Archive for March, 2014

hi-res-still-from-noah-movieThere was a touch of Star Wars in the new $150million Darren Aronofsky movie, Noah, that I saw the other day. Early in the movie viewers were introduced to the “Watchers”, strange rock-like robotic monsters that are apparently fallen angels, but seem to be more on the side of good than evil.

If you’re looking for a movie that reflects your Sunday School memories of Noah as a kind old gent who builds a Fisher-Price boat filled with pairs of cute and cuddly animals, you’re in for a shock. But if you’re prepared to hear the messages that Aronofsky weaves through the movie you’ll recognise some Biblical principles.

In an article in The Atlantic, Aronofsky talks about the Noah account as the fourth story in the Bible. “You go from creation to original sin to the first murder and then time jumps to when everything is messed up.  The world is wicked. Wickedness is in all of our thoughts. Violence against man and against the planet.”

The director of “Requiem for a Dream”,  “The Fountain” and “Black Swan” goes on: “And so it was so bad that He decides that He is going to destroy everything and destroy this creation. So what we decided to do was to align Noah with that character arc and give Noah that understanding: He understands what man has done, he wants justice, and, over the course of the film, learns mercy. What’s nice about that is that is how I think Thomas Aquinas defined righteousness: a balance of justice and mercy.”

While the Hollywood version of Noah is radically different from the Biblical version in many of the details, it is significant that both are one in presenting the central themes of justice and mercy. A just God will address the problem of evil, but will provide a means of escape for those who are prepared to accept his offer. If you’d like to explore these themes more, see the Bible version here, and hear me speak on Noah at Maida Vale Baptist Church, 24 Edney Road, High Wycombe, Sunday April 6 at 9.30am.

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screenI went to a public office one day, no names mentioned, and when I walked in the door I was confronted by a touch screen kiosk where I could indicate the reason for my visit. After making my choice, a ticket came out of the machine and I realised that I was now identified as person number A235.

I sat down in the waiting area and watched the numbers on the large screen on the wall changing from time to time to the sound of an electronic voice announcing that number B146 could move to counter five.

I wasn’t there for anything complex, but I had the distinct impression that I was no longer a real person with the capacity to manage my own affairs, to plan, to think, to dream, to hope. I was now  a cog that looked like every other cog in the great bureaucratic wheel of misfortune.

I’m sure the process was established to facilitate a smooth customer service experience, but it actually had the effect of disempowering and disengaging the people who use the service.

It made me wonder if, as we interact with people each day at work, at school or university, in the shops or on the street, do we just see the people around us as a number, or is there something more?

 As we walk alongside people, it’s important that we are aware of their strengths and not just focus on the obvious weaknesses they may exhibit. Rather than seeing their disability, their failings and their disadvantage, we recognise their strengths, their capabilities, their achievements and their contributions.

That’s not always easy to do, because we are often conditioned to see people from our own perspective and whether we intend to or not, judge people according to our own experiences, standards and ideals.  When people don’t meet them they are often diminished in our thinking.

It takes work to train ourselves to see the face of Jesus in the face of another, to recognise the image of God in a person who is different from us in the way they’re dressed, the colour of their skin, and even the way they behave.

I have to say I’m glad that when God looks at me he doesn’t just see my faults, but has the capacity to see my potential. I’m also glad that I’m not just a number to God, but that I am individually loved and valued.

I’m glad that when God looks at me he sees the face of Jesus – a face that is scarred. A face that bears the tears of love. A face that has eyes of compassion and a smile of acknowledgement.

I’m not just number A235, but because of what Jesus did for me when he gave his life at Calvary, I’ve been accepted by God and adopted into his family.

If you’re feeling as if nobody cares, that you’re not good enough, that you’re only a number and there’s no purpose in life, I invite you to look into the face of Jesus, and as he gazes into your eyes, hear him saying to you:  I love you and you are precious to me … and I’ve given everything , including my life for you.

How often do you read things in the Bible and you wonder why they’re there? Belong

For instance I’ve been preaching through the Old Testament book of Nehemiah at church each Sunday and this morning I got to Nehemiah chapter 11 and 12. These chapters contain a long list of names. What’s the point?

I got to think about why information like this should have been preserved for thousands of years.

Nehemiah had led a process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and this involved rebuilding a community. When it was all over a lottery was held to determine who should get to live in the newly rebuilt city. One out of every 10 people would get to make the move.

The list of names of the families who would get to live in the city tells me that there was a great deal of order and organisation in the process, which emphasises how important the move was, and how significant each person was to God. It also said to me that at the heart of this significant event in Nehemiah’s time, was the sense of belonging.

Each name that was mentioned in that long, boring list, was important to God, and each person was connected to a family and had a place in their society. As they moved into the city each person, male and female, young and old, had a deep sense that they were returning home to where they belong.

Through Jesus, we too can have that deep sense of belonging … of knowing that our identity, our acceptance, our place in the world is important to God and that through him everything else starts to make sense. I can’t get over how deep Jesus love for me is that he would be prepared to give his life for me. And that in itself assures me that I belong.

So are the long lists of names that we read in the Bible just a boring inclusion in a piece of ancient historical literature? I think they show that throughout history God’s heart is focussed on individuals and that you and I are just as significant and valuable in God’s eyes as Sallu son of Meshullam back in 450BC.

 

 

A friend, Steve Wickham has written this blog and I thought it was worth sharing with you. Thanks Steve.

There are times when we upset, the one we truly love, Steve-Wickham_119803
Times when we wonder, why we push and shove,
For their love is ours, and it’s not to be abused.
When we hurt those closest to us,
We really do betray an intimate kind of trust,
And they reel against it in a state that is confused.
Then we understand it’s something within us that’s unreconciled,
We may challenge ourselves where we are defiled,
When we have corrected ourselves, then we may be excused.

***

Transference may sound like a fancy psychological phenomena, but it really is very simple. We may upset those closest to us, because we can get away with it. But it is also because we don’t recognise some of the underlying issues behind our words and actions.

As an example of this, having recently snapped at my wife, I explored what I had just been thinking about. I wasn’t upset with her, or with what she was communicating, I had just been interrupted, and I’d only then been thinking about something quite sombre. She wasn’t to know this, of course. She would have no idea that something else completely unrelated was, for that moment, bothering me. She just happened to be in the firing line.

That is how we upset people – those we love – more often than not.

We may not even recognise that it is issues and concerns and anxieties that are just below the surface. We therefore transfer our fear, disappointment, and worry onto the other person, when they have no idea what perplexes us.

This is no excuse for us, of course. But it is something to be acutely aware of. We need to nurture an awareness from within us of what we just said and why we just said it. We need to explore these situations in order to root out the real reason for problematic communication. If we don’t do this, the one we love has to bear unjust treatment by someone that supposedly loves them. If we believe in the concept of love, we will believe in reconciliation, and we will take the steps to reconcile any problematic communication via apology.

***

We hurt those closest to us because we can get away with it, and because they are there when we face emotional issues. We are usually not angry toward them, personally, but we will transfer our emotions onto them if we are not aware. Awareness – of what exactly it is that upsets us; and taking responsibility – is the key.

© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

I was at the museum one day with my grandson, and while he was more interested in the dinosaur, I found an interesting display about diamonds.

Everyone loves diamonds. According to the song by Carol Channing back in 1949, diamonds are a girl’s best friend and James Bond in 1971 said diamonds are forever. They’re pretty popular and most people are attracted to a piece of jewellery that contains a diamond.

And it’s interesting that we are often attracted to colourful diamonds, but that was the bit of information I particularly noticed at the museum display.  You see the purest diamonds are clear, but the colour in diamonds is created by chemical impurities or structural defects.

hopediamond

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is often described as the most valuable diamond in the world. It is deep blue in colour and is worth up to 250million dollars US. So the colour certainly doesn’t reduce its value, but what makes the difference is the way it is cut and prepared for display.

Now that got me thinking because we often see impurities as being something ugly and unattractive. And of course they are, and when I think about myself I know that any impurities or defects in my life contribute to me being unlikeable.

When the Bible tells us that all the good things we do are like filthy rags, it’s pointing out that the defects in our life – the Bible calls that sin – have the effect of separating us from God.

So how do we fix this problem?

When someone sits down to produce a high quality piece of jewellery they will spend a long time cutting and polishing the diamond and preparing it, so that when you finally get to wear it, it looks perfect.

People come up and notice the diamond and comment on its beauty, to the point that although the colour was caused by impurities, now the diamond is presented as something very beautiful.

When we give all our impurities to Jesus he can take us and cut off all the sharp edges, and design something absolutely beautiful.

The funny thing is that even when we come to Jesus and give him all our impurities and we are assured of being forgiven through what he has done for us when he died on the cross, the defects are still there.

We still seem to make a mess of our life and often get frustrated because things don’t work out the way we would like them.  You see, the beautiful colours in the diamond are always there as a reminder of the impurities and defects that were in the original stone.  They haven’t been removed but the jeweller has created something beautiful out of that rough stone.

The effect of our sin often stays with us as a reminder, not of what we have done wrong, but how creative the master jeweller has been in dealing with our sin and creating an opportunity for us to grow.

It’s a reminder that no matter how hard we tried, we were never able to solve the sin problem, but through the grace of God we are no longer condemned by it.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.  I’m glad that Jesus is my best friend and that he’s making changes in my life.  Jesus can be your best friend too.

This post was the transcript of a message you can hear on Sonshine fm 98.5 on Sunday mornings.