Sunday, August 31, 2008

Song of the Week #2

After the resounding success of last weeks Song of the Week, where I managed to receive an actual comment on the post (never mind that it was from my sister...and that she was making fun of my musical tastes - the point is, I got a comment), I've decided to continue on with another song this week.

Moving into slightly more upbeat tones and such, I've gone for Just Stay by Kevin Devine. It's one of the many great songs that feature on his latest and most wonderful of albums, Put Your Ghost To Rest.

I saw him play live in Chicago last year, and he was excellent - eclipsing even a personal favourite of mine in Owen. He actually played in Dublin last May, but it was on a Tuesday night and for some unknown reason I was actually working at the time, so I couldn't go.

Anyway, give this song a listen and let me know what you think...or don't, as the case may be.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Something Different

Some of you may be aware that I like to dabble in the music recording business every so often. I used to use a free recording program called Audacity to do my dirty work, but a few months ago when I was earning money and putting it to good use (read: squandering it on expensive things like laptops and such) I decided to go all professional and buy a Yamaha AW1600 Digital Recorder. It's an incredible piece of equipment, and as of yet, one which I am still very unfamiliar with. Every time I go to read the manual I just get lost in a sea of 'buses' and 'stereo tracks' and 'mixdowns' and 'loop samplers' etc etc.

However, I have figured out the extreme basics of the machine. I can play my guitar and get the recorder to, well, record it. I can also play several tracks on top of each other, and I can even add in some effects. Armed with this exact knowledge a few months back, I decided to go about recording a version of 'When I Survey The Wondrous Cross'.

Taking a Christian song and recording my rendition of it was something I did a lot of with Audacity, so I decided to continue that on in the new, more expensive era of my home recording. With this particular song, I first of came up with the idea of an almost Braveheart-esque drum beat going right through it, and building up at the end for a rousing finale. Everything else kind of just spawned from that. The drums and bass were both recorded from my keyboard, hence their poor quality. The acoustic guitar and vocals were done through a very nifty condenser microphone, and the electric guitar was picked up with a Maplin-bought dynamic microphone (what was I thinking?) placed in front of my very tiny amp.

The result is quite rough, because I pretty much just played everything once and kept it, unless I just went horribly off time or something. I didn't really spend any time properly mixing the song either, so to say it doesn't sound very professional would be a massive understatement. Given more knowledge and more time, I'd pan certain things and increase the overall volume too. But since I'm too lazy to aquire more knowledge, and since I'd like to think I have better things to do with my time, I've just kind of left it unproduced.

The reason I post this now, having actually done the recording back in March, is that I just learned how to record the song onto a cd this morning, and therefore transfer it to my laptop. Listening back to it now, I'd of course change some things in terms of structure, but over all I'm reasonbly happy with the outcome given the rawness of what went into it. Anyway, have a listen below (best to do so with headphones) and feel free to tell me what you think - with both honesty and dishonesty more than welcome.

PS - This isn't the song of the week.

Friday, August 29, 2008


The following is a question and answer thing I just completed for our church newsletter. It's about my experiences at Encounter earlier this summer, and since I love sharing those with anyone who'll listen (and many who won't), I thought I'd post it on the blog for my loyal reader(s) to see.

What is Encounter and why did you decide to go?

Encounter is a 4 week Christian program where young people from Ireland and America come together to grow in their walks with God and get a taste for the mission field through teaching, training and outreach. You spend 2 weeks doing a 'Sonship Course' and 2 weeks on an outreach team.

I decided to go at the 11th hour, which if you know anything about me, shouldn't be very surprising. My brother had done the program a few years ago, and one of my friends was doing it for the third time this year, so the suggestion was made that I go. After a few weeks of non-stop prayer [?], and after devising a way so that all the good games from Euro 2008 would be recorded for me, I decided to go - not necessarily because I really wanted to go, but because I just knew that this is where God wanted me to go.

First Impression?

As usual for my first day in a strange environment, I wandered around like a boy lost in a supermarket looking for his mommy to rescue him. I got over that phase surprisingly quickly though, and found everyone there to be most friendly and just really good fun. I just clicked with people so quick, and it was almost like some of us had known each other for a really long time. That was truly a blessing from God, and it's what made the whole experience so much more enjoyable.

Best Memory?

I have a lot of fun little memories, but I guess you want to read about something profound and Christiany. So with that in mind, I think my best memory was talking to my discipler Keith for a good 2 hours or so. Without feeling emotionally manipulated or anything of the sort, I was able to be open and honest with this strange Northerner, and just have a life-changing conversation without even realising it at the time. I certainly won't be forgetting it quickly because I still carry the fruits of it with me today.

What you learned/What will you take with you?

I learned a lot about both the heart of God and my own heart. In looking at my own heart, I was able to see it for what it really is, and as the Bible tells us, it’s not the most pretty of things to say the least. But your learning at Encounter doesn't just stop there. There is great hope after all, and for me the biggest thing was both learning and experiencing what it means for God to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. It's an on going process of course, and you don't become perfect in a lifetime on earth, not to mention 4 weeks at Encounter, but through God's Holy Spirit we are adopted as His sons, and we become increasingly transformed into His image, which really is a thing of true beauty

Do you recommend the experience?

Nah, not really. No, I'm just kidding. I would recommend this experience without hesitation. Though I think it's for 18's and up, I would probably say it's more for people in their 20's. We did have at least one teenager there, but it was mainly 21/22 year olds, with some mid to late 20's thrown in there too. Age aside, I found it a great way to develop good friendships, and a sure way to be forced into relying on the grace of God alone, and not my own feeble strength. Encounter was a time where I could raise an Ebenezer and look back and say 'This is where God moved', and that will always stand to me as I progress in life.

* If, like me pre-Encounter, you don't know what an Ebenezer is, then I suggest you look it up, otherwise the second verse of 'Come Thou Fount' will just be lost on you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Third Adam

I've been told by my agent that I need to do more short posts in order to mix things up and keep my readers guessing, so that's what I've decided to do. (Read here for an embarrassingly similar statement from one of the many unintelligent (English) footballers plying their trade today.)

Anyway, in reading 'The Divine Conspiracy' by Dallas Willard (every time I hear that name I imagine someone not unlike this man), I came across this quote he used from Adam Clarke. Clarke wrote many years ago that God is

the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from Himself, without foreign motive or influence; He who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that He has made; illimitable in His immensity, inconceivable in His mode of existence, and indescribable in His essence; known fully only by Himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself. In a word, a Being who, from His infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from His infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just and right and kind.

This got me thinking about how small and unpowerful the God I've created for myself really is in comparison to the God of the Bible;* the God Clarke attempts to describe here. Do I truly believe that God can part seas, calm storms, command things to be just my His word, heal the sick, and do all manner of supernatural things here on the earth, His footstool? Do you?

We would do well to meditate more on who God is and what He is about, as told to us in His Word. Because when the storms of life come, we would be much quicker to put our faith and trust in the God the Bible (and Clarke) describes, than we would if we only have faith in a God who forgives us our sins or removes our guilt, but does little else here and now**.


* those semi-colons really are quite infectious, even if they aren't punctuationally correct (by the way, is 'punctuationally' a word, or am I spellingly challenged?)

** this is not me belittling forgiveness, just for the record.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Become A Moussier You

I got a forward a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a petition to prevent, among others, Joel Osteen from being taken off some radio channel or something. My first thought was of course, 'Prevent!?' I was severely tempted to write back to everyone on the mailing list and let my thoughts on Joel Osteen be known, but I didn't think that would be right.

So instead, I'm going to take a little interview with Joel in which he discusses the finer points of his *gulp* bestseller 'Becoming a Better You', and examine it thoroughly. Here's the link for the video:

Joel Osteen - Become a Greasier You

The interview is done by Borders, a massive bookstore chain in America, with apprantly very low standards. The name of the actual person conducting the interview is not revealed, so I'm going to call him Kyle. He looks like a Kyle.

Anyway, Kyle opens the interview up by saying 'We're here today with Pastor Joel Osteen...'. The madness begins, and we're only 2 seconds into the interview. Joel Osteen may be a lot of things, none of which I shall utter here, but a pastor is not one of them, simply because his gatherings in that ridiculously large arena no more constitute a church than a taping of Dr Phil does. I mean who makes these guys pastors? I say what the Evangelical Church needs to do is appoint one man to be the head of the Church, declare him to be infallible, and leave all the big decisions to him. And that man should be Charles Price. What could possibly go wrong? It's not like this kind of church hierarchy has caused problems or divisions in the past...[?].

We're told the title of Osteen's book is 'Becoming a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Everyday'. Does he think that having it be 7 keys makes it more Christian? Probably. I could stop right here and go on for lengths about the folly of such a title, but all in good time my friends.

Osteen's first words are "Oh I took playsher in appreciatin' whut you guys are doin' for us, an I'm jus enjoyin' the tam", having been thanked for appearing in this in-no-way-contrived interview. What Joel means by this is anyone's guess, but he says it with shiny white teeth on display and a southern accent in full swing, so it must be something friendly, warm, and heartfelt.

Kyle says that Osteen's first book (I know I know - He's written two books? But then so has Jordan! I mean even Jaap Stam has a book out there people!), 'Your Best Life Now', was 'um, a phenomenal bestseller'. I like the way he paused as if he was about to say it was a great book, but then realised that he just couldn't say that with a straight face, so he decided to stick with the facts. The facts in this case being that 'Your Best Life Now' has sold over 4 million copies, which means roughly half the people in Osteen's church now own it.

Kyle then asks a valid question - one that is probably on your mind right now. If Osteen has already released a book entitled 'Your Best Life Now', then what the heck does he need to release a second book for? Hasn't he already given his gullible audience the solution to their 'best life' dilemma? Kyle doesn't quite phrase it like this, but that's the gist of it.

Osteen's answer is simple - "I wanned the money". Oh wait. Sorry. I'm quoting what Osteen was thinking. My bad. (I'm a horrible cynic I know, but I'm confident God will sanctify me one of these days.)

What he says is...deep breath..." wanned ta...I filt lak payple needed ta keep growin'; we all should keep growin', and thet's whut the book is abowet...'

He says that 'Your Best Life Now' was 'a lot about enlargin' your veeeeshun, and thangs like thet, but this book is abowet whut can we do evry dye to become better...'

So in other words, his first book really didn't help anyone to live their 'best life now', and was thus a complete waste of money (and to think I was so close to buying it). However, Joel has corrected that slight error in the first book by releasing this new book that does actually tell us how to live our best life now. Do we have any reason to believe him? Is Joel Osteen's hair natural? The answer to both those questions, is no.

Joel actually addresses the contradiction in book titles by jokingly asking 'Once you've leeuved your best laf, whut can you do?' Well he answers his own question by saying 'In the book (that's the new book) we talk abowet how you do thet - through better habits, better relytionsheeups, better thinking'. Oh good, because I thought he was gonna be vague about this.

What he more or less openly says is that his first book doesn't tell you how to live your best life, which kind of makes it a bit useless if you ask me. I guess he just figures that any idiot who would possibly buy his first book has done so already, so there's no financial harm in rubbishing it and telling people they need to go out and buy the second installment. In fact there's only financial gain to be had by making such a claim, but I'm sure Joel wasn't thinking of that at the time [?].

Kyle then loses my support, as he compliments some aspects of this book (which obviously means he read it - a major no no, Kyle), specifically the stories Joel tells and the way he can communicate on the level of the common man, by including self-deprecating anecdotes which reveal that Joel himself is still learning. Oh that's Joel Osteen alright - the man with the common touch.

"I think that's part of whut Gods blessed us weeuth, is that I don't know it all -- I said it out there todye..." This is where Joel and I agree. God has indeed blessed us all by not making Joel Osteen the source of all knowledge; the one whom we should emulate. Could you imagine if He had? It would certainly be a lucrative time to be a purveyor of hair mousse and fake tan, that's for sure.

Joel then begins line 'Red, I do believe you're talking out of your ass' comes to mind. After taking a few nice words like 'practical', 'growing' and 'relate' and meshing them together to form a largely incoherent sentence, we finally get to the meat and veg of this book. The part that explains the solid foundations on which this book is built. The part where Joel gives us an incite into what lies beneath.

"It's not some fancy doctrine or sumthin'; thase are thangs we cen do evry dye."

In other words, what Joel is telling us is that this isn't a book based on Biblical doctrine and sound teaching from the Word of God. Those 'fancy doctrines' don't really have any practical application to our daily lives didn't you know. However what Joel doesn't appear to realise is that he himself is presenting doctrine in this book. He's giving his readers a set ot teachings to adhere to if they want to become better Jesus' people. It may not be 'fancy' doctrine or truthful doctrine, but it's doctrine nonetheless. And what's more, it's the kind of doctrine that 4 million people will pay money to read about, sadly. (Only in America, eh?)

Joel adds that some people give him some grief over the simplicity of his unfancy doctrine. They say 'Well I already knew that'. Oh dear. If the kind of people who read these books already know what you're teaching, then calling it 'simple' is a massive understatement. The words 'obvious', 'common sense', and 'duh' come to mind. In my head, 'Becoming a Better You' contains things like this:

"Key #3 - Relationships. If you want better relytionsheeups, then you should tra talkin' to people more. Whin I don't talk to people as much as I should, I don't have good relytionsheeups. But when I talk more, I have better relytionsheeups, and I become a better may.

Key #4 - Habits. If you want better habits, then you nade to stop practicin' your bad habits, and start practicin' some good ones. I used to park ma SUV on the far sad of the road, but now I park it on the near sad, makin' thangs easier for may and ma waf, and makin' may a better person as a result."

(Notice the way this is both practical, self-depracating, Bible-free, and when you read it you go 'Duh', thus ticking all 4 boxes.)

There's so much more I could comment on from this 7 minute clip, but since the fact that it is complete nonsense is so obvious, I think I'd be wasting my time, and your time too. Plus, it's just too painful to have to listen to Joel talk, not to mention write it all down, so I'm going to spare my own sanity.

Joel Osteen personifies the word 'magoo'. There's no better word to describe him or his kind. I don't even know if I'd call him a heretic, because he's so far removed from the gospel that it would almost be like calling Dr Phil or Tony Robinson heretics. Then again, Joel does operate under the guise of a pastor, and he brings God into the equation whenever he feels the need (which really isn't that often, thankfully), so there has to be at least something heretical about him.

Then again, maybe there's a place for Joel in the Church Of Jesus Christ. Real pastors can take care of all that 'fancy doctrine', and Osteen can take care of the practical applications. Think of a tag-team consisting of R.C. Sproul and Joel Osteen:

Sproul - "The Holy Spirit indwells the believer, working to bring about a more righteous life and heart. We must be careful, however, not to confuse the indwelling Spirit with any deification of the individual. The Spirit is in the believer and works with the believer, but does not become the believer."

Osteen - "Thenk you R.C.. Whut thet manes in practical tuuurms is that way nade to become better payple by having better habits, better relytionsheeups, and better thinking. For example, this one tam, ma waf and I..."

If I know R.C. Sproul like I think I do, he'd definitely be up for that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Song of the Week #1

In a gimmicky effort to spice up some interest in this blog (I've been reduced to leaving myself comments at this stage, which is not a good sign), I've decided to add a new feature called 'Song of the Week'. It's pretty self explanatory, but just in case you're still not getting it, I'll explain it to you simply by saying it will involve me posting a song once a week (I bet you're just kicking yourself right now, aren't you?). I'll try not to be too self-indulgent, but no promises.

Since Blogger doesn't yet allow you to post mp3 files, but does allow you to upload videos, I'll be adding these songs in movie form by taking a picture and putting some music to it, thus making it possible for me to upload my songs of choice. Pretty clever, eh?

Without further delay, this weeks song is by a band I've mentioned already in this blog - Sun Kil Moon. I mention them again because they are still playing in Dublin on September 20, and I'd still like people to join me (though I may have recruited a certain bearded American, which pleases me).

The song is called Harper Road and it's taken from their latest album 'April', scorer of 81% on Metacritic, which is no mean feat. If you like to hear people picking guitar strings, or if you like songs where the first verse deals with people picking blackberries, then this one is definitely for you. I love it anyway, and maybe you will too.

PS - The picture used was taken in the aftermath of an overnight hike in the Connemmara Mountains from a few months back - the experiences of which will be spoken about when men gather for many a year to come.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


There have been a lot of divorce-related statistics floating around for quite some time now. The general consensus regarding these statistics is that the divorce rate amongst Christians is more or less equivalent to that of non-Christians. This is find very troubling, as a single, male Christian (who enjoys long walks on the beach and good, wholesome conversation).

I don't, however, doubt the validity of the statistic. I do believe that 35% (or whatever the figure may be) of people who say they are Christians and entered into a marriage have suffered divorce. However, what I don't believe is that all of this 35% are in fact Christian. I'm sure there are Christians who for very unfortunate circumstances (i.e. sexual impurity) have had to end their marriage, but my guess (and this is just a guess since I don't have facts and figures and all that) is that most of these failed marriages were anything but Christian, entered into by people who may have been Christian by name, but knew nothing about being Christian by character.

Take the Catholic Church here in Ireland. Now I have a number of theological issues with the Catholic Church in general (none of which I'll discuss here and now), but I have major problems with the way the Catholic Church operates in Ireland. One of those problems is the way the sacrament of marriage is treated so cheaply.

To my understanding (and please correct me if I'm wrong), so long as you've been baptized into the Catholic Church and have gone through the various other membership processes, you're good-to-go in terms of marriage. What a misconception that really is.
Going through a series of motions no more makes someone Catholic than if I were to call myself Australian by going surfing and putting another shrimp on the barbie.

That is not how true Christianity works. All you're doing is taking external actions and proclaiming them as internal truths, which is just not right.

Paul deals with this in relation to the Galatians by saying

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

You can replace the term 'circumcision' with any number of things. The point is, being a Christian has nothing to do with outward actions or signs - it has to do with an inward transformation.

The Catholic Church in Ireland seems more than willing to marry any Joe and Mary, provided they've gone through the external rigmarole. Forget about the fact that Joe and Mary have been living together for the past 2 years; forget about the fact that Joe and Mary don't really buy into that whole 'no sex before marriage' thing; forget about the fact that Joe and Mary only attend Mass twice a year; forget about the fact that they don't read their Bibles, don't pray, don't have any living faith in Jesus. Provided they say they're Catholics and have the relevant documentation to prove it, then what God has joined together let no man put asunder. What a joke, and what a mockery of what the Bible considers marriage.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has a lot to answer for when it comes to marriage, because they are marrying people under the name of God, when in reality some of these people have no more interest in God than an atheist. That's nothing short of taking the Lord's name in vain, which is no trivial thing.

Of course this isn't just restricted to the Catholic Church, and I don't mean to sound like I'm singling it out (which I kind of am I guess). Living in Ireland, I can't help but use it as an example. If you take a trip across the Atlantic, I have no doubt that a similar modus operandi takes place in the 'born-again' circles of America.

Christians are constantly campaigning against homosexual marriages, a topic which I won't go into right now. However, I think that Christians need to start looking at heterosexual marriages taking place within the Church, and putting a stop to some of those. That's right - down with heterosexual marriages!

Okay allow me to qualify that. What I mean is that if a couple is to get married in a Church and be 'joined together by God', then whoever is marrying them better be as sure as possible that this couple are new creations, to use some Pauline language (by that I mean the language of the apostle Paul, not the language of my mother who is called Pauline).

I mean take a Christian kids camp for instance (I'm going somewhere with this - trust me). When I've had to apply as a leader for one of these camps, whoever is organising it doesn't just accept me on the basis that I say I'm a Christian. That would be absurd. No. They ask me questions about my faith, they ask me about previous experience working with kids, they ask me for references from my local church. Basically, they want to know that I'm living out the Christian life, and therefore whether I'm suitable or not for the task at hand. Surely a more thorough approach should be taken for something as important and sacred as marriage, right?

Joe and Mary walk into a church. They say to the priest or reverend or pastor 'So, would you be able to marry us?' The priest/reverend/pastor says ,"Let me ask you a straight up question first: Are you having sex?" Joe and Mary reply ''. The priest says 'Do you think that's wrong?' Joe and Mary say '' and the priest says 'Well come back to me when you do'.

That's kind of a strange example I know, but I think it illustrates my point...kind of [?].

If 'Christian' marriages actually involved two people actively living out their faith, how much less would this divorce rate be? No two people should be said to be joined
together by God when they haven't even been joined with God individually, and yet this is happening all around us.

A concrete solution to this I can't really offer, though I can categorically say I'm not talking about something along the lines of License to Wed, which is not a funny movie in case you ever wondered (Oh Robin, where did it all go wrong?). But surely the Church Of Jesus Christ has to have standards. Any couple that is joined together by God must then live under the lordship of God. To proclaim the former while knowing that the latter to be a sham is, as I've said, to take the Lord's name in vain. This must avoided at all costs.

There are of course numerous other reasons as to why Christian marriages are failing, even amonst Christians who do have faith in Jesus and who are regular Church goers etc etc. In his
sermon based on Colossians 3:15-17, Charles price says

Now I am fully aware of course, and fully sympathetic to the fact that there are issues which cause a marriage not to continue. But somewhere along the line it would seem to me that the way we conduct our marriages is not out of a rich indwelling of the Word of God, but out of a pragmatism and personal preference and a self-indulgence which permits us, when it's inconvenient, to jettison the Word of God in favour of our preferences.

This depreciation of the Word of God is another huge issue in the church, but not one I'll talk about now (consider it added to the list containing 'Catholicism' and 'Homosexuality').

The point is, if the divorce rate amongst Christians is similar to that of non-Christians, then something is severely wrong with our definitions of both 'Christian' and 'marriage'. Maybe it's time Christians stopped focusing so much energy on stopping gay marriage, and started focusing more on cultivating God-centred, Christ-empowered heterosexual marriages.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cross-Centred Music

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." - 1 Cor. 1:18

It was at a CU meeting about 6 months ago that I heard this song first. We were having a special resurrection meeting (by that I mean we were talking about the resurrection, not actually performing one. Best leave that to Todd Bentley. I hear he's well into double figures now).

Alice, our CU president, decided to open the meeting with a song before one Dr Arden Autry spoke (that was the 'Our story became His story so His story could become our story' talk, for anyone who was there). Now of course don't get me wrong - Alice didn't play or sing the song, though I'm sure she could have (she's a closet pianist, or at least was until I just outed her about 3 seconds ago). She merely put in a CD, located the song, and pressed play. I don't believe I had ever heard the song in question until that moment, but I certainly don't believe I'll be forgetting it. Not until I'm old and crazy anyway.

The song is called 'The Power of the Cross', and it's written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend - the same duo who've given us the transcendent 'In Christ Alone' and other instant classics. This one might just be my favourite of them all, though it's still too early to tell.

There is just so much to love about it, but I'll mention 3 stand-out things that grab me:

  • It's cross-centred to it's very core. There aren't a huge number of cross-centred songs that I like, both in terms of lyrical content and melody. 'When I Survey' and this one are two of them. It's hard -- nay, impossible -- to encapsulate the impact and significance of the cross into a song, but 'The Power of the Cross' does this ever so well. It's a 'hair standing up on the back of your neck' song if ever there was one.
  • I like the way it shifts between third person and second person in relation to Christ. The first and third verses almost tell the story, whereas the second and fourth verses get more personal - 'Christ' becomes 'You'. It's great writing, and it really gives a wonderful incite into both the objective and subjective power of the cross.
  • Thirdly, I love the change in lyrics for the very last chorus. When you hear it for the first time it really catches you off guard, but in the best possible sense.
We've only done this song once in our church, but I'm hopeful that that will be the first of many times. Songs of this caliber are few and far between, so it's vital we embrace them when they come around. I've sang 'In Christ Alone' scores of times, yet it still remains fresh to this day. I'm confident 'The Power of the Cross' will have a similar fate.

Anyway, if you're interested, here are the words and a nice Youtube video to watch as well:

Oh, to see the dawn Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.


This, the pow'r of the cross:

Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—

We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.

Ev'ry bitter thought, Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

(Repeat Chrous)

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.

Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

(Repeat Chrous)

Oh, to see my name Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.

Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

Final Chrous:
This, the pow'r of the cross:

Son of God—slain for us.

What a love! What a cost!

We stand forgiven at the cross.

Stuart Townend - The Power of the Cross

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Ring of Ends

The following is the slideshow presentation that our O-team produced after our 2 weeks in Ringsend. There are a few jokes you may or may not get, but even so it's still a decent video, with one of my all time favourite songs in the background.

Between you and me, it was hands down the best slideshow on display at our debrief in Rathdrum. But to put that bold statement into perspective, Team Wexford (whom, for the record, I love very, very much) lumped every last photo they took into one folder, clicked 'play as slideshow', and then opened up Windows Media Player and ran some random tunes from there.

In Keith's own words,

"It was the worst presentation I've ever been a part of, and quite frankly I'm embarrassed to stand here and have you guys watch it."

And what's more, if the photo ratio's are to be believed, then apparently Team Wexford spent most of their time in a local playground. 'Maybe they were evangelising to street kids' you might say. Well, I think this photo and others like it prove otherwise.

Team Wexford know I love them though (see above statement), and that this is just the jealous rant of a man who's still bitter about the fact that they got to sleep in king-sized beds while he slept on top of three strategically placed cushions, all the while trying to fend off advances from his roommate Ryan, who just wouldn't take no for an answer! As Cindy Hylton might say, I was living 'missionar...'. Actually you know what - maybe it's best if I don't repeat that little faux pas.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Anyone for Tennis?

I played my first set of tennis in about a 5 years last week. OK that's a slight exaggeration. I played my first competitive set of tennis in about 5 years last week. I don't count the games I've played against my Dad in that time. For one, he's not especially good (no offense?), and furthermore, what he plays isn't so much tennis as it is an unnamed game where one lofts the ball so high over a net that it reappears with bits of cloud attached, thus forcing the opponent (me) to either do the same ad infinitum, or frustratedly smash the ball back, which usually results in the ball smacking the fence that surrounds the court, or else bouncing about 5 feet in front of the net. Either way Dad wins the point, and the opponent (me) becomes increasingly enraged, leading to excessive moaning and bad sportsmanship. (That said, I still always won our matches, but Dad always won the moral victory, and promptly lectured me on my behaviour during the ride home. Gotta love those lectures, eh?)

Anyway, my game last week was against proper opposition. I played the mighty Paul Clarke, who's as good with a racket as he is a butcher knife. Paul, like myself if I may say so, was once a prodigious talent when it came to tennis. In Maree, Oranmore where Paul lives, there is something in the water that makes kids exceptional at racket sports - chiefly badminton, but with some tennis and table-tennis on the side. And yes, in case you're still in shock that I used to exercise, let alone be quite good at tennis, I can reaffirm as much, and I'm sure others will back me up on that (the fact that those 'others' consist of my parents and siblings is irrelevant, and I'll have no one say otherwise).

There was indeed a point in my life when tennis and I were very good friends. I remember going to a week long tennis camp when I was in primary school and being by far and away the best player at it (not to be, um, prideful or anything?). When the competition at the end arrived I was full confident I would be crowned champion, but it was not to be. Some guy who wasn't even part of the camp ended up knocking me out in the semi-finals. I was crushed. Dad had to buy me an ice-cream to try and stop the tears. Oh that's right - there were tears, and lots of them (I used to be really competitive and take games super seriously, but thank goodness I don't do that anymore [?]).

My game was reminiscent of Andre Agassi or Michael Chang, but with a bit more power and versatility (just kidding. You hardly think I'm that prideful, right? Right? Please say something...anything). Basically, I was that annoying guy who returned everything until you got frustrated and made a mistake (kind of like my Dad actually, but with lower trajectory). My serve was (and after last weeks evidence, still very much is) weak in all areas, but I played the game with a certain degree of natural intelligence, and could disguise my shots reasonably well.

And so I walked onto the pebble-ridden, low-netted court in Maree last week with a mixture of nostalgia, hope, and sheer terror as I pondered the kind of tennis I would produce after such a long absence from the game I once loved.

My fears were justified, as I was easily dispatched by a similarly rusty but much more dependable opponent in Paul. It was either 6-1 or 6-2. It doesn't really matter. I was beaten convincingly by a better player, and so I have no complaints. (In case you're wondering, yes, Paul bought me some ice-cream to stop the crying. That was very kind of him.)

However, though I lost the set, I've won back my love of the game (that sounded a lot less cheesy in my head, though on second reading I have no idea how). There were extremely brief moments when I looked like I actually knew what I was doing (one particular winning volley comes to mind), and right now I've got a sizable desire to play again soon and try to recapture some of that old form that had the tennis community of Galway whispering all those years ago.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Mummy

I saw the latest 'Mummy' movie a couple of days ago. It is not a good movie, and this is coming from someone who actually found the first two 'Mummy' movies quite enjoyable. That's not to say I didn't have fun watching this film of course. I have some form of masochistic side to me that enjoys seeing horrible, horrible films (which I'm sure is the same side that urges me to switch the channel to E4 when One Tree Hill is on). Not all bad films qualify though. They usually have to be fast-paced, contain 'witty banter' that is neither witty nor banter, and star someone who is nice to look at.

The Mummy ticked all three of these boxes and then some, so my dark side was left more than satisfied by the awfulness on display. For starters, there were no actual mummies in this movie called 'The Mummy'. A bit misleading, don't you think? Yes there was a dead person who was brought back to life, but not all dead people brought back to life qualify as mummies. I mean are the makers of this movie planning on basing their next 'Mummy' movie on Jesus? I should think not. The fact that this movie about mummies has no mummies in it is a very good indication as to the thought that went into it - minimal, if any.

What makes it hard for me is the fact that Al Gough and Miles Miller (creators of Smallville) wrote this thrash. Despite what anyone tells you, Smallville was once a very good show. And so I must ask, have Gough and Miller just completely lost it when it comes to writing? They must have written the script for this around the same time they penned season 4 of Smaillville, which I hope for their sakes was around the same time they both went on a year-long drug and alcohol fuelled binge. At least that would provide an explanation for the utter crap they produced during that time period.

Another problem I had with this film was that most of the main actors in it were playing characters of a different nationality to their own. Now of course when that's done well there's no problem, but when people can't be bothered keeping up an accent it just gets annoying. We had an American lady pretending to be English, an Australian pretending to be American, a Scot pretending to be English (after all William Wallace did for you!?), and Brendan Fraser pretending to be an actor. Why didn't the casting directors just hire people form the country their character was from? Were they so struggling to find people that they had to use any idiot who for some reason read the script and actually agreed to act in this film, even if said idiot was the completely wrong nationality for the part? Yeah, that sounds about right.

As for the plot, there were Yeti's in this movie. I think that speaks for itself. Basically, things just kind of had to be done for no apparent reason. Initially we're lead to believe that if a stone is placed in some special place then the Dragon Emperor will be awoken and immortal and so forth. But then once that's done another clause on the immortality contract appears, then another, and so on until the hour and a half is up.

One of the dumbest scenes (and please believe me when I stress that this is saying a lot) is when this army of dead soldiers is awoken by the good witch (played by Michelle Yeoh, who made this movie a little easier on the eye) and they run out of their grave all fired up and ready for some killin'. They see Brendan Fraser and gang and are about to slash them to pieces until, wait for it, Brendan Fraser actually reasons with them [?]. He's like 'No, we're with ye' and then these killing machines who don't actually speak English just cease from attacking them and instead go after the bad guys. Huh?

I could go on and on, but this film isn't worth it. Unless you're like me and you derive pleasure from pain, don't go see this movie. Or at least don't pay for it anyway. Go see The Dark Knight again instead (assuming you've already seen it).

To give you one final insight into the badness of this movie, there is a scene where the two love interests are having this ridiculously cheesy conversation, and one of the guys in the cinema just sighs and says, "Ah for f**k sake". Excusing the potty mouth, I think he spoke for us all at that moment in time, and what's more, he had me laughing for about 5 minutes. The perfect reaction to a most imperfect film.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Oh, The Humanity!

I've been going through Charles Price's series on Colossians over the past few weeks (as I'm sure you have since my recommendation a week or two ago [?]). As always there is lots to chew on from his sermons, but one of the most thought provoking points he makes (which of course isn't restricted to mere thought, as you'll see) comes from verse 15 of the first chapter:

"He is the image of the invisible God..."

It's easy to see the deity of Christ in this passage, right? However, I don't know about you, but I completely missed the humanity of Christ which is contained in this little sentence. Charles Price says that many people are quite aware of the deity of Christ, but when it comes to His humanity there is not that same understanding.

If we look at the very beginning of the Bible we read:

So God created man in His own image. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them. - Gen. 1:27

Adam and Eve were created in God's image. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. So when Paul talks of Jesus in this way, he is not so much speaking about the deity of Christ as he is about the humanity of Christ. Of course the pre-fall Adam isn't equal with the incarnate Christ. As we'll read soon, Adam was from dust, but Christ is from heaven, which is of course a significant difference with significant consequences for us.

Anyway, though man has been radically corrupted since the fall, there was once a point when mankind reflected the moral character of God. As Charles Price says,

If you and I existed apart from Adam and Eve and we wanted to know what God was like, we could simply go along to the Garden of Eden, hide behind a tree and watch the way Adam and Eve live and behave and act and react and you’d see what God is like. They were His image.

Of course as I've eluded to already, they fell, and they ceased to show what God is like. Having been made in God's image and enjoyed perfect union and relationship with God, man turned his back on God, with dire consequences. However, this was not the end of the road for human beings. 1 Corinthians 15:47 reads

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

Paul is describing Jesus here in terms of 'the second man'. So when we talk about the humanity of Jesus, we are not talking about humanity as we know it, in its corrupted and depraved state. We are talking about Him being the second true human being. Jesus Christ is what a real man is supposed to look like. Charles Price says that,

If you want to know what a human being is supposed to be like, if you want to know how human beings were designed to behave, look at Jesus. He is the image of what human beings were intended to be – the image of God.

We often think that Jesus was is disguised as a man. We think of Him as God with a man-costume thrown over Him in order to blend in (a doctrine known as Docetism). But in reality, Jesus is fully human. Fully God, but fully human also. He is as real a man as Adam was created to be, but unlike Adam, He is divine. While Adam was created in the image of God, Jesus Christ is the image of God.

So what's the implication of this for us? What does Christ becoming the 'second man' accomplish? Well in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes on to write

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

We have inherited Adam's sinful nature. All we have to do is look within our own hearts for proof of that. But now, through Christ, we can become "the righteousness of God". We can be restored to reflect the image of God. How? Well later on in the first chapter of Colossians, Paul calls this 'the mystery hidden for ages and generations', but is now revealed. And that mystery is:

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

That's the gospel. That is the hope that is offered to the world. Acknowledging your sin, repenting of it, and relying on Christ's work on the cross is not some kind of get-out-of-hell-free card. It's the beginning of a union with Christ. It's God actually indwelling in you by his Holy Spirit, and transforming you into His likeness. That's the beautiful goal of the Christian life.

The third part of Charles Price's series expands on this revealed mystery, but I won't go there just yet. The point of this is to show the profoundness and reality of Christ's perfect humanity. Where Adam failed, Christ succeeded.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. - 1 Cor. 15:21, 22

As fallen human beings we have been given a second chance by the Second Man. "The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit." When J.C. Ryle wrote that though it costs to be a true Christian, it pays, this is the payment he is referring to - the hope of life, the hope of glory.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Does Christianity Make You Cross?

I've been reading a book called Holiness by J.C. Ryle for the last few months. (Is it just me or do all true men of God have names that go X.Y. [Surname] - R.C. Sproul, D.A. Carson, N.T. Wright, F.F. Bruce. From now on, I insist you call me D.J. Kelly). There's a lot to discuss from it so this certainly won't be the last time I mention it, but I bring this book up now because it came up in a conversation the other day. Yesterday, in fact.

We got to talking about people who used to be Christians but have now turned their backs on the Christian life. Obviously this is a tricky topic, and I'm not going to go into things like 'Were they even Christians to begin with?' and 'If so, then have they lost their salvation, or is that possible?' These are fascinating questions no doubt, but I'm not going to answer them for several reasons, chief of which is that I don't know the answers, which kind of makes all the other reasons a bit irrelevant.

Anyway, the issue at hand is why this happens? Why this fallout? If Christianity (and more specifically, Christ) really is the one true answer to all of life's questions then why do people let go of it when they have it in their grasp?

One of my fellow conversers gave Biblical proof that such a thing will happen, because we are told "the gate is narrow and few will find it".

So while we know what will happen - few will finish the Christian race - the why wasn't clarified. Enter D.J. Kelly, armed with his previous night's reading material. I said to them 'These people never counted the cost.'

Ryle opened his chapter entitled 'The Cost' with the verse in Luke that says:

'Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost?'

The people we mentioned who have fallen away from Christ, the people who turned their backs on him, in all liklihood never truly counted the cost, or were never taught to do so to begin with. And this goes as a warning for me to. Have I sat down lately and counted the cost? Am I aware of the struggle that lies ahead? Do I know the hardship that a life lived for Christ entails?

Ryle says that "a religion which costs nothing is worth nothing". So what does it cost?

He lays out four costs which he elaborates on. These four are:

- It will cost him his self-righteousness...He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible reading, church-going, and sacrament receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ.

- It will cost a man his sins. He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God's sight...There must be no separate truce with any special sin that he loves.

- It will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble, if he means to run a successful race towards heaven.

- It will cost a man the favour of the world

This may not be an exhaustive list, but it covers most of the things which make Christianity a 'narrow way'. When we look at this list, is it little wonder that people opt for the broad path? And more pressingly, if you're a Christian, when you look at this list, can you identify with these costs? Are you out of favour with the world? Is your life difficult and troublesome? Are you willing to surrender those sins which you would wish to cling to? And most importantly, are you willing to give up all trust in yourself and trust only on Jesus?

I ask these things of myself as much as anyone else, because as Ryle puts it,

A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end to be a useless Christianity, without a crown.

How often is this kind of message preached when people are putting their trust in Jesus for the first time? How often do pastors remind their congregation of these hard-to-swallow truths? Ryle says that we should "Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to count the cost."

Jesus never made it easy for people to follow Him, nor should we. There is amazing hope in the gospel, of course. We're not supposed to just give people a doom and gloom picture of what it means to be a Christian. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" is the goal of the Christian life. We will one day be fully restored to the image of God, and enjoy perfect fellowship with Him and one another because of all that Christ accomplished. But to get to that place there is a price to pay and a cross to bear. To be aware of this and to daily draw on Christ's strength is to run a successful race. To be ignorant of this and turn back to the broad way is to gain the whole world, but lose your own soul.

"It may cost much to be a true Christian and a holy man; but it pays." - J.C. Ryle


(For another excellent resource on the cost of living a Christian life, see Creflo Dollar's sermon series entitled 'Putting the $ back in Chri$tianity'.)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Home Alone...

But not really. Paul has been staying here with me, so we've got that whole Chandler and Joey thing going on - except for the funny jokes and the endless string of women. So in other words, we're nothing like Chandler and Joey, apart from the fact that we're two guys living together. We do watch a lot of 'Friends' though. That counts, right?

'So how is Dec surviving?', you may or may not be wondering. Well, so far so good. I've been holding fort at my sisters house for a week now, and apart from a few empty coke bottles strewn about the place willy-nilly, things are pretty much as they were before my arrival.

As for feeding myself, I bought 3 big boxes of cereal (only 1 of which can be considered a kids cereal, so there) which means I've got breakfast covered for the next few weeks. I've never been a big lunch eater, so I just have a yoghurt, some bread, and maybe a piece of fruit to get me through 'til dinner.

Dinner has been a resounding success so far - or at least that's what I think anyway. Why do I think that? Well for one, I haven't had pizza every day. Please believe me when I say that this has not always been the case during previous short-term stints of independence. I'm embarassed to admit it, but there have been times when I've had pizza maybe 5 days out of 7, just because. However, Paul and I have only had pizza twice out of 8 meals. That's a pizza to meals ratio I feel I can be proud of.

The other meals have included fajita's, burgers, chicken and pasta, and of course my speciality - spaghetti bolognase. All in all, I'm more than happy with the way dinner has gone, and I do feel I've learned quite a bit in that department. This is all thanks in no small part to Paul of course. Being a former buthcer, he knows his way around meat in a way that I can only dream about. In short, he has opened my eyes to a few things around the kitchen, and more importantly, he has opened my heart to a fresh passion for cooking...(that last part was a joke).

In terms of the negatives I've encountered, there aren't actually that many. There is one overwhelming negative however, namely that the Wilbur's bathroom is (for want of a better description) really, really crap.

It has to be one of the worst house bathroom's I've ever gone about my business in. For starters, the cold water tap just doesn't work. This hasn't had a major impact on bathroom life, since the hot water tap actually dispenses cold water, but the very fact that there is a completely useless tap just bugs me.

Also, there was no proper toothpaste when I arrived, so I've been using this kids toothpaste for the entire week. Now of course you could argue that that's my fault for not buying toothpaste, but you have to understand that the kids toothpaste tastes really nice! Therefore, I'm not exactly pushed to go out and buy proper toothpaste, since I've come to realise how boring and tasteless it is.

And then there's the toilet itself. I won't get too descriptive here, but suffice to say that when you flush it, it doesn't always get rid of, er, everything. In fact yesterday was the first time in a week that we didn't have morsels of so-and-so floating around, and what a joyous day it was indeed. Thankfully we didn't have any visitors use the bathroom this past week, but what if they did? To the untrained eye, it looks as if Paul and I just don't bother flushing after we drop a deuce, and that's just not true! It just takes so long to actually re-flush the damn thing, so it's not worth your while hanging around and waiting for the tank to refill. You just figure you'll get it next time you go to the bathroom, but you never do.

And finally, the shower. There's so much wrong with this shower that the only positive thing I can say about it is that it is in fact water that comes out of the nozzle...I think. However, the water comes out so slowly that you're almost waiting for the next drop to hit you. Basically, you're not so much showered as you are tickled. And not the good kind of tickled - the horrible, annoying kind. After a couple of showers (yes, I've had more than one shower this week) I did finally worked out the desirable temperature setting, but it doesn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things.

These bathoom-related grievances aside however, things are going well chez Wilburs, and they're about to get better now that there's a 'Laguna Beach' marathon showing on MTV. Just kidding...or am I?