MEMORY FAILURE IS GOOD

Memory is so precious. In our academic achievements – it is rewarded, at the dawn of our lives – the lack of it is decried. And at any stage of life, forgetting causes us to feel often frustrated….

Recently there was an interesting article in the observer celebration Joshua Foer’s new book in praise of memory and its power – http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/mar/13/memory-techniques-joshua-foer.

At the other end of the spectrum, remembering things might not be all that good. In the unique case of Jill Price, 42, who suffers from hyperthymestic syndrome – she can remember everything since she was 14.  “Some memories are good and give me a warm, safe feeling. But I also recall every bad decision, insult and excruciating embarrassment. Over the years it has eaten me up. It has kind of paralysed me… Most have called it a gift. But I call it a burden. I run my entire life through my head every day and it drives me crazy!”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/1940420/The-woman-who-can-remember-everything.html

When the apostle Paul talks about spiritual progress – he uses the analogy of a race: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

So for him, moving on means forgetting. I guess Paul needed to forget the failures of the past. Maybe the years spent in what turned out to be a religious detour. Maybe he could have been haunted by the nightmares of Stephen’s execution. Maybe what kept him up at night were the troubles in the newly formed congregations or the lack of progress in Gospel proclamation. Whatever those ‘skeletons’ were – they were out and buried in God’s grace.

He also needed to forget the achievements of the past. His scholarly pedigree and the righteousness of his character were shadowy traces of what real success was all about. He learned not to care about them – as much as they would have been a real badge of honour for any leader… It was the only way he could really move on with the mission of his Master.

There’s something for us in all this. We are smart to learn from Paul about moving on. And forgetting is essential. Don’t let your past mistakes, sins and hang-ups keep you imprisoned on the side-lines. Repent and let the grace of Calvary push you on. Don’t let your past achievements lull you into a false sense of progress. Yesterday’s race is history – the race is still ahead of you, today! The finishing line is ahead of you – not behind… So wherever you are and whatever you do, forget, and move on!

 

ENJOY THE SILENCE

We fear silence because that is often mistaken for loneliness. And loneliness is the curse of our generation. We run and hide from it as much as we can. But sometimes the sound just gets turned off in our personal world.

Only then we become almost ‘cornered’ to be with ourselves. And invariably being with ourselves isn’t a fun time. We can be assaulted with fears, worries, insecurities – which can all cripple, scar and even paralyze us.

And therefore the urban noise, chitter-chatter and music – they become the obsessive/compulsive soundtrack of our mundane existence. We are the generation of headphone-adorned travellers that almost have no room for silence.

And therefore we miss out. Stating the obvious, we miss out on the beautiful birdsongs, the cries of little children, the banter and laughter of teenagers, the cutlery rattling in a restaurant, the swoooshing noise of the espresso machine in a coffee shop and even the inviting shout of a market stall seller. Ordinary precious mundane moments.

But more essentially, we miss out on God’s voice. As we fill the silence with the noise of our TV’s, radios and MP3 players we find hearing God’s voice either through his Word or the godly counsel of others – drowned out. Our attention span is crippled and we find reading boring and listening to others dull.

I invite you to join me in turning the sound off around you. Let God’s creation and your context become opportunities to discern and learn something new. Allow this silence to become the canvas on which your thoughts are being drawn. Don’t fear them (as terrifying as they might be), face them. If you do that, you will find yourself enriched, as a person that has a newly discovered sense. It won’t be easy but it would be worth it.

WAITING ROOM THOUGHTS

I am in a situation when the whole ‘waiting room’ experience is hitting me hard. It is that time when you are waiting in a crisis situation for a verdict. And it is an almost paralysing sensation. You feel powerless and you feel frightened. Your mind cannot concentrate. You can just barely function doing menial tasks. You wish there was something you could do. You wish you could know… But then what if – as the waiting comes to an end – it is bad news…

As I wrestle with these feelings and thoughts, I am reminded of the Master’s words about worry. I realise that on one hand, worry is almost a defence mechanism that stops our minds and bodies from having a ‘meltdown’. Yet, on another hand, it reveals that on a spiritual level, I am not in control. And that is the place none of us want to be. We fear it and we fight it. We want to be back in control.

This is a time of a fresh surrender, laying down arms and recognising that I cannot run my life or that of those whom I love and care for, facedown before the Only One who knows best and can run my life.

This is a time to realise that spiritual DIY plagues me just as much as those characters in Scripture whom I see making fatal mistakes. I need to repent daily of those ego-trips, whatever disguise they might wear.

This is a time to let the tears be shared around – not just for those whom I love and care for but also those around in my community and even further afield. Self-pity and selfishness will always poison the well of compassion that the Holy Spirit longs to birth in our hearts in hard times.

My hope is in the Lord, my eyes are on His glory, my mouth declares His wonders and my pursuit is His renown.

 

A CONTRARIAN’S LENT

I felt quite vexed today hearing different people ramble on the radio and TV about Lent and giving up things. This in stark contrast to the vehement anti-Christian views expressed throughout the last few days regarding several ethical issues. On one hand, as a nation, we seem to be pretty settled in our consumerist, relativistic and even agnostic opinions – yet we seem to embrace superficially a Christian tradition.

From another perspective, I feel that as Christians we misunderstand what Lent is all about. I don’t want to be either an apologist for it, neither a critic. Yet, if you decide to keep Lent as a season of sacrifice, prayer and reflection on the marvellous sacrifice of Christ, then, really, really – is giving up chocolate going to enhance your appreciation of His gracious sacrifice? No offence if you decided on that. Just asking myself (out loud)…

Something else, why give up something that you identify as a hindrance to your devotional life, and only do it for 40 days? If it is a hindrance why not give it up for good?

I know that we jokingly wonder whether we can still check Facebook (if that’s you Lent sacrifice) at 00:02 on Ash Wednesday… It seems somehow (I am sure innocently) that we trivialise the idea of a sacrifice.

Having said all this – let’s switch the tone and please allow me to invite you to a revolutionary Lent. If you’re not a Christian and you need to make some healthy changes for your body and mind – do them and do them for life not just for 40 days. I am sure that your health, your family and probably even your work would be better for it.

If you’re a Christian start with the right focus (Christ and the Cross) and keep right focus (Christ and the Cross) throughout. Make it about Him. Make it about His love, grace and sacrifice. And allow the Holy Spirit to continue that transformation daily, for the rest of your life – not just for Lent. Here are some of my contrarian Lent ideas:

  • Renounce the self-obsession and self-absorption that pesters us all so incessantly
  • Read the Gospels afresh and find many ways to be impacted, moved and amazed by Him
  • Relate what you see/discover about Him to others – it is so good!

And then, keep surrendering to God and seek to see these things woven in your mundane lifestyle – advertising Him and His work. Not just for 40 days…J

 

THE TERROR OF THE HOLY

Theology doesn’t always figure very high on our agenda with regards to spiritual growth. We don’t seem to be rushing out to buy the latest theological book as eager as we get the latest trendy Christian bestseller. Neither do we book in early on a conference that has a theological emphasis as quickly as we would book for a conference with a revival focus (not that the two subjects are mutually exclusive).

Theology seems to be somehow daunting and better left to the experts – and in ‘Christianese’ that means anyone else but me. As much as we would want to ignore and run away from it – theology is important. In its simplest form it means thinking and learning about God and His character – and that is absolutely fundamental to our spiritual growth as disciples of Jesus.

But there is one particular theological aspect about God’s character that I want us to consider – God’s holiness and the way it affects our lives. My thinking was provoked and my heart was stirred by stumbling across something the late spiritual maverick, Mike Yaconelli writes this in his book Dangerous Wonder (Navpress, 1998):

‘I began to wonder whether we modern followers of Christ are capable of being terrified of God. What happened to the bone-chilling, earth-shattering, gut-wrenching, knee-knocking, heart stopping, life-altering fear that leavers us speechless, paralysed, helpless and glad? The terror I am speaking about is a mix of wonder, awe, fear and worship, all happening at the same time. We have ended with a feel good gospel that attracts thousands… but transforms no one.’

Remember Isaiah’s awesome experience (Isaiah 6) of encountering the Holy God in the Temple. I thought that an encounter with the Holy God would cause a great knees-up party style worship… After the description of the encounter I was surprised by Isaiah’s reaction – holy fear (v.5). Should that make us paranoid and afraid? By no means… The Holy God is the same God that through Jesus repeatedly greeted people with the words ‘do not fear’. Yet, whenever we approach a Holy God in worship we must remember that he is the Holy One that deserves all the honour, praise and glory!

This was followed by a revelation of sinfulness – both on an individual level as well as national (the chronology being very significant). And this was the reaction of a prophet, one that was dedicated to serving God in a radical way… God’s holiness exposes all that is still sinful in us. But let’s remember that the Holy God is the agent of cleansing and the source of hope too. We must never forget that a Holy God desires a Holy people who surrender their lives to Him and live with a desire to be salt and light!

Isaiah’s experience wasn’t just a ‘refreshing’ – it was a life-changing encounter. His heart and mind were transformed. And that was for a purpose – God had a mission for him. And the Holy God made sure that Isaiah was fully equipped for that task! Any awesome encounters we experience with a Holy God – they are not just for our own benefit. They should encourage us to look upward (faith) and outward (love) with a desire to let those around us be introduced to this amazing Holy God we serve!

If I have managed to whet your appetite go and download RC Sproul’s – The Holiness of God for free from – http://christianaudio.com/free. It is an absolute Top 10 in my library.

A FATHER’S INFLUENCE

John G Paton’s Father: A Key to His Courage by John Piper

 

 

 

 

John G. Paton was a missionary to the New Hebrides, today called Vanuatu, in the South Seas. He was born in Scotland in 1824. I gave my Pastors’ Conference message about him because of the courage he showed throughout his 82 years of life. When I dug for the reasons he was so courageous, one reason I found was the deep love he had for his father.

The tribute Paton pays to his godly father is, by itself, worth the price of his autobiography, which is still in print. Maybe it’s because I have four sons (and Talitha), but I wept as I read this section. It filled me with such longing to be a father like this.

There was a “closet” where his father would go for prayer as a rule after each meal. The eleven children knew it and they reverenced the spot and learned something profound about God. The impact on John Paton was immense. “Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, were blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, ‘He walked with God, why may not I?'” (Autobiography, p. 8)

“How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend.” (Autobiography, p. 21)

One scene best captures the depth of love between John and his father, and the power of the impact on John’s life of uncompromising courage and purity. The time came for the young Paton to leave home and go to Glasgow to attend divinity school and become a city missionary in his early twenties. From his hometown of Torthorwald to the train station at Kilmarnock was a 40-mile walk. Forty years later, Paton wrote,

“My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence — my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: ‘God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!'”

“Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him — gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I rounded the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return — his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.” (pp. 25-26)

The impact of his father’s faith and prayer and love and discipline was immeasurable. O fathers, read and be filled with longing.

Copyright © © Desiring God Ministries. Website: http://www.desiringGOD.org. Email: mail@desiringGOD.org. John Piper. Permission granted for reproduction in exact form. All other uses require written permission.

 

THE OSCARS – THE REST

As promised here are my thoughts on the other main contenders.

The Social Network was primarily a superb script (Aaron Sorkin) and a brilliant demonstration of how fast time moves. It also captured the modern media zeitgeist with brilliant observations. Fincher made sure that he didn’t portray MZ as an all American hero. He was neither a hero nor a villain. You admired his brilliance but disliked his lack of loyalty. Well worth revisiting on DVD – which is always a good accolade for a movie.

Inception was mesmerizing and baffling. Visually it did not live up to the trailer but the Paris dream scene will probably remain in cinematography folklore. I found the fighting scenes in the snow a bit too Bond-ish and tedious. Having seen it the second time, I still think that Nolan has managed to create a great combination of blockbuster-meets-arthouse science fiction movie. And don’t even dare liken it to the Matrix… Much better and far more complex…

The Fighter is based on a true story and it almost feels like a British socialist/realist movie a la Ken Loach. This is a snapshot of the tragicomic life of a very dysfunctional blue-collar family in which boxing is the only means of ‘airing’ one’s talent. The elder brother’s former momentary success simply paves the way to addiction. A classic ‘has been’, yet very oblivious of it. The younger brother is swayed between enhancing the legacy, family loyalty and attempts to forge his own identity. The director’s strong point is his brilliantly observed depiction of a ‘run of the mill’ inspirational story without over-sentimentalising it. It feels like a really good documentary that makes you smile and moves you to tears. BTW, Christian Bale was absolutely sensational.

True Grit was slow, measured and very classy. It felt like I was watching a play rather than a movie. That tells you that it was all about the story and the actors. Of course, the young actress, Hailee Steinfield stole the show, while Jeff Bridges mumbled his way through the script while still acting brilliantly. I have never seen the original – but this felt like a classic movie that you never tire watching again and again. As an unexpected plus, it seemed to be very funny all throughout.

 

 

THE KING’S SPEECH

I really didn’t know what to expect. Everyone bar one of my friends thought it was superb. He described it as ‘beige’. I still expected to like it, and the beginning was really promising. I was well acted and witty. But then at some point it became terribly formulaic. SPOILER ALERT. Man has a disability that cripples his confidence. He comes across an unusual inspirational therapist – and then bingo – all gets sorted.

Although a British film it was terribly Hollywoodian in its cheap ‘feel good’ factor. It was deemed as ‘inspirational’ but it turned out to be a ‘diet/sugarfree/fat free’ version of inspirational (bland). It seemed somehow short and the characters were very sketchy. We knew so little about them, particularly the rest of the royal family.

Pet peeve – I really found the scene with the tirade of swearwords a cheap shot meant to make those – who ‘didn’t get the rest of the humour’ – laugh outloud. It reminded me of the early days of Sacha Baron Cohen that later had to ‘dumb down’ his humour so that everyone will ‘get it’. If that sounds snobbish – I am guilty as charged. All in all, my verdict is that it was a bit ‘magnolia’ rather than beige. It was watchable, pleased most of the crowd, didn’t challenge the mind to much, left us all a bit cheerful – but ultimately unexceptional.

PS
Having also seen True Grit, The Fighter, Inception & The Social Network – I definitely liked them all more than TKS. A mini review of each to follow….

 

JEKYLL AND HYDE SPIRITUALITY

I seem to have stumbled upon so many inconsistencies lately, either in both my own and other people’s thinking or lifestyle. I guess those inconsistencies are always there but somehow we seem to notice them more profoundly at certain times.

It interesting how the inconsistencies I see in others – particularly believers – seem to be so difficult to understand and accept. They wind you up, disappoint you and can even hurt you deeply. ‘Why can they not see’, ‘why are they reacting like this’, ‘how can they be Bible readers and believers but somehow blatantly ignore or disregard its teaching – even using excuses at times’?

Then a thought struck me in the midst of this. I was wondering whether I wasn’t actually seeing those inconsistencies as a mirror-like reflection of my own inconsistencies. Mine might be different, they might appear subtler and I might be much better trained at disguising them. But they are there, and somehow I do not seem to be as wound-up and judgemental about them as I am of others. How typical…

Pondering the meaning of my recent ‘discovery’ I asked the Lord whether I could learn some valuable lessons for my own life and walk with Him. After prayer and thinking here are some of the notes to myself (I share them with you in the hope that you might find them useful too):

  • Must become humble – not feel superior. I might not be guilty of their particular sins but I must never forget that God alone is good. Pride can always creep in especially when confronted with a discovery of sinfulness in others’ lives.
  • Must become compassionate – Judging by Jesus’ reactions this is a very appropriate reaction towards sin. Anger is a possible present ingredient of our reaction but that must be directed towards the sin and its effects and not the sinner. We must never forget that Jesus always saw a redemptive opportunity, even in those that were deemed losers… Compassion, however, is not to be understood as a soft option, a ‘let’s be tolerant and nice’ kind of attitude. A difficult one – this is (I could almost hear Yoda say)…
  • Must become holy – it is so easy to become familiar with our inconsistencies and allow them to become ‘spiritual squatters’ that we put up with. I must never forget that I am involved in a battle. As Allan Redpath once reminded us: ‘The Christian life is a battleground and not a playground.’ Once again, this is not about works, legalism or evangelical self-improvement. It is about hunger and thirst for righteousness, passionately seeking the values of the Kingdom of God and using the spiritual disciplines as God-given means of grace for spiritual growth.
  • Must pray for my fellow sinners – this is one of the reasons that God allows us to see these things so that we can intercede for those around us. Prayer will always put all things into perspective; through prayer we enter into God’s presence and therefore begin to sense His heart for those that sin.
  • Must read, learn and study the Word – this can be the greatest influence that influences our lives towards consistency through teaching, encouragement, rebuke and inspiration.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’    1 John 1:5-9