“We all end up in diapers”

In the holiday cottage we stayed at recently there was a DVD collection so we took the opportunity to watch a couple of films. The first was The Strange Case of Benjamin Button. The film starts and ends in a residential home for old people, a place where time is marked by the passing away of one person after another. One night a newborn baby is left at the door step to the home. Its father left him there because although he is the size of a normal baby his body is that of a 90 year old man. A care worker in the home nurses the baby who gets younger as it grows bigger.

It’s a great concept to highlight the issues of life and ageing and death. As the baby gets younger through the movie the fact that everyone else gets older is accentuated. It’s like two trains passing each other from opposite directions create the illusion of twice the speed. It also allows you to see the symmetry of the ageing process. A great quote from the film is “We all end up in diapers!”. How true. In all likelihood I will end up being cared for by others – totally reliant on those around me. I’m around the half way mark now which really puts things into perspective!

I was talking with friends the other day about how when you are young you feel like you will live forever. Death can be obscured by all the living there is to do. Now I’m older I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (and thanks to Jesus it is a light and not utter darkness!). There must be lots of people facing the same situation but without knowing what to expect on the other side of death. I wonder what that feels like.

I want to give my strength to God now even as I feel it ebbing away. I want to get to know him now so when my strength fails I’ll still have a rich and rewarding relationship with my father, and my saviour and my helper.

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”
Eccles. 12:1 (NIV)


Inception : live the dream!

As the cinema attendant stamped my car parking ticket she declared that Inception was the best film she had ever seen. It was pretty good. In fact the idea is genius: Putting yourself in dreams to get information from people, or, as the title intimates, to place an idea deep in someone’s subconscious.

An “architect” imagines a dream world that runs inside a sleeping subjects head. The sleeper dreams they are in the world but others can enter the dream too. BTW if you don’t want to know any more about the film stop reading now. Two extra factors take this idea to a higher level of weirdness. The first is that time goes slower in the dream due to your mind running faster, so five minutes of sleep time is about an hour of dream time. The second concept is that you can have dreams within dreams within dreams. How do you wake up? If you are one level down then just a firm jolt in the level above will do but at the deeper levels the sedation is such that you need to die in the dream to wake up in the level above. Do this a lot and you start to wonder what is a dream and what is reality.

The idea a bit matrixy but the time thing and the levels makes it better. There are some striking similarities between  the ideas in inception and the Christian life which impacted me as I watched. Of course my life now is real. It is not a dream. But it is in a sense a sub level of a more foundational reality. I am a citizen of heaven. That’s where I belong. I am seated with Christ in heavenly places. My life now needs to be lived out with a knowledge of the eternal reality. There are great moments in the film when dreamers realise they are dreaming – that their current experience isn’t the sum total of reality. Well, that’s the Christians experience. Suddenly I realise that I don’t live for this world or this reality. I live for an eternal reality. I need to know why I’m here, what my purpose is on this earth.

One day I will die and wake up with Jesus in paradise. Martyrs must have the same feeling that Leonardo and his wife had when they died to get out of the deep dream levels. As they were tied to the stake or put their head on the block they must have been thinking “I am here as a witness to the truth, this is not the end, I will wake up in paradise, mission completed”. There will be a new heaven and a new earth and it’s there that my “real” life will be lived out. My life here is a vapour in comparison. Again I need to stress that I’m not saying life here and now is a dream, or isn’t real. It is and will have eternal consequences, but even in the film what happens in the dream has a massive effect in the real world above. The reason for going into someones dream in the film is to bring secrets back into the real world. The dream ends but the effects of what took place in the dream have massive ongoing impact. For the Christian, the point of being this side of the grave is to see people come to know Jesus. Every time someone puts their faith Jesus as their Lord and Saviour their eternal destiny is secured.

Most of the time I think I carry on my life as if heaven is the dream. I slip into moments of heavenly perspective but live my life, much of the time, from an earthly perspective. Let’s make it more concrete. In an mp3 I am currently listening to Bill Johnson has just talked about some amazing miracles;

  • Muscles appearing and growing.
  • A 3 year old boy Chris was healed of club feet. (They have it on video apparently. He looks into the camera and says “I can run!”). As he shared the testimony another woman’s son was healed of club feet too.
  • He talks about tumours falling off people.
  • A 40 year old woman born deaf is knocked down by the power of God and gets up able to hear.
  • An inner ear destroyed by a nail 37 years ago gets recreated and the man can hear again in an instant.
  • A woman in a Lutheran church with cancer in her lower body who didn’t believe in miracles was healed the day before her treatment was due.

This is the stuff that dreams are made of isn’t it? Or is it heavens reality breaking in to our dream now?

Satan works in the realm of lies. Unreality. How much of our current experience of the world is a lie? Unreal. Is God the architect of our thinking and perceiving or is God? Of course there is a real material world. We are real too. It’s not all an illusion but we can exist in the real physical world while at the same time living in a dream world in our mind. The closest thing I can think of is sleep walking. We are in a dream but operating in the material world too.

For example, thinking that God does not exist is unreality. If I think God doesn’t exist I am living an illusion. My view of the world at a very basic level does not conform to reality. I will look at those who do think God exists and think they are the ones dreaming. In the film Leonardo has a gyroscope that he spins. He knows how it feels and how it behaves in the real world so he can tell if he is in a dream or not. In a dream it spins forever. In the real world it eventually rocks and falls. We all need to work out if this world, our current experience, is the ultimate reality. How can you tell? What is your gyroscope? What is truth?

One day I will die in this world and wake up in another. I will find myself eternally to be where I really am, in heavenly places with Christ. I don’t want to be thinking then “if only I’d known.” Do I live on earth and poke my head up into heaven occasionally or do I live in heaven and reach down to earth? I am here on a mission. To bring God’s kingdom in. To build the church. To preach the gospel. To wake people up to the fact that this is not the ultimate reality. This world, like a dream, will pass away and we will all wake up one day and stand before the judgment seat of God.

I left the film with a deep conviction and determination to “live the dream”. In a dream, when you release you are dreaming, everything changes. You are free to do things you would never do, try things you would never dare to try knowing that there is another greater reality than this. In my dreams people get well from cancer and paralysis and MS. The deaf hear and the blind see. It’s a dream that really will come true.

The invention of lying

The Invention of Lying

Just finished watching the invention of lying with Ricky Gevaise, that guy form “the Office”. He plays a character called Mark Bellison who invents lying in a world where everyone tells the truth. It’s a really, really great idea (the film that is, not lying!). Everyone says to each other exactly what they think is true. I was a little apprehensive about watching it as I knew it would be taking a dig at God but actually I found it very thought provoking in a number of ways.

Firstly it exposes the shallowness of us humans. Imagine that on meeting someone you told them what you really thought of them. Anna McDoogles, played by Jenifer Garner, keeps telling Mark that he is “a short, fat, looser with a stub nose”. While each time Mark is visibly hurt, it’s not taken as rude as everyone says things like that in this world. No beating about the bush, no little white lies to make people feel better, just the raw, honest truth. When Anna arrives at a restaurant looking beautiful the female receptionist says straight away “I am threatened by you” and in the next breath asks them follower her to their seats. Another example that made me sad was when Anna asked a short plump kid his name he replies “short fat Tim”. Kids have been bullying him and calling him that so that’s who he thinks he really is. Broke my heart and made me more determined to let people know who they are or can be in Christ.

Secondly it’s interesting to see Mark make up a system of morality on the spot. Really bad things mean you go to a bad place, “three strikes and you’re out” but most people who don’t murder, or do horrid things get a big mansion in the sky to live in forever, see all their loved ones and eat as much ice cream as they want. Morality is basically “don’t do anything really bad or you’ll regret it forever”.

Thirdly, and most significantly for my thinking at present, this film touches on the sovereignty of God. This is where, in the original screen play, the anti-God venom starts to spray. Mark appears in front of his house looking like Moses clutching two pizza boxes upon which are written his deceitful summary of life after death. When people discover that there is a “man in the sky” who makes all the bad things happen, they are really angry.

MAN #4             Does he cause natural disasters?
MARK                Yes.
WOMAN #3     Did he cause my mom to get cancer?
MARK                Yes.
WOMAN #4     Did he cause that tree to land on my car last week?
MARK                Yes.
The crowd is quiet for a long beat….they’re mulling this
over. The first man to speak is a blue collar guy with a
thick Brooklyn accent.
BROOKLYN GUY   I say **** the guy that lives in the sky!
The whole crowd erupts in agreement. People stand up shouting, flicking off the sky.
MAN #5             Yeah! That guy’s a ******* *******!
WOMAN #5      That mother****** better hope I never see him face to face!
MAN #6             That guy’s a ******* coward! Hiding up there and doing
bad  **** to us! Why doesn’t he do it to our faces?
WOMAN #6     We need to stop that mother****** before he kills us all!
Mark looks worried. He didn’t anticipate this. Suddenly a thought occurs to him.
MARK (shouting)  WAIT!
Everyone quiets down.
MARK                 This guy who lives in the sky and controls everything is also responsible for all the good stuff that happens.
The whole crowd “aaaahhs”.
MAN #7             He’s the guy who saved my life on that fishing trip when the
boat capsized?
MARK                Yup.
MAN #7             Did he capsize the boat?
MARK                Well, yes.
WOMAN #7     He’s the one who killed my grandmother and left me those
millions of dollars?
MARK                You betcha.
WOMAN #3     So is he the same one who cured my mom’s cancer?
MARK                That too.
The crowd thinks this over.
MAN #8             So he’s kind of a good guy, but he’s also kind of a ***** too?

The language was turned down in the film (I have tried to * it out, sorry if I’ve missed any, I don’t mean to offend) I think but the challenge is still there and it’s not an easy one to answer. If God is sovereign, controlling everything and making both good and bad things happen, then surly he is a grotesque mix of good and bad; a sort of schizophrenic maniac making people ill and then healing them.

While describing God as “in control” and “working through all things”, the bible does not let us make the seemingly logical deduction that God is morally responsible for evil. He does not stand behind good and evil in the same way. Hopefully I’ll read some more out that in Bruce Ware’s book, but for now I will make one observation.

The ballast that keep my understanding of a good and sovereign God from capsizing in these sorts of gross caricatures is the cross. While it is conspicuously absent from Mark’s pizza box revelations it is essential to a true representation of the heart of God. The cross above all things shows me that God will stop at nothing to rescue us from greatest and most terrible suffering. If he did that then I hope I can live with some mystery with other bad things I see and experience.

Mark originally made up the lie about a man in the sky to make his dying mum feel better. Her frightened words are very telling:

I’m so scared, Mark. I don’t want to die. You know, people don’t talk about it much, but death is a horrible thing. One minute you’re alive, there’s a whole world around you, humming and jumping, people coming in and out, doors opening and closing, love and anger and the whole mess of it all, and then like that, it’s all gone.(crying) This is it Mark, only a few hours left of this until an eternity of nothingness.

She is literally shaking with fear but after hearing Mark’s reassuring lies about life after death she sheds tears of joy and passes away peacefully. This is perhaps the saddest moment in the whole film for me. A lie at this, the most significant point in her life, is devastating. You see, she was right to be scared of death because we will be held accountable for the things we have done wrong. God is just and will not overlook the first two big offences while sweeping all the other “little things” under a rug. He will come against all wrong doing and all evil in all of its forms. It is this terrible and eternal consequence of our moral sin and failings that God has endeavoured, at all costs, to remove from us. Knowing this means I can’t tip over into a view of God that makes him anything less than loving and merciful. Nor can I see him as anything less than good and just. We messed up badly and he was prepared to take the worst of the consequences in our place. It doesn’t solve the problem of how he is sovereign over sickness as well as healing, death as well as life, but it gives me a firm foundation upon which to explore those things.

Fifthly and finally, God is not an “invisible man in the sky”. Addressing this gets me deep into the mystery of the incarnation but I’ll give it a go. We cannot look at a man (me, you, other people) and think God is a larger version. We are in his image but he is not in ours. Because we are in his image there are some things about us that tell us something about what God is like, but like any image there is much that God is that we are not. The reason we cannot grasp how God can be sovereign in the way he is, is that we cannot conceive of how we could be sovereign in that way. How could I, or even a bigger, smarter, more powerful version of me, work out my will through all the events of history to achieve a particular goal? I could, at best, improve the chances of something happening but I cannot with any certainty effect other peoples wills and decisions. Furthermore there is no way I can have any part in a bad thing happening without being morally responsible for it. If I suggest to someone that they do something bad, or set things up to tempt them to do something bad, I will bear moral responsibility for it along with them.

Although God is Spirit he became a man when the son of God “took on flesh”. Around 2000 years ago the invisible God became visible. The fullness of God was in him. Now we can look at Jesus and know we are looking at God but when people saw this “man in the sky” come down to earth they took their chance and killed him. But God in his unsearchable sovereignty was working right though the heart of their terrible crime to pay for our sin and bring us into a wonderful relationship with himself.

I thank God that he went ahead of us to take away the sting of death making a way through the grave to everlasting life. That’s not a lie made up to comfort people, it’s the truth testified to by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If I start at the cross were I see my sin and failure and God’s love and mercy then I will avoid capsizing or running aground as I navigate this difficult doctrine.

Greek Gods

I saw Clash of the Titans last night. Although not as good as Avatar in terms of 3D cinematography (I feel slightly pretentious having used that word, sorry), CGI effects, and story line it was none the less an enjoyable experience and an unexpectedly thought provoking one at that. The story is all about the interplay between the gods on Mt Olympus and the humans down below. The contrast between the Greek gods and the God couldn’t be more striking. Zeus, the king of the gods created mankind to love him and is in fact reliant on their love to sustain his immortality. He acts in human history to manipulate people into loving him and worshiping him, first by being nice, then by letting his bad brother be nasty. It struck me in the car on the way back home how the real God is so different. He needs nothing from us yet gives us everything. His love isn’t manipulative, its self sacrificing.

Then there is Perseus, a demi-god, half human and half God. His relationship with his father Zeus is decidedly dysfunctional. How far removed from the incarnation where Jesus is both fully human and fully God knowing such unity and love with his father.

On another note, I had a great opportunity to pray with someone today. They came round to pick up some stuff form a free add thing but got talking about their health. As they described a long list of ailments I felt Jesus with me saying “go on then”. I offered to pray for him and he accepted.  Nothing seemed to happen then and there but exciting to get the chance to pray in Jesus name and who knows what will happen now in his life. I am in a battle more real and more fierce than anything in Clash of the Titans and God has given me every weapon I need to fight it.

Twittering on

Well, today I went to the doctors to see what’s wrong with my back. Something in my spine seems to have moved out of place. Then had a great chat with an Elder from Canterbury church about small groups. Went to a school governors meeting and tried to understand our budget. Did a lot of running around with one of our children who has just learnt to ride her bike but I’m not sure if she can stop ok yet. Felt like a presidential body guard running alongside the presidential car. Found a much better place to invest my savings than the bank – a local church! Took kids swimming. Watched the first part of the miracle maker with them (great film, felt quite emotional at times at how great Jesus is). Had a delicious tea cooked by my gorgeous wife. And now, have just revisited my twitter account and resolved to use it a bit more. I’ve tried to write the first part of this blog entry in a twitter style (short ‘tweets’) to get the hang of it. I feel under pressure to twitter a book recommendation or pass on some great quote so I’ve not said much on twitter yet. My mind is blank at the moment though. Think I will just have to say what I’m up to. I think that’s supposed to be part of the charm of twitter. You get to hear about the little unimportant details of someone’s life.

I joined about nine months ago but never twittered anything. A few people tried to follow me but I was embarrassed at how I had not twittered anything so have not accepted anyone yet. Oh, except the person who encouraged me to try it out (thanks Ed). The thing that prompted me to give it another go was hearing about the massive effect social networking sites are having on the election campaign. I suddenly realised that things like twitter were not “time wasters” but increasingly important and powerful means of communication. A lot of New Frontiers churches even twitter to let people know what’s going on. Does King’s in Norwich? I don’t even know. Anyway my twitter name is @dmarcust. See you in cyberspace.

Moving Mountains

Well, I thought as I’ve asked others to do some blogs on this site it would be good to do one myself. Just got back from a brilliant holiday in France and beginning to take hold of things again here at Kings.

We are starting a new mini series “A call to action” on Sunday before embarking on the main terms series “New beginnings”. We are feeling a real sense of the battle we are in at the moment and so will be preaching into that strong biblical theme for a few weeks.

It is of course a fight of faith and so I’m thinking of kicking off looking at faith. I have been especially drawn to Jesus’ provocative statement about how a tiny faith can move a massive mountain and been surprised to find he says it several times in slightly different contexts.

Optimus Prime

At the moment just trying to get my head around the magnitude of what he is saying. As I read these familiar verses again they seem to come to life and transform from a friendly Ford focus into a devastating killer robot. Or imagine (as I’m sure you can) looking at a tiny speck in the sky and watching spell bound as it comes towards you and grows and grows until you realise it’s a massive skyscraper sized space ship that crashes down to earth and screeches to a halt just inches away from you. Well it’s a bit like that too! Is Jesus really saying what he seems to be saying? Should we tame this or be transformed by it?

Early days yet, but very exciting. I love this bit of preparation. Encountering God’s living and active word. I want (no I need) my life to change in light of this and I want to see it strengthen and enrich us as a church too.