But just in case you’ve missed it, let me read you an excerpt from the official ‘Elf on the Shelf’ website to give you an idea of what this is all about:
The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun.
So the Elf on the Shelf is, basically, a more efficient way of Santa Claus keeping an eye on children – making sure they are behaving themselves. Because obviously as we all know, Santa only gives good gifts to good children.
These Elves are highly skilled little creatures, they don’t miss anything, they cannot be tricked, they can’t even be bribed; everything you do or don’t do will be communicated to Santa Claus on a daily basis.
All joking aside, this idea of an all-seeing Elf – it’s really quite frightening. Imagine if everything you’d ever thought, said or done had been noted down and recorded.
This is what the bible says in Hebrews 4:12-13
According to the bible, everything I have ever done or ever will do will be recorded and presented to God. I wonder what list I will be on? Naughty or Nice? What about you?
If you stood before God would He put you on his naughty or nice list? In fact scrap that question – as you stand before yourself today – what list would you put yourself on?
I’ve got some really exciting news for you:
Whilst Santa gives generously for those who are on his nice list, God actually gives generously to those who are on his naughty list.
Let me just explain what I mean by that.
God’s love of you isn’t conditional – it’s not based on how well behaved you’ve been. In fact, because He knows you inside and out, He knows that you struggle with things from time to time. His gift of forgiveness is to those of us who humbly recognise that we didn’t make the nice list.
In the same way that sick people need a doctor – sinful people need a saviour.
I’ve got no problem celebrating the kindness of jolly Old Saint Nicholas, but the real message of Christmas is the kindness of God.
He came as a small baby, the one who created the oceans and sculpted the mountains chose to be born as a vulnerable fetus. Born for one main purpose – to give His life as a ransom for many – to give us the gift of new life.
Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Christmas time means the end of hibernation for some parts of the Bible. Passages like Isaiah 9 are brilliant all year round, but get extra special attention during the month of December:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I wonder what you think of these titles. One of my favourites is:
The Prince of Peace
I reckon most of us imagine “peace” as a state of mind when all is as it should be; money is in the bank, relationships are not too chaotic, you’re not impacted by sickness, there’s no panic about the future – everything is in order and life feels calm.
Feeling peaceful in those times isn’t exactly extraordinary – but genuine peace is actually a bit more impressive than that.
Peace isn’t the absence of problems but a sense of calm in the midst of problems.
That’s why the bible talks about a peace that surpasses all human understanding. Onlookers see you being calm during your current calamity and think to themselves:
“Surely someone going through that situation shouldn’t be as peaceful as that.”
But how do you get that kind of peace?
There really is only one way… you need to meet the Prince of Peace.
Only He can teach you how to be calm in the middle of the storm.
Here’s my Open Letter response to whoever it is that left this note on my car window outside Doctor Phillips & Partner’s Surgery last week:
The truth is there was no other space left in the whole car park and I parked as best I could right in the centre of the space (something you actually neglected to do).
I am slightly confused however as to why you got so angry in your note – especially outside a doctor’s surgery. Fortunately my wife and I were there for a midwife appointment – but I wonder how you would have felt if your note ended up in the hands of someone who had just been told they were seriously ill, with only a few weeks left. Would it have been worth it then?
I’m not angry with you though… at least not anymore. I was angry at first, really angry, but then I realised that me being angry didn’t really help anything, in fact it made things worse.
Have you ever noticed how easily angered we get these days?
When did anger and suspicion become my default position? How come I jump to angry mode the second someone does anything that inconveniences me or upsets me – always assuming the worst in people and always getting defensive.
As a dad with two small boys and another child on the way I’m frightened for my children’s future… in fact I’m terrified… terrified of what hostility they might encounter.
But despite my fear, I’m convinced there’s only one way to respond to the anger that dominates our world, and that’s with kindness.
It’s only kindness that can melt hatred,
It’s only kindness that can turn an angry society around,
It’s only an act of kindness that can bring hope again,
Lord knows we’ve tried everything else…
I’m sure you’re really well behaved with parking and have never broken the rules – but I have… a few times if I’m honest, although on one occasion I had been ticketed and I was actually genuinely innocent – and I could prove it.
Thankfully after a bit of effort and some evidence I was able to get the fine revoked.
It did get me thinking though…
In this situation the onus was on me to contest my parking fine, even though I was wrong as far as the local authority was concerned I was guilty until proven innocent, they weren’t making any effort to fight my corner – they were just waiting for the fine to be paid.
My relationship with God is a bit like that – I have broken rules and as such I incurred quite a hefty fine, a penalty that needed to be paid, in fact we all have:
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3 v 23
We’ve all been caught out and found guilty, in fact, the bible says we have no excuses:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1 v 18-21
And the penalty that is owed is a heavy one:
“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6 v 23
The good news is that there is one massive difference between what happened with my parking ticket and what happens with God.
I had to pursue the local authority to clear my name, it was up to me to chase up my case and fight for my innocence just so I could be let off a petty £25 fine.
But as I stand before God then I have no defence, I actually am guilty. If the onus were on me to fight for my innocence then I would have no hope.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Ephesians 2 v 4 – 5
Scandalously God fights my corner for me! He puts the onus on Himself.
It’s not about how hard we fight or how much we chase – it’s all about Him who stooped from Heaven to pay the penalty on our behalf. He paid that death penalty that we’ve talked about.
I didn’t think that Kings behaved this way?!
I’ve already quoted Romans 6 v 23, but I only quoted the first half, the whole verse reads like this:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.“
This is breathtaking, have you ever heard of something so scandalous?
I decided that the new Exodus; Gods and Kings movie was one that I had to watch on the big screen, so despite needing to be up at 4.30am the next morning I went for the evening showing at my local cinema on New Years day.
I wasn’t too sure if I was going to write a blog about this movie, film reviews are not something I’m really any good at but with it being a bible based movie I thought it would be worth covering, as I did with the recent version of Noah (click here to read).
As expected there’s a lot of online discussion around this new movie with views ranging from the movie being a huge success to it being the activity of the anti-Christ.
The main concerns about this movie surround the fact that Ridley Scott changes or misrepresents various elements of the biblical account of the Exodus narrative, and that’s what most of this blog will address.
First of all, I think it’s worth highlighting that if you’re going to attempt to translate a bible story onto the big screen then you’re always going to be faced with the challenge of creating something worthwhile whilst at the same time remaining 100% true to the biblical narrative – I don’t think anyone has ever achieved this tension… ever!
If what you’re looking for is a movie that communicates nothing other than the biblical text then you’re always going to be disappointed, there are always slight amendments made and they are made for one or all of the following reasons:
As with most biblical stories some detail is omitted and when that happens, writers often fill in the gaps to help bring the story to life a bit more. Creative license at this point can often lead the writer to include some pretty daft details that clearly aren’t anywhere near the truth, but every so often the added detail can cause you to really consider the reality of the story even if the additions are not based in any truth.
A good example of this could be Christian Bale’s inner turmoil as he dialogued with God over the severity of the plagues. Moses is presented at odds with God at various points, which whilst being an addition to the storyline and therefore not necessarily based in any truth, does cause you to reconsider the reality of what Moses went through. It’s easy to read our bibles too quickly. What Moses went through was far from easy and Ridley Scott helps remind us of this.
Inevitably there are moments when Ridley uses creative licence with great success and moments where perhaps he misses the mark somewhat. A good example of him missing the mark could be the decision to include a more military minded Moses, who attempts to overthrow Pharaoh by training up a small Israelite army which only ends in failure – although it did help to emphasise the point that Moses’ efforts were successful only when he trusts in what God says, which obviously is what he later neglects to remember at his own downfall.
Another moment sure to split opinion is the inclusion of some 8 year old child to portray the voice of God – I’m still uncertain as to what I think about this, there were moments where I felt uncomfortable as God seemed to be more like a belligerent school boy but also moments where it was a touch of genius as it highlighted God’s innocence and His raw passion, either way I applaud Ridley for taking such a creative risk – we need more risk takers in cinema.
- It’s not good cinema
For example, this movie portrays Ramesses 2nd as the Pharaoh reigning at the time of the Exodus, which isn’t accurate. Whilst there is some debate over which Pharaoh was in power during the exodus (as his name is ironically not mentioned in the text) it’s pretty much a given that Ramesses didn’t come to power for another century or so. It’s also unlikely that there was such a close relationship between Moses and the Pharaoh in power during the exodus – but again the truth is slightly less exciting for Ridley’s plans to create a blockbuster movie.
Another amendment is that of Moses’ character. According to the biblical narrative Moses lives in Midian for about 40 years before his humble return to Egypt, where he is a different man altogether, however the Moses we see in the movie is more of an agnostic rather than a believing Hebrew. He’s also not a very humble character – in fact he’s somewhat defiant, of God as well as Pharaoh, but again never let the truth get in the way of a good story eh Ridders!?
It would be naïve to ignore that there is always a bias behind the movies we watch – there are always messages and certain ideologies that leak through what you’re watching but that being said it seems a lot of people go a bit over the top when it comes to the so-called “evils of Hollywood”.
I’ve heard a lot of people tell me about Ridley’s evil agenda but if you actually watch the film there are clearly moments when he seems to communicate with confidence the miraculous elements of the story that many secular directors might have been tempted to explain away, although that being said I’m still confused by the significantly underwhelming parting of the red sea – definite let down in the movie plot.
If we are going to get over-excited about the evils of Hollywood then let us turn our attention to more genuine concerns, such as those movies with more subtle ideologies that affect our way of thinking. In my humble opinion movies that are obviously about God that make bold statements are never as dangerous as films conveying more subtle ideologies.
The very real danger we face when we jump on “controversy band wagons” chatting about Ridley’s evil plans and the Illuminati etc is that we stop believing that God is able to use popular culture to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m not for a second thinking that Ridley is hoping to preach the gospel in his directing career, as far as I can see he wants to make good movies and probably a good living – but the truth is God can use his efforts just like He can yours to make a difference. Therefore if there’s an opportunity for us to engage with our unbelieving friends – like there is with any biblical blockbuster then why wouldn’t you want to grab it as a conversation starter?
If God can use Balaam’s donkey to get a message across I’m sure He can use Ridley Scott.
Let me close with this… if you’re going to make a judgement on the movie at the very least make sure you watch it first – after all as Jesus reminds us in Mark chapter 7 it’s not what goes into you that defiles you – it’s what comes out from your heart.
It was October 2008 and Bex and I were settling down for the evening. It had been a long day and were treating ourselves by chilling out in front of the television.
“I wonder how many little heathens we’ll get knocking on the door begging for treats this year?” I asked, as I remembered it was Halloween.
Of course I was only playing, I meant no disrespect to anyone. But believe it or not, that was more or less my attitude.
A little while later, we received a quiet knock on the door.
“I’ll go love.” I said, whilst singing to myself “onwards Christian soldier…”
“Be nice!” Bex called out as I walked towards the front door.
I opened the door to find 2 small children, no older than 9 or 10 I guess although it’s hard to tell these days. They looked pretty shabby I thought. I mean how reasonable is it to call a bin liner sellotaped to your t-shirt a proper Halloween costume? And the other one just had mascara on their face! Surely they weren’t expecting to be rewarded for this!
“trick or treat?” they mumbled rather nervously.
I paused as I considered my plan of attack. I had spotted my sword on the stairs behind me; my English Standard Version bible – ready with highlighted sections for ease of access. I could swing that a few times and cut them right down to size! What bible verses could I turn to? What profound statements could I make? What an opportunity I had to loom in holiness over these sinners!
I looked at my watch, and then looked again at the two young children stood at my door and decided to have mercy on them, after all I wanted to get back to my nice warm sofa and television, getting into a deep conversation with 2 children would be time consuming.
“I’m sorry guys I don’t believe in Halloween so I shan’t be giving you any treats!” I said, rather succinctly.
As I returned to my lounge to continue watching TV, I thought about what I had just said, and how I had treated those 2 young children who had bravely knocked on my door.
As a man who has grown up in a Christian home, I had developed over the years certain Christian opinions, principles and practices, most of which I still hold as important today. However every so often, I encounter a situation that does not compute!
This is where I am confronted with a particular situation that my upbringing feels very strongly about. However, there is something of a conflict, as I hear my upbringing dictating in my ear on one shoulder that which ought to be my perspective and then hearing the “current” me disagree with it on the other shoulder.
No doubt I am not alone, I think it’s part and parcel of growing up! Once and while I have to unpick and re-establish my opinion on certain things, once and a while certain practices and principles that have been wedged in so firmly have to be dislodged.
Little did I know but as I returned to my sofa that evening, in the depths of my heart a particular perspective was being well and truly challenged.
What did I mean that I didn’t believe in Halloween?
Was I saying that I didn’t believe it existed? Obviously not, that would be stupid.
Was I saying that I didn’t believe in the darker side of Halloween; in the practice of witchcraft and the Occult? Again, no as I do believe these things not only exist but have a hugely damaging impact on those who get involved.
What, then, was I saying that I didn’t believe? I was troubled…I couldn’t seem to find an answer.
Then it came to me, I didn’t believe that Halloween was right. I didn’t believe that it was a good way for me to live. I didn’t believe that it was a good way for those children to live.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that I had faithfully discharged life guidance to those young children, I’m sure the Apostle Paul would have been proud. How lucky they were to have knocked on my door; their parents should probably thank me – no doubt those children were returning to their homes, with their heads hanging in shame, totally provoked and challenged by the fact that “the bloke from number 46” didn’t ‘believe’ in Halloween.
…Of course, deep down, I knew that wasn’t what was happening at all. The truth was they just moved on to the next house and had probably decided that next year they wouldn’t bother knocking on my door. More than likely I was already being black listed, just like my dad had been by the Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was a child.
I started to think a little deeper. I started to feel quite uncomfortable with how I had just handled myself.
I started to feel the ache of missed opportunity. I know that feeling well.
“But Halloween is wrong!” I said to myself, trying to justify how I had behaved. “People need to know that!”
The problem is me standing on my door step telling 10 year olds that Halloween is wrong, just won’t have the desired affect… at all! All I was achieving was isolating myself from the young people in my street, and I really didn’t want to do that.
Quick rule of thumb: If you’re communicating the gospel in a way that doesn’t give hope to the unbeliever, then you’re not communicating the gospel.
This got me thinking about a lot of things.
There’s plenty that I could announce to my family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues that is wrong, but shouldn’t my efforts as a witness to the mercy of God run deeper than that? Shouldn’t I be making more of an effort than that? Isn’t the gospel more effective than that?
It struck me as a little sad that at the age of 23 I had never been to a single Halloween Party. I couldn’t even recall having been invited to one.
“I am sure I must have been – I mean I’m a fun guy to be around – just imagine what a great time you would have with someone telling you that you are wrong all the time!!”
“Oh dear!” I was starting to realise that things need adjusting in my mind. The change taking place in my heart was working it’s way to my head.
I had started to learn a very very valuable lesson in life ‘win the person and not the argument’
At the end of the day, as and when my friends start to question life, and want to know the Christian point of view, then I want them to feel like they can come and talk to me. I am sure you want the same in your life – but how likely is that to happen if we as Christians only ever tell our unbelieving friends that they are doing life wrong?
One of the things that strikes me about Jesus is that He struck that beautiful tension between being hard hitting in His perspective to sin, but yet in a way that was inviting to those who were guilty of it. I want to get that tension right. I don’t want to water down what the bible teaches, I don’t want to grow comfortable with sin. But I want people to feel comfortable around me.
Like Jesus I want to be invited to parties, I want to be known as someone who befriends people that the ‘religious and legalistic’ people don’t mix with.
If and when I get that tension right, then the potential for salvation amongst my nearest and dearest will increase.
So what about you?
Halloween is tonight, and maybe like me you aren’t keen on it, but perhaps this year is a good time for you to consider the opportunity you have as groups of young people (sometimes with parents) come knocking on your door.
Perhaps this year is a good time to leave them with a sweet taste in their mouth as opposed to a bitter one (excuse the pun).
Maybe this year Halloween could help you.
For an idea of a good way to get the gospel and Halloween working together follow this link to UCB’s website.