Tuesday, 24 February 2009

I love this picture...#4

This picture reminds me of my favourite bit of one of my favourite of books - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S.Lewis. I took this picture during a boat-ride on the 'largest fresh-water swamp in Thailand' (the word swamp makes it seem more exciting than it is - it's really just like a big lake!) which happens to be in Nakhon Sawan where I live.

I took this photo, imagining I was actually in the book! I want to take you, in your imagination, to the end of the book. The passengers of the Dawn Treader have sailed almost to the end of the world, they are heading towards 'Aslan's Country' and as they get closer, everything gets brighter, the water tastes sweet and fresh, they feel more alive and full of joy and they even start getting younger!

The water is smooth and everything is still and calm.

The last part of the sea, before the Dawn Treader must turn around and go back and some of the crew must go on into Aslan's Country, is covered in lilies. They name it 'the silver sea'. The carpet of lilies in my picture is not quite the same, there's no white flowers....but just use your imagination and soak in this picture made of words from the book:

"...And when after some consultation the Dawn Treader turned back into the current and began to glide eastwards through the Lily Lake or the Silver Sea (they tried both these names but it was the Silver Sea that stuck and is now on Caspian's map) the strangest part of their travels began. Very soon the open sea which they were leaving was only a thin rim of blue on the western horizon. Whiteness shot with faintest colour of gold spread round them on every side except just astern, where their passage had thrust the lilies apart, and left an open lane of water, that shone like dark green glass."

It made me happy imagining being in that part of the book as I lay in the sun watching as we made our way through the still 'lily lake'. It made me happy because it made me think of getting nearer to heaven, just like in the book Reepicheep and the children were all the time getting closer to where Aslan lived.

And we are getting closer. Every day.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Worst of sinners

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Tim 1:15-17

Friday, 20 February 2009

I love this picture...#3

A notebook I bought today.

Why did I buy it? Because it made me laugh my head off!! I love Thailand for many reasons, and this is one of them! Why someone would make a notebook with the word 'blandness' on the front I have no idea, but the fact that they did made my day today!

It's not quite as good as that classic 'mosquito restaurant' menu, but I thought it was worth a photo anyway! In case you've forgotten about that, you can see those pictures here.

I have nothing profound whatsoever to say about this notebook picture - just that I love it!

Why assume...?

It's not often I have an opinion about something. I don't tend to feel strongly about things, that's just my personality. That's probably why I don't enjoy debates at all. It's also why I don't like to use this blog as a place to air my opinions...
That doesn't mean I don't think truth is important. On the contrary, I think truth should be defended and upheld at all costs and that's partly what this blog entry is about.

But I want this to be read bearing in mind that I am a sinner saved only by the precious grace of Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less. My words will always be mingled with mixed motives and intentions, informed by experiences unique to me, and tinted by my own personal slant on life. Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder about this, maybe I just feel strongly about it because it is true...I don't know. I just want to throw this thought out there and wanted to make that disclaimer before doing so.

There are many songs that I personally enjoy, that help me to sing praise to God when I am on my own, but that I would never choose to sing when in the context of a group or church...and in fact would even say that to do so would be very dangerous if they were all we sang.

Take for example, this song, The Stand:

I'll stand, with arms high and heart abandoned,
In awe of the One who gave it all,
I'll stand, my soul Lord to you surrendered,
All I am is yours.

Now I like this song. In fact I am listening to it right now! I like it musically, and I like the words too. Because I am certain that Jesus is who is meant by 'the One who gave it all' and that the giving of everything spoken of is referring to when Jesus died on the cross to take the penalty for sinners. There is nothing inherently wrong with this song! But the reason why I think it would be unwise to sing this song/or a song like this in a group context is this: I cannot assume that just because I am thinking about the gospel when I sing this song, that everyone else is too. In fact we could be singing about almost anything or anyone!
[I must be fair to the writers of this song, because the above lyrics are actually only the chorus, which comes after a couple of verses explaining why God is so praiseworthy, but almost no-one knows this because the verses are never sung!!! This chorus has been turned into a whole song of its own.]

The reason why this I think it is very dangerous to sing, in corporate worship, songs which are not explicit about the gospel as revealed in the Bible is because an 'assumed' gospel will soon become no gospel at all. If we in our groups do not sing about the specifics of the gospel as well as how we feel about it, then the newcomer to the group, or even the believer who hasn't had much opportunity to read the Bible in depth yet, will not know what they are singing about. If this generation assumes that everyone knows the gospel and so does not proclaim it to each other, then the next generation will not know the gospel at all!

Now I know there is more than one way to remind each other of the gospel, this task is not completely reliant on the songs that we sing, that's why I asked you to read this bearing in mind that I can never be totally agenda-free when I write. But our songs are surely a good place to start aren't they? They are also one of the best ways that we learn and remember information. And anyway, why would we want to sing about anything else?

If we are to take the command of Titus 3:8 seriously then I think that we need to think really carefully about the kind of songs we sing:

"3At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." (Titus 3:3-8)

Saturday, 14 February 2009


Learning something new is hard. For the last 5 months since I arrived in Thailand I have been learning to speak Thai; sometimes formally in language school, sometimes informally in conversations with students, and 2 weeks ago I started to learn to read and write. For the most part I have been really enjoying all of this, but this week I have started to feel how difficult this whole process is!

It is hard on the mind because is has to learn a completely new way of thinking. It has to connect sounds with a whole new set of symbols, and then work out the meaning of those symbols when they come together to form words.

It is hard on the body because so much time has to be spent sitting still concentrating on learning this new code, and then turning symbols into sounds, spoken clumsily from a mouth which is still getting used to how different all these sounds are! It is physically draining.

It is hard on the emotions because I feel like I am a child again. I have to accept the fact that I put hours of work into reading, understanding and discussing with my teacher, what is effectively a simple, children's story - only a few lines! And I still don't understand all of it! I spend what seems like an AGE reading out-loud to my teacher, one word at a time. Sometimes it is so slow that we spend a whole lesson working on only one paragraph! It is demoralising.

Right now it is hard to believe that I will ever get faster or better at this! And my pride wants me to be good at it for all the wrong reasons. Reflecting on all this I have come to the following conclusions (not all connected to each other!):
  • Aside from all that I believe about God and His helping and aiding, on a purely rational level I know that I WILL get better at this language, because that's what just happens. I learned to read and write English, I learned to play the guitar, I see my improvement on the piano all the time. When we practice things they get easier. Simple fact of life! We just need to be patient. I've been doing this for 2 weeks...of course I won't be able to read properly yet!

  • My attitude in the midst of this process is all important. My very first day of learning to write, I learned a huge lesson. Making a mistake, I threw down my pencil in exasperation. My teacher exclaimed 'jai-yen!' (calm down, be patient) and with this single word I felt instant conviction of my childish attitude. It is not only important for my own growth in likeness to Jesus that I watch my attitude as I learn Thai, but also for my witness to others about my Lord Jesus.

  • It is good that I feel weak. I think perhaps I have become too comfortable. I remember when as a VERY new Christian I first started to understand 2 Corinthians 4:7-9:
    "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."
    I was SO excited to realise that it was ok that I felt weak - in fact, it is when I am seen to be weak that God is seen to be great! Imagine if I was some superhuman amazing person, then no-one would wonder why I don't fall apart when life gets tough, they'd just think it was part of my amazing powers! But then imagine (no, don't imagine, this one's the real one..!!) if I was a frail, broken, weak person who struggles and groans - then when I keep going in tough times people will wonder why such a rubbish person is able to do so. The only conclusion can be that it is God, it is His power, His energy, His love, Him at work - cos it is obviously not me!! Why do I always work so hard to throw doubt on this truth? Why do I want to be strong? Why do I want to cover up God's power at work by appearing 'together' myself?
Wow, I feel a whole other blog entry coming on here....better stop before I get carried away!

My prayer is that my whole attitude to learning Thai, including my motivations, studying and attempts to use the language, would bring God glory - if that means I have to be weak, so be it!

Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, Sola Deo Gloria.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Alison's thought agenda...

I am having a 'not very Thai moment'.

Firstly, I have come out for lunch on my own - eating 'Khon Diaw' is not a very Thai thing. It's not really my choice either, but since I missed my lift to church (...and church always includes lunch) I thought I'd better go and find something to eat on my own.

Secondly, I am in an air-conditioned cafe, with comfy chairs, trendy lamps and even rugs. I brought my laptop because there is free wi-fi here. I am drinking 'English Breakfast' tea and waiting for my spaghetti to arrive.

Very un-Thai.

I am not having an 'I hate Thailand day' or anything...it's just convenient to get here and it's the kind of place where you can go on your own and not look like a weirdo, which is handy.

I thought this would be a good time to think about the things on my 'thought agenda'. My thought agenda is a mental list of things that I want to think about at some point. The idea is that I will do this by blogging about them.

The problem is that now I have a bit of time to think about them, do you think I can remember what any of the things on my thought-agenda are!!??

i.e. No.

My brain is too full of all the Thai characters I have been learning to read and write this week, and of thinking about all the things I need to try and fit into the next week. I feel like I haven't given this blog much attention recently, other than visually...perhaps this is linked to the fact that I haven't been thinking about much lately.

So I have just added this to my (currently empty) thought agenda:

'What things can I think about?'

As I logged that on the thought agenda I realised something. The Bible gives me an instant answer if I want something to think about. It is this:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Philippians 4:8.

If my brain is a bit blank and needing something to chew over, what better place to start?

What is true? - The Bible, everything that it says about God and the world and the way to be saved from our mess and know God. Nothing is more true. (Psalm 119:160)

What is noble? - Jesus' substitutionary death in the place of sinners (i.e. every single person who ever lived/lives/will live, including ME) who have offended God with our rejection of Him and determination to live life our own way more than we will ever fully grasp. This death of the righteous in place of the unrighteous is the most noble act that was ever done. And the fact that I can have a relationship with God as a result of it is completely undeserved. Nothing is more noble. (Titus 3:3-7)

What is right? - Everything that God does or thinks. All his ways are just and right. Nothing is more right (Hosea 14:9)

What is pure? - God and God only. He is the only standard for perfection. Nothing is more pure. (1 Sam 6:19-21)

What is lovely? - The perfect love of God through Jesus Christ. Being in His presence. Nothing is more lovely. (Psalm 84:1)

What is admirable? - Jesus Christ. His wisdom, His knowledge, His divinity, His grace, His sinlessness, all His deeds, supremely His willingness to sacrifice Himself for us. Nothing is more admirable. (Luke 5:26)

What is excellent? - all of God's ways, His character, His revelation. The glorious message of the cross of Christ - the only hope for messed up people like us. Nothing is more excellent. (Titus 3:8)

What is praiseworthy? - Jesus Christ is God. He came into our world to die in the place of all those who have rebelled against God (that is, everyone!), He lived a sinless life and then died on a cross taking on Himself the anger that God rightly has against our sin and rebellion. As a result salvation and eternal life are available to all who trust that Jesus has done this for them and turn from their life of rebellion to new life with God through Jesus. Nothing is more praiseworthy. (Isaiah 25:1)

So I will think over these things. And in prayerfully doing so, I am sure that life will seem more interesting again. I trust that my perspective will be straightened out as I see how everything fits into the framework that God has created for the universe. My spiritual eyes will be opened again to the glorious truths that have been revealed to us in the Bible and how these are all I need. My spiritual appetite will be revived. My longings and affections will start to be directed back towards the one who is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and excellent.