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Showing posts from 2009

My Top 5 Movies of the Year

It's the time of year for lists - here goes with my top 5 movies of the year, all seen either at the cinema or on DVD.
1/ Avatar
Like a cross between Return of the Jedi, Ferngully & Last of the Mohicans, with the make up done by the people who brought you 'My Little Pony' - that sounds awful, but like gravy on your chips, don't knock it til you've tried it!
This was quite simply the most spectacular film of the year & seemed to work on so many levels. As a straight forward action movie with a bit of obvious romance thrown in, or with all the post modern undercurrents of eco worship, pick & mix world faiths. The message that collonialism is as much in our future as it is in our past is strong, & the frightening American foreign policy of invasion for natural resources is ruthlessly played.
Avatar wins on every count. The action scenes are great, the cinematography breathtaking, even in old fashioned 2D at our local cinema. This is the movie of the year b…

The lasting fruit from Ulster

In concluding his account of the Ulster Revival, Ian Paisley gives 10 areas in which he believes the Province was left with lasting fruit. They remain noteworthy 150 years on, I shall list them below with some comment.

1/ Deep conviction
This was a revival of salvation through the preaching of the gospel. Conservative estimates are that over 100,000 were converted during the first year of the revival alone. In Ulster, it was common for the conversion process to involve a measure of agony over past sins, a growing horror at the judgement to come, & ultimately real joy as freedom is found. This was all usually accompanied by loud shouts & groanings. However, records show that inspite of this outward show, very few returned to their old ways, even years after the revival fires had abated.

2/ Severe spiritual conflict
A very real awareness of the battle involved in bringing the lost through to salvation. A very real awareness of the identity of the enemy, & a very real desire to …

The spreading flame

Fire is often used to describe the growth of a revival. This is nowhere more true than the rapid spread of the flame in 1859. From sparks in the lives of 4 men to the whole of Ulster & beyond in less than a year!

One story from early on in the revival shows this better than anything else. Samuel Campbell from Connor attended a meeting led by the instigators, McQuilken & Meneely. It is reported that he was so overwhelmed by an awareness of his sin during the meeting that he fell onto his knees & cried out for mercy. The following morning he was led to Christ whilst reading his bible.

This is wonderful, but what happened next is characteristic of story after story in Ulster. It is the catalyst factor which turned a time of blessing into a full blown revival.

Having found his own peace with God, Campbell became increasingly distressed about his relatives in the nearby town of Ahogill. Just 3 weeks later, after praying with others, Campbell visited his family home to plead with h…

A confectionary rant

First it was the Marathon bar, then Opal Fruits. This creeping globalisation & re-branding of our favourite childhood sweets simply because Opal Fruits means 'Panda farts' in Mandarin. Who are these mystery executives in their corporate towers that make these life changing decisions?

If we're honest with ourselves even back then, we knew really that our silence would only allow greater evils to emerge. It's true. We were sidelined, shaking our heads as Wagon Wheels got smaller & smaller. This was once a mighty product which began life in the wild west as an actual sized meringue & choclate covered wagon wheel.

The mystery men are at it again, & now they have my all time favourite in their sights. Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the Sherbert Fountain! It's the kind of product that would never be allowed today, would never get through the focus groups & the fanatical PC commitees that now hold sweet makers hostage in the top floor of their sweet…

'I yelled, they prayed, God worked!'

150 years ago the Ulster Revival had an impact not only in the Province but around the world. I'm continuing today with some stories from this great breakthrough which came almost 50 years before Asuza. Here you will find a few insights that don't make the headlines, but which any would be preachers may understand.

Jeremiah Meneely was one of the original gang of four from the prayer meeting in the Old Schoolhouse. As the revival grew, these four became reluctant leaders of an increasing band of converts. No one was more surprised about this than Meneely himself.

Whilst travelling to one of their first meetings, they argued about who should preach. Eventually, after all had expressed their reluctance, Jerry stepped forward & said that he would on the condition that they pray. Describing the meeting afterwards, Meneely reported, 'I yelled, they prayed, God worked!' In this unassuming way they had inadvertantly hit upon a successful formula!

Meneely took his zealous pre…

The 1859 Ulster Revival

150 years have passed since the Ulster Revival of 1859. This significant revival had connections with the awakening the previous year in the US. There is little of the story in print right now, with most concerning themselves with the more recent centenery celebrations from Wales,then Asuza Street & the birth of Pentecostalism.

What we see in Ulster is a genuine pentecost 40 years before Asuza. Over the next few posts I shall give you some excerpts, most of which come from the unlikely source of the Rev Ian Paisley. Better known to English readers as the florid faced Presbyterian ranter who always seemed to get on the news in the 1980's with something bad to say about the Catholics. Whatever his political leanings, Paisley has written a long out of print account of the '59 revival which remains stirring to this day.

It all started with four new young converts - James McQuilkin, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle & John Wallace. They agreed to meet weekly on a Friday night…

Some things....

Some things I just find easier than others.
Talking to crowds of people, crying at the end of High School Musical, trapping a football (sometimes), falling head over heels in love with the same woman each morning.

Some things are a bit harder.
Talking to new people, getting my hands on the Sky TV remote that I pay for, bending down to tie up my shoes without my head thumping.

Some things are just impossible.
Licking your own elbow, getting my kids to practise their instruments, staying in the room when any tunes from the world of musical theatre are playing, understanding the plot to any episode of NCIS & working out whether I've already seen it before the end credits.

Some things are just awkward.
Shopping in Sainsbury's. They want me to have a bag for life & I'm just not sure if I'm ready for that kind of commitment. That sort of pressure you can do without when you're heading down the chilled isle towards the checkout.

Some things are bitter sweet.
Heading off fo…

Golf rant

Mark Twain was right when he said that golf spoils a perfectly good walk. Unfortunately, the news today confirms that golf is now also going to spoil the Olympics.

Golf at the Olympics - whatever next! Let all the other non sports that seem to get on TV these days join in too- Anyone for Olympic Darts? Snooker? Poker? Shopping?

I spat out my mouthful of tea listening to the spokesman for the Royal & Ancient Golf Club on the radio earlier. I quote, 'Our athletes are excited about taking part!' Athletes!

In what remote way can the morbidly obese Jon Daly, Colin Montgomery or Laura Davies be considered athletes? The only occasion Monty would beat Usain Bolt out of the blocks might be for the lunch queue at the Olympic Village.

And is there another sport steeped in such colonial history where your manservant carries around the only bit of heavy equipment for the full 4 hours? They should be ashamed of themselves.

Golfers, you can take your Rupert the bear trousers, your pastel jump…

Dr Livingstone I presume?

Today I came face to face with two of my heroes. These men were old school adventurers, explorers, men who endured between them extremes of hot & cold, one in Southern Africa, the other the Southern Pole.

In our modern age of celebrity, where men are enobled with greatness for kicking a football or acting in movies, these two heroes of mine would pass unnoticed. Indeed, to find their statues in our capital city involves a degree of exploration which no doubt they would consider appropriate.

Robert Falcon Scott is hidden away on a side street in Westminster. More prominent are fallen Viceroys & Colonial Major Generals. Their tributes grand, their achievements less so,their names forgotton. Scott is clothed in his Polar gear & half submerged in hedgerow. His fading plaque tells briefly how he died in 1912 returning from the South Pole with his 4 companions.

In his own words, 'Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance & courage of my comp…

What makes a man? Part 3

The stark & disappointing message awaiting me on my doormat as I returned home read,'Commiserations, your ballot application to run the Virgin 2010 London Marathon has been unsuccessful.'

Every man needs a challenge, & my next big daring deed has just false started. Maybe my disappointment is compounded by the boys own adventure stories I've been reading this week.

In 'The Lost City of Z' David Grann tells the remarkable story of Amazon explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British man driven by courage & obsession into exotic danger & mystery. As Grann attempts to follow in Fawcetts considerable footsteps, he starts by visiting the Royal Geographical Society, that archaic British Institution, steeped in colonial history.

Fawcett had begun his journeys as a cartographer for the RGS. Listen to the remarkable scope of their original vision statement in 1830;'to collect, digest & print new interesting facts & discoveries.....build a repository o…

These are a few of my favourite Kings

With apologies to Julie Andrews & Sound of Music fans. I've been remiss in waiting so long to provide with a few of my favourite Kings.

In date order -

Alfred the Great (871)
More a Monk than a warrior, he led at a time when the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Wessex was reduced to a small rabble trapped in a marsh in Somerset. From this low point, he managed to fight & negotiate his way to becoming the first true King of a united England. Alfred alone is responsible (in my view) for preserving the Anglo Saxon culture & language which was about to be lost forever at the hands of the Danes.

William the Conqueror (1066)
William gets on the list because the mention of his name is the only legitimate reason in our house for the children to say the word 'bastard!' William the Bastard (to give him his full French title) spent his whole life being reminded of his dubious origins, until Harold gave him the swift opportunity for a change of surname.

Henry VIII (1509)
An arrogant mons…

What makes a man? Part 2

Since putting up my 'useful things I can do' list, many of you have commented to me how useful I would be in your life - thanks for the encouragement. But you'd still call the Action Man with the eagle eye function (not the Sailor with the beard & no grip) rather than me in a crisis!

In the big story of mans beginnings we are given a glimpse of real man made in God's image. Here we catch something of our purpose which has become buried under the twin opposing forces of manbags & moisturising or chest thumping muscle headed neanderthalism. (You can tick your own box here!)

The first man, Adam, is given the incredible assignment to rule & subdue, to fill & multiply. He's given land, he has to tame animals, make his own tools - no wonder boys young & old get bored sitting at desks all day. We were made for adventure! Here is the whole earth; Explore it, cultivate it, care for it - go find the equator, build some cities, invent some stuff!

At this poin…

What makes a man?

This week I cleared out my garage & discovered a workbench & a vice. This equipment is what every man should have & I am now the proud, masculine owner of a workshop.

However, I have no idea what to do with it. I have realised that all the things which make us feel like real men have become hidden away in this manner. As we pull the wraps from them we feel a deep stirring to manliness within us, but can't quite work out what we're supposed to do next.

There are so many voices in this generation which have rightly released women, whilst we men have sat back & forgotten how to live ourselves. We've either become over feminised & distant from our roots as men, or we observe the other macho extreme.

'What makes a man?' is the question in my mind as I try to turn my rusty vice. I think the answer may lie somewhere buried in the idea of man made in the image of God. I'll return to that in the next post. In the meantime, I've selected a list of us…

There's no 'I' in team

Today we had a staff team day. Somewhere deep inside I still flinch when they approach in the diary, a buried reflexive response to some horror shows in the distant past.

Geoff was a director in the Manchester office of our multi-national insurance corporation who made Ricky Gervais look like a balanced & considerate boss. His leadership style seemed to shift at rapid tangents, dependent on the courses he'd been on, the articles he'd never quite finish reading, or his own instinctive nous for a 'winner' of an idea.

On reflection, & with the benefit of much hindsight, I can thank God for Geoff & all that he has taught me about leadership, mostly through the medium of negative experience.

His team high point came in surreal fashion. Having been informed of our failure to reach targets & thus secure a performance related pay rise, Geoff knew all we really needed was to have a little sing song. Stay with me - it gets better. So Geoff disappears in the lift, o…

What is Britishness?

The Year 9 homework that I got roped in to help with last night was asking this question. It's a bit of a conundrum really, in spite of the best endeavours of the politically correct class who talk of cohesion but can't produce it in reality.

The reflex response is to talk about good old British values, fair play, trust, tolerance, decency. You only have to scratch the surface though to see through this veneer.

Fair play - Does that explain our ability to be plucky losers in most major sporting competitions? Happy just to be taking part & getting stuffed by the Germans/Australians (delete as appropriate). Our society is about as unfair & class divided today as it's ever been with the rich getting richer & the poor, well...poorer. More than poverty, it's the lack of opportunity, the closed doors to developing your destiny, that which became the American dream is a British nightmare.

Trust - I'm not sure how we have ever been able to claim this as some uniqu…

The kids of today!

It came to my attention with horror this weekend, that the kids who are off to university later this month weren't born until 1991! For me, 1991 seems like last week. In fact, come to think of it, I can remember more about 1991 that I can about last week!

It got me thinking that we have a generation here who are going to shape our nation & society, & yet they never watched Bagpuss, or public service announcements like the Green Cross Code. They never lived under Mrs Thatcher, & if you said 'Jolly green Giant' to them, they would picture Shrek rather than a plate full of vegetables.

So (with a nod to James Emery White, USA culture guru), here is my stab at how our class of '91 see the world around them -

They think TV's have always been flat.
They believe that Chelsea always were a top 4 team.
They have never written a letter, posted it, & enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for the reply to drop back onto the doormat.
They have never watched the evening …

Scandalous stories

It's outrageous that a man who only works for the last hour of the day should get paid the same money as a guy who slogs himself all day in the heat.

Remarkably, it's a scandalous story that Jesus told & I shared it today at Aubrey's funeral. This is the story that changed his life on 6th August when, with 2 weeks to live, he gave his life to Jesus, right at the finish line.

What a cheek! It's like hopping off the tube at Green Park in your running gear & racing up the Mall to cross the marathon line & pick up a medal!

Actually, those of us who have toiled away for years at trying to work out what it means to follow Jesus have one of two responses. We can either dance for joy at this scandal that is grace, or we recognise the gangrenous stink of legalism & the spirit of the elder brother stirring up in our hearts........'...but we've worked for you all these years & never been rewarded like this!'

As for me today? I've already told you -…

Gather around the wireless

We gathered around the wireless (internet) this morning to listen to a replay of Neville Chamberlains famous declaration that Britain is now at war with Germany. As Chamberlain outlines the German failure to comply with their deadline to withdraw from Poland, the fear in his voice is as clear today as it was 70 years ago.

Today we fight on a number of fronts & the slogan 'Not in my name' has become a banner of protest with which I hold some sympathy. To this day, I still can't fathom why we are in Afghanistan.

However, listening to a 70 year old radio broadcast this morning, I felt the swell of pride at a just & noble venture to fight alongside France & liberate the Poles from Nazi occupation. Perhaps Chamberlain was viewed with the same disdain & suspicion as our politicians today, maybe it is just the passing of years which ennobles his words with such gravitas? Churchill is rightly idolised for his later role, & Chamberlain was certainly on the way dow…

Books I've read

People seem to have an interest in what I read. I'm hesitant to publish my reading because most of what I say is other peoples thoughts. You may discover all my secrets!

I set a goal in Jan 2009 to read a book a week this year, ranging from study to top ten novels. I'm up to around 50 so far. The list on the blog brings you up to speed on what I've read on our summer hols.

I'll keep adding to it, & for those who are interested, make some recommendations.

I have to say, for summer reading, I really enjoyed the Twilight & New Moon novels by Stephanie Meyer. I know I'm not a teenage girl (never have been) but they seem to speak for the whole post modern pick & mix generation. A real culture lesson. At the heart of it, these books are good old fashioned romance, albeit with a few vampires & werewolves thrown in. Don't knock it till you've tried it though, & the strong redemptive themes make them a great launch pad for communicating real truth w…

Falling with style

It was a defining moment in the movie Toy Story. Buzz & Woody, former enemies, now teaming together, & swooping high above the removal lorry they are chasing whilst strapped to a firework....(stay with me, it's a true story!)

Woody knows that so much of Buzz's identity has been defined by his belief that he really is from Gamma Quadrant Sector 4. He really is Buzz, the Space Ranger, not just one of the toys. He really believes His special powers work, and most importantly - He really believes he can fly.

This particular claim is met with such scepticism by Woody early on in the film that it leads to their estrangement & the great put down retort from Buzz, 'You sad, strange little man.''

As with all movie plot twists, they find themselves in our opening scenario, now understanding each other & their own identity like never before. Back to the story....Woody shouts to Buzz as they shoot up on the rocket, 'Buzz, you're flying!'. Here comes t…