The main focus of this BLOG, is to uphold those simple, and clearly defined truths, that are so often missing from Christian life and conversation.
(There may also be the odd film or book review along the way as well as stories from my life)
If you wish to use material from these posts, you may do so, but please respect the work of the writer. Proper attribution, and accurate quoting that is faithful to the context is appreciated.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Is vs Does.

I have a question for you. How do you approach God? What is the fundamental basis of your relationship with him?

Is your view of God determined by; Who He Is, or by What He Does?

Well, what's the difference? You may well ask, and I'm glad you did. Because I suspect the answer, has a lot to do with why many people fall away from their Christian faith. I also believe it is the by-product of so much faulty faith teaching. It is the poor foundation of so many coming to Jesus, because they believe, or were promised, that Jesus would "do" something for them.

It is also the basis of a great many religions. They tell us that we have to do something, in order for god to do something. We have to vie for his attention, and then we may get a favourable response, a reward, maybe, if he can be bothered. In other words, if we don't do something for god, then he doesn't do anything for us. So now the focus comes back to our actions. Did we pray enough, was the offering too small, should we have fasted longer, was our faith weak?

In other words if we don't perform for God, then He doesn't do anything for us. Isn't this just some sort of fairy tale Santa Claus faith? Where good behaviour/performance brings a reward, while poor behaviour/performance . . .
This kind of thinking plunges us into doubt, self condemnation, feelings of unworthiness. So we try even harder right? Yet nothing changes.

Faith based on God's response to our actions becomes self centred. "I" didn't get healed. "I" didn't get the promotion. "I" don't have a spouse. God didn't speak to "ME". Now God "OWES ME" something.
So if God didn't act, has he then done something wrong to us? Are we now His victims? Wallowing in feelings of resentment and injustice? And doesn't this sort of thinking govern our view of sin also? If we see God purely through the prism of what He does, then we expect judgement and retribution. Then we get that tired old mantra raising it's ugly faithless head.

"How can a loving God do . . ." You can fill in the blanks yourself, you've heard it often enough.

So, what if our faith is based, not on what God does, but on who He is? After all God revealed Himself to Moses, not as the God who does, but the God who is. The "I AM".

Because this is the true foundation of our faith.

Hang on wait, wasn't the work of the cross something He did?
Yes, but it was done because of who He is. God is Love. He loves us, because he is love. And that makes all the difference to our faith. Because while God has a sovereign will, He cannot act independently of  who He is. His Nature and Character are unchanging. Not only that, the work of the cross was a paradigm shift. It revealed a new facet of God's character. Prior to the cross, the idea of a sacrifice was in fact the very problem we're dealing with here. Those sacrifices, a common enough practise in the Ancient Near East, were made to obtain favour, to appease a god, to get something from a god. The work of the cross was a reversal of this practise. The cross appeased God's own demand for judgement, and it was done to show favour towards us. He bore the cost Himself. Because of who He is. It was done, not to get something from us, but to give something to us. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, favour, eternal life.

So if our faith is based on who God is, rather than what He does, then it doesn't change us does it?
If one gets healed but another doesn't, if one gets promoted ahead of us, we continue to go through a trial, seemingly without end. Let us not forget, Daniel was thrown into the lion's den. The Hebrew slaves were thrown into the fire. Joseph was a captive, a slave, a prisoner falsely accused. But all of them, their faith was unshaken. Not because of what God did, but because of who he is.

This then is what true faith is. It is an unshakeable relationship with a living God. Not based on what He may or may not do. But on who He is.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Simple Childhood Summers

For my family.
These are some of the things I remember about summers in Murray's Bay.

Checking the tide charts to see when we can jump off the wharf. King tides that seemed to last all day. The starting gun goes off for the yacht race. Twilight swims in the dark green waters.
Sprinting over hot, black, iron-sand to the cool refuge of the waves. Exploring the rocks at low tide. walking the pipeline to Mairangi Bay. Or, "around the rocks" to Rothesay Bay and Brown's Bay. None of these beaches were any good though, ours was the only one with a wharf. Then we got a new wharf.

Fishing for Sprats to feed the cat. Piper for the frypan. Eels from the creek to cook over an open fire.

Dragging the mattress out on to the lawn for the first sunbathe of summer. Picnics on the rug under the apple trees. Dad's cold ginger beer from the fridge, watching ants scurry amongst the grass.
Throwing breadcrumbs out for the birds.

Bagpipes, band practice and marching through the Devonport shops at Christmas. An expedition up Saddleback Rise, hunting for a pine tree to decorate, putting tadpoles in a jar. Grandma's Christmas Pudding with a sixpence in  every slice. Mum's homemade plum jam with the stones still in.

Burying my face into a half-moon slice of watermelon, pink juice running from ears to chin, spitting out the pips.

Digging a new trench for the compost heap, laying in rows of beans, corn and peas. No thanks I don't like swedes. Grapefruit halves for breakfast when the sugar has soaked in overnight, and a frozen cup of cordial.

The apples are ripe at last, Granny Smiths and Wine-saps,  shelling peas and chewing on the pods. Butter dripping from corn on the cob. Sunday roasts.

Endless summers at the beach lying in the sun, salt caked, brown skinned, sun bleached hair. Driving my VW over to Lake Pupuke for a fresh water swim to wash the salt off.

Night-times at Waiwera hot pools.

Macrocarpa hedge battlegrounds and tree surfing, watch out for the wetas. We knew they could jump at you, but  I never saw one that did.

Walking back from the shop with a fresh Sunday loaf and luncheon sausage, six slices on number eight please. Popping the tar-babies barefooted.

Vampire jets and Skyhawks on approach to Whenuapai Airbase.

The smell of wood-shavings and animal glue in Dad's shed. His homemade radio tuned to 1YC, or maybe it was A, what was the bird call of the day? The Radio Valve jazz ensemble with the four armed drummer plays along. Is it time for The Goon Show yet?

Digging prickles out of the lawn. One cent for the small ones, Two cents per large. Pocket money for Girl Guide Biscuits.

Raiding Uncle Norm's toffee supply, sneaking in through the bamboo jungle.

Bonfires, fireworks, Military Tattoos, and the Speedway.

That's the trouble with growing older, time marches relentlessly on, priorities change and memories fade. So we marry, have children and make a fresh batch to share with them.

I never really thanked my Dad for moving the family to Murray's Bay. It was the best place in the world. And no matter where else in this world I may live, I will always think of this place, as "Home."

Thanks Dad.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Reading in bed

I'm sick, in bed, with a book.
Apart from  the sickness, it's one of my favourite things.
The hours spent under warm blankets, cool cotton  sheets.
Shaking off sleep to finish this chapter.
Waking up, the light still on, the book fallen down.
Where was I up to? I don't remember this part.
Must be further back.
Search for the last dog-eared corner, working my way forward.
Filling in the blanks when I dozed off and on.
Like catching up with an old friend.

That's what this book, and all the others have been, old friends.
And the adventures we've shared together.
African safaris, bombing raids over the Rhur valley.
Charging into battle, armour clad sword raised on high.
Running through jungles machine gun at the ready.
In the depths of the oceans.
Hunting submarines, giant squid and whale.
Falling in love.
Adventures that take me off world, to moons planets and stars.
Known and unknown.
Worlds that don't exist, yet seem so real.
And yet it is all a fiction.

But there are true stories as well.
People that lived, loved, laughed and wept.
They broke the sound barrier, scaled Everest, conquered the frozen poles.
They didn't quite walk on the moon. They went to sea and to war.
I went with them all, and came back again for a new adventure.

That is why I write,  to share the adventure.
To tell you stories real and imagined, worlds I have and have not seen.
We will visit them together.
Walking the deserts, the forested hills and grasslands.
Cross rivers and oceans, soaring to the highest heights.
And come back safe, plan the next adventure and set off once again.

That is why I write, and that is why you read.

Monday, 21 July 2014

A declamation of John Fugelsand.

Will Christians please stand up for the REAL Jesus.

A little while ago I saw a quote from John Fugelsand (a comedian and actor) posted on Facebook. It  was labelled, "an amazing rant", and seemed to be both "liked" and applauded by a number of people. On the surface, it looked fairly benign. Further examination however, reveals a litany of inaccuracies and populist viewpoints.

Here is the quote as printed in the Huffington Post. Which also quoted Fugelsand as saying "God is a sociopath". A statement I have a great deal of trouble with. For now I'll just deal with this one and examine it a piece at a time.

"Jesus was a radical non-violent revolutionary who hung around with Lepers Hookers and Crooks.
Wasn't American and Never spoke English.
Was anti-wealth, anti death penalty, anti public prayer (M 6:5) But was never anti gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control and never called the poor lazy.
Never mentioned torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked a Leper for a copay.
And was a long haired, brown skinned, homeless, community organizing, anti slut shaming middle eastern Jew."

"Jesus was". The first two words are troubling. They put Jesus firmly in the past tense, which can only really apply to certain life events, i.e. He was  born in Bethlehem. He was crucified. To apply the past tense to his character and views is to suggest that he changed. The correct view of the nature and character of God is that he is "unchanging". Mal 3:6. To say "Jesus was" is to consign him to history. Just another good man, like Ghandi or Mandela.

"Radical non-violent Revolutionary". No, wrong again. One people group of the time that were keen to align themselves to a messianic figure were the Zealots. They sought a violent overthrow of Roman oppression. At no point did Jesus align himself with their cause. As for non-violence, well he did make that whip and made a mess of the corrupt money-changers' trade.

"Hung around with lepers, hookers and crooks." No, an incorrect point of view. Yes he did go to the home of Simon the Leper, Matt 26:6 and Mark 14:3. It is most probable, however, that Simon was a leper that had been healed, most likely by Jesus. Under Jewish Law, as a leper, he would have had to live outside of the community, away from his family, definitely not in his own house. Visiting a leper would have made Jesus unclean and excluded him from temple worship. Simon is identified as "the leper" in the same way that the other Simons were identified, "the sorcerer" "the zealot" "of Cyrene" and "Simon Peter". It is the same for the numerous Marys we encounter. The correct view here would be that these groups of people sought Jesus out, underwent a radical life change, and then followed him. Jesus in no way ever condoned their continuing to be "hookers and crooks".  The only exception here would be Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew full well his corrupted duplicitous heart, but knew also his key role in the greater plan.

"Wasn't American and never spoke English". At the risk of sounding juvenile here. Well d'uh, nice going captain obvious. At this point in history neither the English language nor the USA existed. I get the point though, this is an attack on the American church, rather, the more fundamental side of it that claims to be the sole arbiter on all things Biblical. So he's not being pro Jesus here, he's attacking his church.

"Anti wealth". No. A reference to the rich young ruler, the camel through the eye of the needle. A common assumption. But wrong. The full context is the position the acquisition of wealth takes in your life. If you have riches only for your own sake, then you live selfishly. This is a point made very clearly throughout the Bible.

"Anti Death Penalty" This comment is tied to the "Anti Slut Shaming" comment at the end. Wrong again. Jesus could not countermand the laws of God. The very same laws he exhorted others to obey.
What he did was demonstrate what grace looks like, he places mercy above judgement, remembering that he will act as judge in the end. Until then his mercy is available to all.

"Public Prayer". Wrong, Jesus himself prayed publicly on many occasions as well as privately. What Jesus warned against was false piety. A self righteous religious expression that was performed solely for the approval of others.

"Torture, tax cuts and copays." Coupled with public prayer, this is a political statement. It has nothing to do with Jesus. While I am not familiar with the term "copay" I gather it is some U.S Medicare/Obamacare arrangement. Yet when Jesus healed the Lepers he commanded them to show themselves to the priest, and make the sacrifice that the law requires for their cleansing. Sounds sort of like a medical examination with a payment attached to it?

"Anti-gay, abortion, birth control". While these were not current topics in the time of Jesus' ministry, it draws on a weak assumption. Just because Jesus did not address an issue, that does not mean that the rest of the Bible, (the other 62 books) doesn't either. There is a proper theological process for interpreting scripture. It was ignored, in this well rehearsed poorly researched statement.

The final section is a bunch of fairly obvious, needless statements, a couple of points he finally gets right. Jesus was a middle eastern Jew.
I do take issue with the "anti slut shaming" part of it. Jesus would never have used such a derogatory term. It says more about Johns view of the adulterous woman than it does about Jesus. Jesus offered her forgiveness, not harmful insulting labels.

In the end, these views offer us a politically correct Jesus, the Jesus people are comfortable talking about. These are incorrect assertions based on ill-founded assumptions. There is very little of anything by the way of truth here.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

This is another one of those book verses film dilemmas.

When I first heard of the movie I thought "Chick Flick." I haven't seen the movie in total, just a snippet somewhere in the middle, it didn't grab me. But, once again I found myself with a book that I wasn't likely to pick up because of the movie. This time, it was a present from my wife.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author, Louis De Bernieres, is a multiple award winning writer. So again, my new criteria, to only read award winning books and writers, was satisfied. A little bit of research revealed that the author did 26 or so rewrites of the book because he wanted to get the story right, he wanted to be faithful to the people and history of Cephallonia. It has all the flavour of an extremely well researched book. Touching on; music, medicine, history and culture, and always, with the authority of someone very well acquainted with their subject.

De Bernieres writes in many voices; male, female, goatherd, musician, doctor, priest, soldier, Greek, Italian, German and others. There are two chapters devoted to Mussolini, one, in the voice of "Il Duce", elevating himself in marvellous pomposity and self delusion. While another pillories the dictator with delicious irony and mock praise. It is the voice of one that has had the veil torn away and now sees the unclad emperor in all his naked transparency.

There are parts of this book that are reminiscent of Hemmingway's "A Farewell to Arms". But this is a much better telling, a far richer landscape. It was a book that at times I couldn't put down, and at others was loth to continue. It is a book rich with humour, and yet it is appalling. It makes us laugh at our own humanity, and at the same time it disgusts us with our "Inhumanity". It is, in many ways, a true Greek Tragedy. In the midst of calamity we laugh. In the midst of joy we despair.

When reading "A Farewell to Arms" I deduced the outcome about two thirds of the way through. Yet  with this book I was genuinely reluctant to reach the end, because I wasn't sure. I felt as though the writer had gone too far from a possible "happy ending", and was just tying up loose ends. I thought he had left clues, while always I was missing the obvious ones. I thought the story was about one theme of continuity and moving on, something from the past being carried into the future. But I was wrong, and I am glad I was wrong. It is many themes, it is many stories. It speaks to a past and a future.

I only have one small criticism. And that is, that this book has the hallmark of a writer a little bit too in love with his own vocabulary. He uses highly descriptive words when simpler will do just as well. Then you realise maybe he's just in love with some new words and keeps using them all the time, whenever they can justifiably fit in. That kind of writing annoys me and smacks a bit of literary pride. If a word or phrase satisfies the ego more than the story, it shouldn't be there.

I recommend you read this book, but don't stop there, read his other works. I'm going to read more of De Bernieres. Because his ability to weave a story is stunning.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Book Review. Marley and Me.

There are certain actors, that for me are a kind of "no go zone." I'm quite sure you're the same. If they're the star of a film, you probably won't go and see it. For me, one of those actors is Owen Wilson. Jennifer Aniston falls into a similar vein, but has at least attempted some films with more weight to them. So naturally, I didn't bother to see the movie release of Marley and Me. I don't have a grudge against Owen Wilson, I just don't rate him as a serious actor. I find him one dimensional, and I don't think he's good enough too carry a film, especially one with so much emotional weight as this.

With all this bad publicity running around in my own head, I wasn't likely to pick up the book. But it was recommended to me by someone in my writers group. When I saw it in a second hand bin I thought I should give the writer a chance.

Lately, I've been reading a lot of books that have gone to film. Mostly, films are a poor interpretation of the writers intention. They do not convey the heart and weight of the story. In future, if I want a good story I may just pay the equivalent of a movie ticket on a book.

Which brings me to this book.

John Grogan  is an award winning journalist and columnist. So it's a pretty good bet that he knows how to write a story. He does, and he does it very well.

He wrote Marley and Me in 2005, it was a best seller. The film was released in 2008. So yes, I am a little late with the review, but let's continue anyway.

Marley and Me is his own, or rather his dogs story, in fact it's both. Actually, it encompasses the whole family, and as Marley grows, so do they. The Grogan's wanted to try raising a dog before they tried being parents. If raising the worlds worst dog is an adequate primer for parenthood? Well I don't know about that. What I do know is this. It is a story of; joy, frustration, grief, celebration and life. It is heart warming and heart wrenching.

Marley is a big lunatic goof ball of a Golden Labrador. He will barge his way through the screen door of your heart, and leave fur balls behind. He was expelled from obedience school, but wins hearts everywhere.

Grogan has written this story with warts and all honesty. He let's us in, even into the most personal moments of deepest despair. If he's pulled any of his punches, he hasn't pulled them by much. He will make you laugh out loud, then give you a moment to cry. You will do both and won't be able to put this book down. Even when you know it's going to hurt if you continue. But he doesn't leave you there, in the end he lets you recover. He gives the reader hope. It's not a happy ending, but it is a healthy one.

After reading this book, you probably shouldn't go straight out and buy a dog. But if you love a good well written story, you should definitely go out and get a copy of this book. I'm certainly glad I did.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Emotional Cloud.

In our enlightened modern society, it has become increasingly difficult to have a simple little thing like, an opinion.

It used to be said, "Never talk about Religion and Politics." Well that list seems to be growing. Now it is nigh on impossible to hold an opinion publicly on any number of newly taboo, hot button topics. Subjects such as; Climate Change, Asylum Seekers, Same Sex Marriage, Euthanasia, Abortion, Indigenous Rights and many more.

Dare to express an opinion that is contrary to the accepted mainstream view, i.e. the one that is  most loudly trumpeted in the media by the overly vocal minority activist, and you get labelled "Hater," in a flood of intolerant backlash. It matters not if your views are indeed hateful or not, it has been expressed, and it differs to theirs, that is enough.

There have been many instances in the past year, of people being publicly castigated, even persecuted for their traditional views on marriage. Orson Scott Card, and the CEO Of Mozilla for instance. They have been labelled "Hateful" simply because they hold an opinion, dared to express it, or acted on the conviction of their belief.

But this is not a new phenomena, and it is not unique to a select few. It is common to all of us. We view life through an emotional cloud. We attach identity to issues.

A common joke in journalism, I'm sure you've heard it, says. "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Well I fear we tend to do just that. Why don't we take the opposite stance. Let's try this.

Don't let a good story get in the way of the facts.

This was highlighted to me recently, in one of those tedious emotionally charged posts that circulate in social media.

This one was about some guy in Africa, who worked with Elephants. The post was wrought with highly emotive details about how all these Elephants walked for "days" to stand at his property to mourn his death. A beautifully told story. But it wasn't true. Well the part about his death was true.
Then I looked at the comments below the post, because quite honestly, I smelled a rat. Sure enough, there were comments from people that had bothered to do the research, and proved the inaccuracies in the tale.

Predictably, there was a backlash, comments along the lines of. "I don't care what truth you have dug up from wherever, it's a beautiful story." Yes, but it's not true. That's the problem, the story got in the way of the facts.

We all do it. We attach too much importance on a fictional T.V. character. We take ownership of an issue, we hold to a particular political party, a football team or code, and all else fades from view. Our attachment clouds our vision, worse, it clouds our ability to reason.

I'm about to take a very treacherous journey into the unknown. I'm writing a book, it's my second, but this one's a novel, my own creation. Today, I finished the second draft. Like most writers, I'm very close to it, too close in fact. So I have to submit it to some first readers. I no longer know if it is a good story or even well written. I've read and reread, rewritten, edited, scrapped bits, added other bits and generally spent so much time staring at the words that I am no longer certain. I have to let go. I have to entrust this thing to others. I need an objective view.

I'm writing this today, to remind myself, to step out of the emotional cloud, and face the facts. Whatever they may be. Hopefully, it will make me, and my writing, stronger.