Thursday, 17 April 2014

A Weekend Away

Summary: my personal take on a Men's Weekend away includes fun days, troubled nights and an experience that I hope changes me forever.
Read on to find out more.

It looked so innocent from the outside...

Day Time

I'm part of a church in Surrey and recently all the men in the congregation were invited on a
weekend away.
It was billed as speaking to those who were at a "crossroads in their lives", which in our case and at this particular time, represented pretty much everyone for one reason or another.

The first day began innocently enough, with an early start and a grumpy head (normal for me).
We got the kids sorted and headed off on the school run, after which my wife came with me to the meeting point.
Jonny was the next to arrive after us and almost immediately had to make a phone call to a prospective employer.
This turned out to be the first significant event of the weekend: he got a new job on his way there!

Slowly, one by one, more men appeared, some driven by their wives or arriving under their own steam, with backpacks and other packages carried or dragged along behind them.
Finally we were all assembled and boarded the minibus, with Andy H in the "hot" seat, next to a pile of precariously perched baggage.
He didn't look nervous...

As Dave drove, the miles moved by and conversation was easy to find, interspersed with much banter.
Everything from work, to electronics, to birds of prey was discussed in the 4 1/2 hours approx that it took to get to our destination in Wales: a barn on a farm (and no, I'm not sure that the word "converted" is an appropriate term for the barn in question).

A brief guided tour around the building revealed a pool table, table tennis and other goodies.
More importantly, the kettle was discovered, although one look at the showers produced a moment of palpable fear, with my Surrey comforts far behind me.

Investigation of the dorm room wasn't much better, with the dawning realisation that feet would be hanging off the end of the fold-out beds.
For some, the floor was becoming very appealing, due to flies sitting on the Velux windows in the roof, the occasional dead one dropping onto the bed below.
A prayer room was available next door for those requiring divine intervention.

Game for a laugh?
Still, I wasn't going to let that spoil my enjoyment!
Armed with a thick jumper, my coat and a steely resolve, I joined the rest of the gang on the sofas next to the wood burner, only to find that everyone else was dressed the same.

Next to the wood burner was a large silver pipe, with plenty of holes in it.
This turned out to be the output for the heating system and Wil became our self nominated engineer, pointing it in different directions to help warm different rooms and people.

Eventually, the thermostat was found to have been left at a heady 8 degrees Celsius - these farmer's, hey?

Thankfully, someone had found out the wifi password and we were able to connect up, so we didn't completely leave the 21st Century.
The sight of a line of grown men in deep communion with their devices was a sight to behold throughout the weekend.

Down to business and we were handed a thought provoking questionnaire asking what "non-negotiables" and "blockers" might be standing in the way of our dreams and God's purposes for our lives, while Dave and Paul prepared dinner for us all.

A slap up meal was followed by a meditation and another session followed, where we created a "dreamboard".
The idea was to take a collection of random magazines and firing up our imagination, use the pictures and words to stimulate our biggest dreams, cutting them out and pasting them onto a large piece of card to form the big picture for our lives.
The rules were that there were no rules - no limitations of money, time or anything else - just dream.

I was a little sceptical at first, thinking that this was the sort of thing artistic people (i.e. not me) would appreciate, but decided I would give it a go.

However, once I started, I couldn't stop.
A fever seemed to grip me as I flicked purposely through journals and periodicals, cutting,  slicing and glueing with reckless abandon, while neatly avoiding the adverts for Saga holidays.

And then there it was.
My biggest and deepest dreams from many years back, all laid out before me on one sheet of card.
Everything from wanting to be a preacher/teacher/prophet, to starting my own career as a writer/author.
I even had a magazine headline "My Own Write" on there; it must be God!
Exhausted from a day of hard travelling and thinking, I chatted for a little while and then headed off to bed, leaving the others playing pool.

Night Time

Seeing is believing
The dorm was warm and so was my sleeping bag, so I thought I was onto a winner.
Nothing could have been further from the truth as I lay there awake and generally uncomfortable.

What I didn't realise was that the thump I had heard when I sat on the bed was one of the slats in the bed giving way.
This must have affected my circulation in some way and in combination with my feet extending off the end of the bed, gave me cramp in my legs and "pins and needles" later on.

The others slowly joined me, except for Wil who appeared briefly and then disappeared, sleeping bag in tow.
One by one, the others went to sleep and one by one, they took it in turns to snore.

It was pretty impressive, I have to tell you, with each one adding to the cacophony in a slightly different tone and volume.
If had been mischievous then I would have tried tickling their feet to see if I could play out a tune.

Towards morning I thought to myself, "It's only 2 nights", and wriggled about a bit in another bid to stop my legs from going numb.
By this time, the thin light of day was beginning to shine through the windows, so I thought I may as well get up.
At least I would be able to bring some life back into my legs.

Breakfast Time

I wondered downstairs, making use of the facilities on my bleary way towards the kitchen and the prospect of a warm cup of coffee.

On the way, I was confronted by a strange looking creature, zipped up in it's own cocoon and lying perfectly still on the floor next to the now cold wood burner.

Thus was solved the mystery of where Wil had disappeared to, but since I could see no sign of a head to address a "good morning" to, I moved on lest one of us inadvertently end up in hospital.

Kitchens mean kettles
Kettles mean coffee
Coffee means happiness
There are few things more heavenly than a kettle in the morning, particularly to a late riser like me, and I was in my own personal heaven when I found it.
I allowed the caffeine to soak its way into my body, as I quietly asked Holy Spirit to work his way back into my grumpy soul.

The others were not long to join me and eventually, Wil emerged from his shell too.
Soon we were a happy throng, eating toast and enjoying life once more.

There were some delays for our visiting speaker, so we whiled away the time with conversation, emails on phones and games on iPads and a another meditation.

At last, Nick arrived and started teaching us on an unexpected subject: it was titled "wake up happy" (...oh, the irony!) and majored on dealing with disappointment.
He talked about his history and how he started running a consultancy company 'for the Lord', while gradually moving further and further into debt.
I won't go into details of how he got out of his predicament (you can be sure that he did), but I will share how it spoke to me.

He talked about seeing people around him who had more than he did, and how he had been  caught up in the status trap we all face in the Western world.
He spoke of how he wanted what "they" had ("they" often being younger than him), how he felt he deserved it too and how he had to come to a place of acceptance that he would never be in that position.
Not only that, but he had to embrace this seemingly low worldly status and come to terms with what he did have in order to break free of their financial debts.

Full Time

The standout moment for me, was when he spoke about the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three Jewish refugees in Bablyon - from the book of Daniel.
Nebuchadnezzer, the king of Babylon forced them to make a choice between worshipping him or being thrown into a furnace.
They refused and said that their God was able to save them but, "even if he does not, we will still worship Him."
Nick had been in situations where this had become his cry to the Lord ...and so had I.

As we all discussed what Nick had spoken on, I shared about the times where our daughter's operations took us to that same point.
Not knowing whether she would still be with us the next day, the surgeons could do what they could do, but we had to turn to God and ask for his intervention and made that same promise: "but even if not, then we will still worship you".

As you can imagine, this was an intensely personal moment for me.
The Lord was speaking to me in a quite unexpected way, but despite the emotion of the moment, you may be surprised to hear that I was deeply encouraged.

Something was revealed to me at that point related to how I coped when I was made redundant from my job, just at the point when things were looking up for my daughter.

There are two ways to go when a big disappointment enters our life; either you can become bitter about it, or you can take the way of brokenness - The two are very different.

Bitterness is where we turn back on ourselves, the world or God and blame him, or life itself for our hardships.
If we harbour unforgiveness in our hearts, then bitterness can be the result.
We bottle up our hurts inside and dashed hopes of justice eats at our minds, but the only person that actually affects is ourselves, not those on whom we would seek vengeance.

Brokenness is the way of the cross, where we die with Christ and receive resurrection power and new life from him.
Just as Jesus said, "take up your cross and follow me".
It's not that we go looking for trouble, or that our hurts magically disappear - they don't.
Like Frodo in Lord of the Rings, I've found out the hard way that old wounds don't die, they only fade with time, but still remain.
As Nick put it, "we have a wounded walk" with the Lord.

I realised that I could have become bitter through my daughter's difficulties, but had walked the path of brokenness instead.
That's why my redundancy was a blessed relief when it happened and a source of joy.
- I had already died so the living had no power over me!
Now all I have to do is take that same power and learn to apply it to the rest of my life.
Well, I'm sure there is more to it than that, but hopefully you get the gist.

Last Orders Please

No animals were hurt in the making of this picture
So that became the bittersweet high/low point for me, but that's not the whole story either.

We went for a walk in the afternoon, in the rolling hills of the Welsh countryside, and had more time to discuss what we had learned in the evening.
It was a great opportunity to relax again and kept us in good spirits when we were able to find the way back to the farm.

As another night came around, Wil retreated once more to his cocoon and I attempted to fix my bed.
Later I experienced high definition surround sound as the snores reached their crescendo and retreated again into the distance. The bass rumble was awesome.

As morning approached and my legs began to lose sensation once more, I made a foolish expedition to the toilet.
On my return, two more planks fell out from under the bed.
If anyone was awake in the darkness they may have heard my whispered, "stupid bed, stupid bed!"

However, despite the lack of sleep, I'm glad I went on this weekend and I came away with a deeper knowledge of both God and myself.
Plus I have an action plan of how to make my next steps towards my dreams.

More importantly, I made connections in this place, with people who I've known for years ...and yet didn't really know.
I had great conversations with everyone and even discovered hidden connections related to my dreams.

I look forward to what the Lord has in store for us next! 

Friday, 28 September 2012

"The Lord Is My SatNav" - A Prayer For Drivers On Their Way Home

Tongue In Cheek

This is somewhat 'tongue in cheek', although I do believe that the Lord has a sense of humour too.
I was thinking of how many times the Lord has got me home in different circumstances.

As a commuter by car to my place of work, there have been so many times I have been stuck in traffic, or have taken a detour (to avoid said traffic) and then got lost.

But each time, I always pray and the Lord always comes through for me.
Either the traffic has cleared up, or he has given me the patience that I needed, or he has shown me the way.

Show Me The Way

Once I had been to visit my sister when she lived in an unfamiliar part of London.
When I left, she had given me clear directions, or so I thought!
Somehow I made the wrong turning and ended up at a T junction I wasn't expecting, with no signs to indicate the way to go and no clear view of where either choice went.

Fearful of going the wrong way, or worse, getting stuck in the local one-way system, my prayer went up "Lord, Help!" (A well thought through prayer, don't you think? ��)
Immediately, I heard him say "left" (so clearly I should add, that I wasn't sure if the voice was audible or not).
So I turned left and at the end of that road was sign to the road I wanted.
I can't remember exactly what was on that sign, but to me it simply said "home".

My Prayer For You

So without further ado, here is my prayer for all drivers stuck in traffic on their way home, based (very loosely) on Psalm 23:

The Lord is my SatNav,
I shall not get lost.
He makes me drive peacefully 
and leads me beside calm traffic.
He guides my paths on clear roads,
for his name's sake.

Even though I crawl through the biggest tailback,
I will fear no other drivers, for you are with me.
Your speed cameras and police officers, 
they comfort me.

You prepare a route before me
in the presence of careless drivers.
You anoint the engine with oil
and my petrol tank overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me home,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever
(or at least, until tomorrow!)

© Tim Bader 2012
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Monday, 10 September 2012

What will it be like? - Reflections on Heaven and the Olympics


London 2012 Olympic Stadium and Orbit
London 2012 Olympic Stadium and Orbit
It's been an amazing year for us in the UK, what with the Queen's Jubilee, the Olympics and then the Paralympics.

I'm not normally 'into' big public events.
I'm not into royalty or sport.
I get wound up with people in confined spaces and I don't really like being caught up in whatever mood the crowd happens to be in.

But now I have sat through the Jubilee flotilla, and the Olympics/Paralympics from the opening to the closing ceremony.
I've sat speechless in one moment and then stood up, jumped up and down and shouted at my TV with the best of them.
And I have only one word to describe the experience:

If my son was writing this, he would say "Epic".

Jump, Jump, Jump Around!

Standout moments include:
1. The sheer number of boats in the flotilla (and those poor singers soaked to the skin on top of that boat!)
2. The Olympic Opening ceremony (almost all of it)
3. Going to the Olympic park to be part of the amazing atmosphere there.
4. "Super Saturday" as the BBC put it, where 'we' (Team GB, that is) won 3 Gold medals in less than an hour.
5. The response of the crowd to Team GB but also to pretty much anyone representing any country whatsoever.

I haven't spent so much time jumping out of my chair in years.
In fact, this year I have genuinely felt proud to be British.
Us at the Olympics 2012
Us at the Olympics 2012

So What?

So what has that got to do with my faith?
What does God think about all this and what does the bible have to say about it?

I have had some interesting conversations with folks about some of the negative aspects.
For example, it is easy to draw a parallel between the idolatry of the Old Testament and the 'personality cults' of some of our modern day Olympic athletes.
It is all too easy to go from sharing in the joy of an athlete who has just won a gold medal, or showing respect for their hard work and sacrifice, to unwittingly turning them into an object of adoration and worship.

I've also heard it said that top level athletes are not good role models because they sacrifice so much that they can be absent from their families for long periods of time: exactly what young people don't need at a crucial time in their lives.
I don't know whether I agree fully with that, but it certainly gave me food for thought.

I'm not going to go into the biblical ins and outs of all this; I don't have space for a book!
However, I will share just one positive that has been impressed on me.

It is that of a huge crowd, united in their appreciation of someone other than themselves; together willing them to do their utmost, and to be all that they can be.

Now I can agree with that concept and every time I have found myself caught up in it with them, all I can think of is:
1. Wow, that was awesome!
2. How much more awesome will it be when we meet Jesus in Heaven?

Stop For A Moment

Something that big celebrations like the Olympics can do for us is to make us stop for a moment and realise that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

I said earlier that I have felt proud to be British.
But I also feel part of a much greater community, where everyone can stand tall together, where we can appreciate each other's abilities, culture and beliefs.
Even then, as amazing as the most fantastic Olympic moments can be, they are only a shadow of what Heaven is like (according to my bible anyway).
The bible says that one day we will all stand before God and worship Him together in a time when "every tear will be wiped away".
To quote Revelation (Chapter 4, verse 9):

"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb." 
-New International Version (Italics mine)

Can you imagine what it will be like when every nation, tribe and people and language stands before the Lord and that crowd roars and applauds the wonder and sacrifice of Jesus their saviour?

Wow, just wow!

I have just one word (because language, any language, doesn't come close):