31 December 2013

The Twelfth Doctor

Peter Capaldi made a brief cameo appearance in 'Doctor Who' as a part of the show's fiftieth anniversary special 'The Day of the Doctor'. His regeneration scene took place at the end of 'The Time of the Doctor' (Christmas Day, 2013). His first full series as the Twelfth Doctor is scheduled for the Autumn of 2014.

Happy New Year, folks!

30 December 2013

Setting Targets

"I know what I have got to do. However, how am I supposed to go about doing it?"

I've been wondering about this sort of thing whilst compiling my 2014 'to-do' list during the last few days. This is because some of the targets that I need to set for the New Year are quite daunting, to put it frankly.

I am aware of all the right things to say in such a situation. 'Aim high'. 'Be bold'. 'Step out of your comfort zone'.

I must admit to a lack of confidence in some areas; I have trouble convincing myself that these bold plans will ever succeed.  I don't possess the brash, arrogant confidence of youth (did I ever have it?). I lack cheek, nerve, bottle. I can't just breeze through life. I seem to struggle every step of the way. (Yes, I know struggling is character-building. How much more character do I need?)

I guess that with maturity I am even more acutely aware of when I am overstepping my own boundaries. The ground is shifting; I often feel well out of my comfort zone. My inner voice screams at me, “You don’t belong here!” Stress goes through the roof.

I try to 'talk myself positive'. Try to 'walk the walk'.  'Act as if'. Sometimes it works. Sometimes things go awry because this fragile semblance of confidence is undone with a thoughtless word; an embarrassing situation. Picking the pieces up can take a few days...

Why aren't I feeling it and believing it? I am led back round in a circle to one important question? Who am I supposed to be? Am I trying to be someone that I am not? If so, that's why I fail.

During 2013 members of my church were involved in the 'Purpose Driven Life' course, which did trigger a number of ideas in my mind. OK, 2014 needs to be the year that I need to embrace my purpose -  shake a few things up - reprofile my life. Let's only set targets in those areas where I know that I have a particular calling. And then, once set, I need to walk every step of the way with Him. Only then can I be sure of the ground that I walk on.

I need to believe in God's purpose for my life.
I need to fully embrace the truth.
I need to set targets to enable me to do this.

1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.

29 December 2013

Comfortably Numb

Hello,
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?

I've been reading up lately about feeling emotionally numb. Have you ever felt this way?

It's kind of like you can't feel things the same way you used to. Things that used to make you feel happy or content now fail to produce the same sort of positive feelings. Likewise, things that used to provoke feelings of anger or even tears now result in an apathetic response.

Life is just a series of shades of grey...

It's funny. It's not that you can't cope - life just seems to carry on, however things simply don't feel the same anymore. Not sad but not happy. Simply there.

Does that make any sense? Can you relate to this?

There is no pain you are receding.
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I've got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.
(lyrics from Pink Floyd - "Comfortably Numb")

28 December 2013

Teamwork

Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I have been taking time out this week to take stock of the past year, and to make some plans for 2014. I've been reminded (pretty much by everybody) that one person can only do so much. No matter how hard any of us try, we cannot do everything.

The reading from Ephesians reminds us that we have been lovingly made by God to do good works. However, it also reminds us that He never planned for us to do that work alone. 

This is a tough lesson to learn. I know to my cost what it can feel like when you get so tired that you feel exhausted and burned out. That's not how it's supposed to me. God never meant for it to be that way.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

You may think that one person can't make much of a difference. However, a group of like-minded individuals can change the world. We can make a big difference if we work together, each if each of us is only doing our small part.

(thanks to Rick Warren for inspiration for this post)

15 December 2013

Advent Photo-A-Day: 15th December

(wordsearch taken from http://www.netplaces.com/christmas-word-search/chapter-3-christmas-music/o-come-o-come-emmanuel.htm)

30 November 2013

The Eleventh Doctor

The next actor to play the lead in Doctor Who was in fact the youngest yet to be cast in the role. Matt Smith was aged only 26 at the time.

The Eleventh Doctor is particularly childlike, allowing him to connect very well with children (the first person he meets after his regeneration is a seven-year-old Amy Pond; the adult version would become his first companion). In fact, this persona is quite ignorant of correct behaviour, awkward in social situations, and seems incredibly slow in realising things (the audience are often a step or two ahead of him)! It's said to due to his advanced age (mentioned in one episode) or being too stupid to remember details (as mentioned in another). He is secretive, keeps vital information from his companions, and then blames himself for ruining many so many other lives. 

And yet... this Doctor can get excited over anything different and yet interesting. He has a powerful sense of right and wrong and a determination to do what's right. And he knows that bowties are cool. 

Matt Smith has appeared in 37 stories (42 episodes) and will hand over the TARDIS keys to Peter Capaldi after this year's Christmas special...




27 November 2013

Picking Your Team

In all honesty, I am not a soccer fan. But in recent months I found myself having to give myself a crash course into the fundamentals of managing my own team!

One of the younger members of the office suggested that we should set up our own Fantasy Football League. Each of us could make up a team, form an office league and see how our squads perform. And, impressively, everyone else agreed. A bit of fun to brighten up the winter months...

So, how should I go about picking my team? As intimated earlier, my knowledge of The Beautiful Game is sketchy to say the least. Would I hastily try to digest pages and pages of info about the number of goals each player had scored? Pour over match stats? Pick a team totally at random?

Nope. In a moment of inspiration I picked a whole team of players whose surnames began with 'B'.

And with a mighty fanfare, The 'Banana Splits' made their Fantasy Football debut on Saturday 17th August.

Would my method of team selection be a viable one? We're just starting Week 13 and, out of a league of 10 my team is currently... er... 10th. Oh well...

However, this process has made me think deeper about the tricky task of allocating leadership positions within a small church. Unlike premier league teams with practically unlimited budgets, small fellowships like these attempt to build a great volunteer workforce from a restricted pool of people (namely, Christians who attend that church!). Similarly, in my footballing example, I restricted my choice only to players starting with one particular letter. Does that make my task of winning the league totally impossible? I like to think it wasn't.

In soccer, you need a good goalkeeper; reliable defenders; a versatile midfield line; assertive strikers to score goals. Each have their part to play. Without the right people in key positions in church, Sunday School classes are not taught, planning committees don't function, opportunities are missed. So how can small churches strive to get the right people in the right place?

The ideal candidates in either team should be purpose-driven, not reward-driven. They should not be trying to promote themselves but striving for something higher. This has to be something they are called to do. One writer I read recently said that such people "do not quit, and could not quit if they wanted to." I like that.

Team members should have integrity, not just an image to uphold. That's usually something that you only find out after months or even years of getting to know someone. More than just a good reputation; these people possess a character that speaks volumes about them. They should be committed, not just 'along for the ride'. Can they 'walk the walk'? Are they the genuine article?

Team members should also be compatible. There's no point in selecting a team of high-fliers if they can't work together. They need to fit. By way of example, let me tell you about Vince Lombardi, who was coach to the American Football team, the Green Bay Packers. A different kind of sport from soccer, but one requiring teamwork nonetheless. He once told his team, "In terms of skill and ability, every one of you is easily replaceable; there are plenty of players around with athletic talent to equal yours." He went on to explain that his team had something much more precious; an ability to complement each other. That's the way to turn diversity into unity. Can the team work together? Each team member helping each other to achieve their best so that they can reach their common goal.

Team members also need to be coachable. Just because you aren't doing exactly what you need to, doesn't mean you can't learn how. A good leader will choose individuals who might lack experience but will possess the other attributes - provided that they are willing and able to be trained, nurtured.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (CEV)
We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.

Good News vs Bad News

This blog post was inspired by a particular incident that occurred over the last 24 hours. Somebody close to me told me a piece of bad news that was a little distressing. As I pondered this information overnight, my mind raced as I thought through all that this news could mean to me, to my family and friends.

However, on reading the information myself this morning I discovered there was a piece of good news in the very same email. This pretty much negated the previous bad news. Overlooked.

How rubbish are we sometimes at seeing the good in any situation? It's awful. We seem to leap on bad reports with a particular fervour; criticise others with glee. If a particular situation is going well we seem to want to jinx it by saying "it's all going too well... bound to go wrong soon!"

The press fill our newspaper headlines with gloom and disaster. "Good news doesn't sell newspapers", they claim.

I want to do something about this. And I suppose,therefore, it needs to start with me.

Perhaps I need to open my eyes to see the good in any particular situation. Although I appreciate that in some cases I will need to look pretty hard...

Psalm 34:8 (The Message)
"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see - how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him."

25 November 2013

Outside Your Comfort Zone

I've been encouraged to stretch my own boundaries - to spend longer and longer outside my comfort zone. I think I have done very well.  In the last seven days I have:

- talked calmly to people even though they had been extremely rude and offensive about me (is that justified?);
- tried to socialise with other people that I personally find it 'hard to love';
- spent time working out how to do the impossible in no time at all;
- continued to work through pain and tiredness (because I didn't want to let down others who were just as tired and pained as me!);
- gone the 'extra mile' when so many others said that I shouldn't;
- taken the tube when it was exactly where I didn't want to be (crowded, cramped, noisy!) ;
- been calm and pleasant in a hostile and threatening environment.

It's the end of a busy day now and, quite frankly, I've reached the end of my patience. I've had just about all I can take.

And I have to get up again tomorrow morning and probably do it all again.

Lord, help me.

19 November 2013

... And It Exploded!

[Fred tries to digitise the creature - with disastrous results]
Jason Nesmith: What? What was that?
Alexander Dane: Uh, nothing.
Jason Nesmith: I heard some squealing or something.
Gwen DeMarco: Oh, no. Everything's fine.
Teb: But the animal is inside out.
Jason Nesmith: I heard that! It turned inside out?

[the creature explodes]
Teb: And it exploded.
(dialogue from 'Galaxy Quest')

Ever had one of those weeks where things just seem to go from bad to worse ... and then, somehow, even worse...?

Yep. Been there. And I know a few people close to me that know that experience, too. It's tough when it happens. Just one darn thing after another, after another. And then, just to cap it all, there's that one final event. The 'straw that breaks the camel's back'. Or, if you tend to look at things through the lens of science fiction, suddenly things just start to explode.

How can you carry on after that? It all seems hopeless. To all intents and purposes, all is lost.

Not so. That's a lie. Because you are now standing right in the middle of God's territory. In the midst of the impossible situation. God can still do something. Indeed, He loves to do something in such circumstances.

Trust Him; draw deeply from your resources of faith. Even if it looks hopeless. Even if the situation just 'exploded' right in front of you. Trust God and keep on fighting; never lose hope.

Luke 1:37 (CEV)
"Nothing is impossible for God!"

16 November 2013

Unity

Listen to this:
"How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.." – Psalm 133:1-3 (NIV)

These particular verses were shared with me at a Salvation Army training course that I was fortunate enough to go to last month. The words keep reoccurring; cropping up pretty much every week ever since, so I guess I am meant to share it out to a wider audience.

As God's people we are called to work together to a common aim; not to fight, bicker or quarrel. As you might imagine this can be difficult, given the different personalities that make up a church fellowship... However, I am assured that it is possible, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. And, best of all - if we can actually pull this off... work together in harmony, in unity - it's like a special anointing on all of us.

Aaron, Moses’ brother, was the first high priest and was anointed with olive oil on his head (usually this was just a drop or two). Such anointing is symbolic of receiving a blessing from God, a consecration for a specific task. However, the reading assures us that unity in the fellowship will be rewarded by a special and particularly generous blessing. Look at the symbolism - it's like the anointing oil is freely running down, cascading down the leader's face, onto his beard and even his clothes.

The 'dew of Hermon' mentioned in verse 3 is another symbolic description of an abundant, refreshing sprinking. Showers of blessing, indeed.

Isn't that something to be worked for?

12 November 2013

The Fortress Of Solitude

We were looking at some verses from the Psalms at church this past weekend, in particular Psalm 18:2. The NIV translation reads as follows:

"The Lord is my rock,my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."

As part of the Message, my officer used an illustration about Captain America's shield; how it was made, how the hero used it. A good illustration for a Marvel Comics fan like myself - it sparked off so many thoughts in my head, including this very blog post.

When arriving home, I started to think about the other words in this reading. The Lord is my fortress... And I hope fellow Marvelites will forgive me if I switch comics company allegiances for a little while. These verses sparked off thoughts about Superman.

The character of the Man of Steel has always had particular spiritual significance to me (remind me one day to blog about the similarities between Kal-El's life and the life of Moses), but I've come to appreciate him at a different level after realising that this American cultural icon, one of the mainstays of the DC Comics Universe, the Big Blue Cheese - is an introvert.

Think about it.

Here we see a person who strives to change the world for the better in his own way. He shuns publicity pretty much all of the time. His alter ego, Clark Kent, is almost a textbook introvert, a "mild-mannered" loner, a wallflower. Unpopular, weak, overlooked. And yet, hidden within him there is a heroic side to his character which leaps into action when he needs to get stuff done. 

But even this Superman persona, with its incredible strength and unique abilities, shows introvert qualities. He needs to get away from it all from time to time to recharge. He needs what he calls his 'Fortress of Solitude'. In the comics, this is a safe place where he can get away from it all to think. It's miles from anywhere, often depicted as located in the Arctic. Not too far for our hero, though...

In fact, the idea of such a retreat isn't unique to Superman. The concept and name of the 'Fortress of Solitude' first appeared in the Doc Savage pulp novels from the 1930s and 1940s. Doc Savage, who was known as the Man of Bronze (!), built his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic and retreated to it alone in order to make new scientific or medical breakthroughs, and to store dangerous technology and other secrets.

I'm really pleased that my Lord offers me the same type of Fortress. As an introvert myself, I need to avail myself of this on a regular basis in order to function better before I go out to 'save the world'. My Lord provides an opportunity to spend time alone with Him whenever I need it. Somewhere safe. However, unlike Kal-El's fortress, ours is just a prayer away.

9 November 2013

Time: Above And Beyond

This blog entry has been inspired by last week's Bible Study at my church. It's on the idea of time - and how God exists throughout the whole of time. Here's some ways that people have described God:

Everlasting
The Ancient of Days
Immortal 
Who is - Who was - Who is to come

His view of linear time is therefore quite different to us: Hear this description of God from the Message translation of Psalm 90:4: "Patience! You've got all the time in the world — whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you."

Having trouble understanding that? OK, spend one hour watching your favourite TV show, and then another hour doing something extremely boring. The same hour - but I assure you that hour will seem to pass at a quite different rate. Or you would wish it to! It's not the same for the Father. God exists throughout time - when He sees you, He sees not only who you are - but who you were - and who you can be/will be... He can stop and savour each moment. Skip back and forth as He would want. Awesome thought.

Some people have told me that God exists outside of time, that He is timeless. Not so. He exists throughout time. And we, poor beings, stuck in linear time, living life a day at a time, sometimes have difficulty with regard to that. And how often due we wish to stop time for a while, or fast forward through a difficult spot. How often do we have trouble moving on...

When thinking about this sort of thing, though, my mind goes back to the Star Trek episode 'Emissary', the pilot episode of the 'Deep Space Nine' series. In the show, Benjamin Sisko takes command of a space station following the violent death of his wife Jennifer some years earlier. In the episode he encounters alien entities in a wormhole which is adjacent to the station. The aliens have a different view on life; they have difficulty grasping Sisko's corporeal and linear existence. To them, past, present and future are the same. Sisko uses baseball in an effort to explain - you pitch a ball not knowing for certain what will happen.  

Whilst trying to explain 'living life a day at a time', the entities point out that Sisko continues to return to the moment of Jennifer's death (living in that moment, rather than in the present). Sisko then comes to the realisation that he has been grieving over the loss of his wife - rather than moving on with the rest of his life...

More to follow...

4 November 2013

An Adventure In Space And Time

Ever wondered what all the fuss is about? Why all this talk about 'Doctor Who'? Perhaps this drama might give you just a little glimpse into how this show evolved into what is now the longest-running science-fiction television series in the world...

"An Adventure in Space and Time" retells the story of the First Doctor William Hartnell (David Bradley) and producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) as they set out to create a Saturday tea-time family drama in 1963. Brian Cox plays the BBC head of drama Sydney Newman, with Sacha Dhawan playing Waris Hussein, who directed the first story. Lesley Manville will play Heather, Hartnell's wife.

The 90 minute docu-drama is written by Mark Gatiss. This is due to air on the BBC in the week before the special 50th anniversary episode is aired on 23th November. 

2 November 2013

It's All About Others

Others. I've been challenged by this word before. I've blogged about it (see here); been encouraged to make a difference to others in my own society.

That's why I was excited to hear about NOW.

National Others Week runs from Sunday 3rd November to Saturday 9th November. Participants aim to give a helping hand to someone in need; or to surprise someone with a random act of kindness. Perhaps it's a way to start refocussing your life...

Why not get involved?

http://nationalothersweek.com/uk/

31 October 2013

The Tenth Doctor

David Tennant's incarnation of The Doctor is particularly light-hearted... at least on the surface. The Tenth Doctor's persona seems to have a tendency to babble, mixing apparent nonsense with nuggets of vital information. He develops closer ties than ever with his companions, their friends and family than he ever did in any of his previous versions.

However, beneath the surface this version of the Time Lord reveals intense emotions in play. One of this Doctor's recurring lines is the fact that he is "so sorry" for what has occurred - or what is going to occur. The shows begins to explore the loneliness of the character, with Time Lord longevity described as a curse - while his human companions all someday leave him and eventually die, he continues on.

The Tenth Doctor wears a four-buttoned suit, a shirt and a tie, a light brown overcoat (reportedly given to him by Janis Joplin) and trainers. He also dons a pair of glasses from time to time - and even a pair of red-blue 3D glasses! The character speaks with an Estuary English accent - unlike Tennant whose natural accent is Scottish English...

Taking over from Ecclestone in 2005, Tennant would appear in 36 stories (47 episodes) until handing over to Matt Smith in early 2010.

29 October 2013

Not Funny

"What's wrong with you? Can't you see that we are just having a laugh with you?"
OK, I think I've got it now. If I don't quite see the joke, now it's my problem. It is my fault. I've had a "sense of humour" failure.
Is that right? Is that normal?
Because, apparently, I'm not on my own. Some of us can't see the joke about:
  • Ridiculing ethnic minorities by using derogatory terms for them, 'tarring' them all with the same brush.
  • Pigeonholing people as 'tramps' or 'scroungers' or some such comment - without getting to know them, trying to understand even a little about their circumstances.
  • Manipulating the truth, 'spinning' a story, just so you can put yourself in a better light.
  • Deriding someone's activities at the weekend, just because they've made a different choice as to how to spend their free time.
I don't find it funny. Not any more. Perhaps that's why I need to speak out.
Sense of humour failure?
Perhaps I've haven't even had a sense of humour to start with. Not in this context.
Yeah, that's probably it.
:)

22 October 2013

A Few More Definitions of Joy

"Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It's a feeling inside that can hardly be contained." - Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

"You ought to live your life with such freedom and joy that uptight Christians will doubt your salvation." - Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom

"I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace - a connection to what matters." - Oprah Winfrey

"Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation." - Rick Warren

21 October 2013

Loud Noises!

A while ago now, I had become aware that there were a number of people who could be found sitting on their own in the loudest pubs. Now, I doubted at the time if this was for the company; you couldn't talk even if you wanted to, the din was just overwhelming. They weren't socialising, could it be just for the music? Or was it because they wanted the cacophony to drown out their own thoughts - bad memories, overwhelming feelings, perhaps their own conscience?

I tried an experiment the other day. In an effort to gain insight into a little of this, I took out my personal headphones (which I must admit I use a lot of the time as a social defence), unplugged the MP3 player and tried just to listen to - nothing in particular. Trying to understand why real life would need drowning out...

I experienced:
  • The train carriage to work, where conversation was kept to a minimum. Some read books, others listened to music, caught 40 winks, typed on a laptop, tweeted. In a carriage of 150 or so, only two people talked. I wasn't one of them.
  • The city streets, the hustle and bustle, where you make a beeline for your office, avoiding the 'chuggers' and free newspaper distributors. Hardly a problem. Probably well advisable to keep the headphones out if you are crossing the road...
  • The workplace, where small talk about last night's football mixes with arguments over office politics and 'storms in teacups'. Ugh - can I put the headphones in again please? I promise to take them out if the phone rings...
  • The coffee shop at lunchtime - here at last was a place of calm where you can relax and be yourself for a while. Not the person you 'need to be to get through the day'. Here was the place that I found people chatting. Yay! Although, even here I found the coffee shops were still a little noisy due to piped music. At least the refreshments were better than the office. Note: I understand that others preferred the pub down the road. That's fine, other places of refreshment are available...
What did I get out of the experience? A profound insight into the way that some of us have kind of lost the art of conversation. We have been blessed with a plethora of gadgets that assist us in communicating with friends on the other side of the country, even the world - but we struggle with talking to our neighbours, even our family members in the same room.... We have become adept in shutting others out, controlling our lives by avoiding unnecessary social contact. Yes, even me - with my 'headphone' trick.

As a society, we have exchanging the quiet chat with mates for solitary time with a soundtrack of 'loud noises'. Are we scared of letting others in? In letting real life in? In letting God in? 

I've taking this on board as a bit of a challenge. Not for me to continue to 'shut the world out', but for me to come up with a way to help others to come back out into the world.

Picture: Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) from "Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy". You'll get the reference if you've seen the film...

11 October 2013

Finding My Purpose

"Ah … ! What’s happening?
Er, excuse me, who am I?
Hello?
Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?
What do I mean by who am I?"

- the thoughts of the 'innocent sperm whale' from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

I'm coming to the end of the book 'The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?' by Rick Warren - and have come up to the part where it asks you to define your purpose in life, to write it down to ensure you can retain your focus. Thinking about what to write has been at the back of my mind for a couple of days now - although it seems to be mixed up with a few other things - particularly the quotation about the whale from the Guide (my mind can be a strange and chaotic mixture of wisdom, stray thoughts and ephemera)...

In an effort to pin things down a little, I've been surfing the net to obtain additional background information on 'purpose'. Here's a few quotations that I'm mulling over today...

"The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better. " ― Robert F. Kennedy

"Remember that our Heavenly Father knows us perfectly and knows what's best for us .... Surely, His knowledge is greater than ours. We just have to have faith in Him. If we don't, well, that doesn't change what happened, it just makes us more miserable because we refuse to trust His will. Our Heavenly Father wants us to have joy. And happiness. But we need to look for those opportunities that give us joy. If we don't, what would be the purpose for existing?" ― Jeri Gilchrist

There's also something in the back of my mind which seems to be relevant to today's blog entry. Somehow. These are words from a worship song called 'The Power of Your Love' (by Hillsong). The words simply won't go away today. It's linked to this topic. The lyrics say:

"Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I'll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love
"

There's something inside me, so vital, so desperate to be heard, nagging away, insistent that I get ready to spread my wings; encouraging me to fly. Not just to plummet helplessly, like our friend the whale. To soar, unfettered, on the currents of air. This persistent prompting encourages me not to give up, to keep on trying. To that end, here's a smattering of quotations about flying - including another quote from Douglas Adams!

"If you hang out with chickens, you're going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you're going to fly." ― Steve Maraboli

"Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." - Leonardo da Vinci

"There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. … Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties." - Douglas Adams

30 September 2013

The Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston took over the helm of the TARDIS for the series' revival in 2005.

For the new series, Russell T Davies presented what has been described as a 'stripped down' version of the previous Doctors, an effort to reintroduce the character to a brand new audience. The Ninth Doctor was different again, speaking with Ecclestone's distinct Northern accent, and dressed in a dark leather jacket and jeans. Far less eccentric than some of his predecessors, subtle elements of his personality began to emerge, revealing aspects of character that were definitely not human...

This particular Doctor lived solely for the present, keen to share his life with Rose (Billie Piper) but somehow avoiding discussing his own past because "there's some pain there". This series would later reveal the reason why -  he carries guilt about the Time War which saw the destruction of his own race, the Time Lords, occurring sometime before the series relaunch. The reintroduction of the Daleks during this year's run and in the concept of regeneration in "The Parting of the Ways" makes this a very powerful series. Although Eccleston's Doctor only ended up featuring in ten stories (thirteen hour-long episodes), handing over to David Tennant at the end of the final show, his characterisation gave the show a very strong relaunch.

19 September 2013

Fellowship: Defined

Fellowship is a place of grace, where mistakes aren't rubbed in but rubbed out. Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice.” ― Rick Warren

This is a quotation from 'The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?'; a book that members of my Corps fellowship are reading at the moment. Amazing, isn't it? This has really sparked something in me today...

The Greek word used in the New Testament is κοινωνία, usually translated as 'fellowship'. In Christianity it's a term used to describe the relationship of Christians to God and to other Christians. However, the Greek word could also apply to a business partnership, to the marriage relationship, to close bonding between friends, or between members of a community. Incidentally, the word in Latin is communio (from which we get the word 'communion', thus sharing in common).

All this made me took me back many decades; made me think about about the different gatherings of people I have encountered through the years. A huge range of different levels of acceptance and tolerance - some of these are definitely better at 'fellowship' than others! Some of these could do so much better. These are just a few I recalled today; these are in alphabetical order:

Bible Study/House Fellowships
Church/Corps meetings
Church/Corps social gatherings
Committees in the voluntary sector (a variety of these!)
Family get-togethers
Meeting old friends for coffee
SAFE Music and Drama School
Salvation Army Congresses and other large public meetings
Science Fiction club meetings
Science Fiction conventions
Scout camps and events
Social gatherings at work
Street Pastor duties
Theatre 'Friends' group

Much to ponder today.

15 September 2013

Dark Night Of The Soul

Ever feel like God is a million miles away? Well, you're not alone. Actually, you begin to discover that it's often a common thing in your spiritual walk. There will come periods in your Christian experience where God is so close that He's almost tangible; other times when He is apparently absent for what seems an eternity; where your prayers seem to go unanswered. It will become very dark indeed...

I have discovered that some notable pieces of literature have been written about such experiences. For instance, 'The Dark Night of the Soul' ('La noche oscura del alma') is a poem written by a Spanish poet and Christian mystic called Saint John of the Cross, way back in the 16th Century. Read a little more about the poem here . And you will find there's a whole bunch of other examples available...

You may ask - why has God apparently abandoned you? Why do you seem to be going through trials and tests, like Old Testament character Job, without any hope of rescue, of respite?

The truth is - God doesn't ever leave you on your own. Let's face it, we know through His word that He is everywhere. Omnipresent. However, God sometimes finds it necessary to hide His presence from you. He wants you to trust Him. To build up your personal faith in Him.

There's more. He wants you to step out in that faith. To step out of that boat (see yesterday's blog entry) and walk towards Him. To praise Him despite the storm. 

Yes, sure, the whole experience might well be painful and disconcerting. But God wants to lead you into a deeper level of maturity. Are you up to the challenge?

Hebrews 13:5b-6 (The Message)
Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” we can boldly quote, "God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?"

13 September 2013

Dancing In The Rain

It's been a particularly busy couple of weeks. In addition to doing my bit for 'The Big Collection', I've also been out and about to a whole variety of different places with my job. I've met up with so many different people; made new friends; re-established contact with others. At one of the venues I came across the little phrase in the attached picture. I thought it was excellent. I didn't realise at the time how apt this phrase would be for today's blog...

Unfortunately, I guess I got swallowed up a little by 'the storm' yesterday. Despite being in a busy Salvation Army venue (and just where I felt I needed to be) I started to feel just a little 'jaded'. Yep, I was tired, and something happened (I won't go into details) that started to discourage me. The negative thoughts kept gnawing at me for a while. Pulling me down.

Anyway, the day's work was over - so I started to pack up my stuff and to head back to my hotel. And then... someone was kind enough to come over to me to invite me to stay to the final Army meeting. I didn't need to be there, I had done my bit. It was a chance to 'take in' after a few hours of 'giving out', and it was a special meeting after all - the Territorial Commander would be preaching. It was a kind gesture and very much appreciated - so I was suitably grateful and I stayed.

I'm really glad I did.

The TC spoke about the incident when Peter walked on water. Here's the passage in the New International Version...

Matthew 14:22-33 (NIV)
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’
‘Come,’ he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Interesting - because the TC pointed out that Jesus did not calm the storm before Peter started to get out of the boat. In fact, He encouraged Peter to step out in faith while the storm was raging. Sure, He had the power to calm the storm. But He wants us to have that faith to trust Him even through the storm. And even though the storm may still be raging around us, He just needs us to keep on walking.

It was just what I needed to hear. Yep, things may get stormy in our lives once in a while. But, despite the things that happen, the things that discourage us, we need to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, get out of the boat and walk.

Actually, all I really want to get out there and dance. To strut my stuff. But, I need to take my time. One step at a time... no dancing in the rain. Yet.

6 September 2013

Using My Time Wisely

This blog entry was initially inspired from a post that I read on another blog. It challenged me to think of time as having a 'physical aspect' — we have a limited supply of this precious commodity that we can give out to others.

This particularly resonated with me as this week has been a good example of creative time management. In addition to finding time for my own employment, I've had to fit in time for a doctor's appointment, preparing for the family going back to school - and also to consider whether to dig deep into my free time for The Salvation Army's 'Big Collection' - the door-to-door appeal where the money raised goes exclusively to the Army's social work in the UK. How do you think I decided? Yes, correct. I've been out in Army uniform most evenings this week.

And yet, in the middle of it all, there's been the need to carve out some important 'me time' - so vital for an introvert such as myself, to recharge my own batteries.

I’ve been accused in the past of being particularly bad at time management. Perhaps giving time to those that didn’t really value it. Not allowing time for my own loved ones. Or, indeed, for myself...

And just as I was drafting this, there was a thought from the book 'The Purpose-Driven Life' by Rick Warren, which members of our Corps have been reading... The passage I read this morning added another aspect to this - reminding me of the following verse of scripture:

Psalm 39:4 (New Living Translation)
"Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered — how fleeting my life is."

Hmmm... we are only on this Earth for a little while. It's up to all of us to use what little time we have the best way we can. To make a difference in this world...

2 September 2013

The Peter Principle

Ever heard of it? It's a theory that suggests that there's an absolute ceiling on anyone's ability to achieve, to succeed. It's often summarised as "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."

The term was first coined in a light-hearted book of the same name by Dr Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, which has sold 6M copies since its initial publication in 1969. However, some have treated this theory very seriously indeed...they believe it.

I don't. Yes, I know that we see a whole bunch of examples of this sort of thing in society, however there simply isn't a 'golden rule' that such things will occur.

I do, however, see many examples of people who simply give up trying because 'the rules' tell them to give up trying, to quit. They don't go beyond their usual limits because they think they can't. And if they don't try - they're proved right.

Contemporary society evaluates people on the tangible things in this world: good looks, youth, a winning personality, your exam qualifications, the extent of your bank balance. However, these things will fail you; each will fade; you will find these will no longer useful to you.

However, when it comes to the value of people, God has a different attitude. He looks within. He sees you as you truly are. And sees your potential.

1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

(pictured: the 'pointy-haired' boss from Scott Adams' 'Dilbert' comic strip. Read more here)

1 September 2013

A Great Secret

Matthew 6:2-4 (The Message) 
"When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out."

'Nuff said.

31 August 2013

The Eighth Doctor

The Eighth Doctor made his debut in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, the first time the Doctor had been on our screens (apart from re-runs) since 1989. At the helm was Sylvester McCoy, who regenerated into Paul McGann in an early scene. 

Intended as a pilot movie by the Fox Network in the States, the movie didn't draw enough Nielsen ratings to warrant a TV series. However, it was well received in the rest of the world, with the Eighth Doctor's adventures featured in novels, comic strips, and audio plays from Big Finish Productions. 

McGann's Doctor encouraged those around him - he enjoyed giving people a hint of their own futures, perhaps steering them  into making the right decisions. The audio plays (voiced by McGann) built upon his sole screen appearance, although indicating a much darker personality. He also seems to be very forgetful - perhaps inspired by the plot of his television appearance.

The audio plays and books continued to develop the character until the TV series was successfully revived in 2005 - when Christopher Ecclestone took over the role as the Doctor...