Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have Yourself A...

It's that time of year when the Kellys, the Clearys and the Wilburs gather together for some festive cheer in the form of Secret Santa. I can pretty much predict what's going to happen: We go to Wilburs and lounge around on their sofas for half an hour with faces that don't really suggest it's Christmas time. Then when my two nephews become completely uncontrollable we decide to finally exhange gifts. My aunt suggests we do it based on age, so that the youngest gets their present first (I think we should set this rule in stone, just so that she doesn't continually have to suggest it). Each person opens their respective gift in fear and trepidation, hoping in their heart that maybe this year they'll get something they actually need, but knowing in their head that this poorly wrapped present will prove to be just as useless as last years disaster...and the year before that...and the year before that...and the...

On opening said useless present, there will be one of three reactions - 1) jovial indifference, where a joke is made to clear the air, because after all it's Christmas, and who really cares about presents?; 2) mere indifference, where you're just not sure how the recipient feels; and 3), blatant disappointment, where someone who really should have known better gets visibly upset about the standard of present received. I won't name names, but everyone falls into one of these categories, and you know who you are with regards the third one!

There may be a game played after this, unless the Clearys decide to go home early. Toward the end of the evening we'll have a quick discussion on how we are going to do things differently next year, or perhaps we'll just decide to cancel the whole thing because "it's a bit much".

Well, it hasn't been either changed or cancelled yet, and I hope it never is. Some things are best left untouched, because it is their imperfections that make them the perfect moments that they are.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nekkid

This isn't terribly original of me, but I recorded a version of 'Naked As We Came' by Iron and Wine which is pretty much the same except with an electric guitar added to the mix. I haven't ventured to record anything of my own creation (mainly because I don't have anything of my own creation to record) so for now this is as good as it gets for me.

I have to say I do rather like the addition of the electric guitar. I just tend to make things up on the spot when it comes to recording an electric guitar track, and sometimes that doesn't go very well. But this time I think I managed to get my point across so I'm relatively pleased with the results. I even included a riff remarkably similar to 'No Surprises' midway through the song, without actually realising it until I listened back. So in other words, this recording is the definition of unoriginal: it's a cover where the only difference is the inclusion of a riff from another song. Oh man, that's low.

Anyway, feel free to let me know what you think. Just don't be too honest.

video

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christian Logic - Pt 2

In the first part of this two part epic, we looked at the myth that says you have to smarten yourself up in order to become a Christian. The illustrative question was "Do I have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend in order to become a Christian?", and Charles Price's rather surprising answer -- and the answer I agree with -- was that you don't have to stop doing that. There's nothing you can do or stop doing to make yourself more acceptable to God...well, almost nothing, which is where part two comes in.

I have no idea about what kind of person asked Charles Price the above question, but I'm going to assume it was someone genuine. Someone who really was seeking to become a Christian. As said already, Charles Price's answer to this person was "No. You don't have to smarten yourself up to become a Christian". However, that wasn't the end of the conversation. Mr Price went on to say "You become a Christian and allow Jesus Christ to come and live within you and I guarantee you this: within a very short time you will become very uncomfortable about sleeping with your girlfriend".

This young man had put the cart before the horse. He thought you had to clean up your life first, and then Christ comes in. But being "born again" doesn't happen like that. Jesus makes His home in our lives, and He cleans us up. To use some theological terms, this guy was trying to sanctify himself in order to be justified before God, but our sanctification is not our own work. Our sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is this work to which Charles Price alluded to when he said that "you will become very uncomfortable about sleeping with your girlfriend". And moreover, our sanctification only begins when we have already been justified. And we are not justified based on what we do or don't do, but based on our trust in Christ.

There is a very important word I haven't mentioned yet, and that word is repentance. I won't go into the ins and outs of the word, but at its root repentance means to have a changed mind. Now of course you can have a changed mind about specific things. We're told in John's gospel that the Holy Spirit will convict people of sin, and as He does this in individual lives people will begin to change their mind regarding certain practices. They will begin to see the error of their ways.

However, the biggest change doesn't so much have to do with the realization of specific sins, but rather it's the all encompassing change of mind that says "Left to my own devices, I am at emnity with God. I am a great sinner, and I need a Saviour". We change from being independent beings to very dependent beings. We adjust ourselves to the revelation of God found in Jesus Christ. Our opinion about ourselves changes, and our opinion about God changes.

And so back to the question again. "Do I have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend in order to become a Christian?". No, you don't. But if there is a genuine work of God in your life and if you are completely submissive to Him, this is something that you will want to stop doing. This will be the fruit in keeping with your repentance. You will have a new appetite for righteousness that you never had before. The Holy Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God, and you will desire nothing more than to please your heavenly Father.

Am I making becoming/being a Christian sound easy? Well if I am, I don't mean to. One could be forgiven for thinking that I'm implying that you don't have to give up anything or sacrifice anything in order to come to Christ, but nothing could be further from the truth. You don't just have to give up some things to become a Christian - you have to give up everything. Everything you are and have must be surrendered to the lordship of Christ. As Paul said, you become "not your own". You throw what you think you know about life into the bin, and you rely on what Jesus knows about life.

Of course this isn't a dramatic one-off transaction where everything that is wrong in your life is fixed. Our sanctification is an on going process. We are changed by degrees, but no matter how many years we are Christians we still struggle with sin. We know lusting is wrong, and yet we do it. We know we shouldn't lie, and yet our lips can be full of deceit sometimes.

But the wonderful truth of the Christian life is that it is not our behaviour which makes us belong to God. It is our belonging to Him by faith in Jesus that changes our behaviour. The Holy Spirit establishes that connection before any kind of behavioural change occurs. We can't do any good work or stop doing any bad work in order to belong. We belong because we believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and was then raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). We belong because we can say with the apostle Paul,

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." - Gal. 2:20

Will this produce a change in conduct? Absolutely, but only because our very character will be continually changed and molded by the indwelling Spirit of God. Trying to "stop sleeping with your girlfriend" before this character change occurs will be utterly useless. The belonging must come first, then the behaviour.

The bad news is that this tendency towards self-righteousness doesn't go away even when you do become a Christian. I know this from vast experience. We still try and do the right thing and fix ourselves up so that God will be pleased with us, but all of this is completely detached from Him. We strive to do His will, but we strive with our own strength, with the result usually being an external righteousness which desires nothing but the praise of other people rather than the praise of God.

But as Paul said to the Colossians, "as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him". None of us received Christ by doing good deeds. We received Him by faith, and that is how we continue in Him. That's the logic of Christianity. Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Deo gloria - by grace alone, through faith alone, and for the glory of God alone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christian Logic - Pt 1

What do you say to someone if they come to you and ask "Do I have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend to become a Christian?"?

You may not ever encounter such a person with such a question, but then again you may. Perhaps it won't be this exact question, but there's always something that stands in people's way; something that they have to address before they go ahead with the deal. Now my point here isn't to discuss the topic of pre-marital sex, or any kind of sex for that matter ("phew", you say, and rightly so). This question is like a spring-board, and a very good one, which is why I'm using it. I myself have never had anyone ask me this or anything like it, but one Charles Price was asked this very question by someone, and he gave an interesting answer. His answer was "No".

"No"!? That doesn't seem right, does it? You don't have to stop sleeping with your girlfriend to become a Christian? I mean would that be what you would say to your potential convert? Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. And even if you're not a Christian, if someone asked you this question you'd still probably know enough to say that "Well of course you do. That's part of the deal, and what a crap deal it is, eh?".

Well, "No" was Pastor Price's answer to this full-blooded young man, and after much deliberation in my own mind, I have to say I'm in full agreement.

Given the nature of what this guy asked, it seems only logical for Christians to say that you most assuredly have to stop doing that to become a Christian. However, nothing could be more illogical, at least for a Christian.

The reason for this is that the Christian life isn't logical as our natural selves define logic. And so while naturally speaking, the only logical answer for Charles Price to have given this young man was "Yes", there was another logic at work which made "No" the right answer, the godly answer. This logic is what Aslan called the "deeper magic" in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; it's the logic of grace.

(I said "logic" and "logical" a lot in that last paragraph. I apologise.)

If this man -- or any other man for that matter -- has to give up sleeping with his girlfriend to become a Christian, then grace goes out the window and the entire basis of the Christian life collapses. If "Yes" is the right answer, then we're left with a religion where you have to bring yourself up to the required standard, and then God is forced to let you in because you fit the bill. I've probably described many people's "Christianity" in that last sentence, but nothing could be further from the truth.

If you're a Christian and you're struggling with this, think of it another way - Did you have to stop lusting to become a Christian? Or did you have to stop lying? I can only assume that you didn't. And so this same principle applies across the board. To become a Christian, you don't have to draw up a list of sins and vow to stop committing them. It doesn't work like that, simply because it can't work like that.

Charles Price went on to say to this guy, "You don't have to smarten yourself up to become a Christian". I would go a step further and say that God doesn't want any of us to smarten ourselves up in order to come to Him, nor are we able to do so. To try and bring ourselves up to "the standard" is completely counter-intuitive in God's mind, because by employing a DIY scheme of righteousness all we end up doing is actually usurping the role of Christ, and undermining the power and efficacy of His cross.

No fixing up on our part is needed before we approach Christ, nor can it be done. We can only come to Jesus as we are, poor in spirit and desperately needy. If anyone is thirsty for Christ, we must not tell them to go away and sort their lives out before coming to the Saviour we claim to know. It doesn't matter what the sin is - it cannot be removed by human effort, and so Christians have the responsibility to tell people as much, rather than imposing on people a list of demands to adhere to in order to become twice as much a child of hell as they are a Christian. Jesus Himself said,

"If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" - John 7:37-38

He doesn't specify any prerequisites, and neither should we. It's sola gratia, by grace alone. Such logic fights against our human stream of thought, but it's the only way any of us can be saved, so all we can do is be thankful that God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

Charles Price went on to say something else to this young man. Something very important, and something I'll talk about in another post. Maybe even the next one. Ooh, the suspense!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Goodbye My Lover(s)


Have you ever been in love with someone who isn't real? I have...multiple times. I'm sure this says something quite worrying about my emotional health, but lets just ignore that for a second and get back to unreality. As I look back on my TV watching career, there are two women who stand out for me. Two women whom I'd have committed a serious felony for. Two women whom I would have eloped with at the drop of a remote control. Two women whom...ah, you get the point. Anyway, those two women are Brooke McQueen and Lana Lang. You may not agree with my choices, you may think they were horrible characters on crappy TV shows, but frankly, I don't care. Love covers a multitude of sins...or something.

I bring this up now not because I want to take you on a disturbing journey through my teenage years of fantasy love. That's a journey we'll take another time...like, say, never. No my dear readers. I bring this up because I just found out that Lana Lang will never again be seen in five episode's time. I'm not sure what's happening to her (though if the picture above is to be believed, then perhaps Clark ties her up and leaves her to burn), but I know she is just not going to be shown on Smallville any longer, and so this is a sad day indeed.

Losing Brooke was hard on me, especially so suddenly and without any kind of plot resolution whatsoever. There she was, rejected by Harrison, standing in front of Nicole's speeding car, and that was it. Gone. I checked the forums, I checked the news sites, just hoping against hope that Popular would come back and Brooke along with it. But alas, nobody was dumb enough to make my dream come true, and Brooke McQueen remained sleeping with the fishes, lost in a sea of prematurely canceled TV shows.

Then along came Lana. Sweet, pure, innocent Lana. Never mind the old adage 'Once bitten twice shy'. It was love at first sight, and it lasted the guts of six years, until it finally came to the stage where Smallville had gotten so bad that watching it made me hurt, both emotionally and physically. Even the draw of Lana Lang wasn't enough to keep me coming back for more, so just like that I stopped tuning in to new episodes. However, knowing that Lana lived on was enough for me, even if I wasn't at all interested in what she or any of her friends were up to.

But now this. This...this...travesty. She's leaving, never to be seen again. Her character is finished with, soon to be joining Brooke McQueen in the morgue. Oh to be in that morgue with them! Given that I'm slightly more grown up, there's a good chance that nobody else fictional will be joining them. And so this is it. The last of my fantasy crushes. Rest in peace, Brooke and Lana. Rest in the knowledge that you were always so much hotter than Sam and Chloe.

Of course as a sort of corollary of falling in love with a TV character, you tend to fall in love with the actress too. And so I thought I'd check and see what Kristen Kreuk is up to these days. Maybe she's making something of herself, which would certainly soften the blow of losing Ms Lang. I started to get really excited, pondering all of the various projects she could be working on now that her schedule is cleared up. Perhaps some new show aimed at teenage girls for me to get addicted to? Perhaps a romantic comedy starring Mark Ruffalo? Oh the possibilities!

But no. Here's what Kristen Kreuk is now working on:

Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li

Yep. She's doing a computer game-based movie, because those have always worked out real well for the actors involved [?]. As a rule of thumb, if you find yourself starring as a computer game character, then you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're really cut out to be an actor.

That said, I'm totally going to go see this movie on the off chance that it makes its way to Irish cinemas, or just cinemas in general. I mean I went to see Hit Man in the cinema. How much worse could this be?

But enough about Hit Man, enough about Street Fighter and the frightening possibilities that a movie based around Chun-Li entails. This is Lana's moment, and here's the scene of hers that will feature long in my memory. Tom Welling is in it too (not that that's a bad thing...I mean He is freakishly good-looking). Oh, and there's some kissing at the end, and some pretty bad acting throughout, so watch out for that. Still though, I just love this scene, especially in its context (which I won't take the time to explain). The music, the cheesy dialogue - it's got it all, and for me, it cemented Lana's place on the list. Enjoy, if you dare...

The Birthday Scene

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Am Still Learning

Most people know the Beatitudes, right? Or at least the general format - Blessed are the...., for.....

What are they, though? And how are we supposed to read them? Take the first one for example:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What do you read that as? Some nice words perhaps. Or maybe some kind of entry requirement for the kingdom. However, if I've learned one thing this past semester -- and I'd like to think that I have -- it's that the Beatitudes are not at all what I thought they were. For me, they were just some nice words. Largely meaningless to me personally, but nice sounding all the same. The most common view of them is probably that they're entry requirements: "If I can just make myself poor in spirit, then I'm in" etc.

Well, as Dr Autry pointed out, there's more to them than originally meets the eye. And it doesn't take a Greek scholar to see it. You just have to read the text carefully, and the truth of the passage just presents itself like one of those 3D pictures that were all the rage about 10 years ago. Take the first Beatitude again, but this time, lets make a Line A and a Line B from it:

A - Blessed are the poor in spirit
B - for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

The question Dr Autry asks, and the question I now ask you is, why is Line A true? Why are the poor in spirit "blessed" (or even "happy" in some translations)?

Well, the text says that they are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. That little word "for" is sometimes a relatively meaningless word, but here it means "because", thus linking Line A with Line B. And therefore Line A is true because Line B is true. The poor in spirit are blessed, because they get to be a part of the kingdom.

So then we come to Line B. Why is Line B true? Why does Jesus say that "theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? Think about it before reading on...

Well, since you didn't think about it, I'm not going to tell you. No that's not true. I'm too excited not to tell you! This is where most of us stumble. Line A is true because Line B is true, but Line B is true not because Line A is true. A plain reading of the Beatitude never suggests as much. Read it again if you're not convinced. Rather, Line B is true simply because that's what God wants to do. God wants to include people in the kingdom of heaven. God wants to be merciful. God wants people to see Him for who He really is. Line B is true because that's God's will.

I mean how can one become poor in spirit in order to enter the kingdom? Can I just shut my eyes really tight and make myself poor in spirit, and then God will have to accept me? No, I can't. But that's the liberating thing. I'm already poor in spirit! Left to my own devices I'm a mess! All I can do is acknowledge this spiritual bankruptcy, and that's where God meets me with His offer of the kingdom.

The context in which we read these Beatitudes is also important. These sayings of Jesus are part of the gospel which He preached. That is, they're part of the good news, as is the saying "You shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect". A lot of the Sermon on the Mount doesn't sound like good news if we're honest. In fact, it sounds like terrible news. If I lust I've committed adultery? Yikes! Anger is akin to murder? Oh dear.

However, when we read the Beatitudes and the other teaching of Jesus as descriptions of His own character, then we begin to see what's going on. Jesus might as well have been describing His own earthly life with these sayings, but He didn't come to earth just to give us the supreme example to live by. If that's all He came to do, then He could have just come down, said these things, and then zapped back up to heaven. But that's not how the story goes. He was on His way somewhere when He said these things, and that place was the cross at Calvary. He didn't come to change the rules or to give "New law". He came to change people, by cleansing them from their sins and imparting to them His very life; a life characterised by all the things taught about in the Sermon on the Mount.

There's a whole lot more I could say on the matter, but I'll leave it to you to think about it and to kick yourself for never reading the Beatitudes the way Dr Autry reads them!