photo-1431051047106-f1e17d81042f-spiderweb

Confessions – Cheryl

23 July v10


I have always been selfish, proud and self-reliant. Even worse, my heart is deceitful, constantly trying to disguise my sin, or deflect the blame. I usually succeed in deceiving others, and always myself. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

I worked hard to maintain my deception. I had the praise of others. I took the moral high ground. I was a straight A student. “I’m a Christian, from a Christian family, I’ve even been baptised. Don’t tell me what to do.”


Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

During this time, God placed me in churches where I began to hear the gospel. Though it didn’t inspire repentance, I became familiar with verses such as Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Quite a few years later, I dropped out of my law degree, then failed my Masters in Speech language therapy. This was because my uni lecturers wanted me to get diagnosed for, as it turns out, anxiety and Aspergers, among other things. Around the same time, I was trying to hide a trail of relational breakdowns in my personal life. I was increasingly disobedient to my parents. The divisions already tense in my family were made worse by my callous disregard of anyone else’s feelings. Once I scribbled hatred with a ballpoint pen over my parents’ painted walls. I also had an ongoing internet gaming addiction. I went to great pains both to feed it and to hide my tracks. At one point, I was clocking 16 hour gaming days behind my parents’ backs.


My academic failures upturned my delusions of self-sufficiency. I had gone from a straight A student to a law school and Masters dropout. Also, because the diagnoses were now out there for anyone to see, I could no longer use deceit to hide my various other sins.

In truth, the psychiatric world could only label behaviours it thought were dysfunctional. I realised those were just the tip of the iceberg. For the first time I saw that it was my sin that often caused the unresolved arguments, unspoken resentments, the sun gone down in anger so many times. Everywhere I looked was sin upon sin, a mess of devastated relationships I could not untangle.


Even now, I still marvel at the elegance of God’s grace. He fed me His Word over the years so I would know the gospel. He showed me the extent and horror of my sin. He arranged my life so that I could not conceal my sin; I had to confess it. My only hope was to trust in Christ’s righteousness, death and resurrection.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


So why am I here today? Haven’t I already been baptised? As an 18 year-old feigning holiness, I got into that pool and I got wet all right. But I was dead in my sin, there was no repentance, and my heart was hard to Jesus. I was not a believer.

So today, I am not getting re-baptised. I am being baptised for the first time, as a forgiven sinner, in submission to Jesus, a new creation in Christ.

12492046_10153433360151379_2284970740459113324_o

Caterpillars

Beneath a grey, complaining sun,
we wandered, I and you,
disconsolate and dubious,
to where the milkweed grew.

But there were monarch caterpillars
nestled in the ‘weed,
and puffy green ballooning fruit
that scatters swan plant seed.

We glimpsed a tiny second-instar
feasting on a leaf;
The big ones wore their velvet stripes
in black and gold relief.

Behold! He clothes the tree and worm:
are we not God’s delight?
O anxious heart, seek first His realm,
and He will prove His might.

– C. 17 June

Film Review: Risen

risen_poster

I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Christian” or faith-based movies. Perhaps it’s the need for mass-market appeal, or the pressures of getting a box office success. But not only are most faith-based movies not that good artistically, they’re often theologically suspect. The Prince of Egypt calls the viewer to a vacuous “there can be miracles if you believe” (in what? yourself?). The Passion of the Christ’s main inspiration is from a Catholic mystic’s fanciful dreams and meditations. Then there are the flat-out untrue depictions of biblical stories and characters on the big screen – Russell Crowe as Noah the eco-terrorist, Christian Bale as Moses the schizophrenic barbarian, and the myriad of actors as shampoo-commercial Jesus. While the power of film make these portrayals emotionally compelling, I find it hard to get excited about them.

Risen – directed by Kevin Reynolds has just been released in time for Easter. It’s a novel premise – Roman soldier Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is a battle-hardened veteran fighting to keep the peace in Roman-occupied Judea. He witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, but three days later is tasked  by Pilate with job of detective: finding out why Jesus’s body is missing from the tomb. It’s cleverly written in that this skeptical Roman soldier is woven into many familiar Biblical narratives of Jesus’s death and post-resurrection appearances, and meets many of the same characters in these eyewitness accounts (e.g. the centurion, Barabbas, the Romans guarding the tomb, Pilate, Jesus’s disciples, and eventually Jesus himself) Spoiler alert: Jesus is alive!

After watching it yesterday morning with low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. In summary, while it’s not for everyone, it’s a pretty good film and a great conversation starter for both Christians and skeptics alike.

There are already some thoughtful reviews from Christians (here and here), but here are some of my own specific observations.

  • For a $20 million budget, Risen came across as well-produced, with a high-calibre cast and crew. The Roman characters in particular were well cast and portrayed convincingly. There’s a good battle scene, and some nice special effects, and moments of breath-taking cinematography. It didn’t look and feel like a cheesy Christian movie, except at a few points (usually when Jesus and the disciples showed up).
  • It wasn’t too long – I thought it was going to be 147 minutes but it was only 107 minutes. Great.
  • The script had some great questions (all posed by the skeptical Romans). Clavius is the character you identify with the most. He asks the questions that we would ask ourselves about the resurrection story (is it true? how do you reconcile the facts? what does it mean?). He expresses hopes and dreams that all of us harbour. And he has my favourite line of the film: “What is it you seek Clavius?” “Peace. Certainty. A day without death.” All hopes that we have, whatever our backgrounds. And all hopes that the Christian gospel gives a satisfying answer to.
  • The plot weaves in all the different possibilities and explanations that were given for the tomb being empty (e.g. disciples stole the body), and how Clavius investigates each one and finds them to not to be true. These are great conversation starters.

Some cringe moments or things to be cautious of:

  • The portrayal of the disciples was pretty mediocre. You’d think after having the Scriptures opened up to them they’d have understood that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’s] name to all nations…” (Luke 24:36-47) But they don’t mention any of that. Instead, there’s vague talk about becoming more loving and peaceful. The movie depicts one of the disciples in particular as becoming changed, yes – but changed into a crazy, Ned Flanders-type Christian, just a little bit too unhinged to be convincing. And for someone who was the first to see the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene just seemed to be away with the fairies.
  • Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is in the movie. He even seemed like petulant Draco. I guess you can’t leave some characters behind.
  • It was a bit weird seeing Jesus portrayed by Cliff Curtis from Once Were Warriors (and now the first Nuzilund Jesus it seems). This would also an issue if you believe the portrayal goes against the 2nd commandment (not to make a graven image of God).
  • The crucifixion scene is portrayed in the first 15 minutes, and it’s gruesome (though thankfully it’s not as gratuitous as the Passion of the Christ)
  • There’s a bit of war violence and scenes with dead bodies being dug up (no zombies though)

I think Risen is good enough to watch, whether with Christians or non-Christians. It’s a great starting point for a further conversation or exploration of the historicity of the biblical accounts, but also the spiritual significance of these events. Perhaps after the movie, you’d want to affirm people’s deep desires, and wrestle with the evidence that Jesus did rise. But ultimately, this movie (or any movie) can’t do the job of answering the question of why the resurrection matters. For that, you’d need to do what Jesus did:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27

Risen is a film that poses great questions about the historicity and significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection – timely as we approach public holidays in his honour. But only the good news of Jesus, explained in the Bible, can provide the best answers to these questions, and satisfy our longings for peace, certainty, and a day without death.

If music be the food of love…

2016-03-02 18.50.58

Last week, thanks to some generous people babysitting our girls, Cheryl and I enjoyed a night out at the Pop-Up Globe in Auckland. It was a pretty unique experience watching William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in a to-scale replica of the Globe Theatre, the space where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed in. The circular theatre was great, everyone had a good view, the witty and talented cast had us roaring with laughter. We didn’t care much for the lewdness that came along with the drunken scenes (played up to the crowd’s delight); it was also telling that the only “religious” character was portrayed as the most villainous and mocked mercilessly.

I wasn’t a big Shakespeare buff as school, so had never read Twelfth Night before. But the story was fairly easy to pick up. Orsino is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with Viola (dressed as a boy), who falls in love with her boss, Orsino. Other people have love interests too. Comedy ensues.

While much of the Elizabethan English slipped past, hearing the words spoken live made it much easier to understand than reading scenes in English class. One thing was clear: Twelfth Ngiht was an exploration of romantic love. This was clear from the very first line: “If music be the food of love, play on!” And as the play progressed, love was described in various ways – as pain, as an “appetite” to satisfy, as “fell and cruel hounds”, as a “plague”, as unfulfilled.

2016-03-02 19.03.45

Later that week, while preparing a sermon on Jesus’s claim to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-21), I found it quite striking to note how differently God describes love and suffering.

Consider this: where the good Bard preaches love as a cause of suffering, the Good Shepherd preaches suffering for the cause of love.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….” (John 10:11)

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…” (John 15:13)

And elsewhere in John’s letters:

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

God’s word reminds us of how the gospel truly is the greatest love story.

In the drama of the cross, you have the most compelling portrayal of love: a God of grace who loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) through the sacrifice of His Beloved Son. A Good Shepherd, whose “abandoned life secured our abundant life”.

Or, in the Bard’s own words: “Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better.”

e2c62ce5-e493-4ac0-b1d3-b7f1dc85cb19

Prone to wander: balance, family and priorities

As I look back at our calendar over the past 12 months, it’s easy to be puffed up.

We are the perfect family where I write interesting things, preach, lead worship, study, read, go cycling, play. Cheryl is the perfect housewife who bakes, sews, binds books, cooks, teaches the girls. It’s easy to rattle off what we’ve done and convince ourselves that being busy, doing stuff, going from one thing to another, means we have it all together.

But that’s not true.

That’s not who we are as a family. We struggle with sin. We’re tempted like everyone to make good things ultimate things in our lives. We need to keep bringing ourselves, our idols, to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness and grace in Jesus.

So here is an honest reflection, and an invitation to pray with us and to encourage one another.

One area that’s been a struggle for us in the last few months is in balancing between church and family commitments. And this is an area where I’m the one most at fault. And so earlier this week, after the helter-skelter of organising conferences, planning induction services and all kinds of ministry stuff, it was good for Cheryl and I to sit and think through where we were at.

We got to reflect on many things, including:

  • How easily I’ve said yes to ministry-related requests, even when I knew it was directly at the expense of serving the family.
  • How easy it’s been for date nights and family times to be put aside in exchange for an important ministry task.
  • How my heart is tempted to see up-front ministry as more spiritually formative than reading and praying at the dinner table.
  • Wondering out loud if – Lord forbid – I was willing to sacrifice my children on the altar of ministry “success”.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, no less my best friend. It was difficult but good to wrestle with the truth: these are my temptations and struggles, from a heart that should delight in the love of Christ more than the praises of men, but is still “prone to wander”.

And perhaps they’re your struggles too. Whatever your vocation.

Maybe, like me, you’ve hidden behind your computer or phone screen because it’s easier than resolving the argument with your wife or kids.

Maybe, like me, you’d prefer chatting with the someone who showers you with praise on Sunday morning, than chatting with your wife about what chores need to be done. 

 


 

Last Sunday, the elders of Howick Baptist commissioned Richard and Sam Cutforth into full-time service as Senior and Assistant Pastor respectively. During the commissioning, one of the elders read out 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to remind everyone of the characteristics of an overseer. It was verse 4 and 5 that stuck out to both of us.

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”

This isn’t just for “elders”. This is a mark of a mature Christian. Faithfulness to the family – how I set my priorities in my home life, how I love Cheryl and the girls, how I serve them – all this determines how effective I am in any kind of gospel ministry.

By God’s grace I hope I don’t forget this.