29 December 2012

Resolutions

I was out for a drive today when I had a really interesting chat with my Heavenly Father. As part of the conversation I started pondering on the subject of New Year Resolutions. 

Now, I can't say that this is a subject that I entertain every year - I can't see the point of setting out resolutions just for the sake of it. However, I understand the benefit of turning over a new leaf, making a fresh start. So the New Year is a great opportunity to do that. And over the past twelve months or so I have really got to know myself a lot better. I can understand my motivations so much better. My strengths. My weaknesses. My spiritual gifts. My special abilities. My assets. My liabilities.

"Lord, I am not perfect. Far from it. But you see me not as I am, but how I could be. My potential. And I want to embrace that - to work on that."

With 2013 just around the corner, I can see there are some changes needed to be made in the next twelve months in my own life, in the lives of my family. So I can make better use of these gifts; to strive to reach that potential. There are some tremendous opportunities that are just about to come into range. I just need to be brave enough to make the changes that I need to make. To grab hold of these opportunities and hold on. And possibly to take some flak for it.


God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

(Reinhold Niebuhr)

(picture - taken from "Calvin & Hobbes" by Bill Watterson. Check out this comic strip at this website.)


26 December 2012

Rest In Peace, Gerry

I've just heard about the passing of Gerry Anderson, the creator of so many of the TV shows that helped define me as a youngster. Stingray. Thunderbirds. Joe 90. UFO. Space: 1999.
Gerry died earlier today, aged 83. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

3 December 2012

Fear, Grace, Hope and Love

"Jesus, what a beautiful name
Son of God, Son of Man
Lamb that was slain
Joy and peace, strength and hope
Grace that blows all fear away
Jesus, what a beautiful name"


These words were used in yesterday's meeting, for the first Sunday in Advent. One phrase stayed with me - "grace that blows all fear away"...

The phrase blew me away, too. Because for the rest of the day I kept reflecting on certain aspects in my life where I can't seem to react in any other way except with fear. Afraid to fight back. Afraid to challenge things. Afraid to face up to the real issue. Afraid of repercussions. Even, sometimes, afraid of words (which have been some of my closest friends).

It drove me to my knees in prayer. It drove me to extremes of emotion. I asked for the fear to be 'blown away'; for it to be replaced by hope, by love. I'm still praying.

1 John 4:18 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

27 November 2012

Not A Good Place

My regular readers will be well aware of the fact that I struggle with my moods. Other folk will simply say that there are days when I "don't seem to be in a good place". So I thought I would sit down and jot down exactly how things appear to me when I'm having one of my bad days; perhaps that might throw a bit of light on what exactly goes on in my head. There were a couple of days earlier this month... so I've taken the opportunity to study the way I feel, objectively.

What sets it off? Oh, I think I've worked that one out. The last few 'bouts' have occurred either on the day or even a day or two after I've had a really busy period. Occasions when I have been 'pushing it' - working just a little too hard, going just a little too long without a break. OK, then, overdoing it! However I doesn't happen every time - and often I find it's something really small and insignificant that just tips the balance. A small comment, maybe. The straw that breaks the camel's back?
 
The best word I can come up with to describe how I can feel during one of these bouts is "overwhelmed". Little problems can seem to be big ones; big problems are just too much. I start to brood - have you ever seen Michael Fassbender's terrific portrayal of Erik in "X-Men First Class"? That same brooding silence that you see in one of the early scenes, when Erik manipulates the coin between his fingers. I struggle against the mood, try to make sense of it.

However, I don't lose my faith on these occasions. It's been well proven to me that the Lord is in the darkness with me. I'm not alone. I am never alone. I seek out my Father's presence as I pray into my situation, crying out for a break, wanting something to change. The feeling claws at me, clinging to my legs as it tries to pull me down. It feels like I'm struggling through mud, or clay. My body aches, I'm far more sensitive to pain than usual. In the meantime I try to maintain "business as usual" but some days even the normal routine seems exceptionally difficult. Even easy tasks get increasingly hard. However, I still carry on. It shouldn't last long... Doesn't usually.

There's something else, though. During this time something odd happens. I become acutely aware of other people, of their behaviour. The fact they are saying to one thing to one person, something totally different to another. It's a bit like I'm in a soap opera, and not a particularly good one. And I am an unwilling and remote observer, hypersensitive to detail. If I feel I can, I'll try to do something, anything, to make a difference. When I try to do the right thing, more often than not, it fails. Was it meant to be? I sigh, try to pick up the pieces. Sometimes I just sit there and watch as the inevitable unfolds before me.
When my mood subsides and the bout is finally over, I begin to think freely again. Invariably I will try and do something dynamic, perhaps even a little out of character, just to kick-start some energy back into my life. Get myself moving again! I launch into frantic activity - start to plan, even start to blog more.

Does any of this make any sense?

23 November 2012

Would It Spoil Some Vast Eternal Plan

I've been thinking.

I can quite possibly spend up to an hour a day just checking over my bank account, making sure everything is going OK. Making sure all the Direct Debits have gone of the account without incident. Finding alternative ways of getting a quart out of a pint pot. Working out how to afford good things for the family. You know the routine. I doubt if I am alone at the moment, in the current economic climate...

I know I'm not particularly gifted in finances, but it never fails to amaze me when I reach the end of the month and realise that all the bills got paid.

I give all the credit to my Father in Heaven for his mercies here. Answered prayer, indeed.

However, it got me thinking... Why are things this way? Surely I could be so much more effective in my daily life if I didn't have to spend so much time trying to reason out how to make it work... And what about the things I'd love to do - places I'd love to go - but I simply don't have the disposable income.

What about that, Lord?

I keep coming back to the lyrics of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof (written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock). In the film version, Reb Tevye (Topol, pictured above) talks to God about his dreams for a more comfortable life. His heart's desire to spend more time studying God's word, which in his words, would be "the greatest thing of all". Can't disagree with that. Of course, it's really tough to come up with many examples of any 'rich men' who spend their time in scriptural study. I think most of their time is spent in shareholder meetings, in estates management. Those kinds of distraction.

I would like to think that I could do so much more if I had more resources available to me. I could provide for my family much better. I could give much more to my favourite causes. Give it away to comfort the poor and the needy. Make the world a better place.

And yet - my Father in Heaven has "decreed I should be what I am". He has placed me in one of the richest countries in the world; therefore I will never know real poverty. He regularly challenges my thinking, teaches me about the truths of scripture, shows me 'the pearl of great price'. He reminds me that I am a work in progress. And that His provision in my life may be seen as much by what He doesn't give me than by what He does.

18 November 2012

Charity Begins At Home

The guy shrugged his shoulders at me on Friday night when I came into his pub, giving him an opportunity to donate to the Army's work. "Sorry, mate", he said, "charity begins at home."

Indeed it does. 'Charity' is of course the old middle-English word for love - specifically for sacrificial, brotherly love, that particular type of love that in Greek is translated as "agape". I have blogged about this before, here.

So the statement is quite correct; that form of love begins in the home with your family. If it thrives there, then it will easily be shown outside your home to others. If your children learn to love and help those nearest to them in their early years, they will love and help their fellow men when their grow up. In other words, charity begins at home, but it does not end there.

Or was it simply that the guy was just too hard-hearted to give me anything?



4 November 2012

Is This The Hill You Wish To Die On?

During the Sunday morning meeting today we were each presented with a challenging question. Do you feel so strongly about something that you believe in that you would be happy to make the ultimate sacrifice to commit to it?

Admittedly, the phrase "Is this the hill you wish to die on?” is actually a new one to me, however I understand the sentiment very well. And it's a formidable challenge... Pick your battles carefully. However, you should be awfully sure of your stand before you commit to it. Are you so sure of your facts that you are prepared to stand firm on them, no matter what. No turning back? Really?

In truth, there's aren't very many battles around that are as clear cut as that. Is this one of them?

I spent a while this evening Googling the phrase, eager to explore more about this. I came across a reference to the US Marines who use the saying, "Choose the Hill you want to die on.". And then I discovered these quotations:

"If you must fight about something, if there must be that thing that will make you raise your voice, grind your teeth and pound your fist on a desk, let it be something that has to do with respect, dignity and integrity; or someone's attempt to deny another of one or all three of those things."  - Demitri C. Kornegay

And then there's the Founder's words, from a century ago, which I blogged about after the recent Territorial Congress a few months ago:

"While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight-I'll fight to the very end!" - General William Booth, May 1912

Choose your battles. Is it trivial? Forget it. Is it persistent? A storm in a teacup? Is it bothering others or only you? And - here's the clincher - when you come to the end of your life, are you always going to regret that action? Or are you simply going to regret never doing it... never having tried?

I'll end with a brief quotation from Rick Warren's book,"The Purpose Driven Life" - which I am reading through at the moment. I used this very quotation in the prayer meeting that was held at the Corps prior to the main meeting. Awesome, eh?

"It is impossible to do everything people want you to do.  You have just enough time to do God’s will.  If you can’t get it all done, it means you’re trying to do more than God intended for you to do..." - taken from The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002).

Work it through. Clarify your thoughts and intentions. Ensure it's only that thing that God wants you to do. Then commit to it. Nail your colours to the mast.

29 October 2012

Wandering Aimlessly

I was sitting in one of the local coffee shops this lunchtime when I started writing this. I'd had a heck of a weekend, with a family party, loads of paperwork to do at home and two meetings to lead at the Corps. All sorted; all deadlines met; everyone seemed happy with what had been done. Probably laughed more on Saturday night than I have done in the last six months put together. Ended up totally drained and in a heap by Sunday afternoon; simply had to sleep for a couple of hours before I could think about doing anything else. I needed some time to myself on Monday lunchtime, hence the coffee. :)

I stared out of the coffee shop window at the passers-by. All had their own agenda. Some were making calls on mobiles. Some were just gazing down at the pavement ahead. None were smiling. All seemed to be just wandering aimlessly. Is that what I usually look like on a weekday?

"Do you have an aim, a target?" said the still, small voice inside me. I admitted that there were still a couple of things I still wanted to do in life.

"Write yourself a list of those", said the voice. "Go and do them. You know you can if you set your mind to it. Stop putting it off. I know what you are capable of."

And then it was time to get back to work. However, I knew that it was also time to start putting down a few more things onto the 'to do' list. And start working out how to tick these all off... Can I rise to the challenge?

26 October 2012

Trust Your Intuition? - part two

Well, then. Some of you might remember my post from a couple of months ago. There's a link to it here. So, as a Christian, should I trust my intuition?

This is where I am getting mixed messages from some of the sources that I am reading. Some say no (your human intuition is flawed, don't follow it) - while others say yes (your intuition is a gift from God meant to help you and to complement any other gifts you may have).

I'm particularly aware of this topic at the moment, I am in the process of exploring spiritual gifts with the church and am reading a lot about gifts at the moment. I've also had a recent experience where some pretty loud 'alarm bells' went off in my head when I was doing a particular task. So intense was the experience I was quite rattled for nearly a full day by the experience and nearly a week later I'm still trying to work out what exactly that means to me personally...

I know from recent experience that there are times my 'intuition' tells me to flee when I know deep down that I really shouldn't. However, I have to give due consideration for these inner warnings which are there to protect me. Instead, I stand my ground; fighting that instinct to flee;struggling through despite that sense of inadequacy. I step outside of my comfort zone. That sort of thing.

Christians won't need reminding that we already have guidance available to us. God's Holy Spirit there to guide us. And herein lies a dilemma.

How can I tell if these feelings are the Holy Spirit’s prompting or my own intuition talking - a feeling that some people tell me is so often wrong?

I know that it is a question of context. They tell me to pray; to test both elements against scripture (What does the Bible say about my situation? Does the prompting I feel line up with God’s word?).

And I do. And often the feeling gets stronger...

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 (NIV)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

20 October 2012

It is OK to say No...

I suppose this particular entry follows on a bit from my last post about selfishness and selflessness. You see, I am often told by my friends and family that "it is OK to say no" once in a while. They say it with the best of intentions. Why do I need to get so involved in so many different things?

Well, I love to be doing something useful. I want to be out there making a difference, in my own way. Yes, sometimes I do push myself a little too hard sometimes, going from one thing to another without too much of a break...

However, sometimes No is really not that easy. Well, it's not saying no, it's working out exactly what to say no to...

For example, I look at this week's calendar and I see a number of different 'appointments'. Opportunities to be a blessing to others, to encourage people, to learn more about myself and my own Christian walk. Then there are things I need to prepare for; things for the Army, prep for next week at work. There are places where the kids need to be, so Dad has to be there as taxi driver. Help with my son's CV. And there are even more practical things, like the car's MOT and servicing. I usually manage to fit it all in. Somehow.

I had something in the calendar on pretty much every day - on some days there were three or four things. So where could I start cutting things out? If I had missed, say, the appointment for the servicing of the car, I would have let down a friend who I had promised to visit in North London; been unable to drive my daughter to her disco last night. If I decided I simply couldn't be bothered, would there be anybody else to do these things? In some cases, the answer was a definite no. So I end up saying yes, 'going the extra mile'. Isn't that what you're supposed to do? (see link)

In fact, I then went on to spend a hour or so trying to 'thin out' the week, crossing out things where I could. Do you know what? In order to be true to myself, if I had to give a no or two then I'd rather ditch some of the 'social engagements'; the get-togethers, the chats. That would at least remove all that difficult 'small talk'... ugh! Does that sound awful? To an introvert like me, trying to make conversation is so draining.... so difficult. It can be hard work! However, I can't really say no to these events either - who would that annoy? Unfortunately, the very people who care for me, who encourage me to say no! They'd then say I'm being antisocial...

I'm really not. It's just not the way that I relax. The ideal way that I unwind is to lose myself in a good book; to catch up with friends on Facebook; even by writing this blog. That's how I recharge.

Friends, I care for you too. But I also care about the causes that I work for, the people I want to help. I want to do these things. Sometimes if I have to choose, to cut down, that might mean that I have to say no to you...

On the other hand - why not turn it around? Instead of me saying No, why don't you say Yes and come along with me? I get to see you; you get to work alongside me, see what I do, give me a hand. Work with me? Any time.

”This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare - Hamlet)

17 October 2012

Selfish or Selfless: revisited

A brief discussion that I had recently on another blog brings me back to the subject of selfishness.

Since I last talked on the subject (two years ago now) I've discovered and explored my own introvert nature - a nature that dictates that I must allow myself some significant 'me time' into my daily routine for the sake of my own well-being. Without it, I simply stop operating at peak efficiency - I lose a good deal of my effectiveness and merely start 'just going through the motions'. That's increasingly clear to me. And yet, as a Christian I'm being constantly challenged by scripture and the teachings of Jesus to live a selfless life. So, both of these are essential to my daily life.

Remarkably, it is possible for both of these elements to be incorporated in someone's life. My friend's blog reminded me that Christ, our perfect example of selflessness, took regular time away from the people, time to pray and recharge. It's all right to take that 'time out'...

The problem is getting the right mix between selfishness (allowing myself some quality time) and selflessness (getting back in harness and working for others). I always seem to be getting this wrong - can't seem to find a proper balance. And when I think I get it right, something changes to upset the balance again.

But I'm still striving to get it right. For when it works, it becomes something really satisfying.

12 October 2012

Small Talk: Big Deal

Just arrived back home from a hectic week away, an opportunity to practice the "small talk" skills that I personally find so tricky. As I mentioned in a previous post, these usually consist of a series of practised and well-rehearsed lines, open questions that can start off a conversation, to 'break the ice' and thus give me an introduction when I was working on the exhibition stand for my work. I used the week as an opportunity to work on my technique. Or lack thereof...

The old lines? Forget it. Not interested. And neither was I, to be honest...

I tried smiling. Some smiled back and simply kept right on walking by. Some ignored me completely, not even acknowledging my existence! (sigh)

I tried catching their eye. This was slightly more effective, at least a tentative link had been established! I had a couple of pretty good conversations from a glance in the right direction, a bond with the individual straight away. So much for 'small talk'.

The best and most productive conversations? Well, they came directly out of those encounters with folk who seemed genuinely interested in talking back to you. These were folk who really wanted a conversation; they were keen on communicating with you, happy to meet you half-way and keen to react to the information that I wanted to impart to them. Fertile ground.

Hmmm ... interesting. I've also been thinking a lot about evangelism this week, following a conversation on Monday at church about telling others about Christ. I couldn't help but link up this subject to my own clumsy attempts to talk to others. Jesus' words in the Parable Of The Sower also keep coming back to me tonight:

Matthew 13:1-9 (NIV)
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

7 October 2012

Small Talk: an update

A while ago I posted something about small talk. There's a link to my earlier post here.

Now I admit this is something that I don't find easy. In fact I have to work so hard at this because of some of the roles I have to fulfil that I find the whole affair just incredibly difficult. I end up physically and emotionally drained at the end of it. All those people, all those conversations. Towards the end of a day all I want to do is go home and sleep.

I've discovered that I tend to go into 'broken record' mode, relaxing into tried and tested phrases, like "isn't the weather nice?", "are you looking forward to (insert name of event) today?", "isn't this greenfly awful?" and so on. I've found out that I don't respond well to rudeness - and some folk can be extremely rude - so that tends to rattle me. And I've learnt that a phrase or two from someone's reply can stick with me for the rest of the day, as I ponder it and roll it around in my head. So much so that it can put me off what I'm supposed to be there for!

I know that I need to work at this if I want to develop my skills here. As far as 'lines' are concerned, I guess I'm getting rather bored with these and so these don't work well for me at present. In fact, the best advice I've been given is just to look interested and smile. And to let the people talk to you, using my skills as a good listener to steer the conversation from there.

I've got an opportunity to practice some small talk over the next few days. And I think I'll try one or two new things. Like just smiling at people.

Will see what happens, and report back.

30 September 2012

Do It Anyway...

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centred;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Written by Kent M. Keith as "Paradoxical Commandments" and promoted by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

29 September 2012

The Easy Way... Or The Hard Way?

Romans 7:14-20 (NIV)
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

The words of Paul there, talking about the sort of battles we face every day. You know the sort of thing. Confronting those aspects in your own life where you are clearly weak. Battles of choice, battles of habit. Whether to take the easy way ... or the hard?

It's obvious, isn't it, the way we should be taking. But it is terribly hard. In fact, it's "uphill and against the wind" all the way.

Today's the day of our Sponsored Walk, so I'll leave you with that thought as I set out today with my colleagues. And I'll also leave you with our sponsorship link (in case you are interested)...

www.justgiving.com/DartfordSAMen

22 September 2012

Guilty!

The accusation is clear and concise. It hits you square between the eyes. They present you with tangible facts to back it up. Caught bang to rights.

You protest. You start out as sure as sure can be that it can't be true.  But, in the light of all the evidence to the contrary, the case for any defence starts getting swept away. Strong foundations for any possible denial fail, quickly crumble to dust. Your own counsel advises you to plead guilty for a more lenient sentence. You begin to doubt your own memory; even to entertain the idea that your very thoughts are wrong;  that it must have been you all along...

You give in. Accept the consequences. There's no point in fighting it any longer. You're just too weak...

Ever had that experience? I sure hope not. It must be terrifying.

There's a particularly memorable two-parter episode of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' that comes to mind when I ponder on this sort of scenario. 'Chain of Command' includes a scene where Picard (Patrick Stewart) is taken prisoner by the Cardassians. Subjected to torture, his interrogator points four bright lights at Picard and asks him, repeatedly, to say that there are five of them (a homage to a similar scene in George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four').

Picard does escape his captors; he doesn't give in and say that there are five lights. However, he later admits privately that he would have told his interrogator anything to make the pain stop... and that, right at the end, he actually thought he could see five lights.

My mind is full of strange thoughts this evening... including incredible sadness for those who are totally innocent yet have been wrongly accused and convicted. Some may even go through life thinking they were guilty all along! I think I understand this issue a little better today. But it doesn't make me feel any better...

('Chain of Command' was written by Frank Abatemarco, who consulted with Amnesty International during his script preparation. Patrick Stewart is also an Amnesty supporter and this comes over in his portrayal. Worth a look.) 

18 September 2012

Who am I?

A really deep question for today... one that follows a few days of prayer and soul-searching. Who am I?

I already know part of the answer. It's in my description at the side of this very blog:

A member of The Salvation Army; husband and father of two; fan of popular science fiction; seeker after truth.

Perhaps, I ought to take into account what I do for a living? Now, I am well aware that most people categorise people by their jobs. I've had a whole host of different roles over the last  twenty or thirty years - paid and unpaid - however I must admit that I don't think I 'fit' any one of these roles in particular. In fact, the phrase that best sums up my opinion are the words "I am a human being, not a human doing". So, I dismiss that. What I do isn't necessarily who I am. It's who I am that determines what I do.... So, who am I?

Let's add in to the mix what I have learnt about myself over the past year or two. Things about my own temperament, the things I am gifted in. And of course there are the darker aspects of my life. My moods, my base nature. What makes me tick. Or doesn't. My strengths, my weaknesses.

And then of course there are those things about me that I am aware of from my journey of faith. The fact that I am loved by God, my spiritual gifting that comes from Him. The indwelling and inspiration of God's Holy Spirit which encourages me to do things for Him and to carry on even when others tell me it's pointless. Even times where an act of self-sacrifice gave me a joy quite unlike anything I've ever experienced!

However, deep down under all of that I find there's still something else... Something I haven't discovered yet? Something that is so obvious that I've simply overlooked it? A missing piece to the jigsaw that I need to factor in.

Can't quite see it at the moment. Prayers welcomed.

13 September 2012

What Is Truth?

In John 18:38, Pilate asks the question. "Truth? What is truth?", in response to Jesus' claim that he is "witness to the truth" (John 18:37). It's a terribly good question. In fact, it's one I ask myself a lot. Particularly in my everyday life when I often find myself surrounded by:
  • Lies
  • Half-truths
  • Myths
  • Misinformation
  • Opinions
  • Theories
  • Statistics
  • Humour
In fact, so often I get anything but the truth!

However, as they say in the X-Files, "the truth is out there". It can be found. You just need to keep looking for it in the right places.

I think the trouble is that we don't see the truth very often. This is probably because some many of us can't even be truthful to ourselves.

Just FYI today.

(Picture: inscription at the entrance to Sagrada Família Basilica, Barcelona.)


10 September 2012

Paradigm Shift

Ever heard the term "paradigm shift"? I hadn't until very recently. The phrase seems to be one of those marketing buzzwords that you pick up on from time to time. The term apparently dates back to 1962, to a man called Thomas Kuhn who wrote about progress in terms of a series of 'revolutions' - fundamental (sometimes, potentially violent) changes from one way of thinking to another. Each paradigm shift represents a transformation, a metamorphosis.

I understand the importance of transformation in someone's life - so perhaps that's why this stirred something deep inside me when I read it. Just think about it. A fundamental change to the way that you live your life. Reformation. Revolutionary thinking. Real, drastic, bold change. A paradigm shift.

After what has been an extremely challenging start to what always works out to be the busiest month in my calendar year - the thought of some drastic change in particular areas of my life sounds awfully attractive to me right now. But the actual process is more than a little scary! And what to keep, and what to throw away?


"I believe in transformation,
God can change the hearts of men,
And refine the evil nature
Till it glows with grace again.
Others may reject the weakling,
I believe he can be strong,
To the family of Jesus
All God’s children may belong."

(SASB 324, verse 2 - John Gowans)

30 August 2012

Trust Your Intuition? - part one


OK, then. Your emotions aren't to be relied upon. But what of other feelings? Do you think that some people possess an innate form of intuition? Perhaps a sort of natural Spider Sense?

Let's just explain what I mean by that. I'm not talking about super powers! But I am talking from experience. Some say that it's your inner self picking up subtle non-verbal cues and creating feelings of assurance or unease to guide or warn you. One psychologist I read recently said this is a survival mechanism hard-wired into all of us that is trustworthy. Others have been telling me this is something that comes naturally, but only to certain personality types (especially mine - I'm an INFJ). Others simply stray off into the supernatural realm and call this sort of thing ESP!

As I mentioned before, I admit that I've had experience of this and it can be very off-putting. Like when you are in the middle of a situation and that familiar but irritating feeling sounds off, warning you (sometimes screaming at you!) not to trust a certain individual. Or times when I'm in an uncomfortable situation and my whole being keeps telling me to run away. But should I trust this instinct? Ignore it? Or, as a Christian, to use this as a cue to seek prayer support about it?

Feedback is welcomed - part two on this topic is already in draft and is to follow...

29 August 2012

Trust Your Feelings?


Time for some really deep questions... Are we, as human beings, designed with some sort of inbuilt defence mechanism to protect us? Should we therefore follow our feelings, our instincts?

I've been giving this question some serious thought during the last month, during my monthly break from blogging.

You see, over the past few decades it seems to me that it's become socially acceptable to follow your feelings. It assumes that something deep within you will steer you right. If you feel strongly about something, it has to have some meaning. It's also become part of our popular culture - Luke Skywalker is encouraged to "trust his feelings" in the original Star Wars film (1977, pictured above). However, how logical - and therefore, how safe - is it to let your feelings control your behaviour?

Some clarity first - when I talk about "feelings", I'm making a clear distinction between emotion and intuition. Blindly following your emotions is clearly not a good idea. If we continue our comparison with the Star Wars movies, you will recall that characters are warned that emotions can lead you to the Dark Side. I can't argue with that in the real world, either!

The problem with feelings is having a sound base to start from. If our thoughts are based on incorrect information or on false assumptions, then consequently any feelings associated with these thoughts are bound to be equally distorted—and hardly to be trusted. For example, if you truly believe you are in a "hopeless" situation, the subsequent feelings of despair that you'll experience could well be overwhelming. On the other hand, you might truly believe that you can have anything you ever wanted - that "the world is your oyster" - so it's clear that you will probably feel unfairly treated the first time that anyone says 'no' to you.

Both of these situations are based on a false assumption - therefore, any consequent feelings cannot be reasonably justified. Hence, we should always try to seek the truth first. However painful that truth may be.

More later... as I unpack this further.

Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

28 August 2012

Burning Your Bridges



(The title of this blog entry is based on a military tactic of burning a bridge you have just crossed to prevent the enemy from crossing it after you)

Ever feel just like getting up and running away? Sure you have. But what about never coming back?

Yep, I can identify with that. Although moving to something new is inherently scary, once I've made my move I must admit I couldn't ever consider retracing my steps to turn back. And it's such a strong sentiment; it must be profoundly deep within me - because I reacted so strongly when my thoughts brought this little gem to the surface.

For example, I can't ever comprehend how someone could ever leave their job and then return to work there, some months or years later. The very idea of it seems so wrong to me.

I had just finished drafting together a blog entry about this very subject - when my wife and I went along to the Corps Bible Study Group. Last week's study was on the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). During the evening the group was challenged to consider where we are in relation to this passage.

Mmm... I guess that if I was the younger son - I guess that I'd still be stuck in that pig pen. Unable to even consider turning back. Having burnt my bridges...

Oops. Need to unpack this a bit more, I think.


27 August 2012

Catch Up

Well, it's back now to regular blogging after the Summer break. Thought I would let you know what's been going on in my mind since July by letting you know what paperback books I've been reading on holiday - whilst I've been sitting in a campsite in Suffolk:

The Avengers (novel adaptation of the recent movie) - read this in an afternoon. I thought I wanted something light to read - however this turned out to be far too light, it didn't do much for me, even though I'm a long standing Marvel Comics fan.

Mud, Sweat And Tears by Bear Grylls (autobiography) - my main read of the holiday, the story of a real man of action, the current Chief Scout. The book details how Bear became a member of the SAS (an incredible story in itself), how he suffered a horrific free-fall parachuting accident, then fighting his way back to health, and only eighteen months later becoming one of the youngest climbers to scale Everest.

Mood Mapping by Liz Miller (in an effort to understand and get to grips with my moods). Still digesting this one, but it's already given me some food for thought which I'll try and unpack here in a little while..

I've also been doing some research on feelings and instincts and reading a bit around the subject - secular and Christian authors - which will be the subject of my next few blog entries. Stay tuned!

26 August 2012

Z is for Zerox

Some early day Adam And The Ants to finish with. This was the band's second single, released in 1978.

"Lock up your brain
Because I'm here again
I'm never bored to steal your chords
Ooh-ooh Zerox Machine
Ooh-ooh Zerox Machine"

25 August 2012

Y is for Yahweh

Tal and Acacia is a contemporary Christian musical group, two sisters who sing together. Here's one of their better-known tracks, from their debut album 'Wake Me'.

24 August 2012

X is for Xtras

Okay, I admit it. There's not a lot I can say about songs beginning with X, so instead from all the others here's a track from 'Little Shop of Horrors', a wonderful musical about a killer plant from Outer Space. It's entiled Downtown (Skid Row) and has some great lyrics, too...

"Someone show me a way to get outta here 
Cause I constantly pray I'll get outta here 
Please won't somebody say I'll get outta here 
Someone gimme my shot or I'll rot here!"

23 August 2012

W is for We Are Detective

Another great Thompson Twins track!

"Somebody's watching me
And now I'm nervous and I shouldn't be
Somebody's got their eye on me
Perhaps I should invite him up for tea?"

22 August 2012

V is for Video Killed The Radio Star

Historical fact: this hit by The Buggles was the first video ever played on MTV. It's also one of the few tracks beginning with V on my iPod!

21 August 2012

U is for Up The Junction

One of Squeeze's most popular hits, this rather tragic story was the third single released from their second album, 'Cool for Cats'.

20 August 2012

T is for Time After Time

A choice of listening for you now: which one do you want:

Cyndi Lauper's classic 1984 hit?

John Barrowman's cover of the same song?

Or Brent Spiner's version of the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne jazz standard?

I have all three on my iPod!

19 August 2012

S is for Sergio Leone



An unusual one, this. Took me a while to find it! Performed by The Fibonaccis, an 'art rock' band from the 1980s, this is the instrumental theme to a lesser-known sci-fi movie called 'Android' (1982), played on guitars, and named after a composer of spaghetti western music. Brilliant.

18 August 2012

R is for Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town

Written by Mel Tillis and originally recorded by Johnny Darrell in 1967, it's the cover version of this country song by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition from 1969 that most people will remember.

17 August 2012

Q is for Quantum Leap

There's a fair number of TV themes included on the collection on my iPod. The theme for the Quantum Leap series (which first aired in 1989) was written by Mike Post. A soundtrack album was released in 1993.

16 August 2012

P is for Pencil Full Of Lead

A change of pace now with Paolo Nutini's dynamic song, released in 2009. Understandably I can't quite get all the lyrics right but I'm working on it.

15 August 2012

O is for Oh To Be In Love

And songs by the lovely Kate Bush are of course well represented on my life soundtrack, too. This track is from "The Kick Inside", Kate's debut album which was released in 1978.

"Oh! to be in love,
And never get out again..."

14 August 2012

N is for No Peace For The Wicked


This Thompson Twins track is definitely part of the soundtrack of my life. I've worn out two copies of the tape version of 'Into The Gap' due to constant repetition! Hopefully the MP3 versions will prove more resilient!


"(There's no peace) No peace for the wicked

We're dancing till we drop

(There's no rest) No rest for the wicked

And we're all too scared to stop..."

13 August 2012

M is for Marvin

This is a song voiced by Stephen Moore, the actor who originally played the eponymous 'paranoid android' from the radio series of the Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Produced in 1981, the single only reached number 52 in the British Charts, a fact Marvin would have found apt.



"Solitary solenoid,
Terminally paranoid,
Marvin..."

12 August 2012

L is for The Last Farewell

In 1971, Roger Whittaker had the opportunity to host a radio show, where he invited listeners to send in lyrics which he would then turn into a folk song. Ron Webster, a silversmith from Birmingham, sent Whittaker his poem entitled The Last Farewell. The subsequent song has sold over 10m copies world-wide. I particularly love the chorus. My wife knows what I mean.

11 August 2012

K is for King Of The Road

A 1964 country song, written and recorded by Roger Miller. Although it's arguably an overly romanticised account of the life of a homeless man, it does help convey an attractive sort of freedom - possibly why someone would initially choose a 'travelling' lifestyle.

10 August 2012

J is for Jenkins

Katherine Jenkins is a beautiful Welsh mezzo-soprano, with many styles of music in her repertoire. This includes "Abigail's Theme", sung as part of the Doctor Who Christmas Special in 2010, which was Katherine's acting debut. The song was written specifically for her. Superb.

9 August 2012

I is for If That Were Me

A particularly thoughtful song from Melanie C's album "Northern Star", which became a top 20 hit in 2000. Written by Mel and Rick Nowels, with some challenging lyrics!

"How did you fall?
Did you fall at all?
Are you happy when you are
Sleeping underneath the stars?
When it's cold is it your hope that keeps you warm?"

8 August 2012

H is for Hey Ya!

A really catchy song released in 2003 by hip hop duo OutKast, written and produced by André 3000.

"Now, what's cooler than being cool? Ice cold!"

7 August 2012

G is for God Gave Rock And Roll To You

Actually entitled "God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You II", this classic track from rock legends Kiss is a 1991 reworking of the original song by British band Argent that was produced in 1973 (which I'm looking to get!).

The reworked song was featured on the soundtrack to the movie "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey". In the film, a 40 second guitar solo is played by Steve Vai which wasn't released on the soundtrack album... Thankfully, my version has it!

6 August 2012

F is for Forever Autumn

Another from Jeff Wayne's "War Of The Worlds" album; this one's a beautiful ballad sung by Justin Hayward. Can you believe that the melody was originally written by Wayne as part of the soundtrack to a Lego commercial? Lyrics were added by Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass:

"The summer sun is fading as the year grows old,
And darker days are drawing near.
The winter winds will be much colder,
Now you're not here..."

5 August 2012

E is for Eve Of The War

Awesome track taken from the "War of the Worlds" album by Jeff Wayne. It was released in 1978, retelling that classic SF story (written in 1898 by H. G. Wells) using rock music, a string orchestra and some great lyrics!

4 August 2012

D is for I Dare To Be Different

I love the sentiment of this Salvation Army Songster piece, written by Commissioner Harry Read and with music by Commissioner Dick Krommenhoek. The version I have on my iPod is from the International Staff Songsters.

"I dare to be different, I dare to believe;
I dare to be different, God’s Spirit receive.
I dare to be different, my life sacrificed;
I dare to be different by living like Christ."

3 August 2012

C is for I Want Candy

Although written and originally recorded by The Strangeloves in 1965, it is the 1982 cover by punk band Bow Wow Wow that I recall; this version was heavily featured on MTV during the early days of the station.

I smiled when I heard the version by Australian R&B singer Cody Simpson that was featured on the movie soundtrack of 'Hop' (2011) which aired on TV recently... as that has led me to discover yet another version by Mel C which I'm looking to purchase soon!

2 August 2012

B is for Boadicea

A stunningly beautiful melody from Enya, taken from 'The Celts' album, which was released in 1992. Wonderful stuff.

1 August 2012

A is for Army Dreamers

Released in 1980 by singer/songwriter Kate Bush, 'Army Dreamers' depicts a grieving mother who mourns her young adult son, killed in military service.

"What could he do? Should have been a rock star...
But he didn't have the money for a guitar.
What could he do? Should have been a politician...
But he never had a proper education.
What could he do? Should have been a father...
But he never even made it to his twenties!
What a waste.
Army dreamers."

31 July 2012

A-Z: My iPod

It's time once again for my usual summer break from regular blogging. So what should I pick for my A-Z for this year?

After considering a number of possibilities, I thought I'd go back and pick some random tracks from my iPod. Music that inspires me. And I'm endeavouring to feature songs and melodies that I haven't mentioned before in this blog. Who knows, there may be something here that might be new to you! There's quite a strange and wonderful selection, all sorts of musical styles here!

Have a great summer, whatever you're doing.

19 July 2012

Walking

The Men's Fellowship Group from my Corps are off on a sponsored walk in September. Would you like to sponsor us? Proceeds from the walk will be split two ways: 

  • Half (up to a total of £1000) are to go towards the purchase of new chairs for the Corps (the current ones have come to the end of their useful life)
  • Half is to go towards the 'Living Water' project run by The Salvation Army.

We'll be walking a distance of just over 20km (12 1/2 miles) along the Viking Coastal Trail, which "winds its way past sandy beaches and bays, often against a backdrop of spectacular chalk cliffs..."

Interested? Just click on the link below for more information:

http://www.justgiving.com/DartfordSAMen

17 July 2012

Do not be afraid...

How often have you heard these words spoken? They are common in scripture, and usually spoken in times which are probably quite frightening... Exceptional circumstances.

But do some of us live in fear from day to day? That's a situation that simply isn't right. But it can be all too common. Fear of the unknown, fear of the consequences of our actions, of our inactions. Such fear can be a stronghold.

And, for reasons I won't go into here, it's something I need to turn and face today.

And so, in the powerful name of Jesus, I commit myself and my family once again to the Lord's service. I state that from now on, such earthly fear described above will not control, subdue or limit myself or any members of my household. Instead of being filled with such debilitating fear, I ask my Heavenly Father to empty out those negative feelings and to replace them with the perfect love that drives out such fear.

In Jesus' name
Amen

1 John 4:18 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

13 July 2012

Small Talk

There's a particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Starship Mine") where Data, keen to master all the different aspects of being human, has to try and learn the art of "small talk" - starting or maintaining a dialogue with someone with talk on various different topics. Or, as Data puts it himself:

"...I am attempting to fill a silent moment with non-relevant conversation."

Now, I'm particularly lousy at small talk. I'm reliably informed that a lot of us introverts are. We have to work hard at it! So I tried a little experiment recently. For an hour or so I simply turned off the small talk. If anyone asked me a direct question, I answered it (I wasn't rude). But I left the silences unfilled.

Boy, was it quiet! But it was an interesting exercise... and it got me thinking...

Matthew 12:36 (NIV)
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

8 July 2012

Running On Empty


It's been a terrific weekend. A busy day at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday at Commissioning; another busy day at my Corps with the visit of Romford Band for the day. Loved both of them. However, I'm now decidedly tired. in fact, I'm running on empty.

As an introvert, each of these events is a bit like a marathon to me. Social interactions in these sort of events are fine, but they take work. Introverts like myself are drained by social encounters and only get their energy back by having time to recover.


Time to recharge, to do something creative. I've another busy week ahead of me next week.

4 July 2012

First Things First

Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV)
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

Something mentioned in our morning meeting on Sunday has led to this post. It also reminded me of the following song:

"When the music fades,
all is stripped away,
and I simply come..."

lyrics from 'Heart Of Worship' by Michael W. Smith

If you strip it all away - all the preconceived assumptions of discipleship; all the ties of duty; all those things you feel contractually or morally bound to do; all the glitz, all the glamour of (all and the not-so-glamorous things!) - what is left?

What is left?

30 June 2012

Something New Every Day

Life can seem like a battle. Spiritually, emotionally, physically. There have been times when it has been touch and go whether we would end up "losing ground". Times when it was hard just to ensure that our family stuck together, in order to stick to the task at hand. Distractions were everywhere!

However, in looking back this week, one thing in my life has remained constant. Because my Lord never fails to find a new way to bless me every day. And that's one truth that I need to remember. Hence this post!

It never seems to be the same two days running. And why should it? But there is always something every day - it's just a matter of spotting it!

Lamentations 3:23 (New Living Translation)
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

I  wonder what the Lord has in store for me today?

27 June 2012

Target Setting: Update

I've been giving some prayerful consideration to target setting recently (as regular readers to this blog will recall) and have begun priorising, clearing a few obvious stumbling blocks out of the way, in order to see "the wood from the trees". I've been advised to categorise my task list into:
  • A: Urgent and Important
  • B: Not urgent and Important
  • C: Urgent and Not important
  • D: Not urgent and Not important
I've not found this an easy thing to do. I've even found that the very act of sifting through the list again and again can distract you from dealing with the list! However, I wrote my initial to-do list last week and was impressed that I struck off 95% of this by the end of the week! And I had to deal with a Class A task recently, one that I certainly won't forget in a hurry, I'm clearly being led through a steep learning curve in double-quick time!

Courage!

Psalm 25:5 (NIV)
"Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long."

19 June 2012

The Funeral

I went to a funeral today. Steve (not his real name) was someone that I had scarcely got to know. I would have liked to get to know him better, but it wasn't to be.

Steve didn't have any nearby friends, or any family to call on. He was alone, and in need of a friend. So I started to visit. I helped Steve as much as I could. He was essentially a shut in, so I shopped for him, got to know him, helped him to keep his flat tidy. And I took every opportunity I had to share my faith; the truth of the gospel. And I prayed with him.

In the two or three months that we knew each other, we developed the start of a friendship. I don't know whether that made a difference in the end. But I tried.

And I learnt a lot about myself in the process.

Time is short. Take those opportunities where you can. Because they don't come around again...


9 June 2012

Wake Up!

"(Wake me up) Wake me up inside
(I can’t wake up) Wake me up inside
(Save me) Call my name and save me from the dark
(Wake me up) Bid my blood to run
(I can’t wake up) before I come undone
(Save me) Save me from the nothing I’ve become."

lyrics from Evanescence - Bring Me To Life (written by Amy Lee, Ben Moody and David Hodges)

Tomorrow is my birthday. Another year older! And I am encouraged to wake up and to set some Life Goals to achieve by this time next year. And they should be realistic and achievable!

Don't get me wrong: it's not that I've been living in some idyllic fantasy dream world, always reaching for the unattainable. No, if anything, I've been dozing off for a little while.. Pottering along, but capable of so much more - with short bursts of frantic activity!

You see, the goals which I set for myself as a young adult are quite a long way behind me. In fact, many of those dreams were shattered by the twists and turns of life. Some said that I needed to lower my expectations. Some hold a contrary view and think that I now need to raise them!

Time to wake up and start again. I've considered those aspects where I've achieved real fulfillment over the past five years and used that for the basis of my renewed target setting.

I also read this quote yesterday on the net - this also resonated something within me:

"How far we are away from achieving our goals or fantasies and whether or not we feel that we are steadily moving towards these goals will determine how happy we are and how much life satisfaction we have."

And here's one final point before I start putting these goals down on paper - and it's to remind me that the Lord needs to be actively involved in the decision:

James 4:13-16 (The Message)
And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, "Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we're off to such and such a city for the year. We're going to start a business and make a lot of money." You don't know the first thing about tomorrow. You're nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, "If the Master wills it and we're still alive, we'll do this or that." As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves. All such vaunting self-importance is evil. In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don't do it, that, for you, is evil.

8 June 2012

Target Setting


Do you believe God speaks to His people even today? I believe that He does - but you need to set aside quality time in order to listen. Life gets so busy! Imagine inviting a special friend around for a cuppa and a chat - and then not blocking out that date and time in your calendar... How special would that person feel, having to contend with a whole host of other calls on your time?

The image above? It's something that came into my mind during a recent prayer retreat at William Booth College. A time where many of us in the Corps set time aside to listen to Him. And this is an inspiration to me to remember to keep on target.

What target? There'll be more on this shortly.

7 June 2012

Patience: The Story So Far

"Lord, give me patience - and now!"

This is, I must admit, something that I really struggle with. I don't know whether this is a side effect of the society that we find ourselves in - perhaps it goes with the fast food and email culture - but it really bugs me that so many people think you can pull the stops out and turn something around in no time at all.

It's funny, but when you do 'go the extra mile' for someone, they seem to think nothing of it.

And yet, when I ask for something to be done quickly, everyone seems to invariably drag their feet.

I've been reviewing the number of times I've blogged on 'patience' and find this in the tenth time I've done so over the last three years. Guess I'm not there yet on this one. Yet.

"God's way of answering the Christian's prayer for more patience, experience, hope and love often is to put him into the furnace of affliction." - Richard Cecil

"Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself." - Saint Francis de Sales

4 June 2012

Pushing The Boundaries

It's interesting to read about people stepping outside their comfort zones, or pushing their boundaries to see what happens. Because I've tried it. In fact, I've been trying it for a while now.

In some areas of my life, the whole process can be long, slow and arduous. Scary, even. Fighting strongholds of fear, steadily building up confidence, dealing with minor setbacks which often look like major mountains to climb. Sometimes it feels like I'm simply not winning - it's often a case of not losing ground, not letting myself slide back. It's most challenging, and hard work: no fun at all!

However, it's not always like that. In some other areas of life, you try something new and wow! This is so easy. I can do this. It seems to be second nature; as if I am born to do it.

I'll still endeavour to push through on the difficult areas; but, should I also be trying to understand my obvious 'gifting' in the easy areas?

31 May 2012

Madness and Sadness

I don't really know where to begin with this blog entry. Because I really don't know all the facts...

What I do know for sure is that the trains were disrupted on the way home tonight. The reason? A fatality at Woolwich. The power had to be turned off on the lines to and from London.

The reactions of the commuters on my train were, shall we say, mixed. Some were hopping mad, upset because their plans for the evening were ruined. Others set off to find other ways to get home. Some of them just sat there, seemingly not reacting at all.

I felt sad. I mourned the passing of this life. I have no idea how the individual had died (Some were telling their families that 'some guy had jumped under a train' but I noted that the announcements didn't state that. They didn't even specify a gender). It could have been a heart attack or an accident.

I felt for this person's family and friends. I felt sorry for the staff at Woolwich Arsenal station. And I felt sorry that some of my fellow commuters seemed incapable of even basic compassion. And that they were so quick to conclude what had happened.

"Except I am moved with compassion,
How dwelleth thy Spirit in me?
In word and in deed
Burning love is my need;
I know I can find this in thee."
(Albert Orsborn)