Thursday, 22 December 2011

Thinking Thursday: God's Poem

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Christians are God’s “workmanship.” The Greek word is poiema, from which we get our word “poem.” It means “a work of art, a masterpiece.” In Christ, you receive God’s grace and become his work of art.

Michelangelo’s paintings and sculptures testify to his creative genius. Shakespeare’s plays make us mindful of the work of a master. Mozart’s music proclaims the inspired talent of an incomparable composer.

Paul is saying, “Look around. Consider the Christians you know. Think about the difference God has made in their lives. Each life points to the creative genius of God. He has taken wrecked, broken, distorted, misguided lives and made them works of art.”

We are God’s workmanship. Poems, communicating his grace, mercy, and love. Paintings, designed to capture on the canvas of daily living the very essence of life.

God's poem? That's what he has in mind for you! 

[The above was posted on 14th July 2009 by Rusty Peterman on his Jesus Apprentice Blog.  As we look back over the last year it would be good to reflect on how God is shaping our lives. Merry Christmas.]

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Scribbling Saturday: New Blogs

Now that things are settling down and I will have more time to concentrate, and now that work on publishing my history book is seriously under way, I have decided that it's time to re-do my blogs.

I am going over to Wordpress, which allows blogs to look more like web sites. I will be converting this blog first, and changing it to reflect my current interests, in order to practice with Wordpress before creating a new blog for Alina and copying most of my White Lady blog posts into it. I have to think about exactly what I want to achieve with each blog, and work out what I need to do.

This blog will still be Ann Marie Thinking Out Loud, but won't include any crafts, for example, as my craft work is now my writing. I am going to do more writing about my faith too, but I haven't decided everything yet. My Alina (aka White Lady) blog will be the platform for publicising the book, when it is published, so has to be carefully thought out.

All suggestions will be gratefully received. Watch this space for further developments and news of when the new blogs are launched. I hope you will follow either or both of them.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Thinking Thursday: Surprised by Answered Prayer

Why are we always surprised by answered prayer? Is it because God so rarely does our bidding?

Since my stroke, I have been unable to drive, and I have spent the past few months going through the process of getting my licence back. I had an assessment in August which confirmed that I was medically fit to drive, and have since been having driving lessons in an adapted car.

It proved much harder than I expected to get used to a different way of driving. I got panicky when I lost control for a moment, and sometimes ended up in tears. Friends prayed for me, and I prayed for strength and concentration and calm. On the verge of giving up, it suddenly came together. Thank you Lord.

Today I had my second driving assessment, to determine whether I could successfully control a car and be allowed to have my driving licence back (suitably amended, of course). I was very nervous, and friends prayed for me, and I prayed.

Something I hadn't bargained on was a magnifying of my emotions. A side-effect of the stroke was a condition called 'emotional lability', sometimes rather unflatteringly called 'emotional incontinence'. It is an inability to control emotions, particularly laughter and tears. At first, a small joke would have me laughing so hard I couldn't breathe, and a small kindness would see me sobbing uncontrollably. I have regained a lot of control as I have recovered, but not all.

Today I found my nervousness magnified hugely. Michael prayed for me and left me sobbing. By the time we reached the assessment centre I had to rush to the loo where I had diarrhoea and was sick. Yet when I got in the car, I was suddenly calm, and all went well. Thank you Lord.

Help me Lord, not to be surprised by answered prayer.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thinking Thursday: Persistence

Those who follow my Scribbling Saturday blog posts or follow me on Facebook will know that I just finished NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. I succeeded in writing 39,000 words, which was quite an achievement, and 7,000 up on last year.

The question is whether I am going to take the practice of daily writing and make it a habit in my normal life.

I think of NaNoWriMo as being like a Christian Bible Week or weekend celebration. You suspend some of your normal daily practices and have an intense time of learning and spiritual  experiences. The trouble is, when normal life resumes, the great things from the time out get soon forgotten.

How long do the things from the Sunday sermon stay with you once the week starts?  Will you put things in place in your life so that you can keep on doing the good things, the inspirational things, the things that change your life?

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Scribbling Saturday: NaNo Report

Including today, I have five days of NaNoWriMo left, and seventeen thousand words still to write. I have to make the decision: do I abandon everything and write like crazy to try to reach fifty thousand words, or do I live my life and settle for what I can get?

This year has been a difficult one. My historical novel did not go well - I fear it may be irredeemable drivel - and I am not inspired by my scifi novel. I think my creativity just gave up on the first and won't revive for the second. Oh well, that's life. To be fair, it has also coincided with having the decorator in, with mess and noise making concentration difficult, and I am having driving lessons in an adapted car, which has been nerve wracking.

Memo to self:
1. Clear the decks next year so there is little going on to distract me.
2. Plan the novel in much more detail.
3. Define the main chacters in detail so that you really know who they are and what they feel.

Memo to other NaNoWriMos:
Learn from my mistakes!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thinking Thursday: The World Needs People Who...

The world needs people who cannot be bought;
whose word is their bond;
who put character above wealth;
who possess opinions and a will;
who are larger than their vocations;
who don't hesitate to take chances;
who don't lose their individuality in a crowd;
who will be as honest in small things as they are in great things;
who will make no compromise with wrong;
whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires;
who will not say they do it "because everybody else does it";
who are true to their friends through good report and evil report, in adversity as well as in prosperity;
who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning and hard-heartedness are the best qualities for winning success;
who are not afraid to stand for the truth even when it's unpopular;
who say "no" with emphasis, even though the rest of the world says "yes".

Ted Engstrom

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Scribbling Saturday: NaNo Panic

Twelve days into NaNoWriMo, I have written over sixteen thousand words, which is no mean feat. But it has not been easy. I want to offer some words of encouragement to anyone who may be struggling, or who is afraid to try.

I am trying to turn historical fact into historical fiction, and it is much harder than I expected. I didn't realise how much research I would need, and I keep having to stop and look something up. There is so much I can't make up. So my 1700 words a day is taking several hours, and other important things are getting left out. I have reluctantly decided that I have to limit my writing time, because some other things are important.

Does this mean that NaNoWriMo is too hard? No!
Does this mean that I am a failure? No!

NaNoWriMo is a means to an end: it gets you writing, and writing lots. You always end up with more material than before. Material you can re-work, add to, adapt. Material that is not intended to be fit for publishing, but that you can make something out of that is fit for publishing. Last year I didn't make it to 50,000 words, but I ended up with 32,000 words of a novel which I didn't have before.

So, unless a miracle happens, I will not be making it to 50,000 words this year. But I'm still excited about what I will achieve!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Thinking Thursday: A Prayer to Jesus

Lord Jesus, what can we say to someone who has done so much for us? Who has done everything for us that really matters. A man who saves a life is a hero, but you have done so much more. You have saved us from ourselves. You have saved us from the eternal wrath of God. And to do that you had to leave your Father, leave your glory and majesty, and become a man. Praise you, Lord, for such humility.

You lived among us so that we might see God in a way that we could understand. Praise you, Lord, for such clarity. You lived a perfect life that you might represent us before God with no sin to mar the way. And then you went to the cross and took all our sin onto your shoulders. Praise you, Lord, for such sacrifice. How could we ever imagine what that was like? How could we ever thank you enough? Our whole lives would not be enough, but that is all we have. Take our lives, Lord, and use them for your glory.

You did all this for us, and then you rose again, and conquered death itself, and brought us a promise of eternal joy. And now you sit with God the Father, pleading every day for his mercy. Praise you, Lord, for your unceasing love. Help us by your Spirit to submit to your loving guidance, to be transformed into your likeness and become your instruments for good in this world.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Scribbling Saturday: NaNo Immersion

It's quarter to eleven on Sunday night, and I see I haven't posted for over a week. I want more followers, but I'm not going to attract them with no posts. The reason is NaNoWriMo. I'm six days in, and a little behind on my word count (900 words behind, actually).

Take my advice: if you're going to take up an intensive writing challenge, you need to clear your diary. This week I have been so busy, by this weekend my writing was like pulling teeth. The week to come is clearer, so I hope I can catch up and get ahead. I have also discovered holes in my plot which have been hard to fill.

Because it is a true story, I have all the facts, but what do you do while you're waiting for the next event to happen? And how do all the characters react to what's going on? I am starting to work it out, but it's hard.

Harder still when you're not concentrating properly. Ever tried writing while watching tv? And the last episode of Downton Abbey. Not recommended. I'll probably look at it tomorrow and find it's a load of rubbish. But this is NaNoWriMo and there's no time to edit!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Thinking Thursday: A Prayer to God

Praise God, all those that belong to him. Apart from the great things he has done, he is worthy to be praised for who he is. He is the only God, the only righteous, faithful, powerful and unbeatable God. To worship anyone else is madness and folly, for he triumphs over all.

And yet, in his infinite mercy, he has done so much for us. He has shaped human history to his designs, yet cares for each one of us and our daily challenges. He has made the whole of creation in all its variety, yet he lays his love on us. He is all mighty, all knowing, yet he tells us to call him Father.

Praise him for his daily love and care towards us, flawed creatures that we are. He made the ultimate sacrifice, sending his Son to live among us and to die a criminal's death, so that we might know him better and be saved from our own folly and rebellion.

Father, open our eyes that we may see and understand your work in the earth, and be a useful part of it. Open our hearts that we may overflow with love to you and to others. Open our mouths that we may stand for you and speak up against injustice and ignorance, especially of you. Change us, Father, into your image.


Saturday, 22 October 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Alina, the White Lady of Oystermouth

I don't know when I started writing this book, but it was well over two years ago. Even my stroke didn't interrupt it too much, because I had the book written already, and spent time in hospital thinking about it and planning the rewrite. And now it's on the verge of publication.

I have another blog, all about the writing of this book, which you can find here. My first entry was in July 2009, and I stopped updating it when everything ground to a halt. But  I'm going to start it again, because there is going to be plenty to talk about.

As I blogged recently, NaNoWriMo is coming up, and I am going to attempt to turn Alina's story into a novel. I am researching background material and trying to make the characters more rounded. There is no evidence on Alina's character or appearance, so I've got to make it up.

But there are already moves afoot to produce an e-book and self-publish a shorter version. I am getting endorsements from important people, so I am preparing to begin the publicity build-up. All new experiences, so pop over to The White Lady blog to follow and see some of my research.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Thinking Thursday: WGIHE Preaching

The college near where I live is now called Swansea Metropolitan University. A long time ago it was known as West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, shortened to WGIHE, and pronounced by its students as 'wiggy.' One day during a free period, some students sat round and decided to think up alternative meanings for WGIHE. It was decided that the best one was 'We Give Indians Happy Experiences', particularly because of the foreign students. To generalise it, you could say 'We Give Individuals Happy Experiences.'

What has this got to do with Christianity? Well, over the years, I came to use that phrase to myself to describe the way that some people preach. When we go to church, ideally we should be informed, challenged and warned, as well as encouraged and uplifted. Sometimes pastors find it easier to only preach the uplifting stuff.

So often I have heard sermons full of anecdotes, with little or no reference to scripture. The aim of the sermon seems to be 'this person had this great experience, and you can have it too.' Anecdotes are great as illustrations to support a sermon based on scripture. Without scripture, they are empty promises. The message that 'God loves you and has a plan for your life', seems to have risen in prominence in recent years. None of this is actually false, but the way it is put over, and the lack of deeper teaching, makes it very unbalanced.

The Christian life is not all about happy experiences. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33). If Christians are not taught how to handle adversity, but expect only good things, it can break their faith when something goes wrong. Jesus goes on to say, "But take heart! I have overcome the world."

There is even greater danger when these messages are preached to non-Christians. Becoming a Christian is not like joining a social club, where we choose to join because we like the people and the activities on offer. God's 'plan' for our lives begins with repentance, and if the bad news of sin is not preached, how will people know they need a saviour?

A favourite scripture used by the 'WGIHE' preachers is Jeremiah 29:11 '"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."' Firstly, this was written to the elders, priests, and other people in exile from Jerusalem (see Jer.29:1), so this verse is not for use among those who do not already belong to God. Secondly, all of God's promises to Israel were dependent on their faithfulness. I have heard this scripture used to lift the hearts of non-Christians and unrepentant Christians, and it is a false hope.

The Christian life has many happy experiences, some of them, perversely, in the midst of trouble. So it is important that we teach the whole gospel, so that we are all fully equipped to deal with life and to serve with faith. "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Eph.4:15).

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Thinking Thursday: Prayer for Healing

Last weekend I attended a celebration, where Christians from many churches in this city joined together to praise and worship God and support one another. During the meeting we prayed for one another, and a lovely man prayed for healing for me from my stroke. He called on a loving God, and claimed the promise that Christ's suffering heals us (Isaiah 53:5). I gave my 'Amen' to the prayer, but I don't entirely agree.

No one likes to see someone suffer, and it is a blessing to be able pray for them. There are indeed promises about healing, but claiming them too readily leads to disappointment. How do we reconcile unanswered prayer with a loving God who would not want unnecessary suffering?

For me, the key word is 'unnecessary'. Through my stroke, God has changed my character and given me many blessings I could not otherwise have had. God uses suffering to break down our defences and get rid of bad characteristics in us. He uses it to test us and build new, good characteristics into us. Who am I to determine that He has finished that work?

Sometimes the work that God does through suffering is not only in the life of the sufferer. There are the carers, the family, others who look on and wonder why. What is God doing in their lives? When we pray for healing, we cannot know the greater plan. We ask God to end the suffering, to heal the hurt. But we must bow to His will and trust Him to know best.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Scribbling Saturday: NaNo Planning

NaNoWriMo time is coming round again. To remind you, that is National Novel Writing Month - participants commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. The month in question is November, and that makes October the month for planning.

The idea is to do all the research and work out each chapter, so that when November comes, you only have to write. The question is, research and plan what? I don't actually have a novel to write. I have a couple of ideas, and I'm working on them both in the hope that something takes off.

I have a science fiction short story that I want to make into a novel, but I'm not sure I have enough plot yet to sustain it. At least, being science fiction, I can make most of it up. The other alternative is to write a historical novel based on my Alina book. But again, the story of her life is not enough to sustain a novel, and although I can make up a lot of it, it does have to be reasonably historically accurate.

So I am doing a lot of reading in the 14th century and desperately looking for some subplots. And in between, I'm looking for subplots in the other novel. I wonder if it counts if you write two 25,000 word novels in a month??? It's still 50,000 words.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Biggest Question

I am a big Dr Who fan, and have really enjoyed the latest series, which finished last Saturday (1st October). All through this series ran the theme of The Question. [Warning: spoilers!] I thought we had found The Question when the Doctor said, "I just want to know one thing. Why do I have to die?"

It turned out that he had to die because of The Question, so his query wasn't it. But it started me thinking. "Why do I have to die?" is a valid question for all of us. Life seems so unfair. Even more so when loved ones die, or people die young or tragically.

To answer it, we have to tackle the two deaths. There is spiritual death and physical death. Physical death we are all familiar with: when the body dies, through accident, disease, or old age. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live." (John 11:25). So death need not be the end, there is a promise of a resurrection and life to come.

It can be confusing then, when we read that Jesus said, referring to himself, "This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die." (John 6:50). No one lives forever, most people wouldn't want to. Jesus is talking about spiritual death. When we turn away from God, we die spiritually. So turning back to God, brings our spirit back to life.

The story of Adam and Eve shows us what happens when mankind rebels against God. Because of Adam's rebellion, sin and death entered the world. There would have been no hope for us, but God sent his only Son to save us all. Paul said, "For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17).

But what about Dr Who's The Question? The most important question in the universe, since the beginning of time, hidden in plain sight: Dr who? Who is the Doctor is still a mystery. But it is a question we should all ask ourselves. Who am I? Am I still suffering the results of mankind's (and my) rebellion? Or am I free because of Jesus Christ?

"To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12). Who am I? I am a child of God. Who are you?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Scribbling Saturday: The End of Some Things, the Start of Others

My blog posting has been a bit erratic lately, but I have some good excuses. I have been busy.

My historical biography, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, has been prepared in shorter form for printing, and will be in the original form as an ebook. I have also got together samples of illustrations ready for discussion with an artist (if we ever find one). So I can finally put it down while my friends from the Historical Association find out about getting it published and search for an artist.

My first sci-fi novel, Flight of the Kestrel 1: Intruders, went off over a week ago to the Mslexia Novel Competition. They only required the first 5,000 words, but the rest had to be ready when (if) asked for. So I have been reading a printed copy to give it a last check - mostly a few typos, thank goodness. I finished that last night, and edited the manuscript today.

I have been putting my short stories up on Critique Circle and getting some marvelous advice, and they have all been re-written (all five of them - I need to write some more).

So suddenly the decks are clear, just in time for NaNoWriMo, which is in November. So I have a month to prepare. The question is - what? I have two further Kestrel novels in draft already, one of which I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year, so I don't want to write another one. People tell me I should write Alina's story as a historical novel, so I am researching that like mad, but I have no idea which way to cover it. Unless inspiration strikes, I won't have anything planned, which will be sad, as I'm really looking forward to it.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Thinking Thursday: Scripture Encouragement

Since my stroke, there have been certain scriptures which really spoke to me and encouraged me. The first one, which I have shared before, was Philippians 4:7 'And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' During my stroke, I found I was not scared at all, but rested at peace in God's arms.

To go with that scripture, I later found Psalm 34:4 'I sought the Lord, and he answered; he delivered me from all my fears.' And my recovery prayer was summed up by Hebrews 12:12-13 'Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.'

Now God has blessed me again through scripture. On our church weekend away we had teaching from Chris Matthews from Linden Christian Fellowship. He shared two things in particular which struck home with me.

He told a moving story about a young boy playing 'chopsticks' on a piano and a master pianist reaching either side of him and playing a beautiful piece woven around the boy's simple tune. He reminded us of the story of the five loaves and two fishes that Jesus used to feed more than five thousand people. God can take our seemingly inadequate skills and make something great with them. This was confirmation to me that I can indeed make a contribution at church, even with my limitations.

The other things he shared that helped me was the scripture Psalm 73:26 'My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.' My flesh has failed, in that my stroke has left me disabled, and it would be easy for my heart to fail in the face of the obstacles that present themselves. God has been my strength, although I have not thought of it in those terms before.

As I strive to recover and master my walking in particular, I must not get downhearted and must remember that God is the strength of my heart, and I must lean on him and trust him. Isn't God good!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Thinking Thursday: Context

If I told you a story about a family who saw soldiers marching through their town, you wouldn't know how to react to it, or what to expect unless you knew the context. Were they Jews in Poland during World War Two seeing German soldiers invading? Were they a modern family living in Wootton Bassett watching soldiers escorting the body of a dead comrade? Were they a Victorian family watching a parade of soldiers in dress uniform at a formal celebration? So should you feel fear, sadness or pride as I tell the story?

When you read a scripture, how do you know how to respond to it unless you know the context? So many of the criticisms levelled at the Bible, especially by non-believers, are of things that have been taken out of context. So many difficulties that believers have with parts of the Bible are resolved or partly explained by looking at the context.

For example, one that is often used is James 2:17 'In the same way faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.' This is used to 'prove' that you have to do good works in order to get into heaven. The answer is only three verses earlier: James 2:14 'What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?' It is the quality of his faith which saves him, but that kind of faith shows itself in good works.

Here is another example. 1 Sam.15:2-3 'This is what the Lord Almighty says: "I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'''

This is one of those passages used to criticise God as cruel and vindictive. To modern eyes, we are horrified that God would destroy a whole nation. But what did the Amalekites do to incur God's wrath? Deut.25:17-19 'Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!'

The problems with the Amalekites continued. Judges 6:3-4 'Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.' God left the Amalekites a long time, but they did not change in their animosity to Israel. They killed Israelite men, women, children, crops and herds. God's judgement makes more sense in that context.

Sometimes, we have to look a little further in the Bible for the explanation, which is why it pays to spend more time reading the Bible and getting familiar with what it says. There is always an explanation. Sometimes we have to search for it, sometimes it is in the very next verse.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Kestrel - Final Edit

Well, I've written a fair bit on here about my science fiction novel Flight of the Kestrel 1: Intruders. I have been writing it on and off for some years now. I am just completing the last edit on screen and next week I will be printing it out for the final check before I submit it to the Mslexia Novel Competition.

The competition closes on 30th September, so there isn't much time left. I really can't think of anything else to do with it. I'm all out of creativity. I just hope I don't find any glaring errors in the final read-through.

I'm getting to know my main characters quite well now, and have discovered some unexpected things about them. I hope they are now much more well rounded than the cardboard characters they started out as. There are already two subsequent novels about the Kestrel, but I have put them away until the first one is finished, as I need to know where my characters get to by the end of book one before I can take them onward.

So wish me luck, and here I go!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Thinking Thursday: Echoes of a Saviour

Gen.22:1-19 The Sacrifice of Isaac

The story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son has many echoes of God's sacrifice of His Son many centuries later.

v2 Echoes of a Saviour's sacrifice

He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall tell you."

Isaac had been born as the result of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah, when they were already elderly. Along with the promise of a son, God had also promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the sand on the shore and a blessing to all nations. Suddenly God asks Abraham to sacrifice this very son of promise. It is a sacrifice not only of a beloved son, but the foundation of the blessing.

v6-8 Echoes of a Saviour's provision

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son."

It would not have been unusual for them to travel to a high place and offer sacrifices to God. But they would have taken the sacrificial lamb with them. Isaac's innocent question led Abraham to 'fudge' an answer which turned out to be prophetic. God would indeed provide the lamb, not only for Isaac, but one day for the whole world.

v9-10 Echoes of a Saviour's willing sacrifice

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

The amazing event at the centre of this story shows incredible trust on the part of both Abraham and Isaac. I find it astonishing that Isaac does not question his father when he binds him, lays him on the altar, and moves to sacrifice him. And Abraham shows such faith in God, that as He was faithful over His promise of Isaac, so He will be faithful over his promise of descendents, even if Isaac dies. Isaac is willing to die, and Abraham is willing to sacrifice him. In the future God's own Son would suffer and die willingly for the sake of all mankind.

v11-13 Echoes of a Saviour's perfect sacrifice in our place

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Having shown his faithfulness, Abraham doesn't have to sacrifice Isaac. God does indeed provide the sacrifice as Abraham had said. The account particularly points out that the ram was caught in the thicket by his horns – he was unblemished, not injured in any way. The sacrifice of God's Son was powerful enough to save the whole world because He was pure and unblemished by sin. God gave His only Son to satisfy justice in our place.

Often Christians are challenged to give way to other faiths and accept them as valid alternative lifestyles. Scripture's response to why we cannot accept other religions & philosophies is because of what it cost God to provide the way. Abraham did not have to sacrifice his son in the end. Jesus went through to the bitter end to bring us the freedom that could not be gained in any other way.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Scribbling Saturday: So Much To Do

Suddenly I have a lot to write. I hope I can get it all done. I don't like deadlines.

First, I was asked by the Stroke Nurse to write about my stroke recovery, good and bad, to help them plan future care. Then I was asked to write my testimony for the church magazine.

Yesterday I met with some people who are going to help get my historical  biography of Alina de Breos published. And I am in the middle of my final edit of my science fiction novel Flight of the Kestrel 1: Intruders, before I submit it for the Mslexia Novel Competition.

So excuse me if I'm not around much for the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Thinking Thursday: Blessed Are The Meek

Gentle Jesus meek and mild
But was it a meek man who threw the traders out of the temple?

Was it showing meekness to compare the Pharisees with whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones?

Was it demonstrating submissiveness to break the law by forgiving sins, gathering food on the Sabbath, or mingling with sinners?

Was it meek to fight injustice, to stand up for the poor and disenfranchised?


He was meek when they abused him, when they whipped him, when they led him to the cross. At this, the greatest injustice in history, the one man who had a right to say, ‘No, stop, this isn’t fair,’ took the punishment.

Not my will but yours

A rallying call to God’s children.

The meek fight battles for those who can’t

stand side by side with the outcast

wash the feet of the dirty

shed tears for the fatherless

defend the unlovely

care for the lost.

The meek are not downtrodden but strong

Not submissive but clear of vision

Not passive but passionate

The meek don’t take unfairness lying down

But take their stand with

Gentle Jesus meek and mild

[Liz Hinds April 2011]

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Critique Circle

Can I recommend to you all to have a look at the Critique Circle website? Click here. It was set up in Iceland, of all places, with the purpose of giving writers a chance to critique one another's work.

It is also a great place for readers, because you get the opportunity to actually feed back your opinions to the writers. Haven't you often wished you could sit down the author of the book you're reading and tell them a thing or two? On Critique Circle you are asked to be polite and constructive, but the opportunity is there.

As a writer, you have to give critiques in order to earn credits to submit your own work. This means that everyone helps each other out. I have learned things to improve my writing by critiquing others' work - good examples and bad. There is a huge array of different styles and genres, so you can stick to reading what you like.

I have just uploaded my third short story, Dangerous Dreams, which will be rising to the top of the queue in about a week. The previous stories are much improved by the critiques I received, but it was also a great confidence boost to see that people liked them and thought they were good.

If you're a writer, or a reader, why don't you give it a try?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Parable of the Sower and the Christian Life

My Pastor preached a sermon on the Parable of the Sower, and applied it to those of us who are already Christians, rather than the usual application for evangelism. I personally found it a wake-up call.

At the end of Matthew chapter 12, Jesus says, "For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Since chapter 13 starts with "That same day" it is possible that he was still speaking of those who do his Father's will. In any case, the lessons we can draw by applying it to ourselves are valid and worthwhile.

The sower sows the seed, and it falls on four different kinds of ground. If we consider the ground to be us, this shows us the importance of our response to what we hear. What is your response to the sermons you hear on Sundays and the scripture you read during the week?

The Path

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them… When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

Do we feel that we have heard it all before and take no notice? Especially if the passage under discussion is a familiar one (like the parable of the sower). Or we are distracted, and not paying attention. I realised that many times I read my scriptures in a rush to get on and do other things. Our heart becomes hard, like well-trodden earth. The word is heard but the heart does not respond.

The Rocks

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away… As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

We lead such busy lives that we don't take the time to ponder on the word and let it take root. We receive the word with joy on Sunday but lose it on Monday, when we have to think about work and school and housework. There is no chance for the word to be established in our lives. It does not root in our heart and transform us.

The Thorns

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them… As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

What we allow to grow up around us, in our cares in the world can choke our growth as Christians. Our experience on Sunday depends on what we do on Saturday. Maybe we need to get to bed earlier in order to be fresh on Sunday morning. The word and our devotional life do not have a high enough priority in our life, and get crowded out by all the other things we try to do.

The Good Soil

Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty… As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The word bears fruit when it is understood. Notice there is no criticism of the smaller yields, only rejoicing that there is fruit. However much fruit you can bear, if you are receiving the word and letting it root in you, it is enough. So this is how we should receive the word:

1. Listen. Pay attention. Make sure you know what is being said (or read).

2. Sift. Work out how the word applies to you and how you should respond.

3. Act. As the word transforms us, our lives change, and will also impact the lives of others.

Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.
Hear then the parable of the sower.

[based on a sermon by Pastor Pete Orphan, Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: Maybe We're Supposed To Run

It's funny to think about it now, it wasn't that long ago, but when I was younger, when I was a kid, I used to run. I used to run everywhere, something in me, I wouldn't stop. I ran to my parents, I ran to my bed, I just ran. And I think we're all sort of like that, we're on fire for life, with no responsibilities. Just living, and excited to get places.

And then at some point, I stopped. We all stopped. We just started walking. We started coping, getting comfortable, getting content. We were no longer on fire, we were no longer passionate, there was no longer the burning desire in our hearts. But we kept walking, fitting in. And you can call it whatever you want – proper, easy, normal, but it all just seemed so boring. Is this what it was about?

But maybe we need to get passionate again. Maybe life isn't about being comfortable, or content, or making it easy. Maybe we're supposed to be different, and be passionate, not lukewarm. Maybe instead of walking around, being normal, we're supposed to be radical. Maybe we're supposed to run.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Real People

In my Kestrel novel, I have been searching for ways to improve the depth of the characters, and therefore the plot. I suddenly realised that I have seventeen people from different races, different backgrounds, cooped up in a space ship meant for twelve, on a long, dangerous mission - and they all get on like best buddies!

Oh well, I never said I was an experienced writer! So now I am doing a lot of rethinking on each character to work out how they would react to the others. I want to see who would upset who, rather than arbitrarily making up scenarios. Truth to tell, I don't know my characters well enough. Too many of them are just there to serve the plot, which won't do at all.

But it's HARD.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: Wall Jumping

Have you ever seen a father stand his young child on a wall, then step back and open his arms? Without hesitation, the child jumps off the wall, and the father catches them. They squeal with the scariness and the joy of it.

Why do they jump so readily? Because they know and trust their father that if he asks them to do it, it will be safe. He will always catch them and never let them fall.

When God calls us to do something, why are we so scared? Because, unlike the child, we don’t know the Father well enough to trust Him.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Character or Plot?

David Baboulene is an author, scriptwriter, story consultant and PhD scholar of story theory. His book The Story Book features revolutionary new thinking on what makes stories work. He has written a series of articles in Writing Magazine which have been enormously helpful. Here is some of what he says:

Plot is character, and character is plot, because as soon as a character takes a meaningful action, his action is driving your plot whether you like it or not. Conversely, as soon as an event happens which elicits a meaningful reaction from your character, then his true character is developing in the eyes of the audience whether you like it or not.

Note that it is not the event which reveals a player's character, but his reaction to the event. The action he takes defines his character. Similarly, it is not the event which drives the plot (as you might expect), but the action taken by the character that defines the event, and drives the plot.

[You might have to read that a couple of times before you get your head around it. Here's some more:]

A player's character is defined only by his meaningful actions.
The plot is defined only by the actions taken by the players.

Better still not to think about plot or character as independent at all, because they aren't. Join them together and you get unity through thinking solely about Character Behaviours. Stories are about Character Behaviours. What characters do is who they are and what characters do is what happens.

When your writing has this unity of character and plot, your stories will burst into a third dimension of power that comes from consummating their relationship. And you'll know it and feel it when it happens, and you'll never write without it again.

[Extracts from Writing Magazine June 2011. See also]

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Plank

Luke 6:41-42
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Jesus was pointing out that we need to put our own lives in order before we try to advise anyone else. But I want to use another meaning of the word 'plank' to give us a similar warning, related to a desire to witness to the cults.

In the early days of political electioneering, the candidate would go to a public place, find two boxes or chairs, and place a plank across them to stand on. From there he was able to address the crowd and explain his policies. From this, the expression arose that the ‘plank’ of a candidate was the main principle he stood for.

What is your ‘plank’? What do you stand for? It is admirable to desire to help people deceived by the cults, but it is essential that you make certain that you understand the truth first. Are you standing on the wrong ‘plank’? Do you need to get yourself right before you seek to help others? Indeed, many of us do not tell people we are Christians because we feel unequipped to answer their questions. So we need to strengthen our 'plank'.

Luke 6:45
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Feed on the Word of God so that the truth takes root in your heart. Strengthen the ‘plank’ you stand on. Then you will be equipped to serve God in reaching out.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Sebu Nefar, Doctor on the Kestrel

Sebu Nefar is from Kohath and was Tofi Dathan's apprentice. Dathan joined the Kestrel as the Kohathi representative in the search for the alien intruders, and gave his life to help the mission. The Kohathi take apprentices to whom they pass on their skills and learning. The apprentices then carry on the work after them. When the Kestrel needed a doctor after the Intruders mission, Nefar volunteered in order to honour Dathan and continue his work in studying humans and their relationship with the other alien races.

In the early years of study and apprenticeship, Kohathis stay at home and have time to build their marriage relationship and have children. Only later do they begin to travel, initially for short periods, then longer if necessary as they progress. Nefar's children are grown, so he felt that he was most suited of all the apprentices to go into space away from the family.

The number of apprentices depends on the field of work. Labourers will only have one or two, to whom they will pass on their skills. Particularly in the fields of science, there will be at least three, as it is understood that research often branches into many related fields, and the apprentices can specialise in the separate branches of their mentor’s work. Kohathi do not retire, but as they get older, the apprentices take on more of the work and share their findings with their mentor.

Nefar looks like a genial be-whiskered old man, but all Kohathi males look like that. He is in fact quite young for his race, a mere one hundred and two, and much stronger than he looks, since Kohath is a heavy gravity planet. You don't argue with Doctor Nefar.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thinking Thursday: Humility

I realised today that God has stripped me of anything which caused pride: singing, dancing, sign language, public speaking. I retired from work, so the whole prestige I got, all the gratitude from people I helped, and the pride in being the breadwinner, is gone as well.

I was already aware of the new qualities I have found through my stroke: perseverance, persistence, determination, even some patience. But he has brought me humility too. I have grieved for these things, but now I can see the blessing.

In addition, my stroke has also enabled me to get away from a stressful job, has given us funds for the mortgage, and has given me more time for writing and study.

Proverbs 15:33b … humility comes before honour.

We have felt lately that God has brought to an end one phase of our lives and will bring us into another.

Proverbs 19:21-22 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that will prevail.

I wonder what the Lord has for us?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Scribbling Saturday: James Tomos, Paramedic on the Kestrel

At the end of the first Kestrel story, the paramedic Sam Ryan leaves, and James Tomos comes to replace him. Tomos is a Spacer, born and raised in space on his parents' cargo ship. Consequently, although young, he knows a lot about most ship's systems, and has met many alien races, but he is not arrogant about his knowledge and is always ready to help. He also covers as navigator when needed.

Tall and slim, with sandy hair, he is proud of his Welsh heritage from Earth. He appears to be quite shy and reserved, but this is a natural result of life on a ship, where privacy is difficult. He shares a cabin with Roy Stubbs, the assistant engineer, and they get on well together, once Stubbs realises that he is not showing off, but sharing his knowledge and trying to help.

[Since I am working on the latest edit on my first Kestrel novel, this character is not yet fully developed for the second novel.]

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thinking Thursday: Forget Not All His Benefits

Sometimes life can be hard, and as Christians we need reminding why we are Christians.

Psalm 103:1-5
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Let us look at the benefits from God which the Psalmist lists:

1. Forgives all your iniquity
Forgiveness of sins is essential for the Christian life, it is the way we become Christians, and is the greatest gift through Jesus Christ.
Acts 13:38
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Eph 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

2. Heals all your diseases
We may not have all our diseases healed in this life, but physical ailments can never attack eternal life. One day, you will be whole, and so will the nations.
Malachi 4:2
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.
Luke 9:11
When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.
Rev 22:1-2
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

3. Redeems your life from the pit
Pits are deep and dark and you can't get out unaided. Joseph was thrown into a real pit, and God brought great good from it. Our greatest problem is the pit of sin.
Gen 37:23-24
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colours that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit.
Job 33:26-28
Then man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy, and he restores to man his righteousness. He sings before men and says, "I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light."
Ps 40:1-2
I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

4. Crowns you with steadfast love and mercy
When an aircraft hits turbulence, the message comes for the passengers to sit down and fasten their seatbelts. When your life gets turbulent, fasten your seatbelt of prayer and leave it to the Pilot.
Gen 39:21
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
Ps 59:16
But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.
Eph 2:4-7
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.

5. Satisfies you with good
God does not just give us the minimum we need, he satisfies us, fills us, with all sorts of good things.
For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Ps 91:16
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.
Isa 58:11
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

6. Your youth is renewed like eagle's
There was a belief that the eagle moults and renews its life, but also eagles fly very strong and very high. In spiritual terms, we can fly high in the spirit.
Exodus 19:4
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.
Isa 40:31
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

God's benefits to us are not a one-off thing. He looks after us continually. We may find at times that life is hard, but there are so many blessings that we take for granted. I said to a pastor once that it did not seem as if God was blessing me at that time, and he reminded me that I woke up that morning and I was still breathing. God had given me another day to be with my family, to deal with my problems, and to serve Him.

Lamentations 3:22-23
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Hobbit Films

I am really excited about Peter Jackson's new films of The Hobbit, after his triumph with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are to be two films, An Unexpected Journey and There And Back Again. I have been looking up the casting details, and thought I would share them. Click on a name to see the actor's entry in the Internet Movie Database.

Where the same character appears in The Hobbit as in The Lord of the Rings, the same actors have been secured. So there will be continuity:
Bilbo Baggins (old) – Ian Holm
Elrond - Hugo Weaving 
Frodo Baggins - Elijah Wood 
Gandalf - Sir Ian McKellen 
Galadriel - Cate Blanchett 
Gollum - Andy Serkis
Legolas - Orlando Bloom 
Saruman - Sir Christopher Lee 

Bilbo goes off on an awfully big adventure with thirteen dwarves:
Bilbo Baggins - Martin Freeman 
Thorin Oakenshield - Richard Armitage 
Bifur - William Kircher 
Bofur - James Nesbitt 
Bombur - Steven Hunter 
Balin - Ken Stott 
Dwalin - Graham McTavish 
Dori - Mark Hadlow 
Nori - Jed Brophy 
Ori - Adam Brown 
Fili - Dean O’Gorman 
Kili - Aidan Turner
Gloin - Peter Hambleton 
Oin - John Callen 

And here are some other cast members:
Azog - Conan Stevens
Alfrid - Ryan Gage 
Bard - Luke Evans 
Beorn - Mikael Persbrandt 
King Dain – (rumored) Brian Blessed 
Galion – (rumored) Dominic Keating 
Goblin King - Barry Humphries 
Lindir - Bret McKenzie
Master of Laketown - Stephen Fry 
Radagast -Sylvester McCoy 
Smaug/ Necromancer - Benedict Cumberbatch 
Tauriel – Evangeline Lilly
King Thrain - Mike Mizrahi
Thranduil - Lee Pace
King Thror - Jeffrey Thomas

An Unexpected Journey will be released on 14th December 2012.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Tobi Enns, Trainee on the Kestrel

Tobi Enns is a young man from the first Earth colony, Alpha. The gravity there is twice that of Earth, so the first colonists had to wear powered exo-skeletons, but over the generations the people have adapted by becoming short and stocky. This means they are fast and strong in Earth-normal gravity. Over the years the colony has become insular, having little to do with other humans or alien races.

Enns grew up in a rough area and learned to fight out of necessity. He always wanted to see the rest of the galaxy, but it took a long time to persuade his father to let him apply to PACT. He joined the PACT Training School on Alpha and his enthusiasm quickly took him to the top of the class. He was about to transfer to the main training facility on Earth to do his last year of advanced training, when the Kestrel arrived at Alpha looking for a top student as an emergency replacement crewman.

Before he knew it, he was on board, excited but scared stiff he would do something wrong. Andrew Chambers took him under his wing, and apart from an initial bout of space sickness caused by lack of acclimatisation training, he settled in very well and proved to be a useful addition to the crew. Instead of dropping him off, Captain Martin allowed him to stay, and arranged for him to complete his training on board. He even had a remarkable skill which would prove useful in the future.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Thinking Thursday: Pedometer

Health experts say we should walk ten thousand steps a day to be fit, so I bought a pedometer. You wear it clipped to your waist and it counts your steps. It is clever enough to know the difference between times you jiggle it doing other things and what are real steps. Then it works out how far you have walked, how many calories you have burned, and how much time you have spent walking.

I was quite shocked at the end of the first day to find that although I had walked over four thousand steps, I had only spent 22 minutes walking – out of a whole day! We take many steps in little ways, but need to spend dedicated time going for a walk to get anything like the right number of steps.

It is the same with prayer. If our thoughts turn to God occasionally during the day, we may feel that we have spent quite some time with Him. But if we had a spiritual pedometer – how much time would it actually add up to?

Just like incidental walking, there is scriptural encouragement to pray all the time, whatever we are doing. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess.5:17), and this links to what he wrote to the Corinthians: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor.10:31). But Jesus himself said, "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret." (Matt.6:6)

Just as it is vital to your health to do some dedicated walking, it is vital to your spiritual health to do some dedicated praying. What are the results of your spiritual pedometer?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Sam Ryan, Paramedic on the Kestrel

Sam Ryan grew up on Orion 3, an Earth colony world with little technology. The original colonists wanted to return to a simpler way of life. They were mostly farmers and miners, working the old way, with their hands. Later on they were too poor to be able to afford modern equipment. Sam saw much unnecessary suffering because of the poor medical facilities. When the colony doctor died, no one could be persuaded to take the post in that backwater, and they managed with a paramedic and a nurse.

Sam's brother Jacob was injured in a mining accident and lost his leg. He saw traders with prosthetic limbs leading normal lives, but the colony did not have the technology, and his family had no way to pay for it. Jacob died a bitter man, and he wasn't the only one. Sam became determined to be trained as a doctor and return to help his people, so he left Orion 3 and went to Earth for medical training.

On Earth he had his eyes opened to what was available, not just technology, but the attractions of a modern lifestyle. He completed enough of his training to work as a paramedic and when the opportunity arose to be part of PACT and go into space, he grabbed it. For someone from a backwoods colony everything was is new and exciting, and presents him with a dilemma: he doesn't want to go back. How that dilemma is solved is revealed at the end of the first Kestrel story.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Thinking Thursday: Charismatic Pitfalls

The charismatic experience can bring worship alive and can bring a new depth and meaning to the Christian’s experience of God. It introduces the dimension of the ecstatic, arousing deep emotions and a very real sense of the presence of God. However, there are two pitfalls into which many Christians and congregations fall.

The first is the idea that ecstatic worship is the only valid form of worship. Worship leaders fall into the temptation of using emotionally charged songs and words of encouragement to “whip up” the congregation. There is a feeling that the meeting has not been a success unless the majority of the congregation has had some ecstatic experience. Individual members of the congregation can feel guilty or inadequate if they don’t “feel it”. I have seen individuals in distress, not because of some conviction of the Holy Spirit, but because they do not feel able to enter into the atmosphere of the meeting, and assume there is something wrong with them.

It needs a sensitive hand both from worship and meeting leaders and from those who may be offering ministry, to recognise that there is more than one way to worship, and to communicate that and accommodate it. Those who are happy to stay in their seats must feel just as accepted as those raising their hands, kneeling, or lying in worship.

The second pitfall flows from the first. There are those who communicate, often non-verbally, the impression that the ecstatic state is the goal for the whole of our lives. That we should always feel that glow, that warmth, that uplift, that we come to associate with the presence of God. For all that God says against it, legalism seems to be built into our bones, and we are always looking for rules and blueprints. Once we adopt them we also adopt the guilt that goes with failure and the misdirection of our efforts into keeping the rules rather than serving God.

God has promised he is always with us and when we are born again the Spirit lives in us. That is true whether we feel it or not. Our lives are in God’s hands even when we are not aware of his guidance. While every Christian should be growing into a deeper relationship with God, there is no one way to define it. Like being in love, there are some common characteristics, but lots of different ways that it shows. Some go dreamy eyed and distracted, some are bubbling with life, some become very serious and committed. Many of us go through all these states at different times. So it is with God.

When I first became a Christian, verses like “pray continually” (1 Thess.5:17) and “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor.10:31), really stumped me. How can you pray while you are working? How can you change a dirty nappy for the glory of God? This is resolved when we stop putting our lives into compartments and realise that our whole life belongs to God. Whether we are ecstatically worshipping in a meeting or washing dishes, God is involved. We are multi-faceted individuals with a whole range of emotions. It is unnatural to try to always be the same.

Let go of your preconceptions and be honest with God however you feel, and let him meet you where you are. Then you can worship him with your whole heart, however you feel and whatever you are doing.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Roy Stubbs, Assistant Engineer of the Kestrel

Roy Stubbs joined PACT to escape from the poverty in which he grew up on an Earth colony planet. His mechanical skills were put to good use, and he trained as an engineer. He is slim and rough-looking, but he has a good heart. He has been working on the Kestrel with Blackie for two years, and looks on him as a father-figure. Blackie took him under his wing and helped him to learn some of the social graces that he lacked.

He proved himself to be a very useful member of the crew, often helping in little ways unbidden. He was not afraid of hard work, but was nervous of responsibility. His tough upbringing had left him with little self esteem, though he blossomed when praised by Blackie. Blackie was sure that in time, he would make a good career for himself and be a credit to the service.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Thinking Thursday: Shine a Light

Have you ever seen a picture of the Earth from space … at night? You don't see land and sea, you see civilization. Pinpoints of light where mankind is living, with electric light. Bright splashes of light for cities, sprinkles of light along the coast and up the fertile valleys, and great swathes of darkness on the oceans, deserts and mountains. It is beautiful and fascinating to look at.

Credit: C. Mayhew & R. Simmon (NASA/GSFC), NOAA/NGDC, DMSP Digital Archive

With modern technology it is possible to zoom in to different parts of the map, and you can identify your part of the world and even your city or district, and see where the lights are.

But what if there was a map of the light of the gospel in the Earth? Where would the lights be then? And when we zoomed in, where would we find a flickering flame and where a strong, bright light? I bet there would be some surprises.

Would you be happy to zoom in to your town or city, to your district? How bright would the light be there? Would the light from your church be as bright as you expect? Would the light from your home shine bright enough to be seen by others? Would you find Christians among your neighbours, that you didn't know about? Would your neighbours be surprised to find out about you?

Kevin John, a well-known figure in Swansea, spoke recently about his passion for Swansea football team, and his delight that they have won a place in the Premiership. Everyone he meets knows how he feels, and lots of people in Swansea feel the same. The new football kit and other items with the 'Swans' logo on, has already sold out in the club shop. But he wondered if we are just as excited about our Saviour, and let everyone know how we feel.

The news of what Jesus has done, and of the love of God, is far more exciting, far more significant, than the achievements of a football team. Yet we are shy of talking about it. Often, we are afraid we don't know how to answer questions or deal with other people's responses. Yet if someone disagreed with your favourite football team, you would have plenty to say about it. You would share the facts and figures you have remembered from your time as a supporter. How come you don't have facts and figures at your fingertips about Jesus and Christianity?

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven. (Matt.5:14-16)

It is my prayer that we all think about how we shine the light of the gospel in our neighbourhoods, and that we take time to learn and prepare so that we can shine more clearly.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Andrew Chambers, Helmsman on the Kestrel

Andrew Chambers, the helmsman on the Kestrel, is human, from Earth. He joined the Kestrel a year before the first story. There is an incident in his past which nearly finished his PACT career. Only the captain and First Officer know the details, but there was an accident, and Chambers blamed himself. If he had truly been negligent or careless he would have been prosecuted, so he is not as culpable as he feels he is. But because of it, it was difficult for him to find a posting.
Captain Martin gave him a chance and has been building his confidence. He is still relatively young and has many years of service ahead of him, if he can regain his self-confidence. The helmsman Grey Lanx has just left the Kestrel, so Martin has promoted Chambers to helmsman. Chambers wants to do well, but will his confidence desert him in a tight spot?

Chambers' grandfather fought as a volunteer in the Casparian struggle for independence from Ochra, and when the Ochran representative on the main mission in the first Kestrel story finds out, he demands justice under the Ochran rule of family responsibility. This is another mystery to solve, but he turns out to be a good diplomat.

Chambers takes Tobi Enns under his wing, when he is whisked away from the PACT Training School to fill a temporary gap in the crew, and the two become good friends.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Thinking Thursday: Jesus as Lord

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can." So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

Jesus is buried in a rich man's tomb and the women note where it is. There is no sign of any of Jesus' followers believing that he would rise again as he'd previously told them. But, strangely, it is his enemies who remember this story and act to ensure that their victory over Jesus is fully secure.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you." So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

The women went to the tomb to anoint the body with spices as would have been the custom. They had to wait for the Sabbath (Saturday) to pass first so that they weren't doing 'work' on that day. They were going to minister to Jesus' dead body, so they would be filled with grief.

Though Matthew doesn't say so, the earthquake and the rolling back of the stone happened before the women got there, not at the same time. The guards may have already collapsed before they arrived. What a scene met their eyes! And then the angel appeared.

They should not have been surprised, because Jesus had told them, but they didn't believe it until it happened. It is interesting that they were told to tell the disciples, because in Jewish law women were inferior witnesses. How their feelings changed! Grief, then fear, then astonishment, then joy and worship.

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

The guards and the chief priests and elders respond to the angel's appearance very differently to the women. This is just what they were trying to prevent, and even though an angel appears, instead of realising the truth, they are only concerned about themselves. People still use this version of the story when talking about the resurrection today, even though it is not true. It is a convenient way to avoid having to consider the implications of the resurrection being fact.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Because of Jesus' resurrection he now has full authority, and he sends the disciples out to spread the Gospel, but promises they will not go alone.

It is important for our faith that Jesus rose from the dead. His crucifixion is not enough:

1 Cor.15:12-21, 56-57
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man also has come also the resurrection of the dead. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul draws out the consequence of Jesus' resurrection in 1 Cor.15:58:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
This verse can help us as we seek to obey the command of Jesus in the last two verses of Matthew's Gospel, because it gives us the assurance that by his resurrection, all his promises to us are validated.

[Based on Pantygwydr Baptist Church's Lent Studies]

Other posts in this series:
Jesus as Leader
Jesus as Divine
Jesus the Man
Jesus as Teacher
Jesus and Us
Jesus as Messiah
Jesus as Saviour
Jesus as Lord

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Shom Reuel, Officer on the Kestrel

Shom Reuel is the other non-human on the Kestrel crew, along with Balitoth, whom we discussed last week. He is Altairian. Altair has a lower gravity than Earth, and since the artificial gravity on the Kestrel is set at Earth normal (1G), he wears a back brace on board. However, when in a low-gravity environment, there is no-one more graceful or adept than Reuel. The oxygen is also lower on Altair than on Earth, so his skin is very pink in the higher oxygen on board.

Reuel is humanoid, tall and gangly, with long fingers and toes. Instead of hair, his head has cranial spines, like a coxcomb, which rise when he is excited or agitated. Altairians also have a strange kind of singing or humming, which they do unconsciously, especially when stressed. It can be very soothing or very irritating.

Reuel is keen to learn about humans and often asks about some custom or form of words he has not met before. The Kestrel crew do not always have the time or patience to answer his queries. In contrast, there is a lot about Altairians which is not known. Particularly the structure of the family and their mating practices, which are simply not talked about.

Surprising then, to find that Balitoth and Reuel develop such a friendship that they visit one another's families while on leave (in a later story). They do not share what happened or their impressions of each other's families with anyone when they return, much to Captain Martin's disappointment.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Thinking Thursday: Jesus as Saviour

Matt.26:36-39, 42
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." … Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done."

Jesus has finished the years of his ministry, and now comes to the crucial moment of his life. He knew what was ahead for him. He told the disciples more than once that he was going to die (e.g. Matt.26:2, 12). Jesus asked his Father to take away the 'cup'. This recalls Isaiah 51:17 Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.
 He knows that he is not just going to be crucified, a brutal and agonising death, but he is going to suffer the full weight of God's wrath against sin. No wonder he dreaded it. No wonder he asked his Father if there was any other way. But he knew that there was only one way to save mankind, and he bowed to his Father's will. At the crucial moment, he was obedient. Luke tells us that the strain was so much that his sweat was like drops of blood (Lk.22:44).

Despite Jesus having told the disciples what would happen to him, despite his asking them to watch with him, the disciples did not understand. They fell asleep. And despite Peter's earlier protestations, and maybe the others had said something similar, all his followers ran away. But not before Peter (according to Mark's gospel) drew a sword and attacked.


Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples left him and fled.
 It makes Jesus' obedience even more astounding when we realise that he could he saved himself at any point (with twelve legions of angels!), but he did not. He even prevents his followers from violence, and heals the servant's ear. Also, once again, Jesus says he is fulfilling prophecy. This must have angered the religious leaders, as they didn't believe he was the Messiah. But what must it have meant to his followers, who also were raised on the Scriptures? And for us, it is wonderful confirmation that he really was the One who was promised for so long.

The First Trial
Jesus was taken first of all before Caiaphas the high priest. Before all the false witnesses Jesus said nothing. Only when the high priest put him under oath did Jesus respond.


And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgement?" They answered, "He deserves death."
 When Jesus referred to the Son of Man, he was referring to one of Daniel's prophecies.

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
 Under oath, Jesus finally declares himself before the religious leaders. They are so adamant that he cannot be the Messiah, that they are horrified at his blasphemy. Their minds were so closed that they were not prepared to consider how closely his life fulfilled prophecy. By coming out with it at this point, Jesus ensures that they will seek his death. We need to think carefully about situations where we prefer to listen to our prejudices rather than the truth.

The Second Trial
Jesus was taken for trial before Pilate, because the Jews were not allowed to sentence people to death. But they had to convince Pilate to pass the death sentence, and he was reluctant.


Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You have said so." But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear the things they testify against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream." Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let him be crucified!" And he said, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!"

 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
 The accusation of the religious leaders was not sufficient to convince Pilate to pass the death sentence, but they whipped up the crowd to push him into it. They cannot allow this man to live. We should ask ourselves if we ever bow to pressure over something we know is wrong.

The Crucifixion
At the crucifixion, three charges are levelled against Jesus:
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, com down from the cross." So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Pilate, I believe, was deliberately annoying the Jews by putting the charge above Jesus that he was the King of the Jews. He did not know how right he was. The others all urged Jesus to prove who he was by saving himself. They obviously did not believe that he could, but also they did not realise that by saving himself he would be condemning all mankind. What a temptation to show them all his power and do what they taunted him with!

The Death

Matt.27: 45-54
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, "This man is calling Elijah." And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping, watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"
 The darkness lasts from noon until three in the afternoon. At the end of this time Jesus cries out: 'My God, why have you forsaken me?' Why should he do this? What could separate the eternal bond between Father and Son? Nothing but sin. God cannot tolerate sin, and when Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world, God could not tolerate him, and withdrew. On top of the physical and spiritual agony he was facing, Jesus saw God turn away. He had to face it all alone.

Notice that when Jesus died, the account says he 'yielded up his spirit.' He had previously said that no one could take his life, he had the power to lay it down and take it up again. When his work was finished, he laid his life down. This also means that until it was finished, no matter the suffering, no matter the strain on his body, he did not allow it to die. It was such a momentous death, that the earth convulsed and the temple curtain tore, and even the pagan Roman soldiers realised that something significant had happened.

Six hundred years before, the prophet Isaiah had seen what a momentous thing it would be:

Isaiah 53:1-12

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

[Based on Pantygwydr Baptist Church's Lent Studies]

Other posts in this series:

Jesus as Leader
Jesus as Divine
Jesus the Man
Jesus as Teacher
Jesus and Us
Jesus as Messiah
Jesus as Saviour
Jesus as Lord