Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Habits and discipline

I got thinking this morning about the difference between a habit and a discipline. Sometimes we use them like synonyms, but I'm not sure they are the same. It seems to be that while some argue that it takes around 90 days to develop a habit, it only actually takes one day to break it. We're talking good habits here, bad habits take minutes to develop and years to break!

And therein lies the conundrum. It doesn't seem to matter if I spend 3 days doing a good thing or 100 days, it only actually takes one day to break it. Bad habits are easy, they come quite naturally to most of us. Any good habit I form lasts only as long as I am disciplined about keeping it. When I lose my disciple, I lose my habit. That holds true for a forehand or a eating habit or a fitness goal.

So I've sort of given up on the idea of developing good habits, and now I'm trying to focus on being disciplined in the way I do things and the choices I make. In fact self-discipline is the only habit I want to develop deeply in my life. If I have self-discipline then maybe I have what I need to continue to make good choices, whether that's in nutrition, fitness, learning or spiritual terms.

Perhaps this all sounds like playing with word to you, granted that might be the case. But discipline is about facing each day and the decisions it brings with the same attitude. It doesn't rely on doing what I did yesterday except in the sense of choosing to make a disciplined choice rather than an undisciplined one. so today I chose to have a flapjack. That decision will inform my choice tomorrow, as will having been to the gym and for a swim. I don't look back and think I haven't been for a while, why bother to go. I treat each day as an opportunity to choose again and to be responsible for and in control of the choice I make.

That is discipline not habit in my opinion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Two new apps on my iPad

I recently downloaded a couple of new apps to my iPad about fitness and nutrition. The first is Myfood from Pomegranate Software.

This was a free app to download, but the real value seems to come when you unlock it (only £1.49) and can access more information and you get rid of the ads! I haven't fully explored it, but it does look helpful for my nutrition studies and it might be worth a look even in its free form for anyone interested to see what's in their food.

What I like about what I've seen so far is the clear information you get. It would be nice if you could re-order the foods by diet type, but that a fussy thing for those of us that want to be able to see where to get say vitamin B12 if you don't eat meat or dairy.

Then again, I don't think it is meant to be that flexible or comprehensive, but it's good as it is.

The second app is Fitness Planner:

This looked interesting and it actually is quite interesting but probably only to someone keen enough to do all the work of entering data and leading a well ordered and disciplined life. I'm not sure I fit into that category, so I'm not sure it's going to be as useful to me as it might be to someone else.

If, on the other hand, you are planning some serious training and need a schedule then this might be the app for you. Again there are areas that you can unlock, but I haven't done that yet.

Of course there's still MyFitnessPal that I mentioned some time ago as a useful food tracker and diet analyser.

These are not the only offering out there, and if you're using an app or web-based fitness and/or nutrition resource, I'd like to know more about it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

I really don't like role play stuff!

The thing is, I really don't like training or seminar exercises where you have to "pretend" that you're in a particular situation and then act accordingly. Sadly, in some circumstances, there is any other way by which to do what what needs to be done in order to learn what needs to be learnt! This was my experience yesterday as I did my First Aid training.

The course was brilliant and the course tutor was great. How you maintain your motivation and get a group of people going and working and learning over the course of a whole day is quite incredible and our training did just that. He must have been exhausted!

Personally, I don't have any experience of First Aid courses, so I have nothing with to compare yesterday's event, but I would certainly recommend ReactFirst as a training body. They run a wide range of sports related First Aid courses and our day was well delivered and very valuable. I guess First Aid is one of those things for which you hope never to have to be responsible. At least I do. But now I've done my training I can see the value of it and I'm thinking about what I need to stuff into the bottom of my tennis bag just in case.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Under the Magnolia Tree

Years ago, when I first saw a magnolia in flower, I decided that one day we would plant a magnolia tree in our garden. I even researched the cost and thought seriously about it when we lived in Bedford. I'm not a great gardener. Most of the time it's Anne who potters around the garden cutting the grass and weeding the borders. I like sitting in the garden, and I don't mind growing the odd vegetable, but time has always seemed to mitigate against becoming deeply involved with the soil.

Earlier this week  I visited our new home to meet the builder and discuss the work that needs to be done. The house officially becomes our in a week's time and there's a good month's work to be done. Rewiring, new kitchen and bathroom, a little remedial work on the extension and lots of decorating. Hopefully it will all be done in April ready for moving at the beginning of May.

The new garden is a little overgrown and, at about 150ft, quite long. I wandered down the garden to stare at the view across the open fields, which was very peaceful indeed. But here's the thing. About a third of the way down the garden on the left-hand side is a white magnolia tree. Because we looked at the house before Christmas and only went in late January/early February to have a good look at what needed doing, I didn't spot the tree, even if I had the ability to recognise it without the characteristic flowers.

So two days ago I got the surprise of my life to see this wonderful tree in full bloom. It needs a trim, but there it was. A good frost and all the flowers will be gone. It's even possible that Anne won't see it in flower until next year if the weather turns over the next week. But it will still be there!

I'm not sure how I felt when I saw the tree. Was it a sign of God's blessing or his sense of humour? Do I really need to read anything into it at all? It was just there. Part of God's amazing creativity as are the ivies growing through the hedge and covering a concrete post and the apples strewn across the grass from the apple tree that needs pruning and the weeds growing up between the different surfaces of the drive. None of those drew my attention in the way that the magnolia did, but that doesn't make them any less significant.

Perhaps the point of all this is that the magnolia will always be a wonderful sight when in flower, but a lot of the time it will be a tree without flowers. And without paying attention to all the other plants, wanted and unwanted, in the garden, eventually the magnolia will be hidden. Choked out by ivy and other fast growing and pernicious flora.

Do my gifts get choked out by weeds too? Does the glory of what God has called me to be and to do get overshadowed by the unattended stuff around me? Self-agrandisment is not pretty. This is not about self-promotion. It is about examining my life and paying attention to that which needs to be done in order to maintain a healthy relationship with God and an availability to serve him with all that I have. I can't make God love me more, but I can affect my usefulness, my availability. I can choose to nurture my life for the glory of God.

And when all of that reflecting becomes a little self-indulgent, well at least I'll have my magnolia tree to look at!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Disappointed but not surprised

So the "We're in this together" principle took another turn towards the rich and away form the poor with yesterday's budget announcements. This morning's paper were full of "Granny tax" headlines, presumably because Granddad isn't expected to live long enough anymore to qualify for a state pension!

I haven't read all the analysis, but the disappointment is clear to anyone who wonders why an extra £170 after inflation for the lowest earners equates in any way to the 5% reduction for very high earners. Anyone who is earning £153,000 will save that amount straightaway, and once again as you go up the higher income scale you win and just keep winning even if you have to pay more stamp duty.

So it seems that this budget is about putting more people into higher rate tax, cutting benefits and all in order to fuel the misconception that rich people are dis-incentivised by paying tax. The rest of us naturally find paying our taxes a real joy! I'm not sure what work is actually being rewarded by George Osborne's plans.

I'm equally disappointed this week in the attitude of the train drivers union over the Olympics. Rejecting an £850 bonus because there were "too many strings attached to the offer'" has all the hallmarks of greed. Is anyone else being paid a bonus for doing their job during the Olympics? Am I just being cynical or won't they be doing overtime too and getting rather well paid for that. It seems quite ridiculous that there are hundreds if not thousands of people giving up their time for free to make the Olympics a great event, and here we have an unmistakable grab for personal gain. I'm sorry but I can't see it any other way.

So, if it hadn't been for winning my tennis match on Monday, this might just have been the most disappointing week I've had for a long time! Every cloud has a silver lining as they say, and I did win a Premium Bond too, so life can't be all that bad.

Perhaps, when it all comes out in the wash, we will actually be grateful for the influence of the Lib Dems. Maybe without them this budget would have been far worse for most of us.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Church Planting

While I still remain uncomfortable about using the term church planting to describe what we may be doing in the future, these Ten Things You Should Know seemed very appropriate:

1. You're a limited leader. (Exodus 18:18)
2. Process your hurt. (1 Peter 5:7)
3. You are not planting the church. Your family is planting the church. (Ephesians 6)
4. You'll experience internal and external prejudice. (Galatians 2:11-21)
5. Go after men. (1 Timothy 6:11-16)
6. Get a spiritual father. (1 Timothy 1:2, Philippians 2:22)
7. Date your wife. (Ephesians 5)
8. Establish unity with your core team. (Philippians 1:27-28)
9. People will leave. (John 6:58-66)
10. Fundraise for longevity. (Philippians 4:15-20)

Not too sure about number 10, but then again we haven't considered funding as an issue. I suppose too, that we would need to reflect on these ten items in the context of organic/missional/simple models. I'd say that for the most part they are thoroughly transferable, but maybe there are other things to consider with the model we are exploring.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Coming Second

Hanging on the mirror for the moment is my silver medal for being a runner up in the winter league team tennis tournament at the club. Not a bad achievement, but we could have won it. In the end it came down to games won, and we lost by four games, which of course means we only needed to have won two more games than we did, in the sets we lost, and it would have been a draw!

Ah well, at least it was close and it's no mean thing to have got all the way to the final.

It's actually the first medal I've ever won, which is quite something. Maybe it is never too late to try something new!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do we need to know God's will?

Interesting moment yesterday at our local minister's fraternal. We talked about all sorts of things and then we shared some things for prayer together. I talked about our situation and the house move etc and someone said, "We should pray for you too, that you will know God's will," or words to that effect. And then I suddenly thought, do I actually need to know God's will? What do we normally mean by that? Do we mean knowing exactly what to do and when to do it, like following a blueprint of a way marked walk? Or do we mean something more general?

My answer to the offer of prayer might have seemed somewhat flippant to some when I said that I was actually quite comfortable not knowing. What I meant by that I think, was that I wasn't overly concerned that I didn't know exactly what lay ahead and how it would work out. That in fact not knowing was not a problem. This wasn't some sort of deterministic approach to the future, the kind of "if God wants it to happen it will happen" way of living, but hopefully a more fateful, or maybe faith-filled response of trust that God has a purpose that he is working out and that I have a place in that purpose that I can fulfil. It's holding onto the the kind of promise made in Jeremiah 29 without needing a divine business plan delivered by angles and signed for by me.

Perhaps we focus too quickly on knowing God's will and too slowly on living God-honouring lives. There things that we do know, things that we are very aware should form part of our lives as followers of Christ, and we struggle to do those things. Why then should we be so worried about the stuff the don't know, maybe don't even need to know. I suppose technically speaking we might be talking here about the difference between the revealed and sovereign wills of God. But do we need such a distinction in order to work out how every choice before us?

I've just remembered the conversation Jesus had with his disciples when they asked about the future of one particular disciple In the nicest way possible, he simply said, "Mind your own business!"

I don't really know the answer to my own question. I do know that some people seem to hear very clearly and apparently quite easily what it is that God wants them to do. I do not. For me, it often only becomes apparent after the event as I look back and begin to discern patterns that point to God's involvement and guidance. Perhaps there is a spiritual equivalent of proprioception on which I need to work in order to see more clearly and act accordingly.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Re-emerging into worship

The last few months have been an interesting transition for me. Actually for both of us. Being on sabbatical is all about resting before returning to the fray, but this sabbatical has no return at the send of it. The occasional preaching engagement may arise, but overall that part of my ministry is probably never going to be as regular as it once was. We shall have to wait and see.

Then there's the question of where do we go to worship, what does it mean to worship, how will we contribute to worship as members of a congregation rather than as leaders? And so on. Finding a place is hard enough, but actually being able to, or more truthfully actually wanting to worship, is possibly the even greater challenge. It's not that I've fallen out of relationship with God, far from it. It's just that the wearying nature of what we've been through has just left me jaded and not that interested in the whole corporate worship model.

Somewhere in all of this is the balance between discipline, the positive act of choosing to worship, and desire, the emotional connection that makes intimate worship possible. Without the desire, worship is going to be dry, uninviting and formulaic. It will be a simple process of going through the motions. And yet, without disciple, worship becomes a feel-good factor and something in which I engage win I feel like it and not because God actually deserves and even demands my worship. If I truly believe the things I say when I preach, then worship is always an appropriate response to any and every situation.

So I'm trying to engage. I'm choosing to engage.

And here's the thing. As I discipline myself to worship, I found I begin to worship. I begin to get caught up in the wonder and awe of both knowing and being known. I was a little later than typical arriving at tennis this morning because I chose to worship. The song I wanted to use wasn't on my iPod, so I added it and listened to it as I walked to the club.

What I miss most, and in truth was denied in many ways over the last couple of years, was a sense of spontaneity in worship. Choosing my own time and choosing what I use is helping me re-emerge into a worshipping lifestyle. Letting a worship song wash over me (that's about the only way I can describe simply listening in an engaged sort of way) is both therapeutic and spiritually defining.

Perhaps this is how God is leading me beside still waters and refreshing my soul.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Progress report!

Every so often I get a progress report for my nutrition course. It shows me the marks I've got so far and it projects a finishing date. So far I'm on track to finish in June apparently, although I'm working at completing the course work in April hopefully. I only have something like five more assignments to write, so with a bit of discipline I should be able to work through those steadily over the next few weeks.

Of course this is not the only thing I'm doing! The idea behind doing the nutrition course was to get my head back into study and writing mode because I knew I'd need to do that for the academic side of the sports massage course. So, as I'm writing up nutrition assignments, I'm also trying to write up my anatomy and physiology paper. The problem here is the new language of muscles and bones. So far I think I've confused myself more than I've absorbed, but yesterday I decided to draw a map of the shoulder, listing all the muscles with their origins, insertions and actions. Hopefully that will help me order some of the information in my already crowded brain!

And, as if learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge wasn't enough, we're buying a house and I'm looking for a job! The latter is stressful because as a minister I have nothing to offer the world beyond the church, the former is stressful because buying a house is always stressful! We've signed the contracts but not exchanged them yet, so we are still a bit in limbo but getting ever closer. I just hope we get the house in time to do the work on it before we have to move out of our current home.

I guess by now that you can understand why, when I get asked how I'm doing, the answer is usually that we are okay, but the truth is that okay is rather good when you think about everything with which we are dealing at the moment.

Perhaps today the 'phone will ring and it will be someone offering me just the right job to fit around all the things I'm trying to do (I forgot to mention starting church from scratch in the new location as another point of stress), or maybe it will be the solicitor saying that we can exchange contracts. Perhaps the 'phone won't ring at all and another day will pass and the feeling of pressure will ratchet up another notch.

Which brings us to an important question. What do you do when the pressure mounts? When prayers go seemingly unanswered and you can see no clear way forward, it is so very easy to find yourself wondering if God actually likes you anymore. Perhaps he's busy with bigger things, or perhaps you've done one too many things wrong and now you're on the outside. If you've never felt like that then bless you. Me, well I feel it a lot. And I have no easy answers or simple solution to it either. I just have to persevere.

Faith is easy when things are going well.

By the end of next week it might all be different. Papers might be written, job offers secured, house purchased. But the pressure will come, if not through these avenues, then by some other means. Faith isn't so much about overcoming pressure, it's about learning to manage it by faith, in faith, through faith.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Suing the BU

I don't know if this story has reached beyond the Evening Standard, but last week there was article about an ex-missionary who is suing the BU over loss of earnings-"Church ruined my chance to play for Man Utd" Evening Standard 5th March.

Apparently the said missionary believes he could have played for Manchester United had it not been for the church and the union persuading him to become a missionary. So he's suing for loss of earnings. If he were to win his case, then the current £1 million defect would have a further £10 million is compensation to be added to it. I hope we're well insured!

The implications of such a case are enormous. We might think it foolish to make such a claim and we might hope that the courts will agree that no matter how he feels now, at the time it was his choice to become an evangelist and engage in mission as he did. On the other hand, how do we help people hear God's call and respond to it? And what do we do when things turn sour and once faithful followers become disillusioned antagonists?

I ask these questions for several reasons. First because I know first hand how it feels to find yourself wondering if you have ever truly heard God's call, and secondly because if the people I knew at college and from elsewhere who find themselves no longer serving God or sharing the faith we once shared. Once they were passionate about the gospel, now they are no longer even in fellowship. How do we care for them, if we do, if we can?

I have no solutions just a few prayers.

How do we reach them?

So I guess the first question is: Who are they? Who are the "them" in the title question?

Well they could be anyone. Anyone we are trying to reach and influence. Anyone who falls into the category of missing from the kingdom of God. But let me narrow it down a little. They are the people who we end up condemning or speaking out against. Not always knowingly, but sometimes in our desperate desire to promote a Christian ethos, we inadvertently say things that are counter-productive in mission.

So what's got me thinking about this today? Have a guess?

Did you guess that it was some of the comments made over the weekend about gay marriage? Well that's what it was. I struggle with what to say about the issue. On the one hand I understand and agree with those who want to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. I wonder what's wrong with marriage being between a man and a woman and a civil partnership being used to describe the relationship between two people of the same sex entering a solemnised union.

I will hold my hand up and say that I think it only proper that homosexual couples have the same rights in our society as heterosexual couples. It doesn't mean that I think that a homosexual relationship honours God. That's not the issue when it comes to civil rights and liberties.

The thing that bothers me most is that when we speak out as Christians against such proposals as the inclusion of civil partnerships under the banner of marriage, we need to do so in a way that doesn't further remove this people group from the influence of the Gospel, and the love of the God who created them in his image. We may consider that image flawed and inappropriately expressed, but it's in there somewhere and it's redeemable unless I've misread the gospel. And tell me please, which one of us does not present a flawed representation of God's image?

So maybe it's time we stepped back and took a long look at what is really under threat here. I'm not so sure that it's our faith as much as it might be our prejudice. Could this actually be an opportunity for us to honour and respect our fellow human beings who are different to us yet still worthy of honour and respect and more than that, still worthy of the opportunity to engage with the story of God's passionate love for them?

Okay, so we want to draw the lines to defend and define what our faith has to say and what we believe God expects of us. But can we not do that without condemnation?

Friday, March 02, 2012

Boosting the economy by reducing tax

Now where have we heard that before? It's an old argument and one I'm sure someone more involved in economics can explain better than I can, but once again we're being told that taxing wealthy people hold the economy back. Okay, I can understand the argument to some degree, but are we really to believe that removing the 50% tax rate for a very small percentage of the population will actually right all that's ailing our flagging fiscal situation? I don't buy it.

There have been a significant number of voices from the very people who fall into that particular tax bracket who have been speaking out against both low tax rates for the very rich (how do you define "very" by the way?) and rates of pay in the boardroom. Somehow the two don't seem to sit together that comfortably.

If I'm honest, the call to abandon the highest rate of tax sounds like the greedy of a selfish generation who prioritise self. I wonder what the different in cost would be between Nick Clegg's proposed £10,000 personal allowance and removing the 50% rate?

Trickle down economics didn't seem to work in the 80's, maybe it's time to try trickle up instead!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Premature rejoicing over marriage?

I don't want to put a dampener on the celebrations surrounding the rise in weddings after a 40 year decline, but is this really a pointer to a revival in marriage, or is it just an increase in weddings?
I've long held the view that the Christian fixation with marriage when it is not allied with a determination to build strong and healthy relationships is just another game with statistics. Call me cynical, but a wedding doesn't make a marriage. I remember working with someone who had been in a long-term relationship with their partner and together they decided to get married. Within a pretty short space of time they had separated and gone their own ways. Now maybe the relationship was already in trouble, but the bottom line is that getting married didn't fix anything that might have been wrong.
A few years ago there was an interview with a couple who were both what you might call serial "marriers". I think they were on their 4th or 5th marriage at the time of the interview. They were talking about how much they had to offer in terms of counsel for those getting married because they had been married so many times. It seemed to me that what they actually had to offer was lots of advice on how to marry but not necessarily on how to build a long lasting relationship.
This, to me, is the key. Not how many marriages there are in a given year, but how many deep and healthy relationships are being built and sustained over the long haul. If all we are doing as the church is encouraging people to get married, then we are failing them spectacularly.
It's great that people are getting married, but let's get over the the idea that this somehow suggests that marriage is coming back into fashion. We live in a highly disposable society and relationships are just one of the casualties of such a society.
The real hope lies in the statistics that marriage provides a strong foundation for a long relationship, that people who are married are more likely to put in the effort to resolve their issues and this in turn has a knock on effect of teaching children and young people about working at our relationships.
If there is evidence that this is happening then it really would be a cause for rejoicing.