31 December 2014

In His Time

I have been reflecting on one particular incident from Jesus' life this week. Do you sometimes have a problem with understanding God's timing? I must admit that I do - and so did the disciples. Have a look at the events recorded in John chapter 11, as I try and unpack my thoughts here.

It is easy to understand why Martha and Mary chose to send for Jesus when Lazarus became seriously ill (verses 1-3). Jesus knew the family well; He had stayed at their house before. However, He simply didn't turn up. In fact, He chose not to go. I suspect that the sisters kept looking anxiously along the road for signs of His arrival, but He was never there. In fact, the funeral service had been over for 4 days when Jesus finally arrived (verse 17).

Were there good reasons for not turning up? Sure: it would have been incredibly dangerous for Jesus to go there. The disciples knew that. “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?” they said (verse 8). There had already been five separate documented attempts to arrest or murder Jesus. In John 10:39 Jesus had slipped away after the latest attempt - and then the word came that Lazarus was ill. Would He go back? It's normally expected that a close friend would rush to a sick friend's bedside - particularly if you loved them - and hang the consequences.

He chose not to go. Didn't He care? Of course He did. Undoubtedly Jesus was looking at the bigger picture. God's ways are not man's ways... He already knew what He had to do. If Jesus had turned up whilst Lazarus was alive, yes, it's likely that Lazarus would have been healed. However, other circumstances might have played out a lot differently.

Interestingly, Jesus said the following in verses 14-15, once He heard of the death: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him”.

Once Jesus had arrived, Martha was, not unreasonably, quite upset. In her own mind it was, by then, too late. She runs out of her house to meet Him, while her sister Mary stays in the house. "Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died", Martha says (verse 21).

And yet, there was still hope in her heart - there was still faith. “Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” (verse 22). It's not clear exactly what she expected. Lazarus was dead, and Martha was extremely wary about Jesus' comments about opening the tomb. Understandably - apart from the whole trauma of the event, it was forbidden by Jewish custom to open a grave after the stone was placed upon it. But Jesus loves to turn our usual patterns of thinking upside down...

At a word from Jesus, Lazarus’ spirit returned to his decaying body (verses 41-44). Jesus had bypassed simply healing His sick friend, in order to perform the far greater miracle of bringing him back to life.

There's a tremendous truth here - and it's not an easy one to accept. Sometimes Jesus does not grant the healing or give the resolution that we ask for. Not everyone we pray for gets healed; many of our requests seem to land on deaf ears. Often we feel that all is lost - and turn away from God.

And yet, like Martha, if we step out of our comfort zone and meet with Jesus, talk to Him, and dare to trust in Him (verse 25), we find help to overcome any obstacle. And He may also give us a greater miracle than we had ever hoped for.

Time spent waiting on God is never wasted.

(All scripture quotes from The Message translation).

28 December 2014

Stand By For Action!

This blog post has been mulling around in my head for several weeks; in fact, all the way through my recent series of Advent posts. Which is rather appropriate, really.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Advent was a time of getting yourself ready for Jesus. Either preparing to celebrate his birth - or acknowledging his redeeming work in your life and preparing for what comes next. It was a timely reminder to keep myself focussed. To keep on my toes. And to stand by...

When thinking about "standing by", the phrase that readily springs to my mind is the opening words to Gerry Anderson's classic SF series, Stingray. The words of Commander Sam Shore ring in my ears...

"Stand By For Action!"

(cue drums)

The show featured the work of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, and in particular the adventures of Captain Troy Tempest and the crew of the submarine Stingray. I loved this show when I was growing up, and have encouraged my kids to enjoy it too.

But those classic words neatly summarise what God is telling me, in His own way, right now.

Because there's a lot of difference between lots of continual, frantic activity - and keeping yourself ready, standing by for action. I'm quite good at the former; perhaps too good. In fact, on occasion, I've done a little too much. However, I now understand that what I need to do is be more like Troy. Ready for action. Allowing yourself to stand ready is often more useful that just "keeping busy". I've got to remember not to fill up my diary with unending tasks, but to keep it open, and stand by, waiting on God...

And as for "waiting"... I have mentioned in this blog previously about the Hebrew word "קוה" (qavah), which is usually translated in scripture as "wait".

Literally the word means to "gather together" or "bind together", like multiple strands which are drawn together to form a strong rope. No one strand does all the work. The strength comes from combining with others.

Looking back today as part of our worship meeting this morning - looking at my busy 2014 diary - I was gobsmacked at all the different types of activities I had been involved in during the year. And God quietly told me that these were all different coloured strands in my life. Different ministries; working alongside a whole variety of different people. Strands that come together to form a rope... a beautiful, rainbow-coloured rope, ready for use.

With Jesus right in the centre.

I just have to make myself ready. Stand ready. Stay ready.

Wow.

I am so fired up now for 2015. And I am standing ready... how can I be of use for Him in the New Year?

Stand By For Action!


26 December 2014

Advent Photo Challenge

Here's the Advent Photo Challenge that I've been following this year...


25 December 2014

Celebrate

Luke 2:21-38 (NIV)
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every first-born male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.



(picture: taken at the Christmas Day celebration meeting at our church today. Yours truly, front right!)

24 December 2014

Light

John 1:4 (NLT)
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.




Gifts

Matthew 2:1-12 (The Message)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signalled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshipped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.



22 December 2014

Good News

Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.



Love

John 3:16-17 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

21 December 2014

Immanuel

Matthew 1:18-25 (CEV)
This is how Jesus Christ was born. A young woman named Mary was engaged to Joseph from King David’s family. But before they were married, she learned that she was going to have a baby by God’s Holy Spirit. Joseph was a good man and did not want to embarrass Mary in front of everyone. So he decided to quietly call off the wedding.

While Joseph was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her. Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

After Joseph woke up, he and Mary were soon married, just as the Lord’s angel had told him to do. But they did not sleep together before her baby was born. Then Joseph named him Jesus.



Blessed

Luke 1:39-45 (The Message)
Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and travelled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

"You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!"




20 December 2014

Silence

Luke 1:19-20 (The Message)
But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time — God’s time.”


18 December 2014

Child

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

17 December 2014

Shine

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.



16 December 2014

Sing


Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


14 December 2014

Joy

Psalm 118:24 (NLT)
This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.



Give

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NIV)
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Rest

Hebrews 4:9 (NIV)
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.

Kindness

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.



11 December 2014

Serve

Galatians 5:14 (NLT)
For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbour as yourself."

10 December 2014

Care

Matthew 25:44 (NIV)
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

8 December 2014

Less

John 3:30 (NIV)
He must become greater; I must become less.


Peace

Matthew 11:25-30 (NIV)
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


Philippians 4:7(NIV)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

6 December 2014

Still

Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”


5 December 2014

Teach

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV UK)
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.

4 December 2014

Share

Luke 3:11 (NIV UK)
John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’


3 December 2014

Pray

Colossians 4:2 (NIV UK)
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

A Need To Go Deep

"The trouble with you, it's that you always take things too much to heart. I think you're thinking far too deeply..."

Sure, I've heard things like this before... and then today I come across these words...

The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it. But they don’t have deep roots, and they believe only for a little while. As soon as life gets hard, they give up.” (Luke 8:13 CEV)

Just think of one of those nice little summer bedding plants. It has very few roots, so although it may initially sprout leaves, then a flower, and look good for a while, it doesn’t last.

I want to last. I want to really listen to God’s Word; to allow it to nurture me, to change me.

I don't really want to be pretty and petty and shallow.

I want to be deep. I want deep roots so that in times of trial, I can keep going, keep bearing fruit. When the storms of life come, I want deep roots that keep me strong.

So, I don't want to be a pretty flower.

I want to be a tree. Old, gnarled, full of character. But still standing in spite of it all.

I am Groot. :)

2 December 2014

Darkness

John 1:5 (NIV)
The light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome* it.
(* some versions translate this as understood)

Prepare

Mark 1:1-8 (NIV UK)

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’


30 November 2014

Hope

John 14:1–6 (NIV)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

26 November 2014

Getting Ready

Advent is just around the corner. In the modern church calendar, it's time to get ready, waiting for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicised version of the Latin "adventus", meaning "coming".

It's a time of preparation. The decorations come out. A Christmas tree becomes the central point in many houses and shops. In some homes an Advent wreath is placed on the dining table and the candles lit at mealtimes. It's a time for baking, for writing cards, for singing of Christmas songs and carols. Advent calendars count down the day until Christmas.

All of these are opportunities to teach about the significance of this special time, and to remind ourselves of it as well.

Advent for this year begins on Sunday, 30th November 2014.

Are you ready?







25 November 2014

Sins of Omission


This blog post has been a few weeks in draft. It stems out of a couple of discussions we've had recently in our Bible Study group, when we briefly touched on "sins of commission" and "sins of omission". The topic has really got me thinking...

Sin is an emotive word, which perhaps could be defined as 'something that we do that is wrong'. It describes one of those occasions when we mess up. It may be a breach of a moral law or principle; if you have a faith it might be doing something that you know is contrary to what we know to be God's will.

Sins of commission are those things that we do that are wrong and that we are overt or even proactive in doing. We do something that we shouldn't. Examples include: Lying, stealing.

Sins of omission, in contrast, are those things that we don't do that we know we should. Examples include: not standing up for what you know is right. James 4:17 is often used as a scriptural example for the second point: "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." Or we could look at Luke 10:30-37: Jesus' teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The two men who did not help are usually considered as committing a sin of omission.

However, the discussion went on a little further... Is failing to do something that you know deep down is right an omission, or in fact a definite decision on our part? Is it, in fact, deliberate disobedience to what we perceive to be the will of God? Surely that would then make it a sin of commission...

It's odd. This particular subject just won't go away.

Forgive me, Lord, as I continue to pray into this.

19 November 2014

Attack Of The Killer Commitments

Sounds like a really unorthodox 1950's science fiction B-movie? Yep, it sure does to me. But living it, well that's a bit scary.

At the moment there's so much going on in my life that it all seems to be happening at once. And then it begins...

Do you know what it's like when some of your commitments 'attack you' -  those jobs that are started and yet remain unfinished; those promises to help other people but you haven't got around to yet; unexpected crises; even mundane household chores that end up at the bottom of a very long list.

Sometimes they all gang up on you at once, scrambling for attention. Sometimes they attack you one at a time, like baddies in one of those cheap kung fu flicks. One after another they come, raining blows on my poor head. But each blow hurts.

I've even had one or two 'completed tasks' have a go at me today! Trying to trick me, to convince me that I hadn't done them, in an attempt to make me feel guilty!

And I thank God for His gentle patience with me at this time. He's there for me. He helps me rebuild my defences. He helps me replenish my precious energy, running low as I run short of precious 'me time'...

He helps me deal with the things I have to do, and gently reminds me that it's OK to say 'no' once in a while. I'm recently had to let one of my bigger commitments go. And it's been painful to let go. But I did it. 

My Heavenly Father knows I am capable. I can sort it out, and know that I can win through.

14 November 2014

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I hate squabbles. :(
.
I've seen more that my fair share of these in a couple of the places that I've been in the last few days.

  • Temper tantrums
  • Malicious gossip
  • Rebellion
  • Disobedience
  • Spiteful comments

It's been awful.

Because all of this just gets in the way. Those concerned go around using energy to pull others apart; energy that could be much better used building others up; fixing other people's broken lives and broken relationships.

Or am I the only one that sees this?

And the people doing it - well, unfortunately they should know better.

Just wanted to rant today. Feeling a bit down because of it.

(sigh)

13 November 2014

Christmas Is Coming...

Oh yes. All of a sudden, it's November! Everyone starts getting focused on Advent. All roads now lead inevitably to the festive season... for instance:

We're now practicing Christmas songs and carols in our Singers group.
I've received my tickets for the first Carol Service of the season.
At work we are now planning 'Christmas Jumper Day'
This coming Saturday is the Corps' Christmas Fayre (10am - 2pm, come along, lots on offer!)

Everything is busy, busy, busy.

And yet, there still hasn't been time to think about my own Christmas! About gifts for my own family, what we are going to be doing on Christmas Day (I mean, after church and before Doctor Who)...

So does that mean that I've forgotten the real message of the season? Am I so wrapped up in tinsel and sentiment, turkey and all the trimmings, the fairy-tale imagery of Christmas, that I have forgotten my faith?

Do I have room for the real Christmas story?

It's the story of Mary and Joseph, a young couple who had set up home in Nazareth, miles away from their family. Mary was heavily pregnant and her delivery was just around the corner. Suddenly, news reached them that the vagaries of local government had dictated that they had to travel to their home town for a census, a precursor for more taxes.

The couple both hailed from Bethlehem, so that meant a 90-mile journey across rugged terrain. Even if you assume they travelled an average of 20 miles a day, that's still a five day trip, with no possibility of shelter at night, and with threats of attack by animals or robbers. Not a good prospect for anyone, let alone a mum-to-be who is just about to deliver...

By the time they arrived in town, all of the accommodation was taken - there wasn't a room to be had anywhere. And so, Mary had to give birth in less than perfect surroundings. The squalour of a borrowed stable.

And yet - this child was destined to be the Saviour of the World!


Is this the way that the King of Kings should have started life? Surely He could have been born in an elegant mansion. And if you were planning the birth of a Messiah, would you have subjected Him to such an entry into the world?

But this is the way God planned it - and planned it to the slightest detail. For instance, Scripture had always said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2 - the book of Micah was written about 700 years before the birth). So that's what Mary and Joseph had to do. They had to go to Bethlehem.

Take time to plan now. Where are you going to spend Christmas?

7 November 2014

The Danger Of Maybe...

I know. I can be very bad at "no".

And that can be a problem. It's a lesson I've had to learn the hard way. I want to be out there making a difference in the world, but I can't do everything.

So I've had to upset some people recently by learning how to give some things up. It's been painful. But I know it's starting to work. I've regained some precious "me time" in my schedule.

However, it doesn't make some things any easier. There's still a whole plethora of people out there who are pleading with me to say yes to them.

  • Just one extra job.
  • Just do it this once.
  • Just for a little while.

I've been listening to a podcast on this very subject today. It was all about how to filter these requests more effectively. This revealed to me that there are a few words in my vocabulary that I need to use with care. They're dangerous words. Words which I must learn to avoid if I want to stay on track, if I want to ring-fence my free time.

Words like "maybe".

Sure, the word comes a bit easier off the tongue than "no". Other words are available, like "perhaps", or "possibly".

The problem - these words are closer to no when you use them, but closer to yes when you hear them.

So, the listener never hears the "maybe". They hear "yes". And therefore they keep on and on at you.

Folks, don’t use "maybe" when in fact you mean "no".

It will make your "yes" even more effective.

4 November 2014

Dedicated Follower Of Fashion


"They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he's got to buy the best,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion."
(Lyrics from the Kinks)

Don't get me wrong. There is no way that's anything like me at the top of this entry. If anything I'm far too staid for this sort of get-up. Unless it's fancy dress, then I can go a little crazy...

I must admit I've never tended not to worry unduly about my appearance - isn't it supposed to be all about getting the inside right? So what if my suit is 12 years out of date? Surely it's more important to care for others; to have a servant’s heart. And, as Toyah Wilcox once said, "as long as you're warm, who cares?"

However, this is a big deal for some individuals who continue to badger me to dress differently. In the proper 'style'. They are not very subtle - some are downright rude! And I don't respond well to 'rude'.

Now, having said that, I know that I am His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) and therefore need to dress accordingly. I want to represent Him well. To be smart and presentable.

So, it's all a question of balance. Like many people I know at the moment, funds are tight. And so I need to choose wisely, work within a budget. And not just do like others do.

Anyway, why should I spend great chunks of my time shopping for clothes? My precious time... which could be spent oh so much better...

And then there's the sheer cost of it all!

Anybody got any thoughts on the subject?

31 October 2014

Halloween Thoughts

I don't know where you stand on the subject of Halloween. I've heard all sorts of opinions and arguments about the topic this week.

Personally, I don't want to celebrate it. Our family don't celebrate it. Partly because we're too busy celebrating my wife's birthday which is on the 31st October.

However, here's a good summary of a few points worth thinking about concerning this day:

27 October 2014

Keeping My Cool

As the clocks change and the nights draw in, the cycle of the seasons will start to indicate when I'll need to wear a thicker coat when going off to work. It's nearly time!

However, there's no indicator to tell me when I need to 'keep my cool'. And I really found it hard today.

Hard to stay cool when chaos reigns during a particularly busy day in the office. Raised voices and lots of phone interruptions made the office far too noisy for me today! Thankfully I wasn't one of the raised voices!

Hard to stay cool when someone asks you to help them - five minutes before you're due to go home. Sorry, I can't stay late tonight, another commitment later... it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Hard to stay cool when it's standing room only on your train, as they cancelled the one before and this one only has four coaches... and add to that the fact that the kids are off school and all the noisiest ones are in my carriage. It's cramped, noisy, hot. Horrible.

Because I'm on the train now. Nothing to see outside, the winter nights have descended. On go the headphones, so that I can try and find my own little oasis of calm before my evening's voluntary commitment. I'm concentrating on writing some words for my next blog entry. These very words.

Enhance your calm. Breathe. It'll only be a little while longer.

Keep cool. :)

22 October 2014

Waiting For A Response

It's nice to get a "thank you" now and again, don't you agree?

I can't possibly recall the number of times that I've been thanked - on the whole, people are usually quite kind. In response to a kindness shown, a gesture of sympathy, a gift given. It's nice to get an acknowledgement back .

However, there are one or two people that never seem to do this. And you are left feeling unsure whether the thing that you did was well received - whether it was somehow 'lacking' - whether the gift was discarded, thrown on a pile of other unwelcome gifts - or sometimes, if they ever received the gift at all!

And it's not just me (as I used to think!) - others tell me similar stories. Some people don't say "thank you".

I'm feeling for these people today. Actually, to tell the truth, I'm trying to understand them...
  • Are they ungrateful?
  • Do they expect my kindness as 'the least I could do'?
  • Do they feel that it is below them to show any kind of appreciation?
  • Is this lack of gratitude actually a sign of arrogance?
I read the summary of a study which was commissioned by Avery a few years ago, and published in the London Evening Standard. It revealed that as many as one in four employees had never had a "thank you" from their employer. Bosses in the city seem to take 'going the extra mile' for granted. Or worse - they make an effort to say "thank you" without truly meaning it, whilst continuing to give out increasingly impossible jobs with unrealistic deadlines...

However, I still keep coming back to the conclusion that has been revealed to me in my quiet times. It doesn't matter. In fact, it's me who needs to respond. With forgiveness. Sure, sometimes I don't get those thanks. Or even any acknowledgement. But that's no good reason for me to stop caring.

I need to keep on trying. One day, I might get a heartfelt response when I least expect it.



20 October 2014

Irritability

I'm usually okay - but sometimes I am not. I get tetchy, irritable. It's probably because I'm tired.

It's usually after a particularly demanding day. There's been lots of people to talk to. Now that's all over, I just want to be left alone to recharge. It's nothing personal; I know what I need.

A half-hour might be enough. It might be longer.

Just leave me be. I will be fine.

17 October 2014

Pruning and Reviewing

"Lord, I would place my hand in Thine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me."

(lyrics from 'He Leadeth Me' by Joseph H Gilmore)

I've had the privilege to sit back and take stock of my life lately. I've needed to carve out some time in my schedule, so I've had to savagely cut back on my commitments to enable me to do so, but I've now managed to 'ring-fence' off some precious 'me-time' to enable me to do so.

And I've asked myself - and my Lord - some pretty hard questions.

  • When I first set out on my Christian walk those many years ago, did I ever think it would work out quite like this?
  • And at that particular starting point, would I have ever had dreamt that I would do some of the exciting things that I have done?
  • Am I truly content with where I am at the moment? (see above)
  • Am I truly willing to allow more severe 'pruning' to allow me to grow further? Can I withstand the pain? 
  • How do I resolve the contradictions - a strong sense of wanting to take a particular path, yet the appearance of a solid brick wall preventing me from taking it (note: at the moment...)
  • So, what now?

This review is a work in progress.

14 October 2014

When I pray...

“When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t pray, they don't. ” - William Temple

I was on the way home the other day, reflecting prayerfully on how God could use me over the next few years.

There was one simple problem - my own inability to see things from anything other than my own point of view.

God’s answer came in the form of a quotation that I stumbled across on an internet page. A coincidence, that I would encounter this page? I don't think so.

It was describing God’s perspective by comparing it to the three-dimensional chessboard that was featured in the original Star Trek series.

“We're the pieces, and all we can see is the next move in front of us,” the writer explained. “God, however, sees every piece, every move, and every level. The world is at his disposal. He can move people and resources wherever he needs them to fulfill his good purposes.”

When we pray, God is gracious enough to allow us to be part of this. The choice is up to us.

Awesome.

13 October 2014

A Brief Story

A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question. “I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?”

“The hunter who chases two rabbits", answered the master, “catches neither one.”

11 October 2014

Divergent: What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous

One movie this year has contained themes that have continued to make me think, long after the film was over. This was 'Divergent', based on the book by Veronica Roth. Although opening to mixed reviews from the press, there's something in the storyline that has appealed to me.

As the story opens, we discover that society in post-apocalyptic Chicago has been fragmented into five factions, each based on a particular virtue:
  • Abnegation (the selfless)
  • Amity (the peaceful)
  • Candor (the honest)
  • Dauntless (the brave)
  • Erudite (the intelligent). 
We follow Beatrice, who is born into the Abnegation faction, but never really feels that she completely fits in. However, there's a big choice coming up. At the age of 16, all young people are tested to see which faction suits them best. And you can choose - you can stay in your faction, or switch factions. The problem? Switch, and there’s no switching back. Also, once you switch, you leave your family and friends behind.

The test changes everything for Beatrice. She's told that she ranks for three virtues, not just one. She’s a Divergent - and therefore dangerous. Hiding her true nature, she quickly chooses to switch to Dauntless, renaming herself Tris. She soon begins to unravel a mystifying plot to bring down the whole society.

The author has written three books in the series - I'm currently getting hold of the trilogy and will be working my way through them soon. I suspect these will be well worth a read!

Are you a Divergent?

6 October 2014

Sometimes The Bear Gets You

I don't know anybody who deliberately sets out to have a bad day. Every new day is pristine, new, unwritten. A blank canvas to paint on. A fresh start.

But I can think of plenty of people who try their very best to help others, only to have that help thrown back in their face - suddenly, they're on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse. My heart goes out to these caring people. They don't deserve that sort of treatment. It's awful - but it happens.

The title of this blog entry comes from a misquotation of a comment from Elwin Charles "Preacher" Roe. He was a pitcher who played Major League Baseball between 1938 - 1954 (apart from his military service in World War Two). He was renowned for his amazing control over the ball. But even he had his bad days.

On one occasion he was taken out of the game very early on, saying "Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you".

It's very true. Some people can be rude, obnoxious, downright unhelpful. Sometimes 'the bear gets you' and you're suffering, hurt, questioning why someone could be so ungrateful...

But that's no reason not to keep trying to help them ... and that's why I keep coming back to the "Paradoxical Commandments", a reading that I blogged about a year or two ago.

Just Do It Anyway. Make a difference.

3 October 2014

Let's test that...

Somebody on a forum that I subscribe to asked this question this week:

"Do you tend to 'test' others? If so, in what way?"

Boy, that got me thinking. Do I need that sort of reassurance that things are going well? If I answer yes, does that mean I am insecure? And what happens if they pass or fail?

So I did a little social experiment. Well, in fact, three small ones... there were three jobs that needed to be done by Saturday. Nothing life-threatening, nothing that vital. Three tasks that I didn't have to do myself, but that I usually end up doing. I simply didn't do them. Well, not until I was asked.

I didn't run round after my peers. Instead, I simply waited for these folk to contact me. Let's see if they come back to me! Just to see what would happen...

The result. 33%

Example 1: One person (and I must admit he's terribly well organised!) emailed me just to check that I was still OK with doing the job - and wondered how I was (because I hadn't contacted him!).

Example 2: Apologies, I bottled out, and eventually rang him up at 6pm. He's coming around at 9.30pm tonight. He needs what I have by 10pm tonight.

Example 3: I'm still waiting!!! The job never got done.

Interesting, eh?

2 October 2014

More Questions Than Answers


"There are more questions than answers
Pictures in my mind that will not show
There are more questions than answers
And the more I find out the less I know
Yeah, the more I find out the less I know"
(song, written and recorded by Johnny Nash)

I've been mulling over some of these tricky questions over the last week. And it's so true - every answer seems to bring with it further questions! That final, ultimate answer never seems to be within my grasp, it's so elusive...

Add into the mix the fact that I'm been a little unwell during the week; it's clear that I've been overdoing things a little which is why my head's been everywhere and my emotions all over the place. Sadly I'm never a good patient so I must give my perfuse apologies to my family, too! But knocking me over for a while did give me time to take stock of my life and put things back into context.

I'm feeling a bit better now - mostly because I've taken a few hours off and reduced the number of commitments in my day - but partly because I've realised that I've been trying too hard to reach that elusive answer. The following quotations kind of sum this up - these was a couple of words of wisdom I stumbled across:

"Try to love and live the question itself. Don't search for the answer. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." - Rainer Maria Rilke

"I don't pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about..." - Arthur C. Clarke


What do you think?



28 September 2014

Ask The Right Questions

Vastra: Who or what could have done this thing?
Doctor: No.
Vastra: I'm sorry?
Doctor: No. That is not the question. That is not where we start.
Strax: The question is how. The flesh itself has been combusted.
Doctor: No, no, shut up. What do you all have for brains, pudding? Look at you. Why can't I meet a decent species? Planet of the pudding brains.
Clara: Doctor, I know you're upset, but you need to calm down and talk to us. What is the question?
(dialogue from 'Deep Breath' - Doctor Who)

The Doctor has a point here, you know. We humans are crashingly bad at asking the right questions. We seem to excel in excuses; to delight in dismissing opinions contrary to our own. We're good at some questions but we aren't very good at the tricky subjects. We don't like being out of our depth.

However, the best way to learn is to test what we hear - we need to keep on asking questions...

Just think for a moment would could happen if we actually started to ask the right questions for a change? To dig deep. To ask those difficult questions. To check those facts. To read around the subject. To test the answers that we get back. To write those answers down; then ask more questions. And repeat...

Those words were made very clear to me during this morning's prayer meeting at the Hall.

I will get the answers I seek if I keep on asking the right questions.

Awesome.

Psalm 119:18 (NIV)
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

27 September 2014

Jeux Sans Frontières


Back in the Sixties and Seventies, I used to regularly watch "Jeux Sans Frontières", a European-wide television game show, where teams from a number of countries (usually dressed in outlandish costumes) competed against one another in a variety of bizarre games. In the UK the show was also known as It's a Knockout, the title of the BBC's domestic version.

The French title was the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's 'Games Without Frontiers' (1980), which featured the lovely Kate Bush on backing vocals. The song was a study of some of the silly behaviour we can see in adults. Immaturity, petty-mindedness.

On to the subject at hand. You know, I believe I can identify with what Peter was getting at in this song. I get more than a little concerned about some people's behaviour. They spend their time moaning and groaning about things that happen in their lives, but can't seem to get past this, to rise above it, even though I truly believe that they can. They choose to moan rather than actually do something about it.

And I also have a number of other friends who are genuinely trapped in their own circumstances, who would love things to be different and to be able to take action but simply cannot move. These are the folks who need to be empowered.

How can I help them both? By seeking to make a difference in their lives. And that's a whole different game. And I truly believe that's the sort of game God wants me to play!

A game without frontiers.

And it's possible! I've heard a lot lately about embracing life in all its fullness, living beyond the limits, beyond any self-imposed 'frontiers'. Its about recognising God's hand at work in this world. And of being a part of His work, wherever you are.

This sort of game can be played anywhere you like - in the workplace, the school, the home. Although it could be extremely costly...

Does that sound crazy to you? A bit bizarre?

Good. I must be on the right lines...

23 September 2014

Transumers

I guess I am a transumer - at least, so I am told by an email I received the other day.

Apparently, it's a term used about people who commute or travel around a lot. In essence, we are "transit consumers" and therefore we're more likely to use retail outlets at railway stations or airports. The word was first coined by Fitch, the US design and business consultancy, a decade or so ago — it’s not really in common use by the general public.

I kind of like the word. However, I don't go a bundle on the world it describes. A strange world of tired and frustrated commuters, who are always in a hurry and therefore don't have the time to shop around; desperate to purchase a bite to eat as they travel because they skipped lunch; eager to buy a magazine or book to occupy their time on the train; determined to buy that last-minute present so that they have something to take home. The retailers respond by providing few choices and overpriced products to what is essentially a captive market.

It's sad.

15 September 2014

Run Away!

I spend quite a while every day pondering interesting subjects to write about in this blog.


I don't ever have a difficulty in putting the actual words down on paper/tablet/screen. No, the art is in finding that suitable topic. At any one time I have twenty or thirty 'possible' entries floating around in my head. I currently have seven posts in draft, most at various stages of readiness, not quite ready to publish. Once I start writing, I spend absolutely ages changing one phrase or another, until I'm ready to hit the button and let you see it.

There was a particular issue that I wanted to address, but airing this topic would never be easy. Dealing with it head on would give me more problems than it would solve. Nothing in this blog is ever NSFW and I want to keep it that way!

Suddenly, an email hit my mailbox. It was from Rick Warren and was entitled "Don't Fight Temptation - Flee It!" Oh wow - that's how I can approach it! The email started out by quoting the following bible verse: "Be alert. Continue strong in the faith. Have courage, and be strong."(1 Corinthians 16:13, NCV)

Whatever habit, weakness or addiction that you or I may face; the first stage of beating it is to open your eyes to the problem. To identify that you have, in fact, got a problem. And  to admit that it’s not a sin to be tempted. The trouble comes when you give in to temptation.

Now, here's the point. Our society makes a great virtue out of being strong. Being an overcomer -  winning out against tremendous odds. Being first. The problem comes when your strength or willpower fails and you stumble, trip up, give in. You feel a total failure! You pick yourself up, try again. And you could fail again!

The other thing that modern-day society excels in is entirely the opposite to that. They'll tell you, actually, it's okay. If it feels good, do it! So many people try the first way, and then sit for the rest of their lives in the second camp. "I've tried and failed. It's too hard. So I'm just going to sit back and live with it. And who says it's wrong anyway..."

There is, in fact, a third way. We need to flee temptation. We need to run away.

Now, running away is not a terribly popular thing to do. It feels like failure - but it is, in fact removing yourself from an enormous problem. Rick's email quoted one of Saddleback Church’s pastors, a man called John Baker, who said: “You hang around the barber shop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.

Too true! If you want to quit drinking, you need to stop going down the pub to have your lunchtime meal! If you start feeling awful because you're tempted to watch less than wholesome late night TV channels, don’t have those channels any more - use your parental blocks to remove the problem.

You need to know what tempts you, when it tempts you, and where it tempts you. Then -  steer clear of those situations.

It might be a matter of who tempts you... The Bible says "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character"(1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV). There may be some people that you need to keep away from.

Sometimes you don’t need to fight it; you need to run away from it. Run after the good stuff in life instead.

9 September 2014

Peace And Quiet

I managed to find the chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of the office for a little while at 12 o'clock.
A quiet spot in the City of London is difficult to find at the best of times.  Somewhere that didn't have stacks of people; ideally somewhere with a sight of the Thames.
I rose above it - and found my solution. A covered walkway across the road that led to a balcony. A perfect, elevated view of the river. Nobody for fifty yards in every direction. Bliss!