God is my Director

Youth ministry, movies, no drugs and a variable amount of Rock ‘n Roll

Archive for December, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Martin on December 23, 2006

This is the last opportunity I’ll have to post for a while – so a very merry Christmas to you, wherever you are. Take a moment to look at my Christmas message below, or browse a bit around the site as a lot of it isn’t time sensitive. Alternatively, come back soon! Hope you have a great few days – Gim.D

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A WordPress Christmas message: God is breastfeeding

Posted by Martin on December 22, 2006

For anyone looking for a Christmas message, unpacking a little bit of the true meaning of Christmas, I thought I’d post this – a message I delivered on a London radio station today. Hope it means something to you – and a very Merry Christmas, whoever you are…

The Nativity Story. The wise men, and the shepherds. The cows and the donkeys and the straw. And the little baby Jesus, in his little manger – no crib for a bed. It’s a nice picture isn’t it? Soft, cuddly; reminds you of when you were five years old.

But if you’re honest, has it ever struck you that in this day and age, the nativity seems, well… a bit rubbish? This is supposed to be one of the two main events of the Christian story. Well, by Hollywood standards, it’s hardly a great action sequence.

The sweet little donkey, plodding along under the weight of a considerably-large woman. The shepherds following the star like students staggering after an early morning kebab. And then the baby is born – all little and soft and smelling of roses. And that’s it. That’s the story.

So the nativity: a bit rubbish? Well if you ever have thought that, you’re not alone. It was what the religious people thought at the time. Their prophets had been telling them God was going to send a saviour. And since they were oppressed by the Roman empire, and has lost their freedom – to them, a saviour was going to look a lot more like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Imagine this, alternative Nativity story. Jesus, played by Arnie, teleports into Jerusalem during an electrical storm. Obviously he’s naked, so he goes and beats up a local tax collector and steals his biking leathers. Then he carries his AK-47 into town, and starts blowing away Romans for fun. The Jewish people get their city back, everyone praises God, and Arnie gives the leathers back and pops off home to heaven in time for manna with Moses. Now that’s a story.

But it wasn’t God’s story. And to understand God’s story, and what on earth he was doing through the nativity, we have to go a lot further back.

Here’s what happens in the Old Testament: God makes man, but he falls and loses his place in paradise. Then God chooses a people who can come back to him, but they mess up, and end up as slaves in Egypt. They stay there for about 400 years, but they keep crying out to God, and he can’t ignore it (cos he’s just too darned nice). So he gives power to a leader – Moses – and brings them out of slavery dramatically. Then years and years pass, and the people of God just keep on messing it up. They worship other Gods, they build golden calves and opulent palaces – they can’t stay faithful for five minutes. So God removes his favour, and they get overtaken by the Babylonians, and later by the Romans.

Or more basically: God gives people a chance – they mess it up. Then God gives people a chance – and they mess it up. It’s a cycle.

So what the Jews were expecting, was another Moses – another chance from God – another rescue from oppressors. And who turns up? A little baby. Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. And all the oppressed Jewish people think – are you serious!?!?

And when he grows up – preaching love, humility and turning the other cheek, they’re even more nonplussed. They all decide that this guy just can’t be the saviour who the prophets had been predicting.

But he was. The miracles he performed, and the fact that he rose from the dead, convinced enough people that it spread to become a movement, which is today around 2 Billion strong. The words he spoke were so wise – so unearthly – that he’s now regarded as one of the greatest teachers of all time – whoever you believe he was.

Here’s what happened: God, seeing that Paradise hadn’t been enough; realising that choosing a people and teaching them how to live hadn’t been enough, takes the most drastic action. He sends his own Son – who is fully God – to earth. That moment is pivotal in human history – because God comes to earth to open up the way back to him. Through his son, man and God will again be able to look one another in the eye.

And so Jesus – this eternal, all-powerful being – is incarnated as a human being. He can feel pain, physical weakness, tiredness.

But even more than that – God doesn’t just make Jesus appear – all grown up and full of great wisdom. He brings him into the world through childbirth – as a tiny, frail, helpless baby.

So here we are, back at the nativity. And to me, it doesn’t seem so rubbish now – that Christmas Card picture: the Shepherds and the wise men, crowding round his manger, because they’re in on the secret – God just moved into the neighbourhood. And Mary, with the baby Jesus, feeding at her breast.

God is breastfeeding. He’s become human in every way. What a picture! It’s one you don’t see on the Christmas cards – but what a picture! God is breastfeeding! He humbles himself to the point that he is dependent on man to keep him alive. He lays aside all his power and puts his life literally in one woman’s hands.

He grows up, and although it’s not obvious at the time, he does save the people. He saves them from the Romans – the empire turned Christian within a couple of centuries, and then fell; he saves them from their separation from god. From those humble beginnings – he goes on to become the greatest hero the world has ever seen.

So no, the nativity isn’t rubbish. We might have sanitised it into a nice children’s story because it has animals and a baby in it, but it’s anything but rubbish. This is the moment that God started putting the world back together. And Christmas gives us a chance to remember what God is really doing in that seemingly childish story – he turns the universe upside down so that we might know him. And what an incredible Christmas present that is.

Have a great Christmas.

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Over-prayed footballers

Posted by Martin on December 22, 2006

I’ve already confessed my love of this kind of story – now possibly my favourite TV show in the whole wide world is devoting this Saturday’s programme to it. The BBC Sport website today reports that England footballer Jermaine Defoe is a Christian who says that prayer helps him to get over the disappointments in his career. He says:

‘I pray every day. In the mornings and, before I go to bed. I think it’s important to pray not just when things are going bad.

‘When things are going bad, it’s easy to pray and ask God to help you out, but it’s also important to pray when things are going well and show your appreciation.’

Good on Jermaine for saying that in public when he knows he could get stick from the fans, and good on the BBC for airing his story of faith, and those of other players, in the ‘Faith in football’ special of Football Focus, on BBC ONE this Saturday at 12.10pm GMT.

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If you have a problem, if no-one else can help…

Posted by Martin on December 21, 2006

My latest television addiction is The Unit – or – ‘What David Palmer did next after 24

It’s the ‘based-on-real-events’ story of an elite Delta Force team, headed up by Jonas Blane, the character played by the brilliant Dennis Haysbert (pictured). Called simply ‘Alpha Team’, they go to the places where no other soldiers can or will; they do the jobs that even Jack Bauer wouldn’t touch. Assassinations, death-defying rescues – all in a day’s work for Jonas and his men. And to give the show some depth, we also get to see the lives of their wives and families, living together back on base – nervously waiting to hear each week if their men have made it back alive from their latest mission.

All good fun, but it took me a few episodes to work out what was really going on here. This speech, from Jonas to another character, helped me to catch on:

‘No matter how blessed out lives, how charmed our existence, things still inevitably, irrevocably go wrong. Your mother swindled out of her savings. Your estranged husband runs off with your kids. Your best friend goes on vacation in a foreign land and disappears. Eventually, bad things find us all. You ever hear of the “Get of Jail Free Card”? This is a get out of hell card. At some point in your life, God forbid you have nowhere else to turn, call that number.’

Remind you of another show, anyone? Remember, Blane’s part of The Unit is called ‘Alpha Team’…

Here’s another quote, this time from that other show:

‘In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…’

They’ve re-made The A-Team! People should know about this. Tell your friends.

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Attack of the sprouts

Posted by Martin on December 20, 2006

Looking for a pointless but fun Christmas flash game? Look no further –

Click here for ‘Attack of the sprouts’.

My top score so far is 850…

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

Luke, I am your father…

Posted by Martin on December 18, 2006

A great fear has seized me. I think it grabs hold of every relatively new parent at some stage, and it may be a phenomena which particularly affects fathers.
I’m worried about what father I’m going to be, and how that might affect the sort of man my son grows up to be. I’m worried specifically, that something I might do wrong now and in the formative years to come might radically send him off course. I mean for instance, what kind of folks were Mr and Mrs Hitler snr? Do you think they pushed their son towards fascist dictatorship as a decent career ambition? What were the Husseins like around baby Saddam? For all we know, they could have been a pair of charmers and the toast of the Baghdad dinner-dance scene in the 1940s, yet their son didn’t turn out too well.
Here’s what sparked me off: I was reading the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, and I came across a series of stories involving King David – widely regarded as one of the great men in Jewish history. I don’t know how hands on he was as a parent, but the fact is that some of his kids didn’t turn out all that well. First, Amnon, his son, was so consumed with lust for his own sister – Tamar – that he raped her, and she ended up living destitute and broken in a tower somewhere. And then there’s the small matter of Absolom, another son, who first hunted down and killed his brother Amnon for the attack on Tamar, and then went on to try to grab his father’s throne and power. Great kids!
Now David is a bit of a role model of mine. He’s not only a great leader and a truly Godly man; he’s also a creative, and a prolific writer. So if HIS kids can turn out like that, what hope have the rest of us got?

I’m only speculating, but I suppose with all his other kingly duties, David didn’t have time to be a hands-on father. He was a great role model for his kids, but perhaps they didn’t see enough of him day-to-day for that to rub off on them. If there’s a grain of hope for us then, it’s also a lesson – spend time with your kids, and let them see a good model of adulthood in the way you live your life around them. Even if I’ve got David wrong, it’s still a pretty good principle for fatherhood.

Posted in Family, Spiritual is everything | 2 Comments »

Random on Friday – 15/12

Posted by Martin on December 15, 2006

Here begineth a new series, to be continued every Friday, of the strange things I’ve noticed in the week, but haven’t found space or justification or time to post about. They will appear in no particular order, and you must feel free to add your own – either by posting a comment or emailing a contender to me at godismydirector@gmail.com

This week I noticed…

In the video for the now distantly-infamous single ‘Boom Boom’ by the Outhere Brothers, the two rappers dance about in front of cartoons wearing basketball vests. One says ‘Illinois’, the other says ‘Michigan.’ By apparent coincidence, these are the two States that have so far been used as a basis for albums by the majestic Sufjan Stevens, as part of his ‘States project’ – an attempt to create one album for each of the 50 US States.
(noticed on MTV Europe’s The Vault while at the gym)

Chelsea have drawn Porto in the quarter finals of football’s European Champions League, after also drawing arch enemies Barcelona in the last round. Considering this is coach Jose Mourinho’s previous club – the one at which he became famous – would it be so ridiculous to suggest that God is a football fan (not that American Throwball rubbish), and regularly rigs draws to create the most exciting matchups?
(noticed on the BBC Sport website this morning)

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Piefest / TV kills Christmas

Posted by Martin on December 15, 2006

As planned, our youth group assembled with a handful of other brave church members on the local council housing estate last night, assigned with the task of singing some carols and handing out some mince pies. Enthusiastic new girl was there, along, incredibly, with two even newer girls! There were about 20 of us in all, including two guitar-wielding church leaders, and we made a good attempt at a few of the classics.

Interestingly though, everyone on the estate gave us a wide berth. Suddenly, an area containing 500 homes resembled an abandoned Wild West town. If doorbell response was to be used as an indicator, then apparently, no-one was in at all. That’s right – not a single door that we knocked on to offer a mince pie, opened to us. It was as if we were invisible.

But not inaudible, it would seem. Because halfway – literally half way – through ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, a twenty-something woman came into our midst, waved her arms and told us that she was really sorry, but we had to stop. Everyone did as she asked, but we were puzzled – had traditional Christian Carols really become so offensive? No – but apparently television producers have. For as she – a production assistant – revealed, they were trying to film an episode of some vacuous Channel 4 reality TV show on the estate, and our singing was creating an unwelcome background noise. So would we mind awfully if we shut up and moved on?

Despite my protestations, the church leaders relented and downed their guitars. Our performance was at an end. But what on earth made this woman believe she had the right to stop us – and mid-song? I know TV is important in this country – but seriously?

We walked away, and heard a loud director cry ‘action’ in the nearby background. Part of me wanted to start a bit of impromptu megaphone street preaching to ruin his scene, but that wouldn’t have been very constructive, now would it?

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Wii gives shop assistants a hug of smug

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

I have now all but given up even catching a glimpse of the hotter-than-the-sun Nintendo Wii console before Christmas. But one traditionally less-cheery bunch of folk – the humble, down-trodden shop assistants – have an uncharacteristic spring in their collective steps thanks to this little white box of wonders.

In every shop I’ve asked in, the assistants have trotted out the same bored message: ‘sorry Sir, we’ll have some in January.’ But they always have a glint in their eyes when they pass on this sad piece of information. Why? Because thanks to their staff purchase schemes, they’ve all got one! My theory is that all 500,000 Wii’s which sold on launch day in the UK went to our legions of shopkeepers and sales assistants. Twice today I’ve heard £5-an-hour video games salespeople say something along the lines of: ‘Ah, sorry, no. But I’ve got one at home, and they’re absolutely brilliant. Ooh – you have no idea what you’re missing!’

That’s one in the eye for The Man. And unfortunately today, I’m the man.

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A cold night with hot pies

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

…in prospect. I’m about to head out for one of those youth events that sounded like a great idea at the time – we’re going to hand out mince pies and sing Christmas carols on the local council housing estate. It’s not quite the Bronx, but it ain’t the leafy suburbia most of our kids are used to, either.

I don’t want to give a false impression though – I’m really excited to see how they’ll respond to being taken out of their comfort zones. It’s also really cool to hand out free stuff to people and watch their puzzlement as they try to work out what we want in return. And I love singing too! So it’s a winner on three fronts.

After we’ve frozen solid, we’re heading back to one of the other leaders’ houses for a very premature Christmas dinner. Wonder if anyone will have the guts to invite a random member of the public along? Will let you know…

Posted in Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Thanks to the blogrollers

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

Just wanted to extend a hearty thanks to the range of people who have for some reason deemed me blogroll-worthy. It’s very kind of you to have linked to the site – I do really appreciate it. In the last couple of days I’ve noted a link on the pages of Shannon Cobb, Random Girl From Space, and the Au Pair Drama Queen (!). Thanks guys! Even though I don’t know you, I count you as virtual family.

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Five for Monty!

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

Just enjoyed this quite lovely piece of text commentary on the marvellous Cricinfo:

>>Panesar to Lee, OUT, and he’s got him! Monty has five! Lands this on middle, it turns just enough and Lee is rapped on the pad. Dar raises his finger and Panesar is the first Englishman to take five wickets at the WACA. This is Monty’s day!

I love Monty Panesar, and I want to have his babies.

Posted in Sport | 1 Comment »

An emerging irony…

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

This is going to win me few friends in the blogosphere, but I’ve often been highly-critical of the so-called ’emerging’ or ’emergent’ church movement. I think it’s a bit of a bandwagon; I think it’s often used as an excuse for not having to commit to a holy lifestyle; I think it’s often about deconstruction and sniping at the church. I’m not saying there isn’t a lot of good in there – some great people are involved for instance – but it’s not my cup of English tea, and I’ve never been convinced that it’s anything more than a plaything for intellectuals and faux-intellectuals who just got bored of church.

So here’s the irony. I’ve just been asked to launch a ‘new expression of church’.

Which, let’s be honest, means I’m about to step into the world of emerging church. You’ve got to laugh really. I shall of course record my progress here. 

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 3 Comments »


Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

Now he’s got Shane Warne out! Sweet Jesus how I love thee!

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The Montster strikes!

Posted by Martin on December 14, 2006

Alright, alright – I know I said I was giving up on cricket, but that was before they recalled the mighty Monty the Montster Panesar for the Third Ashes Test. The turbaned genius has just taken his third Aussie wicket, and at last, the Ashes have started. Shame we’re two down with three to play…

What has really impressed everyone today about Monty is his temperament. He was hit for 17 runs in a single over by the same batsman – then returned in the very next over to dismiss him. Then he got another wicket just a few balls later! What character! The Australian game plan is clearly to bully him out of the match, but what they didn’t realise is this: Monty Panesar is the new king of spin.

For non-cricket fans, normal service will resume shortly.

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Talkin’ bout a resolution

Posted by Martin on December 13, 2006

Planning to make any New Year’s resolutions come January 1st? Giving up smoking? Committing to become a community volunteer? No longer going to read The Guardian?

I used to think resolutions were a waste of time – once the fireworks have fizzled out and sobriety has returned, we very rarely stick to the promise. This year however, I’ve made a pretty good fist of things. I made two New Year’s resolutions on 1st Jan 2006, and with a bit of work, I could well keep them both… well, sort of.

The first resolution seemed the most daunting – lose two stone in weight by December 31st. Thanks to a couple of all-you-can-eat trips across the Atlantic, my body was beginning to resemble Mr Stay Puft from Ghostbusters. I think I realised that I had hit that point where there were only two ways to go – become a fat bloke for the rest of time, or buy some smaller pants and get on a treadmill.

The second resolution seemed infinitely more possible – read through the Bible in one year. That’s just four pages a day – especially easy when you’ve been given a lovely (floral-themed) Bible-in-a-year book for Christmas.

Well, resolution no.1 has fared the best. As I write, I’m a tantalising 3lbs short of my target, with around two weeks to go. Unfortunately, there’s a fairly calorific religious festival between now and then which might scupper me. But even 3lbs short is about 4st better than I was expecting.

Resolution no.2 had to lower it’s ambitions halfway through the year. As anyone who’s ever tried to use dated readings will know, the biggest demotivator is finding out you’ve fallen ten days behind, and since you haven’t time to catch up, you throw in the towel instead. Well, my boss is a wiser man than I, and suggested that I revise my aim to ‘read the Bible in two years’. Since then I’ve been on track  – and am now just 12 readings away from the halfway point, with a few more days than that left.

So despite my failure to so far achieve the final aims, I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m now on the lookout for a new resolution to try out in 2007, because it’s a good thing to have aims for your year. I feel like 2006 was actually a year in which I quantifiably achieved something.

Suggestions on a comment postcard please – or let me know how you got on with your 2006 resolutions.

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Gettin’ Stoned – Part 2

Posted by Martin on December 13, 2006

Before you read the post below, read this one.

I deliberately posted this thought in two parts, but, uncomfortable as the second section is, I really want to say something about it. An even shorter reading from John 8, this time verses 7-11:
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said. 
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

As I’ve already written, Jesus treats the woman caught in adultery with the kind of grace that sometimes only He could. He disarms a stone-wielding mob with just a few words, and leaves a lasting message about hypocrisy that unfortunately a lot of us seem to have conveniently forgotten.
Those words ‘he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ hangs in history as one of the greatest pieces of wisdom ever spoken. We hear it quoted in movies; we see it frequently referenced whenever another group of Pharisees gathers to once again administer a modern-day stoning.

But it’s not the end of the story. He says something else – something which I guess the Pharisees would have loved, had any of them stuck around to hear it:

‘Go now, and leave your life of sin.’

To suggest that Jesus saved this woman, no-strings attached, just because He Is Love, is a naïve reading of the words. He also tells her to step away from the adulterous affair – NOW – and not to begin another. In other words, when we are the beneficiaries of the grace of God, there is then an immediate forward step for us to take. If this woman was in love, or was embedded in a deeply sexual lifestyle (both of which are likely), then this would have been an extremely painful step. She possibly wished at that point that the Pharisees had finished the job.
Jesus knew exactly how difficult his command was to hear, and yet he still gave it. And though he’s saved her life and told her that he doesn’t condemn her, I doubt if she went from that place leaping with joy.
This is an extremely difficult passage, because whatever our theological standpoint, it presents a huge challenge. Some of us who talk about ‘living under grace’, like to conveniently forget about the sting in the tale that I’ve just described. And conversely, there are plenty of us who use this last line as a justification for some level of Puritanism, and miss the radical moment of love and grace earlier on.

 So what does it mean for us? My reading – as I attempt to avoid both the pitfalls that I’ve described – is that God’s grace is something we should strive to emulate as we interact with the people around us. If we want to be like Jesus, then the paedophiles, prostitutes and drug dealers in our communities need the same treatment from us as this woman received from Jesus. At the same time however, we can’t condone and licence the wrong that they do, and we need to be prepared, like Jesus, to offer a difficult challenge.

It’s not easy, but Jesus isn’t. If he was easy to get his head around, perhaps he wouldn’t be widely acknowledged as one of the great wise masters of human history. But we mustn’t settle for a simplified understanding of His character as we seek to follow and become like him. The longer you know Him, the more you realise: Jesus is difficult.

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‘Kate Winslet lives in Narnia’

Posted by Martin on December 13, 2006

There was another World Class rant from Britain’s finest film critic, Mark Kermode, on BBC Radio Five Live last Friday – once again I wholeheartedly recommend that you sign up to his podcast, even if you don’t like movies. His tirades against bottom-end commercial cinema are legenday – so much so that the BBC website has a special Kermode Ad-Rant Calendar, counting down to Christmas with a different outburst each day.

This week’s victim was The Holiday – the film in which, as Mark put it: ‘Cameron Diaz lives in LA; Kate Winslet has a tiny job at The Daily Telegraph, but appears to earn enough money to live in Narnia, in a cottage sprinkled with fairy dust, in what is supposed to be Surrey but is clearly on another planet. [and they swap homes for Christmas]’

And then: ‘It’s so putrefyingly awful that you find your life force ebbing away into your seat, and your mind starts to turn to evil thoughts.’

Bet you they don’t stick that on the poster.

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The ‘Hey Fatty’ plate

Posted by Martin on December 11, 2006

Just read this brilliant story on Techopolis – a Ukranian scientist has invented a talking plate which tells you off if you overload it with food. Put one too many burger on there and it’ll shout phrases such as ‘stop right there!’ or ‘where’s your willpower?’ It’s called the Smart Plate, although the more gluttonous among us may not agree that it’s all that smart.

And even if you do try to get around the plate’s sensor by loading up on high-fat foods that don’t weigh much, such as those cardboard McDonald’s fries, the same inventor has invented a ‘Smart Belt’ which measures when you’re starting to put on weight. Bathroom scales are so last-century.

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Britney’s underpants

Posted by Martin on December 11, 2006

Alright, alright, I know I said I wouldn’t post any more – but I just HAD to reveal this: at least seven people have found this blog by typing ‘Britney Spears’ Underpants’ into search engines. Personally, I find that funny. Oh – and kind of ironic, considering the whole getting-out-of-the-car episode.

Right – honestly now – no more posts on Britney Spears, exposed rude bits or otherwise.

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U2 – Window in the skies

Posted by Martin on December 11, 2006

How I love this band. This song comes from the U2’s new greatest hits album 18 Songs – it is utterly wonderful, and the lyrics are so powerful it hurts. I love you Bono, and I don’t care who knows it.

Window in the skies 

The shackles are undone
The bullets quit the gun
The heat thats in the sun
Will keep us when there’s none

The rule has been disproved
The stone has been moved
The grain is now a groove
All debts are removed, ooh

Oh can’t you see what our love has done
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
What it’s doing to me

Love makes strange enemies
Makes love when love may please
Soul in a strip tease
Hate brought to its knees

Sky over our head
Can reach it from our bed
If you let me in your heart
And out of my head

Oh can’t you see what our love has done
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
What it’s doing to me

Oh oh oh hhhhhhhhhhh
Oh oh oh hhhhhhhhhhh
Please don’t ever let me out of here

I’ve got no shame
oh no oh no

Oh can’t you see what love has done
Oh can’t you see
Oh can’t you see what love has done
What it’s doing to me

Oh I know I hurt you and I made you cry
Did everything but murder but you and I
But love left a window in the skies
And to love I rhapsodize

Oh can’t you see what love has done to every broken heart
Oh can’t you see what love has done for every heart that cries
Love left a window in the skies
And to love I rhapsodize

Oh can’t you see?

Posted in Music, Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

Gettin’ stoned

Posted by Martin on December 11, 2006

A 30-second reading from John 8: 1-7 (NIV):

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

Now this is the Jesus that I’m talking about. He’s not only the Son of God – he’s also, in some strange way that we can’t fathom – actually God too. And in this story, right in the middle of his ministry on earth, we see his heart for people – and especially for a certain kind of person.

The religious leaders are about to stone this woman. That didn’t mean that they were going to toss pebbles in her general direction; they were going to lob great chunks of rock at her head at a terminal velocity. Her crime? Pretty serious in that culture – she’d been caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. So it’s not as if she was innocent – certainly not in the eyes of these religious men.

So into the middle of this ultra-high-temperature moment, as the mob gets ready to inflict its judgement on the woman (who may have been standing there naked and humiliated, and certainly would have been utterly terrified), walks Jesus.

What does he do? He turns the situation back on its head. Fine, he says – stone her. So long as you’re not guilty of making mistakes in your own life too.

At which point the terrified woman puts her hands over her eyes and expects the worst. But of course, as v8-11 tell us, she doesn’t recieve a single blow. Jesus knows that every member of the crowd would have been guilty of some lesser or greater wrong, and they have no answer to him.

First of all, I think it’s significant that Jesus goes to the rescue of a woman who, to be honest, was probably a bit of a low-life. Nobody really likes a love-cheat, do they? Well, apparently Jesus does. He likes her so much, he steps in and saves her life. Time and again in fact, the types of people who Jesus spends his time with can be something of a surprise to us. Prostitutes, tax collectors (the crack dealers of their day), men and women of ill repute – he spent as much time with them as he did with the religious types. I’m not sure that’s the Jesus that we tell people about today.

Second, I think Jesus words to the religious people then are just as relevant for the church today. And as I look around, I can’t help thinking we’ve forgotten them. When I see Christians at gay pride marches holding banners that say ‘Got Aids Yet?’; when I see hordes of placard-waving God-people outside abortion clinics when on the same street homeless people starve; when I see all that, these words from Jesus stick in my throat. Even forgetting our Westen gluttony, materialism and disregard for the poor – surely when the church throws around hate like this, they’re guilty of just as much sin as any of their potential targets?

We need to remember that Jesus preached (and lived out) a message of love, and hope for everyone – not of comfort for some and damnation for all the rest.

And as Christians we need to realise that we don’t have a God-given right to throw stones.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

My painful purge

Posted by Martin on December 10, 2006

I’m no puritan, but recently it’s struck me that I have an awful lot of expensive plastic sitting on my shelves, completely unused, and occasionally still shamefully shrink-wrapped. I’m talking of course about my DVD collection, which, thanks to an obsessive compulsive personality which I am only now beginning to control, is obscenely huge.

Sure, I own lots of my favourite movies – everyone does.  And as a youth worker, I think it’s fairly legitimate that I own a bunch of films which can be useful in triggering discussion with young people, such as Spider-man and Forrest Gump.

But why on earth do I own a copy of Ang Lee’s Hulk? Or in a similar vein, Fantastic Four? Why did I buy (and never, ever sit down to watch) The Abyss: 2 Disc Collector’s Edition. And I’m not even sure I know what Bubba Ho-Tep is!

So I’ve sat down this morning – as an act of Sunday worship, if you will – to try to bring my collection down to a more reasonable size. And with classics like the ones I’ve mentioned in there, it looked like an easy task. Yet if I’m honest, it’s still a wrench. Why am I finding it hard to throw away Dodgeball? I am never going to watch it again. If I was stuck on a desert Island with only a DVD player and a copy of the movie, I’d probably just build sandcastles for eternity. Yet I don’t want to throw it away. Why?

I’m not sure of the answers. All I know is that our possessions have more of a hold over us than we sometimes like to believe. At the moment, I’ve managed to pull just 17 rejects out of a collection of around 400. I’m trying to add to that number, but right now, decisions like – King Arthur or Last of the Mohicans? – feel like Sophie’s Choice.

Ooh – Sophie’s choice. That’s a classic – I should so order it on DVD…

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything | 2 Comments »

Britney Spears’ crotch mania! Part 3!

Posted by Martin on December 10, 2006

My two recent posts on Britney Spears account for about 90% of the current traffic on this blog, and over half of the traffic I’ve received since I started writing this thing back in October. Make of that what you will, but one thing is for sure – most of the people who have come here in that time, were not looking for what I actually had to offer.

Once again – I do not have any pictures of Britney getting out of a car and exposing herself on this blog. Sorry.

Because the rather excellent WordPress blogging software allows me to see the search terms used to find their way here, I know exactly what those people were looking for (and also, I’m not stupid). And some of those people will have been browsing out of pure intrigue – having heard about Britney’s big no-knickers expose from another source. But I think it’s a safe bet that many, and even most of the people who typed in those search terms, were used to looking for images of a sexual nature on the internet.

Maybe you’re one of those people. Maybe you habitually surf the net looking for pornographic pictures. And honestly, I in no way want to judge you. If you think that’s healthy and fine and one of the beautiful things about the liberated society that many of us live in, then I’m not about to tell you that you’re wrong. It’s not my opinion, but it’s yours, and you are totally entitled to it – that’s certainly one of the beautiful things about the society that many of us live in.

But if you don’t think it’s healthy; if you don’t feel totally happy about the fact that you look at porn, then I do have something which I want to say to you. My opinion (since you’ve stayed with me this far, I’ll assume it’s ok to share it) is that internet pornography is one of the darkest, most unpleasant and least healthy forces in modern culture. That’s not to say that I believe masturbation is some great sin, placed right at the top of God’s hierarchy of bad things. But the industry which – for want of a better word – supplies that demand, is neither healthy nor normal.

Considering the size and reach of the porn industry, that’s a bit like saying something nasty about the Mafia. But it’s what I believe, and I doubt they care too much anyhow.

I guess, since I’m a youth worker, my biggest concern is what this porn-saturated culture is doing to young people. Don’t for a moment believe anything other than this truth: kids have access to all the porn they could ever want. With so many television, Internet and mobile platforms offering so many opportunities to access pornography – a market that has been swollen greatly by the paying adults of course – concerned adults are never going to be able to cut young people off at the source. If they want to find the Paris Hilton sex tape, they’ll be able to find it through one channel or another.

So kids of a frighteningly young age are developing internet porn addictions. For many of them, it’s just treated as the norm – and of course, since so many of the adults are also addicted, no-one is telling them anything different.

What do I believe porn does to young people? I believe firstly, it can warp their view of sex. Before they’ve ever experienced it, they are shown that normal sex is brutal, humiliating, boundary-pushing, and male-dominated. There’s an awful lot of dysfunction to be found there, and young people can become sexually numbed before they’re even had a sexual experience.

Second – it induces massive feelings of guilt. Like any addiction, the tempted person can only think about one thing – until that thirst has been satisfied. Then, as soon as it has been, regret, guilt and self-loathing appear on the scene. Masturbation ends with a sexual climax. In the context of a loving sexual relationship, the climax is then followed by warm feelings, closeness, and an afterglow. In the context of masturbation however, there is none of this. The person is on their own, and acutely aware of it. Hotels often offer pornographic movies for discreet purchase to their guests. The average amount of time they are watched for is 12 minutes. Even though they have spent up to £10 to purchase the film, the consumer is immediately overcome by guilt and regret. They have no desire to watch any more.

So for those reasons alone – and there are of course more – I think it’s important that we try harder to protect young people from pornography, and to offer them practical help if they’re struggling with it. But we can’t hope for that kind of change to take place unless the adults are modelling the same thing. And many adults, incidentally, are suffering in the same ways that I’ve just outlined.

According to research, around half of the world’s regular web users look at pornography more than once a month. The top Internet search term in the world, according to Microsoft, is ‘sex’. And according to Alexa Internet Research, users search for ‘sex’ more than other terms such as ‘games,’ ‘travel,’ ‘music,’ ‘jokes,’ ‘cars,’ ‘weather,’ ‘health’ and ‘jobs’ combined. I guess that means that if the last person who looked at this post didn’t regularly look at Internet porn, then statistically speaking, maybe you do.

So if you’ve made it this far, I’m going to go even further and offer a couple of suggestions to help you move away from that habit or addiction – if indeed that applies to you, and it’s what you want.

First, if you know someone else who wants to ‘kick the habit’, you can both download free ‘accountability software’ from this site – http://www.xxxchurch.com/. What it does is keep a record of all the web pages you visit during a fortnight, and then at the end of that period, sends a list of those sites to your friend. The idea is that the thought that your friend will be watching can act as a deterrent, keeping you on the nice clean sports sites instead.

Second, you can get hold of good quality software such as Net Nanny to help your computer to keep you away from adult sites. Of course, there are ways of circumventing it and even switching it off, but again, at least the deterrent is there.

Third, I’d like to offer to pray for you. If you drop me an email at: godismydirector@gmail.com, with maybe your first name and any message (or even just a fake name!), then I promise I’ll pray for you, and ask the God who I believe intervenes in lives today to help you personally.

If you don’t struggle with Internet porn, then please be aware of its impact, and don’t buy for one second the lie told in many areas of culture that it’s ‘not that bad.’ Even from my limited knowledge, some of the pornographic content on the Internet is the stuff of the pit of Hell. Please be an active force in modelling a porn-free life to young people; a culture in which looking regularly at hardcore pornography isn’t ‘normal.’

And now, I solemnly swear, no further posts with that title. If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and I pray it will have been of some help to you that I wrote these words.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 7 Comments »

Denzel Washington and Jesus

Posted by Martin on December 8, 2006

Conversation on the BBC just now between Denzel (I’m promoting Deja Vu) Washington and Jonathan Ross.

Conversation on the BBC just now between Denzel (I’m promoting Deja Vu) Washington and Jonathan Ross. Ho ho.

Jonathan: Say you could look back in time at anyone, or anything in recent history… who would it be?

Denzel: (pauses to stroke chin) JESUS!

Jonathan: … (Jonathan is speechless; a rare moment)

Denzel: And I’d say – ‘when are you coming?’

Jonathan: I’d go back and see The Sex Pistols at the 100 Club. Not as noble as yours admittedly, but more of a thumping beat.

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