Soft Power


Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Here is a man writing from prison, admonishing Timothy to live with power.

Today religion in general, and Christianity in particular are seen as personal lifestyle choices, and in many places in the Western world are not so much despised as they are ignored as irrelevant.

The challenge for Timothy and Paul was an open hostility to the message of the Gospel.  But, Paul here notes that this was not to make them timid, because it was difficult.  He also noted that the characteristics necessary to make advances in such a world were provided by the Spirit: love and self-discipline.

Isn’t this still the case with us?  We are called to not be timid of our calling, just as Timothy was.  Our views, or at least the world’s perception of our views may be unpopular.  Here is where the love and self-discipline comes in.  In John 13, Jesus said,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  This testimony of love should be an overriding principle in our lives.  We need to live beyond our narrow theological differences, by finding what we share.   And this does not mean we should be accepting of blatant sin, but rather to address these issues in a spirit of love. This is even more true of issues of interpretation. In living accordingly by love, many of the perceived “intolerances” attributed to us will be shown to be false perceptions.

So we should not be timid with the Gospel, but we also need not to be bullies with it either.  Soft power goes a long way. Francis de Sales put it well when he said, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” 

Here the self-discipline come in.  We need to live the life we profess.  Our example is more powerful than our words.  In acting in a controlled, spiritually focused way we don’t send mixed messages.  It also means that we live a life controlled by love.  We are not here to condemn others.  It’s not our job.  We can teach, even admonish, but ultimately we need to show.

Let us not be timid in showing His and our love. That’s where real power lies.




Yad Vashem

I had the honour of studying at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  This is an evocative campus to study in.  The bright white and honey coloured stones, and the brilliant Israeli sunshine stand in contrast to what is remembered and taught there.

The central memorial and museum is one of the world’s great collections of archival history and artifacts of the Holocaust.  The millions of visitors are given heartrending and thought provoking testimonies by the survivors and in the legacy words of the victims.  These latter accounts left via diaries and letters are all the more powerful because of their authors’ absences.

The surrounding campus is dotted with memorials, from the Warsaw Square to the Children’s Memorial.  The Valley of the Communities in its honeyed stone records the locations of Jewish communities lost in the Shoah.  In some cases all that remains of these communities is the name written in Hebrew and in the native language of the locality.

The Avenue of the Righteous (and garden) commemorates the non-Jewish heroes, who risked lives and livelihoods to hid, aid, and rescue Jews in those terrible days.  Many know of Oscar Schindler, and Corrie ten Boom, but there are so many more Righteous Among the Nations remembered here.

                           Museum                           Valley of Communities               Ave of the Righteous

This truly is a place to visit, contemplate, and remember.


Grabbing Their Attention

Grabbing attention comes in many forms. For some it is a matter of how you present yourself, the theatrics of the moment. I once made a sermon on “how not to sale” something, entitled “Would You Buy A Used Chariot From This Man?” If the title didn’t catch attention, the fact that I came attired (in the late 1990s) in a loud 1970s vintage plaid “used car salesman” blazer.

For others, it is the all about your own excitement on the topic. Enthusiasm is contagious. Your pitch, body language, and your true belief in your message, often captures the mind and mood of the audience.

But, “for more bang for the buck” try silence. Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson captures this approach. “Wilson stopped and stood silent. Inattention dies a quick and sure death when a speaker does that.” Better still it works. Not too long mind you, 5 seconds or so will do. Any longer and it seems an eternity (at least to the speaker), and any shorter and the audience may think you lost your train of thought. But a well measured, purposeful pause will often pay off.

Give it – – – – – – – – – – a try.




Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

Illustration of Twain at the Lotos Club by Pierre Brissaud from ad for Old Taylor Kentucky Whiskey
from Feb. 1937 COUNTRY LIFE
from the Dave Thomson collection

Marrakech: Of Mosques, Markets, and Orange Juice

One of the places I had always wanted to see and experience was Marrakech. It did not let down my expectations.  The beautiful mosque, the tile-work, and life more generally were a wonder to behold.

The Jamaa el Fna was full of life.  I enjoyed the fresh orange juice from the vendors, and had couscous at a street cafe.  I watched the colourful water-sellers, henna ladies, dancers, and snake charmers.  I was approached by the one-eyed basket salesman offering straw hats and wicker ware.  Even the donkey-drawn rubbish wagon was a sight worth notice.  I sat in the street cafe and watched it all unfold.

Later I ventured into the markets to pick up some gifts and souvenirs. This was just as rich an experience.  My step-daughter had wanted an “Aladdin Lamp,” and I readily found one but even after the barter was a little short.  So off to the cash machine (ATM), this was an adventure itself.  It was a longer walk than expected, but more interestingly the stall-holder rather than missing the sale, was waiting for me on his moped next to the bank.  He had the lamp already wrapped and ready, repeated the agreed price, then added, “For 100 more I give you the genie.”

This entrepreneurial spirit was also shown when I went to find a tablecloth. My wife and I had admired one at a North African restaurant in England, so I was tasked with finding a similar one on my trip.  After checking several shops and stalls, I was told by a vendor, that his cousin had exactly what I had described.  So again a long walk through alleys and market stalls.  When we arrived, the cousin indeed had a cloth very similar to what I sought.  The problem was it was rectangular and my table round.  When I pointed this out the cousin was quick off the mark.  He picked up a large pair of shears and said, “Is okay, I will make it round.” I bought it as a rectangle.

Marrakech lives up to its “bucket list” reputation, and I look forward to the opportunity to someday add Casablanca to my “done list.”


A Brief Visit to Jozefow

Travel isn’t always about leisure.  Sometimes it has an element of discovery, self-discovery, and reflection.  Jozefow, Poland is one such destination.

Jozefow is a relatively small village in southeast Poland.  It is near two lakes now largely used for recreation by those in the district, and has large areas of forest nearby.  It was thrust into infamy in the 1940s, however as a one (of the all too many) killing operations perpetrated by the Nazis.

The particular case of Jozefow was used as the backdrop for Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.  This book and its thesis that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were by in large “ordinary men,” has been debated by Goldhagen and others, but the underlying events remain the same, no matter what the motivation.

The Jewish community of Jozefow was rounded up taken to the nearby forest and killed. What modern Jozefow leaves us is a synagogue now used as a library, a disused cemetery, a memorial in the forest, and a dark legacy of human inhumanity.

It is a sad to me that hundreds of people use the leisure facilities of the nearby lakes apparently oblivious to the events that occurred only metres away in the forest. Fair enough, it was “a long time ago,” but for those of us “in the know,” let’s not let the memory be lost.



Of Fences and Bridges


I had a discussion with my mother-in-law a while ago about atonement.  On the face of it, atonement is “the action of making amends for a wrong or injury.” Many of us spend a lot of time trying to “mend fences” with our friends and loved ones.

There are two types of wrong or injury involved here.  The first are the wrongs we perceive we have done to others.  Here are some questions to ask yourself before we beat ourselves up too much with these.  Did you do your best in the original situation?  Were your intentions good and honourable? If so, and it still went wrong, then apologise. If not, then try to make amends starting with an apology, and try to fix what went wrong.  Face it, people get things wrong.

The second type, are those things which the other party perceives that you did as hurtful. Again if your intention was good, and you did you best, tell them so.  It is up to them to make peace with the situation in their own minds.  You cannot let yourself become a slave to their lack of forgiveness.

Some things cannot be made right, however.  Sometimes the hurts not only tear down the fences, but burn the bridges as well (mixing my metaphors).  If you have apologied, tried to make amends, and are still rebuffed, it may hurt, but constantly belittling yourself over it will not make it any better for anyone.

Biblically sin is one of those bridge burners.  We separate ourselves from God and others by our actions.  Fortunately, God is bigger than many of our relations who hold grudges. For God so loved the world, that He sent His Son.  Here is a third kind of atonement, where the “wronged” party reaches out to make the atonement.

This is an ultimate example for us.  We too can make amends, not when we have wronged, but when we have been wronged.  In so doing we will live in a world of sturdy fences, and glistening bridges.


Leisurely Day On the Kiel Canal


3- Approcahing First Lock

First Lock

A couple of years ago we made a passage of Germany’s Kiel Canal.  It was a leisurely journey through the German countryside, and offered some wonderful views of the life along the waterway and of nature.

23- Canal

Peaceful Passage

The canal is long 98-kilometres (61 miles), and provided an entire day of  “chill time,” as we made our way to Scandinavian cities further east.  It was a day for cups of tea, and just taking it in as we sat in the sun loungers.

The people along the route were friendly and we were often waved to by local residents, and hikers and cyclists.  Small ferry crossings and bridges dotted our path, and where these were absent, water-fowl abounded.

Okay, maybe not the most exciting holiday activity (as opposed to water skiing or rock climbing), but for a traveler “of a certain age” it was a wonderful experience.

28- Final Lock

Last Lock




Christian Character

Deal Fishing 2

“I’m going fishing.”

Brother AJ recently brought us a powerful message.  He focused on Christian character and on the reality of our walk and how it is far superior to any perceived reputation which is a mere shadow of our true selves.

It is God alone that knows who we are, and that needs to be the measure of our character.  King Saul was an effective warrior, but a man-pleaser.  God had given him clear instructions, but he saw his own way (and the ways of the people) as “the way to go.”  The end result was that he was cut off from the very people he sought to please, and became distrustful of everyone.

Simon Peter is also a good case in point.  He was the one at Caesarea Philippi that recognised Jesus’ divinity.  But went on to question many of Jesus’ pronouncements with such phrases as “not so Lord.” He like Saul had his own agenda.  His worldly character overshadowing his spiritual one.  Fortunately for Peter, he was open to correction and even found pardon for his weaknesses.

This raises a question in John 21.  After the resurrection Peter and some of the others had returned to Galilee.  Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”  This is very much debated as to its meaning.  Has he gone home to see what will happen next, and just fancies a day of fishing? Or, has he once again despite the miracle of Easter returned to his own agenda? “Well, Jesus is gone, I might as well go back to my old job.” Remember, Peter had despite his assertion that he would always stand by Him, still denied knowing Jesus three times. But God sees our character, and knew Peter’s human frailty.  Peter, is therefore, lifted up from any self-condemnation.  After fishing, Peter has an encounter with Jesus. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

This is a job Peter would spend the rest of his life from Pentecost on wards fulfilling. With forgiveness Simon Peter regained his Christian character. How about us?  Are we ready to accept forgiveness for our self-will and embrace our spiritual character?




An Afternoon of “Southern Comfort”


The Southern Comfort “Mississippi” Paddle Boat is a wonderful little touring vessel that plies the Norfolk Broads.  It sets out from The Swan Hotel in Horning and takes a leisurely journey through the Broads taking in the nature, bank-side life, and boating of the waterway. The main sights and history of the area are given a continuous commentary during this 1 1/2 to 2 hour tour.

The Broads are a series of rivers and man-made lakes in eastern Norfolk and northern Suffolk.  These waterways were formed when the peat cuttings (the natural material being used for fuel in Medieval Norwich) flooded over time.  They cover an area is 303 square kilometres, and have over 200 kilometres of navigable waterway.

This tour boat made an appearance as part of the setting of the 2015 film, 45 Years for which Charlotte Rampling received an Oscar nomination.

The Southern Comfort is a great way to take in the area from Horning, along the River Bure through the village and out to Ranworth Broad and back.  The boat accommodates about 100 or so passengers, with upper deck  seating for 68 passengers (with the best views), and  the lower deck has a  lounge that seats 46.


The reed beds, thatched houses, and river craft all make for some great photographs.

On the day we toured, the weather was perfect, and we received friendly greetings from the passing boats, and later had a light lunch at The Swan.



Three Passions


Passion, the dictionary tells us, is a “strong and barely controllable emotion.”  While the uncontrollable element is debatable, many of us use the word to mean “things we enjoy and feel are important.”

Let me state here that in the passion league my relationship with my wife must be taken as a given.  She is my confidant, friend, and companion.

That said, many of us have various “passions” as we go through our life-journeys. Some of these bud, blossom, and fade.  Others remain with us throughout our time on Earth. When I was a teenager, sport was a passion.  I was a relatively accomplished athlete, and I spent long hours in practice and training.  Later my children became the lights of my life. Don’t get me wrong they are still loved and cherished, but they have grown and left home and no longer are an everyday focus of my life.

Education later became a passion.  Those who follow my blog will know I have more education than sense.  But with six degrees, and multiple additional courses under my belt, formal learning has been largely relegated to my past as well.

This leads to my three remaining passions.  The first of these is public speaking.  Yes, I know there are people who fear making a public address even more than death, and the majority of adults have some level of apprehension when it comes to oratory.  But, I love it.  I am a Toastmaster, a preacher, a teacher, and a stage hound when I get the opportunity.  Speaking for me is, like blogging, a release of my pent up thoughts and energies.

The second passion of my present stage in my journey is travel.  I love to explore and experience new places, cultures and foods.  It gives me a richness of knowledge, and experience I could not replicate at home.  I have lived on three continents, and at least five counties.  I have visited nearly thirty nations.  Each has taught me something new. Besides that travel gives me something to speak and write about.

Finally my most enduring passion is my faith.  Belief is something you hold true.  Faith is something you would venture your life over.  And my religious faith is just that.  It is my anchor, and through sport, family, military service, education, speaking, and travel, it has always been there.  This does not mean that my beliefs have not adapted and grown over time.  But the foundational principles of Christianity have guided me.  Thus while I write about public speaking and travel, I still will continually (as in my life) return to the themes of faith, the Bible, and ethics.

What are your passions? Which of them will endure the tests of time?  My challenge to you is to find them, nurture them, and then grow from them.