

I mentioned about watches in part three of this brief series. Imagine how you'd feel if you'd suddenly discovered that the clock that you'd been setting your watch to for years was itself wrong? That you'd been giving out the wrong time - and worse, you honestly thought you were doing the right thing by checking back with a 'trusted' source - which was itself wrong!

If you follow me, then you can understand some of the difficulties with 'relative truth' that I've been working through for a while. It's because there's a whole host of different beliefs out there - even differences in opinion in how you follow individual beliefs. Surely, they can't all be right? No - some of these 'truths' are contradictory; some are misinformation, or 'spin'; some are simply 'best guesses'; some are opinions that might even be described as naive. Some - well, the court is out on these, no-one seems to know...

As a 'seeker after truth' I have sought help from others in order to follow the right path. Some of the paths I took as a young man I once thought were 'true' but these have clearly proven to be false. In fact, dead ends! However, I doubt whether many of the people (including my own friends and family) who advised me to take these false paths meant me any harm. Like the weatherman (see part one of this series), they're trying their best. And, the path itself may not have been wrong for all - but it was certainly wrong for me (it made me ill for a time!).

Although I make mistakes, I don't want to make the same mistake twice! And I certainly don't want to lead others astray by directing them the wrong way! I want the right way. I want to show others the right way.

I read a quote by C.S.Lewis yesterday which succinctly summed up my current situation for me:

http://cslewiswisdom.blogspot.com/2011/06/search-for-truth.html

Here's a couple more quotes that have challenged me lately. As I continue to pursue the truth, dear reader, working it out in my own way and style, please do me a favour? Let me know from time to time if it looks like I'm going off course, okay?

Proverbs 4:7 (NIV)
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

"The pursuit of truth shall set you free - even if you never catch up with it" - Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

27 October 2011

In All Honesty: part three, Time Checks

I've read that a great deal of people think that the phrase "to thine own self be true" (mentioned in part two of this series) is taken from scripture, when in fact these are words taken from the Bard. Just goes to prove how little some people know the Bible nowadays.


Putting this confusion aside for a moment, let's consider the question; do you think this is good advice?


I do. It rings true. I can see a ring of truth in this, the honesty in what is being said in Shakespeare's prose. However, as an adage, I'm afraid it simply doesn't go far enough. It's only true up to a point. We are, after all, how God made us, each with our own gifts, our own unique way at looking at life. But we need God in our lives to keep us on track.


Why do I think so? I reason it like this. We're like timepieces, watches that have been put together by a master craftsman. Each of us has our own unique gifts, our own peculiar way of looking at things, because each of us has a place in society. Each of us, if you will, is designed for a different purpose. We are a masterpiece of engineering. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).


However, even with the best watches you still need to check the time now and again! Left to run unchecked, a timepiece will tend to get out of sync and needs to be brought back in line. It may be only a second out, it may be two minutes or more; fast, or slow! It may not be for any mechanical reason - sometimes the clocks change! Whatever the reason, we all need correction from time to time.


Some of us are stopwatches, built for precision; others, elaborate pocket watches, or even everyday wristwatches. But all need checking from time to time.


Relying on our own inner self is great - but can only take us so far.


In the final entry to this study I'll wrap up my thoughts on the subject, touching once again on honesty and "relative truth".

14 October 2011

In All Honesty: part two, To Your Own Self Be True

As part of my study of honesty, I've been attempting to understand why people react the way they do. Different people see the world in different ways; each seeing varying aspects of the same thing. Some may live in a particularly shallow world; others may think particularly deeply! It's like the difference between the optimist and the pessimist, and half a glass of water. The optimist says it's half full; the pessimist says it's half empty!

However, by His nature, God can see the whole picture all at once. We studied this a little last weekend, as the Sunday School lesson was about Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). He knew all about her!

To quote Julie Andrews, you need to 'start at the very beginning' - so I've begun by clarifying my own motivations, exploring my own character. How else do I expect to know others if I can't understand myself; begin to understand why I look at life a certain way...

From my studies on the subject it's clear that I'm an introvert (for those in the know I'm an INFJ), which explains my need for a 'time out' at regular intervals, just to recharge the batteries. I'm a bit of an idealist, ever striving to do my best and having to settle for second-best (or worse) much of the time. I struggle with my moods, possibly as a result of the last point. And I'll add for good measure the fact that I'm a seeker after truth (which won't come as too much a surprise to regular followers of this blog).

I'll unpack some of this in the weeks to come.

Polonius: This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet - Act 1, scene 3

8 October 2011

In All Honesty: A Story About The Weather

"It's not going to rain tomorrow!"
"Yes it is, the weather forecast said so..."
"No, it's not..."
"Er... but it is..."
"No - it's - not!"
"???????"

This was the essence of a conversation I overheard a few months ago. The exchange of dialogue has stayed with me, a good introduction to a topic I'd like to explore this week: that of having an honest attitude to life.

In the exchange above, we have someone's heartfelt but unspoken prayer that the rain would stay away, as it would spoil this well-planned open-air church event. And we also have another one who delivered a piece of authoritative information from the weatherman.

There's two schools of thought, aren't there, as to who had the right attitude here. Wishful thinking, coming right up against supposed facts. Hope against stark reality. Which way is better?

Is the attitude of the first speaker, understandably keen to have things go ahead without a hitch and therefore 'thinking positively' about the day, the way we should follow? Or should we be like the second speaker, who had been told a 'fact' and in all honesty was simply passing it on?

I'd be interested for your feedback. I'm mulling over the whole idea of stepping out in faith. Is that naive? Because I feel that blindly following the facts can also be wrong! (Particularly the weather forecast!) There needs to be a balance.

And, incidentally, on the day in question it didn't rain after all!

6 October 2011

What is a Christian?

Nearly three out of four Brits claim to be Christian. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people who said they were not religious rose from 20.5% last year to 23.2% in 2011, however the proportion describing themselves as Christian remained steady at 68.5%.

Compare that to the report on Churchgoing in the UK published by Tearfund in April 2007 that showed that only 15% of the population go to Church at least once a month.

Confused by the statistics? I think the issue is more like people are confused about what a Christian actually is. Some think that if you live in a Christian country then you must be a Christian; some think you're a Christian only if you go to church, or only if you have been baptised.

What does the Bible say?

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

That's why people refer to Christians being 'born again'. Do you know where that phrase comes from? Here's where:

John 3:3-8 (NIV)
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

30 September 2011

Dark Times

Joshua 1:5 (NIV)
No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

A recent daily reading email that I received today spoke about dark times in our christian experience. These are the times when God tests us - removing some of the supports that we rely on to feel secure - career, money, friends and family, health - to see how you react. It concluded that these are preparation times. Greater things are just ahead.

Somehow, I know I'm in a time like this right now.

And I'm encouraged to simply trust God. Not my feelings, not my past experiences, not even other people. Simply to trust Him. Because even if my friends will let me down, God won't. God never changes. My feelings will come and go, but God is always with us.

The most scary part about the whole thing is that I know this will take time. How long? I don't know. Am I reaching the end of this testing time? Haven't a clue. Another way of thinking about it is as a "Joseph's Pit" experience, which is a reference to the sequence relayed in Genesis 37:23-24. In the story, there's nothing that Joseph could do about it. All he could do was pray and wait upon the Lord.

This week has been a pretty dark one for me. I'm trying to stay focused, keep praying. Holding on!

26 September 2011

Is that right?

Do people constantly tell you things, or email you things, that don't seem to make sense? Odd pieces of information, scraps of wisdom, Facebook posts, rumour, hearsay.

My usual reaction to this is a simple, "Is that right?"

Because, sometimes, it's not true at all.

The trouble is - I'm not sure what it is that I'm most troubled about. The fact that a friend has told me something, as if it were true, that isn't. The fact that they haven't checked their information before repeating it. Or the fact that some people think I'm gullible enough to accept everything that I'm told without checking this out first.

I find snopes.com is a good place to start for dealing with internet rumours, circulars that tell you that Facebook will be charging for their services, that kind of thing. Worth bookmarking!

The rest? I keep an open mind about, until I can prove this one way or another.

23 September 2011

Statistics

In his autobiography, Mark Twain confirmed that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." How true.

I've been looking at the various stats that Blogger offer you regarding traffic to your site, in terms of what posts are the most popular, where people live, what browser they are using. And was very surprised at what I found.

According to this, the most popular post that I have ever written since I started this blog was a small article about the Father Dowling Mysteries, that I wrote as part of my A-Z of Detectives a year or two ago. What?

The second most popular was a light-hearted post about 'International Talk Like A Pirate Day'. How random is that?

This doesn't really add up. What was so wonderful about these particular blog entries? In order to understand this a bit better you need to factor in other things, like the fact that that first post seems to get two or three spam attempts a week via the comments tab. Anything from internet mailings in Russian script to pedicures and the obligatory sales pitch for little blue pills. Thank heavens for Blogger's very effective spam filter!

Here's a few more quotes to round this entry off:

98% of all statistics are made up. (Author Unknown)

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable. (Author Unknown)

21 September 2011

In The Nick Of Time

As a person brought up with role models from popular culture, I know all about snatching victory from defeat at the very last second. All my heroes did it, in 'cliffhanger' endings in my favourite shows! There were the Tracy brothers from International Rescue; Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise. All doing their stuff, just in the nick of time.

Arriving at the 'nick of time' (at the last propitious moment) is an interesting phrase. Before the 16th century you used to refer to something or someone coming at 'pudding time', a savoury dish served first at medieval mealtimes. If you arrived at pudding time, it was just in time to eat. In Tudor times, when puddings were usually sweet dishes served at the end of a meal, this became 'in the nick', the nick in question referring to a notch or small cut on a 'tally stick', a reference to pin-point precision.


Why share this? Because of a really scary incident of a last-minute reprieve yesterday. Something happened during the day, a personal matter that threatened to scupper my evening plans. A really big deal. So many prayers were said during the course of the day; my wife was wonderful, running around on my behalf to resolve the issue, as I sat in the office at work.


And, yes, those prayers were answered, but literally only 'in the nick of time'. Yesterday's plans went ahead, business as usual. However, it's one thing to watch this sort of thing happening as entertainment, it makes for good viewing. When it happens to you personally, I find it most disconcerting!


I woke up this morning tired, head thumping from what I fear was the onset of a cold, and mind still reeling from the possibilities of what might have been. I like to plan my days, cramming them perhaps too full, but planning as best I can, so that I can more easily deal with those little 'bumps in the road' that come along from time to time. Yesterday evening's bump was a real mountain - and I only just avoided it!


Saved - in the nick of time!

17 September 2011

The Black Dog



A recent conversation with a friend had led me to a study on the life of one of this country's elder statesmen, Sir Winston Churchill.

Throughout his life, Churchill suffered from bouts of depression, an issue that he used to refer to as "my black dog". It's from a phrase coined by the Roman poet Horace, later adopted by English writer Samuel Johnson in the 1780s to describe his own bouts of depression, and best known in modern society following use by Churchill.

Despite such difficulties, Churchill not only succeeded in battling The Black Dog but even found the inner strength to lead Britain through the darkest days of the Second World War. Wow.

I'm quite aware of some of the problems of being tracked by The Black Dog. It's a subject that needs to be well publicised. The charity SANE has more to read about the subject here .

16 September 2011

Take Courage!

It's said that identifying the problem is half-way to solving it. Good. If that's so, at last I'm half-way to sorting out one of mine. Potentially, a big one.

What I need to do now is to find the bottle within myself to push my way through it. You see, the problem is paralysis. Not of the physical kind, but mentally, emotionally. In some circumstances (which I can't go into) I can get almost paralysed by fear. It's probably fear of the current situation; fear of the unknown; doubtless fear of tedium because I've faced this situation so many times before! All of that seems to be rooting my feet to the floor.

I need to deal with this. I need the courage just to inch along, like someone on the edge of a precipice. Taking small steps, maybe, but steps nonetheless to get this issue behind me and move along.

I need to take courage!

I will be a warrior, fighting the good fight,
Battling ’gainst all evil in the cause of right;
Jesus, give me courage, make me true and brave
That the lost and dying I may help to save.

(SASB 859, verse 2 - Gladys M. Taylor)

12 September 2011

What Car?

I've always been one of those people who keeps asking questions. It's how you learn! However the type of questions that I ask now are subtlely different.

Let's look at cars. In the past I used to ask God questions like "What car should I be driving? What job should I have?" And so on.

As I have gone along, I've realised that God is much more concerned about developing our character than anything else. Therefore:

- God cares more about how I drive than what I drive.
- God cares more about I behave to the neighbours than what kind of house I live in.
- God cares more about how wise I am with my money than how much I have.

As I continue to look at my own calling, I've stopped asking God what sort of job I should have. Instead, it's a case of looking at my own skills, identifying the person that I am now, and therefore asking of God "where can I be of the most use?"

I'll keep you posted as to the answer.

11 September 2011

Now choose...

I started composing this email whilst on a Scouting expedition to Brownsea Island, the birthplace of the Scout Movement. And amid all the activity, the team building, the cups of tea, one curious thing occurred!

My wife and the other Scouters in the party were getting to grips with practical matters like survival training, bat spotting, making bivouac shelters. I've been in the party, enjoying the scenery, the challenges, washing up, but my mind has been roaming elsewhere. All over the place.

I spent the weekend confronting my own worst fears, coming to grips with my introverted nature, analysing relationships and reactions, seeing God's awesome power in an exciting new way, wrestling with thoughts and theories about predestination and freedom of choice.

Weird. Where my mind chose to be...

9 September 2011

Who'd be a commuter?

According to a report released by the London Evening Standard this past June, 75% of UK workers have a journey to work of less than 30 minutes, but this figure reportedly goes up drastically when we talk about jobs in London. A fifth of City commuters take over an hour to get to work (door to door). That's me, included. The majority of trips to the City are naturally taken on public transport. Of those using their own transport, there's a high proportion of cycles used, doubtless due to the congestion charge imposed in the City Centre. Read more of this report here . By way of comparison, the average daily commute in the States is reportedly about 25 minutes, and as low as a quarter of an hour for Midwest cities like Witchita, Omaha, and Tulsa. New Yorkers have the longest average commute of 38 minutes.

I've been thinking a little about the whole issue of commuting. It's not something I enjoy. I'd far sooner drive. But that's not an option. So I try and use the time I spend sitting on the train wisely. I read books; listen to music on the iPod; write blog entries for this very site. However, when I'm sitting on the train (sometimes standing, on some days you can't even be assured of a seat), stuck between stations, cramped together like cattle and wondering whether the train will get in on time, I wonder...


Who'd be a commuter? If I had a choice... not me.

8 September 2011

Do I Need To Hit The Bullseye?

I've blogged a great deal on the subject of vocation, and also had chats with friends and colleagues on the subject. And that's because I am striving to be right in the centre of God's will for my life. That's where I need to be.


Now, I know that God cares for me. I know He has particular tasks for me to do (Jeremiah 29:11). However, how much freedom does He give us? How much leeway? If I aim for the centre, do I have to hit the bullseye or will an 'inner' do?


The thing is, I have a choice. I am not a puppet, I am an individual with particular strengths and weaknesses and am therefore looking where my particular spiritual gifts will be the most use.


These gifts also include wisdom, discernment, an imagination; He trusts us to work it all out and to choose His way. We have clear guidelines for our lives within the Bible; within those guidelines He gives us freedom.


But unfortuately I'm a lousy shot. Do I need to work on that, too?


:)

6 September 2011

Tomorrow...

James 4:13-15 (NIV)
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that."

I've been reflecting on some of the plans I've made throughout the last few years. Many of these plans simply didn't work out, despite the fact that I was planning with the best of intentions. Reality didn't fit in with my vision of the future. It just wasn't to be.

James reminds us that we are not in charge of our future. God is. He has a clearer vision than I do as to what is best for my family; a perfect vision. I have to accept that, trusting in my Lord to lead all of us through tough and challenging experiences and into an unknown future. Leading me, and my family, one step at a time.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

4 September 2011

Repentance: More Than Just 'Sorry'

I've been mulling all evening on something that was mentioned in the meeting today - it was a definition of a word that we don't hear much about nowadays. That word is repentance. We are happy to hear about God's forgiveness, the fact that God's love is for each of us, but we get too uncomfortable in our seats when we're called to repentance first. But we need to hear this - and we need to act on it.

Old Testament references to repentance (in Hebrew) were represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nicham (to feel sorrow).

New Testament Greek uses the word μετάνοια (metanoia), a compound word of the preposition 'meta' (after, with), and the verb 'noeo' (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). These concepts combine to form a word that means: 'to think differently after'. More than just expressing sorrow, metanoeo implies a complete change of direction. This isn't a minor course correction we are talking about; it's "full reverse", a 180 degree change.

When trying to convey this concept to my family, I mention the fact that 'saying sorry' isn't enough. With constant repetition, the word starts to lose its meaning. No, for 'sorry' to mean anything, there has to be a change to go with it. It's not just 'sorry'; it's 'sorry and I'm going to ensure it will never happen again'. A change of conduct, a complete review and rethink to one's life are standard in such a change.

During SAFE Music School this year we looked closely at the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). After coming to his senses, the son was clearly sorry about his predicament - but that wasn't enough. He had to swallow his pride, turn himself completely around and head back to his father. Repenting of his earlier lifestyle choices, he headed home. He was soon greeted by his father, overjoyed by the change and welcoming him back with open arms.


3 September 2011

Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-22 (The Message)
At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?"
Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven."


"Hollywood and the media has been intent in recent times on saturating our minds and mouths with the f-word. Jesus Christ has been intent on saturating our hearts with His f-word for 2,000 years -- forgiveness." - Gary Amirault

"Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business. Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another's control... to be locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. It extracts the forgiver from someone else's nightmare." - Lance Morrow

"Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future." - Louis B. Smedes

2 September 2011

Moods: Can They Be A Good Thing?



Those who know me well know that I'm someone who can struggle with my moods - I can go for quite a while being cheerful, however all of a sudden something changes and I'm right down in the dumps. I'm still struggling to find out what triggers such a swing within me. I've read up on subjects like bipolar disorder and depression, discussed the topic with friends and colleagues (some of whom read this blog!); at the moment it just seems to be a cross that I have to bear. However, I am getting quite knowledgeable on the subject!

A recent report from the British Psychological Society has suggested that severe mood swings aren't necessarily a bad thing, as they say that such changes in mood can actually bring benefits, inspiring great works of art, classics of poetry and prose. I'd be interested in hearing other people's views on the topic.

Read more on the report here .

1 September 2011

Franciscan Blessing

Here are the words of a Franciscan blessing that were shared with us by some good friends who were leading the meetings over the summer. What a challenge!

_____________________________________________________________

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the Blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more.

Amen.


_____________________________________________________________

31 August 2011

Finding Your Purpose


"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." — Frederick Buechner

My pursuit of a tangible confirmation of my own particular calling has led me to some teachings from a minister called RK Castillo. His own spin on the subject suggests that you should work out what you are particularly adept at and use that for the Kingdom of God. That's practically a paraphrase of the Buechner quotation above, so I'm encouraged. However, Castillo recommends identifying four areas rather than two; where these four meet is where He needs you to be (or in Castillo's words "where you have been perfectly designed by God to make a huge difference in people’s lives"). His four areas are:

Passion : the one thing that you do that excites you, the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.

Strengths : the special gifts that each of us have; your particular talents, the stuff you are naturally good at.

Needs : that area where you are particularly adept in meeting people's needs, fixing their problems as if it were second nature.

Calling : perhaps the toughest of the lot, this is identifying the specific niche that God is calling you to fill. The easy bit? To simply ask Him in prayer to clarify what you should be doing. He'll tell you. The hard bit? To take it in. To accept what He is telling you. So, are you listening? Do you want to hear what He is saying?

Read some more about RK's teaching here .

:)

29 August 2011

Have You Heard The Call?

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I last talked about vocation; about ensuring that I'm in the place where God wants me to be. I've talked to many friends about the subject; prayed about it; been to DFL and Leadership days; pushed a few possible doors which have remained irritatingly and stubbornly shut. I've seen friends that were wrestling with the whole concept of vocation at the same time as me step forward and make decisions, becoming Salvation Army Cadets, Lieutenants and Territorial Envoys. And I'm pleased for them. Several still ask me whether 'I have heard the call', i.e. a call to officership, a call to pack my bags and head off to Denmark Hill for a couple of years...

A recent entry on the Armybarmy blog caught my eye and inspired this post. It was saying that the sole distinction between soldiership and officership should be 'availability' (according to Commissioner Wesley Harris). I understand that - each Salvation Army soldier (regardless of the colour of their epaulettes, or even if they wear any!) has made a decision to follow God, to be 'sold out' to God, to do what he or she can for the Kingdom.

The Commissioner states that those called to officership go that step further and relinquish their employment so that they can be mobilised quickly. It's not a higher or greater calling. It's just different. And just because one person is called to officership and another to soldiership in a Corps setting, doesn't make their individual calls any less.

Yes, I can say that I have received a call. I've been having a chat or two about my own particular call to mission, about all the things I am involved with at the moment. I am still working out where this may lead me, or whether in fact it doesn't lead me anywhere.



However, if you are asking whether I am ignoring the call? Never.

27 August 2011

Shaking the Dust Off Your Feet



Back to our regularly scheduled blogs now, with a whole host of subjects to tell you about; plenty has happened over the summer period! Let's kick off with this one...

There's some really great phrases hidden away in scripture. Or, as Paul has it, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I sit and ponder these phrases, roll them around in my head. It's not quite as structured as 'Lectio Divina', but the method seems to work for me. Like with the phrase mentioned in the heading above, which has particularly helped me over the last month...

When Jesus sent out his twelve disciples to preach, one of the things he told them was that if people didn’t want to hear what they had to say they were to leave and "shake the dust off your feet." Now, in our modern-day way of thinking, this sounds a little odd. Does this mean that you should literally do that?

Looking a little closer at this phrase we discover that this is an Eastern idiom, meaning you need to shake off any animosity or bitterness that you may have toward someone, so that when you leave, you leave in peace and with no regrets, anger, blame or hurt. When people do not respond, you might well be upset with them. You may even be self-critical; what did I do wrong? "Shaking the dust off your feet" means that you don’t carry any of that with you. You leave it all there and go on your way. It's not your fault - you are simply a messenger, like the disciples were. You are not responsible for their response, merely to be obedient and to convey the message.

Shake the dust from your feet, and move on.

Matthew 10:14
"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet."

Mark 6:11
"And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."

Luke 9:5
"If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."

Acts 13:51
So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

(All quotations from NIV)

26 August 2011

Z is for Z Cars




Created in 1962, this BBC police drama series ran for over sixteen years and eventually made its stars into household names. The show got its name from the vehicles used in the show: all of them Ford Zephyr cars.

25 August 2011

Y is for Yogi Bear




Obviously "smarter than the average bear", Yogi has been raiding picnic baskets for well over 50 years. Originally modelled after a 1950s sitcom actor and named after a famous baseball player of the time (Yogi Berra), Hanna Barbera's animated star is still going strong. A new film has just been produced, making him known to yet another generation.

24 August 2011

X is for Extra Abilities




X is always a challenging one to fill, but I think I'll mention here the rest of the animated shows I watched in the Sixties - curiously enough they often as not featured people or animals with special powers or abilities. Always good for a view. Remember these? Atom Ant, the Arabian Knights, Secret Squirrel, Shazzan, Winsome Witch...

23 August 2011

W is for Woodentops




A flashback now to a simpler time. As part of Watch With Mother, BBC's pre-school puppet show The Woodentops painted me a picture of the nuclear family from the Fifties, even though by the time I got to see the show it was well into the Sixties. I still remember Spotty Dog fondly to this say, but viewing it again on YouTube recently made me realise how much society has changed since then.

Nowadays modern children are presented with role models from Teletubbies and In The Night Garden. Clearly the acting is less wooden, but have pre-schoolers lost an essential message about the importance of family?


22 August 2011

V is for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea




Yet another Irwin Allen production, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea first introduced us to the Seaview in a 1961 film starting Walter Pidgeon. The show subsequently resurfaced as a TV series starring Richard Basehart and David Hedison (pictured).


21 August 2011

U is for UNCLE




"Open Channel D..."

The best employer in the growing world of spies in the Sixties had to be the good old U.N.C.L.E! This international organisation gave us a number of role models: you could be a Man from UNCLE like Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) or Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), or a Girl from UNCLE like April Dancer (Stefanie Powers). Both of these series are seldom repeated, which is a real shame...


20 August 2011

T is for Time Tunnel



Another classic series from Irwin Allen now. Reportedly, Time Tunnel was the most expensive television show on air in the US in 1966! Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) were two research scientists lost in a experimental time portal.


19 August 2011

S is for Star Trek



What else? Here's the show that first showed me that all races could live and work together; that respect for your fellow man wasn't an impossible dream; that "let me help" was as important as "I love you".



Oh, and also not to wear red if it's your first visit to an alien world...


18 August 2011

R is for Randall and Hopkirk



Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was an unauthodox but light-hearted detective show that satisfied my interest in quirky or offbeat TV series. Drawing on earlier works such as 'Blithe Spirit' and 'Topper' for inspiration, the show still has a strong fan following despite only lasting for one season. A remake followed in 2000 and a further US version is currently in preparation.




What do you think S could be?


17 August 2011

Q is for Quick Draw McGraw



Hanna Barbera's animated western parody featured Quick Draw McGraw, a horse who was sheriff in a small town, assisted by a Mexican burro called Baba Looey as his deputy (both characters being voiced by Daws Butler).


Most Western cliches were covered in the show, even down to the inclusion of a regular Zorro parody, where Quick Draw assumed the identity of a masked avenger called El-Kabong, who carried a guitar instead of a sword.

16 August 2011

P is for The Prisoner



"I am not a number - I am a free man!"


Although this series originally aired in the 1960s, I didn't really appreciate the themes and deeper meaning of this show until I was much, much older. But even as a kid, I loved the style of the show, yet another twist on the spy genre. Worth revisiting.

15 August 2011

O is for Out Of Town



Here's the sort of show we see very little of nowadays. Jack Hargreaves introduced a family audience to the diverse ways of life in the country. Angling, farming, animal husbandry, all these and many more were covered in Out Of Town, a truly unique series. Jack also made appearances in the magazine series How, showing more of his wisdom to youngsters and teaching us a great deal.

14 August 2011

N for Noggin the Nog



Created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, The Saga of Noggin the Nog is often hailed as a cult classic from the Sixties. And why not? A primary school introduction to Norse mythology, perhaps...

13 August 2011

M is for Mission: Impossible



Back to secret agents now with "Mission: Impossible", a show that introduced us to the exploits of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). This has been the subject of a few big budget movie versions recently, but I still prefer the original adventures, with the team led by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) in the first season, and with Jim Phelps (Peter Graves, see picture) in charge for the other six seasons in the original run and in two more seasons in the 1980s.

12 August 2011

L is for Lost In Space




Created by "Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen, this show ran for three seasons between 1965 and 1968. Starting out as a serious SF drama about the Robinson family whose voyage into space was sabotaged and ended in disaster, the tone of the show lightened throughout the run until it reached a point that many found absurd.



The show ended up with bizarre storylines more focused on the saboteur Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), the Robinsons' ten-year-old son Will (Bill Mumy) and their Robot (Bob May, voice provided by Dick Tufeld) than any of the others. Totally ridiculous. I loved it.


11 August 2011

K is for Knockout


One of the highlights of the TV week from the late Sixties was "It's a Knockout", an unauthodox competition that pitted teams representing UK towns or cities in silly games, often with lots of water, foam or oversized rubber suits. Winning teams then played against towns from across the Continent in the international version entitled "Jeux Sans Frontières", which was broadcast all across Europe.



10 August 2011

J is for The Jetsons

Hanna-Barbera's space age counterpart to the 'modern stone-age family' was set in 2062 and depicted domestic family life in a world of robots and labour-saving devices of every conceivable type. Although we've moved forward nearly fifty years since then, and we have gadgets galore at home, there's still one which is on my wish list that hasn't arrived yet.

I'm still waiting for my jetpack!

9 August 2011

I is for Impossibles

Here's another two great influences from the Sixties: the 'silver age' of comic strip superheroes and the increasing influence of pop music. Hanna-Barbera's short animated series "The Impossibles" capitalised on both of these genres. Here were a trio of rock and roll musicians, who transformed into a costumed team when the need arose. Yes, the show was full of cliches but it was great fun to watch when returning home from primary school!

8 August 2011

H is for Hogan's Heroes

Another parody now, this time set in a Second World War POW camp. "Hogan's Heroes" featured Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane), an American pilot in charge of an international group of Allied prisoners, who spend their time running rings around the incompetent guards. Imagine a surreal, light-hearted version of 'The Great Escape'...

7 August 2011

G is for Get Smart

It was the Sixties, and secret agents were cool (as will be seen by the sheer number of references in this year's A-Z)! Yet, slap back in the middle of the mix, there was Max... 'Get Smart' was a parody of the spy genre co-written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 fought against the agents of KAOS with incredible gadgetry and extreme stupidity...

6 August 2011

F is for The Fugitive

Another popular TV series from the Sixties, one that I particularly recall because it was one of my Mum's favourites. David Jansson played Dr Richard Kimble, a suspect for the murder of his own wife and on the run from the law - and especially Inspector Gerard (Barry Morse) - while searching for the one-armed man who really killed her.

The story was later revived as a feature film which starred Harrison Ford as Kimble, with Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard.

5 August 2011

E is for Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest was probably my first exposure to continental music. It was an education in itself, a rare opportunity to hear a variety of languages and experience differences in culture. However, nowadays it's probably an education in the benefits of tactical voting...

The balance of my primary education in all matters European was made by the programme I'll share with you on the 11th. :)

4 August 2011

D is for Daktari

Daktari (Swahili for "doctor") was a regular feature of TV during the Sixties. Marshall Thompson starred in the series as Dr. Marsh Tracy, a vet at an African Centre for Animal Behaviour. A cross-eyed lion named Clarence and a chimpanzee named Judy made regular appearances.

3 August 2011

C is for Captain Pugwash

Before Jack Sparrow, the undisputed pirate king was Captain Pugwash! Created by John Ryan and brought to live in a series of animated shows by Gordon Murray, Horatio Pugwash sailed the high seas in his trusty ship, the 'Black Pig'.

"Set sail, me 'earties!"

2 August 2011

B is for Basil

Easily the most famous fox in the UK, Basil Brush has been a television icon for nearly 50 years. Created by animator Peter Firmin in 1963, Basil was operated and voiced by actor Ivan Owen until his death in 2000. A lover of bad puns, rambling stories and jelly babies, Basil is still making regular TV appearances today.

1 August 2011

A is for Arthur!

If you reminisce about outstanding animated shows from the Sixties, chances are the cartoons will be American-made. Here's a notable exception. Arthur! and the Square Knights of the Round Table was a pioneering Australian show, which aired worldwide during the late 1960s. It was jointly written by playwright Alex Buzo and entertainer Rod Hull.

I remember the show fondly for its eccentric take on the Arthurian legend, complete with unique visual style and dry wit. John Meillon voiced Arthur; he may be better known to modern-day audiences as Wally from the 'Crocodile Dundee' films.

Clips are available on YouTube; give it a go.

31 July 2011

A-Z of Sixties' Television

Well, it's time for my usual summer break from regular blogging; this August I am looking at some of the TV shows and series that made a difference to me during the first ten years of my life. Some say that the Sixties represented a 'golden age' for television. I'll let you decide. Regular followers may not be surprised to see a couple of notable science fiction shows in this mix.

Have a great summer.

23 July 2011

Elementary...

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip.

After eating and drinking well, they settled down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied, “I see millions upon millions of stars.”

“You know my methods. What does that tell you?” asked Sherlock.

Watson pondered for a minute. “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. I think it's highly probable that some of those other planets may have sentient life. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and I'm simply in awe of the fact that He cares for us, even though we are so small and insignificant. Meteorologically, the blackness of the sky and the crispness of the stellar images tells me that there is low humidity and stable air and therefore we are most likely to enjoy a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?”

Holmes was silent for a minute and then spoke. “It tells me someone has stolen our tent!”

22 July 2011

Knowing The Truth

I'm a 'seeker after truth'. However, I'm sure you'll agree that it's not easy to identify what is true from a whole myriad of different 'facts', alternative viewpoints and opinions... it takes a bit of work. You have to sift through three other types of supposed 'truth' before you get to the real thing.

There's the 'truth' that some people truly, honestly believe - however, it's simply not the same as your world view, either because their reasoning is totally different to yours or they've arrived at it from a different perspective. Who is to say they are wrong and you are right? I love to hear their views, it helps you to strengthen (or correct) your own.


There's the 'truth' that people accept that is solely based on others; they think this way because that's just the way other people have told them to think!


And, then, of course, there is 'creative truth' - i.e., downright lies and misinformation.


I find it reasonably easy to handle the first two in the above list, but have a real problem with the third. I stumble across it in varying degrees every day. I struggle with the spin I read in the papers, the deception I hear about, the 'little white lies'. I feel betrayed when I realise that I've been lied to, often by people who I feel should know better...

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Possibly because I detest it most when I see it in myself. Yes, I hate it when I catch myself being less than truthful. I wouldn't call myself downright deceptive, there's no tangled webs of deceit in my life. I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable when I catch myself bending the facts a little to justify an action or an inaction. To protect my family. To protect my privacy. Does telling what is essentially a lie justify a particular course of action - even if I did it for the 'right reasons'?

It's nearly time for the summer holidays. Over the next few weeks I'm going to read up on honesty. I'll try and write something up about this for the Autumn. Honest.


John 8:31-32 (NIV)
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

17 July 2011

Wait Upon The Lord

Isaiah 40:31 (The Message)
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don't get tired,
they walk and don't lag behind
.

My family and I went along to the Divisional Fiesta today. And I came back with plenty to blog about! The theme of the day was 'strength', so I wasn't surprised to see many references to strength throughout the day. However, it was the study on another aspect of the verse that has got me thinking...


We all get weary and need to renew our strength from time to time, but Christians are encouraged to do this by waiting on the Lord.


The word "wait" used in this passage is the Hebrew word "קוה" (qavah). Literally the word means to "gather together" or "bind together", in the same way that many strands are bound together to form a rope. The more strands that you use, the stronger the rope. No one strand does all the work. The rope's strength comes from combining with others.


So - those who "wait" on the Lord - that is, are bound tightly together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - will have strength far beyond those of a single strand.


Hmmm...

14 July 2011

Suffering Longer... And Longer

Galatians 5:22-23 (New International Version)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I've blogged about 'forbearance' before. The quality which is sometimes translated as 'long-suffering'. And it's a quality I'm thinking about a lot today. Sometimes it's little things, perhaps even trivial. Like when you take the effort to post a comment on Facebook revealing deep feelings and friends can only think of making jokes or even rude comments about it. More irritating than suffering, perhaps.

Sometimes it's a long term thing, like withstanding persistant and constant sarcasm or trying to succeed when conditions are less than satisfactory. It's so not fair. But you keep on going.

One definition of the term states this as "patiently enduring wrongs or difficulties". Patiently. Even though you may be wronged, you have to endure it. And keep patient at the same time!

It's not easy, but God's there to see you through it. It's character building! I keep coming back today to the following verses:

1 Peter 5:6-10 (New International Version)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.


I'm looking forward to the restoration. Be strong, not long to wait. Just a little while, now... :)

12 July 2011

Waiting...

Psalm 27:14 (New International Version)
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.


Psalm 27:14 (The Message)
Stay with God! Take heart. Don't quit. I'll say it again:
Stay with God.


7 July 2011

Deeper Understanding

"Hello! I know that you've been feeling tired,
I bring you love and
Deeper Understanding"
(lyrics from the Kate Bush song "Deeper Understanding")

At last, the penny drops. Ever had one of those moments of realisation? A real 'light bulb' experience. Suddenly, you have got a clue about something; which puts a whole different perspective on the subject. A flash of 'deeper understanding'. Just what I have been looking for. Is this the answer, at last? Am I getting there?

Ease up. Hold on to that thought.

Continue to test it, ponder about it, pray about it. You're not quite there yet. This new information needs to be assimilated, tested, proved. If the answer came 'out of nowhere', definitely check it first. Maybe you are looking for answers in all the wrong places, so any answer you eventually come up with is bound to be wrong.

Of course, it may be the elusive answer that you seek. That's why you test it. However, the chances are, it's yet another red herring to throw you off track for a while...

Why am I blogging about this? Unfortunately, it's all due to personal experience this week. Another false alarm. Back to the start.
(sigh)

5 July 2011

Carpenter Needs Joiners

Matthew 13:55 (NIV)
"Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?"

At the weekend we studied various passages of scripture at the Corps about 'stones', and the subsequent discussion over a cup of coffee with the visiting officer has, once again, set me off on another interesting tangent. This one's all about the meaning of the word 'carpenter' in the above text. So what did Joseph do for a living?

Joseph is described as a carpenter by trade, and Jesus would have probably followed the same trade, learning by apprenticeship. But is that right? The Greek word being translated here as "carpenter" is τεκτων (tekton), which is a word that is from the same root as "technical" and "technology". This means Joseph was an artisan, a craftsman who was probably working with various materials, ranging from wood to stone. And since wood wasn't as commonly available in the local area as stone, most structural building was done in stone. Therefore, both Joseph and Jesus were probably the village craftsmen, working in wood, stone and possibly metal.

It's interesting, then, to consider Mark 12:1-12 in the light of this... the parable ends us with a good reference for a local building expert to use:

Mark 12:10-12 (NIV)
Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: "‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

4 July 2011

Decluttering : part two

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 : The Message
I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don't complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple — in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out.

I've been collecting tips and hints about decluttering for a while, and want to share some of these with you now. Some of these I've been using for a while; others I'm trying out at the moment:

A good starting point is a realisation that clutter enters your house pretty much every day (e.g., free papers, junk mail, flyers, gifts). So you need to remove it at least once every day. Even if it's only 15 minutes a day. Start by keeping a bin by the door so that the junk mail goes straight into it. It may have got its way into the porch; a little determination will stop it getting any further!

Stop bringing new stuff in now. That may mean buying nothing new, but if you are serious about decluttering this is a step you have to take, at least for a while. If there is a good pressing reason why you have to buy it, then use the 'one in, two out' rule. When you bring one item in, you have to throw two out!

If you haven't used in in a while, throw it away. Chances are, you won't miss it... If it's too good to throw away, sell it or give it away. Support your local church or charity and donate it to them. I've found that Freegle and Freecycle are very useful groups for giving away items that are otherwise difficult to donate. Your unwanted yet valuable items are doing nothing in your house; set them free to do their work. Hoarding them is a selfish act!

30 June 2011

Decluttering : part one

"So what is behind this 'decluttering' kick you're on the moment?" said the friend. "What's the point of that?"

The key to discovering the truth behind my ongoing project to declutter is to be found in a slogan that you sometimes see around: "He who dies with the most toys, wins". It may be an old joke but I can still think of some people who still live this way! I've found, at least for me, that finding fulfilment by just buying more and more new stuff just doesn't work after a while. In fact, the more cluttered that your life gets, the less you can find things when you want them. And that's true spritually, too! You can lose yourself in the clutter. Or worse, lose your way to God...

Once you realise a fundamental truth behind that jokey statement - that you can't take it with you when you go - then you start giving some quality time to discovering real contentment; this is not found in the accumulation of things, but in giving it away!

Matthew 6:19-21 (the Message)
"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or-worse!-stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being."

29 June 2011

Going Round In Circles

It would seem that today is a day that I'm cheerfully spending going around in circles.



Just when I think I am achieving something, all of a sudden I am back to square one and starting out again. How frustrating!



And then it struck me. Isn't that the way that we work through a problem spiritually? Doesn't that explain why we seem to tread over the same ground, again and again?



Theologians apparently call this 'the hermeneutical spiral' -going round and round in a cycle, working out theology and reading the Bible. You are constantly checking with scripture to ensure you are working to a sound theology, ensuring also that you're not going off on your own hobby horse of your own. As you keep doing round the cycle, the theory says that you should get closer and closer to the thing you are searching for. The answer!



I'm told it's a good thing to do – but I'm getting rather dizzy today!

26 June 2011

A Weekend Of Extremes

What a weekend! From leaving work on Friday night up to Sunday night's preparations for work again, I'm reeling at a whole gamut of different emotions that I've experienced during a weekend that's been equally extreme.

Extremes of weather, from unimpressive cloud and rain to a scorching 30 degree heatwave. 

Extremes of emotion, from moments of deep frustration, concern and despair, to the staggering heights where deep feelings of belonging and love kept breaking through!

Extremes of time; there was so much to do that the normal weekend lie-in was scrapped. Another session of burning the candle at both ends!

Extremes of experience; there's been some quite disturbing issues on my mind all weekend (most relating to the emotional input); all on an awesome weekend where the Corps met up with a returning cadet, ready for his commissioning as an officer in a fortnight's time. Food, fun and fellowship, with all the other things going through my mind all the time!

These extremes have been randomly cycling through the weekend; I'm left emotionally drained and empty. I have this evening to patch myself together for work tomorrow.