Monday, December 14, 2009

Am I bad?

We all wonder how we will react when one of those moments in life comes along. I had one last night. I picked up the girls from the airport after a trip to Timaru. It was midnight when we drove into the car park of our church, which adjoins our house. As we were getting out of the car, my daughter Annie heard a noise coming from the church. I thought, 'not again!' You see, the church has been burgled twice recently and I wondered if it was nos 3. I ran into the church, unlocked it, only to come upon a burglar. It was nos 3. He did a runner, heading to the foyer of the church. I raced after him and had him cornered.

Now this was the moment when I could be hero or zero. I should have hit him with one of my famous crash tackles, well famous 20 years ago when donning the orange and green of Pakuranga. I did chase him and did grapple with him. He had a crow bar thing, which I wrestled off him. But then he broke free and headed for the door at the other end of the church. He was too quick for this old man. He scarpered down Diana Drive. I chased him and threw the crow bar at him, nearly hit him. Sadly I only had jandles on and my bare feet were no use racing down the road.

By this time my daughters and Emma my wife (and rev of the church) were on the scene. Gracie raced after him but was too late. Now at this point there was a car over the road of the church and the guy in the drivers seat said, 'what happened?' Emma frantically told him, and he said, I will chase him if you like. He took off. Annie thought, that is strange, and thankfully, got the license plate. She is a clever girl.

Emma rang the cops and they were there within a couple of minutes, nice one cops. Thankfully, in the interruption, the burglar had got away with nothing. The cops sent a dog after him, no luck. The stayed for an hour or so, took photos, interviewed us, and then we went home. The MO of this guy was the same as the last two robberies, it is surely the same bloke, looking for the new gear. Thankfully it is locked away out of his reach.

The cops checked out the license plate of the car, turns out it belongs to a criminal's family, here's hoping.

I have had all sorts of thoughts this morning. Things like, thank God I got the crow bar off him! I wonder what would have happened if I had got him. Why is this happening? Do people not have any respect for the things of God in this nation? (Many don't actually of course). Thank God he got away with nothing. I have prayed for him.

But deep down I am disappointed. This was my moment. I could have taken him down with a big tackle, held him down until the cops and Emma arrived. I could have been a hero. I can see the photo now, front page of the Herald. Me sitting on the criminal, holding him down, the cops coming. Me the hero.

But I butchered the chance. All it would have taken was a return to my youth, a shoulder charge. He was not a big bloke.

Of course, equally likely, I might have got a crow bar in the head, he might have had a knife or worse? Then again, I might have done some serious damage to him and myself. I can see the headlines, Laidlaw College lecturer and Presbyterian minister charged with manslaughter! I can see the photo in the Herald!

So, all in all, it turned out good. He got the shock of his life. He didn't get away with anything. No one was hurt... except my ego.

The truth is that I am not that happy with my reaction. I am not keen on violence. But the truth was, that in the heat of the moment, I was up for a good scrap. You never know how you will react in such a situation. I am not sure how I did to be honest? Tongue in cheek though, am I bad?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Catch a Tiger By the Tail 2

Well well. Good start Tiger. He has given up golf for a little while. This sounds like a man who is serious. There is another rumour out there that he spent up to $60,000 a weekend and was supplied with numerous women for his pleasure. It sounds like ancient Rome. An athlete of huge renown on and off the field!

Still, it is a good start to put his wife and family first (at last), and seek help. I am sure the notion of "sexual addiction" will now emerge. It is hard to know what to make of sexual addiction. Some write it off as an excuse for lust. Others acknowledge it as an illness. I would imagine that it is truly an issue for some. Anything can become an addiction if we allow it to flourish in our lives and take over. Things like eating and sex are so basic to being human, that undoubtedly they can overtake us.

We Christian men have to watch this seriously (and some women I presume). We are all prone to sexual desire. Sexual desire is not a wrong thing, it is a gift of the creator, essential to the marriage unit, which lies at the heart of God's plan for humanity (Gen 2:24). Sexual gratification, like excessive eating (alcohol and drugs for that matter), can easily become a means to meet emotional need. Like all addictions, it can only be satisfied with more.

Many young men start with porn, fantasy and masturbation, with feeding their desires with treating women as objects, dehumanising them, violated their image-bearing nature, and seeing them as merely a means of self-satisfaction. Walking down this path is dangerous. It inevitably leads to a desire for more, something different. At its heart is self-centredness, placing one's own gratification above others. In this sexually promiscuous society this can go in any number of directions whether it be multiple partners, prostitution even sexual abuse of others. For many it does not go that far, but the truth is that they live out their lust, if in secret.

Today men who take seriously the Scriptures need to be utterly controlled. If we set out on a path of determination here, we can gain control, and this can become habitual. The converse is to make a habit of sexual lust, and this is dangerous. Our sexual drive can easily become an untamable tiger (pardon the pun).

Before coming to Christ I was very flawed in this area. Since coming to Christ I found myself with a renewed power to overcome. It was not all that easy, but God has been good. Here are some thoughts:

1. Look women in the eye, do not see them as objects for sexual gratification. See them as blessed image bearers.
2. Remember that when you treat them as sexual objects, you are violating your relationship with Christ (union with Christ) and the Spirit (Temple), you are violating their creator, you are violating their humanity, you are violating your own humanity, and you are in sin in so many ways (check out 1 Cor 6 here).
3. "Keep your hand off it." Make it a rule to do this. This is not always easy, but you can train yourself in self-control. It can become a habit.
4. Find alternative ways of expressing your physicality. Physical exercise is critical here. Use up that energy on the field, in the gym, etc.
5. Focus on worship of God, serving him and others, and not on self-gratification. Living to see others cherished will see you well whether married or single. I am told there is nothing less attractive to a woman than a man who is self-absorbed.
6. Keep humble in the area of sexuality. Never think you are there and it is in control. Live dependent. Sexual desire has a habit of sneaking up on you.
7. Deal with issues quickly. If you find yourself attracted, don't pretend it is not an issue. Confess it and seek God's strength. Ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit.
8. Get help if you can't overcome. Stage one is a friend of the same gender, prayer and accountability. Stage two is help from a professional. Often sexual desire is linked to other emotional deficits which will need dealing with to be resolved. 
9. If you get married, see sex not as a means of your own gratification, but hers. Make it your goal to ensure that she is satisfied.
10. Don't think marriage solves it all. There will be times in your marriage where you will have to practice celibacy for health or other reasons. Get used to it, it is part of being human.
11. Determine from this point on to be celibate if single, no matter what it takes. If you are married, make a commitment to never put yourself at risk, where you will be in a position to be vulnerable. Take note of the example of Joseph and the injunction "flee immorality."

It is possible to train yourself in self-discipline here. It works if you persevere. If you feed it, it will become obsessive and demonic.

Let's not fall into the tiger trap.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Catch a Tiger by the Tail

I have to say something. Tiger, Tiger, Tiger! What were you thinking? Well, he wasn't of course. Had he been thinking, he would not have done what he has done. He has allowed desire to over ride his brain.

The truth is that Tiger Woods will continue on. He might lose his marriage and a bag of money. But, he will probably go on and become the greatest golfer of all time with the most majors. Most of his sponsors will likely stay with him. He will manage the PR to ensure minimum damage to his brand. He will go on Oprah, he will claim sex addiction, he will engender compassion for his problems. He will possibly even come out smelling of roses. I have heard for example, some saying that he seems human now. He is like us all!

Well the truth is, he is not like us all. Yes, he is human; yes we are all prone to failure as I indeed am. But to have God knows how many affairs with a beautiful wife and kids a home, is not something many of us have done, nor would we contemplate doing it.

So what is our response? Here's some thoughts.

First, what he has done cannot be condoned and merely written off as him being a man. It is not justifiable. He has committed a tremendous wrong. It is tragic. He has been exposed as a man with a double life. He is a great golfer, but a terrible husband with a dreadful problem.
Secondly, his legacy will never be the same again. Many will overlook it. However, those who understand what really matters in this world will see through him. What matters is our character, our values. The measure of these things is our marriage and families. While he may be the greatest golfer ever, he can never hope to be considered a great man. He is a tragic man who can lie to and deceive those closest to him. His integrity is irrevocably violated. Like Shane Warne, his reputation is forever tarnished.
Thirdly, it shows us again what matters in this world. We need to get our priorities in order. Fame, glory, money, sex, power, charisma, looks, charm, talent; all these things seem so seductive, so important, so to be sought, the things that matter most. Yet, they are not. Better to sacrifice these things for love, mercy, compassion, integrity, truth, fidelity, consistency. We are not to have hidden lives like this. We are to be "what you see is what you get people." And what you see should be laced with the values of the gospel.
Where are these found? In the Scriptures in the 10 Commandments, in the writings of the prophets, in the Sermons on the Mount and Plain, in the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5, in the love chapter of 1 Cor 13 and so on. Most especially they are to be found in Christ who showed us what it meant to be the complete package. He had the charisma, the power, the talent; so much so, he could lay hands or speak to another and raise them from death or heal them of disease. What power! Yet, he refused to use them for monetary gain. He renounced using them for power or personal aggrandisement. He did not use them to get hot girls, take them back to his tent, and secretly get it on. He sought to love, but in the true sense of the word. He preferred to die than violate the principle that what matters above all, is love. That is why he wouldn't do signs for those who demanded it. No hot marketing campaigns, cool brand names for Jesus. No seeking the limelight. You don't find Jesus in the Decapolis, Sepphoris, Tiberius or other big cities. Nor did he do most of his work in Jerusalem, aside from attendance at festivals and his death. He chose the wilderness, the little towns, places like Capernaum. He preferred to get away from all the glitz and glamour. He was determined to use his wonderful talents for others and their good.

One of my favourite passages in Scripture in this regard is 1 Cor 13:1-3. We all love the next bit defining love with 15 verbs. Well, the first three verses are glorious. Paul lists a series of wonderful spiritual gifts. He starts with those the Corinthians love, like tongues and wisdom. These achieve nothing without love. He climaxes the section with two others. One is to give all we possess to the poor. Another is to give our bodies over that we might boast (not as some manuscripts say "in order that I might burn", this is an interpolation). Giving what we possess to the poor is the greatest act of love isn't it? Isn't there no greater love than to give oneself up for a friend (Jn 14)? Yet, Paul tells us that even these are worthless without love. Even the greatest of Christian gifts are nothing without love.
This is shocking and stunning stuff to make the point. What matters is not charisma, power, money, sexual prowess, personal glory or even flawless religious ritual etc. What matters is selfless service for others motivated out of love. Our hearts are what matters.
Tiger is an object lesson to us who follow Christ. The illusion of this world is exposed through him. Yes, we can be the greatest sportsman of our generation, the best of the best perhaps. We can have it all: the wife, the family, the millions, the fame, the glory, the world at our fingertips. Yet, if we do not live by the right values, empowered by the true humanity that is love, it is exposed and we are nothing.
My prayer for Tiger is that he comes back. That he seeks help. That he does not do it to make himself look good, to manage his PR. Rather, that he gets on his knees before God, repents, turns from this clearly serious problem, and give his all to his God and his wife and kids. I pray he finds that place of integrity and consistency. It is a tough ask, but it can be done. You see, our God is a God of second chances (and third, fourth, fifth...). There is a path back to integrity or Tiger but it will not be easy. Can he do it at all? Will he do it genuinely? I hope so for his sake.

My other prayer is for his wife and kids. Marrying into a world like Tiger's is a tough ask for anyone. Being raised in the limelight as his kids are must be horrendous. I pray god holds them all in the palm of his hand and that they find him in the mess. 

Harry Potter and the Gospel

For the last week I have been given orders by the doc to take a week off. I crashed last Saturday, had stomach problems, was rather emotional (unusual for me), and was utterly knackered. Doc said, you are showing signs of stress, take a week completely off. So I have. And I feel a lot better for it.


Anywho, one of the perks of such an arrangement is that you have to fill your time. My kids have hassled me for years to finish reading Harry Potter, having got to the first part of Book 4 years ago. So, over the last four days I have raced through books four to seven.

It has inspired me to blog…

The first thing to say is that it is GOOD! It is, to put it mildly, brilliant! I can see why kids and many adults love it. For me in my youth it was the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I loved those books and still love them! Great as those books are, begrudgingly I admit that Potter is even better. Narnia is a bit piecemeal, with the Magician’s Nephew great, the Lion the Witch the Wardrobe stunning (surely one of the greatest books ever written), and the Last Battle fantastic. The Horse and His Boy in its own way too, was very good. The others are great in their own right. However, as a flowing saga, the Potter series is superb. Based on 7 calendar and school years, while every book is self-contained, they link perfectly, the narrative continually building; it is phenomenal. I rate it as the best piece of tweenage – teenage writing I have ever read.

Of course, this is related to the genre, classic good vs. evil fantasy with all its components, goodies, horrendous badies, power struggles, death, heroism, failure, mystery, double agents, and a glorious climax in which the baddie is defeated and the goodies reign supreme. There are keys though. Firstly, unlike say Lord of the Rings which is completely “otherworldly” and Narnia which is set in another world with only distant links to our own, it is intertwined in our own world. This means that all readers can feel a part of it and imagine it at every turn. This must be strongest for the British where it is set; however, all western young readers can relate to it. One can easily imagine that there are wizards and witches, that one is not a mere muggle (normal human), and that there are schools of witchcraft in one’s own country. One can imagine that there is wizardry around us as we speak.

Secondly, for a kid’s book, it is dangerous stuff. There is death, even among the best characters. This puts some off, and for good reason. However, this makes it exciting and compelling.

Thirdly, it is set in a school with all the normal school stuff like poor or nasty teachers, homework, exams, detentions and more. It has kids’ testing and beating the system. Kids love this stuff.

Thirdly, in Quidditch it has a sporting twist with heroes, a world cup, with Harry as a star, with injuries.

Fourthly, it has kids in among adults beating them and being the heroes. It makes kids feel special.

Fifthly, there is romance. There is Cho and the developing relationship of Hermione and Ron, after it seeming earlier that Harry and Hermione hook up. There is young Ginny who eventually becomes the object of Harry’s interest. Then, running through it all is magic. It has mystery, intrigue, powers that can be wielded and kids can do it.

The second thing is looking at it from a Christian point of view. Some Christians, concerned about the occult (as we should be), see all the magic and world view of HP as negative. They tell kids not to read it, concerned that they might be influenced into an interest in the occult. I think there is a danger for some kids that this could occur.

However, I think that at another level HP has positive possibilities for Christianity. I believe that, as a book that has been and will be read by almost an entire generation, it will shape minds in the direction of an openness to spirituality. Sure, it is not Christianity, but often the first step to recognition of God is the opening of mind and heart to possibilities.

In my childhood, modernistic thinking rationalized everything, and the possibility of God and spirituality was poo-pooed by many. HP represents the next generation which is skeptical of modernism and its claims to authority. HP imagines a world full of unseen forces for good and evil, spirituality, possibilities of cosmic forces guiding history, that there is more out their than our apparent reality. HP I believe will serve to open people to the possibilities of God, Jesus, Spirit and a Christian worldview. God is in the business of using all at his disposal to make himself known. I think that HP is worse news for atheism than for Christianity.

Looking back in my life three books helped open me up: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lord of the Rings and the Stephen Donaldson Thomas Covenant Chronicles. They helped open my up to spirituality. The gospel was able to seed in my life and Jesus is now my Lord. I believe HP could do this for some in our world. To me it raises the possibility that, as Christianity is shunned by older generations for modernistic reasons, a new generation will rise up that will dare to stand against the status quo, and will take on the faith.

It is up to Christians to use HP to further the gospel. There is the surface level way of doing this, helping people see parallels between the HP worldview and Christian faith. We can notice how HP is a redeemer figure; we can see the differences between him and Jesus. Jesus is divine and human, HP is human. Jesus was sinless, HP is flawed. Jesus never uses force, HP does. They both have in common love, love being the ultimate power in the book. We can draw people to the depth of the love of Christ as compared to HP. Jesus was a servant and showed love to all refusing to use force, HP’s love wins through, but not with the depth and completeness of JC. HP uses magic, Jesus uses power drawn from the divine. There are powerful values to be drawn from the book like courage, justice (I love Hermione’s SPEW movement to release Elves from slavery), love (needs defining), equality (all to be treated equally whether muggles, mud-bloods, witches, giants etc), unity and more. We can notice the similarities and difference between the ultimate moment in the book and Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is similar in that death is conquered through love. In HP’s case, he doesn’t die, only appears dead. This is a Gnostic or liberal perspective of Jesus, who genuinely died, but then rises (mind you, what happened to Jesus’ soul is never discussed biblically and so the two may line up more than I suggest here). We can notice that there is no reference in HP to the power behind the whole magic of the world. The “God” of HP seems to be more like the Force in Star Wars than the biblical God. Similarly, there is no reference to demons in HP. All the wizards and witches are admixtures of power, without anything seemingly behind it. This can be used as a question raiser.

I could go on. At a deeper level, HP gives us a clue as to how to preach into the HP generation. They have been captured by a glorious good vs. evil saga. We should tell our story in the same way. My own kids have read HP up to ten times each. It is etched into them. They reject its worldview. However, they love to hear the gospel story told in similar terms, as a glorious drama/epic/saga/story about a God who created a world and how its history flows on. We need to teach them to read the bible like this, to be excited about being invited into the story. In a sense, we Christians are the “wizards and witches.” The rest of the world are the muggles. Unlike HP there is a mission in our story, to invite all humanity to join those who are invited to Hogwarts and to have the power of the divine in us to shape the world. There is “magic” in the world, and it is there for us to be a part of. It is not to be wielded for self, but for good, to see the world become as it should be. We need to carefully tell the story to point out the differences from the HP story, but, nevertheless, to tell it in that way. I believe that HP will be a powerful aid at this deeper level. It has opened the heart of a generation. We can move away from the apologetic, defensive, “proofing” approach, and tell the story. We need imagination to tell it again and again differently. We need not to tell the whole story all the time. We can draw out moments in the story, telling of heroes and heroines who have, like HP, Ron and Hermione, been flawed, but have worked for good. We should draw them primarily from our source book, the Bible, but we can draw them from the ongoing story of Christian history. We need songs, poetry, novels (like the Shack), that can excite imaginations as HP has done. We need to allow the Spirit to lead us here, he is bursting to break out through us into this open generation.

I am excited after reading HP. I realize that in front of me, when I see a person in their early 20’s or below, that almost all will have had their thinking and worldview shaped by HP. They will be excited by the gospel if I can go to that deep level and tell it in a way that calls to mind the excitement they experienced when reading the book that has shaped their mind and view. They are yearning to be a part of something that can change the world. They want to resist evil. They yearn for justice. They want love and to know how to fight through love and not power and coercive force. They are open to spirituality and have a powerful sense of imagination.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. You are brilliant and I stand in awe of your ability to tell a great great story. I have read and heard different claims to faith where you are concerned, it is not mine to judge. I believe that your book will be used of the Lord to help many find the one true God who is Father, Son and Spirit. Some may be lost into darkness through it. But others will be opened to the good news. Shalom.