The other Christmas gift

4 surprising consequences

All over the world Christmas is very much the time for giving and receiving presents. The following 3 minute video is of children from the Metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Club in the United States. 83% of these children come from low income families, some of which are not able to afford even a Christmas tree. In the 3 minute video they are faced with a tough choice.  Just to warn you, the video may make you cry,  but it's well worth watching! 

What makes the video so fascinating for me is it also illustrates the true satisfaction that comes from giving rather than receiving. The simple decision of the children to choose to give rather than receive reminds me of Jesus' own words, "It is more blessed to give rather than receive." (Acts 20:35)

As we approach Christmas, I am also reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."

In that single sentence we have the meaning of Christmas beautifully encapsulated. The Bible explains how although Jesus Christ is equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He chose to leave the security of this perfect relationship to come to earth for you and me. He who had all the riches of heaven should choose to humble Himself and come to earth as a baby.

Here are 4 surprising consequences of this decision:

1. Jesus came to identify with our own ordinariness.
It is staggering to consider that Jesus chose to come into this world born not in some rich country or palace, not the child of wealthy influential parents, but the child of a poor peasant family with no influence. Instead of a beautiful palace with technology and every comfort, He had the dirty manger where animals eat.
In my own life Jesus has been my upside down king who has again and again challenged me to think about what is really valuable and worthwhile in this world. His decision to take on the ordinary challenges me to see that the most important thing in the world is love for others. He came to identify with our ordinariness.

2. He came not to be served, but to serve.
Although the Bible says that He is the everlasting king of the universe and one day everyone will have to bow before Him, He did not cling onto His power or authority. (see Philippians 2:5-11)
He chose to live a life of service.
More than that, He came to show that true greatness is shown in service. (See The Art of the Basin and Towel). That has been a great challenge again to me as I look at my own desire to put myself first. But Jesus shows us what true service and humility is.

3. He shows His power not through strength, but through weakness.
This is such a radical concept today as it was in the first century. Crucifixion was the lowest place in the Roman world - it was the ultimate punishment. And yet through that apparent weakness came life and salvation. Jesus chose the cross for you and me.
We celebrate His birthday at Christmas, but much more important than His birth is that He came to die. (See A Day that Changed the World).

4. He says come to me by first acknowledging you can't come on your own.
Time and again God has shown His power in my life by me first admitting how weak I am. I talk personally about that in the 15 minute video 'Just As I Am' along with 9 Ways To Look At Your Failures With The Eyes of Faith. Also weakness and apparent failures teach us important truths about life - see What Can J.K. Rowling Teach Us About Failure? and Failure and Depression: The Other Side of Lincoln's Life.

Also see:

The Courage of Christmas

Can You Afford To Miss This Christmas Gift?

What is the message behind Christmas?

Why You Cannot Afford To Miss This Gift This Christmas

Is Father Christmas For Real?

How does the video or these reflections resonate with you?

P.S. There is still time to take my 2017 reader survey!

Click here to take my reader survey

Podcast #036: Virtually Human Part 1

Making sense of technology in our lives

Technology is now such a fundamental part of our lives that we so often take it completely for granted. From the moment we wake up to to check our clocks, or more likely our smartphones, to then often seamlessly go onto the Internet, social media and email, we hardly give a moment's thought to the incredible power we have available to us. Today's teenagers have never known a time when the Internet was not there. But how do we navigate with discernment and wisdom through the vast plethora of information and choices technology makes available to us?

Someone who has given a lot of thought to this is Pete Nicholas, who with co-author Ed Brooks, has written about the impact of technology on our lives in their book Virtually Human. The short 1 minute video above gives an introduction to the book.

Do come and join Pete Nicholas and I on this podcast as we discuss the implications of technology on our lives.

In particular on this podcast we explore how:

  • While technologies hold awesome potential for good, when we engage unthinkingly with the online world , there is a danger we become increasingly like the technologies we use, relating and thinking without human connection.
  • Technology should cause us to think about what does it actually mean to be human and how technology is changing us.
  • What do we actually mean by technology? Why technology is not a neutral tool but actually a frame through which we see the world that in turn then becomes the world in which we live.
  • We like to think we are in control of technology and creating a bold new future for ourselves of never ending progress. That is far too simplistic, or as C. S. Lewis put it:

"Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."

  • How we need to both affirm the good that technology provides us while at the same time being realistic about its limitations in changing basic human nature. We may have smart phones with amazing potential, but we are still the same greedy, self-centred and self-absorbed human beings we have always been.
  • What does the Biblical narrative have to say about how fulfilling the hope technology seeks to give us really comes from challenging and redeeming the failures and problems technology causes?

But perhaps most surprisingly and most importantly of all discussing technology is really about discussing what does it mean to be human.

We will carry on our discussion with Pete Nicholas in future podcasts, particularly looking at practical implications of how we handle technology in our challenging and complex world.

After listening to this podcast you may also find of interest:

Podcast #017: The Last Taboo Subject?

Podcast #029: The Literal End Of The World?

More details on the book are available at the Virtually Human website here.

What questions and comments does our discussion raise for you?

P.S. There is still time to take my reader survey!

Click here to take my reader survey

I need your help!

2017 Reader Survey

This week's post is relatively short, but that's because I need your help! I really do appreciate the time you take to read my blog and listen to the podcasts. Thank you for your encouragements, suggestions and comments both online and off line over the years. It has been just over five years since we started. I have found it an amazing and truly rewarding experience, but I really need your help!

 

I would like to make my blog and the podcasts much more relevant to your needs and to what interests you. In order to do that I need to know more about YOU! I have created a Reader Survey and I’d be very thankful if you were to spend just five to ten minutes to answer the questions in it.

There are up to 25 questions, and the results will feed directly into how I write my posts and the podcasts that I do. I very much want to serve you better. So my intention is that what I write about and the podcasts I do will benefit you directly. The results are completely anonymous and I cannot tell who has written what (unless you want to tell me!).

You can make the survey as short or as long as you like. Although if you have detailed responses that too would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you once again!

 

Click here to take my reader survey

5 ways you may sabotage yourself

A guest post by Connie Clay

I used to enjoy watching Alex Rodriguez, also known as A-Rod, play baseball for the Yankees. And then his wife accused him of adultery. He didn’t deny it. Later, he was accused of using steroids. He initially denied using the steroids, and later admitted that he used them to improve his performance. Now retired from baseball, A-Rod is a successful businessman and says he is a present father.

Do you wonder why people who seem to have accomplished so much do things that will surely have a negative impact on their families and their careers? Why do people engage in self-sabotage?

While most of us don’t have public character implosions, we often engage in behaviors that are not in our best interests. Here are some of the ways that we sabotage ourselves:

  1. We insult ourselves. Our internal dialog can be brutal. We call ourselves lazy, fat, worthless, etc. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to friends or family. The next time you catch yourself saying something unkind to yourself, stop. It’s okay to examine your behavior in a certain instance, but do not label yourself with unkind names or adjectives.
  2. We keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Maybe you wanted to change careers or write a book. You’ve had big goals and dreams for years, but nothing changes. Often, nothing changes because we refuse to change. We won’t get tomorrow’s results with yesterday’s methods. Sometimes, we have to give up the unstructured Saturdays and decide we’re going to spend a few hours writing a book or emailing resumes and updating our LinkedIn profile.
  3. We hang around the wrong people. We become the sum total of the people we spend the most time with. I noticed this when I sat through a painful time share presentation. The sales people, mostly men, were dressed alike. They had similar haircuts. They walked in a similar manner. When we spend time with people who are negative, toxic, or unmotivated, it is difficult to avoid their energy. It envelopes the space. Carefully consider who you spend your time with. Do you want to me more like those folks? If not, maybe you should limit or eliminate your association.
  4. We have too much stuff going on. If you have a dozen pages open on your computer, things slow down. It’s hard to be great at the important things when you have dozens of unimportant things nipping at your heels. Have the courage to say no to new commitments and to remove yourself from organizations and responsibilities that are not a good use of your time.
  5. We don’t treat our priorities like priorities. You’ve probably heard that your calendar and your checkbook reflect your priorities. If time with your family is a priority, are they on your calendar? If returning to school is a priority, is that reflected in how you spend money? Did you know that the word “priority” was not pluralized until the 20th century? Narrow your priorities to three and invest your time, money and energy in them. It’s okay to drop things until you have time to give them attention.

What do you need to stop doing?

Connie Clay will show you how to create harmony between your personal commitments and your professional goals. Connie raised a family while managing a busy career. Connie will give you tools and strategies to lovingly care for your family and advance professionally without feeling like you are neglecting one or the other.

You can find out more about Connie here.

This article first appeared on her blog and can be accessed here.

What do I say to a loved one who is struggling with depression?

7 practical suggestions

We live in a world with a lot of negativity. Behind the smiles of the advertising and the apparent fun and laughter of social media there are many people struggling with depressive thoughts and feelings. (See The Scale Of Mental Health Problems And What To Do About Them).

Some of it is because of the everyday worries and concerns of life. There are tragedies and setbacks like bereavement, diagnosis of major illness or sudden loss of a job.

For others it is more deeply rooted in questions of meaning and ultimate purpose. (See Podcast #035: What Is Life Really All About?)

Some people go onto clinical depression, but for many others life can feel like living under a continual dark cloud. There are distinct changes in their energy, optimism and motivation.

Maybe you have a close friend or loved one who is struggling with negative thoughts and feelings. You have seen a change in the way they come across. You are not sure how to handle them. What should you say or not say? How should you approach them?

Sometimes it is hard to know what to say when speaking to a loved one about how they are coming across to you. You might fear that if you bring up your concerns they will get angry, feel insulted, or ignore you. You may be unsure what questions to ask or how to be supportive. It is so easy to just say nothing and miss the opportunity to offer genuine hope, comfort and encouragement.

If you don’t know where to start, the following suggestions may help.

1. Don't feel you have to have all the answers.
Being a compassionate listener is often far more important than giving advice. It is not about immediately trying to 'fix' the person as it is about empathy and understanding of what they are feeling and going through. It is also about encouraging the person to talk about their feelings and be willing to listen without judgement. They may be holding thoughts, worries and fears they have never shared with anyone else. By creating a safe space for them to bring these into the open can bring enormous relief. (Also see 5 Levels Of Listening And Communication).

2. It is likely you are going to have to persevere and keep coming back .
Don’t expect a single conversation to be the end of it. Depressed people tend to withdraw from others and isolate themselves. It is likely this has gone on for some time. You may need to express your concern for them and your willingness to listen over and over again. Be gentle, yet persistent. In their negative thought patterns they may be questioning if you really do care about them. Your quiet dependability and reliability can make a real difference in reaching through to them. Your actions will then speak louder than your words.

3. Things you might say to start the conversation could include:
"I have been feeling concerned about you lately."

"Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing."

"I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately."

It's important after this to then wait and give time for them to slowly open up. You may need to become comfortable with just sitting in silence to help build their trust and confidence.

4. Here are some follow up questions it might well be worth asking:
"When did you begin feeling like this?"

"Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?"

"How can I best support you right now?"

"Have you thought about getting help?"

Being supportive involves offering with your concern and sympathy also encouragement and hope. Very often, this is a matter of talking to the person in language that they will understand and respond to while in a depressed mind frame. And that can take significantly more time than other conversations you are use to having.

5. Other things you can say at appropriate times in the silence:
"You are not alone in this. I’m here for you."

"You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change."

"I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help."

"When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage."

"You are important to me. Your life is important to me."

"Tell me what I can do now to help you."

6. There are also some definite things to avoid saying:
- Be very careful about not jumping to conclusions about what the problem might be or how the person might be feeling.
- Don't put words into their mouth or complete their sentences for them.
- Don't use words like 'should' or 'ought'.
- Don't get caught up with universal blanket statements from the person like 'it's all a disaster'; 'my life is such a mess'. If they say something like this then try to break down what they are saying to find out what they actually mean.
- Don't ay anything or make promises you cannot follow though.
- Don't use cliche phrases like 'don't worry it will pass', 'I know how you feel', 'just look on the bright side', 'it's all in your head', 'we all go through times like this', 'you have so much to live for why would you want to die?', 'I can't do anything about your situation', 'just snap out of it', 'what's wrong with you?', 'shouldn't you be better now?'
- Don't be sworn to secrecy by the person as a way to win their confidence. It is important to explain there is a risk to themselves or others you may have to tell others.
- Don't pass judgement on what the person says or feels.

7. Take care of yourself as well!
Caring for others who are struggling with depression can become overwhelming and exhausting. Try not to carry all the responsibility on your own. It is important to have others to talk with and share the responsibility you are feeling for the the depressed person. While you care for others, it is important you also care for yourself. (Also see What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down).

From your own experience with others who have struggled with low mood, or maybe your own life, what would you add to these suggestions?

You may also find of interest:

Why I Am Working On Becoming A Happier Person

Podcast #004: Combatting Depression

My own personal journey through depressive thinking

 

The scale of mental health problems and what to do about them

5 simple steps

According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Statistics from the UK indicate that 2/3 of the UK population have experienced a mental health problem at some point in their lives and that only 13% of the population are thriving with high levels of positive mental health.

Let's try to to put this in context. A recent report from the Institute of Directors state that 1 in 6 UK adults experience a common mental health disorder over any given week. To put that another way. that is 10 times the number of people who attend a professional football match - the nation's favourite sport. The most recent Mental Health at Work Report from Business in the Community also states that 3 out of every 5 employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work.

It is also increasingly being recognised that mental ill health is a problem not just affecting a small minority of people, but society as a whole. 1 in 4 people are reported to be diagnosed with a mental health condition in any given year. In addition many more experience poor mental health, which disrupts our family and working lives.

Mental ill health is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, with more than 15 million absence days attributed to stress, anxiety and depression in 2013, at a cost to the UK economy of £8.4bn. In 2015/2016 stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost.

The Centre for Mental Health has also calculated that presenteeism, the practice of staying at work more hours than required, usually because of job insecurity, costs the UK economy £15.1bn per annum. In other words, people stay at work but their minds and attention is so distracted or below optimum that they take far longer to do tasks or get distracted by the unimportant or unnecessary. I am sure these statistics and figures are not much different for most of the rest of the industrialised world.

To maintain physical health, there has been a rightful emphasis on factors such as stopping smoking, losing weight, exercise, healthy eating and meaningful relationships. (For more on this also see What Is The Single Most Important Thing I Can Do To Improve My Physical Health? and What Is The ONE Essential Ingredient For Life-Long Health and Happiness?).

But what about mental health wellbeing?

Over recent years, through increased research there has began to be a greater understanding of  the contributing factors that lead to poor mental health. What this means is that many common mental health problems can be prevented. For prevention to be effective,  appropriate and relevant education is essential in order to encourage self care and our own management of our wellbeing.

Here are 5 simple ways to wellbeing:.....

Podcast #035: What is life really all about?

A frank conversation with Rico Tice

Rico Tice is a senior minister at the church my family and I attend at All Souls, Langham Place in Central London. Rico is married to Lucy and they have three children. He is a Bible teacher and founder of the Christianity Explored course. This is a seven week study through the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament. At any one time there are 10,000 courses running around the world in over 100 countries with 122 official translations.

More recently Rico has helped to develop two further courses, Discipleship Explored which looks through the New Testament book of Philippians what it means to find joy in Christ and Life Explored which is an overview of the Bible as a whole.

 

On this podcast Rico and I explore:

Why being responsible for evangelism at All Soul's Church is much more than a job role, but something he is deeply passionate about.

His formative experiences growing up, including how the death of his godfather in 1982 had a profound impact on Rico's life.

Continual reminders of the brevity of life.

The importance of crossing the pain line when talking to others of the important issues around death and judgement.

In a world of different religions why it is not arrogant to say Jesus is the only way to God.

The importance of reading the Bible for yourself and doing so in community with others.

How Christ's death rescues us from the penalty, power and the presence of sin.

How the qualification to be a Christian disciple is not are you good enough, but are you bad enough.

The importance of a right understanding of hell and judgement.

Lessons in life Rico has learnt from his failures and mistakes.

Two books that have profoundly influenced Rico's life.

Why he also has a collection of over 300 books on rugby!

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #029: The literal end of the world?

Podcast #017: The last taboo subject?

Podcast #007: Religion

A tribute to my dear friend Abhishek Banerjee (12 October 1981 -17 March 2014)

How does our conversation speak into your own life?

 

Have you had your champion breakfast?

The power of feedback

No I am not referring to your first meal of the day - important as that is! Rather it is the power of feedback to enable you to both understand yourself better and to discover and grow in your areas of strengths and giftedness.

Feedback has been called the breakfast of champions. The problem is, however, all of us struggle to give or receive feedback unless it is in a manner or context within which we or the other person does not feel threatened. The classic 'feedback sandwich' of say something positive, then the usually negative feedback, followed by something positive again can come across as formulaic and contrived. So while it can be effective it does create tension and anxiety for both the person receiving and giving feedback.

Even the anonymous 360 degree feedback systems that are increasingly popular in health and business environments run into the problem of  telling more about the person doing the rating than the subject who is supposed to be getting the feedback. That has certainly been my experience and those I have discussed it with.

But how about creating systems to provide feedback for yourself?

This is how Peter Drucker, arguably the greatest management thinker of the 20th century put it in a Harvard Business Review article:...

What are the signs of a truly spiritual person?

Living in a world of such a variety of religious beliefs and persuasions it can be incredibly difficult to discern what it means to live a life that is in the most positive sense truly spiritual. Add to that the pressure to be productive, busy and active  and it becomes harder and harder to define. Is spirituality defined by what we do are by who we are of a combination of both? We also live in a world where centuries old values of right and wrong in such fundamental areas as lifestyle and sexuality are being questioned and systematically dismantled. Under the guise of secularism (which really is another form of religious belief that lacks the self-awareness to recognise a higher value) another set of values is confidently espoused.

In many ways this is nothing new. Here is how the apostle Paul writing in the first century described an unspiritual and empty life. The English translation is from a paraphrase called The Message:

"It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on."

That was written 2000 years ago, but it could not be more up to date!

That is a pretty depressing description of human nature and yet in may ways it does illustrate some of the characteristics of modern life presented through much of the media and culture around us.

So what does a truly spiritual person look like?

The best explanation I have come across again is that from the apostle Paul. He talks about this in terms of 'the fruit of the Spirit'. In Galatians 5:22-23 of his letter , the New International Version of the original Greek, states:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control."

Here is how the Message translation paraphrases each of these different qualities:....

What fills you up and what drains you down?

The concept is so simple and obvious, yet it is so easy to overlook. All of us have  a certain finite emotional capacity or reserve. How do I know when I am reaching my limits? Life is full of so much coming at us in different directions. How do I know when I am getting overwhelmed and over-extending myself? How do I ensure I am in a healthy place to deal with all the demands on my time and energy?

This 8 minute video by Wayne Codeiro gives some helpful insights from when he went through his own personal burnout and emotional exhaustion. (by the way please don't be distracted by his shirt - the content is too important!). I first came across this video almost 10 years ago, and since then it has profoundly influenced the way I live my life:

According to Wayne Codeiro we all have a certain emotional capacity, or tank if you like.  There are certain activities that will drain and fill that tank. Generally speaking those things we enjoy fill our tank and those things that bring us stress and tension tend to drain our emotional tank. Its as simple as that.

If you occupy your life with just those activities that drain your tank then you will notice a series of predictable effects on your overall emotional health and wellbeing. While the effects presented are somewhat simplistic they are still a helpful framework within which to monitor yourself.

These symptoms become like those canaries mine workers use to take down into the mines in the 19th century to warn them of the dangers of a lack of oxygen. As the oxygen levels in the mines depleted, then the loss of consciousness of the canaries with them served as a warning that the conditions were becoming dangerous and they needed to act quickly to get out. So what are the symptoms to watch out for?....