Thursday, 29 April 2010

Thinking Thursday: Some Thoughts on Super Heroes - 1 Peter 1:3-11

In a recent film, one of the characters was musing on super heroes and their alter egos – their other identities. Spiderman, for example, is Peter Parker, and Superman is Clark Kent. But there is a major difference between them.

Peter Parker was an ordinary guy until he was bitten by a radioactive spider and acquired some of its powers. He became Spiderman – but his true identity is really Peter Parker.

Superman, however, was born a superman on the planet Krypton. All his powers are natural to him. Clark Kent is the identity he assumes so he can mingle with ordinary human beings. His true identity is really Superman.

And what about the rest of us? Here we are, ordinary human beings, flawed and struggling. Sometimes we rise above ourselves and can do great things. There are countless stories of people who have dedicated their lives to alleviating suffering or caring for others. There are superb teachers and doctors who deserve our praise and thanks. But no matter what great things they do, their true identity is human beings, and they can never be anything else.

But when we give our lives to Jesus Christ, something amazing happens. The Bible tells us that we are a new creation – the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor.5: 17). So what happens to our old self? Are we like Spiderman in that we are still Peter Parker but now we have special powers to do things that ordinary human beings cannot do? Some might think so. But God is not in the business of patching up or refurbishing our old lives. We are born again. And what are we born as? “To all who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1: 12).

Our very nature changes. We once were in Adam, that is identified with Adam. Now we are in Christ, that is identified with Christ. We are now new creatures, sons of God. We are like Superman, who dresses as Clark Kent to mix with ordinary people, but is extraordinary in reality. We may still look like ordinary people, but we are not. What a shame that so many of us don’t quite believe it and carry on living like before, carry on expecting things to be like before, but maybe with an extra bit of help.

Do you know your real identity? Do you live every day knowing you are a son of God and that he has given you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)? Would it make a difference if you did?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Positive Critiques of Short Stories

I know it's Thinking Thursday, but I'm too excited to do that. I have been writing for a while, and not been able to get anyone to give me a serious critique of any of my work. I don't know whether I should look on it as something I enjoy but can never do anything with, or whether I have any talent. Most competitions give no feedback unless you win, and those who do offer critiques, charge for it.

But I recently found a competition which offered free critiques for every entry, so I sent two short stories, and the critiques arrived today. I opened the envelope with trembling hands... and they loved them! I was so relieved that I cried. I know it's boasting, but I'm going to share a bit with you.

'All In The Mind' is about an ordinary guy who gets a visit one morning from men who offer to tell him about his real parents, who died when he was five. They take him away, but he is questioned and tortured, with no explanation why. I won't tell you the ending, it would spoil the surprise. The judge said "A familiar theme, more in respect of films than books or stories, but good for all that. The author cleverly avoids any swashbuckling or blockbusting action and opts for a calmer, more believable sequence of events in the affair of Gareth Campbell... the last two lines which will give any reader a frisson of expectation for the future. There is nothing at all wrong with the plot and the dialogue is good and natural."

'Phase Shift' is set in the future, about a doctor called to treat a patient who is out of phase with the current time and place. Again, I won't give too much away. The judge said "A science fiction story... the first and perhaps the only, one of the competition... and welcome. Judging entails manuscript, notebook, reading and making notes. A tribute to this story is that not one note was made. It was consumed start to finish in one uninterrupted swallow... The story is written in the style of Ray Bradbury, but with a flavour all its own...The end is imaginative... Good story."

My ststus update on Facebook says it all: Today my self confidence crawled out of the shadows and stood tall.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Thinking Thursday: Service Enables Service

You can find eternal truths in the strangest places. I have a set of science fantasy books called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. Part of the story is a similar scenario to Lord of the Rings, where a motley crew find themselves on a quest to save the land from Lord Foul. They do not consider themselves to be heroes or particularly gifted, and feel inadequate for the task ahead. Then Thomas remembers what Foamfollower the Giant once said to him: “Service enables service. Hope comes from the power and value of what is served, not from the one who serves it.”*

This struck me very forcibly when I read it. I wrote it on a card and stuck it on my dressing table mirror. It reminds me every time I see it not to try to serve God in my own strength.

When my daughter started her new job, she found the first few days very hard. There was so much to learn and the boss had very exacting standards. A lot was expected of her, and she wanted to make a good impression. The only resources she had were her existing knowledge and skills, a willingness to learn, and the ability to pick things up quickly. The boss was not prepared to make allowances - she had been employed on the understanding that she would be able to do the job.

Compare that with our situation when we become Christians and submit to serving God. We know he has great expectations of us:
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.” (1 Cor.12:27)

But if “service enables service”, what resources can a boss give to empower those who serve him? He can be patient, helpful, considerate. But if the employee cannot do the work, there is nothing he can do. With God it is very different.
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph.2:10)
“In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom.8:37)
“We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, jointed and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph.4:15,16)

Do not attempt to serve God in your own strength. He will give you the strength you need, and enable you to grow in the process. When God calls you to do something – something special or just to live your daily life as a Christian, He provides the way. With God, service enables service.

* The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Volume 3: White Gold Wielder, page 85. pub. Fontana/Collins 1983.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Thinking Thursday: Come Let Us Reason Together

The need for thinking Christians.

Isaiah spoke God's words to Israel: "Come now, let us reason together" (Isa.1:18), and those words still apply today. Although becoming a Christian requires faith, Christianity itself is logical and can be reasoned through. Just because you believe, it doesn't mean that you can stop thinking about what you believe and why. Just because you are saved, doesn't mean that you are not supposed to do or learn anything further.

After his resurrection, Jesus gave the great commission: "Go and make disciples of all nations." (Matt.28:19). He expects us all to tell people the good news of the gospel. How can you preach the gospel if you cannot explain it? How can you stand up for your faith unless you have studied it and know which scriptures apply in each case?

Many times I see examples of Christians living by superstition, or showing reactions which are not thought through. Knee-jerk reactions e.g. it's dangerous to have JWs in the house or to read cult literature; snap judgements based on minimal information e.g. the Harry Potter books are bad because they have magic, the Shadowmancer book is good because it has Christian imagery and was written by a vicar. All of these examples are basically not true, but have to be thought through in depth and in the light of scripture.

It is dangerous to have JWs in your house if you are a weak and uninformed Christian who may be confused or led astray by them. It is not dangerous as such, as they will not put an evil influence over your house just by being there. To quote Paul, "How can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom.10:14). The secret is to get better informed about the issues they will raise and to know what the Bible says about them. Also take note of what the Bible says about treating people with love. Then invite them into your home, show them love, and gently help them to see the truth from the Bible.

I know of a Christian young woman who had not been to church for some time. In an attempt to reach out to her and her boyfriend, her former youth leader invited them to tea with her family. Then she and her husband found out that the boyfriend's mother was a pagan, and he had dabbled in it himself. The invitation was immediately withdrawn because they felt that their children would not be safe with him in the house. They were afraid of the influence of paganism coming into their home. What kind of witness is that? Family and friends now have to work to undo the damage.

The same applies to reading cult literature. It does not have an evil spirit, it will not affect you spiritually, unless you allow it to. If you are informed and know how to reason through the faith issues, reading cult literature will help you to understand them and be prepared to show them the errors of their faith. It will also challenge you to deal with their misuse of scripture and their challenges to your faith. I would not recommend it for most people, simply because there are better books to read and better things to do with your time. But used wisely, it can be a growing experience.

Harry Potter does have magic in it and is about wizards, but it is make-believe. Most children know that. Teach your children to reason things out and they can enjoy the book for its adventure and suspense and the lessons it teaches about loyalty and standing up for the truth. But only if they can understand it on that level.

I once had correspondence with a Christian lady who was unhappy about me criticising what she called a 'Christian book' - Shadowmancer. It was written by a vicar and contains Christian imagery, but it is far from Christian - as a careful reading will show. Also, further investigation into Taylor, the author, shows that he is increasingly involved in the New Age. I would not recommend it except as entertainment - again, for those with their eyes open, not to be misled.

Peter said, ''Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.'' (1 Pet.1:15). It is not enough to say, ''My hope is in Jesus.'' You need to be able to explain and reason through your own faith. Sermons and Bible studies in church are designed for this and there are many good books, magazine articles and tapes which can help you. But again you must be careful to be critically alert. ''So that you may be able to discern what is best.'' (Philip.1:10).

You cannot live in a vacuum; there are influences all around you. If you do not read, you are still influenced by sermons and the beliefs of those around you in church. You cannot rely on others to always give you correct doctrine. You must check it out for yourself. Even if it is right, you will learn and remember it better if you study it out. Be like the Bereans: ''for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.'' (Acts 17:11), Come, let us reason together.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Because He Is Risen

Because he is risen,
spring is possible
in all the cold hard places
gripped by winter
and freedom jumps the queue
to take fear's place
as our focus.
Because he is risen.

Because he is risen,
my future is an epic novel
where once it was a mere short story.
My contract on life is renewed
in perpetuity.
My options are open-ended;
my travel plans are cosmic.
Because he is risen.

Because he is risen,
healing is on order and assured
and every disability will bow
before the endless dance of his ability
and my grave too will open
when my life is restored,
for this frail and fragile body
will not be the final word
on my condition.
Because he is risen.

Because he is risen,
hunger will go begging in the streets
for want of a home
and selfishness will have a shortened shelf-life
and we will throng to the funeral of famine
and dance on the callous grave of war
and poverty will be history
in our history.
Because he is risen.

And because he is risen,
a fire burns in my bones
and my eyes see possibilities
and my heart hears hope
like a whisper on the wind
and the song that rises in me
will not be silenced
as life disrupts
this shadowed place of death
like a butterfly under the skin
and death itself
runs terrified to hide.
Because he is risen.

by Gerard Kelly, from Spoken Worship

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Easter Thoughts

I can't let Easter pass without saying something - I am, after all, a Christian. This is the most important time of the year. Our human natures are the greatest problem we have in trying to put the world right, and Jesus' sacrifice is the only answer. I wrote a poem about this, which I have blogged before, but bears repeating for this weekend.

Even The Mighty Will Fail

Even the mighty will fail,
Even the conquerors fall,
Even the richest cannot pay enough,
No one can answer the call.

No one who is without fault,
No one who's not gone astray,
Only the perfect can stand before God,
Pride and deceit bar the way.

No way we can fix ourselves,
No way to undo the past,
No way to perfection in future lives,
The flaw inside holds us fast.

We have no hope in the world,
But then God gives up His Son.
So why is it so hard to accept
That he is the only One?

The One who lives without sin,
Yet is punished for us all.
The One who gives us new lives and new hearts,
Makes us conquerors after all.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Thinking Thursday: Ballroom Dancing

In my late teens I took up ballroom dancing. There were some things I learned consciously – the steps, the moves, the rhythm; and some I learned instinctively – how to read my partner’s body so I could follow his lead. But when I began to dance I was not certain of what I had learned, and my movements were hesitant and awkward. I had to learn to trust my training and my partner and relax and let them take me round the floor.

For an exam or a competition you can learn a routine, but in a real dance, your partner needs what is called ‘floorcraft’ – the ability to read the situation and guide you into steps that will avoid a collision with other dancers. When you begin the dance you do not know what will happen or which way you will go.

I have been thinking recently that life with Jesus is like that. There are things I know in my head and things I know in my heart, but my steps are hesitant and awkward. I need to relax and give control to Jesus. He will guide my steps and take me through every situation, but I have to trust Him – and stop trying to lead!

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go (Ps 32:8)

I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. (Jeremiah's prayer, Jer.10:23)

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. (Pr.16:9)