'For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord….'

Archive for cross

For your good, and His glory…

We are not unaware of the realities of human suffering.  In my particular experience right now, there seems to be an inordinate amount of it in the sphere in which I cover.

Without finding grace in the cross of Christ, we would be nowhere.

Here is an impacting, Christ-centered, God-honouring talk by Matt Chandler who is battling brain cancer.

His very real theology of suffering is essential for the shaping of our own response in the face of suffering.  We are eternally secure in Jesus…..


Shame reduction…

I listened to a very interesting (poor choice of word….) radio discussion the other week about a chap (formerly 32 stone in weight, now down to 25 stone) who had opted for radical stomach surgery in an effort to combat obesity.

Along with his weight reduction (physical) he was also having to deal with shame (emotional).  How to reduce it, that is.  He couldn’t completely remove it himself, so ‘reduction’ was worth a try.

In our Western world we don’t ‘do’ shame…….. not like the African or Asian cultures.  Why?  Arrogance?  Issues of shame remain untouched by our modern cover-up jobs.  In our pride we call it ‘low self-esteem’.

The bible is huge on this issue, right from the start…….. ‘They were naked and without shame…’   A few verses later they are ‘covered’ with shame.

Low self-esteem is the modern language for it, because our culture cannot stomach (no pun intended) the word and its appalling connotations.

Someone once said that ‘the Gospel is like a medicine cabinet for every ill’ (flawed, like every analogy) and that must include shame.  We will all ask at one time or another, ‘What do I do with my shame?’   It’s a big question.  Being exposed, shown to be unclean (outcast, rejected etc.) is our fear.  The gospel not only forgives, it cleanses.

Weakness is also the bible language for shame.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 ‘I boast in my weaknesses’ (no human would do that naturally), because he knew that Jesus (at the cross) exchanged it for strength.  Quite an exchange!

When you see the bible theme of shame more vividly, it will deepen your appreciation of the gospel.  Our culture is great at spotting it, calling it low self-esteem and attempting to ‘reduce’ it, but removing it?  Clueless.

In his first bible letter, Peter writes to those suffering Christians (the dregs of society, outcasts).  He reminds them that depsite their position, everything gets righted at the cross of Christ, the most shameful moment in human history.  He then goes on to remind them who they now are.  ‘A chosen people, royal priesthood….received mercy’.

Allow the gospel (Jesus taking our shame) to not just reduce but wipe away all shame. Only Jesus can do that.

Three trees at Christmas…

Tis the season to be jolly!  That’s the mood being pressed upon us by the culture at this time of year, and I guess you can look at it in a number of ways.  From a secular standpoint it’s any old excuse for a jolly (alcohol-induced, mind-numbing, drown-your-sorrows-away kinda jolly), especially in depressed economic conditions where finances are not only tight, but uncertain.  This type of ‘jolly’ is characterised by denial and hopelessness.  Charming!

Or there’s the ‘three trees’ perspective:

Tree Number One – In the perfection of Eden there was a tree (of knowledge of good & evil).  ‘Enjoy everything else but don’t touch this tree’ was God’s command.  But Eve was deceived, and ate. There stood Adam, passively watching, abdicating all responsibility, and eventually also partaking.  This tree produced death.

Tree of Knowledge

Tree Number Two – Then there was a tree which, upon face value, looked like death again.  But the life of the God-man who was nailed to this tree was perfect (unlike the first Adam) and pleasing to God.  His death on a tree of His own substituted for ours.  It’s death we deserve, but He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin, to be sin for us that in Him (Jesus), we might become the righteousness of God.  An amazing tree!

Jesus' tree

Tree Number Three – It’s the one in my living room.  Isn’t it weird that we should bring a tree into the house!  Apparently there is some argument about whether it was 16th Century Scandanavian pagans or Christians who first adorned their trees and brought them into their homes.  But I’m not worried about the origins of the tradition (pagan or otherwise), because for me the gifts around the tree always remind me of tree number two where the ultimate gift was given.  Jesus’ gift of life.

Christmas tree

So, is it the season to be jolly?  It certainly is……delighted for the gift of Jesus.


On a recent day off, Ali and I decided to go and see Ricky Gervais’ latest cinematic offering, ‘The Invention of Lying’.  Oh dear.  I cant lie to you……..whilst it had it’s moments (amusing & poignant), it was generally low quality viewing.

For fans of Gervais’ wry humour (famously the Office & Extras), it certainly had the cleverness of wit and observational comedy throughout, but the plot line was pretty weak.  As one critic puts it, ‘the film deserves high marks for cleverness, but low ones for humanity and warmth’.  And that is about right.

But more interestingly for me, as a Christian I was challenged on all sorts of levels.  Some of the content was unnecessarily crass (as is quite a lot of Gervais’ humour!), and this guts me because he doesnt need to be.

A few years ago, the standup comedian Frank Skinner decided to do all his shows without one blasphemas utterance or profanity, and was acclaimed for it!  I dont want to come across as a freakish ascetic but some of it is really not necessary.  I’m often stunned at the certificates awarded by the BBFC, and for this to be a 12A did surprise me a bit (or did it?  Uh oh, I’m sounding old!).

But the moments of offence were counteracted by some observationally funny ones, and I found myself laughing out loud in the darkened room (cinema).  However, the power of the film (of what there is of it) comes from staring plain in the face the desperation and futility of the human condition without God.  But of course, I’m observing it from my gospel world-view, seeing how Jesus and the cross are the remedy for all these failings.

The premise of the film is this.  Nobody tells lies – everyone must tell the truth.  One day, Mark (the Gervais character), tells a lie and finds that he is believed without question!  It becomes an incredible power which he uses to his personal gain.

But things come to a head when he visits his mother on her deathbed and, in an attempt to console her fears of passing on into a void of eternal nothingness, he tells her of the beautiful afterlife awaiting her that he claims to have been told of by an otherworldly presence that he refers to as ‘the Man in the Sky’.  However, word of his story gets out and suddenly the entire world is eagerly lapping up his every utterance, even the seemingly contradictory ones, about the afterlife, morality and why the person responsible for such much happiness in the next world can also be responsible for so much misery in this one.

Mark (Ricky) lies to his dying mum

Mark (Ricky) lies to his dying mum

Most folks understanding of Christianity in our culture, is a misunderstanding.   And Gervais’ understanding of gospel truth is certainly that.  He has a terrific grasp of worthless religion though, and his swipe at it (having initially made my blood boil) is spot on.  What a terrible existence it must be, to feel you must earn points with creator God and be tossed into hell for not performing to the standards of ‘the Man in the Sky’ (as He is dubbed in the film).

Funny that.  A film about lying, and there is Gervais perpetuating the big lie that we must earn favour with God to have any hope of ‘a mansion in heaven’.

I discovered that Gervais studied philosophy as a younger man, and is a fierce atheist.  He is actually an Honorary Associate of the Secular Society.  He self-confesses his atheism in a ‘5 mins with…’ interview which you can watch here, and of course it’s his blatant swipe at religion that makes this film interesting if you hold a gospel world-view.

My conclusion?  Possibly worth seeing on DVD, but dont rush to rent it.  But thanks are due…….

Thanks God that I’m free from the chains of religion.  Thanks Ricky for reminding me.  Thanks Jesus for pleasing ‘the Man in the Sky’ for me….