Happy Christmas! What a gift!

A few years ago (and before I started this blog) I remember majoring on how the most precious gift we receive at Christmas is Jesus himself, and how we need to enjoy “unwrapping” that gift.

This year I find myself reflecting similarly that it is awesome that God's response to a fallen world riven with rejection, misunderstanding, and alienation, is to give himself – through his son Jesus. He gives himself unconditionally, not requiring a partiuclar response but giving us a choice. Will we receive this gift? Will we accept him?

So in a world where people want to be known, loved and accepted, God does not encourage us to seek acceptance, but to be one who accepts.

Christmas News 2008

Happy Christmas! It’s that time of year again to hear curious stories from divers friends and family!

As Steph and Josh start to do more of their holidaying on their own, we tried to make what may be our last family holidays this year a bit special. This was also because last year was sadly affected by the death of Toni’s parents, and she continues her journey with this – particularly as she and Jackie have not yet been able to sell their impressive villa on the Spanish coast.

Last Christmas we wrote about starting to scuba dive, with some encouragement from Steph. This was a good leg-up for Steph as in February she went out to Mexico for ten weeks to do marine conservation work with GVI. She really enjoyed sunbathing, counting fish, and becoming so good at diving that she is now a Dive Master. Highlights included diving with sharks and diving in cenotes (deep inland natural sinkholes). In her Gap Year, apart from earning money by waiting in a local restaurant (as Josh does too) she also went Interrailing round Europe with some friends and did some project work with a school in Ghana with Madventurer.

After last year’s attempts to dive in Vobster Quarry with three wet suits on (we looked like figures from the old Michelin tyre adverts), we spent a weekend at Mevagissey in Cornwall for Toni to complete her Open Water Diver course. It’s amazing what life there is even on the Cornish coast, and the weather was great too. We followed that with a week at Nuweiba on the Red Sea to enjoy even warmer weather and diving on the coral reefs there. We received more training too, for example in night diving and using enriched air (higher % of Oxygen) so that Toni, Josh, and I are now Advanced Divers!

We also spent a week in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, renowned for its awesomely eroded rocks formed from lava lying on top of soft volcanic ash. Many of the houses and hotels are dug into the rock, and there are many fascinating ancient cave churches. As a particularly special way of enjoying the scenery we tried our first ever balloon ride, which meant getting up at dawn.

Toni and I continue to brave the local gym, and I’ve joined a local choir again as I was missing singing. I was pleased to be able to skipper a chartered yacht in the Solent for four days over the summer, crewed by Steph and some friends. The weather was scary at times, but we seemed to make wise use of it and had a lot of fun. I’d like to take a group sailing in the Mediterranean. Toni and I are enjoying the freedom to spend weekends away from home on our own.

Toni recently passed an interview to mark the end of her training, and is pleased that the post of Consultant Psychiatrist for children with learning difficulties for Bristol has now been advertised, after some delay, and she has applied. She hopes to gain this promotion in January. Meanwhile she has been doing the job as a “locum” for two days a week, alongside her training in child psychiatry. She has been working very hard.

Joshua did well in his AS levels, gaining ‘A’ in Maths, Art, and Photography, and ‘B’ in Physics. He gained 100% in his Photography AS and his work is being used as an exemplar for examiners and other students! At the moment he is looking at career and university choices and has applied for architecture courses. He will probably not take a gap year, but has booked to do some marine conservation work in the Seychelles next summer.

Josh has also passed his driving test, so it’s a good job Steph has started at university so they don’t fight over the car too much. We delivered her and a lot of luggage (we needed the roof-box) to Leeds University in September where she is reading music and psychology. She is enjoying the music most at the moment, and doing saxophone performance as well as continuing violin and piano lessons. Actually she is enjoying the social life most, as well as the many orchestras she seems to be part of. It is delightful that she has made good friends quickly with those nearby in her hall of residence, and that she phones home most weeks! She continues to be part of the local Swindon & Wiltshire Youth Orchestra.

I celebrated my 50th birthday in March, and in October a year of running my own business. I continue to focus on leaders in small businesses and charities as well as working with some individuals. I have also been working with larger firms through an association with a local coaching firm. This has led to work with VISA and a trip to Vienna. Although advertising myself as a coach and management consultant, I think I am enjoying the coaching most. A good example of the work I do is coaching a newly promoted director of a local accountancy firm to help her to be effective in her new role.

(Click on photo to see Toni too!)

I am also doing some coaching work for the church, and Spiritual Direction, and it still seems slightly strange, but exciting, that my the focus of my work with the church has moved from leading worship and being a pastor for a parish, although I do still lead worship sometimes when invited. My first year has been a good foundation, at times enjoyable and at times stressful, that I am now working to build on. I have been persuaded to become a primary school governor again, in Corsham, and continue to be a trustee of two Christian mission agencies.

There is much talk of recession, and we can see some people and businesses are being hit hard (and a symptom is the continuing ownership of a house in Spain). However when I meet business people in Wiltshire there is still optimism and some businesses are growing. I like to think I am in the right place at the right time to help business leaders find new and creative ways to bring prosperity and surf the downturn. We’ll see!

Happy Christmas from us all!

This is the blogged version of our printed newsletter.

The importance of trust

If you mention “Prosperity Gospel” Christians will usually react badly, and perhaps they should because of the teaching of those who seem to think that Christianity is all about financial wealth. On the other hand I could say that  the Bible is all about prosperity, in the sense that prosperity is about health and wellbeing – individual and corporate – in the broadest sense.

While not believing that being Christian necessarily results in financial wealth, there are Christian teachings which if followed are likely to result in a growth in wealth and prosperity for the whole community. One of these is the encouragement to be trustworthy and to seek to trust others. This is mentioned specificaly, and also encompassed in “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” The reason for this is that trust is necessary for trade to thrive, which is presumably why “my word is my bond” was once the motto successfully lived out by the City of London.

So it is with considerable sadness that I see greed and a lack of trust as underlying recent financial collapses (the “credit crunch”). As another example, I have heard of local farmers (in the UK) who have agreed prices for the sale of their grain to one of the trading at a certain time in the future. The price of grain has dropped and the traders seek to renege on their contracts as it will be difficult for them to sell on the grain. Of course they would not worry if their sale prices had gone up.

Trust takes time to build, and can be easily damaged. Perhaps the most important thing the business community can seek to do at the moment is to build trust, through being trustworthy. This is about a focus on relationships, not on solving a “financial problem.”

Interestingly, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey speaks of the importance of trust, and how we need to start to build that by keeping the promises that we make to ourselves (individually).  As is so often the case, we need to start with ourselves.

Shaking the Foundations

From time to time I receive newsletters from Revd Dr Clifford Hill, of C&M Ministries Trust, Moggerhanger Park, Bedfordshire. Formerly he was a pastor in East London, and has a challenging prophetic ministry drawing on his learning as a sociologist (it is in sociology that he has a PhD). He's written some interesting books, and he sees that much of what he foresaw is now coming to pass.

His latest newsletter draws attention to the way sociologists recognise five major social institutions, and that there is an invariable rule that when significant change takes place in any one of the five, all others are affected. They are:

  • The Economy
  • The Family
  • Education
  • Law and government
  • Religion

He speaks of how all these except the economy have undergone major change since the 1960's so today's financial problems were predictable. Since this is the result of a domino-effect to do with changing values, a solution based on just addressing financial issues will not be suffiicient. The full article is worth reading here. His home page here.