Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mike's story

We went along to church and to kids' Sunday school practically every week since I was born. As a result I soon learned a lot of the Bible stories and tried to be a nice person. When I was 17 I decided that I really did believe in God, and in Jesus Christ who'd died for me so I committed my life to him.

But my life didn't change. I didn't change what I did with my time, money or friends. Mid-way through my time at university even I could see that this just wasn't working.

  • I'd had a great girl friend when I was 17, but I hadn't had one since - even though I was chasing every girl within a five mile radius!
  • Previously work had been easy, but that term they cranked it up a notch at university and for the first time I really found myself struggling.
  • My dad had been a great rock of stability in my life, but in the same few weeks his work closed down and he was unemployed. No longer was the future certain, and I needed his money to help me get through college!
It was in the midst of this time that I sensed God speak to me (through dreams, the words of friends and sermons at church, a quiet inner certainty - and the words of Revelation 3:15).

What I sensed was God saying, "You call yourself a Christian, but you want your choice of wife and career. You say Jesus is Lord of your life, but what is he Lord of if you choose your family and career? Either be a Christian and let Jesus be Lord of all your life, or none of it; but quit the pretense and stop sitting on the middle of the fence!"

It was a real struggle, because what would I do if Jesus told me to do something I didn't want to do? The worst combination I could think of was being an unmarried priest! How could I do that?!

What brought me through was all those years of Bible stories as a kid: I realised that God had made me, so he knows me better than I know myself - just like a child making a model out of Lego knows better than the bricks what they're constructed to be. And because God loves me I could trust him to want the best for me as well. I needed to understand both, not just a God who knows me, but also a God who loves me.

So, I gave in. I surrendered. I told Jesus that I'd follow what he wanted and consult him before I took my decisions. I began to learn that apart from him I can produce nothing worthwhile, nothing that will last. That decision has led to a fantastic marriage to Cathy, with Chris and Alice whom I adore, some great job choices, and in 2006 a move from England to Missouri...

Trouble is, I keep getting back in control. I keep trying to do what seems right to me. Now, though, I don't stay there - I've had twenty years of discovering that Jesus who made me and loves me really does know better than I do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to blog

This morning I got asked, "How do I write a blog?" This, culled from various sources, is my answer:
  • Set a schedule, blog often Aim for somewhere between three and six posts a week for the first month. Writing blog posts so often will likely be tough at first: it's something else to do in an already busy schedule, and most people find it hard to write well. But it does get easier with practice.
  • Don't aim for perfection It's generally better to aim for quantity, not quality. Don't try to craft every sentence to perfection, instead get information out to your audience quickly.
  • Write casually but clearly Write quickly, as if you're talking to a friend. Readers want you to get to the point. Ryan Singel, who writes about security and privacy at's Threat Level, offers a great tip: Start every post with a good first sentence that describes the story you are going to tell. Assume your reader won't get past the first paragraph. Never start with anything like "Sometimes when I hear about stupid things in the news, I just want to hit the wall," or "I haven't written about this in a long time, but today there was a story ..."
  • Add something new Readers won't stick with you unless you give them something they can't find elsewhere. Contribute some reporting or focus on an aspect of the story that few others have noticed.
  • Join the conversation. And link! The only way people will find your blog is through other blogs—and you'll get other blogs to notice you by responding to what they're writing about. Do this both in your blog and in the comments sections of other blogs. Take other people's ideas seriously: Don't just say you love or hate a post; say why he's right or wrong. Also, try not to steal other people's scoops. And if you do cite another blog's work, give credit prominently (e.g. These ideas come from Farhad Manjoo writing at Slate).
  • Don't expect instant fame Actually, don't expect any fame. There are better ways than blogging to get rich and famous.
  • Write in short chunks, use Bold to highlight the key words - make your content punchy, easy for the reader to scan for the bits they want to read.

So why should you blog? Because if you do it well for long enough, people—maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, maybe more—will begin to read you. How long will it take to gain that following? You'll probably have to wait a year or more before anyone starts paying attention. If you can't wait that long, stop now. Also keep in mind there are reasons to stick with blogging even if just a handful of people read your work. Writing regularly will boost your ability to express yourself, a boon in any conceivable task, Atwood says.
Read the full article from which I drew this at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

That others may live

I once had a romantic flight, all alone, across the South China Sea gazing in fascination down at green island jewels covered in coconut trees, with an attractive sandy strip marking a boundary with the clear blue water.

It was the stuff of holiday brochures, but as we circled over Cebu, one of the biggest islands in the Philippine set, I caught sight of shanty-style housing and my first glimpse that all is not perfect.

The plane touched down at Mactan airport and I saw the run-down emergency vehicles in their garage. On the roof outside was the motto, “That others may live” and I sensed the Lord saying that that was why I had been sent, even though I myself felt as battered and run down as those pathetic fire engines.

Pastor Joy Bendoy, sender of my invitation, was waiting for the plane. The heat, humidity and mosquitoes hit me as, without signalling, we launched into a chaotic stream of vehicles that would never pass a vehicle inspection. That doesn’t seem to matter in the Philippines: on a two-lane road there might be six vehicles abreast, some travelling south on the northbound carriageway. My prayer life got better in an instant!

That night we sized each other up. We ate (fish head soup, squid, prawns, odd things in shells and lots of rice—all with fingers off banana leaves) and began to get to know each other.

Although Pastor Joy had invited me, he’d refused to let me know what to speak on, wanting the Holy Spirit to guide me. The only thing I had found out about his church was that they expected to see God work in response to their prayers and other ministry. Quite a challenge for me: here in the West our expectations of what God can do are so low that we’re rarely disappointed.

All I sensed was to speak on grace and was amazed when I walked into their church building and found the theme of the weekend marked out in hand-cut coloured paper letters stuck to the wall under my name and the date: Enjoying God’s grace.

Smiles in the “slam” area
The next day Pastor Joy drove me as near as he dared to one of the rougher parts of the city. We walked the rest of the way with his seven year-old son saying, “Dad, I don’t like coming here—it smells”. We were walking through rubbish, past open drains and the abattoir to cement-block and coconut branch shanties baking in the sun under their tin roofs. Pastor Joy merely replied, “Son, these people need Jesus too” as we arrived amidst a bunch of kids just like our own, except for their homes and clothes.

Each week that he has money to buy rice this pastor goes to minister here. He takes a schoolteacher from his congregation and the kids get just half an hour of schooling from her each week. Then Pastor Joy (or me, on this occasion) preaches and offers to pray and minister to people’s needs before the church feeds rice and orange squash—for some, their best meal of the week.

Pastor Joy interpreted as I spoke and I was amazed at the response: kids and adults mobbed me for prayer and blessing.

Fire victims set ablaze
Later that Friday, before the weekly all-night prayer meeting began, I spoke on Jeremiah 2:13. It contains a challenge to accept the grace of God (the “stream of living water” in the passage) rather than attempting to meet our own needs through digging for ourselves a, “broken and leaky”, tank to hold water.

Virtually the entire church responded and we started praying prophetically into individuals’ lives. This was new for me and I badly needed to know that these were the Lord’s thoughts, not mine. We came to one old woman in the line and I turned, puzzled, to Pastor Joy.

All I sensed to pray about was a feeling of hopelessness and resignation, that life would never get better. He smiled and told me that this woman was the one Christian in her family, persecuted by her husband and children for years.

He revealed that I’d just been praying for these people and they’d all given their lives to Jesus in response to what they heard on this, their first visit to the church. Now, in sheer grace, it seemed that the Lord wished to bring healing to this woman, a faithful witness for years and persecuted for it.

The family was transformed and the following day we went to visit. They were one of sixty families burned out of their shanties in a fire accident. They were now re-housed by the city council in a part-finished factory building. Concrete floor, partial roof, only two walls not open to the elements. Unsurprisingly there was no water supply, electricity or sewerage and the families had made shelters in the factory out of tree branches with plastic rice sacks over the top. The heat was stifling and after two hours with them my legs and ankles were swollen with mosquito bites.

The husband and father from the night before is the head man of this suffering community. Again, we offered teaching, ministry, then food.

The Lord had seemed to direct me to Hebrews 1:1-4. It seemed so theological and irrelevant to their life in the factory shell; but as I taught what the scripture says, virtually every adult responded! Some made first-time commitments, for others it was a return to the Lord or a fresh insight gained after years of purely religious upbringing. Some wanted prayers for healing and we saw the Lord making a powerful difference to people’s lives.

Earlier on Saturday morning I’d been speaking in the mid-morning break for workers in a furniture factory. It was only 8:30 a.m., but again we saw many give their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ…

Saving lives, making disciples
This trip increased my faith and aroused my compassion. It’s so much more meaningful to have been there than to skip guiltily through an article published in a ministry magazine.

We should partner with them and not patronise: They are materially poor but spiritually wealthy. For us in the West it’s often the other way round and we must learn from them.

After a brief trip to relax at the beach we stopped by Pastor Joy’s house for us to clean up. He took me to the water pump in the yard and worked the handle as he washed my feet. They have told me how much they gained from my trip, but I wonder who received the greater blessing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spyware on BlackBerry phones

UAE Blackberry update was spyware
By Ben Thompson Middle East business reporter, BBC News, Dubai

An update for Blackberry users in the United Arab Emirates could allow unauthorised access to private information and e-mails. The update was prompted by a text from UAE telecoms firm Etisalat, suggesting it would improve performance. Instead, the update resulted in crashes or drastically reduced battery life.

Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) said in a statement the update was not authorised, developed, or tested by RIM. Etisalat is a major telecommunications firm based in the UAE, with 145,000 Blackberry users on its books.

In the statement, RIM told customers that "Etisalat appears to have distributed a telecommunications surveillance application... independent sources have concluded that it is possible that the installed software could then enable unauthorised access to private or confidential information stored on the user's smartphone".

It adds that "independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry Handheld, but rather to send received messages back to a central server".

The concern over this unauthorised access only came to light when users started reporting problems with their handsets.

After downloading the update, users across the country noticed significantly reduced battery life, poor reception and in some cases, handsets stopped working altogether.
Users have complained that the firm's customer service is unable to provide information on the problem. Initial advice led many users to simply buy new batteries.

'Surveillance solutions'
The update has now been identified as an application developed by American firm SS8. The California-based company describes itself as a provider of "lawful electronic intercept and surveillance solutions." It is not clear why Etisalat wanted to include the software in the download.

The firm issued a brief statement last week, calling the problem a "slight technical fault", saying that the "upgrades were required for service enhancements." Etisalat told BBC News that it stands by last week's statement and has not yet responded to further requests for comment.

"There may be a good reason they wanted to install the software," said one Blackberry user in Dubai who did not want to be named. "But my biggest problem is that my phone won't work. If you call customer service you either can't get through, or they don't know what to tell you. I don't know what to do."

RIM has now issued its own update allowing users to remove the application. Customers of the country's rival service, Du, have not been affected.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Call for limits on web snooping

The BBC News reports a call for governments and companies to limit the snooping they do on web users from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web. He said that growing oversight of browsing could have a pernicious effect. A greater part of the value of the web lay in the lack of constraints on what people could do with it. He also warned that attempts to censor what people could say or what they could do online were ultimately doomed to failure.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Can this be God?

Just heard of joy in the life of an old friend. He's been out of work for some time and for his birthday, his wife could only hire a couple of bikes and take him on a picnic. At the end of the day he said how much he had enjoyed himself and how, if ever they got some money, he would love to buy a couple of bikes.

Later that week this lady was walking near their home and saw a nearly-new bike outside a house with a sign reading, "Free for anyone who wants this!" She walked up to the front door and thanked the owner, telling how much this would bring happiness to husband.

The house-holder paused for a moment and said, "You know, we've got another bike you can have - a woman's!" And he took our friend's wife to see a nearly-new woman's bike that she was able to take away at the same time!

My wife and I were so encouraged to hear this and in it we see the hand of God providing wants, not just needs, for our Christian friends.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Discovering life together

Join us in discovering life together, with the power to make a difference.

  • 'Discovering' is quite a humble word: it recognises that we don't have all the answers, but are trying to find them. And it's an open word, inviting others to join us on our journey.
  • 'Life' expresses the longing deep within each of us for, as Jesus put it, 'life in all its fullness' (John 10:10).
  • 'Together' is a challenge to the isolation and breakdown of our society and a recognition that the Gospel is all about relationships restored - with God and with other people.

We're exploring with others to find and offer a life-giving community, something that's broken in each of our lives.