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!

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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.


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