Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What Defines Your Life Narrative?

The American blogger Steve Cornell once asked his readers the question: what narrative do you follow for life?  His definition of a narrative for life is loose.....a combination of the things we base our lives on; visions we might follow and the things which motivate, define and matter to us. Cornell argues that a narrative is always supported by a way of thinking about life – about yourself, others, possessions, purposes, priorities, goals and, especially, how you view God. What are the narratives that define human beings today?

Firstly, ideas and philosophies like socialism, communism, nationalism,  fascism, and different forms of religious extremism can powerfully underpin the narratives of both individuals and large groups of people. History teaches us that extreme ideology and political power are a toxic combination for individuals, groups and even entire nations. 
Secondly, life experiences often shape the narratives people follow. When we experience significant loss, hurt, betrayal or injury — it can lead to narratives of despair, resentment, self-pity, anger, revenge and even violence. So a negative life-narrative rooted in different forms of abuse can leave the victim stuck, unable to escape from the negative effects of the abuse. Counselling, particularly when rooted in bogus so-called ‘psychotherapy’ like neuro-linguistic programming and imago therapy frequently brings no relief or hope for people who have been conned out of thousands of pounds by so called ‘Christian counsellors and psychotherapists’.
However, many people can and do escape from a life defining negative narrative onto a much more positive and fulfilling pathway. A powerful example of dramatic change of narrative is found in the Bible in the life of the Apostle Paul. His story is told in the New Testament book of Philippians. Paul followed the expected path to social recognition in the community of his day. He took a path to gain status and esteem among the people who mattered most.  Paul was zealous as his description below bears out:
 “Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:4-6).
Paul was so zealous that he was party to the murder of Stephen, but when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus his life narrative was dramatically changed. Here’s how Paul reflects on his change of narrative: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
The third definer of life narratives in the twenty first century is the quest for celebrity/fame and importance.  Fuelled by social networking and the media, this quest for power and importance is not new. It can even be a powerful but destructive force within evangelical and non-evangelical churches today and is clearly visible in the cadres of worship leaders, pseudo-apostles and prophets who have grabbed the reins in our more 'hip' churches. In Luke’s Gospel 22:24-27, Jesus directly confronted this narrative: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
When people today encounter Jesus as Saviour and Lord, He radically disrupts and reorients their  life narrative. Paul in his second letter to the church in the city of Corinth gives an excellent short summary of this truth when he writes:  “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but (live) for him who died for them and was raised again.”

What or who is defining your life narrative today?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

When is enough....enough??

Today there is justifiable outrage in the media from our academic and 'cultural classes' at the wanton destruction of archaeological treasures by ISIS in Iraq. Recent slickly produced, documentary-style online high definition video posts by ISIS have shown the complete obliteration of a number of areas deemed to be world heritage sites.

From the warped puritanical ISIS world-view, these priceless archaeological windows into the past are no more than blasphemous idols which must be destroyed.

While there is talk in the media of categorising such actions as 'crimes against humanity', the UN is already describing the destruction of Nimrud and other sites in Iraq as a war crimes.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, al-Shabab the Somali terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya's north-east on April 2 and murdered 142 students (148 in total died including terrorists and security forces). This was no random attack on a soft target. It was well planned and organised by individuals with local knowledge.

Most chilling of all, the terrorists separated students by religion. Muslims were allowed to leave, Christians were executed on the spot. Some of the victims had been holding a prayer meeting when murdered.

Our UK media outlets such as the BBC, SKY, ITN and the national press spent a couple of days reporting on the massacre. A very small number of leading church leaders in the UK condemned the atrocity and called for prayerful support for the victims and their families. They also made the usual general pleas for peace.

Overall however, the church once again closed its eyes to the undeclared war which is currently being waged against Christians by a minority of zealots who follow a barbaric medieval version of the Islamic faith. This is the reality of the 21st century.

Sadly most of Scotland's Christians choose to go along with this blinkered and short sighted outlook. They do so out of their own self-absorption with lives lived within the 'Christian bubble', and lacking any kind of direction from their church leaders from grass-roots upwards, they baulk at putting their head above the parapet fearing they 'might cause offence'.

Again and again, when asked the question 'how should we be supporting our brothers and sisters under threat of martyrdom', most Christian leaders at all levels usually respond with weary resignation.....'well, all we can do is pray'.

Writing in his blog David Robertson, Moderator Designate of the Free Church of Scotland, recently posted an article entitled, 'Islamophobia Phobia.....Why Church, Media and Politicians are Afraid and Spineless'.

Not unexpectedly, he received a good deal of flak from 'PC' Christians, non-Christians, secularists, humanists and politicians.

Robertson issued this challenge to the church: “Are you prophets and proclaimers of the Gospel of Christ or just compromisers with the spirit of this world?”

As a born again believer, I refuse to be part of the self absorbed, hand-wringing, 'what can we do?' brigade.

I agree we should pray fervently for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the front lines in this 'war for civilisation'. However we must do much more, as sitting on our hands is no longer an option. Below are three possible actions. Creative believers can surely come up with more:

  • Prayer works. Let's organise weekly/monthly half nights of prayer devoted to pleading for the safety of Christians in countries which are in the front lines. This would be real 'spiritual warfare', and if organised in every locality could have far reaching positive consequences.
  • Politicians could be lobbied to review and reconfigure the UK foreign aid budget, so that states such as Pakistan which persecutes Christians, receives less aid, and states like Kenya receives more money to help protect its Christians.
  • Christians, particularly evangelicals rarely protest on the streets of Scotland. The public square as a forum for promoting the Gospel has long since been abandoned. As a result the church has little credibility. It's time for Christians to return to the streets and the public square and raise their voices.

Momentary outrage whispered from behind the safety and anonymity of the church walls is no longer an option. When will our church leaders develop some backbone, and what will it take for Scotland's believers to cry....'enough is enough!!'

Friday, 27 February 2015

Invitation From Scotland....Please Pass on.

'The Light of Life'

Argyll Convention 2015
Oban in Scotland's West Highlands is host to this special Christian conference.

From: Tues 4th to Thurs 6th August 2015

Mornings          10.00 - Prayer
                         11.00 - 'The True & Living God' - Alasdair Paine
Afternoons        2.00 - Steadfast Global (Persecuted Christians)
                         2.00 - Care for the Family - Fiona Marks
                         2.00 - Christians Against Poverty
Evenings           7.30 - 'The Glory of Christ' Professor Sinclair Ferguson
Venue: Argyllshire Gathering Halls, Breadalbane Street, Oban, Scotland, UK PA34 5NZ
There is no charge or registration. The conference is funded by donations.
See details on Facebook .............and come!


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Dying to our ‘Selfies’

There’s no doubt that 21st century Scotland is a society which is characterised by vanity.  Fuelled by digital innovation, self- image, self- promotion and self- esteem have become the watchwords of our times.

The word ‘selfie’ meaning , ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media’ has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary which named it as ‘word of the year’ in 2013 due to the amount of interest in it. In the last 12 months, use of the word ‘selfie’ increased by 17,000% according to language research.

Writing in the Telegraph last month in an article aptly entitled, ‘Generation selfie: Has posing, pouting and posting turned us all into narcissists?’, Anna Hart argues that while the vanity of the selfie is most extreme in the under forty generation, no age group is immune.

“According to a 2013 study by ComScore, the over-fifty-fives now make up 20 per cent of Britons online, and they are just as likely as 35- to 44-year-olds to have a smartphone. Forty per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds in Britain are on Facebook, 18 per cent of over sixty-fives. Newly retired baby boomers are travelling the world with their iPad Airs, taking selfies at Machu Picchu, writing travel blogs, getting arty with the filters on Instagram”.

The taking and posting of selfies is fast becoming the norm for politicians like David Cameron and Barak Obama. For tasteless, vacuous self promoters such as Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, the selfie has become the self sustaining oxygen necessary for life.

Writing in the Mail Online recently, Sarah Griffiths summarised some interesting research from Ohio state University: “People who share lots of selfies are displaying psychopathic traits, according to a new study.

It found that men who regularly post selfies on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are more likely to be narcissistic, impulsive and display other characteristics, such as a lack of empathy.

Obsessed with selfies? Men who regularly post them on social media sites are displaying psychopathic traits, according to a new study, which found that selfie addicts are also likely narcissistic. Male celebrities such as Justin Bieber (pictured) regularly keep their fans updated with self-portraits

Researchers also revealed that self-objectification may be a bigger problem for men than previously thought, with many taking the time and effort to edit and improve their selfies, before posting them online…………… men who posted selfies regularly, scored higher than average for levels of anti-social traits”.

As a born again Christian, I despair when I see the fascination with self-image, self-promotion, and self-esteem amongst those who claim to be believers; particularly those who are older, more mature in the faith and who should therefore know better.

Journalist Carey Lodge writing in Christian Today asks this question of believers: “Sometimes I wonder what Jesus would have done if he lived in an age of camera phones. Would he have tweeted photos of himself hanging out by the water's edge, having a few glasses of wine at the wedding at Cana, or standing next to that tree with the caption "I think someone's up there, LOL"? Somehow I can't imagine it, because he always favoured intimate relationship over self-promotion.”

I agree. The Bible has some sound advice for anyone caught up in the culture of vanity and pride. These personal characteristics mask an individual’s sin. The gospel on the other hand reveals the truth that leads individuals to repent of their sin.

The Bible clearly explains that vanity and pride are part of our sinful natural self. Every human being is a slave to the natural self until he/she places their faith in Jesus, who sets the captives free.

True believers are those who surrender to Jesus and humble themselves in order to have God’s perspective in life rather than a selfish one.  

Jesus said: ‘“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”…..the question is: are we prepared to die to self?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Doing the Core Business !!

As a retired former secondary school deputy head, I am always delighted to see some of my former pupils successfully plying their trade as independent plumbers, electricians, joiners and painters and I wish them every success in their enterprises.
As time passes, these craftsmen and women become well known characters in the community, not least because they carry out work repairing and improving the homes of ordinary people.
They are however an enigma when it comes to matters of faith. At 11am every Sunday morning very few if any of this group are to be found in church. Indeed in my town more adults attend primary age football games on a Sunday morning than attend all of the church services put together. Why is it that white van men and women seem to be out of reach of the church while remaining in plain sight in Scotland’s towns and cities?
There is no easy answer to this question. However we can glean some clues from the Bible. Writing to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul urged fellow believers to share the good news about Jesus when he said: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
The clear implication here is that it is the duty of Christians to ‘preach’ Christ to non believers. In our 21st century culture, we should perhaps read ‘communicating’ rather than ‘preaching’ as most people today do not like being preached at.
Sadly the body of born again believers, whose job it is communicate Christ, is largely middle class and the ‘church’ lifestyle is pretty disconnected from the rest of contemporary society. In an article in ‘Christianity Today’, Caryn Rivadeneira ‘cuts to the chase’ when she says:  “Lots of folks talk about how churches and the Christians who fill them up are known more for what we're against than what we're for and more about whom we'd like to keep out than who'd we want to invite in, or at least keep in.”
Herein lies the challenge for the can the body of Christ in 21st century Scotland begin to connect with all of society in a meaningful, culturally relevant manner....... What practical steps need to be taken?
If evangelism is the core business of churches which describe themselves as evangelical, here are some starter questions which church members/leaders should be asking of themselves and their fellowships.
·        Is commitment to evangelism a key priority for all your church’s leaders and office bearers?  
·        Does your church have a strategy for evangelising its own locality?
·        Was the whole church involved in developing the strategy?
·        Is this strategy regularly discussed, promoted and reviewed?
·        Has your church identified and commissioned evangelism leaders? (Pastor can’t do everything)
·        Does your church train, support and motivate all members to share their faith at a personal level?
·        Does your church have a prayer strategy to support its evangelism effort?
·        Does your church have a support/teaching programme for new converts in expectation that locals will come to Christ?
·        Does your church celebrate when someone comes to Christ?       
It is really heartening that some born again Christians in Scotland do say that they want to share the love of Jesus with people in their locality. The real challenge is: do they love Jesus enough to move from words to deeds?
People deemed to be ‘out of reach’ can be reached when there is heart commitment, proper planning and real servant leadership by local Christians.
White van men and women need Jesus just as much as everyone else. The key question is, does the church want them?
Any answer other than an unequivocal ‘YES’ is a betrayal of the Gospel.