Sunday Summary 17th January – A new bookshelf!

This week I continued in the spirit of DIY and put up a new bookshelf to replace the one we’ve had since we first got married (5 and a half years ago!). It was beginning to fall apart and wasn’t looking too stable. It was quite fun trying to sort through the books, work out which ones I wanted to keep, which to give away (or give back to the people I’d borrowed them from!). And then, I tried to use each ‘block’ in the new bookshelf to separate different genres. It’ll probably need some tweaking.

The new one is a different style but actually has a little less space, so we got a mini book shelf (see below). I’ve used the top two shelves on this new one to keep all my ‘favourite’ books – although this will also need some tweaking!

My top three are ‘Invitation to a journey’ – Robert MulHolland, ‘Making of a Leader’ – Robert Clinton, and ‘Red Moon Rising’ – Pete Greig. Although that was a lot more difficult a decision to make than I thought it’d be and I’d probably change my selection on another day.. They’re all very good on those top two shelves.

In other news, I made very little progress with my own book writing. Although I have now written out a checklist of all the different sections I still need to edit. The list is on my wall above my computer, so I’m hoping that will motivate me to get on with it.

This week also saw me have a great catch up with a friend via Zoom. We talked about sharing our faith, work, aspirations and callings! He has agreed to read the edited versions of each section of my book when I’ve edited it. Hopefully this will also provide some accountability and more motivation next week.

In work updates – please pray for me (if you’re the praying type!). I have a mammoth task over the next month and I’m really not sure I will get it done. I’m in the process of transcribing 700+ pathology reports onto our trial related forms. Aside from having no medical training, these reports seem to be written in another language. So it is very slow going. Especially that it’s all on top of my usual job. But thankfully, other areas of the trial have been quiet this last week so I made good progress. Still have a long way to go.

The view on my walk home from work one night!

Anything else going on?? Not really, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a video I posted on YouTube a week or so back, has around 400+ views. I didn’t expect it to do so well (I know relatively that’s not much, but it feels big for someone with only 3 subscribers.

Sunday Summary – 13th September “Lockdown Holidays”

And so it comes to the end of a week-long holiday. Truth be told I’ve not been up to much. A lot of walking, reading, playing games and chilling out!

BBQ with long-lost Friends

My Dad is really getting his BBQ skills practiced this year. It’s odd how an international pandemic has probably resulted with more visits to my parents than before.

However, this time they also had round one of my oldest friends from when I lived in Portsmouth. We went to same school, have a lot of shared memories…and long story short, it’s been probably like 10 years since we saw each other (minus a brief catch up a year or so ago).

Anyway, I failed to take a photo, but it turns out we’d both shaved our heads during lockdown and so we had a surprisingly similar appearance!

We’ve still got lots to catch up on, but him and his wife have just moved to Birmingham for his work, so hopefully will get more opportunities to hang out, if we don’t get a second lockdown!

Walking in the Vale

There is a lovely area 10 minutes walking from our flat, it’s a little “student village”. It’s filled with these beautiful flats, in a massive park with a lake. At the moment, due to COVID, and summer holidays, there are no students. So, this week, I spent most days with a morning walk going round, praying, listening to an audiobook, reflecting on life. (Being all monk-like!) It’s been so lovely. The picture below is the view from one spot I spent ages sitting and enjoying.

Reading: Still going through the Wheel of Time book 3, but also picked up Spiritual Man (Watchman Nee) and finished The Courage to be Disliked this week.

Gaming: It seems there is so little time to game when I’m not on holiday. But this week has had me spending significant hours working through the second Tomb Raider game on the pc!

Editing: I’d intended to spend a large portion of this week editing my book. But, a) it turns out editing takes a lot longer than writing. (I spent about 4 hours on 1,000 words!) So I’m trying to work out how I can integrate the work in normal everyday life. And b) God bought up some stuff to work through which consumed a lot of time this week. I’ve alluded to it here: Identification with Christ.

Painful Splinters: In other news, this week saw two glasses broken in our kitchen. Clumsy! It was my luck to tread on a shard of glass on Monday, where we’d missed in our hoovering etc. Anyway, it took until last night for me to finally get it out. My foot was developing a nice dark blotch underneath the skin. So, took some tweezers to my foot and managed to yank it out! After much puss, bleeding and over-reacting, I got it! Very satisfying! I decided not to take a photo, or preserve the shard of glass. Unfortunately, it has set me a week back in terms of running. So will need to pick that up tomorrow!

Sunday Summary – 6th September “Rest Week”

Overall a pretty great week, although I haven’t done any exercise or running, so I’m feeling a little out of shape. I’m telling myself it’s important to have a “rest week”.

Getting my First Draft Back – This week I met with my friend who had agreed to read through my first draft (all 80,000 words) and give me feedback. It was so so helpful. I was asked by someone else what the most useful comments were. A) I write gender biased to men (e.g. ‘to be a man after God’s heart’ rather than ‘to be a person…’). B) There were several times when I’d said something too bluntly and needed to be a bit more sensitive/nuanced. Thankfully he’s highlighted these occasions C) Probably most significant to me was the encouragement that it wasn’t bad. In 180 pages of writing, my friend had found about 20 problematic sentences/phrases – all of which are simple enough to fix. My writing didn’t come across as judgemental or patronising, which was a huge relief.

Yes, I’ve got a long way to go, yes, there are a fair amount of corrections to make before I start cleaning up the grammar and style. But, more than anything else, I feel like I’m working on a worthwhile project again. And apparently from a “conservative charismatic” standpoint it fitted theologically as well.

Outdoor Costa with a Friend – Two days later I met with another friend for coffee at a new, nearby Costa. It was the first time we’d met since lockdown began and it was really good to meet up. He is a very clever guy, doing his PhD in mathematics at the university at which I work. We became good friends through our time at University when we read through the Bible together, and met once a week to share our three favourite things. It’s difficult fitting 6 months-worth of life in two hours, before the shop closed, but we did a pretty good job! I also learnt about a drink I’d never heard of: Frostino?

Systematic Theology – Yesterday, I finally finished Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. (I want to do a post about this book separately, it feels a significant milestone!)

The Office US//Half Life 2 – After work most days this week, I’ve been being lazy and watching The US Office and playing xbox, Half Life 2. I’ve never really watched the US Office before, only the UK one, it is incredibly funny and such easy watching. Half Life 2, is also amazing with a great story. Last night I got through Ravenholm and I’m very glad to see the back of that place!

Work – Into the office again this week. I also hosted a videoconference for the Trial I work on and had to present a report. I’ve decided I prefer doing these sort of meetings at the beginning of the day, rather than the end. Overall though, meeting was a success. Decisions made, next steps clarified. And now I’m on holiday until next Monday!!! Oooorah!

Cooked Breakfast – First morning of my 9 day holiday, and I decided I was past due a cooked breakfast. Since lockdown started I’ve not been going to the pub once a month with friends for a “men’s breakfast”….which means I’ve not had bacon and sausages for breakfast in over 6 months!!! That changed on Saturday. Beautiful, some left over to cook this morning.

Definitely need to remember to take more pictures for the blog each week!

Thanks everyone for reading and following this blog. So much support and encouragement this week. It’s all been really appreciated.

Sunday Summary – 30th August “Two Weddings!!!”

I missed last Sunday’s summary, so we’ve got two weeks worth of activities to update on! Let me see how much I can remember.

1) 2x Weddings (on the same day!)!!! Last Saturday we were invited to take part in two “social distancing” weddings!

The first was down in Portsmouth, about a 3 hour drive or. The weather was beautiful and so was the couple! Their approach was a service with only close family members in a Church, then head to the park for a picnic with all their friends. We watched a streamed version of the service on a phone screen in the car, on our way. And then joined them for a picnic!!! (A fantastic way to celebrate a wedding – in my opinion!)

The couple were friends we knew from a Christian camp we’d all been leaders at! The four of us had all at one point done the Chaplaincy there. Giving talks, leading worship, getting gunged(!) and being used by God to impact the lives of young people. I think it was at one of these camps that they first decided to date.

We’d met with them a few times over the last year, to talk about marriage, to laugh about our relationships and do fun personality tests!

The second wedding, was entirely “zoomed”! They’d got married the day before, and were having a zoom celebration with friends and family to share funny stories and anecdotes.

I met the guy when I led the Navigators student ministry at the University. I remember my first meeting with him, he’d come over to our house for a meet-and-greet brunch on freshers week. And I asked him to give me his story…it went something like this: “I became a Christian at Soul Survivor as a teenager, felt God calling me to Somalia, and so that’s where I’m heading!”. So much for small talk!

As soon as he finished University he was headed out to Africa and staying true to God’s calling on his life. Throughout my years getting to know him, we met most mornings before my work/his lectures, to study God’s word together, prayer-walk and hold each other accountable to God’s mandate for both of us.

A true friend. There’s not many people you can pray every weekday together for over a year and not feel deeply connected to!

Just before he went out to the Mission field, he asked us to baptise him…and so we did! Such an honour to have been part of your life mate!!!! Blessings on your marriage, and those impacted by it!!!

This is the group of us preparing for a bath-tub baptism session with two of the ex-students! The now-married guy is the one with the impressive beard!

2) Learned a new game! I guess in comparison, everything else that happened these last two weeks is pretty dull. But it’s worth sharing for memories’ sake. I decided I wanted to learn how to play backgammon. It’s a game my Dad loves playing with some of his friends, but for some reason I never picked it up. I decided another quiet week in lockdown, with a bank holiday on its way, was the perfect time to learn. I’ve spent at least 4 hours now watching professional-tournament backgammon on youtube, and aside from feeling very much like a “waste-man”, I do find it really enjoyable. #it’snotallaboutthehustle!

3) Running and Weightlifting – These two weeks also marked a month of consistent running and weightlifting. I’m really consistent with my weight training, not so much with running. I started with a short 30min run followed by weight training one body part 6x a week. And have now got to a point where I’m about 45/60min runs 3x a week and 60 mins weights 3x a week. I’ve really enjoyed having both the cardio and the strength training aspects in my mornings!

4) Takeaways!!! If anyone says advertising doesn’t work, they haven’t met me. A month ago, I started seeing youtube ads for Nando’s chicken. It’s now become our Friday night treat!!! I’ve levelled up in spice capacity: medium to hot! (Don’t know how proud I actually am of a takeaway each week, but I certainly am chuffed to be able to handle ‘Hot’!)

5) Blog Update… I know it’s not a big deal, and all that. But I’ve now made my first $1 on the blog. It’s a pretty insignificant amount considering what it cost to get a domain name etc, (not to mention my stellar posting!). But it feels like an achievement. So thank you to everyone who has visited this website over the last two weeks! I’ve been very encouraged by your comments and ‘likes’. Thank you

Sunday Summary – 16th August “All these people!”

This week has been pretty sociable, it feels like we’re getting closer to something resembling “normal” but it is still such a far way off!

Whisky with a Friend – A couple of weeks ago I invited a friend to come and chill, sit in the garden and drink whisky. He was up for it and yesterday, he came bearing gifts of a usual junk food offering, and I poured out some of my Yamazaki whisky (purchased for myself as a reward for finishing my book’s first draft back in July!) We also managed to make some progress on our joint Dark Souls account, beating the Scaleless Dragon.

As an Amazon Associate, I can apparently earn money if you buy the whisky using this link: Yamazaki …if you fancy getting yourself a bottle!

Into work 2x – On a slightly less “fun” note, this week also saw me journey into the office twice. For those who don’t know, I’ve been working from home since the end of March, and last week was my first visit back. Went in again this week, twice! It seems we are slowly returning towards a state of “normal”. It was sad though, to think about how long it will be before all 6 of us are back in the office again at the same time. It may not happen if job changes happen. A good reminder to make the most of what you’ve got while you’ve got it!

Skype Old Friend – On Friday I Skyped “Zoomed” one of my friends from the student ministry I used to work with. He’s graduated now and working for a very cool company: Ninety. Which is all about helping businesses thrive and innovate. Sounds very interesting. It was so good to catch up, share life updates, and joke around. He was super-interested in my Bible study project, and it was the first time I’d really told someone what I was doing. It was also the first time he’s seen me with no-hair!

Family BBQ – Another family BBQ this Saturday. (Could get used to this!) My brother was up from London, and it was nice to be all together in the garden. Shame I didn’t take a photo really.

Side Hustle(s) – Wife and I are both tapping away at side-projects, she with her artwork and music, and me with my writing (book/blog) and creating resources for Churches. You can see her work here. Nevertheless, I have been so encouraged this week, by all the support and encouragement from fellow bloggers on WordPress. I wanted to include a massive ‘THANK YOU” to everyone who has visited this site or “liked” a post. (Especially: Mitch Teemley and Beauty Beyond Bones!) It really has meant a lot. I even made my first single penny this week from Wordads. Exciting times! But again, thank you to everyone who has supported this blog, liked or followed in the last week. I have been very encouraged.

Fight Club – Film of the week was Fight Club. (And I’m not supposed to talk about it.) So what I will say is that it has taken me soooooo long to actually watch, the wait was definitely worth it! I was surprised that I liked it so much, despite the first impression I had from the title and name. I was also surprised by how philosophical it was. A lot to like about this film – without giving any of it away.

Book Update – As I already mentioned above, I’m working on a book at the moment. About 45 minutes a day. I’ve finished a second draft, and now the manuscript is with a friend from Church to “look over” and give me feedback. This is expected at the end of August – very excited. This week, I made some progress on a LinkedIn learning course about editing.

Emulation

Emulate: match or surpass (a person or achievement) typically by imitation…

Something I remember hearing a few times is that we become like the 5 people we spend the most amount of time with. I reckon this saying has more than a grain of truth to it. The Bible talks about how bad company can corrupt good character.

Last week I went for a walk on my own, and ended up thinking a bit about this sort of stuff. Believing that God is sovereign over the rabbit-trails in my mind, I’m inclined to believe that He wants me to be thinking about who I spend a lot of time with.

I don’t think there is much point naming names here, seeming as no-one reads this blog who really knows me. But after I thought about who I  actually spend the most amount of time with, and what things I probably imitate from them. I pondered about who are the people in my life who I most wanted to be spend time with (it goes without saying that Jesus was on the list!) and what they all had in common.

Some of the common traits of all the people on my top 5 list had:

  1. Devotional life: everyone one of them had a great devotional life, not that they necessarily bragged about it to me. But through spending nights together and living together for weekends or weeks away I saw them practice it. One guy would be reading his bible as I was waking up and as I was dropping of to sleep. For me this really fulfilled the advice of Psalm 1: ‘to meditate on His word day and night’.
  2. Gentle-humility: oddly enough this is something I really struggle with (and that’s not me trying to be humble), but pride and ego are really quick to come about in me. Especially when I’m doing a lot of “good” things, and maintaining a disciplined life. None of the guys on my top 5, we particularly forceful or overbearing, but great listeners looking to hear my voice not just assert theirs.
  3. Open with their hearts: through spending time and talking with these guys I’ve heard about their weaknesses, fears and hopes. The things I make a lot of effort to hide.

I guess there were lots more things about them which I admired, but they stick out a fair amount. Particularly their devotional life.

I guess where I’m at now, is asking and working out ‘how I can get to spend more time with them?’, ‘who am I influencing by spending time with – are they picking up good traits or bad ones as a result?’, ‘in what ways does my marriage spur each of us towards Jesus-likeness and then the flip-side of that?’

 

Driven Dilemma (3)

Marathon

Once a week, a group of 3 lads (including me), read a chapter of a book and then meet up at our Pastor’s house together to chat about it. A couple of weeks ago we started “On the Human Condition” – St. Basil. We usually seem to only read the long-gone olden day theologians, which makes a nice change from my regular reading. The discussion began to border on motivation and drive. So at the risk of annoying everyone, and taking us down a tangent which was totally irrelevant, I put forward my recent dilemma about being driven for God’s glory. I didn’t regret it!

My Pastor, Andy, told me about when he was young he read an interview about an Olympic Runner (I think it was a runner) who got a gold medal. The article basically explained how many sacrifices the runner made in order to get the Gold medal. In other words he was driven to get the medal, and would sacrifice anything to get it: family, money, nice food, time, energy etc. Andy said when he read that as a young twenty something he was really inspired. If a man can give up so much just for a medal, how much more should I give up and be driven by a desire for God’s glory! 

Andy said that although this language of running a race and stripping off everything which slows us down is biblical (1 Cor 9:24-25, Phil 3:12-16). That there is definitely a cost to following Jesus, a cross to carry, a driven-ness that should be there. It doesn’t necessarily work itself out in the same way.

Pause. I want to be careful not to misinterpret what he said. I want to be careful that I present this well and correctly. I am not saying, or going to say, that living a life worthy of the gospel isn’t to be difficult, isn’t to be costly – BUT active, surrendering, submitting, sacrificial, with “every effort made” and “making the most of every moment”.

However…when we run the race. The driven-ness for God’s glory, does work itself out differently. It works out through our lives, deeply. The Joy of the Lord, which is our strength, demonstrates itself in our marriages, our work, our friendships, our exercise, our eating, our sleeping. Not separately for them.  (Tension: There are seasons where God calls us to fast from food, exercise, to rest from work and even to surrender certain friendships up to Him.)

So what does this actually mean, in relationship to my dilemma: How does my desire for God’s glory drive me to a greater degree than the desire for my own glory.

  1. I think it means, that I should expect this new sort of driven-ness to produce in me a different sort of fruit than what the other one did. Whereas one produced an appearance of holiness, sorted-ness, success, etc – this one may produce humility, dependency, patience, love, joy.
  2. I think it also means that the things I am going to need to sacrifice as a result of this desire, to an extent, will be different from the old. For example, whereas before I may have needed to sacrifice sleep in order to get up early and have a work out, I may need  instead to sacrifice self-dependency (2 Cor 1:9) so that I can rely on Him for my strength.

Thanks for bearing with my rambling again, as I try to work these things out! I am sure this isn’t the end of it, but I am excited to see what God is unearthing!

Aside from being comforted to know that my pastor has struggled with these questions, I am reminded of the power of God’s body (the Church) working together to build up; encourage; teach and sharpen each other!

The Driven Dilemma (2)

This post continues on the same lines as a previous one… I did consider trying to write a summary of that, but can’t do it without making this post double the size.

Shortly after, or even mid-way through, writing the Driven Dilemma post I invited one of my friends to speak his thoughts into the situation. We had reached a lull in our conversation over coffee, and I decided to just tell him what I felt God had been challenging me on and listen to his thoughts on some of the questions I had been asking myself.

 

I’ve had a good few days to process what he said, so let me try and present them here:

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” was his initial reaction (one of those verses which can easily be taken out of context and still be very much the truth and useful!). He went on to explain that Joy isn’t so much a feeling as it is a choice. E.g: Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. This verse is an imperative! In this way joy is less about a feeling, sensation or an emotion…but rather an action and a form of worship. Link this to my second point from Romans on BRT, about taking responsibility in our battles against sin, I notice a theme!

Partly out of frustration, partly because my friend and I have been attempting to journey up “vulnerability mountain” together (excuse me as I excessively reference myself!), partly because I knew he could handle my unbelief. I said: “But what does that mean practically!? I know that this Joy should be my strength and it should be a choice, but the truth is my willpower can’t seem to convert this Joy into productivity. When I was driven by a desire to be acknowledge and affirmed as someone on top of their game (physically, spiritually, mentally) I got so much done. But my desire to rejoice in the Lord,  doesn’t drive me to change nearly as powerfully! What do I do?”

His reply was simple – cry out…ask! Ask God for His Joy to become your strength, ask that He will open your eyes to see His beauty and therefore respond appropriately. Ask. Ask and know that you will receive. [Matthew 7:7-12, James 1:5-6 & 4:2-3]…

I still feel that there is a lot more to unearth on this topic. More to learn and grow in. Thanks for again putting up with my ramblings.

 

JoyInsideOut

Vulnerability Mountain

Mount Snowdon Range North Wales

“Mountains create powerful bonds between people. Its their great appeal to me.” -Bear Grylls

I don’t get to climb many mountains at all. To be honest I think I have only ever climbed one, Snowdon in Wales, but I did it twice for what it’s worth! The first time I did it as a young teenager with my family. My young sister at the time (9 years younger than me) had a real struggle – but thanks to perseverance and a lot of Kendall Mint Cake she did it.

The second time was, as part of my Bachelor Party last year, with group of 5 other lads. For one guy it was his first experience of Wales. I don’t want to be boring and tell you all the details because, apart from one of us struggling a bit with Asthma halfway through and some great conversations, it was largely uneventful. But I agree with Bear Grylls that it did create a bond between us, and enabled us to ‘let loose’ for the rest of the weekend.

As I read that line in Bear’s autobiography I began to think about metaphorical mountains that bring people together. Whether they are the extreme highs of life, shared with friends, or the most painful parts of life.

I really like to project a strong image of myself, someone who gets up early; exercises regularly; reads a lot; plays an active role at church; appears to be a “good Christian”; studies hard etc. However I know my deepest friendships are the ones where we have climbed up the mountain of vulnerability together (or down it). We have shared our weaknesses, our fears, the depth of our sin together, seen each other at our worst (not just when life circumstances are bad, but when we’ve behaved so badly that most of the world is just disgusted!). For me, this is the mountain that truly “creates powerful bonds between people”.

There are tonnes of reasons why we may choose not to make ourselves vulnerable, Gordon MacDonald explains some of them:

  • The ability to engage at intimate levels is affected when, in moments of high trust, we are humiliated or betrayed.
  • Intimacy is affected when we are brain washed into believing that we must go it alone and trust no one.
  • The ability to be an intimate person can be affected when nothing in our present experience matches the past.
  • When someone we love turns against us.

I don’t agree that we need the same level of “nakedness” with everyone, we have all been hurt at some point because of this. However:

How we deal with these stories [our own struggles, and reasons for backing away from intimate friendships] and how we decide to seek healing of wounds that have caused us to build walls around ourselves may be among the most important decisions we ever make. – Gordon MacDonald

Intimacy must be built on trust, however trusting often requires risk.  I am glad to have friends whom I can share my innermost thoughts, and know that they still accept (and even love (in a brotherly fashion) me). We have begun the climb up Vulnerability Mountain together, and we are building a strong bond as a result.

One more thought: I also believe intimacy and vulnerability are crucial ingredients in our task of Discipleship! If we disciple by only showing our strengths we encourage those who follow, to also hide their weaknesses. But the Bible teaches that it is in our weakness that God is glorified (2 Cor 12:9).