Though I have not been to the cinema in ages – think Slumdog Millionaire – the other night I went to see ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ with some good friends. Although as a Romanian I had never come across Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic, Jamie mentioned it to me a few months back and the trailer looked intriguing.

I was very curious. The combination of novelist Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius) and director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) was a pretty intriguing one if a little bent towards eccentricity. Add to that the fact that most readers of the slim book thought of it impossible to adapt as a film…

Obviously I will not spoil the plot for those who want to see it. Just a few remarks:

  • It is a quite clever analysis (almost Freudian) of the multiple co-existing facets of our personalities – so it will stimulate your mind
  • It is visually stunning presenting a magical yet believable fantasy – so it will please you aesthetically – think Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam
  • It is not a children’s film – I found it quite disturbing
  • It does not explain ‘by numbers’ and does not offer any lessons in a patronising way

For a taster watch this on the Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2009/dec/11/where-the-wild-things-are


In the Peanuts comic strip, one of the little girls says that Christmas is a time for kindness and joy, and a time when we forgive one another. Charlie Brown responds by saying, “Why just at Christmas? Why can’t we be kind and forgiving all through the year?” She looks at Charlie Brown and says, “What are you, some kind of religious fanatic?”


“The heart of most religions is good advice, good techniques, good programs, good ideas, and good support systems. These drive us deeper into ourselves, to find our inner light, inner goodness, inner voice, or inner resources.

Nothing new can be found inside of us. There is no inner rescuer deep in my soul; I just hear echoes of my own voice telling me all sorts of crazy things to numb my sense of fear, anxiety, and boredom, the origins of which I cannot truly identify.

But the heart of Christianity is Good News. It comes not as a task for us to fulfill, a mission for us to accomplish, a game plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us.”

—Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books, 2009), 20

This is a particularly good quote in the light of the modern proliferation of ‘self-improvement’ messages in the most successful evangelical church in the US, who would present messages along the lines of  ‘Discover the Champion in you.’  More of Jesus and Paul please and less Oprah.



Here is my way of helping my male species – the single guys in particular. I got this in a newsletter from a secular bunch ‘Art of Manliness’. I don’t subscribe to all the suggestions but plenty of food for thought there:

Now you must take on that ever-intimidating first date.  While a first date can be a road fraught with obstacles and snafus, when you have the proper guide, you can make it go off without a hitch. To help you not only get through your first date with a woman, but also enjoy it, we provide the following road map.


Plan. Women are suckers for a man with a plan because it shows you have initiative, can think ahead, and aren’t shy about taking the lead. Don’t punt and ask her what she wants to do. Be a man! You’re the one doing the asking, so it’s your duty to come up with something that she’ll enjoy. When a woman is with a man that has a plan, they feel they can relax and really enjoy themselves.

Clean the car. If you’re picking her up in your car, give it a nice cleaning before the date. First impressions matter big time on the first date, and women will check you like a drill sergeant at bunk inspection. Many women will use the cleanliness of your car to gauge how you carry yourself in the rest of your life. If you have empty 32 oz Big Gulp cups, old clothes strewn out in the back, and food crumbs everywhere, your date will assume your house is even messier and that you’re generally a slob during the rest of the week. Not a good first impression.

Also, you might not notice, but your car probably smells. Leaving sweaty gym bags or Saturday morning’s fish catch in a car causes odor to build up in the upholstery. Spare your date the olfactory torture by airing out your car and spraying it down with Febreeze.

Just give the car a quick wash, vacuum it out, and wipe down the vinyl. It will probably take an hour or so, but you’ll be left with a car that will impress your date, even if it’s a 89′ Honda Civic.

Get some cash. Stop by the ATM and pick up some cash. It’s good for greasing palms during the evening, but you’ll also need it to pay for parking and other incidentals.

Dress up to show respect. Dressing up not only leaves a good first impression, it’s just plain respectful. It shows your date you thought enough about them to put your best foot forward. When you show up in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, it’s like telling your date, “Eh… I had nothing better do so I just came over in what I was wearing.” Even if you’ve planned a casual date, put on something dressy casual. No need to bust out a tie. Go for something like a pair of jeans, a button down shirt, a corduroy blazer and a nice pair of boots (shined, of course).

Call her and tell her exactly what you’re going to do on the date. While you might not think about getting ready for your date until a few hours before you pick her up, a lady likes to plan ahead and think about what she’ll wear and how she’ll do her nails.

Show your date that you have some gentlemanly forethought by calling a few days in advance and telling her exactly what you plan on doing with her. This will help her decide how she should dress and make herself up. Women really dislike being dressed inappropriately for the occasion.

Moreover, by knowing what you two will be doing together, your date will feel more comfortable and relaxed which results in her having a good time. Wait for the surprises after you get to know each other better.

The Pickup

Be on time. As my grandpa says, “A gentleman never keeps a lady waiting.” Arriving late shows disrespect and only creates unneeded anxiety in a woman. If you’re running late because of unforeseen circumstances, call your date and let her know your estimated time of arrival.

Also, don’t show up too early. In my experience, women will use every available minute they have to get ready. Don’t piss your date off by showing up 15 minutes early while she’s still in her bathrobe. You’ll only embarrass her because you caught her without her best face on and now she’ll feel pressured to rush getting ready because you’re sitting on the couch. Trust me. That’s not a good way to start off the date.

Come to the door. Only a jackass would honk.

Immediately compliment the way she looks. Most women spend a lot of time and dough prepping for a first date. Let her know that you appreciate it by complimenting her. Don’t hesitate to do it, either. It should be the first thing you do when you walk into the house. Suggested compliments: “You look stunning!” or “That dress looks marvelous on you.”

Open the car door for her. Show your date some old-fashioned chivalry by opening the car door for her. Offer her your hand for support as she slides into the car. Ensure all arms and hemlines are safely inside the car before you shut the door.

The Drive

Instead of music, try talking. Remember: first dates are for getting to know a woman. There’s no better way to do get to know someone than by talking with them. The radio can act as a crutch to avoid awkward moments of silence. If you have music on, both you and your date will probably do more listening than talking. Force yourself to converse with your date by leaving the music off.

If you play music, play it softly and keep the list classy. AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” or Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” are not appropriate. Stick with some classic jazz or crooners like Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darrin. The music is pleasant, warm, and doesn’t distract from conversation. Remember to keep the volume down so you can hear each other talk.

Oh, and don’t play NPR either. Sure, it will make you look “smart” and “enlightened,” but talk radio will kill the conversation between you two. Make a date with Terry Gross when you’re alone in the car and stuck in traffic.

If you’re taking a cab… you should open the door for her, give the cabbie the directions, and pay.

The Date

No movies. We said before and we’ll say it again: the point of a first date is to get to know the person. You can’t do this while you’re both staring at a movie screen.

Keep it simple. You’re not proposing to her, so there’s no need to go overboard on the first date. Keep the first date light, fun, and romantic. You can’t go wrong with dinner and an evening at an art museum. Both activities allow you ample opportunities to talk and get to know each other.

You Pay. No questions. If she offers, just smile, say, “It’s my pleasure,” and hand the waiter your card.

The Door

Walk her to the door. You want to see that she gets safely into her place, and it’s just plain chivalrous. As you walk to the door, offer her your arm. It’s a non-threatening way to initiate body contact without seeming like a perve.

Make your move? There’s no hard or fast rule on whether you should kiss on the first date. Just remember that women put a lot of meaning into a kiss, so don’t go for it if you don’t plan on pursuing a relationship. You just risk confusing and hurting your date.

But if you feel like a kiss is in order, go for it. She might give you her cheek, but that’s alright. Just roll with it and play it like it twern’t nothing. There’s always next time.

You can never go wrong with a hug. Unless it’s a side hug.

Don’t go into her house. First, don’t ask if you can come in. It’s just sleazy.

If she asks, decline. Why? It shows you’re a gentleman, and she’ll respect you even more. More importantly, it’s anticipation that creates romantic sparks (this is why chicks are nuts about those Twilight books). Leave her wanting more.


Call her the next day. We’ve all probably heard those dumb rules about waiting a day and then a day before calling a woman you took out on a first date. Forget them. Just call the next day. Thank her for a lovely evening and if things clicked for you two, ask for a second date.

If she’s not there, leave a message thanking her and ask her to call back. If she doesn’t call back within 48 hours, give another call. If she still doesn’t call back, learn to take a hint and pursue other options.

And absolutely under no circumstances does a man text, Facebook or Twitter their date to follow up with them. Be a man, pick up the phone, and give her a call.


Dr .Martyn Lloyd Jones who served at Westminster Chapel is classed as the best Biblical communicator of the last century in the British Isles. He still remains a benchmark for all those of us who are developing as preachers of the Scriptures.

Recently, through a couple of people, the subject of the ‘doctor’ (as he was affectionately known) came up at several meetings at Capitol Hil Baptist Church where Mark Dever pastors. They had both theologian Jim Packer and Lady Elizabeth Catherwood, Jones’ daughter. Talking about the impression he had after hearing Jones preach, Packer said that he had “never heard such preaching.” It came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man” he had known.

Someone brought up this quote to Dr. Packer and asked him what set Dr. Lloyd-Jones apart from other preachers (understanding that ultimately the force behind his preaching was not Dr. Lloyd-Jones, but the Lord’s good pleasure to bless Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry). Dr. Packer said that he had thought about this question himself and had boiled his thoughts down to three main things that permeated all of Lloyd Jones’ life and teaching. When Lady Elizabeth, was asked a similar question during a similar informal Q&A in Mark’s study, she repeated many of the same themes Dr. Packer had noted. Those themes were:

  • The man deeply felt his conversion. Dr. Lloyd-Jones never got over the Lord’s mercy to him in saving him and this was clear in his preaching.
  • The underlining issue behind his preaching was the glory of God. Behind all of his preaching the main point and main issue was always that God be glorified and exalted. He never treated the Lord casually.
  • He had the presence of a man who dwelt with the Lord in prayer. When he preached, he sincerely preached as a man that had consistently lingered truly humbly before the Lord and had dwelt on the Truth of God in Scripture. He brought those meditations and that posture to the people.

What a great example to us. So counter-cultural. So many of today’s Christian communicators want to be liked, spend a lot of time networking and placing themselves higher in the public eye and preach self improvement rather than  grace. The temptation is there for me every time I stand up, just round the corner.


I must admit that prayer is one of the (many) subjects that I feel terribly unqualified to write about. And this is the danger with even writing an article or doing a talk on the subject – people tend to assume that you are an ‘expert’. You know the type – the kind of Christian that can wake-up at some criminally early hour of the morning and pray regularly every day for 2 hours… I am actually envious…and wish I would be like that.

Instead I struggle to concentrate and my mind tends to drift to thinking about either what is next on the ‘agenda’ or what should I have for tea. I need to work hard at being disciplined and keep my prayer routines. When I write routine, I see that as a means of grace, rather than a legalistic meaningles habit.

But very often, that makes me feel inadequate, guilty and even artificial. Yet strangely I long to pray more, I love it when I do and I believe with all my heart that prayer is a fantastic privilege and potential – truly essential if you want to grow closer to Jesus and become more effective as a Christian.

Rather than write about the general practicalities of prayer – which I am sure you might know a fair bit about – I decided to give you some of my personal findings on prayer, what works for me… little gems here and there. So here they are – and I hope that they will be an encouragement and a challenge to you as well:

  • Be serious about this (Matthew 6:5) – it isn’t optional, added extra stuff. Prayer is the ‘air’ that the Christian needs to survive spiritually – there is no shortcut. No tape/ book/ CD/ website/ experience can be a substitute for praying. It might sound like a churchy cliché, but it is so true – without prayer you cannot survive as a believer. If Jesus prayed – so should you!
  • Be disciplined (Ephesians 6:18). It always helps to determine to pray, even if you don’t feel like it – prayer is about discipline (not a fave word, eh?) and without it we will never make progress. One of the dangerous myths around is that you should pray when you feel like it. Silly thing to say/do – because there would be plenty of things to distract you and make you feel like doing a 1000 other things rather than pray… As the chaps at Nike say: ‘Just do it’.
  • Be original – don’t necessarily think that what works for others will work for you as well. Prayer and personality are very much linked. You must find a time and a place that is suitable for you. Use your own words and be genuine. If you run out of ideas – improvise! Don’t be afraid to look at examples in church history of how Christians prayed in the past (i.e. hymns, written prayers, liturgy). If you need use visual stuff, music and do not be afraid to get out and about.
  • Be a warrior – prayer is and will continue to be a spiritual battle. Your ‘flesh’ will keep resisting it because of your pride. You like being in control and prayer will short-circuit your control issues. If you expect prayer to be easy wou will be surprised, issapointed and ultimately deflated every time you fail.

Anyway… I’ll better stop here.  Last thing – a well guarded secret. Most Christians struggle with prayer – whatever the appearances might say. So you are not alone if you do too. Therefore you will never stop learning new things about prayer. So whatever you do – just pray! And you will experience unspeakably marvellous things that God will do in and through you (Matthew 7:7-11; Philippians 4:6-7)!


Sutton Coldfield dad named Aston Villa’s most obsessed fan

Dec 7 2009 by Vicky Farncombe, Sunday Mercury

POOR Joanne Goodwin is the Midland’s most long-suffering football widow.

Because husband Mark is such a committed Aston Villa fan that he has only missed one game, home and away, in THIRTY YEARS.

Weddings, deaths and family holidays – nothing stands in the way of his love for the boys in claret and blue.

The 49-year-old even left his best friend’s nuptials half-way through the ceremony so as not to miss a match.

Dad-of-two Mark, from Sutton Coldfield, said: “My mother-in-law died last year and Villa were playing the next day. I thought I’d have to miss the game but the wife let me go. She’s very understanding.

‘‘I’ve missed countless birthdays, Valentine Days and weddings over the years – but she’s used to it.”

On two occasions family holidays have also been cut short by unexpected football fixtures.

Last August self-employed design engineer Mark whisked away Joanne and their children Glen, 18, and 14-year-old Hannah for a holiday to Portugal.

But when he found out Villa’s UEFA Cup clash with Icelandic team FH Hafnarfjardar had been brought forward to coincide with the end of the trip, he rushed to an internet cafe to book his flights.

“I was back in Brum by 9pm,” said Mark. “I went home to bed and was picked up at 6.30am the next day to get my flight to Iceland.

“I dreaded telling Joanne but she was alright about it. I do buy her flowers every now and then!”

Such commitment does come at a price though, as Mark reckons he spends at least £5,000-a-year following his beloved team. His blue Lexus also bears the number plate Villa MG, his study is painted claret with a blue carpet and he has collected every match programme since Villa won the league in 1981.

It all started in 1971 when his dad David, who was born in Aston, took him to his first game – Villa v Swansea, a Third Division clash.

“I was seven and couldn’t believe how big the Holte End was,” recalled Mark. ‘‘I thought it was amazing and then Villa won 3-0. That was it, I was hooked.”

By the time he was 18, Mark had his first season ticket and was going to every home and away game.

The one black spot on his impeccable attendance record is Villa’s 1990 UEFA Cup tie with Banik Ostrava. “I’d just been to see England in the World Cup and I was skint,” he said.

Civil servant wife Joanne, 49, met Mark at a party in Birmingham in 1984 and came to terms with his soccer obsession years ago.

“It’s quite annoying having to arrange everything round the fixtures but I’m easy going and used to it now,” she said.

‘‘Mark was like it when I met him, so it doesn’t bother me now.

“If he’s mad enough to do it then fine, and as long as the kids and I don’t go without I’m happy.’’

Mark’s dedication came to light after he was among 1,000 fans polled by MBNA, the largest provider of football credit cards, to reveal the lengths people go to for their team.

It also found:

* The average fan in the Midlands lives 77 miles from their soccer club;

* One in three supporters have missed a significant family occasion to attend a match – with two per cent skipping the birth of their child;

* Eight per cent of Midland fans name their pets after their team or star players;

* And Midlanders are the most likely to have a tattoo honouring their club.

I have been disturbed a few months ago when watching a Sky Sports ad at the beginning of the season showing the fanatical nature of the ‘footie’ fans over here. You hear of people travelling miles on end and spending an absolute fortune on their favourite team.

But reading this article – without being judgemental on the bloke, he is a villain after all – it made me wonder:

  • What is the legacy I am leaving behind?
  • Do I live with utter passion for something?
  • Is my investment something that has eternal value?

What if God was One of Us

So very often in life we find ourselves in a situation when expressions like  ‘I know what you mean…’ or ‘I understand …’ are part of the conversation. We are either the recipients or the deliverers of such words. And more often than not they are not true when we use them.

The truth is that we are faced with difficult issues that someone had shared with us and we are simply lost for words. Not wanting to lose face we just ‘grab and dish’ a polite remark like that. If we hear these expressions and the one who uses the is close enough we retaliate back: ‘…no, you don’t’.

Joan Osbourne (who I have borrowed my pots title from) wrote a peculiar, intriguing and possibly offensive song: asking that very question: ‘what if God was one of us?’

I think the Christmas story introduces us to a God who truly does understand. One of His titles was Emmanuel – God with us.

Jesus – the son of God – was born as human being – one of us

Jesus grew up in an ordinary Jewish home – one of us

Jesus was misunderstood, even by those close to Him – one of us

Jesus was betrayed by some of his best friends – one of us.

… And the list could go on.

The Christmas story, punctuated by the ordinary details, reminds us that God came as our Immanuel to demonstrate His saving love for us – for me , for you… He understands… He is the One, you can never turn around to and frustrated say: ‘You just don’t know what it’s like….’

As Hebrews 4:15 puts it: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

No Spectators Here…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

This is an amazingly inspirational quote by Teddy Roosevelt. It speaks volumes about the importance of getting involved. Too many are happy just to sit on the sidelines. They have an opinion, and plenty of critical remarks. at times, they almost wait for the crash and burn to happen, like spectators in a Roman coliseum of old.

I always admired activists – people who were willing to risk even their own life for the cause that they believed in. It adds much weight to their belief. It shows it is much more than a philosophy. It is a life or death matter.

At this time of the year, the Christmas season communicates just that; the Son of God became the Saviour – our Saviour. He was born in a manger, among surprising circumstances and characters. He started in Bethlehem’s manger a revolution that He brought to completion at Calvary. Yes – the ultimate revolutionary – He never stayed afar, uninvolved and distant. His name is Immanuel – God with us.

As John beautifully captures it in the first chapter of his gospel: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’