Saturday, 11 December 2010

Priorities, Priorities

I seem to keep coming back to this one. No matter how much I hear about it and think about it, it still seems to come to mind and continues to need my very best thinking.
Watching Liar Liar with my kids this afternoon gave plenty of opportunities to talk to them about making time for what is important and keeping your promises. I want to be a great husband and father. These two roles/relationships are of paramount importance to me. I want to be a faithful and heartfelt follower of Jesus and that requires a lot of time as well, time that is a great pleasure to devote, but which does not come naturally or easily amidst a hectic life.
I love films and want to watch and write about them a lot. I want/need regular exercise and I have a job which it is very important I do well, both as part of a dilligent work ethic and also so that I continue to receive a salary for supporting my family.
How should all of this be balanced? In an ideal world, I would not have to work, could spend the first few hours of the day in the secluded and loving company of God and then be with my wife and children the rest of the time. But it's not like that. I do have to work and I lack the application, dilligence, passion or whatever else to spend a few minutes alone with God in the morning, let alone several hours. The old cliche of "no-one ever wished on their death-bed that they had spent more time in the office" obviously applies, but I do have to work hard and do my very best, even if much of the time I'd rather not be there.
Much as I love films, being a good father and husband will take my very best efforts for the rest of my life and although a few films and a bit of film writing here and there are all well and good, my focus must be on these higher matters and I must invest in them. There is enjoyment and catharsis in writing about films and enjoying them on the big screen, but it doesn't come close to the joy of a loving, fulfilling relationship with my wife and kids. In fact, when those three key relationships are out of whack (God, Sal, kids), nothing else feels right, nothing else works and I feel no profound sense of peace.
So it comes down to priorities. Nothing wrong with going to the cinema, sitting down to a good film, writing about what I've seen, but I need to keep it in proportion. I cannot, must not, will not let anything get in the way of what I consider to be my core priorities and when I have those at the forefront of my mind, everything else that I love can be fitted into its rightful place and enjoyed as well.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Kids are bleeding hard work, I don't care who they are or who you are. They are tough.
I am greatly, richly blessed beyond words to have my children and I would not be without them for all the world, but they do my head in and therein lies an enduring contradiction.
My children have, in the space of only the past few days, hit my wife, gone to the shops on their own in their pyjamas while Sal was asleep, stolen from us, lied to us, been mean to each other, hidden our things in their rooms, made a mess of the walls, threatened other children and painted my bedroom door handle. Yet, I love them. Unfailingly, unconditionally, completely.
I WISH that they would do as they are told, stay in bed once I've tucked them in, honour and respect me and their mother, take care of their rooms and our house and generally do themselves justice, but I'm not going to stop loving them in the meantime.
I have to believe that they will turn out alright, that they fundamentally understand the difference between right and wrong and will get there in the end. I know we seek to instill godly values and virtues in them and confront and deal with errant behaviour rather than indulge it.
It helps me to reflect that God must feel the same way about me as I do about them. God must wish I would do myself a favour and honour him, living up to what I know he has for me. God must be constantly exasperated at how hard I make life for myself with all of my disobedience, laziness and failings. But he loves me anyway. Boy, does he love me. He loved me before he even made me and he saw everything I would ever do wrong before he decided to come to earth to die for me. And he went through all of that, knowing I would constantly reject him, fail him and fight him.
It can be and often tends to be a pretty thankless job being a parent. Our children can be so infuriating and yet I know that there are so many who have either lost their children, or whose children are suffering with serious illness, or who have been unable to have children, who would trade places with me in an instant and would scream at me to count my blessings and cherish every moment with them.
I don't think I'll cherish finding a staple gun under my daughter's bed, or having to replace a pane of glass in my back door, or wondering where I'll find the money for a new lounge carpet. But I do love my children. I cherish their smiles. I cherish the hugs I get when I come home from work, the time I spend reading to them and praying with them at bedtime. I cherish the smiles on their faces when they tuck into a home-made milkshake and their laughter when they parp in the bath.
I'll blog shortly on each of my gorgeous children, to remind myself of their lovely qualities. In the meantime, for every struggling parent out there, which at times is all of us, it will get better. Persevere and enjoy the glimmers. Cherish the moments and remember those rather than the image of your 4-year old trudging off in his slippers to cross a busy road for a bag of chocolate stars.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


I appreciate that is a somewhat stark title for a blog entry. It's amazing to consider the power of such a short and simple word. One word that breaks hearts, shatters lives, ruins hopes and dreams.
I was motivated and inspired to clean up my blog and use it for something more worthwhile as a result of following the entries of Craig McKay as he slowly lost his wife to ovarian cancer. More recently, I have followed with baited breath the twitter feed of Britt Merrick whose daughter Daisy was diagnosed with cancer some months ago and very recently was given a clean bill of health following a period of chemotherapy. Today I read with dismay that she is in hospital again, that another tumor has been found and that it is huge. Nevertheless, Britt Merrick found space in his 140 allotted characters to affirm his trust in Jesus. I have never met this man or his family and all I know of him is the little that filters through from his sermons (he is the main preaching pastor at Reality church in California) and his twitter and facebook feeds. It is amazing how technology gives us access to people and information that even a few years ago would not have been possible. I am so blessed to have been able to listen to and learn from Britt's sermons and I now have the privilege of being able to pray for him, Daisy and the rest of the family as they go through a trial I can scarcely imagine.
I know it is obvious, trite and simplistic to say so, but cancer is so horrible. My mother survived breast cancer a few years ago, as have two of my aunts more recently, a good friend of mine lost her leg to a large tumour wrapped around her pelvis, a former colleague of mine succumbed shockingly quickly to aggressive ovarian cancer. Now Daisy Merrick is facing more surgery, more chemotherapy, as is another church pastor Matt Chandler, from The Village in Texas. A couple of days ago Pete Smyth tweeted and blogged about a lump found on his neck which has turned out to be cancerous. He is facing several months of chemotherapy.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that these cases are any more tragic just because they are Christians, or young men, or children, or known to me. Cancer is always heart-breaking, always indiscriminate, always unfair. But it is interesting to see a number of recent cases befalling people who I only know about because 21st century connects us all so well. As impotent as I feel, at least I can pray for these people and even let them know that though they don't know me, they have touched my life and blessed me and I am praying for them.
I hate cancer. I hate seeing the havoc it wreaks and the lives it destroys. I hate seeing the children who have to grow up without a father or mother.
But I love the faith of men and women who look into the face of adversity, trust in their God and move forward with faith and hope. As Hebrews 11 says, the world is not worthy of them.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Saving Privare Ryan and the Pressure to live well

As the battle continues to rage around them, Captain Miller draws Private Ryan towards him and whispers to him, “you earn this”. Not “you earned” this, rather “you earn this”. Its impact is devastating, as we see all to clearly over fifty years later as a now considerably older Mr Ryan falls to his knees and asks his family through his tears, “have I lived a good life?”
You see, we can all feel under pressure to live well, whether because we feel it is expected of us, because we are self-motivated or because we have loaded ourselves up with guilt in relation to what somebody else has done for us. We look back at the decisions we have made and how we have lived and wonder whether we have made the most of what was given to us.
Certainly we ought to live well. God considered us sufficiently worthwhile to give the life of his only son so that we could become part of his family. That value that God has placed on us and stated us to have should motivate us to make the most of the days allotted to us. We should see ourselves as precious and significant and we should live our lives in a way that reflects a self-view in those terms. What is more, God has commanded us to live a life worthy of our calling. This should mean that we recognise that we live on earth with a purpose and that in gratitude for all that God has done for us, we live so as to glorify Him and show Him to those we meet.
In order to avoid the paralysing self-analysis and potential self-recrimination that afflicted Mr Ryan (and which afflicts me during my more self-indulgently reflective periods) it is essential to recognise that there is a world of difference between reflecting on and then being grateful for what God has done and instead attempting to live our lives so as to try to earn what God has done. The former is an obvious and inevitable consequence of believing that Jesus gave his life in my place. The latter is an exhausting and ultimately fruitless attempt at self-justification. Jesus has not offered you the free gift of salvation so that you can then regress to attempting to earn it by the quality of your life, your obedience, your giving, your generosity. The Bible describes all of our righteous acts as filthy rags. That is the best your attempts to “earn this” are going get – filthy rags. Instead, sit back and recognise what God has done for you. Humbly receive it, thank God for His mercy and then get up and live your life well as an offering of thanksgiving to a graceful, merciful God.

Raiders of the Lost Ark & The Tiredness of Life

Indiana Jones is talking with Marion Ravenwood and a comment is made about how tired he feels and how old he is. “It’s not the years”, he says, “it’s the mileage”. How often it feels like that for us.
Preachers often talk about how the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint, as if that were likely to encourage us. Why would 26 miles 385 yards feel more encouraging than 100 metres? I do not deny the truth of what has been said to us countless times from the pulpit or in “pastoral” conversations, however anyone will tell you that there are ways of saying things and ways of saying things.
I guess the words of Doctor Jones reflect how one would assess the likely longevity of a car. How many miles it’s done will be far more pertinent than how old it is. For us, it sometimes feels that we have grown weary in our Christian walk not so much because of how long we have been walking, but rather because in the course of walking we have been applying so much effort, straining to be better, harder working, holier, more humble, more patient, more forgiving. For me, “mileage” conjures up images not of having been a Christian for many years but rather of having spent those years striving and struggling, fighting and fussing, dithering and doubting.
It is not meant to be thus. God never intended for us to be worn out by our lives. On the contrary, the Christian life is offered to us an alternative to burdensome load of life without God. “Come to me all you are weary and heavily burdened and you will find rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart…for my yolk is easy and my burden is light”. Does that sound like hard work? Does that sound like a lot of effort? A marathon? Lots of mileage? Does it?
If your life as a Christian has begun to feel like a lot of hard work, like a lot of mileage, if it has felt that way for as long as you can remember, then something is badly wrong. This is not the life that God has called you to or saved you for. We undoubtedly work for God and try to live a life pleasing to Him, but always in his strength. Every breath we take and every step we make (I think I can hear The Police in the background) is for Him, but through Him as well. We ask Him what he would have us do, how we should spend our time and energy. The we ask Him for the strength, time and energy for what He would have us do and the humility to acknowledge that everything comes from Him and all of the glory and praise goes back to Him. That’s how God meant it to be – a vigorous, active, busy life, but never exhausting. A marathon in distance perhaps, but through Him we should arrive at the finish line full of strength, not crawling on our hands and knees (see my attempts to run the Windsor Half-Marathon for a helpful illustration of the distinction).

Monday, 5 July 2010


I have realised, in discussing this very subject with some lovely friends, that I do not have an especially pioneering, adventurous spirit. My lovely wife, Sal, is the adventurous type, always looking for the next exciting thing. I tend to be more routine-driven, stick with what I know, keep ticking along. Sounds hideously dull doesn't it?
I don't want life to be boring or tedious. I want to have fun and excitement, I'm just not sure how many surprises I have an appetite for. Surprises can be lovely (my wife presenting me with a surround sound system a few Christmasses ago, or throwing me a surprise birthday party) or unpleasant (the £600 service for the car back in April springs to mind, or the discovery that I was to be made redundant back in 2009) and maybe the occasions on which the surprise has been unpleasant have spoilt my appetite for them altogether. Maybe I have lost some of my appetite for adventure because I don't know what will happen and I would rather stick with what is predictable.
At this point I think I'm going to get a little "deeper" and consider something I often discuss with men and especially those who are facing difficult "should I press ahead into the unknown" type decisions. Dr Larry Crabb has written a number of books on Christian counselling and is himself a PhD psychologist. One of his books is called "Be Strong, Be Courageous" and is sub-titled "God's call to Men". It is hardly unique in being a book about what it means to be a man and what God has for and wants from men, however it does avoid suggesting that the most suitable path is to find the nearest wild boar and wrestle it to the ground before building a fire and using its blood as war paint. Instead, the book looks at how men tend to be wired when it comes to making difficult decisions that require us to advance into the unknown.
Dr Crabb describes two spheres, the sphere of management and the sphere of mystery. Apparently men tend to prefer the sphere of management, which is where we are confident, secure, competent and in control. It is here that we know what we are doing and how to do it, here that we can cope, here that everything is under control. By contrast, the sphere of mystery is seemingly chaotic. Nothing is under control, there are no easy answers, we do not know what will happen next and we are outside of our comfort zone, our area of competence.
An example might be (and due credit must be given to Dr Crabb for this example which is lifted wholesale from his book) a husband and father awoken during the night by a slamming front door who goes to the window to see his teenage daughter running down the road. What is she doing? What has happened? What does he do now? Doing something constructive, something purposeful, something manly requires a step into the sphere of mystery. He could wake his wife and ask her to pray with him. He could let her sleep and go after his daughter. He could sit on the front porch and wait for her. None of these are assured of success, but they are decisive steps that reflect the character of God in some fashion or another. But the paralysis sets in when considering which of these steps to take. A man who resolves to stay within the sphere of management will do nothing, because he is so fearful of doing the wrong thing. He will sit there, like a rabbit in the headlights, because he does not know what to do and is afraid to take a step into the dark, a step that may be wrong, a step that is not part of a guaranteed recipe for success, a step that fills him with dread because he is not in control. So what does he do? He could lie there worrying and fretting, he could wake his wife up and shout at her and blame her, he could go downstairs, make himself a stiff drink and watch something distracting or worse on the TV or computer. All of these would represent a retreat into the sphere of management. He knows where he is and what he is doing. He's not fixing anything, but he's not taking any risky steps either. He is not reflecting the character and call of his God.
I know that however I dress up my disinclination for adventure and my desire for routine, ultimately it represents weakness and fear. I'm not being unduly hard on myself in saying that, merely honest about my shortcomings. It is hard for me to be adventurous, hard for me to venture forth into areas of uncertainty, hard to take steps when I don't know how firm underfoot the ground will prove to be. Think of Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade, challenged to leap from "the lion's head", seemingly into a bottomless abyss, only to find the path solid beneath him.
Very recently, it took no small measure of firm encouragement from my patient and loving wife for me to venture forth and broach a difficult subject with someone. I was concerned I might embarrass myself, might look foolish. I thought it might not go as I hoped, but that is the very nature of adventure. I do not know how it will go, I do not know the outcome. Life is not a recipe or formula, where x + y = z. It does not work like that and if I expect it to I will be endlessly frustrated and regressive. So I bit the bullet and broached the subject. The world did not come to and end, I did not get shouted at or laughed at or cried at. Life goes on and I have learned a little lesson about adventure. Not much of one, but it's a start.
God does not want me to shrink back, to worry whether he will come through if I trust in him. He wants me to persevere, take the big risks, trust him, press forward. I didn't shrink back from the gap year in Uganda God called me to in 1998, or run away from the bungee jump offered in 2001 and yet here I am in 2010 fretting about whether or not to embark on a potentially difficult conversation! How much ground I have lost. God grant me greater boldness and courage and the will to be decisive in moving forward to the things you have for me. Help me to take the steps I find difficult and to look for the opportunities and doors you would have me push open.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Publishing Error

This is far from the first commentary on Zoo magazine and the detestable comment made by Danny Dyer in a recent "agony aunt" page. Indeed, such is the speed with which the blogosphere seems to move these days, my comments probably seem thoroughly after the event.
For those not yet up to speed, Danny Dyer is an actor, TV presenter and now Zoo Magazine contributor. Someone wrote into the magazine asking for advice on how to get over an ex-girlfriend and Danny Dyer's advice was to cut her face so that no-one will want her any more.
Zoo magazine have published an unequivocal apology and said they will make a donation to Women's Aid (
The comment by Mr Dyer was described as a "Publishing Error" (hence the title of this blog), which will surely go down as one of the greatest circumlocutions of all time. A publishing error? Someone endorses horrific violence and it is passed off as an error? The comments section on Zoo's website is growing by the hour. I won't include a link, as the website's content is gratuitous and sleazy to say the least, but the trend of the comments is satisfying - "I will be cancelling my subscription", "this apology is inadequate", "you need to include an article in the next issue on the problems of violence against women", "Danny Dyer and the Editor need to go". At least no-one is condoning the comment, or trying to justify or explain it away.
The reality is that lads magazines present a real problem in terms of the view and treatment of women that they perpetuate. To log into the comments section of Zoo's website you have to state your gender, except it is "bird" for women. It seems to me that this says it all. If anyone demonstrates an approach to women that objectifies them, treats or dismisses them as inferior and reduces them to an image for the sexual gratification of others then that is how those on the receiving end will see them and treat them. If someone keeps telling me that women are there to be used and abused then in the absence of any counter-balancing influences I am at risk of taking that attitude on board.
Now, we all, myself included, have to take responsibility for how we perceive and treat people. I cannot say, "Zoo and Nuts say women are meat and no-one told me different so that's why I behave this way". I have a responsibility to form a correct view of women, to treat them correctly and respectfully and not to blame the representations of others for my own attitudes. But I can help myself along the way by avoiding negative influences and embracing positive ones. I can avoid the top shelf, I can avoid Nuts, Zoo, Loaded and the rest. I can choose to see women in the correct light and to communicate the right attitudes to my children, especially my sons, so that they will grow up to respect women as well and treat them correctly.
But back to Zoo and its absurd apology. What was printed was not a publishing error. It was a publishing action. Words were typed up, proof-read, approved and printed. An error is something done by mistake, this bears all the hallmarks of deliberate action. If the error, or flaw lies anywhere it lies in the character of people who not only think this sort of thing, but commit it to print as well. Whether the reasoning was as cynical as "no publicity is bad publicity" or "this will get people talking" I cannot say, but there is something profoundly wrong in the heart of someone who will write such a thing. It's not funny, or ironic, or un-reconstructed. It is dangerous, moronic, horrific, misogynistic.
I have said plenty of stupid things in my time, things I wish I could take back, things that have hurt others. For what it's worth, I think the apology from Zoo should be in big bold type on the front page of their magazine, with no scantily-clad women as a distraction and it should read as follows:-
"I cannot apologise enough for what I printed. It not only displays a deeply disturbing attitude towards woman, it draws into question fundamental issues in my character. I am not sure what the comment I made says about my heart, but I will not contribute anything to any magazine or television programme until I have sought counselling. I will also spend time with victims of violence so as to better understand the realities of something I wrote about so flippantly. My comments were included in the magazine as a shameless exercise in self-publicity and every penny spent on the issue of this magazine in which my comments appeared will be donated to Women's Aid". That seems to me to be a good start.
I am sorry this is all a bit self-righteous. I cannot claim to have never treated women as objects. I have not always steered clear of objectifying representations of women. But I am not sure we need to be perfect in order to be able to point out what is wrong around us. I cannot critique culture from the point of view of "I'm perfect and you should be like me", but I can surely from the point of view of, "I've done things wrong and I am at times guilty of what I am condemning, but it IS wrong and it needs to change".

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Money money money

I get so cheesed off with money. It can do so much good, can change the lives of people so easily (for better or worse) and yet it and attitudes to it can be so destructive.
Sal and I seem to have struggled with money the whole of our married life. God has been so faithful with pay rises, unexpected gifts, provision from unlikely places and the support of family and friends and yet I continue to get so frustrated with money. We seem to be genetically incapable of working off our overdraft and staying in the black, we seem unable to say "no" to things we cannot afford and then get cross and stressed when we see "OD" before we are a week into the month.
My solution, unsurprisingly, tends to be to try to organise my way out of it. If I can budget a bit tighter, move this money around, cut back on this, then we'll get there. Not exactly the life of faith I am called to, not exactly life in all its fullness either.
God never promised me I would be wealthy, he never promised me that I would be free from financial worries, but he has promised me that he will never leave me or forsake me and that he will supply all my needs. Instead of trusting in those promises and looking to God in faith, I try to sort it out myself, despite being unable to and despite the relentless experience of the past few years of my efforts not working.
At my cousin's wedding a couple of years ago, I said to my Dad that I did not believe that our financial problems would be alleviated until I learned to trust God, that God was looking for me to have faith in him rather than trying to simply be more organised. I feel no further along that journey. Indeed, I shared the same sense with a friend at the pub last night. I cannot fix this, I cannot sort it out. Only God can. If I trust in him, he will never fail me.
I need to stop stressing and start trusting. Of course I need to be disciplined with my money and show good stewardship with what God has entrusted to me, of course I need to discern how I should use what I have to honour God and say no to what I cannot afford. But the call is to faith, to trust, to seeking God and finding peace, provision and fulfillment in him. Pray for me.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Pitch Black

I haven't forgotten my new blogging manifesto from a few weeks back, my promise not to waste my time and words on trite matters. I'm not going to witter endlessly about how cool the aliens are in Pitch Black. I have slightly loftier ambitions than that.
For those of you who who haven't seen it, Pitch Black is a sci-fi film from 2000, starring Vin Diesel (star of The Fast & The Furious, XXX and a bunch of other stuff very few of us have seen) as a convict being transported on a freighter along with some random passengers, when it is forced to crash land by a meteor shower that catastrophically damages their ship.
The planet they land on has three suns and therefore permanent daylight. This is fortunate, since light-sensitive creatures live underground who like the taste of human flesh and have very sharp teeth and claws. An abandoned human settlement with a transport ship is found and with it, the prospect of escaping from this hostile, dry planet. All they need to do is take the energy cells from their stricken ship and transfer them to the new vessel. Oh and then there is a solar eclipse, which brings the light-sensitive beasties up to the surface for a feeding frenzy.
If that all sounds like typical B-movie shlock, then to an extent it is. However, there are some genuinely thought provoking moments that bear some consideration.
Firstly, towards the end, one character who is one of the few who can pilot the ship is offered a chance by Vin's character to leave the remaining survivors behind but refuses the opportunity.
"Would you die for them?" says Vin. "I would try for them", she replies. "Answer the question", he insists. "Yes", she relents, "I would die for them". It is not clear to what extent he is moved by her attitude to change his own course, but rather than abandon all of them, he agrees to go back and help rescue the remaining survivors. A hardened, violent criminal, inspired by the example of selflessness he sees in another to change his course and live more sacrificially.
The remaining survivors make it back to the ship and Vin gets cornered by two of the underground creatures. Although he survives their attack, he is badly injured and the pilot come back for him, to help him back to the ship. Sadly, she is then grabbed herself and dragged off into the darkness. "No!" Yells Vin, "not for me!" He knows what kind of man he is, what kind of life he has led, how undeserving he is of this sacrifice, that it would cost someone their own life to save him. He almost cannot live with the idea that someone would do that for him, when he knows what sort of man he is.
But grace and compassion are like that. They do not look to what we deserve, but what we need. We may find it hard to look at the sacrifice of another for our benefit and struggle to accept it. "Not for me!" We cry, "I'm not worth it. I cannot live with the knowledge that though I deserved nothing you still did this for me". But He did. He did it anyway and we can only sit back in awe and then move forward in gratitude, humbly offering our lives in His service as a thank offering.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


I confess that the first I heard of this man getting a life sentence for fathering 9 children (7 of whom still survive) with his two daughters, was when the findings of a major case review were published yesterday. Apparently over the course of 25 years they fell pregnant 19 times, with 9 full-term pregnancies and then 2 newly born deaths. Horrendous, horrific, disturbing.
The case review was focused on the failings of agencies and institutions who perhaps should have identified what was happening within this family and done something about it. The names of the family members have been omitted in order to preserve anonymity, understandable with both daughters and their seven children still living with the devastating truth of what has happened.
It makes me want to cry. I am not so naive as to think that such things do not happen, that such behaviour is not possible. I know it is, but on a personal level I cannot fathom how a father would act in such a way. He will be branded an "evil man", no doubt. Perhaps even "inhuman" or "a monster". I've lost my temper with my kids plenty of times, been frustrated with them as I suppose all fathers do from time to time. But how does one get from that to the fate of Family Q? Labelling the father evil or inhuman may help to distance him from the rest of "normal" society, may help reassure us that he is an aberration and does not reflect on the rest of us, but the reality is that whatever happened to him as he grew up, whatever influences were exerted on him that helped to shape/mould/warp/mutate his character, he was once a helpless newborn baby, just like the rest of us.
What happened? No-one wakes up one morning and decides to become abusive. These things must surely fester, grow, develop. What happened to him? I'm not trying to excuse him. To suggest that he is a victim in all of this, that he could not help it because of the way he was brought up would be a ghastly simplification and a possible excusing of behaviour that was in some way, at some point, a conscious decision. What he did was horrific, inexcusable and all of my sympathies lie with his daughters, his son and the seven children who came into the world in the some of the most horrendous circumstances imaginable. I have prayed for God's grace and peace and healing to be with them, for the pain, the scars, the trauma to heal. I do not know them so I can do no more, but perhaps even if I did know them there would be nothing better I could do for them.
I don't know what the future holds for them, or what the rest of his life holds for the father. Does he now understand that what he did was wrong, the most horrific betrayal of his role as a father? Does he see no wrong in himself? I know that God is just and the judge of all mankind and will do what is right. Beyond that, I do not understand.
I hugged and kissed my children a lot yesterday, much more than usual. I told them that I love them and will continue to say it, mean it and show it. They are so precious to me and so much of their life, especially as grown ups will trace its roots back to how I raise them now. I have an awesome responsibility, an opportunity to help shape their lives and characters in the most profound way. Like the day my daughter first appeared in the kitchen in her ballet outfit and asked me, with eyes all expectant, "how do I look Daddy?" So much hung on my next words and thank you God, I got it right that day.
My God's grace be with all of us to be the men, the fathers God has made and called us to be. May our children be blessed to have us and may they feel the impact of our fatherhood throughout their lives.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Chaos and Upheaval

It has been a momentous few days. An online glitch with the Playstation 3 led to some online contributor calling yesterday, "the day the earth stood still". Meanwhile, there is "chaos" amongst the Pussycat Dolls, as two of their members leave. Like I said, a momentous few days, but I have hope that we will come through this time of turmoil intact and find ourselves stronger for having steadfastly endured such turbulent times. Gamers will hopefully not have lost any online trophies they have accumulated and fans of The Pussycat Dolls will still be able to enjoy their back-catalogue and maybe, who knows, find another band to follow and appreciate.
For heavens sake people, is this what qualifies for news, calamity and upheaval these days. Do we remember Haiti? A few weeks ago, nearly quarter of a million people died and although the news has moved on, no doubt the lives of Haitians remain as chaotic, miserable and problematic as ever. Hundreds have died in Chile, millions remain displaced in Darfur. For the love of God, let's focus our lives, our energy, our thoughts, our time on something of genuine significance. By all means enjoy playing games and listening to pop music, but have some perspective. At a time when so many are suffering so much, the question of whether two men are going to shake hands or not when they meet is of less than no importance.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Dear Heroin

I read an article in Metro this morning about a young girl who got hooked on heroin. She wrote a letter to heroin, telling it how ashamed she was of how she had acted, how she wanted nothing more to do with it, was finished with it and was moving on with her life. Three weeks later, at the age of 17, she died of a heroin overdose. My heart breaks over such stories. Another life destroyed.
She said the following in the letter, "I did love you but now it's time to say goodbye", "I'm going to prove to everyone that I'm going to stay away from you", "I can beat you anytime. I can control you, you don't control me. I've got enough willpower to get you out of my life for good. I'm strong and much stronger than you can ever be".
Her story would be tragic enough as it is, without the added dimension of this letter. How did it happen? How did she get caught up in such a deadly addiction at such a young age? Answers to these questions don't really help her or her family at what must be a time of unbearable sadness.
I don't know any heroin addicts, but I met one once and its hold as a drug is unimaginably strong. Clearly it was too much for Hannah as well, despite her protestations to the contrary. Her claims to be strong enough to beat it, of having enough willpower, all now ring hollow. Such claims from all of us, about all of the struggles, trials and temptations of life must also ring hollow too. We are not strong enough, we cannot beat it, we do not have the willpower. We are weak, fallible, fallen human beings and we cannot be better or do better just by willing. The power of positive thinking is a myth and a dangerous one at that.
I believe that power, true power, life-transforming, heart-renewing power can only, does only come from God. We cannot "beat it", whatever it might be, but we do not need to, because God already has. We are super-conquerors, through him who loved us. We can do all things through him who gives us strength. You see, none of this comes from us, none of it can come from us. It can only come from him. God is the answer. He is the strength we lack, the power we do not possess in ourselves. When Jesus died on the cross, he defeated sin, death, sickness, addiction. It was all triumphed over. These things are still around, but they are writhing around in their death-throes, rather than marching around in rude health. I cannot overcome my addictions on my own, but God's power is available for me to do so. If I trust in him, ask for his help and surrender my life to him, victory is assured. God has defeated it all.
I pray that God's peace, grace and blessings will be with Hannah Meredith's parents and wider family. I cannot imagine the pain you are going through and I do not presume that my words are any comfort. I pray that God would comfort you and that you would feel his love at this time and always.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Ashley & Cheryl Cole

I cannot imagine what they are each going through, their four-year marriage now lying in tatters. The human, self-righteous part of me wants to call Ashley Cole a cretin, a 24-carat moron who did not understand what a good thing he had. But the grace of God calls me to a different response. You see, my sin is no less black than his, no less obnoxious to the holy God under whose gaze we all live our lives. I am no better than him, no less in need of forgiveness, no more acceptable to God or deserving of his grace.
My heart goes out to both of them and although Cheryl might be seen as the victim in all of this, I am praying for Ashley as well. His ankle injury is jeopardising his chances of playing in the World Cup, his professional and personal reputation is shredded, he's facing a possible £400,000 fine from his team and it looks like his marriage is over. It is so easy to say that he only has himself to blame and he could have acted differently, but that could be said of us all. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Many will say that as a role model, a man in the public eye that others, especially the young, look up to, admire and imitate, Ashley should do better, that it is right that more be expected of him. My concern is that the fact that someone is in the public eye does not in and of itself bestow on that person the necessary character to enable them to live up to elevated expectations. Just because everyone is watching me, does not mean that I magically become a better man. It's a little different for, say, a politician. A young person planning to enter politics will expect to have their life scrutinised, will expect to be held up to exacting moral and ethical standards and, given a modicum of self-awareness, will reflect on whether their character is up to the task.
For Ashley Cole (and I suppose John Terry), they would have had no reason to consider the strength of their moral character when they set out on their chosen career. They would not have anticipated the level of interest in and attention to their lives that would arise in years to come and even if they had, it would not be unreasonable to expect their reaction to be, "who cares? I can play football. That's all that matters". Clearly that's not all that matters. The content of our character matters for all of us, whether we are in the public eye or not. No-one should be unfaithful, no-one should betray their marriage vows, but my point is that it is ridiculous to expect that someone attaining celebrity will by itself have a transforming effect on their character. Even if someone was self-aware enough to see a problem we all know that character flaws have no easy fixes. Such flaws sit deep, with strong roots and are not easily rectified.
So I feel so very sad for Ashley & Cheryl Cole. I feel sad that their marriage seems to be ending. I feel sad that Ashley Cole must bear so much abuse from a vicious, self-righteous, hypocritical and judgemental press. I feel sad that he appears to have failed to honour his marriage vows and that he did not have what it took to make his marriage work. I feel sad that no-one seems to have come alongside him and said, "this life is tough at times, let me walk with you and help you find your way". He seems alone, which is the saddest thing of all. May God's grace be upon you both.

Fantastic Four

Yes, it's films again. I know, get a life, etc, etc.
So, I watched 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer again last night. I last saw it at the cinema with my son, when we accidentally walked into the wrong screen and got as far as the BBFC screen for Hostel: Pt 2 before I realised our error. The film itself didn't especially affect me back then, but since then I have been provoked to consider more carefully what I watch and think about its meaning.
Watching it again last night I found myself thinking of sacrifice. Norin Rad, the eponymous surfer says he has no choice but to lead Galactus, the devourer of worlds to one planet after another. He says that the lives of his family, his whole home world is at stake. In the end though, he decides that his own fate is not worth protecting when compared to bringing an end to the destruction of Galactus. In the end he stands in the gap, stops Galactus and destroys him, seemingly at the cost of his own life, although we do get the stereotypical Hollywood, "he's okay really, in case we want another sequel".
Sacrifice is always costly. It will definitely cost us and it may cost others too. For the Silver Surfer, if he had failed it would have cost him his life and those of his family, but it was a risk worth taking. As another big budget effects-laden extravaganza would have it, no sacrifice, no victory. Destruction was heading our way too. Just as earth was entirely ill-equipped to stop Galactus, a planet-munching ball of gas and energy, so too were we entirely incapable of doing anything to stop the inevitable out-pouring of the wrath of God for our sin. He is holy, we are sinful - the punishment was due and deserved. God owed us nothing.
But because he is rich in mercy, God made us alive in Christ when we were still dead in our transgressions. We could not help ourselves and we did not deserve any help. Just as Norin Rad owed us nothing, so too was the case with Jesus. But he came anyway. He laid down his life for us. He took upon himself the full outpouring of God's wrath, so that we who could not have borne it and lived would not have to. He took our punishment so that we need not take it ourselves.
God, who owed us nothing and against whom we had only ever sinned, took it all. He did not come to seek his own good, or to be waited on or worshipped. He came so that he could die, so that the price could be paid, the debt satisfied and so that we could go free.
Amazing love, oh what sacrifice. The son of God, given for me. My debt he pays and my death he dies. That I might live. That I might live.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Christ Crucified

I have just finished listening to a talk from CJ Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries on "The Cup", namely the cup of suffering Jesus drank from in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he was taken away to be tried and ultimately crucified. I do not intend to precis that talk, or "review" it as such. But it was so profoundly moving and affecting a talk and I feel compelled to write something down to try to capture my thoughts as a result of what I have heard.
The Cross and Jesus death on it stand at the very centre of the Christian faith. Without it, there is no access to God, no forgiveness of sins, no life with him now or ever, no hope. Paul writes that he resolves to know nothing except Christ and him crucified and I feel similarly resolved myself. It is hard to do so. Hard to dwell on and focus on something so painful. It is hard to be confronted at every turn with reminders of my sinfulness, my fallenness, my helplessness. It is hard to remember every moment of every day that Jesus took upon himself the punishment for everything I have ever done wrong. As CJ puts it, he drank that cup dry so that I would never have to drink of it. Instead of me bearing the punishment for my own sin, as I rightly should, Jesus came, fully God and fully man and said he would take it himself. He had done nothing wrong, ever. He was in fact the one who was wronged, the one against whose perfect holiness all of my sin had been committed. He, who had only ever been hurt by my sin, made perfect atonement for it, by taking the punishment for all of it. God poured out all of his wrath, all of the punishment warranted by all of my sin and he poured it on himself, in the person of his Son.
That Son, who had dwelt forever with the Father in perfect love, fellowship and harmony, offered himself before God as a sacrifice, offered to bear it all. As he prayed and wept in the garden, Jesus contemplated for the first time his impending isolation from the Father. He knew that he would soon be alone and although he would then soon be reunited with his Father, he knew that he must face this hour without the support of and union with the Father that he had enjoyed since before time began.
What pain, what anguish, what a burden to bear! The physical pain of the flogging and crucifixion that awaited himwas hardly something to look forward to, but it was not this that immediately troubled him so. He knew he would die and he knew how, he had told his disciples as much as they approached Jerusalem. Now though, the added element of isolation, of the Father's face turned away for the first time, hit home.
We sing so often of the wonder of Jesus dying for us, of how we are now forgiven and have a clear conscience before God, of how the price has been paid. We read it all the time in our Bibles and we hear it over and over and over again in sermons, but it never gets old. I cried today as I listened to CJ. I cried at the realisation, all over again, that Jesus, who owed me nothing died for me. That Jesus, perfect, blameless, pure, spotless, kind, loving, gentle, holy, God, went through separation from the Father, physical punishment and suffering on a scale I cannot comprehend and then an agonising death, all for me. What do I do? Throw it back in his face. I'll live my life how I please, thank you very much. I won't bother telling anyone about what you've done for me, it might be a bit embarassing. Thank you for what you did, but I cannot really afford to have it make a difference to how I live my life. I've got my own thing that I want to do.
It seems so ridiculous when set out like that, doesn't it? The inescapable truth, logic, whatever is that God MUST have our whole lives. I cannot look at the garden, the cup and the cross and react any other way. I cannot offer a bit of obedience, occasionally, when it suits me. I cannot just worship when I feel like it, or pray if I happen to get a free few minutes every now and then. I cannot fail to share this extraordinary gospel and every opportunity. I cannot.
I cannot earn what Jesus has done, pay him back or balance the scales. I am not expected to and to an extent, all I can really do is drop to my knees in awe-struck surrender and wonder. But I must get up, we must all get up and offer back to God with unending gratitude our whole lives in thankful service of the one who gave it all for us.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Lots of input

Okay, so now I have a little mp3 player, I'm maxing on the podcasts/sermons/downloads while travelling to and from work. I'm absolutely loving it and feel like I'm learning lots. There are just so many resources out there, so I am focussing on where I feel weakest (godly manhood, marriage, parenting) or most intrigued (calling, serving God in the workplace) and I am finding that I am feeling very close to God. I'm not suddenly, magically more virtuous than before, but I am more focussed on God, more oriented towards him.
What I am trying to do though is ensure that I do not use up all of my time listening to mp3's and forget to actually spend time with God. Listening to CJ Mahaney talk about gospel-centric parenting is informative and instructive, but listening to God must be at the centre of who I am and how my time is spent. God deserves my very best, the first-fruits of all I have in time, energy, money and resources. It's not good enough for me to check in with God for five minutes as I go off to sleep, to fit him around the ironing and DVD watching. He needs to come first.
PJ Smyth spoke on manhood at New Frontiers in Brighton and quoted John Piper, who said that a man's place in the morning is rising early and spending time before God on behalf of his family and to seek God for direction and strength for himself. That sounds awesome. I tried it for the first time this morning and although I was pretty groggy and felt conflicted about not wanting to seem self-righteous (ooh, look what I do in the morning, aren't I good), it was a good few minutes of focussing on God, presenting my family to him in prayer and getting my day off to a good start.
Lord, help me to spend my time on the right things, to put you at the centre of every day and to make time for all that you would have me do, even if it is to the seeming detriment of things that I, in my own wisdom might mistakenly think are important.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


I listened to a podcast recently about priorities and what I might make time for. The suggestion was that if you are (as I am) a husband, father and worker who is involved in church ministry in some capacity, then those are pretty much the only things you are realistically going have time to do well. Initially I kind of bristled at the suggestion, because there are lots of other things I do and enjoy and I want to make sure I find room for them too. In the end, I decided to write down all of the things that are some sort of priority for me. They were in no particular order - I just wrote them down as they came to me and then I sat back and looked:-
Quality time with my wife
Special time with my children
Jogging / Exercise
Preaching / Teaching
Creative writing / reading books and magazines / study
Work on proposal and content for film & theology ministry
Accountability / Mentoring / Discipleship relationships
Church & House Group
Leading youth work
Holidays & rest days
Time with God - Bible/Prayer/Worship/Listening/Reflecting

That is at least 14 things, more if you count all of the "slashes". I think I need to be realistic about my ability to do all of these things well enough. The question then becomes what stays and what goes. Work, time with God, time with family, church, house group, ministry - these are non-negotiable. Exercise and holidays are necessary, essential even. Without a creative outlet, I'm likely to become very frustrated and irritable. If the housework does not get done, we start to find ourselves living in squalor. You see, herein lies the predicament. I just do not have time for everything on that list, but I justify and rationalise so much of it. What I really need to do is bite the bullet and cut some stuff out, make some difficult choices. That is hard. The alternative is to either burn out or do a dozen things in a mediocre fashion rather than a handful excellently.
When talking of reverse engineering our lives, Mark Driscoll says to project yourself forward 10 years, imagine what your life will look like then, how you want it to look then and decide now what you are going to do, how you are going to change your life so that in 10 years time you are there.
In 10 years' time my kids will be 19, 16 and 13. Do I want them to say to me, of me that I kept a lot of plates spinning and that it was intriguing watching me trying to keep that up? Do I instead want to see them close to God, excited about their relationships with him, pursuing his plans for their lives and saying of me that I always made time for them and never let anything other than God or their mother come before them? Do I want to be frustrated with my relationship with God, knowing it is not what it could be because I refused to lay aside other things in the pursuit of knowing him? Do I want my ministry to have suffered, stagnated or suffocated because I did not devote enough time and energy to it? Will it feel important and worthwhile to have seen every single film I wanted to see, even if my wife is a stranger to me?
I need to confront myself with these difficult questions, because it is the only way to motivate myself towards difficult decisions. If I do not appreciate what is at stake, if I do not reflect on what might happen, I will never focus on how important it is to get my life in order now, before something starts to go horribly wrong.
Next time you see me or talk to me, ask me if I am sorting this out.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Peace, Joy and Grace

Many trite turns of phrase get trotted out by us Christian types. Where God guides, he provides. God won't bring anything my way today that he and I can't handle together. Let go, let God.
The funny thing is, that they are all not only true, but because they have become cliched they have lost some of their power in our minds.
Last night we met as a house/home group and we talked about God. We reflected on how vast and amazing and powerful he is and although we got bogged down in semantics and small ideas from time to time, we lifted our eyes and saw what a great, awesome God we serve. God guides us into and through the amazing plans, the spectacular adventures that he has for us and he meets our needs along the way. I don't think we can count on God to meet our every need if we are not walking in his will, but where we follow him, he meets us with all of the grace, patience, gifts, energy and perseverance we could possibly need. When I have known I am where God wants me to be, doing what he wants me to do, I have never lacked what I have needed. I can point to a zillion examples of me not getting what I wanted, but that is entirely a different thing.
God does not dump things on us that he cannot and does not equip us for. We rarely feel equipped, but then it is never sensible to rely on our own resources or deceive ourselves in thinking we can cope on our own. We need to remind ourselves and be reminded by God of our wholesale dependence on him. His grace is available for every trial and circumstance. I would concede that I have little experience of genuine hardship and so I do not want to appear simplistic, but I have met those who have experienced great hardship and they have joined with Paul in declaring, "His grace is sufficient". We can handle it, with God. Admittedly he brings considerably more to the table than we do, like a "bring a dish" dinner party, where he brings all of the food, drink, plates, glasses, cutlery, tables andd chairs and I bring a cocktail stick for a sausage. In reality all we can bring is our trust in God and our determination to continue in that. I guess even that is a gift from God, so maybe we just bring our admission of helplessness and weakness and throw ourselves on our great provider, who does not grow faint or weary, who does not stumble, who gives strength to the down-trodden and whose power and might none can fathom. We need to let go of our dependence on ourselves, let go of the illusion that we have it all under control, that we can cope, that we are up to the challenge. We need to remember our God and his indescribably great love and power and commitment to us. Let him take the reins, let him be in charge, let him pour out his grace and blessings, let him be the bringer of joy and peace and as "Footprints" says so eloquently, so powerfully, allow him to carry us.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


I have had so much fun and felt so close to God recently, simply by using my journey to and from work to listen to podcats. Mostly, these are sermons or similar from various churches or conferences. I have been hearing about marriage, parenting, leading my family, Jesus' sacrifice in my place, God's justice and it has all been so uplifting.
There have been many, many times when I have felt convicted of my sin, my attitudes, thoughts and behaviour, but God is faithful, compassionate and for me and keeps forgiving me and blessing me. I find myself waking up in the morning and rather than feeling anxious (as I had been for a good few weeks and therefore unable to get back to sleep), I find my thoughts automatically turning to God. I find myself praying, worshipping, feeling a sense of peace and joy.
It is not as if I now effortlessly breeze through the day, without a care or concern in the world. Loving my wife, raising my children, doing my job and carrying out my ministry in the church are still not easy and I still fail in these every day. But I feel hopeful. I feel that God is with me, that I am growing and that I am connecting with God. Listening to podcats is no substitute for time with God and I have to be disciplined in continuing to carve time out to be quiet, to pray, to meditate and listen, rather than just adding to my head knowledge, but I am doing well. God is with me, he loves me deeply and enduringly and he will walk with me every step of the way.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A Brave New World

Okay, time to up my game. I read a lot of ready good blogs and then some thoroughly pointless and vain ones. I do not want my blog to be a big, loud "look at me, aren't I funny". I want it to mean something. It might be about me at times, but hopefully in a way that is helpful, encouraging and thought-provoking for others. Hopefully, it may even make you smile from time to time, but not in a way intended to make myself look good, or (even worse) make others look bad. I want to add a useful meaningful voice to the blogosphere. Let's see how I get on.
The future starts here....

Monday, 25 January 2010

A godly husband

I was listening to a sermon from Mars Hill's Men's Conference on Men & Marriage. The speaker said that when he was a little younger his wife was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, one of his children, a son, was 20 years old and said to him, "Dad, if mum doesn't make it through this, you could go one of two ways. You could press on in with God, trust Him and follow Him through this, or you could lose it, turn your back on God and have nothing further to do with Him. I feel like you are 50/50 at the moment and could go either way. I need more from you than that. I need to know that you are going to be okay, no matter what happens".
Aside from wondering what kind of pair of brass balls that kid must have had to speak so candidly to his father, I now wonder how I would contend with such a desparate situation. I know of a man, who I cannot claim to be close friends with, whose wife is now losing her battle with cancel. She may pass away any day and his blog is tracking their experiences as she prepares to go to be with Jesus. His most recent post ends with "I intend to escort this woman of God to the gates of glory, as best as I am able". That's how a man of God conducts himself. I am utterly in awe at his courage, faith, strength and godliness and can only pray that should I find myself walking the same path I might have a fraction of such character.
God bless you Craig Mackay.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


I think that is important to dig as deep as is warranted into the books we read, the films we watch, the music we listen to and so forth. Some of what is out there may not ultimately prove to have much artistic merit or subtextual content, however we should think critically about these things as far as possible.
There is a place for realtively mindless diversion, as we all need to switch off from time to time and simply be entertained. Watching Con Air may fall under this heading. However, focussing on films for the moment, they all present value systems and world views that we need to evaluate. It may be something like a political bias, or a negative view of a certain gender or race. It may be objectifying women, championing infidelity or undermining Biblical truth. We may filter what we watch to a sufficient degree to ensure that these values do not infiltrate our own thinking or mindset, but we must take the time to weigh these things up. What do I consider to be the message of that film? What was it trying to say? How might it influence my own thoughts or conduct?
I watched Avatar last night (I know, everyone else has already seen it at least a couple of times) and it has given me a great deal to think about. It would be easy to dismiss it as a load of trippy-hippy tree hugging nonsense with 45 minutes of bombastic fighting at the end, but in fact that is a superficial and inaccurate assessment in both respects.
The idea of a deity dwelling in creation and connecting all living things is hardly novel and I do not think James Cameron would try to suggest that it is. The respect for nature that the Na'vi demonstrate and their sense of connectedness with creation could be swatted aside as paganism, however I think that without wanting to endorse a pantheistic doctrine, there is much to be considered about our own approach to creation. Do we think of it as a possession to be taken, used and discarded at our whim? Are we stewarding the creation that God has made for us and with which he has entrusted us? We must not worship creation, however we must look after it and use it responsibly. This should have an impact on our views on intensive farming methods, strip-mining, forest conservation, short term profit making enterprises at the expense of sustainability. We share this earth with all that God has made and although he placed us in charge of it, it is no more appropriate for me to misuse that authority than it would be for me to be a domineering husband or an abusive father.
The Na'vi say that they are born twice. Once bodily and then again into the Na'vi people. How similar to our own belief that we must be born again. We are born in the flesh at birth and then when we are called by God and saved we are born again by the spirit into the family of God. In the same way as Jake was able to say that he was now one of the Na'vi and referred to the other Na'vi as his brothers and sisters, so too do we enter into the family of Christ, becoming brothers and sisters with all of those who have likewise been saved by the grace of God. God gives us the spirit of sonship and by the Spirit we cry "Father!"
Jake found it an increasing wrench to return to his own body and felt increasingly more at home as a Na'vi. Although we do not "return" to our former state after we have been saved, our new life in Christ and by the Holy Spirit so quickly becomes so natural and so familiar that our former life apart from God increasingly feels like a bad dream from which we have awoken and all we want to do is remain as we are, with God forever. Which is precisely what He has planned for us.
I could carry on about Iraq allegories, unobtanium vs oil, Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas remakes and the age old imperialist lie of bringing civilisation to the savages, while actually exploiting or persecuting them for commercial gain. These themes are addressed in detail on all manner of secular websites and blogs, so I felt it more constructive to look from the angle I have as a different approach for those interested in such things.