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)

A Loving Life – Paul Miller

Loving lifeA loving life is a short book looking at the story of Ruth. I decided to read this book because several people told me it was good and it turned out to be a book I really needed to read. Sometimes you get those books that just hit the spot and spiritually nourish you, this was certainly one of those books for me.

Here are 5 reasons why I enjoyed A Loving Life:

1) Paul Miller unpacks the story of Ruth – If you have never studied or read the book of Ruth, then this little book is a great place to start. Miller goes through the story step by step and pretty much does a bible study through the book. Its engaging and interesting and it helped me get to grips with the story.

2) Love is not just a feeling – Miller really hits home that we are in a culture that regards feelings and how we feel when in love as our top priority. But he remarks that love is deeper, not just an emotion that quickly changes from one moment to the next. And in a broken world like ours, love needs to be deeper then just an emotion.

3) Love is about dying to yourself – Miller calls this Hesed love, which is written throughout his book. He highlights in Ruth the remarkable sacrifices she makes in the name of love. True love is about sacrifice and dying to yourself, which is so counter cultural where we see love as what we can get out of people and how that person can suit our needs.

4) God is gracious to Naomi – I loved how Miller highlighted Gods mercy and kindness to Naomi who was bitter about the events in her life. It reminds me that the Lord is really with us in every situation and is so kind to us even if we can’t see through the mist of life’s craziness.

5) Encouraging and Challenging – I was encouraged by how God uses each person in the story for an amazing outcome that benefited the whole of the human race (Jesus), I am encouraged by the Lords kindness and his working through each person in the story. I am challenged by Ruth’s sacrificial love, where she died to herself for the sake of Naomi, she never put herself first. I find this hard and it challenges me about what true love is and how to show true love.

I would recommend this book to you if you want to dig into Ruth, if you want to be challenged and encouraged by what true love is and if you want something that will nourish you.

You can buy the book at IVP here.

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.

5 things I learnt from The Cross of Christ

crossofchristI have just recently finished John Stott’s epic book “The Cross of Christ”. I remember receiving this book as a gift during relay and I spent some time in various chapters studying it and chewing on it. But I hadn’t actually read the whole thing from start to finish, so I embarked to do so this year.

Reading this book gave me a fresh reminder of the cross and what Christ had done on the cross. I want to share with you 5 things that I learnt or was reminded of from this book.

1. Christianity is nothing without the cross.

It is the lamb that is slain on the throne. The cross is the center of history and had been on the mind of Christ from the start. It is a stumbling block and most offensive to some people and to others it is a joy and the heart beat of Christianity.

Without the cross there could be no atonement, forgiveness of sins, evil defeated, salvation for sinners, suffering where Christ can sympathise with all our sufferings..and many more things that took place on the cross.

2. The cross impacts every sphere of our Christian living.

Why? John Stott says the cross is the:

ground of our justification (he has redeemed us from the curse),
the means for our sanctification (we have been crucified with him, the world to us and us to the world),
the subject of our witness (we are to placard Christ Crucified publicly before people’s eyes),
the object of our boasting (God forbid that we should boast in anything else!!)

3. We are enemies of the cross if it is not central to our Christian living

If the cross is not central to our Christian living then we are enemies of the cross and to be an enemy means:

self-righteousness (instead of looking to the cross for justification)
self-indulgence (Instead of taking up the cross to follow Christ)
self-advertisement (Instead of preaching Christ crucified)
self-glorification (Instead of glorying in the cross)

How true that is in my own life!

4. Love was the motivation of the cross

Reading this book reminded me afresh of the love of Christ for us. To take human flesh and walk among this earth in order to go to the cross for my sin and shame, to take on the punishment I deserved in order that I might be reconciled to the Father. It shows a great and deep love that I cannot truly understand.

If we were ever in doubt about whether God loves us, we need to look no further than to the cross – his love demonstrated for us there.

5. I need to be reminded of the cross daily

I forget so easily the triumph, victory, pain, weakness and sacrifice of the cross. I too easily become an enemy of the cross and become self-righteous and self-indulgent. I need to be reminded of the Gospel, what Christ has done on the cross.

I need to be reminded of this daily and I know my friends do too as we struggle through this life and our hearts become deceived and caught up in various things, we need to bring each other back to the cross.

If you have not read this book, I would recommend you do so. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, but instead take your time over it and enjoy the refreshing water that comes from it. Stott turns our eyes away from ourselves and what we must do, and places our gaze on Christ and what he has done. Wonderful.

The Desire for Beauty

think_different_apple-wide (1)Apple is celebrating 30 years of making Apple products, from Macs to ipods, iphones and Ipads. The video of this is worth watching. Apple prides itself on creativity, thinking differently and changing the world. Their products are not just easy to use but beautiful. They understand the importance of image and desire. It isn’t just about function, but its about design and wrapping people up in that image, unleashing their creative potential.

I am currently reading a book called iGods by Craig Detweiler where he explains the history behind Apple and the vision that Steve Jobs had. Apple was, where computers were concerned, the first to tap into the human need to create and to be creative. It rides against the idea of simply putting your nose to the grindstone, work continuously in environments of dullness and spreadsheets which will eventually strip the soul bare and suffocate our creativeness.

Apple to is showing us something here, which is at the heart of all of us.

Humanity desires beauty.

It needs a space to create. It desires to be creative. Now I don’t think Apple is the only one doing this now and this isn’t some strange promotion of Apple products. But I have been thinking about the human desire to create, to fill the earth and subdue it. To wonder at beauty and enjoy things for enjoyment sake.

truth&beauty

There is something very Genesis 1&2 about it. We are children copying our Father who delights in creating things with His Son.

It starts off in the Garden with the beauty of Eden and then the beauty of mankind. It trickles through to the tabernacle and the temple. The Lord anoints men and women to be artists and craftsmen.

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” Exodus 31v2-4

And even when the Lord takes on flesh, he enters the world to take up a creative trade before his years of preaching ministry. In iGods, Craig says:

“Jesus was a craftsman by trade. Having built the universe, it seems fitting that, as a human being, he would turn to building houses or furniture”

Beauty and creativity isn’t something that should be kicked out of Christianity. In our art, our designs, our poetry, story telling, video games, films, fliers and books we reflect our creative Trinity. I know we distort it too. Genesis 3 did happen.

But Christianity shouldn’t be about dullness. But sometimes it is. Our fliers, book covers, music and sermons can sometimes drip with dullness that sucks away life.

falmouthCU

The world doesn’t want to look into greyness. It needs to look into a world of beauty, colours, design and aesthetics which are not shallow or simply consumed. They must reflect the beauty of the most beautiful one, Jesus Christ, who allures us in. It’s a hard balance, either we are tempted to strip beauty bare and settle with the world of grey or we slap on fluorescent colour and neon lights which are as empty as what they find in the world.

Beauty needs to have depth. It needs Gospel truth and gazing at the beautiful one.

For example beautiful fliers, like the ones Falmouth CU do, capture the audience and displays to the world that we are reflecting a creator God and we would like you to meet Him.

Even in our suffering there can be beauty. In the depths of despair, Jesus who encapsulates all beauty is with us and walks with us.

Waste_Land-posterEven out of the Wastelands, beauty and art can be formed. From the rubbish tip we see the waste of the world, the rubbish that stinks and no one thinks any good can come out of it. Yet it’s turned and transformed into something beautiful. Likewise as Jesus takes the Bride who is dirty and full of shame  he transforms her into something beautiful:

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5v25 -27

Humanity yearns for true beauty. Not stick thin stuff or glossy magazine covers. But rich, in-depth beauty that takes the broken and the hurting and shows them the One who can clothe them in Splendour.

And so…It is good to enjoy art and film. It is good to enjoy books and video games. It is good to enjoy design and a product. It is good to enjoy music and dance. Not for them to become idols we consume to complete us. But to be objects that we enjoy because we are in the image of a creator God and because someone else who is in His image has created something to be enjoyed and interacted with.

And because beauty isn’t bad and those things we create are simply reflecting what’s happening on a bigger scale; A creative bridegroom who is making us more and more beautiful everyday.

We are all Human

love-actually-to-me-you-are-perfectI find people really fascinating and I quite enjoy sitting in coffee shops watching people go about their day. Sounds a bit stalker-ish, I know. But what I love about it is watching how people react, find out what makes them smile or frown. Watching how people interact with each other, how they say hello and how they talk to each other. I find it very interesting.

In the film Love Actually the opening scene is that of an airport and Hugh Grant comments on how people relate to each other in the airport. He says:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.”

At the airport you see glimpses of humanity at its finest. Hugh Grant is right, love is all around as people receive their loved ones safe and sound. People are reunited again and the ache of longing is dissolved. It’s very interesting to watch. In some way or another we all have similar reactions, it’s not often you see an angry face at the airport.

I have recently been watching a show called “Gogglebox”. It’s a show about people watching TV and their reacts to the programmes they watch on TV. It sounds pointless, you are basically watching people who are watching TV… However I love it. The reason I love it, isn’t because I love trashy TV, but it’s because I love watching people. How these families and individuals respond to certain programmes is fascinating to me.

What I have noticed is that at the basic level we are all the same. We are all very human. We laugh, squirm and cry at the same things. There was a TV program called 999:Emergency where a man in his 80s lost his wife whom he had been married to for nearly 60 years. The ambulance came in and tried save her but they couldn’t. The husband was in tears. And so was the audience.

Couples were holding hands, tears rolling down their faces because they knew that this reality of death would hit us all at some point. We will all feel that void at some point in our lives if we haven’t already.

We are all human. We cry and laugh and get angry at the same points in the story. Our needs are the same: to be loved, cherished, respected. Our fears are the same: loneliness, failure, death.

It’s funny though, when I think about Christians and the way we talk about the world, we make a divide of “us” and “them”. In a sense it is true, there are those that are in Christ and those that are outside of Christ. But with that “us” and “them” it sometimes feels like a divide so large we have started to become scared of “them”. We start to see them as less human and ourselves as super spiritual, living beyond and above our humanness. We see ourselves so different from “them”.

But on the very basic level, at the starting point – we are all human. Our needs are the same. We need to eat, drink, sleep, love, be loved, we are scared of the same things, we need to worship, we need to work etc. We all have stories we can share with each other. We can relate to each other.

When we share the gospel with people, we are sharing a true story with human beings just like us. Human beings that need Jesus, just like we do. And when we approach evangelism or apologetics we have to remember that there are people, real people behind every question. They are not “them” or aliens, they are not sub-human or simply floating brains. They are real people with emotions, dreams, fears, desires and searching for hope.

Every human is broken and needs Jesus.

When we view it like that rather than an “us” and “them”, we may find sharing the Gospel easier. We may find less barriers because the person we are asking is our friend, someone we enjoy being with and someone we want to share our story with. This person has the same struggles and fears as we do. This person is broken just as much as we are. This person needs to be loved just like we do.

This person is human, just like we are.

I Am From…

Footsteps in sanI saw this over at Tanya’s blog and thought it was a brilliant idea. So I wanted to give it a go and link up with SheLoves Magazine in a “Heritage Day” celebration.

I am from the land of HG Wells, the War of the Worlds with Martians, lazer quest and pic-a-mix in Woolworth’s.

I am from a working class line with factory workers and butchers. With armed forces and pressed uniforms. I am from making ends meet and counting the pennies. I am from council houses and second-hand Tellies.

I am from Christmas with loads of presents for an only child. I am from action man and Ghost Busters and no toys for girls.

I am from a place where Santa was real but Jesus was make believe.

I am from books spilling over from the shelves and midnight reading under the covers. I am from Goosebumps, Roald Dahl and The Jolly Postman. Later in my teens I am from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Discworld, eating books alive and delving into these make-believe worlds.

I am from fish fingers and endless games of football. I am from playdays, Super Ted and Hey Arnold. I am from Live and Kicking on a Saturday morning before going food shopping with mum and dad.

I am from climbing trees and long walks in the fields near our house, and from riding my bike as fast I can and bearing the scars after. I am from football teams and rounders teams but certainly not hockey.

I am from, “just do your best, that’s all we ask“. I am from sea cadets with first crushes and sailing masts, with rifle shooting and marching in shiny shoes.

I am from starting year 7 with Princess Diana dying and starting GCSEs with the Twin Towers falling.

I am from train journeys to london and days spent in the natural history museum. I am from a time where I wanted to be a paleontologist, police woman, Navy officer and a pathologist. I am none of these now.

I am from watching “friends” and crying at the end when it was all over. I am from trying coffee for the first time and enjoying the buzz. I am from walls of DVDs and arguments about immigrants, the government and whether I could go to the party in the park.

I am from a catholic school where communion was boring and confession a chance to skip lessons.

I am from poetry and feeling lost, from Goo Goo Dolls, Papa Roach and B*witched. I am from messed up to healed up. I am from being introduced to Jesus for the first time and feeling like hope was a reality.