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I blame the fans…

article-2662751-1EEFA6C100000578-82_964x640If there’s anyone I think I blame for England’s defeat at the hands of Uruguay last night, it’s not Rooney, it’s not Hodgson, it’s the fans…

Don’t get me wrong it’s hugely disappointing to watch and there’s definitely things our national team need to get better at, and from my massively inexperienced perspective it’s the basic footballing principles, things like closing a player down, marking your man, applying pressure are things we seem to struggle with at the moment.

But hands down the biggest cause of our defeat in my opinion is me and you, the English fans, the English press. Have you noticed just how much we crucify our players in the media or on twitter if they don’t perform?

Something I noticed during last night’s game against Uruguay – we started off shaky and nervous and things got more shaky the moment Suarez headed his first goal past Joe Hart, BUT the moment Rooney finally managed to hit the back of the net, then things changed for us, it might have only been for a few minutes, but they changed. Suddenly we were confident, energetic, creating space and opportunity.

Here’s what I think is happening.

England are suffering a serious lack of confidence on the pitch, confidence that as individual players, they have buckets of whilst playing for their clubs.

WayneRooneyTake Wayne Rooney for example, there’s absolutely no doubt that this guy is a world class player – he’s scored some mind-blowingly good goals in his career and he’s respected and renowned the world over, and yet he receives so much abuse from English football fans.

This year it’s even gone up a notch – people have now targeted Wayne’s wife; Coleen. Seriously? I mean seriously when did that become an OK thing to do?

We tweet all these abusive comments and gestures and then for some stupid reason seem to think that it won’t make any difference but of course it will.

How stupid have we become?

If we are continually abusive towards people then that’s going to have an impact. If we continually apply pressure onto the shoulder of our sporting representatives then of course eventually every so often they will buckle.

I’ve got a revolutionary idea to fix this… it’s crazy so you have to bear with me.

Why don’t we become supportive.

The clue’s in the title a little bit – I’m an English supporter… therefore I ought to support England!!

As a dad with two young boys I can tell you I get a much better response when I’m encouraging and supportive towards my boys. That doesn’t mean that I don’t give them the hard truths at times – but I do it with respect.

There you go… RESPECT, that’s something we’re not too good at here in England.

One of the phrases that gets thrown about during these times is “national disgrace” – the media hang the players out to dry, but I think the real disgrace is how we treat our team and I think it needs to change.

Winston-ChurchillI’m proud of my heritage and I think we’re better than this. We have an opportunity to properly get behind our team, show them our support, show them that they’re not alone in this tournament. Rather than kicking them when they’re down it’s our job to pick them back up again and fill them with confidence, to help put that British Bulldog fire back into their gut.

So it’s Friday and we have a game against Costa Rica on Tuesday, our fate this year largely depends on what happens between the other teams in our group – but why don’t we as supporters start tweeting encouragement to Stevie G and the boys in the run up to potentially our last game. If we are going to go out in the group stages let’s go out with a bang.

Unless we start respecting our team and doing our bit to give them confidence I don’t think we will ever win a World Cup or a European Championship.

It’s up to you… you know what needs to be done.

Your life is a jigsaw puzzle

When_the_sadness_takes_over___by_Noga_chanSometimes we can experience moments of real tragedy and heartache in life. I wonder if you’ve ever had one of those moments, a situation that totally floors you.

If you’re anything like me bible verses like Romans 8:28 can be tough to work through in these times. How can God be working all things together for good when so much suffering exists?

puzzle_pieces_istock_000005653019smallRecently I’ve started to view my life as a jigsaw puzzle, and each day of my life is represented by a single piece of this puzzle.

Some days are colourful and vibrant – full of joy and expectation.

Some days are less colourful.

Other days are just totally black.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but for a picture to come to life, there needs to be depth and dimension.

670px-Draw-a-Shaded-Sphere-Step-4Even those shady and dark jigsaw puzzle pieces have a purpose in this regard. A picture can’t come to life without some shading to provide definition. The darker colours help the brighter colours stand out more.

Ultimately the dark days can be used to help emphasise and highlight and draw attention to the colourful and vibrant parts of the overall jigsaw puzzle.

It might sound crazy but even the dark days of our lives end up playing a huge part in making our finished picture beautiful.

It’s in our times of lament that we often learn life’s most valuable lessons.

It’s in our times of trouble that we remember to treasure what’s most important to us.

It’s in our difficult days that we learn to be more like Jesus.

Your life is a jigsaw puzzle and every day is important.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Aside

Max Clifford vs Jesus Christ

363180_1We heard recently that the prince of the PR world, Max Clifford has been sentenced to 8 years in prison for sexually assaulting 4 women.

Max Clifford is a man who has made his living from the secrets of the rich and famous. His job involved ensuring the continuity of the popular facade of those in the spotlight.

Now I’ve never met Max but certainly a lot of people seem to suggest that it’s possible an element to his success also involved using the secrets of certain celebrities to his advantage, after all when you have your publicist knowing the detail of your dirty laundry then it would be dangerous to not treat him like your best friend – wouldn’t it?

What I find most interesting is the stark contrast between the behaviour and reputation of Max Clifford and that of Jesus Christ.

we-all-have-secretsWhereas (it has been suggested) Max Clifford knew the deep and dark secrets of many and used these secrets to enslave people in order to profit himself. Jesus Christ knows the deep and dark secrets of everyone and still works to see people set free… even at great cost to Himself.

Many who have approached Max Clifford in the past will have done so to prevent people from finding out about their hidden shame, and Max was able to provide them that service albeit it at a cost.

Many more have approached Jesus not just to remove their hidden shame from the public arena but to remove it totally. Jesus Christ isn’t interested in making you look good, he’s interested in making you completely good, He’s interested in setting you totally free.

You see Jesus can deal with your bad habits and your bad behaviours. Max Clifford may have been a pro at covering up shame but that doesn’t deal with the root problem, it didn’t deal with his problems… he’s now in prison because of them.

All those who have put their trust into Max Clifford will be sorely disappointed and no doubt fearful.

partnerAll who have put their trust into Jesus will never be disappointed and need never be afraid again.

Whoever you are, or whatever you’ve done Jesus Christ wants to help you.

It doesn’t matter what your secret is Jesus Christ is trustworthy… still!

“I’m not worthy but I am worthwhile”

Have you ever had one of those moments when you suddenly become a little bit more aware of your own shortcomings?

It’s rubbish isn’t it?

couple-arguingThe other day my wife and I had an argument, and when we settled down again afterwards, she very graciously pointed out that I was unnecessarily nasty during the argument; I made some unhelpful and quite hurtful comments. As the truth dawned, as my eyes opened to how I had just behaved, it felt like a dagger in my heart. “Wow I can be quite horrid sometimes!”

When I’m being totally honest I regularly let myself down, regularly fail at achieving my own standards of behaviour – never mind that far off standard of perfect holiness as set out for me in the Bible.

There’s absolutely no doubt that I am not worthy of all that God has done for me.

ashamedMy rebellion towards God and my flagrant disregard for His caring instructions has warranted punishment. And yet God, in His desire to fulfill justice and yet rescue me from the consequences of my own sin, decided to absorb my sin and endure my punishment.

I don’t deserve that. I am not worthy of that kind of love. Never have been… never will be.

But despite being unworthy, God considers me worthwhile.

As I dare to survey the wondrous cross, as I comprehend the barbaric and torturous death that Jesus endured alone, on my behalf, I can’t help but be impacted by two things:

1. My selfish and stupid rebellion is what put Christ on that sinner’s cross.

I have no right to a self-esteem in that regard, there is nothing in myself worth esteeming. And yet I have access to the most robust sense of self-worth imaginable because:

???????????????????l2. Jesus willingly and gladly put Himself on that cross because of His great love for me.

I am so loved by God that Jesus gladly died that death so that I didn’t have to.

I may not be worthy… in fact I’m definitely not… but I’m considered worthwhile.

When not to shout at your kids!

1509896_687343708268_2110143034_nIf you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll probably know that I’m a dad to two young boys; Caleb-Jack (aged 3 and a half) and Reuben (aged 18 months).

Now I’m no expert to parenting and I’d never profess to be, but I have learnt a few things here and there.

I’m a big fan of discipline, in fact I would argue that our society is suffering because of a lack of it… BUT there are 5 scenarios I’ve come across when I really think it’s a bad idea to shout at your kids:

1. When your kid does something wrong because they genuinely didn’t know any better

Imagine the scene – you’re pushing the supermarket trolley down a packed aisle and then you notice your 1 year old has grabbed a jar of mayonnaise only to throw it on the floor. Mortified you shout at your kid as you figure out what to do about the mayonnaise mess your kid has created.

The thing is, did your child realise it was wrong to grab the jar that was positioned within reaching distance? The likelihood is they had no idea, and all that’s happened is you’ve taken your embarassment out on your poor child who doesn’t understand why.

Now obviously discipline doesn’t necessarily mean shouting or smacking – sometimes it can just mean advising. In this sort of situation there’s nothing wrong with being firm and explaining that it’s not OK to just grab things from shelves – but is it really fair to shout or smack a child for doing something that he or she didn’t understand was wrong to do?

Sometimes we would solve a lot of problems if we as parents were a little better at communicating to our children what we expect of them.

2. When your kid does something they see you do

angry_parent_baby_800472989I remember telling off my eldest boy Caleb-Jack for biting my arm and even giving him a light smack on his hand. He cried of course, but I knew I was right to smack him… or was I? I had a friend with me at the time who very graciously pointed out that just a few minutes earlier, whilst tickling Caleb-Jack, I had been playfully biting his arm. I couldn’t believe how hypocritical and unfair I had been. He was just wanting to continue playing and I shouted at him for it.

I wonder how many times we shout at our kids for only doing things they see us do.

We have to be careful with this one of course – just because we’ve done it too it doesn’t always mean that it’s right to be copied, but it’s worth remembering that when dealing with young children it can be incredibly difficult for them to learn what’s wrong and right if they copy the behaviour they see from their parents only then to be punished for it.

3. When your kid inconveniences you

Shamefully this is one that I can so often be guilty of. Frustration can lead to a sincere lack of patience, especially when you’re tired and then all of a sudden we find ourselves treating God’s precious gifts with such disdain.

A small example can be found when I’m putting my boys to bed and they want me to read just one more story to them and I have a shed load of work to do so end up just shouting angrily at them.

Again it’s worth being careful with this one – children will push the boundaries and get on your nerves – it’s part of them figuring out what they can get away with. But when you’re getting frustrated mainly because your child is inconveniencing you then it’s worth remembering that this little person needs you to be gracious and patient with them… after all they are still learning… and so are you by the way.

4. When your kid accidentally injures you

I did this literally a few days ago. I was playing with Caleb-Jack and he head-butted me causing me to bite my lip. I got instantly cross with him. Thankfully however I managed to catch myself doing it and so stopped and apologised for being angry.

I wish I could say that I’ve always been quick to correct myself in this regard… but… well I haven’t.

If your kid accidentally injures you I’m not sure it’s ever right to get cross with them – even if it’s really tempting to.

5. When your child behaves childishly

A-child-playing-outdoors--005I guess it’s fair to say that a big part of parenting is about preparing your child for adult life, however it’s very easy in our day and age for children to grow up too quickly, and we’re not helping matters when we rebuke children for behaving childishly.

It’s easy for us as adults to get very grumpy and a little boring and as such we find the childishness of our kids slightly irritating.

NEWS FLASH: If your child is 5 – then it’s likely they will behave like a 5 year old. Yes it’s healthy parenting to encourage our kids towards adulthood – but don’t rush them – let them take their time. Allow them to enjoy their childhood – be the catalyst to them creating brilliant memories that they will carry with them long into the golden years of their life.

Childhood can and should be incredibly precious, and incredibly beautiful.

Everyone knows what happens if you try to rush baking a cake… it all goes horribly wrong. It takes decades for a child to turn into an adult – it’s not a process that should be rushed – it’s a process that should be nourished and enjoyed.

Just as a quick side point – your children will learn from you what adulthood should look like, in fact they’ll even start to shape their understanding of God on the basis of how you treat them. So consider them in the same way God considers you – precious and worth dying for, that perspective will always help with parenting.

Here are my 5 examples of when it’s not OK to shout at your kids – perhaps you have some other examples you’re aware of – please feel free to leave a comment.

 

 

 

The New Noah Movie… and all it’s glorious controversy

noahthemovie

Last night I had the privilege of attending the UK Premiere of the new Noah movie in Leicester Square, London – one of the perks to being a radio presenter at United Christian Broadcasters I suppose.

A few people have asked for my opinion on the film, so rather than having lots of separate individual conversations I thought I would just blog about it.

I’ve decided to come at this from 3 different angles:

From the perspective of a Film Lover

photoDarren Aronofsky has created a superbly epic and genuinely enjoyable movie; I loved every minute of it. (Without sounding unnecessarily nerdy) I loved the mise-en-scene in this picture. Aronofsky has an eye for creating engaging and breathtakingly beautiful scenes – there were moments when I caught myself thinking out loud; “oh wow that’s beautiful” I said on a number of occasions. The iconography was thought-provoking too – so much symbolism that I’m convinced I need to watch it again, maybe chew over it a few more times to fully appreciate all the flavours.

It’s not just Darren who out-did himself – the cast were also inspiring – their commitment to the development of each of the characters was impressive. The more I think about it, the more I struggle to identify a better person to play Noah than Russell Crowe. Emma Watson had my heart in her hands again with her engaging acting – this girl is good and she just seems to be getting better. Not forgetting Jennifer Connolly and Ray Winstone who were also both brilliant in their respective roles.

As a person who really enjoys watching a great movie I was not in the least bit disappointed, and on that premise alone I would happily recommend Noah as a film worth watching. I love that God has blessed people with creativity and talent that means I get to enjoy great storytelling through the medium of film. God is good.

From the perspective of a Bible Lover

Bible-in-lightIt’s often been said that my middle name is pedantic, I’m the guy that picks up on the smallest detail and holds it under the microscope – in my mind our theology compass needs to be as close to correct as possible because if we are just a degree out then, whilst it might not seem like much, 100 yards down the road we will suddenly find ourselves way off our target and the only outcome of poor theology is heartache.

That being said I think this whole issue really hinges on what you’re expecting from the movie. Darren Aronofsky is an atheist and his desire (believe it or not) isn’t to see God glorified, his desire was to make a great movie, in fact at the premiere he talked about his passion behind making a great and provocative movie and how he’d wanted to do this since he was a 13 year old boy and in this, I believe, he has succeeded.

If you’re going to this movie in the same way you’re going to scripture – to understand and engage with the inerrant word of God then you’re going to be disappointed – but I would suggest caution if you did that with any bible based movie – films created by flawed men and women will not carry the same weight as the bible that was written by God (albeit via Holy Spirit inspired people).

Darren and team have been really clever and careful in how they’ve handled this story. In fact very little (from what I can see on first glance) actually contradicts with the short narrative we have of the story of Noah in Genesis. I say very little, although there are some minor discrepancies like the fact that neither Shem, Ham nor Japheth had wives whilst on the ark – which not only is not true to the story but also makes repopulating the earth slightly more confusing, although just to be clear Shem does have a girlfriend that comes on board.

Other than that the big concerns are not the contradictions to the Noah narrative (as I say there is very little) but on the creative license that has been used in areas where the bible is somewhat silent.

rglizlu-get-a-better-look-at-aronofsky-s-bizarre-noah-creatures-the-watchersA big part of the story focuses in on “The Watchers” who are rock like characters who help Noah in the building of the ark. Who are these rock like characters? Well they are fallen angels – it seems that it’s a mild reference to the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis 6. Not a great deal is known or understood about the Nephilim and there are numerous theories as to what Moses was talking about here – but my biggest concern is that these fallen angel characters were depicted as good guys who were really just misunderstood by God who was quite grumpy with them – akin to a foolish parent who didn’t see what really happened between two brothers and so hands out discipline unfairly (I’ve been there a few times I’m sure… but God never has!). I’m not comfortable with the notion of branding the demonic and outright rebellious as misunderstood and really good at heart, nor am I comfortable with the notion of a callous and careless God dealing out discipline willy nilly.

Interestingly enough a lot of people are concerned because the character of God throughout this picture isn’t portrayed appropriately – “where’s the loving side of God?” people have been asking. I would somewhat side with this complaint – God is portrayed as distant in this movie, and I think the film is poorer for ignoring the Father heart of God BUT at the same time I think our generation has massively sanitised not just bible stories but God Himself. He has been and remains fiercely committed to justice and righteousness, at no point has He stopped being bothered about how we treat people on this planet of ours – I loved that this movie reminds us of God’s righteous anger towards sin and injustice.- it was uncomfortable to watch at times… I think it was meant to be.

What I think this film was particularly helpful with is bringing certain aspects of the familiar Noah story to life with a healthy dose of reality. We read our bibles far too quickly sometimes and don’t let the reality of the story affect us – Darren’s interpretation helps to put some meat on the bones. One of my favourite examples of this is the portrayal of Noah in the movie. Growing up as a child Noah was nothing more than a peace-loving hippy who liked rainbows and doves, but in reality he trusted God enough to build an ark when everyone else mocked him, he would then have had to protect the ark as well as his family when the rain started to come and the floods started to rise – this would have been difficult. Russell Crowe’s manly portrayal of Noah was a breath of fresh air in my opinion – watching him come to terms with the wickedness of man and God’s commitment to justice, whilst at the same time recognising the wickedness in his own heart and staying true to the task at hand all whilst doing his best as a dad to look after his family was moving to say the least. The way the character of Noah was brought to life for me was one of the best things about the movie.

From the perspective of a People Lover

LentCrossThe truth is there isn’t any film that we shouldn’t watch without a good level of discernment and sadly I think our generation is sincerely lacking it, however I think it’s possible to let God use a film like this one to stir thoughts and questions from our friends.

I’m a big believer in engaging with people where they are at – not just bashing them over the head with the bible shouting the clichéd “Jesus died for your sins so you don’t have to go to Hell”. People need to be engaged with on a personal level, on a level that they feel is relevant to them and their lives – I think this film gives us ample opportunity to do that.

This film presents us with a number of fairly hefty themes and subsequent questions that will no doubt be a talking point between you and your non-Christian friends… if you let them.

Questions like:

“Why does God allow suffering to continue post-flood?”

“Will God come back and judge us again?”

“How can I be saved from judgement?”

What a phenomenal opportunity you have to unpack the story of Noah and show them God’s glorious grace. How easy it could be for us to can bring Jesus into the conversation; Jesus Christ the truer and better Ark. The one vessel who carries us safely through the storm, the one vessel who endured the beating of God’s righteous wrath against all our sin, whilst keeping us safe – hid within, the only way for us to experience and enjoy new life after the flood.

From the perspective of a film lover I thought it was superb, from the perspective of a bible lover there are cautions, but lots of good too and finally from the perspective of a people lover I whole-heartedly recommend engaging with this film and more importantly engaging with those people in your life who don’t yet know about rescue from judgement that comes to us in Jesus.

This year for Lent… I’m giving up Lent

lent_with_rough_wooden_crossThis may come as a huge shock to a lot of you but even though I have been a Christian for almost 25 years now and I have never ever really celebrated Lent.

…Give yourself a couple of minutes to adjust to this news, take a walk – get some fresh air – maybe a cup of tea or a cigarette and then come back and continue reading…

Now I have nothing against Lent, or those who celebrate it and I also have nothing against giving things up for a season – in fact I think it can be hugely beneficial for us to stop and take stock of what is actually important in life.

However my only concern with things like Lent is that people start to use it inappropriately. I find it very interesting to observe people’s reactions when I tell them that I don’t participate in Lent. The response is usually ‘Oh I thought you said you were a Christian.’ As if taking part in Lent was essential for me to be able to call myself a Christian. I like to respond with ‘Yes I am a Christian, that’s why I don’t need to take part.’

keep-calm-and-pray-a-hail-maryFor hundreds of years an awful lot of people have slipped into Christianity various traditions and rituals, that (although perhaps meaningful) are not necessary to our relationship with God, and tried to claim that they are.

This frustrates me a little.

Again there’s nothing wrong with taking part in tradition – sometimes it can be quite enjoyable (even more so when we remember why the tradition is there in the first place) but when tradition starts to become something that we consider as a necessary part of our relationship with God then that’s when we’re getting things wrong.

This problem actually took place on numerous occasions in the New Testament, in fact on one occasion the Apostle Paul actually publicly confronted the Apostle Peter about his behaviour.

11 But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

The issue here is that Peter grew up as a Jew and had ordinarily followed certain rules about how one should behave and about what one should eat. So when he was with the the gentiles he was happy to enjoy his freedom in Christ but when the circumcision party (Christians who also were once Jews) arrived he didn’t want to be seen as not obeying old traditions.

LentCrossHere we see that Paul is reminding Peter that because of the all-sufficient achievement of Christ on the cross of Calvary we are no longer bound by “law” (by following certain rituals and traditions and rules) – we now live righteously by faith.

Let me just highlight four traditions that are often seen as a necessary part of Christianity but are in fact unnecessary – they might be helpful and meaningful from time to time but they are not necessary to your relationship with God:

1. Lent – Helpful to give things up and to spend time remembering what Jesus went through in achieving our salvation – but we also need to remember that Jesus cried ‘it is finished’ on the cross – meaning that nothing else needs to be added – no tradition, no good behaviour – nothing – his grace is enough for me (and for you).

2. Confessional Booth – The bible encourages us to be accountable with each other and as such it’s healthy to confess sin (wrong doing) to each other. But this particular tradition becomes very dangerous when we start only confessing sin to a vicar and not to Jesus. The whole purpose of the cross was to bring us back into relationship with God, Jesus dealt with our sin so that we could have relationship with Him. If we start going to a vicar instead of Jesus, hoping that the vicar can deal with sin then not only could we be guilty of idolatry but we are also still lost in our sin.

3. Performing Hail Mary’s – I have seen this used time and time again for long periods of time where believers will pray to Mary asking her to intercede for them because they are sinners. This has a similar result of the confessional booth in that people turn to someone other than Jesus, they turn to someone created instead of creator God hoping that they can deal with their issue of sin. Perhaps it’s because it’s far too scandalous for our minds to cope with the fact that it is indeed creator God who took it on himself to deal with our sin and shame – we aren’t used to that sort of behaviour. We absolutely must not turn to anyone other than Jesus for absolution from our sinfulness. That’s why Jesus said in John 14 v 6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Rosary beads4. The use of Rosary Beads – This is where believers will repeat various prayers whilst running their fingers around the rosary beads. This often used to focus the believers mind on important moments of salvation history. I actually think this is often very helpful for people – anything that gets people meditating on Christ and what he achieved has to be a good thing. The only time this starts to become unhealthy is when we as believers start to practise using the rosary beads because we have just done something wrong and in order to show God we are sorry we pray ritualistically.

My other slight draw back to the Hail Mary’s and the Rosary Beads is that it just doesn’t communicate much of a relationship. We have become adopted children to Father God and therefore we need to communicate to Him as though He were our Father (because He is).

With the above two traditions things can get awfully unnatural and robotic. I would be very upset if every time my son wanted to communicate with me he just reeled off repeated prayers that I had heard a million times already.

So as I finish this blog on tradition and Lent let me say that if you are practising Lent then I hope it is doing you good – but don’t forget that it’s not a necessary part of your relationship with God. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

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