29 June 2015

Reactions

I had just sat down from leading the Sunday meeting at the Corps (the officers were away and in such circumstances it was my chance to stand up and do my bit). I was physically and mentally drained after the meeting. I'm told that it is a good sign, and I wasn't surprised at that (it's how I normally feel after a long time 'in the spotlight'), so all I wanted was a cup of coffee and a chance to relax for a moment. I sat back in my chair, made myself as inconspicuous as possible in the corner and looked around at the other folks chatting, drinking coffee, eating cake.
 
I wasn't quite sure of the sort of reaction that I was expecting from those gathered. I'd preached on what I thought the Lord wanted me to say. I worked hard to engage with the people, spoke from the heart, put my all into it. I had to work hard to combat issues with the technology, a whole host of little niggling problems from the past two days, all things that threatened to disrupt the delivery of my message. However, I won through. I did it anyway.
 
The only sort of feedback I got came from the one lady whose eyes were shut tight throughout the whole of the Message. I wasn't sure she was even listening, her face was fixed, emotionless. I guess she was taking in every word. She was very positive.
 
Interesting, eh?

27 June 2015

Your Will Be Done

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10), but I am increasingly challenged this week to actively and continually pray those words in my own life.

The problem comes because I can only look back. By that I mean I can only see my life as it has unfolded over the last 50-odd years. (Very odd in some places!) There have been good times and bad times. Many things have occurred that I have found it tough to accept. Some things have happened that I would never have chosen. Some opportunities have come my way that were quite literally beyond my wildest dreams!

However, I can only think about altering or changing the course of my life in the here and now. A few changes still need to be made - I have been struggling with making these choices in recent weeks.

However, God sees the whole picture. The entire tapestry of my life. Past, present and future. Thus, His perspective is far superior to mine. I therefore need this tremendous resource if I am to make the wisest decision.

If I continue to accept His will for my life (as is likely), I must acknowledge that the way He may choose for me to follow may not be easy. My recent posts on this blog have shown that God will not spare us from problems - however He will be with me every step of the way.

...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

24 June 2015

Good Things Out Of Bad

There's been a number of stray thoughts bashing about in my mind lately. I think it started with last week's blog post on gratitude, and stepped up a gear when our Corps house group began a bible study series on the book of James that same week. James 1 contains the following quote:
 
"My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.  You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested.  But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything."
James 1:2-4 (CEV)
 
And so we are back again, looking at why 'bad things happen to good people'. Which is actually the wrong way of looking at it - because we now know that stuff happens to everyone - good and bad - and it all depends on how we react. How we roll with it.
 
I've been reading up on what happens when a destructive force suddenly changes the status quo, shakes up an otherwise calm situation. Yes, first there is chaos, disruption, even death. But, then there is change. People adapt, recover. And things do get better.
 
Would anyone recommend drastic, even catastrophic solutions to a static situation? No, of course not. That sounds terrible.
 
But often this turns out to be the best thing that could have ever happened.
 
The prime factor here? An urgent need for change.
 
That has got me thinking. Because people don't like change. And therefore things rarely change unless there is an urgent need for it. Sometimes it takes something extremely drastic - even catastrophic - to get some people to change...
 
And yet, change can bring growth. James was certain that difficulties in our lives carry so much potential to bring blessing, that he encourages us to rejoice, even if we are still in the midst of troubles.
 
Now, if only we could embrace change without the need for such disruption...

22 June 2015

Having A Grateful Heart

I guess we all know someone who is ungrateful. They take what is given to them, and seem to take it all for granted. Never truly satisfied with life, they're often perpetually grumpy, continually beset with troubles and woes; upset with pretty much the entire world for the 'bad things' that happen to them.

And then there's the other extreme. Perhaps these folks may even endure exactly the same troubles and woes - but there is a difference. They always try to greet the world with a smile. They seem to be able to see the silver lining in their particular cloud.

What makes these two types of people so different?

It's not what happens to them - actually, it's how they react to what happens...

Unfortunately, bad things do happen, even to good people. What happens next is all up to us. We all have a choice - from moment to moment - as to how to react.  After a while these choices and our reactions become ingrained, become habitual. But there's good news - even long-standing habits can be broken!

I must admit that I went through a very dark time in my life - I was not in a good place for what I thought was a very long time. Some nasty things happened a few years ago, and I didn't handle it well. Large chunks of my life were filled with bitterness and resentment. The good news is - I got through that - in some sense, I'm still getting through it. It helped me to realise my absolute need to develop a well of gratitude in my life.

Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.
Proverbs 4:23 (CEV)

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

One quotation that I found on the internet I found useful. It said "an apple tree is not an apple tree because there are apples on it. There are apples on the tree because it is an apple tree." Profound. The problem lies within each of us - the heart is the issue. So that feeling of gratitude should come from our heart - literally, we should have a grateful heart.

Developing a grateful heart isn't easy. How can you be grateful, if the circumstances you are terrible? How can you fight large amounts of discouragement, even extremes such as sickness or even death? How can you be grateful 'in all circumstances' as scripture puts it? Surely, that's not possible. At worst, that is delusion, even denial.

Actually, gratitude is developing a positive mindset through which you can filter your experiences. And that, in my experience, is developed out of a personal relationship with Christ. It's only through the help of Jesus that we can win through. If you think that you are without hope, you are. However, I believe - I know - there is always hope. It takes time. I still don't get it right - I'm still fighting against those ingrained habits. But I'm getting there...

Gratitude is:
  • looking at your own life experiences and finding a way to use it to help or support others
  • believing that things can be different and that you can change even if only in a small way.
Gratitude is not:
  • denying that you are suffering, or in pain
  • being grateful for the suffering or pain
Finally, gratitude is a whole lot better than bitterness, which is destructive. Bitterness drives a wedge between ourselves and others, encouraging resentment of them  and "how we perceive their lives to be". Because - actually - other people's lives are never as good as you may think they are...

Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle” ― J.M. Barrie

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)

15 June 2015

Railway Tracks

I guess that I've always thought about life as a series of ups and downs. I mean, that's the way that most other people do. One minute you are up, everything is going great. Then, suddenly, something might happen and things aren't so good. It's all seems to be downhill for a while. Life, as a series of mountains and valleys. Ups and downs.

Apparently not. I'm told it's much more like a set of railway tracks.

Really?

Actually, the whole idea comes from some of Rick Warren's teaching. Here's what he says on his website:

"We tend to think that life comes in hills and valleys. In reality, it’s much more like train tracks. Every day of your life, wonderful, good things happen that bring pleasure and contentment and beauty to you. At the exact same time, painful things happen to you or those you love that disappoint you, hurt you, and fill you with sorrow. These two tracks — both joy and sorrow — run parallel to each other every single moment of your life."

That’s really got me thinking.

You see, in every awesome experience we have, there will be things that aren't quite right. And in every challenging, difficult, painful experience, there will always be things to find that are beautiful and lovely.

I've also been reminded that, as you look down the railway tracks into the horizon, the two tracks run together constantly. To the eye, they become one track. You can’t distinguish them.

But we can't keep looking at the tracks. If you look at the tracks, you're not looking where you are going.

Don't focus on either track. Focus on the goal. Focus on Jesus.

10 June 2015

Tough Times Don't Last

I read a fact the other day about modern day family budgets. I really wish that I'd made a note of it when I saw it, because I didn't think I would have to quote it so soon in a blog post. Oh well.

The writer was pointing out that most families in the 1960s (the decade when I was born) still found life tough, however in those days most families had one family member working regularly full-time. In today's world, many families have to have both partners working, sometimes holding down two jobs, in order to make ends meet. I remember thinking - where have we as a society gone wrong? Is modern life really that much harder?

During the church meeting this past Sunday (which included the dedication of a child to God), we were reminded of exactly how much money it costs to bring up one child to adulthood. Over £200,000 apparently! See here.
 
Anyway, the other day I received an email in my inbox that continued to give me food for thought on this topic. It included the phrase:
 
"Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do"
 
Isn't that a terrific way of looking at life!

If you’re discouraged - and let's face it, encouragement is a rare enough commodity nowadays - there are one or two things you can do to counter those feelings.

Let’s say your neighbour arrives home with a brand new car. One way to react is with feelings of desire and envy. Perhaps you are already working out ways to get a new car for yourself.

But there is another way. Be positive. Give thanks to God for the car that you already have, which meets your family’s current needs. Realise that you don't need the pressures of taking out yet another car loan.

It's your choice. So choose how to think about it. Get tough with your inner self, cut out the negative thinking, and get positive.

Are you bemoaning the fact that you never have enough money? Try being thankful for the money that you do get. Life would be so much harder if you didn't have that...

Is this situation too difficult? Don't give up. Think of it as a challenge!

But it's too much for me to bear... if only I had more money? Everything would be OK then... More money is not the answer, it's how you manage it.

And situations do change... if you can make the right choices and stick with it, you can outlast these setbacks. You can do it.

Think about it.

5 June 2015

Lucky

"Random chance seems to have operated in our favour." - Spock
"In plain, non-Vulcan English, we've been lucky..." - McCoy
"I believe I said that, Doctor." - Spock
(from the Star Trek episode 'The Doomsday Machine')

I posted a picture on my Facebook wall last night. Actually, I kind of felt I had to. Don't usually do that sort of thing...

You see, I had the opportunity to go for a meal in the Sky Garden restaurant (it's 36 storeys up, right on the top on London's 'Walkie Talkie' building just by the Thames). Here's the pic...

Terrific view, isn't it? I don't usually get to see London from that sort of viewpoint. It's the sort of view you usually only get from an aircraft - and I've only flown a handful of times in my life.

However, I was taken aback by a couple of the comments that were made following that post...

Some of them said that I was 'lucky'...

Do I think I am lucky?

Not in the slightest. 

You see, I don't actually subscribe to the concept of luck.

It was an ancient Roman idea, wasn't it? They used to talk about the goddess Fortuna, their own personification of luck. It's from her name is where we get the word ‘fortune’.

Luck implies that good fortune can be a tangible thing in itself - and certain objects, like for example four-leaf clovers, are said to bring luck. It's superstition, pure and simple. So, no. I wasn't lucky.

Carl Jung said that he viewed luck as synchronicity, which he described as "a meaningful coincidence". It's interesting that he used the term 'meaningful' - I suspect it all depends on who attaches the meaning to it....

Perhaps you might even say that "random chance has operated in my favour".

Or, if you accept this final concept, you might say that God has blessed me with an awesome experience yesterday.

I'll accept either of the latter two. But I know which one I believe.... :)

4 June 2015

Bulletproof?

"This time baby, I'll be bulletproof"
(Lyrics from the song "Bulletproof", written by Elly Jackson, Benedict Langmaid, Ben Langmaid, Eleanor Jackson )

Oh, I'd love to be bulletproof. Just like all those heroes that I have read about in the past. Shots bouncing off me like Superman, the Man of Steel. Clad in armour like Iron Man. Crashing through walls like The Thing. Nothing could phase me. Nothing would stop me.

But I know I'm not. I know from self-analysis that I am quite a sensitive person. That's how God has made me. OK, so that can have its good points. For example, I'm pretty good at the whole empathising bit with people. However, this does tend to make me highly vulnerable. I have to watch this... because I know I am not bulletproof. It makes me think twice - that strong instinct of self-preservation.

I'm coming around to a slightly different way of thinking in recent months. Perhaps I don't need to be bulletproof. 

Sure, I may have to leave myself open to a few of these figurative 'bullets' - but why should I automatically think of that first? I could also make a lot of difference in the lives of others.

Failure is not my only option - what if I succeeded?