Archive for the ‘joy’ Tag

20 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT 2009 SO FAR…

My year thus far. It starts quite negatively, but persist – it ends quite cheery!!

1. TUMOUR: My wife’s benign brain tumour is clearly the biggest news of the year thus far. It is horrible and scary considering brain surgery… Even so, it is with far more than token acknowledgement that I claim that God WILL use this for the good. I have already seen it in terms of the strengthening of our marriage, the strengthening of friendships, the strengthening of trust in Him. Even so, I really wish it wasn’t happening! (Sorry God…)

2. HEALING: A big challenge to us as UK evangelicals. It is the gut reaction of those in our church to pray for my wife’s ‘strength’ (generally spiritual), rather than for her ‘healing’. To some Christians this would seem bizarre. We are so keen not to give false expectations to believers, to stray into ‘wealth & health’ territory or to see Christianity as initiation into the Magic Circle. But are we exhibiting too little faith? James 5 states that ‘prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’… but also of ‘patience in the face of suffering’, so we’ll see… I’d be grateful if you’d join me in praying that the tumour would indeed shrink.

3. ANKLE: This takes me to my own ‘suffering’. Less worrisome than the above, to be sure, but my unhealing ankle ligament damage, sustained before Christmas, has significantly impacted upon my year thus far. No more chats with Tom en route to the weekly football; no more joining my wife for weekend runs; no more active lifestyle at all in fact… I pray that I too am learning patience, but if so it’s sub-conscious!!

4. 30th BIRTHDAY: Maybe it’s all tied up in this! Five years ago my ankle would have healed. Of that I’m sure. I guess these things can no longer be taken so for granted. Me being me, my birthday has unleashed a dizzying bout of self-analysis. Society says stay young, but I crave maturity, responsibility and progress, albeit whilst still being mistaken for a sixth-former at school! God has been kind to me – I have a saving faith, a wife, a home I own and a career, so I could face this artificial landmark with a certain calm. Not to say I won’t moan about these very blessings! Read on…

5. CAREER: Tumour aside, the worst thing about the year thus far has been the continuation of the annual saga entitled ‘Andy fails to get a new job’. I fear I must learn not to uphold myself by worldly standards. I’d better not, because the sad truth is I have made remarkably little progress as a teacher, whether by promotion or by moving to a better school. I know I have the potential to do more, and that I am a better teacher than some above me. But God wants me where I am for now, so I’d better get on with it!

6. THE FLAT: And as for this… it’s hard to explain how negative I feel about our material home. The next item (Debt) will be largely explained by having bought a flat – having been forced to have it damp-proofed, double-glazed, having bought the freehold and done the bathroom… only to be told that we need new floors, new plastering and that, even with all that, the flat has devalued since we bought it. We don’t have funds or practical skills (at all!). I would love to host more and to stop fretting about where this home-owning saga takes us. 2009 has not gone well in this respect!

7. DEBT: This is the shame I bear. We have been unwise at times. Savings don’t exist. Debt is significant. In this current climate it’s horrible because you’re always one redundancy or vengeful credit card company away from disaster. True faith in God is required, as well as gratitude for all we have (and it’s a lot!), but I would love to be debt-free.

8. ECCLESIASTES: Reading this in my Quiet Times was fascinating. What’s it doing there? It is so deeply cynical and depressed in tone that even the NIV Study Notes don’t seem to have a clue what to do with it much of the time! But that said, I found it massively heartening. Hope placed in anything other than Christ is ultimately ‘meaningless’. This is the alternative – and we have the answer to it!

9. JOY: As seen for much of the above, I am a real worrier (and moaner) – increasingly so as I leave my youth behind! I have a wife who can take it personally and so I need not to let it become my norm. I have begun forcing myself to acknowledge those things I am grateful for each day. Largely by…

10. DIARISATION: If it’s not enough that I record minutely my Quiet Time content and blog my every other thought, I have this year begun keeping a record of what I did each day, perhaps to enforce some accountability in not wasting my time. I want to ensure I’m seeing friends, going places… and to be able to thank God for those recorded daily blessings! It works as I’m normally grateful for most of what I’ve written down. Lets look at a couple…

11. MOVIES: I won’t say much, as when I blogged about it no-one read! My wife and I have long since been movie addicts. The surprise has been that, as I try to watch them more with God-goggles on, I find I’ve been enjoying them more! I do like to consider character motives and lessons learned… seeing how a worldview compares with our own. Turns out God isn’t a kill-joy after all!

12. FOOD: Thank God that my wife has developed a passion for working her way through the latest Jamie Oliver cook-book! Now here’s a discovery – my spiritual regime very much benefits from a general sense of physical well-being. Attempts to eat my 5-a-day, particularly with an increased fruit intake, and to eat decent satisfying meals have resulted in me feeling far more ready to do something fruitful (ha!) with my days. I have more energy and a sharper focus for sure.

13. THE SPIRITUAL ‘REGIME’: The biggest difference in my year. On the plus side it has been enormously beneficial. I have instilled a lot more discipline in 2009. I am working to devised plans regarding the gospel-exposure of my non-Christian friends, have subscribed to Christian blogs, have given more time to Quiet Times and have listened to a sermon a day on the way to work. But there’s a major down-side. I am utterly routine dependent. As shown by the snow days, it utterly falls apart without that set window before work and the journey there. Too many of my good habits, behaviour-wise, are caught up in this dependence.

14. LUST: I remain a keen admirer of the female form. The impulse is correct. But not acting upon that impulse in a sinful fashion continues to be the biggest challenge faced by the Christian bloke, particularly within a society determined to rub our faces in it. To be frank, half of my routine is designed to prevent me from fixating upon sex and the allure of the fairer species. God certainly designed me to be a married man…

15. VS THE ATHEISTS: Remember this? (Read here) What fun it was – and great encouragement. Christianity is robust enough to withstand rigorous intellectual to & fro. I will certainly return for another bout before the year is done!

16. CHRISTIANITY EXPLORED: This deliberately follows the last point. I now view my Adventures in the Blogosphere against the atheist fraternity as being God’s training for me leading a ‘guest’ group over the Christianity Explored programme currently running at CCB in lieu of ‘normal’ church. Questions have arisen of all shapes & sizes. Some I’ve dealt with well, some badly… but I have rarely met the entirely unexpected. I feel like I rehearsed… It’s been great to directly espouse the virtue of the gospel each week… Church shouldn’t be a hiding place after all!

17. BLOG: And of course there’s been this! It’s a strange old business – the time I have spent writing these thousands of words – for an audience often smaller than you could possibly imagine! Why not just e-mail those few I know are reading? Why write at all? Well it’s good to have a reason to set out thoughts – it’s good to challenge myself to see how the events of my life and the world around me come under my walk with God. If no-one at all was reading I would still have benefitted from committing to this blog. But that’s not to say I’d carry on doing it! So please keep reading!! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover one day in the next world that I wrote something God used for someone I don’t even know… That is always the tantalising possibility in the anonymity of cyber-space…

18. WASTING TIME: I need to do some marking! I’m not going to concoct artificial points just to get it to 20!

19. OR AM I? It would seem so…

20. THE END… Well done for making it this far down the post!

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THE ANGRY POST

Posted 19/1/09

I WROTE THIS FRIDAY MORNING – AN HOUR OR TWO AFTER THE INCIDENT DESCRIBED. I COME ACROSS AS PETULANT AND SULKY. THERE MIGHT BE SOMETHING TO BE GAINED BY PUBLISHING IT. LET’S SEE!

I had my car impounded last night. For no good reason. I was parked virtually opposite my own flat, on my own road, following a day at work. I was roadworthy and sufficiently taxed. I was presumably impeding slightly onto the single yellow line that runs down a portion of my road. I didn’t believe I was, but that’s because said line is so faded that it’s near impossible to see in the dark (or the light for that matter). I believed I was parked legally; where I’m always parked. Yet, for this ‘crime’ I have received, not a £40 parking ticket – which I would have considered unjust – but a £250 charge for reclaiming my car from a pound in Mitcham (plus the bus fare to get there!). No-one notified me of this. It was only after attempting to report my car as stolen to the police that I eventually discovered this information. It is beyond unjust. It is so disproportionate and traumatic that it should be considered a crime on their part. £250 is a big deal. It’s the city break in half term we can’t afford. Or the desperately needed replastering of our half-refurbished kitchen that we can’t afford. It’s a mockery of all the little ways in which I’ve tried to cut back spending in the weeks since Christmas. It is a deepening of debt suffered at the whim of profit-seeking local governmental gangsters acting on a whim to hit targets and make up budget shortfalls. My car was not blocking, inconveniencing or troubling anyone. I am literally staggered.

So how to respond to this in the Christian context?? Well…

  • I’m not angry at God (although I’m certainly angry!). He has given me all good things and such trauma is the result of a fallen world corrupted by sin, along with a culture that rejects him and his standards. I’ll just look forward to the world as it was meant to be.
  • I’m not self-pitying (at least I’m trying not to be!). It may look like I am, but I won’t shed tears over my plight – just vent a bit of righteous anger at injustice and over-large governance. I don’t think the world is against me – I have a comfortable life, I’m pretty credit-crunch proof, God-willing, and I am saved for all eternity. Hence the point above! We have to endeavour to put into practise the likes of Romans 5.
  • I’m not blameless (although I almost am this time!). If I was on a yellow line then I broke the law and I should have been more careful. But I didn’t mean to, and I honestly believe the government, when setting laws, should make them difficult to accidentally break. This same thought occurred once before, when I received a parking ticket having actually asked the parking attendant where I should place my car! Nevertheless, I won’t claim innocence.
  • Government is exceeding its godly bounds. As Pete M stated angrily last weekend – ‘It’s my blinking house – why should the government tell me where to put my heaters??’ I’d say similar about the seizure of my property because I parked my car outside my house, on a road for which I pay huge amounts of road tax. Jam Carey says some interesting things about the matter here.
  • I will pray and self-examine to see if I should learn something regarding my conduct and spiritual life from this incident. I have posted about that recently – whether we should more often see misfortune as discipline. Having now suffered, in 15 months of owning my car, two vandalised wing mirrors, a vandalised windscreen wiper, vandalised paintwork, a break-in relieving me of my stereo, 2 parking tickets and a tow… one might say there are questions to be asked about the extent to which the car has dominated my recent financial and emotional landscape! (The lesson may be ‘leave Streatham!’).

So, to conclude, I’m joyful. But I’m certainly not happy!!!

PS At the end of the school day I was presented with £23 in loose change by my fellow members of staff, word having spread of my misfortune and an inpromptu whip-round having been conducted. Often obsessed as we are with depravity and judgement, it was a nice reminder that people are often lovely.

PPS Two days later, someone hit the back of my car on Streatham High Street. I sighed really very deeply indeed. It barely left a scratch!!

QUIET TIMES

Posted 27/3/08

The following entry was written by me on the opening page of my quiet time notebook, dated 5th June 2007:

‘Last week has been the sudden whirlwind of Christian excitement that the whole year of growing interaction in Christian life has promised. Prayer triplets in Costa Coffee, prayer meetings at school, inviting people to church, discussing God in the staff room, a weekend away of fellowship (that was preparation for camp), regular quiet times, blogging about penal substitution… I can’t boast as I didn’t ask for any of it. It all just happened – apart from the blog, that’s mainly for my geeky amusement – and I want to record how I feel: Joyful!’

I then went on…

‘It won’t last! Not at this level. So, in order to retain something of this sensation, and in order to enforce order and accountability, I’m starting this notebook!’

As well as showing that I write like this even in notes to myself, this extract is a good reminder of why I began doing and recording my daily studies – not out of duty but out of excitement. That’s fascinating to me on the back of a day when, (being on school holiday) I basically spent my whole time avoiding the quiet time I knew I had to do. Having hoovered, done a cycle of washing, eaten two meals, played online games, watched a movie and some cricket, rung up three people and eaten an Easter egg, I finally did my quiet time at 4pm. This is better than yesterday, when it never happened at all. This says everything about my desperate need for a routine (my quiet time is usually at 6.40am prior to leaving for work – weekends are significantly more erratic!). It also suggests that I have lost a little of the joy that should accompany talking to God along the way. How could this be?

Put that question on hold. First, why have a QT (to use notebook-lingo) and why record it? Well, first off, let’s think about prayer. My notebook tells me that in the past 9 months I have officially prayed for at least 166 separate people/places/things/issues, whether once or repeatedly. They include at least 46 individual church folk, 57 other friends, school leaders, national leaders, kids at school, kids on camp, several people I actively dislike, Earlsfield, Streatham and Africa, issues such as abortion, Darfur or the Rugby World Cup, my flat, my health, my family, my marking and my cat. I’ve prayed for a job, I’ve prayed not to get drunk and I’ve prayed for the washing machine to work. I’ve prayed for the environment, for Bible translators, for persecuted Christians and for Richard Dawkins on three separate occasions! Now I am sure that you, good Christian reader, have prayed for just as much and more, just as I may have done had I not written it down. However, without writing it down there is no way I would now be able to assess how God has answered (Dawkins unfortunately has not fallen blind from his horse en route to Damascus, North London), deliver follow-up prayer or realise, having typed up the list, who is disturbingly missing and shall therefore tomorrow become a matter of urgency! My focus here is on prayer for others because, in my experience, shorn of the QT routine, we are still likely to send up frenzied prayers of repentance or thanks, depending upon the occasion. To pray for others, however, takes time set aside and a certain detachment from the self-involved emotion that triggers much haphazard prayer. It’s a fine reason to have a quiet time and a fine reminder that a begrudging and dutifully observed quiet time is still significantly better than no quiet time at all.

So then, what about reading the Bible? Well the trusty notebook tells me that I have thus far read through 1 Samuel, Galatians, 2 Samuel, Hebrews, half of John (ditched when I found out I’d be leading a group on Romans!), Romans, Isaiah, Matthew and, currently, am ploughing through Genesis. It is very easy to assume you know the Bible by osmosis – particularly if you grew up in a Christian family, hearing sermons and attending Sunday School or camp. However, the fact is the joy of the Bible is in the detail. It not only stands up to, but demands, close scrutiny. Whatever I heard and knew before, the fact is that in any discussion, argument or explanation it is the above books to which I am going to refer because it is them I know best. Only through quiet times do I know them well enough to make them a weapon in my hands.

Others use published notes in their QT and that may well be the best way, but I am a big fan of delving in myself and not tying myself to the deductions of another, even perhaps at the cost of missing something this time around. Chapter by chapter I scribble my notes, usually on the second read-through and, however imperceptible the text seems at first, the Spirit generally reveals something good and important in there, lending itself to application. At first I thought it was co-incidence how well the chapters I chose fit together but now I realise the whole Bible does! The models of kingship revealed in the Samuels are fulfilled by Jesus in the gospels just as surely as are the prophecies of Isaiah. What I have read of Adam and Abraham thus far in Genesis seems so familiar from Romans where those lives are placed into a new covenant context. Basically, the Bible is brilliant and was designed to be significantly useful and coherent!

So then, we return to that question. Why is it so tough??? Well it’s tough because we are deceived and distracted by an enemy who is real. It’s tough because we’re sinful. It’s tough because we live in a world where we’re so busy that to stop and sit down is often inevitably to close our eyes. But I shouldn’t hide in sermon generalities when I’ve vowed to be personal. I find it tough because, despite all I wrote above, on an everyday level, I often feel more excited at the thought of watching football or a Coen Brothers movie than I do at reading the Bible. It’s crazy but it’s true. Nor do I always WANT to be challenged and made to think – to concentrate on prayer or to repent of things I fear my sinful nature will have me shortly do again. And it’s at times like that where we have to recognise what’s good for us rather than what appeals. Maybe my raw excitement will return. Maybe it will make only fleeting appearances. It really doesn’t make any difference. In the meantime I NEED to set aside that 20 minutes and do what is good for me and what I am commanded by my creator. I can’t remember a single occasion on which I have regretted making the effort.