31 December 2010

Making A Difference

"One man can make a difference..." - Wilton Knight (Richard Basehart) from the original pilot of 'Knight Rider' (1982)

I have spent an interesting week at home, reviewing the past year over and over again in my mind. An unfortunate side-effect of my period of recuperation is the sudden acquisition of bucket-loads of spare time. I can't drive; can't do those little odd jobs in the house. I am encouraged by family to 'take it easy'. So I took time to catch up with friends and relatives, find up what they are up to. At this time of year, you get updates via cards, or on Facebook.

Unfortunately, this made me feel quite sad. I started taking myself to task for all the things that I have failed to do during this year. Friends with which I have lost contact; family members who tease you about some event or other you've missed; good opportunities that slip through your grasp or pass you by. All those things danced around in my mind.

I spent some time in prayerful reflection of all these things. The words of 1 Peter 5:8-9 came to mind while I was doing this. And - with His help -I realised that there is quite another way of looking at this...

Instead of concentrating on those things that I failed to do, I realised that I should also be looking at all those things that I actually did! All the places I went to. What about considering all the people that I helped this year by doing the things I do - who would be there for them if I didn't do what I do?

Yes, there are things I can't do, can't seem to find the time to do. Sorry if I let you down. I'm trying the best way that I know to make a difference in this world by what I do in His name. I want to make a difference - and to continue to do so in 2011.

Can one man make a difference? Yes, I can.

"It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference." - Tom Brokaw

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." - William James

This is my favourite...

"I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world." - Mother Teresa

1 Peter 5:8-9 (New International Version, ©2010)
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Happy New Year.

27 December 2010

The Doctor's Christmas Carol

The 2010 Christmas Day special for 'Doctor Who' contains elements of  'A Christmas Carol', 'Mary Poppins' and even 'Jaws', including for good measure references to Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. There is an impressive performance by Michael Gambon and some beautiful musical pieces by Katherine Jenkins. There was a sleigh ride - but no flying reindeer here! All in all the show is a real roller-coaster, entertainment in the style of the traditional BBC Christmas Day blockbuster. It's not surprising that the show featured in the Top Ten shows viewed on the day.

However, was it 'Doctor Who'? Purist SF fans would doubtless be concerned about the number of time paradox issues that this particular episode raises. The whole plot seems to centre on the fact that 'time can be rewritten'... a concept that some fans may find a little difficult to swallow. There was a tangible peril - 4003 lives at stake here, needing to be rescued from a crashing 'Galaxy Class' starship (a Trek fan like me felt right at home)...

However, let's take this whole story as a parable... a story with a definite moral, set in a fantasy world based on a Dickensian earth colony. There's plenty to receive from this show. Here we have a theme of cheerful sacrifice, with Abigail giving up what remains of her life to save her family. There's the clear possibility of redemption, of completely breaking away from your past, with the Doctor helping to rewrite Kasran's life because he could see there was still a possibility; all was not lost! Combine that with the underlying themes of dealing with bitterness and lack of compassion from the original Dickens story (see my earlier blog entries) and there was plenty to digest over the rest of the Christmas night.

Underlying the whole story is the traditional Christmas message, told via the medium of popular carols like 'Silent Night' and 'In The Bleak Mid-winter', emphasising the hope that the arrival of the Christ child offers. This underscore is simply stated, the carols are used to inspire hope. Hope we can all share. It was a pleasure to hear these carols sung so prominently on a Christmas night.

And of course the music clearly attracts the fish. Strange creatures that swim up in the cloud layers in the sky, coming down on certain nights to swim in the Dickensian fog. Kasran is said to 'let a few through on Christmas Eve' ... I am particularly smitten with the fish, it's a nice touch. Fish attracted by the Christian music, to the music with such an important message... hmmm...

Remember. Time can be rewritten. 

24 December 2010

An Alternative Nativity

Happy Christmas, one and all. :)

21 December 2010

The Infant King

Usually, one particular carol that we sing over Advent ends up staying with me for the entire carolling period. It's been rather a peculiar season this year, the inconvenience of a broken ankle just at the start of carolling season has really fouled things up. I'm pleased to say it didn't stop me going out entirely, but there's only so much you can do when you're reliant on family to drive you around. You tend to lose your independence somewhat.

Anyway, the carol that has stayed with me this year has been 'The Infant King', which is often entitled 'Sing Lullaby'. The words were penned by Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, who is best-known for writing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Now the Day Is Over". It's an English version of a Basque carol entitled "Oi Betleem!". Well worth another sing this year.

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining, sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
over the place where He is lying:
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-sleeping, sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
soon will come bitter grief and weeping:
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-dozing, sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
then in the grave at last reposing;
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby! is the babe awaking? Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning.
conquering death, its bondage breaking:
sing lullaby!

Happy Christmas!

15 December 2010

Feeling Small

There have been many books, TV shows and films over the years about characters who find themselves shrinking in size. It's not just a subject to be found in science fiction; there are references in many children's tales, even the classic 'Alice in Wonderland'. Probably the classic SF film on the subject must be 'The Incredible Shrinking Man', produced in 1957. Based on Richard Matheson's novel, Scott Carey (played by Grant Williams) has to cope with being reduced in size from 6ft 2in down to - well, watch the film to see...

I feel very small at the moment. It's probably a combination of powerlessness caused by my lack of mobility, together with a couple of instances this week where I have been made to look rather small - admittedly by my own stupidity or lack of forward planning. Add to that the pain I am experiencing and you'll begin to understand why I'm only about three inches tall at the moment.

In the film, Scott's greatest enemy turns out to be himself, as he struggles to cope with changes in his life which are out of his control. As I deal with my own issues here, I hold on tight to the one thing that will ensure I will emerge from this situation not only victorious, but feeling ten feet tall!

Isaiah 66:14 (The Message)
You'll see all this and burst with joy
—you'll feel ten feet tall—
As it becomes apparent that God is on your side
and against his enemies.

14 December 2010

Seeking After Truth

Sitting here on the sofa, leg raised, waiting for your broken bones to knit together, is in fact incredibly frustrating. Your mind races ahead of you all of the time, and because you cannot do so much yourself, you end up sending family members on little errands to assist you. I think my family are already a little tired of this! However, that may not be happening so much this week, as much of the time I'm going to be on my own while the family is out doing other things. It's that time of year!

I don't know about you, but whenever I am on my own, I tend to take after Mary and I sit and ponder on particular things. With so much time on my hands at the moment, this week I have been sitting and pondering one of the ways that I often describe myself - as a 'seeker after truth'...

It's often difficult to separate truth from fiction: I understand that people sometimes circulate what they believe to be 'news' without realising that what is being circulated isn't in fact the truth. It is such an eye-opener when you come face-to-face with the truth, because sometimes the real facts bear little relation to what in fact is being touted as 'fact'.

A case in point? Here's one from history, as recorded in BBC's programme 'QI', one of my favourite TV shows. Who invented the telephone? I remember being taught at school that it was Alexander Graham Bell, however we are now taught that the actual inventor is in doubt. Many claim it was Antonio Meucci, an inventor from Florence who unfortunately did not manage to finalise the patent on his new invention. Bell did. This fact was only formally acknowledged in 2004.

I'd rather have the truth in any situation. Not necessarily to make me any more comfortable, but just so I have a reliable base-line.

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things - Rene Descartes

John 8:31-32 (New International Version, ©2010)
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

13 December 2010

Keep On Going

(Here's a thought that someone shared with me today. I post this on my blog as I feel its message is particularly relevant for somebody today. If it is for you, receive it with love!)

A lady was driving along with her father. They came upon a storm, and the young lady asked her father, "What should I do?" He told her to keep driving.

Cars began to pull over to the side, the storm was getting worse. "What should I do." The young lady asked? "Keep driving," her father replied.

Just a few feet in front of her, she noticed that eighteen wheelers were also pulling over. She told her dad, "I must pull over, I can barely see ahead. It is terrible, and everyone is pulling over!"

Her father told her, "Don't give up, just keep driving!"

Now the storm was terrible, but she never stopped driving, and soon she could see a little more clearly. After a couple of miles she was again on dry land, and the sun came out.

Her father said, "Now you can pull over and get out."
She said "But why now?"
He said "When you get out, look back at all the people that gave up and are still in the storm, because you never gave up your storm is now over.

This is a testimony for anyone who is going through "hard times". Just because everyone else, even the strongest, gives up,  you don't have to...if you keep going, soon your storm will be over and the sun will shine upon your face again.

Philippians 4:13 (New King James Version)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

11 December 2010

Falling Over ... Again

A little after I posted up the first of my contributions to my recent Christmas Carol article, someone rather unexpected happened.

I slipped over and fractured my ankle. An anticipated six weeks in plaster.

I don't know what is worse. The pain from the ankle; the lack of mobility that now slows me right down to a mere crawl; the realisation that I am now able to do so much less than I had originally planned this December. Anything I can do I will still do, but the list of possible jobs is greatly reduced. But I am still able to do something. I need to do something.

My mind still works, however the body struggles and fails to keep up.  I've had some recent experience of this following my little tumble in January 2009, recorded here . I may be down, but don't count me out yet.

Psalm 37:23-24 (New International Version, ©2010)
The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

10 December 2010

A Modern Christmas Carol - part three

Charles Dickens' short story 'A Christmas Carol' is universally recognised as one of the best seasonal tales, but there's so much more to it than that.

First published on 19th December 1843, the book was received by a public who were keen to explore the true meaning of Christmas. This was Victorian Britain, and puritan ways of the past were being quickly swept away with more festive celebrations. A wave of nostalgia led to rediscovery of carols, published in a series of carol books. New customs such as the Christmas tree and the sending of greeting cards were being introduced into the country. Dickens' addition to the season explored his own sympathy for the poor, and includes many ideas inspired by the Christmas stories of Washington Irving. The title of the work reflects the revival in carol singing at that time. It's partly a reworking on a earlier scene from Pickwick Papers (1837), where Mr. Wardle talks about Gabriel Grub, a sexton, who undergoes a miraculous conversion at Christmas after being visited by goblins.

Dickens' work goes far beyond the celebrations. It is a tale of one man's salvation, leading the reader through scenes of bitterness, coldness and death, and to a subsequent revelation by Scrooge - inspired supernaturally - that there is another way. His heart is warmed, and peace and goodwill come to the fore. A little further research into the book's history will reveal that Dickens clearly wanted to put forward a comment on how the poor were being treated, turning this from a simple story into a morality tale by publicising his own ideas of social justice.

Many see this as a secular vision of the Christmas season. I disagree; I see plenty of evidence that this clearly reflects the hope found in the Nativity story - and plenty more from the subsequent teachings and passion of Christ.

8 December 2010

A Modern Christmas Carol - part two

As a result of my experiences from last Saturday (see my last blog entry) and the fact I now find myself with a little more free time in my schedule (more about that next week), I have taken the opportunity to revisit the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens' short story "A Christmas Carol". Although the tale set in Victorian England, it still has plenty to say to us in the 21st Century.

Scrooge is so bitter, but why is he so? Dickens paints the picture of someone who has literally had the joy of living sucked out of him, because of a series of acts of circumstance and cruelty. His mother died in childbirth; his father then abandoned young Ebenezer to a boarding school, not even allowing him home for Christmas. The only family member he can even rely on is his sister, Fan.

Lacking the comfort of a strong family unit, Scrooge compensates by throwing himself into his work, however this obsession loses him the love of his fiancee, Belle. Fan then passes away, and these two incidents hurt Scrooge so deeply, he shuts himself off from any love he may have had for the world. Scrooge still has a nephew in the form of Fan's son, but they aren't at all close.

The loss of his business partner, Jacob Marley, some seven years earlier, leaves Scrooge to run the business on his own. Marley's death occurs on Christmas Eve, which is yet another reason for Scrooge to distance himself from the festivities. He drives himself still further into his work, becoming miserly as he strives to hold onto the one thing he has left in this harsh world. The business barely survives. Here is a man who is truly 'In The Bleak Mid-Winter'.

His business (which is never actually specified by Dickens) involves money; some say he was possibly a professional money lender. If this is so, this will doubtless explain his cold reactions to pleas for charity - he has heard it all before, and has probably been taken in just once too often. In fact, Scrooge would far sooner have the poor of London trying to eke out a living in the horrendous Victorian workhouses than have them knock on his door. His experience tells him this - he has been once hurt too often!

Not unsurprisingly, Scrooge dislikes the merriment of Christmas. Dickens has made the word "humbug" into a household word; it is linked inextricably to this work and to Christmas. Why does Scrooge use it? This phrase is chosen especially to highlight analyse Scrooge's hatred of Christmas. He uses it when faced with the charity collectors, who call on him on Christmas Eve to solicit a public donation. When Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he states that people only give to charity and therefore show kindness as a show - perhaps to delude others, perhaps to delude themselves. He fails to see why people would help others without an agenda of their own. He thinks that no-one really cares about anyone else (because no-one cares about him).

Scrooge considers every "Merry Christmas" uttered as yet another attempt to fool him. An invitation to share a Christmas meal with his nephew's family is quickly shunned - no doubt, he thinks that they wish to take advantage of him. Scrooge even begrudges Bob Cratchit his sole paid day off for Christmas Day. Scrooge can only see the loss of a day's work, not at the reason for the day itself. He sees this as "having his pocket picked on an annual basis".

Do you know someone like this? They are still about, even in the 21st Century...

More later...

4 December 2010

A Modern Christmas Carol

Here are some stray thoughts distilled down following the Christmas Tree festival that I attended this morning in town. We met, shared fellowship, sang carols to share together that old, familiar story. It was during the singing of one particular carol at that venue that I felt God really spoke to me, challenging me to face up to tackling an old familiar adversary in my life. And reminding me of yet another old familiar story...

It's the story of a miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge, who is just about surviving in a harsh economic climate. It's a particularly heavy winter this year, and despite having nearby family Scrooge deliberately sits alone, working until late in his counting-house. Relatives and friends try in vain to invite him to some seasonal festivities,but he simply can't see the point, he's too wrapped up in his own problems. Some visitors to his door receive a less than polite reply, loaded with bitterness and resentment. “Bah! Humbug!”

It takes a series of encounters with some supernatural beings to snap Scrooge out of his current cycle of bitter resentment and to instill a truly life-changing experience, just in time for Christmas.

I think I'd like to revisit this story again next week. Sounds like there's something I need to take from this...

2 December 2010

A White Stone With A New Name

Revelation 2:17 (New International Version)
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

I've been pondering this verse for a while, particularly to the reference to a 'white stone', which seems to speak so much to me on various levels. Like so many verses in Revelation, it's left open for each of us to unpack this and to understand.  What could that reference to a 'white stone' possibly mean? I've read many interpretations in books and online.

This could be...
  • ...an admission ticket to public festivals in ancient times...
  • ...a pebble of acquittal used in Greek courts...
  • ...a pebble used in elections in ancient Greece...
  • ...a stone used in the high-priest's breastplate...
...and what about the reference to the new name being written upon it?  There's been several references in various places to the importance of 'names' in Scripture, and I had even made mention of this myself in recent days when I led a Sunday meeting at the Corps - I was preaching on Daniel chapter 1 and there was a reference to the importance of names yet again!

But what is this 'new name' that we are promised here? There's other references to this in Isaiah 62:2 and Isaiah 65:15. When something is made new, it gives us a brand new start, new opportunities, new possibilities. 'I am a new creation'...

At this time of year, I am eager to accept the offer of a new start for a New Year - that seems  to me to be most attractive. If that means the acceptance of a new name - or a new title - then I'm up for it.

1 December 2010

Taking Risks

"Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don't. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever." - Philip Andrew Adams

It's December the first. It's time to look back on some of the things we've done as a family for the greetings cards that we write to friends and family. So I've taken a good hard look at my own milestones of the year. What a lot of achievements! I have stepped out even further in faith, adding to the list of things I've done for the first time.

However, I can't stand still. There's still more that I need to do. In fact, I feel that in some areas of my life I may have to do something extremely risky before certain negative elements can be changed for the better or even eradicated. 

Timing is everything. In Revelation, it says that "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." I'm listening.