On the eve of a world population of 7 billion …


… here’s twenty six minutes on Abraham, (in)fertility and faith … find it here! http://www.grace-llandeilo.org​.uk/video

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My performing steer left the ring to resounding applause …


… and it wasn’t the first time this has happened.
BJP Marts’ Carmarthen livestock ring was a scary place last Thursday.

Well it was if you were a three year old steer that only just came off the hill it was born on and had first met a lorry that morning.

Spoiling for a fight …

And after a couple of hours’ mooing with your mates and a lot of other dodgey-looking bovines in a loud, metal filled, clangy building, and loud drovers with big sticks and noise like you’ve never heard before …

You see it’s scary and it’s threatening and its all unaccustomed, and you might really be spoiling for a fight.

Don’t mess with me!

In truth, my steer burst into the ring with some panache … five hundred kilos of ‘don’t mess with me, I’ve had a bad day and I’m feisty’.

It was bright.

It was noisy.

And a man with a stick kept pushing him around and a man he’d not met shouted fast in a microphone … and then hit some wood with a hammer as another gate swung back with a clang.

With horns like a hat rack and high stepping hooves, he sold for a fair bit more than I’d hoped for.

 But he couldn’t get the hang of

leaving the ring.

The drovers got stressed, shouted and waved their sticks.

They had an audience … it was getting embarassing!
And few hundred farmers bristled with anticipation of the entertainment that was surely to come.
Up went the steer, now pumped with adrenalin as they hit him with sticks and he shot around the ring.


His horns struck out left upwards, his feet hitched up and kicked outwards and the drovers all dived from the ring.
Every eye in the place fixed itself on the excitement … and I sensed it was time for some cabaret.
The small steer looked quite fearsome, but he was really just frightened … and although he was sold I felt responsible.

So I jumped from the podium and stepped into the Ring, taking a stick from a drover as I passed … ‘watch him … be careful’ he said.
(Hey, this was great … the best laugh of the day!
The Rev’s beast had kicked up in the Ring, and now the Rev had jumped in there like a Matador to fight the young bullock … oh yes! This was going to be good!)
But the Rev walked up to the bad lad and met his glazed eye, jerked his thumb and said ‘Out!’

… and just pointed.
The steer lifted his horns, and then picked up his heels and he trotted straight out of the ring

… to the roar of loud laughter and most generous applause.

What’s my point?

The drovers are good men. They’re experienced with cattle, and there was nothing at all wrong with what they were doing.
But that steer knew my face and that steer knew my voice, and he trusted me because I had fed him.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” said Jesus, and the same could be said of my steer.

Now according to the ONS Integrated Household Survey, 69 per cent of  people in Britain said they were Christian, but when they hear the Lord’s voice they still kick and they gore … and when he speaks up they don’t leave the ring.

My sheep hear my voice

Here’s what makes you one of His … you listen to His voice, He knows you (so you trust Him) and you follow Him by walking in His ways.
So THAT’s trust.
And THAT’s faith.
Best not assume it’s all OK if you’ve got anything less?

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Gatland: “The outcome was taken out of our hands …”


So Warren Gatland appeared after the game, master of his temper, but once again FUMING within.

And it’s a ref that’s done this to him … again!

Why was he ‘holding it in’?

Because a referree had …

  • (two French parents and two French names?)
  • made a set of harsh decisions
  • then sent the Welsh captain off
  • after the first twenty minutes
  • for a yellow card offence
  • that made it impossible to beat
  • a lesser French team
  • to the rugby world cup final.

( Out here in the heart of Welsh Wales, the sense of being cheated is palpable … but Warren was handling himself well!)

Sam Warburton (Pic:Getty)

Now before you switch off, let me quickly point out, that this blog is not dedicated to sour grapes at that dubious refereeing decision.

So this blog is about Warren’s little lesson in life, which seems to be so hard to swallow across our entire experience for us … the people of rugby-mad Wales.

We simply won’t have it,

we simply can’t bear it,

for the game not to be in our hands.

It’s the fruit of being control freaks who have no control … and what we do WITH that can have life wrecking consequences.

Simply: life isn’t fair, and refs make tough calls, and there’s 200,000 jobs in the public sector in Wales that are due to be lost which they say won’t be left there by March … and we expect a harsh winter for us all.

(And that’s not going to seem too fair either, now, is it?)

So how about we just lie down and cry?!

Despair can look SUCH a good option! I mean, really, what’s the POINT any more? (See my drift?)

Most people would say there ARE things we can do when life seems to be taken right out of our hands ….

  • We can give a good account of ourselves, throughout all of our life.
  • We can ‘commit to the tackle’, and try to ‘close down the chaos’, showing ourselves to be ‘gutsy’ (losers)
  • We can construct good defence and show great ingenuity and run the ball wide in counter- attack (only to get turned over after 23 phases of play and have our life’s little ball kicked to touch?)

This gives us human dignity (eh?)

This brings us satisfaction, and maybe even some honour (yes, but, really?)

This wins respect and it mentors our juniors (but mentors them in doing what, and going WHERE?)

You see, those are common ‘high ideals’ and we all want to cheer. It sounds noble and lofty and brave.

But the big aim in all of this, is to create some impression that the game is … that our destiny is … still somehow held in OUR hands …

We simply won’t trust

Anyone else …

We just can’t bear the thought that our life should not be in our hands, and the stark truth of our existence is that it ISN’T.

What we need’s a game changer we can trust!

So the wisdom of the wise when it’s all taken from you has always sounded something like this:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

     6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (That’s the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6)

But are you prepared for that ‘play’?

Faith gladly trusts its life to the hands of the Ref. (right up to the whistle) by making its play to His call …

(I didn’t start out by saying this would look comfy … but I AM really sure this is right.)

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‘Acceptable sacrifices’ and ‘What does faith look like?’


There are two new video shorts (7 minutes and c. 15 minutes) from a (31 minute) Hebrews 13:4 sermon on  ‘acceptable sacrifice’ and ‘What does FAITH look like?’

They are both over on the Grace Christian Community Llandeilo FB page …

at … https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Grace-Christian-Community-Llandeilo/255276200423

Let us know what you think?

Thanks!

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The self-storage revolution … and the value of all that’s ‘you’


I’m just going through the unpleasant process of working through a shipping container standing on the farmyard that has held our precious stuff for the last seven years.

When we moved here there wasn’t a proper house and we’ve been converting a barn to live in ever since.

So now there’s a container full of memories in this container on the yard, toys and clothes our growing kids once loved, old birthday cards to married and grown up kids from people who were close to them when they were two years old … and furniture that was cherished in my parents, grandparents’ and great grandparents’ homes.

This stuff has got people, situations and big memories inscribed on it … people dearly loved and now long gone.

I completely understand the PASSION for

self-storage!

According to a recent Tom de Castella & Kate Dailey BBC Magazine article, the mania for storage centres began in the US in the 1960s and the country now has over 50,000 such facilities.

Apparently they arrived in London in the 1990s but didn’t take off across the UK until 2000 and certainly I didn’t become aware of them until we were preparing to move house in 2004, when we decided against a storage facility and opted for a shipping container on the farm yard … which had no temperature or environmental control, and the consequences of that are what I’m now having to sort out.

The self storage industry is a growing business … so important that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) now includes a measure of  self storage prices in both its Retail Price Index (RPI) and Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

Apparently this is a particularly American and British phenomenon … it’s the fastest growing real-estate sector in the U.S. and Britain has 800 major self-storage units, the same as the rest of Europe put together.

The UK is now home to as many self storage facilities as it is McDonald’s restaurants, according to research undertaken by comparison website Storage.co.uk

It’s the ideal stopgap while you get organised and there are knockdown three-month offers to entice you in.

But out of sight is out of mind.

Recent statistics show that people are leaving their junk in storage units for longer and longer.Storage and the retail prices index – exclusive news from storage.co.uk

Data from the UK Self Storage Association suggests that the average length of stay has risen from 22 weeks in 2007 to 38 weeks in 2010.

And newspapers have found horror stories where people have forked out thousands of pounds to keep their possessions in storage for years on end, despite never visiting the warehouse to take them out.

Not just a testament to an acquisitive society.

In a survey of UK households by Access Self Storage, 90% of respondents reported
an inability to part with treasured possessions.

But this is only part of the story, says Brian Knutson, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University. The “endowment effect” is just as important.

This is the economic theory in which – by the mere fact of owning something
we endow a possession with more value than its market price.

It might explain why people spend a huge sum putting an old sofa in storage
for a year rather than using that money to buy a new one.

The Endowment Effect

“Almost everyone wants more for something once they own it, than they will
pay to get it,” says Knutson.

Confusing who we are with what we’ve got

Oliver James, psychologist and author of Affluenza, says that the
self-storage phenomenon can be explained by consumerism’s effect on how we view
ourselves.

Our identity has increasingly become associated with products, he argues, and
not just the mortgage and the car, but smaller items.

“We’ve confused who we are with what we have,” he says.

Now, Jesus had a really clear line on the things that make us worth something.

He had no time for all this impact consumerism’s had on the way we view ourselves, and he even had a story about ‘self-storage’ to make His point!

” … He said to them,

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

16And he told them this parable:

The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.

17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

     18Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

19And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’

20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

     21 This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.”

(Luke chapter 12)

The painful part – making the decisions …

When it comes to a closet full of clutter, “people don’t want to make the decisions,” so put it off for another day, says Cory Cooke, a professional organiser based in London.

“It’s taxing, and a lot of people find it easier to box it up and deal with it later.”

Hmm.

That sounds true.

Mebbe it’s time I got some of my junk to the tip, and gave thanks to God for the memories this kicks up and the people whose love has made my life this rich

… and give some more thought to how I can be rich towards God?

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Celebration, celebration (and Cain’s big awkward question)


Welshmen are not slow to celebrate.

It happens here.

I’ve seen it done.

After all, I was at the Millennium Stadium three weeks ago to see a famous victory over ‘the old enemy’ on the rugby field, and I have to say that certain Cardiff streets seemed to be  running with ale several hours after the final whistle … and like most public celebrations, it was pretty NOISY.

Public celebrations, with or without rugby football, are typically noisy.

We clap, cheer, and chant.
We beat drums and stamp our feet.
We blare our music and honk our car horns.

Of course, individual celebration can be quieter … but group celebrations almost uniformly are not, so when we have things to celebrate TOGETHER, expect NOISE!

Noise, and a certain wilful abandonment to … quite destructive tendencies.

Oh yes.

Welshmen can PARTY!

But, I mean to say … who in Wales would EVER fire a gun straight up?

CELEBRATORY gunfire?!

It’s not simply that ammunition is expensive and times are quite hard.

It’s that we tend in rural Wales to live close enough to firearms to treat them with respect, but not so close that we treat them with familiar contempt.

So when John Simpson stood in a Tripoli hospital two mornings ago reporting on the place being full of casualties due to celebration not to conflict, I have to admit my jaw dropped just a little.

By all accounts, ‘Celebratory Gunfire’ is common.

It has been researched academically and it even has a Wikipedia article on it. I did come across it myself fleetingly in the Balkans as a wedding got celebrated a number of years ago.

It is culturally accepted in the Balkan countries, the Middle East, the South Asian (Northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) as well as in some Latin American regions like Puerto Rico and – yes, you guessed? – some areas of the USA.

(But REALLY not in Wales).

Common occasions for celebratory gunfire apparently include New Year’s Day (we just settle for a quiet pint and a few songs around the bar for that in Cwmdu) as well as the religious holidays Christmas (obviously a feast more redolent with themes of armed violence than I’d dreamt!) and Eid. Which is coming up soon …

Here’s how you seem to do it.

First of all, you take a good grip on one of these, or something similar …

… then you point it up into the air, and …

Squeeze.

… it’s a matter for debate what happens next.

  • One point of view, buttressed by research evidence, says a bullet fired straight up slows down, stops altogether, and then returns to the ground (because of gravity) at a speed insufficient to penetrate skin. So, falling bullets are not lethal or even harmful.
  • Another point of view says a falling bullet delivers a wallop similar to a brick dropped from a height of four feet: That would hurt and indeed could be fatal, whether or not skin is penetrated.
  • But according to Wikipedia, firearms expert Julian Hatcher studied falling bullets and found that .30 calibre rounds reach terminal velocities of 300 feet per second (90 m/s) and larger .50 calibre bullets have a terminal velocity of 500 feet per second (150 m/s).

But the academic question is not really the concern …

What does all this careless celebration do to human flesh?

A bullet traveling at only 150 feet per second (46 m/s) to 170 feet per second (52 m/s) can penetrate human skin,and at 200 feet per second (60 m/s) it can penetrate the skull. A bullet that does not penetrate the skull may still result in an intracranial injury.

This does seem to be one of those cases where the consequences of celebratory actions can be a lot more serious than the physics would suggest …the actual casualty stats are pretty shocking in themselves.

High mortality rate

Admittedly, bullets fired into the air usually fall back at speeds much lower than those at which they leave the barrel of a firearm.

But the mortality rate among those struck by falling bullets is about 32%, compared with about 2% to 6% normally associated with gunshot wounds.

The higher mortality rate is related to the higher incidence of head wounds from falling bullets.

So never mind the physics … here’s the sort of thing that HAPPENS …

  • July 22, 2003: More than 20 people were reported killed in Iraq from celebratory gunfire following the deaths of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.
  • At the funeral of Yasser Arafat in 2005 when his mourners unleashed a barrage of bullets into the air, Palestinian officials later told us nine people had been hurt by those bullets returning to earth, one critically.
  • February 25, 2007: Five people were killed by stray bullets fired at a kite festival in Lahore, Pakistan, including a 6-year-old schoolboy who was struck in the head near his home in the city’s Mazang area.
  • July 29, 2007: At least four people were reported killed and 17 others wounded by celebratory gunfire in the capital city of Baghdad, Iraq, following the victory of the national football team in soccer’s Asian Cup. Celebratory gunfire occurred despite warnings issued by Iraqi security forces and the country’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who (fair play to him) forbade the gunfire with a religious fatwā!
  • In 2010, the BBC reported, a Turkish bridegroom killed three relatives when he fired an AK-47 at his own wedding

And that’s why three days ago, after the fall of Tripoli and the near-cessation of the battle for the streets, John Simpson stood reporting for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme from a hospital ward full of gunshot casualties where freshly wounded folk lay dying … they weren’t exactly  celebrating the celebratory gunfire,

and CNN’s Sara Sidner was clearly rattled during a recent live report while ecstatic fighters emptied their magazines into the air.

And it all made me reflect on the way public celebration suspends people’s better judgement.

You can be pretty confident as you stand in the street celebrating that if you fire your AK 47 straight up into the air, the bullet isn’t going to land on YOUR head.

But it may well fall on the head of someone so far away they never heard the shot … and kill them.

So in this or any other situation, it’s Cain’s question that arises.

Cain’s question

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” asked guilty Cain in Genesis 4 as his brother’s blood cried out to Heaven.

Of course, we’d rather NOT be, because then we’d be free to please ourselves.

But the trouble is we all live in the same space.

What I do without a second thought can easily, easily hurt.

And if we’re going to be honest, I very often have done …

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I blame the churches, myself …


In the UK at the moment a LOT of young people are getting unjustly stigmatised along with a bunch of young criminals.

London rioters

Riot 'Wombles' - young volunteers clearing up the riot mess

The ranting middle aged media … and not a few very hypocritical politicians who by all accounts ran their own extravagant riots as young Hooray Henrys … are doing something as outrageous to these young people as if WE (in the 40+ age bracket) were getting blamed for bankers misdemeanours, just because we are also middle aged.

Wouldn’t you say that’s unjust?

The Social Contract

Of course, the rioting problem arises where SOME people who are admittedly mainly under 40 do not accept their obligations under the social contract.

(In political thought, the social contract is where broadly speaking you get the benefits of living in civil society in return for alienating your right to certain patterns of lawless behaviour so that civil society can exist and a better life can thrive.)

Fundamentally, people at all levels in society seem unable to say ‘No’ when the selfish sidde of their personality demands instant gratification regardless its impact on the greater benefits they’ll get from serving the common good. Now, I believe I can think of a word for that …

White collar crime

What I really find troubling is the way populist responses to rioting and looting are causing further fragmentation and alienation … but this time of ‘decent’ youngsters tarred with the broad ‘youth culture’ brush.

I’ve come across significant numbers of ‘decent’ young people, who look at white collar crime (another violation of the Social Contract), and are outraged that their enjoyment of life in civil society has been (economically) damaged by bank fraud and what it has done to jobs and the economy.

They are as outraged by that as by being lumped in with a load of rioting youths, or as we oldies would be if we were blamed for the impact of the banking crisis on jobs and economy just because we are ‘middle aged’.

So if we want to attribute blame, let’s stop blanket-blaming ‘the young’, or parents who are actually prevented by statute law in the UK from Biblically disciplining their young children and can face criminal action and the removal of their children if they do so …

Let’s put the blame where GOD might

Fundamentally, crime may have all sorts of contributory factors but at the end of the day, crossing the line into criminality (or simply acquiescing in or condoning it) is a moral choice based on what you believe to be true, satisfying and good for you.

Perhaps the most useful thing that could be done, then, would be for churches to stop being such a bunch of bleeding heart liberal, detached, fancy dress, pontificating woosies and get off their pews to preach and BE the Good News to the poor and alienated (spirtually and financially) people that should always have been their major concern.

Jesus’ priority mission for His church is not to undertake sociological analysis. It goes like this:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

For the most part, that is simply NOT what is getting done, and society is being let down.

So, to some extent, I think I blame the churches, myself …

:-)I

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So there I was, painting around the open window in the upstairs bathroom with nothing to break the monotony but the occasional upward wafting of the septic tank …


So there I was, painting around the open window in the upstairs bathroom with nothing to break the monotony but the occasional upward wafting of the septic tank …

and as is often the case in such mental  ‘down time’, I got to thinking.

This time it was an extended meditation  on Victorian innovations in sanitation.

There’s absolutely no doubt those guys did absolute wonders for public health and social equity, but my problem with the septic tank, it occurred to me, arises out of a fundamental misconception that they worked with.

Since the Victorian era, it seems that public health policy has revoved around the idea that the solution to pollution is dilution.

The solution to pollution is dilution?

Earlier sanity arrangements … whether pit based or of the ‘bucket and chuck it’ variety … relied on aerobic decomposition of waste at (or close to) site before removal to some land-based location to complete the nitrogen cycle by adding nutrients to soil to grow – food!

The Victorians innovated water-based systems, giving us the opportunity of OUR waste becoming SOMEONE ELSE’s problem and placing it into an anaerobic decomposition situation … with nitrogenous nutrients going to water-courses, or into expensive and relatively energy intensive sewage treatment plants where the first major challenge is to get rid of all that water that’s carried it there and ultimately dumping high nutrient waste into the sea.

Victorian sanitary provision at Cwmdu Inn, Carmarthenshire

Now, the trouble with that is that it takes the oxygen out of the water as it degrades anaerobically and this is bad for fish (which suffocate), causes algal bloom, and kicks off a host of undesirable effects.

I’ve simplified, but that analysis is  ‘good enough for agriculture’ … and it’s all because the Victorians worked on  the apparently upright but actually quite destructive premise that the solution  to pollution is dilution.

Not a great theory of life …

And every day I meet people living their lives as if the answer to moral pollution (we call it ‘sin’) was also going to be dilution.

As if good character was some sort of old fashioned beam balance weighing scale where you can ‘balance’ some favourite sin or weakness with an act of human kindness!

If only that were so – we could have a right old time and STILL keep a clear conscience! But sadlyGod’s Word makes it clear that it’s dreamland.

Dreamland

It is dreamland for the phone-hacking tabloids to point to their high profile, media spun, campaigning ‘good works’.

And it is insincere of us when we live our lives doing just as we wish, to the cost of ourselves and others around us, but point to our charitable donations as a fig leaf cover-up excuse.

Filthy rags

Nobody’s going to be duped by this, because the truth will come out … and worst of all, it isn’t going to fool God. His prophet Isaiah put it well: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel
up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

As far as God is concerned, the solution to ‘pollution’ clearly isn’t going to be ‘dilution’ … swilling it away on a flush-tide of philanthropy and good works that won’t sort out the problem. We don’t need dilution, we need salvation!

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Sermons are always dead boring and utterly useless, right?


Where have you BEEN?!

Here’s the link to the trailer for next Sunday at Grace. It’s just an ordinary Sunday … nothing out of the ‘ordinary’!

Why don’t you click below and decide for yourself whether it might be worth trying a visit … you’d be very welcome.

 

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No computers, no videos, no loud music …


I was being asked to speak at a Gymanfa Ganu for a group of small village schools coming together from a widespread rural area for a singing festival in celebration of singing and of the Welsh language.

There are two main sorts of singing event in Wales. There is the eisteddfod, and the Gymanfa Ganu. The former is open warfare (it’s a competition). The latter is covert warfare (it is a singing festival – but pride is at stake!)

So there I was – due to speak to the gathered children, but WITHOUT any of the technology I would normally  use to aid the greater concentration and achieve more effective communication to those with a limited interest and short attention span …

I was to be deprived of my

technological fig leaf in public.

It got worse.

Sometimes when I’m preparing to speak of preach or make a presentation of any sort, I have a stack of assorted ideas as to where I am going but nothing resembling a set of notes comes together before the event at all … and I know my Boss wants me to trust Him, and get up there and speak extempore.

... this is not a drawing of me - OK?

You’ve guessed it.

This was one of those occasions.

So I did a meeting with Welsh Assembly Government in the morning … not an easy one …  dealt with roadworks and traffic delays on the country roads (always much slower to clear in the back country) and arrived with five minutes to go to ‘kick off’ … to find there was nowhere to park and the small village streets were choked with buses and coaches.

The ancient village chapel, with its balconies and pews, was packed with a writhing, shuffling, chattering mass of humanity … and I had no laptop, no Powerpoint, no music videos and NO NOTES!

So what is faith?

Sometimes it seems to be a matter of living as if God is real and reliable when you really can’t see Him and you don’t have a fig leaf to cover your potential embarassment.

Sometimes it feels like freefall … but I’ve never had a splat landing …

And I’d say that’s because God IS real and reliable.

In front of a couple of hundred kids with a cap and some coins and a little message from Acts 3, He certainly didn’t let me down yesterday

I guess the bottom line is that when we trust Him and jump, then He is our fig leaf … and that’s a great truth to live with!

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