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Christian Vision For men

Star Spotting

Recently I have been watching a TV show about stargazing, I loved it. I rushed out to the garage and found my scratched, bits missing Christmas gift from years past telescope and went to work setting it up again. Sitting in the cold garden at 10pm it all came back to me, focusing in on the moon and it’s markings, awesome!

Space is utterly amazing, it’s vastness, and it’s un-chartered depths, wow! As a human race we can understand solar wind and electrons, we have sent voyager 1 to the deepest space we have never reached before, wow. We have people living in the International space station constantly orbiting us, visible from earth. The sun! Now that’s incredible!

I remember something really simple in my own life, the day I looked up. Sounds stupid I know, but I was about 13 and as a boy I can remember walking with my head down, looking at the floor. I lived in Harlow, so this was sometimes a safe method to travel, but on one occasion near the sweet shop I lifted my head, don’t know why, but I lifted it up and from that day that’s where it has been. It was a significant moment.

So what, you might be thinking? Well for me this is important, I spend so much time looking down around me, this problem, that problem, this criticism, or that wrong choice, and I forget to look up.

Psalm 19:1-6 says;
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

Choosing to look up to God is incredible. If we believe what the Bible says, Jesus has restored our relationship with God when he died and was raised to new life. Because of this, in any and every situation of life we can stop and look up.

This looking up is a simple, daily recognition for me of my love and dependence in what Jesus has done and is to me.

Now this looking up works in the ‘wow’ moments in life and the ‘why’ moments too.

When the good moments turn into the trials and mountains to climb, looking up is the way, to look up and remember you’re not alone, you’re not forgotten, you’re loved and a plan is at work.

One that may lead you through the darkest valleys or the sweetest roads, but fixing you eyes upwards on Jesus the Christ is essential!

Image credit: Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture / CC BY 2.0

Step out and take a Risk

Risks Ahead

I started a new job in July 2011 in a warehouse factory and I was praying “Lord use me to reach these Men”

It started when I put scripture cards on the mirrors in the gents toilets, and people started to ask, “What are these?” A good opportunity to share my testimony and I did. Then I put ‘Why Jesus’ leaflets on the worktops. A few people were puzzled. Some started to read the content and they approached me to explain and I obliged in a way that I thought that they would understand.

I was able to give my testimony and explain how Jesus had transformed me. After that an opportunity arose for me to give my testimony to the Deputy manager. He said “Ian I have a real bad neck and I have booked to go and see the world darts.” I said, “You know, Andy, that Jesus loves you and I will pray for your neck if you want me to.”
He agreed to this.

I went to work on the Monday. Andy just looked at me and then proceeded to turn his head, this way and that. He had been completely healed! Word does get around pretty quick in the factory because a couple of weeks later the Manager said he wanted a word with me in his office. I wondered what he wanted? He told me he’d had migraines for years and asked if I could help him like I did for Andy.

I said, “I can’t do anything but I know Jesus can. I can pray for you Dave but I want you to know that Jesus loves you.” I prayed for him and as a result his symptoms eased.

I have had the opportunity to distribute bibles and give advice to lots of Men at my workplace. I also believe God has greatly blessed the business at the warehouse factory, in many ways.

You see if I had not stepped out and taken a risk I would have failed to discharge what the Lord has given me. Go on take a risk!

What Can I Get Next

When I served the church as a pastor I had the responsibility to pray for new babies, to lead marriage ceremonies and to assist funeral services. The funeral services that I have held inevitably ended at the cemetery, where a place or marker is established as a final resting place.

Recently after a meeting, I drove past a large cemetery where two of my family have their bodies laid. I drove in and walked around locating the place, the marble marker with their names engraved into metal. Silently I just sat, thinking about them, their lives, the memories, and the effect of these two people in my life. As I sat, I prayed, I looked around and read many of the inscriptions, the names and dates, the families that would come to remember these lives.

What’s the point in writing this? Well the cemetery is a place where I often find a renewed vision. It is so easy to put financial success, material acquisitions, the big holidays or the new car at the top of our lives. Working hard to achieve these things and find our value, to buy more, to obtain more in my opinion means less time and less of me going into the things that really last beyond the grave, it feels like I am just collecting dust.

The house can be taken, damaged, burnt, broken into. The cars; in a year they are replaced by a better looking faster model, the holiday becomes pictures no one wants to see. There must be more that is worth investing my life into, this one chance that I have!

This is only part of the picture, you see not only does this reflection help in what I am trying to pursue in life, it helps me focus on the things I don’t want to dominate my life, like letting fear rule my actions. I’m looking for the chance to step out in faith, the chance to go for something bigger than me and take a risk. The chance to give to someone in a way that will really cost me, the chance to forgive, to love, to show mercy, grace and hospitality like I have never done before!

The Bible in Matthew chapter 6 records Jesus speaking saying:

″Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal”

This is a bit of a challenge by Jesus! Is it wrong to work hard and enjoy life with your family and friends? To take some pleasure in the rewards for your work? No, I don’t think that’s true. But the words of Jesus call us to take a good look at where our heart is!

Jesus knows us, better than we can ever imagine, he knows that we can be consumer machines that never reach fulfillment in our material hunger.

I used to go to bed as a child with the Argos catalogue, looking for my next top 5 items. When they were acquired did I throw the book away? No, I found the next top 5.

Where is the balance, sell everything and give to the poor? Well Jesus did say that to some, but why? Well I think this is a heart condition. What is it that drives us? Motivates us, consumes our time, our thoughts our energy? Is it stuff? The next purchase in the Argos book?

I don’t know the outcome you will arrive at, take a walk around the local cemetery and ask yourself some questions.

What will you be known for? Having a 3 bed semi with a nice carpet and double glazing? That bloke who always had the cleanest and newest cars?

Or a person that wasn’t ruled by material stuff, but lived to follow the most radical life-giver the world has ever and will ever see!
To be known as a bloke who lived out a radical kindness, generosity and faith in Jesus Christ, in public and in private.

Are you a person who is not held by fear; fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of ridicule? A person who loves greatly, gives generously, forgives deeply, loves unconditionally? That is worth living for, they are values and characteristics that I want to be known for when someone visits my grave.

Image credit: Photo by Sean MacEntee / CC BY 2.0

Crossing Over

Crossing Over

From the outside, they were just another group of men who would meet regularly at the pub. They met at the same place, most weeks, for a drink and a chat. They talked about all manner of things on their minds: what they were working on, what they were thinking about doing.

This story becomes more interesting when the men in the group are revealed. This little band of friends, mostly writers, were known as ‘The Inklings’, and they counted amongst their ranks men such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

For years Lewis and co. would spark off each other at the pub. Great literary works such as The Lord of The Rings (Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) would have first been tossed around as emerging ideas here as these men drank their ale and smoked their pipes.

The pub which was the scene for these gatherings of the Inklings was The Eagle and Child, on St. Giles in Oxford. Well, on one particular day the Eagle – affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’ – ran out of beer. And of course a pub without beer is bordering on useless so the Inklings tried other pubs around the city before settling on the Lamb and Flag, directly opposite the Eagle and Child. The Inklings crossed over the road and never looked back.

For C. S. Lewis, one of the chief members of the Inklings, crossing the road in pursuit of a drink marked a fairly insignificant change. However, a much greater “crossing over” was to become the central defining point of his life.

Lewis first arrived in Oxford, as a student in 1917, a committed atheist. But after 10 years or so things began to change. He was challenged by Christian writers and his friends – in particular J. R. R. Tolkien – to reconsider his position. Lewis had originally dismissed Christianity because he failed to see how it could hold together rationally. Yes, Lewis was a man of incredible imagination who could write exotic sci-fi tales and stories of imaginary worlds far away, but he was also endowed with razor-sharp logic. For Lewis, belief in God had to make sense intellectually to hold any merit.

However, when pressed to examine his beliefs he found that perhaps they weren’t as well-founded as he had first thought. He had believed that Christianity wasn’t properly grounded, but had he done enough investigation to fully justify that position? Did he hold that intellectual position for weak reasons, or for strong?

With time Lewis came to see that not only was his lack of belief in God not properly thought through, but that also the intellectual coherence of Christianity started to emerge more clearly after closer inspection.

What followed – after much walking, smoking, drinking, and discussing (naturally) – was a conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1920’s, entirely against the line of his imagined future but totally in keeping with his observations. Of all the people taken by surprise by this, Lewis was perhaps the most astounded. He records that when he finally made the switch he felt that he was indeed the most “reluctant convert in all England”.

Two years ago a plaque was laid for Lewis in Westminster Abbey to commemorate his life. The words chosen to adorn the plaque were taken from an essay Lewis wrote in 1944: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” It was Christianity’s explanatory power of the way the world is, the way Lewis was, and a hope for the future that convinced him to cross over from his atheism. After properly examining Christianity Lewis found it to be emotionally and rationally satisfying. His reason and his emotion now pointed to a truth he originally had denied. It took a step of humility, but Lewis followed the evidence to its natural conclusion.

C. S. Lewis has inspired millions of people through his stories, but perhaps the greatest inspiration he left us was his courage to find the truth about God and to commit to what he found.

A PRAYER FOR OPPORTUNITIES IN LATER LIFE

prayer

I came across this prayer the other day. It was based on some meditations from the Northumbrian Community and suits very well the changes in life as we men get older.

Lord, help me now to un-clutter my life:
to organise myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart:
teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me.
I give you my discontent –
I give you my restlessness –
I give you my doubt –
I give you my despair –
I give you all the longings I hold inside.
Help me listen to these signs of change – these signs of growth:
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breath-taking empty space of an open door.
Amen.

Image credit: Photo by Leland Francisco / CC BY 2.0

Avengers: Age of Ultron (12a)

Avengers

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast Starring: Robert Downey, Jr , Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Samuel L Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and more

“I know you’re good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn’t think it through. There is only one path to peace… your extermination.”

Full disclosure: I’ve wanted to be Iron Man ever since Robert Downey, Jr reinvented the role and stole the mantel of being the coolest super hero on the block. Alas not being a genius billionaire, I’ll just have to enjoy his big screen adventures – and boy, what adventures they are!?

Age of Ultron: Get ready, the Avengers are back – just in time to try and save us from an extinction level event in the shape of Ultron, part computer virus, part terminator-alike exo-skeleton, all bad guy…

If you’re looking for incredible superhero action, you’ve certainly come to the right place. It’s pure comic book joy to witness the world’s mightiest heroes: Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and leader Captain America (Chris Evans) jump straight into it with no need for any origin tales or even scene setting.

First up is an all out attack on the dastardly HYDRA base that sharp eyed viewers glimpsed in the end credits of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The evil Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) you see has been experimenting with Thor’s brother Loki’s Sceptre – and has created two new super beings or ‘enhanced humans.’ Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) can mind control, use telekinesis and can conjure red energy from her hands and her brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who has super speed (yes the same character from X-Men universe).

Director Whedon who returns from the first Avengers film is right at home as the threat of Ultron comes into play – it’s impressive how the sharp dialogue really brings the CGI robot to life (voiced by James Spader).

Everything crackles along with adrenalin fuelled energy – stand out scenes of which there are many include a jaw dropping fight between a possessed Hulk and Iron Man in his ‘Hulk-buster’ armour, a fun ‘who can pick up Thor’s hammer’ banter scene and the climactic fight that ups the ante even from the first film with all the heroes getting plenty of enemies to fight.

There is just so much on offer here – alongside the crunching action are some more emotional elements such as a touching romance between Hulk and Black Widow and Hawkeye’s family dynamic.

Iron Man still steals the show with his wise cracks and Hulk is incredible to behold in full battle fury. The newcomers to the party are all welcome additions especially the powerful ‘Vision’ (Paul Bettany) who is superb.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a master class in cinematic enjoyment – essential viewing!!

Thinking material:

There is a ton of testosterone flying around in Avengers: Age of Ultron and it is easy to get caught up in the macho posturing but what is great about this sequel is that it looks deeper in the lives of some of the heroes. The dynamic tension of Hawkeye being a family man whose wife and kids worry about him when he’s out saving the world alongside his super buddies is really touching and warrants some thinking about how right is it to risk ourselves for the greater good when we have dependents.

The ‘mind tampering’ elements of Scarlett Witch’s inclusion is interesting as it takes the film beyond the toughest guy wins scenario and shows that subversion can be a massively effective weapon. If you’re in a team and your team mates start acting against you, what hope is there of achieving anything meaningful?

When the super action wraps it’s worth thinking around the issues presented – even comic books can provide a wealth of real world relatable content. Now, where did I leave my Hulk-buster suit?

CVM Rating: ***** 5 out of 5 stars

Related Films: Avengers Assemble, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 1-3

CONNECTED

connected

Why do some over 50s find it hard to use modern technology to communicate? We do not want to go back to school but find it hard to learn as we get older. It is complicated by the number of choices we have. The youngsters are so quick and we get left behind, or can’t remember, but we want to keep alongside them.

It is important to communicate better with family, friends, church members, missionaries and new people we talk to. Over a year ago we started to meet in our Parish Centre on Monday’s, as CAPIT (Computer And Phone Information Technology) to help each other to try and keep up to date.. As well as meeting for personal learning, last month we launched our own website allowing us get connected better.

Fortunately we don`t need technology to talk to our heavenly father!

Taming The Storms?

storm

On a recent trip to the Shetland Isles, I had to take a 14-hour overnight ferry journey from Aberdeen to Lerwick. The weather had been so bad the night before the boat arrived 9 hours late into Aberdeen and the forecast was equally as bad for my trip north. Maybe I should have heeded the warning sign at the check in desk that read “Please be aware that bad weather is forecast for tonight’s crossing, it is at your discretion whether you travel or not.” Hardly a reassuring start to my trip!

Within minutes of the ferry leaving Aberdeen harbour the waves hit the boat. I was not prepared for the amount of billowing and rolling in the waves and by the crashing and banging coming from the galley, neither were they! After quickly finishing my dinner, I decided to head for the refuge of my cabin and hopefully some sleep. As I lay in bunk with my eyes closed, it felt as though I was on roller coaster and I still had over 11 hours to go, HELP!!

As I was lying there I was reminded of the story in Matthew 8 when Jesus calms the storms with the power of his words.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:23-27

As I was thinking about this story, I was in awe and wonder at the power of Jesus, he was able to calm the storm with only a few words! Part of me was praying that he would do it again right there and then!

All of us go through storms in life; loss of a loved one, financial pressure, redundancies and many other difficult situations. I don’t know what storm you are facing right now in your life, but what I know for certain is this:

No sin is so great that it hasn’t already been dealt with at Calvary!
No situation is so bad that God can’t turn around and use for his glory!
No life is so messed up and beyond hope that Jesus can’t transform into something amazing!

So whatever storms you may be facing today, trust in Jesus and His ability to calm the storm with only a few words.

AGE APPROPRIATE DEGENERATION

When you’re 50+, if you haven’t already, sooner or later chances are you’ll hear new expressions from the medical profession relating to your body’s decline.

For me it’s my bones, specifically my knees. I have run all my life and love to be jogging on the beach or in the woods or even the mindless pummelling of a treadmill. It went some way to fighting the middle-age spread. However, that activity is severely curtailed following a strenuous workout one weekend when I pushed my legs too far. After hobbling around for a couple of weeks I reluctantly decided that my knees weren’t going to heal anytime soon, so I sought X-rays and an MRI scan. Fortunately the result was no permanent damage, only to my pride as the young doctor diagnosed bone contusions most likely caused by impact damage and “age appropriate degeneration”. Seems my running days may be over?

Although I may have to accept that in the physical sense I won’t accept it in the spiritual sense.

Paul sensed that the Corinthians had become spiritually flabby, wanting all the rewards without the hard work when he wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize. Everyone who competes in the race goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last but we do it to get a crown that lasts forever.’

So if I follow Paul’s instruction and use increasing spiritual discipline (particularly in my quiet times) then I, too, will avoid spiritual flabbiness and thereby perhaps be able to talk about age appropriate regeneration.

Image credit: Photo by Phil and Pam / CC BY 2.0

Keeping Busy?

keeping-busy

I absolutely love stock car racing, it’s my favourite motorsport and every opportunity I get I head off to the Racewall in Cowdenbeath. However, my ultimate goal is to visit Daytona for the NASCAR Daytona 500 race. NASCAR racing is where a bunch of men and one woman drive really fast in circles around an oval track, driving for miles and getting nowhere with regular crashes into the wall that surrounds the track.

The reason I bring up NASCAR is because I’m thinking NASCAR is the perfect metaphor for how we live our lives today. Our culture actually fuels this race mentality and I don’t see any indication that it’s going to slow down any time soon. We not only live fast, we actually view busy people with a sense of prestige. We value them and we honour them. Within our culture we even greet people with a display of busyness. We say things like, “Are you keeping busy?” As if that’s a honourable thing to do. Busy has become the new normal.

Yet when I talk to people and listen to their pain it always connects with the pace of life that they choose. The number one relational issue I hear is time; People don’t have time for their marriages, they don’t have time for their kids, they don’t have time for friendships and they don’t have time to develop their faith. Busy people often have a lack of personal depth that results in superficial relationships, which results in wounded hearts.

We find ourselves being so busy that we don’t have time, if we’re really honest, for what our heart longs for – the type of people we really want to be and the type of relationships we really want to have.

For those of us who battle busyness, and I am one with you, here’s my defining question: In your NASCAR like lifestyle, where’s Jesus? Is Jesus in the car with you? Is he riding shotgun? Is Jesus in the pit crew helping you speed things up? Or is Jesus in the tower giving you directions for the pedal to the metal to go even faster? Is Jesus in the stands? Is he watching? Or could it be that Jesus is outside the racetrack saying “What you doing in there? You should be away from the NASCAR life style that is wounding your primary relationships.”

I think God’s people are choosing NASCAR lifestyles while at the same time trying to follow a Saviour who walks, who wants us to walk with him not race ahead of him.

Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28-30 reminds us of this:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Are we busy doing stuff ‘for’ God or are we doing stuff with God? There is a big difference.

What do you really want in your life if you are really honest? It cannot be attained through a NASCAR lifestyle. Perhaps it’s time to get off the racetrack of life and back into the abundant life that Jesus is offering us all, because busyness is a choice.

Busy is an enemy of abundant life, faith and relationships.

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