Devotional

The Tsunami of Narcissism

I wonder if the Psychologists and Psychiatrists would agree with me but I believe we are engulfed in tsunami of self obsession – “narcissism”. Our blogging and Facebook posts are only the tip of the iceberg.  I find I am encountering “Hitler” and “Assad” styled self belief, in otherwise ordinary people, daily.

The symptoms include the idea that they are beyond advice and criticism. An issue is always, without fail, the other person’s problem. They will defend to the death, preferably the other person’s, their right not to be criticised. They are strident in interpreting all events and actions in relation to themselves and fail to see the perspectives of others.

If I am right, and my own narcissistic tendencies tend to suggest I am, where does self obsession come from?

I would like to suggest three reasons. You may wish to add more intelligent ideas.

  1. As I have written previously, parents are  giving children, starting at a very young age, too much choice: when they eat, what they eat, what they wear, what they do … the daily list is endless. Children are becoming wise in their own eyes.  They are attributed maturity well beyond their years. In other words, some parents are setting a treacherous groundwork.
  2. The advertising industry lives off narcissism. It is their bread and butter. We encounter the subtle and not so subtle messages to make ourselves “No.1” hourly. Their feeding of our narcissism is relentless.  Consciously or unconsciously we absorb the seductive message.
  3. Our hearts are wired to set our selves up as God. Our rebellious natures love the idea that we are the supreme being of our lives: we are the Captains of our destinies. We are ultimately only responsible to self. Incidentally, when for whatever reason this perspective is destroyed, one way out is, too often, suicide.

What is the antidote?

The solution is remarkably simple:  Essentially “Christ”.  In one fell swoop he is both the mirror that reveals the brokenness of our humanity and he also becomes our release from that brokenness and its impacts. He gives us perspective and promise.

A friend once said that we need to go to the cross, climb up and push the blood matted hair away from our Savior’s face and stare into his tortured eyes to understand the immense brokenness of our own heart, our motives, our actions, our words – our very being. The reason he was dying was for all of that and much more.  Then, no longer, can we put ourselves on a pedestal of immaculate self belief. We are awoken to an amazing and confronting awareness of the depth and seeming unwashability our own corruption.

And yet, that very awareness leads us back to the same cross so that we can say in all helplessness. “Lord, Save me! Cover my brokenness with your own pure righteousness.”

To get a glimpse of that truth is a powerful antidote to the darker side of our heart as it whispers, “It is all about me”.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

My Unwanted Constant Companion

I reflected the other day that all through my life I have had a constant companion. My parents were there for a long time but they have both died. There have been friends and relatives but they too, came or left at particular times. My wife and I have been together for nearly 4o years but even that doesn’t cover my whole life. Some of you may be thinking, ok he is thinking about God and the Holy Spirit. It is true that God has been constantly with me from before my birth, but on this occasion I am thinking of another presence: Satan.

Satan, the Devil the ‘evil one’, however you refer to him has also never been far away.

St Michael defeating the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral

St Michael defeating the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral

We can all recall the cartoons where the angel and devil sit on each shoulder of the character, pulling and enticing backwards and forwards. This caricature is in fact a good image of the reality that each of us face. We do live in this tension between living a good life and being tempted; doing right and wrong. For a long time I thought that as I became older it would easier; I would be in greater control.

However, I have found that not to be the case. In fact, the temptations and influence of my constant companion become more subtle and tenacious. I find that those conversations that I have in my mind can easily become ‘justifications’ for an attitude or a decision. The prophet Jeremiah declares to Judah on God’s behalf, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

To put it simply, the older I have become the more I have come to realise how deeply ingrained sinfulness is. It is beyond mere actions, or thoughts and permeates our very character. It’s roots drive down into the core of our being. No human effort will eradicate this.

So what is the solution? An awareness of the both the depth of sin and our our own inability is a start. That points us to our two part remedy. First, in the words of Paul, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Christian has been objectively justified in Christ. Through faith we are delivered from eternal death. But that still leaves us with a daily reality.

The second part of the remedy is the daily tough medicine. In the words of Paul again, in the power of the Holy Spirit,  “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

20130118-175507.jpgDaily, we need to be vulnerable  and open to God so that we don’t become victims of the other. There is a discipline and intentionality required to grow in Christlikeness much like the way we train for a sport. When reading Philippians I am struck by how much Paul’s discipline to live the Christian life stems from “knowing Christ Jesus Lord.” Christ is both his means and motivation as well as his goal.

So, as far as my unwanted companion is concerned, he will be there daily, but the more I look to Christ the less his influence will be.

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Hollywood’s Power of Suggestion

Recently I watched James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time. It reminded me how powerful the medium of film is when constructed well, and Avatar is sublime in its construction.

avatarThe film describes a futuristic form of colonialism in which humans rampage over a planet seeking out its minerals. It is a story as old as history. Cameron’s cleverness comes from weaving into his gripping tale themes of ecology, personal responsibility, social responsibility towards native peoples and, most cleverly of all, a pantheistic theology. Pantheism, broadly, states that God is in, not over creation.

The native Na’vi people in Avatar  were atune with their god of creation. The humans  depended on their power, weapons and were driven by greed in contrast to the ecological altruism of the Na’vi.

Even I found myself cheering for the nature loving/believing Na’vi people. And that is where the cleverness lies – in its ability to position us as viewers the way the director intended. Often, without us even being aware.

I put aside my Christian worldview, I checked my cynicism about stereotypes, I was fooled by the mystical romance – and the film took me on a journey along a path that I would not normally travel.

There are good messages in this film and we should heed them. But the film says far more about how Cameron believes the world works. The gospel narrative was missing. There was sin and brokenness but this could be dealt with by being atune with nature. There was no Saviour outside our own wits and ability and a creation god who took the side of the good guys and gals.

I suppose my question is: How often does Hollywood fool us to give ourselves over to the directors’ worldviews? Think of the romance where the man is justified in ditching his wife for a woman who understands him. The violins play and we are happy that he has found his deserved soul mate. Think of when we have laughed because the clever, witty and suave crook has outwitted the clueless police.

Avatar reminded me again, that when I watch a film every neuron I have needs to be on full alert because the director, once again, wants to trick me.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, Faith, Film, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Josiah: a reflection

I have been doing a lot of writing lately, but alas, not my blog. It is report writing season and I have to assess and make comment on my students.

In the Old Testament God gave a report on Josiah, the King who started at 8 years of age in an era when Judah had rebelled mightily against God. Young Josiah went on a program of reinstating God’s law in Judah and removing idols. However God’s plan for Judah were already set in place. Despite His anger against the nation God was still able to declare about Josiah that:

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. 2 Kings 23:25

Sadly Josiah’s reformation was ultimately futile. Further evil kings followed and Judah was dragged to Babylon. We are reminded that the only true reformation is one that is purchased on the cross by Christ and applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. … and yet I hope that the Spirit of God plants in me the attitude of Josiah, who in the face of God’s anger against the nation, still did what was right.

In the face of so many evils today we need the courage of Josiah but we have the added blessing of knowing the Messiah, having His Spirit and being assured that His Kingdom will come!

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Psalm 18:19

knight.text

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To Be Near Unto God

sunrise newThe following, amazing quote, comes from the introduction to Abraham Kuyper’s delightful collection of devotions: To Be Near Unto God.

Love for God may be fine sentiment. It may be sincere and capable of inspiring holy enthusiasm, while the soul is still a stranger to fellowship with the eternal, and ignorant of the secret walk with God. The great God may still not be your God. Your heart may still not be attuned to the passionate outburst of delight: I love the Lord. For love of God in general is so largely love for the idea of God, love for the Fountain of life, the Source of all good, the Watcher of Israel who never slumbers; in brief, love for him who, whatever else changes, abides the same eternally.

But when the heart can say: I love the Lord, the idea of the Eternal becomes personified. Then God becomes the Shepherd who leads us, the Father who spiritually begat us, the covenant-God to whom we sustain the covenant relation, the Friend who offers us friendship, the Lord whom we serve, the God of our trust, who is no longer merely God, but our God.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God,  Kindle Edition.

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Rushing Waters – a Photo and Text for Sunday

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Revelation 19:6-8
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah!For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,was given her to wear.

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Deo Volente

The pulpit in the old church at Gamla Uppsala

The pulpit in the old church at Gamla Uppsala

“Deo Volente” is not a phrase used much nowadays, yet it speaks of a wonderful attitude.

Deo Volente, often shortened to D.V. simply means “God willing”. Like many Latin phrases its real meaning has been lost in the mists of time. “N.B”, “A.D.” and “C.V.” are just some other examples. In the past letters and messages were often annotated with “D.V.” It acknowledged that any human plans were subject to God’s will.

Deo Volente, at its heart, speaks of an attitude before God. It recognises that our plans are always subject to His will and purposes. God is sovereign and I am not. It is a phrase of humility and acceptance. Not resignation, but the acknowledgement that ultimately God’s purposes and plans far outweigh my wishes and petty ambitions.

It is also a phrase of comfort. Whatever happens in my life is not governed by fate or chance but is overruled by a God who sent His son to reveal His love for His children and who cares for them into eternity. It is a comfort because He has told me, that love is what He wills.

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Devotional, Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

True Community and Mission – a quote

“Every time I hear someone teach on the Acts 2 church I wonder what first-century faith community really looked like. I can’t help but think there was something special about it that we’ve missed. It’s hard to imagine a day where people would pool what they had to make sure no one was without. While things certainly look different in our time, it just seems as if we’ve lost a little something. Something tells me community didn’t just fill a need in their lives to connect, it gave them purpose.

A Chess Community in Geneva

A Chess Community in Geneva

In essence, missional community may serve as one of the best ways we can embody the incarnation of Christ — putting on flesh and being Jesus to our world. When we live this out, the focus of the church shifts to hearing and responding to the Spirit. When this is translated collectively, congregations as a whole tend to take more seriously the how and when to engage communities where they live. “

Brandon Hatmaker, Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture (Exponential Series).  Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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Equipping The Troops – a Christian Apologetic Approach

If the Laissez faire is foolish and the Fortress method only temporary, how do we prepare our children for a life of Christian faith that can withstand the arguments and abuse that will certainly come.

Let me begin by saying, if one believes that Scripture is the Word of God and that the Holy Spirit is real and that God’s promises are true then there is no reason to be fearful. Too often however, I have seen parenting that is driven by fear – fear of the world and its myriad dangers.

From an early age, starting with Children’s Bibles, teach the truth as the Bible presents it.skate board ramp (The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor is a classic in this area). Do this daily, whether at the meal table or bedtime. And pray regularly. As the children grow, so must the sophistication of the stories and the discussion. Bible knowledge is the bedrock from which we defend our faith. Memorising stories and verses become essential tools for the future.

Knowing the overarching story of Scripture with the centrality of the promised Christ in the Old Testament and his arrival in the New will protect them from seeing Scripture as a mere set of moral rules. As our children grow older they discover that the Bible is presenting an image of a Kingdom that has come in Christ and will be completely revealed with his return. They need a picture of eternity and the relationship of our earthly pilgrimage to it.

P1030744I could say so much more about this but I think you get the drift. Our children need to be seeped in knowledge AND in understanding. They need to understand the uniqueness of the faith. Critically, they also need to know that God has created them for a purpose in His kingdom, both now and forever.

So where do other faiths come in? Don’t major on minors. What are the predominant counter Christian worldviews today? What do people believe? What motivates the lives of people? What dominant values does the media portray? How is Christianity distinctive from these views?

To understand these motivations is to know where Christianity differs. What are the logical outcomes of these “faiths”? E.g. If we are simply the product of evolution how does that affect our value as humans? How does this contrast with being a child of God? And what about faiths that demand we earn our salvation? What does that reveal about their view of sin and how does that match up with the Christian concept of Grace?

100_9647Finally, as parents we need to model a genuine Christian life where our words and actions, choices and views are shaped by our faith. Our children need to see us talking with God and studying His word. Our children need to see that our lives are not lived out of custom and superstition but out of a living relationship.

Is this a guarantee. No. Ultimately our children will need to make choices of their own. But if you hearken back to Prov 22:6,(see: A Scary Verse)  the principle is that if we set the foundations of faith the likelihood of straying will be greatly reduced.

Categories: Child Theology, christian, christian education, Christianity, Devotional, Faith, Family, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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