Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas Trappings

Sorry I haven't posted for over a month, explanations later. For now, here's some food for thought about Christmas.

What are you getting for Christmas?
Have you been good girls and boys?
If you are naughty then Father
Christmas won't bring any toys.

Have you got all your decorations,
Your holly and mistletoe?
Have you ordered your turkey and puddings?
Is your tree with lights aglow?

And amidst all these rushed preparations,
As you check what you've bought - and buy more,
Do you ever stop to consider
Just what are we doing it for?

What has this got to do with Jesus?
He's what it's about after all.
Are you teaching your children to love Him -
Or on Father Christmas to call?

As you eat and drink and be merry,
And open your gifts round the tree,
Does it cross your mind to be grateful
For Bethlehem and Calvary?

If you must have your festive trappings
Try to dwell on the good things that come,
(The kind that don't come in wrappings)
As we think of the birth of God's Son.

Be loving and thankful and prayerful,
Be kind, be of good cheer.
But let's forget the Christmas spirit,
And be like this all year.
Ann Marie

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Me, Me, Me

I have spent the last few months thinking a lot about the roots of my faith, and what it really means for me. There are a whole series of posts on 'These things I know', as I went back to basics and built up from there.

One of the important things as a Christian is to know where you stand with God. He has made promises to those who will follow Him, and who will accept the free gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Sometimes in the rush of life it is easy to forget these things and to allow the worries and strains of the world to blur your vision. Self esteem is a fragile thing, and yet there is a fine line between good self esteem and arrogance. Knowing who we really are in Christ is an antidote for that, because we know what we would be without Him and what we are with Him.

I have found it very useful to meditate on sections from St Patrick's Breastplate (Google it), which talks about all the things God can and will do for me each day. It is a great encouragement.

Then recently I pulled up short and reconsidered. Maybe it's a good sign that I'm moving on. All this affirmation is great in its place, but where should my focus lie? Is it all getting a bit me, me, me? Jesus saved me, God loves me, I can do all things through Christ, etc, etc. Am I getting a bit too self centred? Do I only talk to God when I want something?

The Bible says over and over that God is worthy to be praised. Not just because of what He has done, but because of who He is. I have decided that it is enough about me, and time I focussed on who this God is that I pray to, that has made me all these promises. After all, a promise is only as good as the trustworthiness of the one who makes it, and the God I am relying on has to be reliable. I think it is good to remember how great He is, and pray to Him in thankfulness and worship for a change, not just in want.

Scripture says, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." (sorry about the archaic language, that's the way I remember it, and I don't have my Bible handy). Jesus said that the first great commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength." I think it's time I looked upward instead of inward.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Weekend Away

Last weekend I went away with my new church, Pantygwydr Baptist Church. I thought it would be a good idea to get to know people better. It really worked. I will feel much more comfortable going to church in future, now that I know a few people.

We went away to a Christian centre in mid Wales called Cefn Lea. We stayed in chalets and had to walk to the main building for food and activities - which was a bit rough when it rained! But there was good food and lots of fun and games, and I had a great time.

Unfortunately, the roads are so narrow that although it was only 90 miles, it took 3 hours to get there. By Sunday when we came home I was already tired, and we had another 3 hour journey, but this time through the worst storm I have ever seen. The rain came down in sheets, hammering so hard on the car roof we could hardly talk, and visibility was only a few yards in the dark. There was sheet lightning, and we drove through 4 floods, which was scary. I was so impressed with the driver - she was marvellous. By the time I got home I was exhausted. I was already stressed out before I went, because of work, so I had to ring in sick on Monday.

Having said that, it was definitely worth it. Because of my health, I don't get to church and housegroup very often. This has made it difficult to feel like I belong. This weekend helped a lot. They are a really friendly, caring bunch.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Still Chasing Silence

I wrote recently about seeking silence, and so many things getting in the way. Well, the main thing taking up my time - making the flowers for my friend's daughter's wedding - is finally done. They collected them today. So I have one less excuse.

I have a new one to replace it, though. I am getting more tired these days. When I think of sitting in silence, I'm convinced I will fall asleep. Very spiritual, that! As I get tired, I feel more under pressure, and I need to escape that.

I'm sharing this because I am convinced that I am not the only one. We all need it.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Sound of Silence

I have mentioned before that I am reading a book by the Abbot of Worth Monastery, called Finding Sanctuary. In this often frantic, stressful world we could all do with a bit of sanctuary, and we often try to find it in holiday destinations, but we have to come home again. The kind of sanctuary we really need is a peace and stillness within, which we can carry with us all the time.

I spoke previously about getting rid of busy-ness. I am now looking at silence. You know how, when you go on a diet, the first thing that happens is that you crave all the things you're not allowed to have? Well, as soon as you try to find silence, you get more noise.

Ever since I decided to take time out each day just to be silent, life seems to have got busier. And if I do grab a moment, my mind races, and fills with all the concerns of the day. I really can't believe it. I'm determined to overcome and do this thing. I think it's important for me. Any suggestions will be seriously considered, as long as they don't conflict with my faith. I will keep you posted.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Be Still

I have been reading a book called Finding Sanctuary by Abbot Christopher Jamison. He is the Abbot of Worth Abbey, where they filmed the TV series The Monastery, broadcast in May 2005. The book is not about the TV series, but refers to it for examples as he explains how to find sanctuary.

The first point he makes is that we are all too busy, caused especially by this consumerist society. We are all encouraged to buy more things and want more things, and we have to work harder and longer to get them. Some people are really too busy and some only think they are. It has the same effect.

'Sanctuary' has two meanings: a sacred space, and a place of refuge. Many of us take time out, go on holiday etc., as a place of refuge, but it doesn't work because we have to go back to work and our busy lives. Sanctuary only works when it is also a sacred space. Once you find it, you carry it with you always.

Psalm 46 in the Bible, is full of turmoil and chaos. It talks about mountains falling, nations in uproar, desolation and war. Then suddenly, in verse 10, it says, "Be still, and know that I am God."

This is the beginning of finding sanctuary. You need to stop in the middle of your rushing about, and think about God. If you are not a Christian, you need to find out who He is and what He is like, then you need to be still and think about it. If you are a Christian, you should know these things, but we all get busy and need to be reminded. We still need to be still and think about what we know.

Thinking about God can take a lot of time and have a lot of consequences, but the place to start is just to pause, whatever you are doing, be still, and know that He is God. Try it now, and don't dodge the results.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Arrival of the Torch

The Olympics is over, the Paralympics has just begun. In preparation, over many months, the torch has been carried through many nations of the world. Although it is a great honour, the individuals who carried the torch were not important. The torch, the flame, representing the ideals of the Olympics, is the focus of attention, as it calls people of all nations to prepare for the coming Games.

However spectacular the Opening Ceremony, the key point that everyone is waiting for is the arrival of the torch and the lighting of the Olympic flame. This is the signal for the beginning of the Games.

Just as the carrying of the torch over many months signals preparation for the Games, so through history we can see the preparation from God for the coming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God's kingdom. In people's lives, the torch was not always important, not always paid attention to. But it went on. In history, key events were not always obvious to people at the time, but as we look back we can see the overarching plan, the development of God's purposes to restore His kingdom among men.

In the Old Testament we learn of Abraham, Moses and Israel. God raised them up and made promises to them and to the people of Israel. He gave them Judges and Kings to rule over them. It is when we get to the Gospels in the New Testament that 'the torch arrives'. John the Baptist was the final bearer of the torch, the one who lit the flame when he baptised Jesus, thus launching his ministry.

The great news for us today is that, unlike the Olympic Games, God's kingdom is not only for the elite to participate and the rest to spectate. The kingdom is for everyone to "press on towards the goal to win the prize" (Philippians 3 v14). There is no qualification standard, because no one can reach God's standard on their own. We have to recognise that and turn and accept the gift which Jesus Christ died for, which is free to all.

Also, unlike the Olympic Games, there is no end after a few weeks, and all look forward to the next one in four years. The 'Games' go on, everyone is invited, and the Good News is continually being spread around the world.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Beginning Writing

Beginning Writing

Experienced writers will probably be appalled at my writing attempts, but as an absolute beginner, I feel sure that there are many out there, like me, who are daunted by the apparent ease with which authors master the various techniques required for successful writing. This is my story. Some may call it lazy, some may criticize my methods, but maybe some will be encouraged that a duffer can still find genuine pleasure and a sense of achievement from writing, even if it will never be good enough to publish.

I am a great fan of science fiction, particularly the older type. I am also a fan of the older TV science fiction. Star Trek of course, Blake's 7, and Babylon 5, for example. When I was trying to get to sleep at night, to quieten my thoughts of my worries and concerns, I used to make up stories about my favourite shows.

I would imagine myself on the Enterprise with Captain Kirk, for example. How would an ordinary person like me end up on the Enterprise? Was I from a less developed society, so I wasn't familiar with the technology (saved me from having to make it up)? Was I, perhaps, from a different time all together – got there through some sort of time warp? Was I in hiding from someone? Was I a victim of some 'bad guy'?

As I tossed ideas around in my head, everything else would fade away, and I would relax, and at some point I would fall asleep. The following night I would try to remember where I had got to, and elaborate on it. Sometimes I would work out some more details, sometimes take the story further on. Some nights, I would be inspired to take the story in a completely new direction. Each night I would go over the story again and again, until eventually I would tire of it and start a new one.

One day I decided I was enjoying these stories so much that I would write them down. I don't expect to ever have them good enough to publish, but the actual writing is a very satisfying hobby. I soon realised that having me in every story was not a good idea – there are only so many damsels in distress you can take. My first story had a damsel in distress, which I thought was an acceptable place to start, but later stories managed to have other key characters. Also, it was a huge cheat to use other people's settings and characters. So I invented my own ship and crew. It took me ages – ready-made scenarios are so much easier. Enter the Kestrel, a fast response ship with a crew of 11, working for PACT (the Planetary Alliance for Cooperation and Trade), a sort of interplanetary police force.

Because of the way my story-making began, I was entirely plot driven. I knew the characters and scenery from the TV series, so I just made up the plot. Having got to the end of writing my first story, called 'Intruders', I realised that all the characters were cardboard, just there to move the plot on, and there was virtually no description at all. At one point in the story, some time has to pass while the Kestrel travels to an uncharted part of the galaxy. I had no idea what to do with it, but it seemed very weak to say, “some time later they arrived.”

This was the point at which I started reading books on writing, and realised all my shortcomings. I finished the story, so I had captured the whole plot, and then went back through and started 'padding'. My husband told me off for calling it that, as it sounds like putting in any rubbish to fill it out a bit. That's not what I mean, it's just my shorthand for filling out the story so it becomes more real. It is interesting to read interviews with authors who talk about their characters coming alive for them, and sometimes taking over the story and sending it in a new direction. This was all new to me.

So I spent all my spare moments, including those when I was trying to get off to sleep, working out just who the Kestrel crew were – what they looked like, their temperament and character, and their relationships with each other. It was hard, and very sketchy to begin with. I also found, as I wrote them into the story, that I had to keep a file on each one, to keep track of their details. James Kirk famously once said, “I'm not from outer space, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space.” It was a cute line, but the writers of Star Trek were then stuck with Iowa – they couldn't have Kirk coming from anywhere else in later scripts.

Initially, I found it annoying to have to take so much time out of writing 'the story' to sort out all these details, but gradually I came to realise that the story doesn't mean anything unless the reader really cares for these people and what happens to them. In the film Galaxy Quest, one crew member asks the others what his last name is. No one knows. He is convinced that this means that he's the one who is going to die on the away mission. We are not supposed to care about him, he is just a plot device. What we care about is how the other characters try to save him and have to cope with his death.

My powers of description have to stretch further, to describe the scenery, which I really struggle with. I read a lot, and once I started writing I paid more attention to how the book was written, as well as enjoying the story. Being plot driven, I used to think that I would lose the tension of the moment if I stopped to talk about the room they are in, their facial expressions, body language etc. I was amazed to find in my reading that the moment can be heightened by describing the scene in more detail and what is going on in people's minds. I never paid it any attention before, just got swept away in the moment. Some 'moments', I discovered, can go on for pages!

In some of the 'how to' books there are exercises on description, dialogue, etc. I have never done any of them, because it seemed such hard work when I was purely writing for pleasure. However, there's no pleasure when you let your loved ones read your great story and they tell you it's boring! I left my first story for a while and then went back to it, and I could see that no matter how good the plot is (assuming it's any good at all), you can't just zip from one incident to another and then have them all living happily ever after.

Another thing which I felt was time away from writing the actual story, was research. When I was writing about Star Trek and Babylon 5, I didn't need to research, because it was all done for me. When I started writing my own stories I relied on what I already knew from years of Sci-Fi reading, and the fact that because it's Sci-Fi you can make a lot of it up. But I soon came up against things I couldn't make up. Is there any gravity on an asteroid? What sort of injuries would someone get from the blast of an explosion? Thank goodness for the internet, but I still had to take the time to hunt for what I needed, and in language that wasn't too technical for me to understand! Again, this is probably the wrong way to do it, but I only do the research when I get to the bit where I need to know. Sometimes this does mean that I have to go back and re-write bits that now don't work.

To give me more time away from the first story, I wrote some new ones, and tried to put these ideas into practice. I still write in what I call 'layers'. The plot comes first, then the characters, then the setting. But I found that some of the plot arose out of the characters. Instead of just being action, there are characters who are scared, foolhardy, etc., which are new devices for the plot. I started to write incidental scenes where characters would interact and demonstrate their relationships and their temperament, which then became significant later, or just made the characters more real.

I found that my stories were a strange length – about 20,000 words. This is much too short for a novel, but too long for a short story. My daughter-in-law also commented after reading one story, that my chapters are too short, and the 12 chapters I had written were probably only 3 or 4. I reviewed the three Kestrel stories I had written so far, and decided to turn them into two, and add a lot more to them. This involves putting stories two and three together, as they feature the same key character, and writing a new story to go on the front of story one. This new story has proved a huge challenge, as I have to take all the references to a previous incident from story one, and remember the character development I have written and take all the characters back to what they would have been before it all. Once that is done I then have to go back and completely re-hash the other stories. Still, it keeps me out of mischief!

One more thing (although experienced writers will probably say there are many others). I discovered the reason that other stories are longer than mine is that they have sub plots. Again, it took me a while to work this out. My stories only have one plot. The sub plots not only act as 'padding', they fill in some of the backgound to the characters and situations in the main story. This is another challenge, and, knowing me, will be added as another 'layer' to my stories.

It probably seems a strange way to write fiction, and maybe one day it will all come together in my head, but this is the way I do it. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting to read the finished result though.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Suffering - Personal

I haven't posted for a few days because I have been very low. I suffer with fibromyalgia, which for those who don't know, is like having arthritis and the flu at the same time, without the coughing and sneezing. although in my case, on top of everything else, I have had a tickly cough that keeps me awake nights, since before Christmas. It comes and goes, and at the moment it has gone. Which is just as well, because fibromyalgia is actually a nerve disease, and has decided to have a go at my face. I currently have neuralgia and toothache. My Dentist says it is agravated by stress, and work has been very stressful lately (see other post).

So after the long list of woes, here is what I wanted to say about it. In my post on suffering under 'These things I know' I wrote about the theory. I want to tell you that for me it is not theory, it's life. I am very low at the moment because the pain is very wearing, and I just get fed up being ill sometimes. But underneath it all I know I have someone who not only understands, but gives me strength to cope - God.

It says in the Bible that God's mercies are new every morning. I used to think He wasn't being merciful to me when I woke up in pain, but then I realised I should be glad I woke up at all. Every morning God gives me another day to enjoy, to spend with my friends and family who love me, to get satisfaction and pleasure out of work and recreation, even if I am limited in how much I can do. Life is never hopeless because God is always there. I tend to get lowest when I forget that and wallow in self pity. Mind you I think I'm entitled to a little self pity now and again!

There's lots more I want to say, but I think it's best in little pieces, so watch this space.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Even the Mighty Will Fail

Even the mighty will fail,
Even the Conquerors fall,
Even the richest cannot pay enough,
No one can answer the call.

No one who is without fault,
No one who's not gone astray,
Only the perfect can stand before God,
Pride and deceit bar the way.

No way we can fix ourselves,
No way to undo the past,
No way to perfection in future lives,
The flaw inside holds us fast.

We have no hope in the world,
But then God gives up His Son.
So why is it so hard to accept
That he is the only One?

The One who lives without sin,
Yet is punished for us all.
The One who gives us new lives and new hearts,
Makes us conquerors after all.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

These things I know: 6 Suffering

When Adam fell, creation fell. We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people.

Sometimes when things go wrong it is totally random, not necessarily anyone's fault. Like sickness, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes.

Sometimes it is the fault of mankind in general, for abusing nature and its resources, or because of corruption and inequality.

Sometimes we bring things on ourselves or someone causes our pain or distress.

But in all cases we can see the hand of God if we will look for it. Not inflicting the problem, but supporting us through it. Whether our suffering is actually sent by God or caused by others (or ourselves) is largely irrelevant. We suffer much worse by agonising over it, worrying about 'why', dwelling on the injustice of it.

Whatever the reason for your suffering, God can use it - to strengthen your dependence on Him, to detach yourself from material things and your own wants and desires, and to strengthen your character. (See Romans 5:3-5, quoted in These things I know 5)

Other posts in this series:
1 Intro
2 The Kingdom of God
3 Sin
4 Salvation
5 The Old Man

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Get a Life

I found out today that Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Think about it.

Friday, 1 August 2008

These things I know: 5 The Old Man

Becoming 'born again' does no completely eradicate our old ways of thinking and acting. We live in a strange sense of 'now and not yet'. There is a saying, "I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved."

"I am saved," because Jesus has paid for my sins and satisfied God's justice. Jesus said, "No one can take them out of my hand." In the course of daily living it is easy to feel that we are losing it and see to earn what God has already freely given. We need to hold on to the promises of assurance. We also need to rememer that we are precious to God and "he rejoices over [us] with singing."

"I am being saved," because God works with our own wills to transform us to the likeness of Christ. Sometimes I wish I could have been instantly transformed outwardly as well as in my spirit when I became a child of God. But I guess such a transformation would have altered me from my distinctive 'me-ness' and perhaps have made it impossible for me to go on living in an imperfect world with imperfect people. How would they relate to me? Also, what sort of character would I have if everything were done for me? Paul exp-lained it very well:
"... we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." (Romans 5:3-5)

As the T-shirt slogan says: "Be patient, God hasn't finished with me yet."

"I will be saved," because the hope that Paul referred to is the promise that in the end we will all be like Christ and receive the desire of our hearts. So it will be finished one day, but the process is ongoing.

Other posts in this series:
1 Intro
2 The Kingdom of God
3 Sin
4 Salvation
6 Suffering

These things I know: 4 Salvation

Only a sinless human being could satisfy God's justice, and that would be for himself alone. Only God can stand on behalf on all sinful people. God's mercy and love demanded the rescue of all people.

So God the Son, with the power to represent all people, became mortal, fully human, with the power to satisfy God's justice.

Salvation is the free gift of perfection in God's Kingdom for those who accept the death of Jesus Christ as their own. If we die, we cannot satisfy the requirements for the Kingdom. If we ive, justice awaits. Jesus Christ took our punishments upon Himself so that we can die to sin and live a new life in Him.

Other posts in this series:
1 Intro
2 The Kingdom of God
3 Sin
5 The Old Man
6 Suffering

These things I know: 3 Sin

Sin is not what we do, it is what we are. Since Adam & Eve's rebellion, everyone has been born with that fatal flaw. There is no one who has ever lived, no matter how good, who has never told a lie, broken a promise, thought wrong thoughts - except one.

Since God's Kingdom cannot accept anyone who is not perfect, and since no one can perfect themselves, God's justice stands against us all. But God is also merciful and loves us. He is not willing for anyone to perish.

Throughout the Old Testament God raised up a special people to be His own, gave them laws and rituals, prophets and priests. Their history serves to prove how impossible it is for mankind to even remain faithful. Sin is the greatest barrier to salvation, not only because it makes us imperfect, but because ourpride will not even admit that we are sinful. People need to understand the bad news of sin and judgement, and accept it, before they are ready to understand the Good News.

Other posts in this series:
1 Intro
2 The Kingdom of God
4 Salvation
5 The Old Man
6 Suffering

These things I know: 2 The Kingdom of God

This is the foundation of the whole Bible and the Gospel. At creation, God established His Kingdom on earth. Adam & Eve lived under God's rule, in the place God set apart for them. Their rebellion against God severed that relationship and resulted in their being thrown out of the Garden of Eden. It doesn't matter whether you believe the Adam & Eve story literally or not, it is the principles it illustrates that are important.

Ever since, God has been working to restore His Kingdom. This could not be done all at once, mankind has free will and needed to learn more about God and His purposes, and the truth about the human condition.

* It began with a covenant with Adam & Eve - individuals.
* Then a covenant with Abraham and his descendants - a family.
* Through the exodus, God made a covenant with Israel - a nation. He gave them laws and religious practices, and led them to a promised land.
* Through Jesus Christ, God's Kingdom became available to the whole world.

The 'promised land' failed in Eden because of rebellion, failed with Abraham's family and with Israel because of faithlessness and sin. This showed repeatedly that perfect obedience to God is impossible for human beings, because they are flawed from the start.

Only through Jesus Christ can we be made perfect and born again to as new life in God's Kingdom. God has provided the means to meet His own requirements.

Other posts in this series:
1 Intro
3 Sin
4 Salvation
5 The Old Man
6 Suffering

These things I know: 1 Intro

A short while ago I went through a crisis with my faith, and kind of lost the plot for a bit. To help me sort my head out, I decided to go back to basics and write down what I was sure of. These things are the basis for my faith, and everything else builds on them. This helped me concentrate on what was most important, and remind me of the Good News. Maybe they would help someone else, so here they are.

2 The Kingdom of God
3 Sin
4 Salvation
5 The Old Man
6 Suffering

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Know it, Live it, Love it

This is my motto, which I adopted recently. It applies particularly to my Christian faith, but you can apply it in other ways too. First you have to know what the principles are that you want to live by. It amazes me how many people drift along without really thinking about what is important. It also amazes me how many people say they believe things but don't live by them. I am guilty of this sometimes, in not living fully in the light of what Jesus has done for me and where I stand before God. The last thing is to love it. You can't live your life by things you don't like. You either need to change your principles or change your attitude. There's something to think about.