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 Truman Show: Freedom Outside the Cage

TrumanshowRecently I watched the Truman show on Film 4 and I was struck by how much it was telling me about their view of the Creator.

The God role of Christof (Christ?!) the creator has a booming voice from the sky and he has Truman in a giant dome of ignorance while he watches and even controls him. On top of that the film makes us ask the question: “what is true reality and what is true freedom”? And can we get any of that with God or without Him?

As Christof says, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”

Those growing up in religion or those believing in God simply accept the reality they are presented and they never question it. We may feel that God is just like Christof who keeps Truman in a cage through lies and watches his every move like Big Brother. And this cage is the safe place, outside the cage is the sickness;

“I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place.”

At the end of the film, the Creator speaks to Truman from the Moon. He is cold and distant and Truman decides he has had enough and wants to go on an adventure outside of the Truman bubble. He seeks truth and reality away from his creator.

And the Creator loses his star and the whole of the Truman show collapses. Once the truth is discovered there is now freedom and no need to live in a cage and no need for the Creator. But the question is still there:

The_Truman_Show2Will Truman find true freedom and life outside the Truman show?

It is interesting that they portray this view of God. And I think many people can resonate with Truman. They see God as an old man in the sky. With a white flowing beard and wearing a glowing robe. He has a booming yet distant voice. He hides in the sky, far away and shouts commands to his creation.

And often Christians see God like this, a cold and distant being hiding in the clouds.

It’s odd because not even in the Old Testament is God like this. Straight away the Lord in Genesis 3 is walking in the garden. He eats and talks with Abraham (Genesis 18) he speaks to Hagar (Genesis 21), he speaks to Moses face to face (Exodus 33) etc..

Ed Harris The Truman ShowWhat’s more, there is no solitary being alone in the clouds, but there is a unity of three. Father, Son and Spirit who dance together and who interact with their creation in a personal way right from the start.

Most importantly, the Son becomes flesh and walks among us. He walks around in the world, the “sick place” as Christof calls it, and he touches, talks to, eats with, heals, forgives and loves the sick people. The Trinity is no distant God.

The Sent One walks in and among the sickness of the world and brings hope, healing and salvation.

We are right to reject Christof as a portrayal of the Christian God. If you disliked him and the world he created, if you yearn for finding truth outside the cage, then I agree with you.

But the cage isn’t the world of the Trinity, or the life in the Son. The cage is always outside of Christ, a place of darkness and sin. Christ beckons us to find Truth and reality in Him, not outside of Him. He allures us to find life and love in him, not anywhere else. And he doesn’t call us from a distant far off cloud, he calls us by walking with us in our darkness and shame and he carries us and shines a light in the darkness.

There is no life in the creator Christof, there is only a cage that this one person creator can offer Truman. A cage of rules and camera’s and lies and control. That is not a place we want to be and thankfully our God offers ever-lasting life in the Son and in Him is freedom.

1998_the_truman_showSo will Truman find true freedom and life outside the Truman show?

A resounding yes to this question, but only if he turns to Christ. If he turns to the world and the idols of the world then he will find himself in another cage with an idol that is perhaps more destroying then the first.

And so if you find you are feeling a bit like Truman, like you are in a cage and your view of God is like that of Christof. Then run to Christ. Don’t run to the world, it wont offer you what you heart truly needs.

You need to run to Christ and find freedom outside the cage.

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.

Mundane Monday

Monday. coffeemundaneWhat a day! We sigh, we curse, we cry – it’s back to work for most of us. Starting the cycle of another week, so we cling on untill we reach Friday.

But Monday following Sunday is the second day of the week. Monday is actually a good day. On Sunday began a new week and a new life – the Son rose from the dead! And on Monday we can enjoy the warmth and light of the Son by setting our eyes upon the blazing beauty of Jesus. Resurrection brings hope back to our Mondays and every other day of the week.

So then, why Mundane Monday? Living in light of the resurrection seems far from Mundane. Yet I think Jesus brings hope to our mundane, He cooked and ate and walked with friends and did bible studies after his resurrection. It brings a new definition to what we deem as spiritual. Eating, drinking, washing, walking, cleaning, chatting can all be wonderfully full of life and be enjoyed as people in Christ.

The super spiritual of us could ask –

Which is more important: eating, sleeping, reading the bible, going to work, spending time with friends or going to a prayer meeting?

In Christ, all of these are wonderfully important. None of them more spiritual than the other. Some days require a priority of some in order to function in the day. But in Jesus all of these can be enjoyed, because out of the flow of the heart comes praise to the Father for allowing such things in our lives to be done. If my heart is filled with bitterness then it results in none of these being enjoyed and I become a slave to them all. (Which results in having a list of spiritual importance because I think it gets me points or make me a better Christian)

So if your Monday feels Mundane then rejoice. May your eating, sleeping, cleaning, going to the post office, dropping kids off at school, writing coursework, reading your bible and drinking coffee all be done in light of the resurrection. Enjoying the things the Father gives you and giving thanks to Him. If you find your heart struggling then come back and gaze upon Jesus. Isn’t he wonderful? He is the source of your joy so that you can do all things with thanksgiving.

1 Corinthians 10:31

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Building the Dung Gate

There is a great preach by Andrew Wilson about the guy who builds the dung gate. It is 40 min but worth watching.

I found it really helpful because to be honest no one wants to be the guy who builds the dung gate. But someone has to be:

Nehemiah 3:14

Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.

Wilson reminds me that not everyone is the Nehemiah type guy or the preacher or the great musician. Not everyone is in the spotlight writing books or going on tours or speaking at large conferences. Not everyone has a life like that. Some do. Some are history makers. Which we need. But most of us won’t be. Most of us will be building the dung gate or counting the utensils (1 Chronicles 9:28).

UtensilsAnd Wilson reminds me that this is ok.

It feels like it shouldn’t be ok. It feels like we should say that we all have this calling to be history makers and to change the world. That we have a hero inside ourselves that we need to unlock and we can do anything if only we believe. Sometimes in some ways that may be true. But in everyday life, it just doesn’t happen.

I guess when you are fresh out of uni as a christian you sometimes dream of being a missionary or super star evangelist…

You may dream of being a preacher that pastors a huge church, where you write inspiring books and everyone follows you on twitter. Wilson shares his story about how he wanted that and wanted to change the world. Until life happened. Again life smacks you in the face. Suffering happens and suddenly everything is different. Have a listen, it’s great.

Someone’s got to build the dung gate. And build it with joy. It’s a small part in the community of the church but its vital. And it has significance. I sometimes think those small things mean nothing compared to the big stuff. But God includes these things in the bible and a whole list of names of who built this wall or gate, who cleaned what and who chopped wood over here and there etc.

I think God sees the dung gate as important.

So then, I have a question in my head when it comes to this: What is success in life?  What is it really?

I am coming to a conclusion that success can’t be measured and isn’t dependant on what other people think. For me I think success is joyfully loving Jesus in what ever situation I find myself in. Because deep down, “average” living is not bad. But it is all about the heart. And it is all about Jesus.

So then, if I find myself in a bed-ridden state 10 years from now and looking pretty much like a failure in everyone’s eyes, I hope my heart is still loving Jesus. I think that would be what I call success. Running the race and at the end still saying “Jesus you are wonderful“.

It gives me confidence for when I finish with UCCF, because I have no doubt I will go on and live a pretty average life. What that looks like, I don’t know, but I hope it’s loving Jesus and loving the local church and building whatever dung gate that needs to be built in the church.

Not many people speak about this. I am glad Andrew Wilson did.

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 Fairy Tale Ending

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/I really like fairy tale endings. The happy ever after. The smiles and the giggles and the sunset.

When I watch films I really yearn for a happy ending. But I feel guilty about that. The way films suck you in and you find yourself wanting the unhappy loser to find all happiness in the world, but at a great cost.

For example: when you have two people married to each other who have fallen out of love and then the handsome guy comes in and the wife falls for him. We yearn for her to find happiness. We don’t want her to be miserable and stuck in that relationship. We want her to have an Eat, Pray, Love experience. To leave and find herself and be happy.

This is because we don’t want to be stuck in misery. We don’t want to be in a rut of routine. We want a happy ending.

These films reflect something of our hearts desires. But the means are not always great. When I think about it I don’t really want that couple to get divorced or for that girl to change everything about her to find happiness in popularity. But I also don’t want to watch a story with a sad ending. An ending of despair and unrepair. It feels incomplete. It feels like a stain upon my soul. I want more.

So then adverts try to convince us that they hold the happy ending. They say that the happy ending is smelling nice, looking good, having an amazing sports car, being popular and drinking coca cola. A small part of us buys into that lie. We think these things will give us a happy ending.

I yearn, I drink and a part of me dies.

I think we are meant to yearn for happy endings. There is something in our fabric that makes our heart groan for completion. There is something that we love about the happy ever after in fairy tales. The struggle, the cliff hangers only to be resolved in a wedding and then a happy life after.

I think we all want that. We kid ourselves when we say we don’t. Probably because life is really hard at the moment and the reality is really painful. We can sometimes think: this is my lot, this is all life is.

But that isn’t true. I think our hearts are decietful at times, but they tell us something.
Out of the heart the mouth speaks.
In our hearts we want eternity to be a joyful fairytale wedding. If you’re a guy reading this, you may think that isn’t what you want. But would you want the alternative as eternal loneliness, boredom and sadness…? No one craves for that. In fact we do all we can to avoid it. Even with things that give us only a momentary relief.

wedding cakeThe Gospel is a bit like a fairy tale ending. Not that its fake. But it offers a happy ending. There is a wedding and a feast and beautiful bride and a smiling bridegroom. The wicked witch dies and all those who love the groom get to have a happy ending. I think we are all designed to crave this.

We want bad guys to lose and we want the good guys to win and be happy. We want evil destroyed and we want love to win. We want Spock to defeat Kahn and then get the girl after. We want Neo to beat the matrix (or Mr Smith) and bring peace to Zion. We want Will Smith in the pursuit of happiness to fight against poverty and get the job he desires. We want Frodo to destroy the ring and bring peace to middle earth.

No one wants evil to triumph. We want love to win.

Love does win in the Gospel. Death gets the sting taken out of it. Jesus triumphs through his suffering and blood on the cross. Then he invites us into the happy ending – to be part of that story. Its crazy cos we are all destined for the unhappy ending. But Jesus says we can be the bride, enjoy eternal happiness and we get to meet his dad, who is great. And there is NO evil stepmother.

My heart yearns for this. I was made for a fairy tale ending. But it can only come through and in Jesus. Lets share that story!

“Bilbo: Have you thought of an ending?
Frodo: Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.
Bilbo: Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?
Frodo: It will do well, if it ever came to that.
SamL Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring