Monday, 25 June 2018

Pause for thought...

"It is not right to learn only to do art as a tool, as a means to a narrowly conceived evangelistic end, because artistry in God's world has its own proper task of giving joy, its own peculiar ministry of healing, its own God-given gift of serving nuanced insight for one's neighbour". Calvin Seerfield - Redemptive artistry in contemporary culture.

I don't know how it was with with you, but I was raised on the escapism of the screen. My parents used to love Hollywood musicals, melodramas and epics, so that was the standard fare for weekends in my childhood. In my teens, after the joys of Gerry Anderson's TV21 universe, I discovered well considered Science Fiction - movies like Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still, and reveled in the better quality stories of Trek, the Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone. During my last three decades, my pleasure in movies and good shows has expanded across most genres, and I relish opportunities to consider or reflect on some of the best work done in this field.

Which brings me to the rising tide of new Christian movies.
Now, don't get me wrong - it's certainly not all bad news. Recent well-made studio productions such as 'Risen' are well worth a look, and private creations like the Documentary,  'Patterns of Evidence' are superb for looking at the veracity of the Biblical message, but there are a whole batch of movies, predominantly created by Pure Flix, which, whilst doing huge box office, are effectively only catering to an in-house market rather than being genuinely good and entertaining films for a wider audience.

I understand that the goal in such productions is to convey a message - the message - that the faith is true and needs to be heard, but if we seriously believe that, we have to convey this in such a way that it is palpable and convincing because the fiction being portrayed 'speaks' to the reality of life.
I'm not saying such films cannot be evangelical - most good movies are trying to say something, just that the poor quality of what's being produced seriously needs to be addressed if we want to offer work that is going to come across as worthwhile through this genre.

Here's a video that looks at this issue in detail.
If you have any thoughts on the subject, let me know.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Controversial Culture

"There was that amusing squall in a teapot recently about a Cranach Venus that London Transport refused to display on Underground platforms because the poster was deemed inappropriate". Paul Mc Cain.

So, it's finally happened.
The American Beauty Pageant, Miss America, has become the latest casualty to Political Correctness.

No more bikinis.
No more judging of contestants by their elegant physique.
No more deciding of who can enter on the basis of such 'secondary' matters as looks - that is prejudicial.

Adam's response to Eve in Eden is now politically incorrect.

The sumptuous descriptions of the beloved in the Song of Songs must remain appropriately muted, and Christians like messieurs Cranach and Bonnerotti depicting the nude, even in art, amounts to (to use the response of Roman Cardinals at the time) obscenity of the highest order.

The imposed puritanism of the Facebook generation, which demands "moral" externals (by keeping rules about not showing breasts or pubic regions) but, in practice, can become devices for all manner of terrorism and wickedness (the latest Hamas attacks were organized on Facebook) - is being imposed upon us, and we should reject it totally.

Creativity of the kind you are currently reading is about to be stifled by the EU's new Article 13 stipulation, which will make it illegal for blogs like this and sites like You Tube to reference or borrow for artistic purposes materials by others without paying huge fees, meaning that only large media corporations will be able to use such sources.

The "powers" of this world only wish to darken and cloud the true splendour and grace of what God freely bestows to express His goodness and nature, so that we can truly glimpse the majesty of the Godhead (Genesis 1:26).

To borrow from Michaelangelo, when his great work was being so crudely maligned by fools, we are not pagans - our world has been defined by Christ, by the Cross and the bodily resurrection of God's Son - and that is what should and must define our relationship to being made in God's image and likeness. It must inform our way of seeing ourselves, our art, and the world. To defame or demean what God has bestowed upon us is a dreadful folly, so whilst we may not personally find a particular form of social engagement and enrichment to our taste - beauty pageants for example - it speaks deeply concerning the ugliness of our times when such activities become the target of those who wish to sterilize and politicize such pleasures to creature a "purer" culture devoid both of God's natural gifts (aesthetics) but pushing a post-modernal 'rightness' that would have been entirely at home in various modern tyrannies.

The days we live in are becoming more and more polarized, and beauty, truth, viable recreational engagement with life, and other related essential good things, are the first casualties in this growing suppression of light in favor of a malignancy that is cruelly bland, mono-tonal and demeaningly dull in its goals.

If we can grasp the emptiness of the times, as Roger Scruton notes in his work on Beauty, it is because genuine art and truth point us to another way of understanding ourselves.

There is much more to say, but all of us need to take care that so-called "morality" does not become the device that kills us to all that God has made beautiful in its time that echoes the call of eternity He has placed within our hearts.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Daylight Robbery!

"He picked up the diamonds and bundles of fivers
He pushed them, well, down in his sack
But the alarm had been sounded, he was completely surrounded
But he had some more tricks up his sleeve"

Robbery, Assault and Battery - from Trick of the Tail by Genesis

"For they have gone the way of Cain, and have abandoned themselves for the gain of Balaam's error,
 and perished in the gainsaying of Korah"  Jude 11.

The dreadful story of Jim Jones and how he lead his followers to literally poison themselves because he told them to still chills us many decades after the event.
We wonder how someone can be so controlling, so charismatic, that he can literally lead people to do anything he tells them to do, even at the cost of their own lives.

We're no doubt thankful that such extreme cases are few and far between, but they highlight a truly deadly issue in regards to the danger of who has authority amongst us and what the consequences of choosing the wrong people to lead can be.

There's a telling moment when word about Jesus had begun to spread and the crowds had begun to gather to hear and see Him. The gospel tells us that He looked upon them with compassion for they were harassed and helpless... sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36) and the harvest in the land was indeed great but the workers few.

Today we face a similar sorrow, not because there aren't many 'proclaiming' something, but because these men and women are the false teachers and apostles that Jude declares will poison the church as deeply as the murder that happened in Jonestown.

Jude tells us that the first indicator of their evil is that they will be like Cain (see 1 John 3:11-16), killing those who they should love. The Scriptures are not speaking here of physical murder, but of hating others because we refrain from truly providing what they need , spiritually and physically. This is particularly done through denying the truth by teaching error and by hoarding wealth and riches whilst neglecting the needs of others.

Jude also shows the motivation of this is that of Balaam - the prophet who decided that notoriety and riches were far more important to obtain than service and obedience to God. The tragedy, of course, is that he ended being killed on a battlefield, unable to retain either.

Finally, and most dreadfully of all, these false ones are like Korah, who believed he could enter the holy place on his own merits and by his own actions, blind to the character and warnings of the most high. The ground swallowed him, his household and all who followed him, and the camp of Israel were terrified of the swiftness of God's judgement.

Jesus shows us just how serious this matter is. The Gospels record the moment when He was truly angry, cleaning out the sanctuary of those who had turned a place of prayer into a den of thieves, seeking to rob people in the very house of God.

We cannot escape the fact that many of the popular teachers of today are exactly these kind of people - murdering the church with teachings that are lies and making themselves rich on the gullibility of those who think they can become healthier, wealthier or at least spiritually blessed by supporting them. The entire enterprise is offering nothing more than snake oil beneath a dazzling hall of mirrors.

May God keep us sheltered beneath the very precious grace of the Gospel of Christ's life, death and resurrection alone saving us, boasting in nothing more. 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Breaking the perpetual lies

"At one point I - I wondered how high up this thing goes". 
Carl Bernstein - All the President's Men.

One of the highlights of this month was getting to see The Post. Based around true events that lead directly into the Watergate affair and the downfall of the Nixon presidency, the movie asks a telling question - what do we do when we find out that the world has been sold a lie?

Poison is always more palatable when it's offered in something deemed as 'good'.
In the case of Vietnam, the lie was that America would defeat communism.
In the case of National Socialism, Germans were told that they would live in a reign of triumph that would endure for a thousand years (a sham to hide the real agenda).

For all of us, the evil was injected when we believed the lie that we could be masters of our own destiny because we thought that would make us free. The devil has had a field day ever since.

Just think for a moment about the examples above.
Think about how, in our own country, there has been a conspiracy of silence regarding the victims of continual abuse for decades.

Social Darwinism bellows that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but that is the mesmerism, the conditioning, necessary to keep us slowly dying from the cancer we all house inside.

The Scriptures make it clear that our enemy - the power behind such evil - has a very clear program in regards to us: to steal, to kill and to destroy.

When a culture, a product, a religion, sets out to enslave us, to de-value our true purpose, then we need to recognize the agenda behind that, and expose it for a lie.

The same is equally true in the church.
When Martin Luther re-discovered the essential nature of the Gospel of Grace, he could not keep silent. Though his life would become entirely overshadowed by trail and hardship as a result, he knew that he had to speak, because the very life of men and women was at stake, and the darkness and ignorance of the age had to be broken.

It speaks volumes that this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that the most significant event in the history of the last 1500 years was not that heaven-sent moment in Wittenberg some 500 years ago when the teaching of the Apostles was loosed once more, but that what really counted was a treaty construed in Rome to establish the E U!

Instead of rejoicing in the message which sets men free, why should we extol a litany of lies 
? (Note, around the 11 minute mark onwards of this documentary, how the Heath administration knew the true purpose of the joining of the EEC was the creation of a federalist state, even as they lied to the country about this, and did it anyway!).
Why should church leaders seek to expunge the rightness of what Luther and the Reformers gave back to the church?

The venom that inspires and perpetuates such deceit runs deep
"let us burst His (God's) bonds asunder, and cast them away" cry the 'kings' (leaders)of the earth (Psalm 2:3), but such work only leaves us imprisoned in those delusions sold so easily to us by the murderer of all that is good.

To become those who are truly wealthy and wise, we must be those who listen to the truth that David expounds in Psalm 2.

Slavery is all we can know until the Son sets us free!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Conversing at the Kilns

"Reading is a conversation. All books talk, but the good ones listen as well".
Mark Haddon.

I guess we've all read people we would love to meet in person and share some time with. There's plenty of folks who would no doubt like to know how William Shakespeare or Michelangelo or Albert Einstein were so inspired, but there are some people who really seem to be very close because of what they have left us in their works.

On Sunday morning, I found myself sitting in a church pew waiting for the service to begin, so I opened C S Lewis' 'The Problem of Pain' and began to read the latter part of his first chapter on the subject of human pain. The book does a brilliant job of unpacking why we live in a universe marked by such suffering and what has brought this about, particularly in respect to ourselves.

The section I was reading was examining the nature of good and evil, and Jack (as he liked to be called) was seeking to show how what is genuinely good derives not from some arbitrary determination by a higher power, but because of the vital and defining nature of God Himself. The greatest good, therefore, we can know is when we willingly give ourselves to His counsel in regards to what directs us. In this, he notes, we begin to reverse the tragedy Adam has brought upon us, retracing, if only in a small way, the path back to the garden.

This raises the importance of our not merely thinking something is true, but acting upon this (Lewis refers to the example of Abraham being willing to offer up his son) - such obedience conveys to us, teaches us, to choose aright, however arduous it may be in the moment to do so. Our will, he notes, truly becomes free in such events, for it as we 'loose' ourselves in this fashion that we truly 'find' a nature and character that is far stronger than what we normally convey.

This is the manner of action - collaboration - that needs to mark and define us. It is, he notes, what quells that foul spell placed upon our first parents and what drives Christ in His continual journey to the cross.

Here, the chapter plunges into the depths of Gods astonishing work of redemption - the yielding of the Son as victim, broken and forsaken - before noting how God has writ large the vital necessity of this offering in nature and why religion so often seeks to faintly mimic the astonishing truth of Christ's death and resurrection. It is truly eternal in meaning and scope.

By now, the writer, as he always does, had me thinking deeply about the height and depth of this staggering drama that surrounds us, clothes us, and continually speaks to us.
I had but a few minutes before the Trinity Sunday service would begin, but I was eager to read more...

The shock of Christianity is made clear. It isn't about an abandonment of the material, as in other beliefs, but a correction of it - a placing it back on the road it was intended to take, and at the heart of that remedy is sacrifice.

Lewis had done it again.
As I read that line, I found my thoughts taken to that moment in the opening of history in the book of Revelation, where heaven must resolve the question of who is worthy to unfold what must be, and it first appears that there is none (Revelation 5: 1-4), but then, as John weeps, there comes amongst the eternal congregation the one who can do all that is required - "I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain"(verse 6).

At the very heart of the Godhead is a love and willingness so deep that it readily gives itself fully to another - Father to Son and Spirit, Son to Father and Spirit, and Spirit to Son and Father. This is the true nature, the true goodness of our Creator and Redeemer, and it is this we see so fully expressed in the nature and work of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who came to take the sins of the world. This is why there is a goodness found within the suffering and pain of those who look at what is behind the nature of our present realm.

What a thought to take me into the service... one which continued to work on me for the rest of the day. No wonder Paul encourages us to have such a mind within us (Philippians 2:5-11).

Some 'conversations' will stay with us.
I'm looking forward to another visit very soon.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Deepest Place

"To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with those who in every place call upon His name;
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ".  1 Corinthians 1:2 & 3.

Ever wondered what it would have been like to visit the church in Corinth around the time that Paul was writing this letter to them?

What would it have been like, listening to them, seeing what they were up to, considering the kind of thinking that was going on behind their behaviour to each other?

Well, from what Paul will address, I expect we wouldn't have been impressed at all by the kind of faith they were expressing. Strife, division, excess, sexual perversion and going spiritually awry were some of the things that were seen amongst them, and judging by Paul's later writings (2 Corinthians), they remained somewhat far from perfect.

It would be pretty easy to look at all of this and simply turn on our heels and find somewhere less troublesome... I hear the Ephesians are doing OK, and then there's the church in Phllippi...

There's something we should notice, however, in Paul's greeting. These people may have been in all kinds of moral trouble, but they were still counted amongst the saints, amongst the church - amongst those who had been sanctified by God, and thereby were recipients of grace and peace. The reason for this becomes clear in where Paul takes them to as he seeks to wade in to their issues - they had heard and received what truly counts from Paul himself. (2:1&2).

We often think God's greatness resides in some manner of teaching or 'sign' that will make such a mark upon the world that people won't be able to refute or ignore such a thing, but what had established this and every community of those who know the truth wasn't anything like that.

Paul came to them with the message about Jesus Christ being crucified to make us right with God - that's what they had come to trust, and that's why, in spite of all their errors, they were counted amongst the saints.

Paul, no doubt, felt great anguish about the mess they had placed themselves in. How could God's love be evidenced by their city when people could look and see no difference in these people... they were just as weak and as foolish as those around them.

How we seek to instruct and admonish ourselves must, Paul shows, follow through from the one foundation that can be laid, because towering over things in heaven and earth is the life and death of Jesus, and it's there alone, we can find aid and  build well as those of His body.

It's only when we look to our Saviour, dying for us, that we can begin to see ourselves as foolish and sinful in ourselves, recognize that aside from His sanctifying work, there is no mercy, no grace, no peace with God or one another. The way we are changed and transformed is not simply by our trying harder, but by God grafting us into the life, the death and the resurrection of His beloved Son. There our sins are paid for, there our life is clothed in Him, there, the work of God's spirit will begin a work of making us new creations, finished on the glorious day of resurrection.

Christianity isn't about the dead-ends we so easily and readily more ourselves and others into - a justifying of ourselves in our own folly - it's about the justifying that God alone does in Christ. That's our only comfort, our only hope, our only source of growth, or repentance, or renewal.

Let us, then, like those troubled Corinthians, draw close with all our failings, all our folly, and trust afresh in the foolishness of God, giving Himself at the cross.

Therein, now and forever, lies the power of God to save!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The 'badness' of "Good" religion

"But their minds were hardened, for to this day, when they read the law, the same veil remains in place,
for only Christ can take this away.
When we turn to the Lord, the veil is gone,
for where the Spirit of the Lord is at work,
there is freedom!" 2 Corinthians 3:14-17.

I've often wondered what would happen if people really began to understand God's true requirements of righteousness as they practiced their religion.

A basic requirement in most 'religious' * practice is some form of repentance - of genuine understanding of our predicament, because we recognize a point (level) of virtue and goodness that we don't achieve, so there is a need to honestly evaluate ourselves in the light of this, to seek to 'adjust' ourselves in the light of what isn't true of us, but what is true of genuine righteousness (i.e. the character of God).

Christ calls us to such repentance - to recognize our failure to be righteous - so it's a call we 'hear', even if we chose to, in practice, ignore it, because we know that we are indeed people who repeatedly fall short of what we know is good and true.
This call petitions us - to soberly realize who and what we are and to take action (turn to God for mercy) accordingly, hence "God expostulates with men on the basis of their own (inner) concepts of gratitude, fidelity, and fair play; and puts Himself, as it were at the bar before His own creatures (as they reflect on this)" (C S Lewis - Divine Goodness).

So, if we know we need to change, and we pursue "religion" (in everything from our ache for a healthy body to a plethora of new age spiritual gymnastics) because of that imperative, how is it that our devotion isn't driving us all into the safe haven of God's love and care given in His saving grace, but often leaving us in a cul-de-sac of contrived self worth and beguiling self assurance?

The answer is simple.
Once we encounter that tussle with truth we then avoid the ramifications, choosing instead to jury rig the standard by which we judge ourselves so we consider ourselves to be doing fine... and therein lies the poison of religion. Rather than leading us to true freedom, it becomes the means whereby we add more chains to our impoverished depravity.

Paul tells us in various places that the standard given in the Mosaic law wasn't provided so we could cosy up to this by thinking we were somehow making the grade - the law should be leaving us totally perplexed about where we're at, causing us to look for a remedy outside of our own shame (hence, when the law was given, so was a system which showed that true remedy to our troubles was only possible by sacrifice of life for sin, which brought about cleansing, forgiveness and atonement).
Religion devised by us places us in blinkers - we can no longer see our true misery and emptiness because we've chosen to, instead, contrive a measure and form of 'goodness' we think we are achieving.

It's very bad news.
It leaves us wearing the same shoes as those who sought to kill Jesus, because He constantly showed them they were lying to God and themselves - false religion hates to be put under that spotlight, and shows its true colours when it is.

Christianity calls us to a very different place. It shows us that true repentance is equally about understanding who we are - unable to meet the grade - and who God is - the one who shows us totally unmerited and unparalleled mercy and goodness in the sacrifice of His Son, laying down His life for us to make us truly free.
The goal here isn't to modify our behaviour so we can dutifully pray x number of times a day or loose a few bounds. It's to begin to make us the people that we were designed to be - who begin to engage with the full worth, weight, wonder and joy of what it really means to be a person made to know and love their Father and all of His creation; an unfolding of life that is so wide and deep and rich that it's going to take eternity itself to begin to truly taste and explore its splendour.
How unreligious is that!

If religion causes you to stop and ponder, soberly, where you are, then it is doing something good, but if it's just a ruse to keep you on your own sanctimonious treadmill of "I'm just fine", then it's a savor of death.

Take off the blindfold and step into the brilliance of God's love found only in the saving care of Jesus Christ.

* Jordan Peterson really shows here just how 'religious' people are!.