29 January 2014

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word...

I have been reflecting for a day or two on a comment someone made recently - that I think just a little too much.

People say I take things (sarcasm, criticism) too much to heart because I tend to dwell on it. Interesting, really, because I always thought that the fact that I dwell on things and try not to react immediately is a strength... I tend to think things through before giving a definitive answer. If you ask me for a quick answer, you will usually get one - but I guarantee that it won't necessarily be the best answer! No, I tend to stall for time... time to think. It's how I operate best.

However, on deeper reflection this is not the image I am portraying. You see, people seem to take note of the first thing that I say; the 'knee-jerk' reaction that they get. My usual standby answer is more often than not an apology. Sorry that I can't do that for you. Sorry that you are upset about that. Sorry this; Sorry that. You may even be sorry for saying sorry!  

Why? I even end up throwing out apologies in situations where it's later revealed that I'm actually in the right! Is this learned behaviour from deep within, telling me to apologise? If so, I guess that sort of instant reaction isn't serving me too well any more...

Folks that are cleverer than I tell me that it's all to do with the plasticity in the brain - how the brain fires. Negative thinking embedded from a couple of particularly nasty experiences in earlier life may be triggering self-deprecating thoughts in me. Telling me "I'm a failure." The fallback position is one of self-defence. Yes, even when I'm in the right!

If this is true, I need to unlearn this. Or, at least, I need to answer differently. Break the habit of the 'knee-jerk' reaction. I've already started to see things as they truly are, not as I have previously perceived them to be. Or, even, how others tell me they should be.

I'm told you can interrupt and (over time) alter these sort of behaviour. I'm looking at this right now. And I believe that, with my Lord's help, I will ultimately become free of it. 

Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

26 January 2014

Spreading The Good News

"Don’t just talk, update your social media, preach from pulpits, or rant from soapboxes.

Love your neighbours. Be peacemakers. Seek justice. Engage the culture. Live out the Gospel.

 - Eugene Cho

22 January 2014

Paving The Way

Isaiah 45: 1-7 (MSG)
God's Message to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand
To give the task of taming the nations, of terrifying their kings—
He gave him free rein, no restrictions:

"I'll go ahead of you, clearing and paving the road.
I'll break down bronze city gates, smash padlocks, kick down barred entrances.
I'll lead you to buried treasures, secret caches of valuables.
Confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
It’s because of my dear servant Jacob, Israel my chosen,
That I've singled you out, called you by name, and given you this privileged work.
And you don’t even know me!

I am God, the only God there is. Besides me there are no real gods.
I’m the one who armed you for this work, though you don’t even know me,
So that everyone, from east to west, will know that I have no god-rivals.
I am God, the only God there is.
I form light and create darkness, I make harmonies and create discords.
I, God, do all these things."

A magnificent passage, one that really leapt out at me when I stumbled across it the other day. I really got the feeling of power. I pictured the Almighty as a great, unstoppable force - powerful, letting neither mountains or trees get in His way.

My mind went back to my childhood - to episodes of that classic series 'Thunderbirds' where mighty
machines tore across the landscape. One of these was a giant road making machine which quickly dealt with rocks and foliage as it passed over them, leaving in its wake a paved highway right behind it (Gerry Anderson fans should check out the episodes "End of the Road" and "Atlantic Inferno" to see it in action).

The imagery conveys the message powerfully - whether the problem be a natural barrier or man-made 'gates of brass' - the result is still the same.  God knows where the one thing you are looking for is to be found and can lead you right there.It might not be anything that you haven't heard of, yet. But my Father in heaven knows about it. And can lead you right there.

And do I really know Him? I hope so. I really want to...

20 January 2014

Feeling Tired

I've had cause this weekend to study the effects of lack of sleep on the human body. This past weekend has been a very, very long day! Only myself to blame I suppose - all of the extra activities have been totally voluntary, church-based commitments. But it has stirred up a whole collection of random thoughts in my head, which I need to get down on this blog before I get up for work tomorrow morning. If this post is a little more disjointed than usual - well, that might be one more effect of 'burning the candle at both ends'...

As a result of this 'research' I am well aware of the effects on someone's reaction time. Time distorts; a decision that you would make in a split-second may take you several seconds to make. The morning after a night without sleep is rarely a very productive one for me. I'm reliably advised that a disruption to your usual sleep pattern can produce a slowed reaction -  allegedly as bad as someone who is legally drunk. There's been some interesting medical studies on the topic, some published very recently.

Although many people are aware of the effect of intoxication on, say, your driving ability, we get few warnings on the dangers of 'tired driving' - apart from the one we see on the motorway signs. I try not to drive if I am recovering from a night without sleep.

However, do we ever get warnings of the effects of tiredness on your ability to do a good job at work? Not from some employers I am afraid. These bosses are only concerned about their expenses; in maximising the workload of already-tired staff who are desperate to retain their jobs and their income in a world where employers can't guarantee you the same hours each week... some even offer 'zero-hour contracts'. (I get angry when I think about such things) It's little wonder some people work such long hours: you need to take the work while it is there.

We live in a 24 hour society, with entertainment, information and shopping available on demand and at the touch of a button. Some businesses struggle to keep up with the pace of modern business; demand longer and longer hours from their staff. Others open every hour God sends to ensure they don't lose any opportunity to earn a pound or two.

However, human beings still haven't changed; we simply can't work 24 hours. We still need the basics to survive - food, drink, love... and sleep.

Burning the midnight oil hurts us in more than one way. It disrupts our:
  • Digestion
  • Appetite
  • Physical appearance
  • Alertness to danger
  • Concentration
  • Family time
  • Love life
  • Social life
  • Quality of work
  • Moods
I'll leave the final word to Scripture to round us off today. It asks us a most important question: why would we do it? I've had to take a long look at my own motivations this weekend for abusing my body in this way, seriously questioning whether what I am doing is God-glorifying. For if He isn't at the centre of what I do, what is the point?

Psalm 127:1-2 (MSG)
"If God doesn't build the house, the builders only build shacks. If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap. It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?"

16 January 2014

Sturm und Drang

"Shing-a-ling, What a creepy thing to be happening!
(Look out, look out, look out, look out!)
Shang-a-lang, Feel the sturm und drang in the air.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah.)
Sha-la-la, Stop right where you are, don't you move a thing."

(lyrics, "Little Shop of Horrors")

Can you feel it? That strange, uneasy sense that you get when you know that you're on the cusp of some major changes - some of them will upset the apple cart big time... I know it's coming. It's just around the corner now. Just got to hold on tight to something firm. Hang on!

"I love you, Lord, You are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my Saviour. My God is my rock in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and He saved me from my enemies." Psalm 18:1-3 (NLT)

("Sturm und Drang" is a German phrase, sometimes translated as "Storm and Stress". It refers to extremes of emotional turmoil, upheaval and unrest described in literary works.)

14 January 2014

Acceptable Behaviour

The bus pulled in and we all got on. But we didn't get very far. Another passenger, clearly the worse for drink, decided to take the time to have a major row with the driver, forcing him to eject the unsavoury gent from the bus. All the other passengers could do, self included, was to sit and watch the drama unfold.
A tirade of abuse and colourful metaphors rained down upon the poor driver, while the passengers waited for the inevitable conclusion. Would we ever get home? Thankfully, only a ten-minute delay.
Train service providers aren't immune from this sort of thing. I sometimes get text messages telling me that trains have been delayed due to 'disruptive passengers'.
Complaining is one thing, however it would appear that the practice of simply yelling abuse at public servants is now tolerated. Not by me, it isn't. When did this sort of thing become acceptable?
It would appear that the UK courts  agree: they are starting to introduce something called an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC);  this is an intervention order made against individuals who are perceived to be engaging in anti-social behaviour.
Proof, I think, that some members of society need to get back to basics and learn their ABCs all over again.

13 January 2014

A Busy Day

It was just a few hours after I had arrived home after an extremely busy Sunday; it's noteworthy that it was Commitment Sunday. The day was full, rich, and eventful; packed with all sorts of interesting experiences. By bedtime I was physically and emotionally drained; exhausted. The thought of an even busier weekend next week hung heavy on my mind. And suddenly I read the following blog post, highlighted on my Twitter feed:

Suddenly it all started to make some sense and I saw some definite blessings emerge from reflecting on the events of the day. You see, it's been a bit of a revelation to me to discover the fact that I'm an introvert - but this fact has proved to be a vital key to understanding who I am and how I can best serve my Lord in the Church.

I rejoiced in some of the one-to-one conversations that I had yesterday. These were great. I was also successful not to get 'sucked in' to some of the extraverted 'huddles' that are so difficult for me.

I took pains to rest in the afternoon to recuperate before a busy evening. My son (also an introvert) was keen to give me this luxury and I'm grateful to him.

I also now realise that some of the anxiety and bitterness that I have been carrying around for a while have been caused by me not fully embracing who God made me to be - in many cases, it's been about trying to be somebody that I am not.

I am encouraged to know that God is keen to use me just as I am. I want to explore this more in 2014.

10 January 2014

Choose Your Words Carefully

Have you noticed an increase in the use of bad language in popular culture? This was very obvious to me a few nights ago.
One blog entry I read the other day had over thirty uses of the F-word in just one small article. A podcast I listened to on the same day contained over a dozen profanities.
Now I am not usually sensitive to this sort of thing, but the constant repetition of a certain four-letter word eventually got to me.  Enough is enough. Time to sound off on my blog.
I don't use bad language as a rule. That's a conscious choice on my part. There's plenty of other words that could be used to emphasise the strength of your feelings without resorting to the sort of commonplace coarseness that seems to be rife in our society nowadays. A sign of a limited vocabulary, perhaps?
Bad language is increasingly used for 'effect' in TV and film drama. Curious - because the more such words are aired, the more everyday they become, thus, the less effect they have! Do I really want to hear sexual terms in everyday use - no.
There's a time and a place for bad language. Hit your thumb with a hammer? Understandable, so I'll let you off.  Use the same words in everyday conversation across the office or in a family setting? Then expect a word or two from me. Nice ones - but strong nevertheless.