28 March 2012

My Happy Place

Today was a challenge of a day. However, rather than harp on and on about it I thought I would draw a line under it, and concentrate instead on reflecting on some positive feelings.

I tried to visualize myself in places of calm, to times and places where I'd felt most at ease; to experiences that I'd really like to go back to today if I could. Some people may say that I was seeking to find 'my happy place'. Here's the list I drew up this evening...

* Inside the prayer room at one of the Territorial Congress events a few years ago
* Walking the grounds at daybreak at the SAFE Music School
* Sitting inside a practically empty coffee shop (with a wi-fi connection), drinking coffee
* Sitting outside my tent whilst away camping with the family, once again drinking coffee

I wonder what that says about me?

26 March 2012

Taking The Train Home

An interesting thing occurred on the 16:17 train home tonight. Once the train had started off, one of the standing passengers starting preaching to the commuters in the carriage.

As they were a captive audience, the commuters simply sat there and listened. Only one person actually heckled. What the preacher had to say to the group sounded pretty sensible to me (God loves you, He has a plan for your life).

At the next station he moved along the train to the next carriage (as best he could, this was rush hour after all!) and therefore he went out of earshot. He obviously continued on with his mission further down the train...

Eventually the train was brought to a halt at a station half way along its journey. There was a five minute wait and a lot of activity on the platform, until the doors closed and the train left the station, with the man detained by the police and railway authorities. I guess he had finally outstayed his welcome.

Whilst I personally had no issue with the content of the message he was carrying, his method of delivering it obviously wasn't ideal. In addition, I couldn't help but think of the repercussions that a criminal record for causing a breach of the peace would do for this man's future; indeed, for any future opportunity to serve his Lord.


25 March 2012

Not About The Money

It's not about the money, money, money
We don't need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag
Ain't about the Cha-Ching Cha-Ching
Ain't about the Ba-Bling Ba-Bling
Wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag.

(chorus to 'Price Tag' by Jessie J; written by Jessie J, Dr. Luke, Claude Kelly and B.o.B)

1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Everyone has a different opinion about money and how to handle it - particularly with the current state of the world economy. There are stacks of places where you can get advice on the subject - including, of course, biblical teaching. I am informed that money is mentioned 140 times in the Bible, with gold specifically mentioned 417 times and silver 320 times (King James Version).

And it's interesting to note how often Jesus talked about money - there's ten separate references recorded in the gospel of Luke alone. Consider the challenging words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6:24 (NIV), where He says, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

I've been thinking and praying about this a good deal lately, following a few discussions in the Corps and some diligent reviewing of my family's finances.

My personal view on the subject? Money is an essential in my life - but only insofar as it enables me to help others. It's there to facilitate what I can do for my family, for my church, for others. It's what I need to keep the car running, to keep the children fed; to allow me to go to the places that I need to be.

I fight against frustration on those occasions when the money simply isn't there. I do what I can with the budget that I have. I often think about how much more effective I could be if I had more resources - but that's not the way it is. God teaches me to be content with what I have; how to budget; how to prioritise.

While planning this post, I spent an hour or two looking round the shops this week - window shopping, I simply didn't have the cash to buy anything that day. I saw the shoppers weighed down by the bargains in their bags, trying to live well beyond their means, seeking contentment in the latest gadget or fashion accessory. It made me a little sad

Because, you see, it's not about the money... not about the money at all.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV)
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

22 March 2012

Christians At Work

Colossians 3:23-24(NIV)
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

There was a time that I had trouble separating my commitment to my employer in my paid work, from my commitment to my church in my voluntary work. The position got a little less clear once I started working for my church. How tricky that was! Trying to work out priorities, how not to let the two mix, because you have to keep both parts separate...

The solution? A realisation that both parts of my life are actually the same. In fact, it's the same for anyone follows the Lord - we're all in full-time Christian service!

Some are called to be pastors, some to be administrators, some to be workers with their hands. But all are called by Him to work for Him!

You see, God doesn't make such a distinction between sacred and secular. In fact, I understand that the Hebrew word for work avodah has a root which has three distinct yet intertwined meanings: work, worship, and service. God therefore sees our work as worship.

Serving God is therefore just as important in the secular workplace as serving Him in your church. It's all the same. He calls you to do your best; to use your skills for the best result. And to use them wherever you are called.

18 March 2012

Defeating Discouragement

Nehemiah 4:10 (NIV)
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, "The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall."

I felt so lousy - but couldn't put my finger on exactly why. I just felt so down when I walked through the door on that winter evening. Sure, perhaps it was just the weather; that may be part of the reason. However, the day had otherwise been a good one, everything had gone well. So why did I feel so low that night?

I decided to fight back, not to give in to it as I may have done previously. Reaching out to my Lord in prayer, I looked with Him for ways to turn this feeling around, to turn this negative into a positive. This discouragement would not defeat me today! If anything else, perhaps it could become a blog entry...

I took some pointers from a study on Nehemiah 4:10 as I tried to understand some of the reasons I felt so grotty...

Like the workers in the verse, I'd worked pretty hard over the last day or two, so doubtless part of it was possibly that I really needed a break, to "recharge the batteries".

And then I considered the rubble, getting in the way. Was there rubble in my life that needed clearing out? Before the work on the new could continue, the remains of the old needed to be cleared away.

I picked myself up, started sifting through the pieces of the day as I rested. Pretty soon I felt so much better. Ready to start again tomorrow.

Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Not The Comfy Chair

The words mentioned above refer back to the well-known 'Monty Python' sketch which featured a parody of the Spanish Inquisition. An odd way I know to introduce the subject for today's post: the concept of comfort in our everyday Christian lives. Bear with me a little...

You see, some people have a hard time coming to terms with some of the difficulties in following the Christian path, particularly when a number of scripture verses describe the Holy Spirit as a 'comforter'. They don't see anything comforting about it - in fact, the whole experience makes them most uncomfortable.

A dictionary definition of comfort:
"Experiencing physical well-being or relief; free from stress; having or affording peace of mind."

Okay, let's look at that word 'comforter' a little deeper. The Greek word used here for the Holy Spirit here is parakletos , which etymologically means "called to one's side." In fact, that where we get the English word 'paraclete' (a word that is not in common usage but which I really like). Modern English translations prefer to use the words "comforter", "helper" or "advocate". Incidentally, the Hebrew version of the word is to be found in Job 16:2 in the plural, referring to the "comforters" who came to Job when he was in distress. Not very comforting, were they?

The word 'comforter' then isn't anything to do with rest or ease - it's more about encouraging you in your quest for truth. Helping you along. Steering you the right way. Lifting you up to greater things. Giving you peace of mind that you're on the right path.

As far as I am concerned, part of that 'comfort' is an encouragement not to sit there at home, but to be out there in the community, out of my comfort zone.

And not sitting in the comfy chair.

13 March 2012

Time For A Makeover?

Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

My daily reading this morning was based on Ephesians 4, where the writer used an example from popular culture and talked about a 'makeover' - making a radical change in your physical appearance to show things aren't the same any more. In the same way, Paul teaches that Christians are called to make similar changes spiritually by 'putting off their old self'.

Paul's imagery of a spiritual makeover really challenged me today and I couldn't help reflecting on the different types of clothing that I have worn over the years. Different clothing for different situations, different jobs. Business suits - gardening overalls - a host of fancy dress costumes - jeans and tee-shirts - and of course a variety of uniforms! The challenge: if I had to pick one particular 'look', which one would represent the 'real' me?

Paul's writing is all about reclothing ourselves from the inside: to leave behind the futility and ignorance of the past, and live clothed in 'robes of white' before God.

12 March 2012

House Of Cards

Why is it that you can identify a problem, get a particular idea in your head as to how to solve it, spend an hour or two working out an entire plan of action, get everyone to agree - and when you start applying it, it simply doesn't work; the plan starts to fall down like a house of cards!

What went wrong? Were there simply too many chances for things to go awry? Did the individuals concerned really commit to the plan? Should there have been more planning? Was this the right way to go about it?

Or should we have done something else in the first place?

Oh well. Back to square one.

James 4:13-16 (NIV)
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

4 March 2012

More About Dogs

I blogged a while ago about the Hound of Heaven, pursuing us in love. It's funny, but a reference in today's message from the platform had got me thinking again along similar lines. This was another dog reference. Strange: I'm not particularly a dog lover - why do these dog phrases kind of leap out at me?

The phrase was mentioned during the message that, given half a chance, the devil would be there "...following you around like a mangy dog." Hmmm...

The term "mangy dog" conjures up an image of something dirty, unkempt, 'moth-eaten'. Not at all pretty. But it latches onto you, it won't go away... it'll follow you home. It'll be there waiting for you in the morning. It's hard to shake off.

It's doggedly persistent, but not nice to look at. You can't seem to get rid of it. You may well run away from it, but it's cunning and it catches up with you. You're worried what people will say when they realise it belongs to you. You feel ashamed; you'd rather lie and cheat rather that admit that's your problem.

James 4:7 (NIV)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.


A brief aside now to discuss something that's going to be hitting the big screen in the very near future. And this takes me right back to my childhood! You see, in my formative years, the name 'Avengers' referred to two separate series.

The Avengers was a 'spy-fi' TV series produced by a British company called ABC Television. A spin-off from another TV show called 'Police Surgeon', it initially focused on Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), assisted by John Steed (Patrick Macnee). When Hendry left, Macnee took the centre stage and Steed became the main character, sporting a bowler hat which soon became his trademark, ably accompanied by a succession of glamorous assistants; Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), and Tara King (Linda Thorson). The shows mixed science fiction and fantasy with light-hearted adventure and parody. The show was produced between 1961 and 1969, and was exported to over 90 countries. A sequel series entitled The New Avengers (1976–1977) also featured Patrick Macnee with two new partners, Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt) and Purdey (Joanna Lumley).

And, at the same time, The Avengers was a team of Marvel Comics superheroes, whose adventures first saw publication in 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the team was made up of "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", which essentially meant that the series featured a selection of Marvel's individual characters, all working together as a team. New characters were introduced from time to time, which meant that the team's roster was constantly changing. With a battle cry of "Avengers Assemble!", the series has been published constantly ever since.

Both of these still have a fond place in my heart. And, very soon, both will have had movie spin-offs.

Unfortunately, the attempt to produce a big-screen version of the TV series was a bit of a disaster, producing a quite awful 1998 film - which I reviewed a while ago.

The film version of the comic book series looks to be much more promising. The movie is set to be released on 27th April 2012 in Europe, but the UK print of the film is being retitled as "Avengers Assemble", possibly to avoid confusion with the TV series. The film will star Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner as the team, with Samuel L. Jackson backing the team up.

3 March 2012

Your Move

Have you ever had a particularly weak moment in your life? I've had a few. You know, the sort of day when I just wanted to crawl back into bed. Times when I just wanted to yell in frustration or cry my eyes out (but of course I couldn't, 'cause I'm a fella and that's not the way us fellas are supposed to behave).

Have you been there? Are you at that place right now? Well, here's some news for you.

At Your Weakest Point, God Is At His Strongest.

What that means in a practical sense is that God won't get in your way as long as you think you have the answer. He'll let you carry on.

However, when you finally admit to yourself that you haven't a clue, that you are totally lost, out of options.... and you surrender your life to the Almighty, then and only then, will God will do His stuff.

There's nothing too hard for God to handle.

But it's your move. You need to take that first step...

Your move.