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.