Behind the Screen

rainloveIt is really easy to see the internet as an abstract place. A place that isn’t really
real but we all seem to live on it. It sometimes feels like a place where there are no faces, no real people but just words and videos and pixels.

But it isn’t that simple. Behind every screen is a person. A real person. A person with feelings and dreams and fears and doubts. Behind every blog is someone living real life, trying to get through the daily grind. Behind every YouTube video is a real person going through a tragedy or clinging to hope or skipping in the sunshine. Behind every twitter account is flesh and blood, typing thoughts and ideas and their hopes and dreams.

I have been pondering this. Which may seem odd, but when we comment or tweet back we aren’t placing words into an abyss that swirls them around and sucks them in a black hole. No, those words which are dripped in meaning and language are going to be seen and processed by a real person. And depending on the words you use, they will either encourage or scar that person. They will either uplift or break down. 

I have friends with YouTube channels and blogs that sometimes get abuse from people, words flung onto the screen and sit there chewing away and they are hurt by them. They wonder if it is worth it? Does it outweigh the good stuff? One of my friends said that he get about 5% horrible comments and its often those comments that he remembers the most.

We need to recognise that the person behind the screen has real feelings. And then we ask ourselves…

Is what I’m saying encouraging, helpful, uplifting, truthful, humane?

Even if I disagree with someone, if I don’t think their theology is like mine, if I think their concepts and ideas are not what I agree with, the truth is that they are still a human being behind the screen. My ungracious words could knock their confidence and hurt them.

Would I say the same things to them if I was sitting at the table with them? Eating, looking into their eyes as we discuss theology, gaming, YouTube videos, music etc… What would drip off the tongue?

My friend recently wrote some thoughts of a book she was reading, she doesn’t agree with everything he wrote but her mini review was full of good and gracious thoughts. But the author of the book sent her a message saying he was glad she read the book and would interested in more of her thoughts on it. She shared this with me and it made us stop and think.

There is a real person behind this book and although we don’t agree with everything the book says, the person who wrote it is not abstract and not someone to simply disagree and argue with. It made her think about how she will engage with the rest of the book.

The person behind the screen is not abstract. They are real. Flesh and blood. Dreams and Imagination. Hurts and Fears. Someone you could sit down with and drink coffee with. It should change the way we comment, remark, review and write when we engage and disagree with people or dislike something.

Love should be in every keystroke.

*Image from Imadecode (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)

Frozen: True Love

frozen When I was a kid watching Disney films was a real treat. I grew up with the magic of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book. Singing along and enjoying the classic boy meets girl story. I have written before about how Disney gets the heart of the universal story that we all ache for.

A prince rescuing a princess.

*Spoilers Alert

But the other day I watched the film Frozen, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike most other Disney films, Frozen captured more of the Gospel story then ever before.

Salvation plays a big part in the stories we tell. Go to the movies and you will find the story is telling you that salvation is necessary – to be rescued, to be taken from poverty, ugliness, captivity into riches, beauty and freedom. And there is always a saviour, whether that is prince charming or some inner person/ courage in your heart that you just have to find. With salvation, true love is not far behind.

For Disney, salvation is true love. And that true love must be shown as a kiss.

  • trueloveskissAriel’s salvation from being captured in the prison of silence was broken by a true love’s kiss.
  • Snow white is awoken and saved from eternal sleep by true love’s kiss.
  • In Beauty and the Beast, the beast is free from eternal hairiness by true love’s kiss.

Disney is right, only true love can save. Love does indeed win.

However it is not through a kiss that true love is shown:

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8,10)

True love is sacrifice. It is through death and giving up ones life for another. The bible tells us that in order for us to be rescued, Christ stooped down and died for us (while we hated him), saving us and reconciling us to His Father.

Death is far more powerful than a kiss and it brings a better salvation. 

In the film Frozen, Disney shows this reality. Salvation doesn’t come through a True Love’s kiss but through a True Love’s sacrifice.

Elsa has magical powers (she can freeze people) and it causes relationships to break, she feels guilty and she runs away ashamed. She wraps herself in her own castle of ice and tries to hide, pushing everyone away.

Her sister Anna pursues her. She doesn’t give up.

This is a Hosea moment.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

Anna pursues and woos her.

Later on there comes a moment where Elsa has to die, but Anna steps out and takes her place. Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa and Elsa is saved because of the death of another has taken her place.

Then Anna is resurrected, showing the strength and power of her love.

As with anything, of course it isn’t a perfect representation of the Gospel – but it is a glimpse and a better glimpse then a kiss.

This film would be a good one to explain what true love really is, the cost of true freedom and the love that Christ has for us.

Ender’s Game: Loving the Enemy

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him”

*Spoilers alert

endersgameEnder is no typical teenager. He has been selected to save the world from a deadly race of aliens. We journey with him as he trains, trying to get the balance between anger and compassion.

When we reach the film’s end, we find Ender in a computer simulator, practising war tactics in various complicated scenarios. When his graduation finally arrives, he enters his last simulation and if he wins this, then he can go out to war for real.

Everything goes well. In fact he doesn’t just beat his enemy, he totally annihilates them – destroying a planet of aliens which seem to consist of the entire species – now every last one of them is up in smoke. Earth won.

There is silence. Then applause. Victory over the enemy is accomplished! Ender won the game.

And yet we discover that this was no simulation. This was in fact the real war and it dawns on Ender that he has totally wiped out an entire civilisation. What bothers him, it seems, is that he didn’t get a chance to understand them better. He wanted to dialogue with them, find out what makes them tick, find out why they came to earth in the first place and give them a chance. But he can’t do that. He had no chance to love his enemy.

It was quite a striking ending, normally as a viewer we would be satisfied with a victory like this. The enemy is crushed! However Enders reaction makes us feel uncomfortable. We suddenly feel that perhaps these aliens were never the enemy in the first place, but actually we were the enemy all along.

How we deal with our enemies illustrates something of our heart.

Jesus says: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

ender-wigginEnder found that the heart of this project was all about annihilation and winning a game, being in victory and being the strongest. And Ender didn’t like that, he saw the corrupt nature of the heart and felt tricked in following their rules. What if he had a chance to talk to the aliens? To understand them? Perhaps he would have loved them?

Jesus deals with his enemies in a startling way.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we were still enemies, hating God, waging war against him. He stooped down and loved us, died for us and brought peace. Jesus treats his enemies with great love, beckoning them to come to him for refuge, offering them time and time again a chance for peace.

How we treat our enemies shows the inner workings of our hearts.

Perhaps the people we think who are our enemies, are actually not. Perhaps we need time to understand them, get to know them, find out what makes their heart tick and perhaps we will come to love them. Like Jesus, who understands our inner most being, who saw our hatred towards him and yet he still loved us, loved us to the point of death.

Those people out there that we may class as enemies, those who think differently to us, belong to a different tribe, have a different lifestyle are all enemies of Christ. Just like you and me. Yet Christ is filled with compassion towards them, as he does towards us.

Suddenly we find ourselves side by side with our enemies, feeling a little uncomfortable because we have realised that perhaps we are also the enemy.

And yet Christ is not tricked like Ender, he doesn’t annihilate us. Instead he understand us, loves us and calls us to him for salvation.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

JesusNothingEverythingThis catchy book title was written by Tullian Tchividjian. This is a book about the Gospel and what Jesus has done for us. It is a refreshing book to read as it sits on the bookshelf amongst books that mostly tell you how to be a better Christian, leader, minister, pop star etc. I found it helpful to have my eyes cast away from myself and come back to Jesus. Tullian explains the heart of what it means to follow Jesus and what Jesus did on the cross was enough not just for salvation but for living as a Christian, every day.

Let me tell you 3 things I learnt / enjoyed about this book:

1. The Gospel isn’t just for non/new Christians. The Gospel is for the Christian, every single day. It is for the Christian that has been following Christ for 30 years, 30 days or 30 mins. The truth of the Gospel, what Jesus has done on the cross is something we need to hear and sink into our hearts everyday. It is too easy for me as I walk this road with Jesus to think that I now need to move on to “higher” and “better” things after I have grasped the basics of the Gospel, yet it seems that these basics are what I most need to hear because I easily forget them.

2. Your works can’t add to what Jesus has done. It seems we often believe the lie that the Gospel is enough for salvation but after that happens, we then need to work really hard to keep God happy or to stay in salvation. This is a lie. What Jesus has done on the cross is enough – we can’t add to it and we don’t “work hard” to pay back God. We rest in his salvation and when we do that, with our hearts being changed, we begin to produce fruit and good works.

We can rest in assurance that this equation is really true: Jesus + Nothing = Everything

3. Focus on what Christ has done for you, rather than looking inwards all the time: “To focus on how I’m doing more than what Christ has done is Christian narcissism” 

I would really recommend this book as it provides a great reminder of who we are in Christ and most importantly what Christ has done for us. It is a short read and really accessible for any reader.

The Lies We Listen to

It is easy to listen to the lies that are whispered to us. Often we believe these lies because we don’t always realise they are lies, our hearts sometimes think they are true and we cannot always see how much they are destroying us. Do you know what lies I mean?

Lies like this:

You aren’t really forgiven
You aren’t really loved
You are nothing
You can’t ever forgive that
You are better than her
She is much prettier than you
You are smarter than her

You don’t need to go to church today
It would be better if you stayed in bed
No one likes you
No one wants to hang out with you

You are way too messed up to be here
Look, all those perfect people
You need to be a better Christian
Pretend to be ok
No one wants to listen to you

You are not good enough to serve here
It would be better to be at the pub then at church
No one cares
No one wants to be your friend

You have no gifts
Jesus isn’t enough
You can’t trust these people
Don’t be vulnerable

They are so disappointed in you
You have let them down
You should feel shame

Work harder
Do better
Be Better

Do you recognise them? Lies that swirl around in your head and if they stay there too long, they will eat away at you and destroy you. The truth is what you need to hear.

The truth:

Jesus loves you
Jesus wants you in his church
He died for you
You are forgiven
He knows your mess and still loves you
Come to him and find rest
He will never reject you
He will give you peace
Jesus accepts you
Your worth can only be found in Him
Everyone around you is as messed up as you are
Everyone around you is as lost as you are
Everyone around you needs Jesus as much as you do
Jesus is enough
The Cross is enough:

Jesus carried all the disappointments
Jesus carried all the bitterness
Jesus carried all the shame
Jesus carried all the hurt
Jesus carried all the failure you feel
Jesus carried all the sorrow
Jesus carried all the mess you feel
Jesus carried all the brokenness inside you

He carried them to make you free and to bring you the Father.

Remind yourselves of these things when you start hearing those lies begin to surface. Squish them down with the truth of the Gospel.

The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.

A Direct line to God

chord In the toilets at Marjon University they have an emergency red cord and most likely that’s been pulled enough times for someone to put a note on it saying: “Emergency Assistance Cord“. I.E dont pull it unless it is an emergency.

But someone has written above it “A direct like to God“. It made me smile. They saw this red cord and for a laugh wrote this.

Sometimes prayer feels a bit like an emergency line to God.

It is like divine panic button. Call God only in an emergency.

It can feel like that in the christian life. Days and days go by and all is hunky dory, the sun is shining and life seems beautiful. There feels no need for God. No need to speak to him or include him. I am fine thank you – I don’t need you right now.

This isn’t an emergency so I wont pull the red cord.

Not until I get to the point where I suddenly have to find accommodation for my relay worker or my bus is late and therefore I am late for an important meeting or a crises pops up and I think: I need to pray! This is an emergency.

When I read that sign, I laughed. But I also thought; this is how I often see God. My personal 999 operator. Where he will answer with: “what is your emergency?“. From this its easy to think that God only wants to listen to the big, important stuff and if I told him about my worries or even my joys he will respond with “Why are you wasting my time? This isn’t an emergency“.

My view of God in this is twisted. Because God isn’t like this. Our trinitarian God isn’t like this.

I do have a direct line to God. But not just for emergencies. I have one through Jesus Christ by the Spirit:

Hebrews 7v25 – Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

I love this. I love that Jesus is ALWAYS interceding for us. I love that Jesus prays for us as we see in John 17. I love that the spirit cries Abba Father on our behalf. Jesus brings us to the Father, he intercedes for us. Without him we could never of gone to the father, we would have been like the Israelites not being able to go near the mountain because we would die.

We are carried on Christ’s heart to the Father. A Father who loves us. This direct line that we have to God is a line that is carried by Jesus to the Father through the Spirit. And he wants to hear our hearts and our worries. Not just big emergency stuff, although that too. But also everyday stuff. Worries, anxieties, jobs next year, healing for my friend, good results, getting to work safely, good relationships at work, good conversations and whatever else faces us in the day.

Sometimes people may think we shouldnt be so quick to bring our problems to God. We shouldn’t be so quick to ask for healings or an ease to our suffering or help in our day. That we shouldn’t bring things that may seem trivial. That we should sweat it out a bit. But I am not up for that.

If we have a Father in heaven who wants to hear us. A Son who ALWAYS interceded for us carrying us to the Father on his heart and a Spirit that helps us and cries Abba Father to the Father. Then I want in on that. It makes me want to pray about everything. I want to thank God for everything. If God is Tri-unity of love and invites me in on that – then I want in.

Why? Because I am deluding myself in thinking that I can manage on my own or do perfectly well without God. I am wrong in thinking that God is only interested in certain prayers. It is all lies. Sometimes lies of the enemy. Sometimes lies I buy into because I forget the Gospel.

Some people may say – you can’t just ask God for things all the time.

And I wonder – why not? I don’t mean to demand things from God or treat him like a jackpot machine. But why not come to him like a child comes to the Father and ask for help? Or bring my worries? And also thank him for being great? Why can’t I do that all the time? Isn’t that what a loving Father wants? Isn’t that what Jesus is doing already on my behalf?

My heart needs to remember this. And this is a preach to myself more than anything else.

But I do have a direct line to God. But not a red emergency cord. I have a person who carries me on their heart all the time and another person who cries out Abba Father and a Father who hears this and delights in this and never tires from this.

I really want in on that!