Boxing star Manny Pacquiao: from booze, girls and gambling to a devotion to Jesus Christ

I loved researching this story for Christian Today before the weekend and the big fight, do take a look!

Boxer Manny Pacquiao used to go to church – but he also cheated on his wife, drank and gambled. Then he had an amazing encounter with God and his life changed. Now he tells people of the importance of obeying God, and being born again. He said:

When you have Jesus in your life, when you have God in your life, the things in this world are not important to your heart. The most important is God in your heart

I read around the guy and his conversion seems to be very sincere. Great that he can see that God is so much greater than all the money and trappings of fame.

The search for true intimacy and love

I love this post about developing intimacy with God. So often, intimacy is confused with romance or sex. But true emotional intimacy and love is what we all need. The ultimate source of this is God. I’d really recommend reading the post. Here’s a quote:

The first step to developing an intimate (and fulfilling) love relationship with God is to admit that the abundant life He promises will never be found in another person. Instead, as the definition of zoe (life) shows, true abundant life is internal and it’s found in Christ alone.

Once we have that intimacy and love relationship with God, then we can start to share our love with others.

She writes again in a different post about emotional intimacy, which I really agree with:

There is one particular key to open the Intimacy Door in your relationships: it’s called the Key of Acceptance. Because intimacy means that we allow another person to “see into” us and they allow us to “see into” them, the Key of Acceptance must be used. After all, no one wants to allow someone to “see into” their heart who is controlling, judgmental, critical, sarcastic, unforgiving, abusive, selfish or just plain nasty.

So, if you want others to open their heart to you, you’ve got to give them a safe to do so. Why? Because the truth is that while most of us may act like we’re not afraid of anything, in the deepest part of ourselves, our hearts are very tender, fragile and generally fearful of relational pain. For hearts to thrive in intimacy, they’ve got to feel safe and accepted.

This is true for all relationships – whether romantic or platonic. But perhaps, first of all, we’ve got to accept God’s love for us, deep and truly from the tips of our toes to the hairs on our head.

Pearls of wisdom from “The Cloud of Unknowing” (Christian contemplative prayer/meditation)

The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works (Penguin Classics)

I’ve just finished reading the medieval Christian book “The Cloud of Unknowing”, which is a classic of Christian mysticism. I always take such books with a pinch of salt, because I think you’ve got to approach mysticism carefully and use the Bible as your boundary. But I did find a lot of great wisdom in this little book. Here are some examples, with quotes:

1) Seek God for God alone, and not what He can give you

Peace, love and the Spirit are wonderful benefits of contemplative prayer – but not always. And one of the blocks to knowing God that I’ve found is if I’m only doing the prayer to feel good. Instead, it’s important to just seek God and God alone – love requires that we are not seeking for only what we can get.

Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him… Try to forget all created things that he ever made, and the purpose behind them, so that your thought and longing do not turn or reach out to them either in general or in particular.

There’s encouragement to wait in prayer, even when it seems difficult:

When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, and this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God… Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love.

2) Christian meditation / contemplative prayer is very different to Eastern, Buddhist styles of meditation

It’s not a game of trying to seek knowledge, and pride is a danger.

Whoever hears or reads about all this, and thinks that it is fundamentally an activity of the mind, and proceeds then to work it all out along these lines, is on quite the wrong track. He manufactures an experience that is neither spiritual or physical. He is dangerously missed and in real peril.

Indeed he points out that you need a foundation of knowing your own sinfulness, meditating on the Cross and the kindness of God.

See to it that there is nothing at work in your mind or will but only God. Try to suppress all knowledge and feeling of anything less than God, and trample it down deep under the cloud of forgetting.

Although the Christian meditator is seeking to lose ‘self’ it is ONLY to give it to God in love – to surrender all we have to our Creator.

3) As you reach towards God, run away from all that is bad

By its very definition, if you are seeking God you must turn away from all wrongdoing – all sin.

In itself prayer is nothing else than a devout setting of our will in the direction of God in order to get good, and remove evil… all evil is summed up in sin… if we pray with intention for the acquiring of goodness, let us pray, in word or thought or desire, no other word than ‘God’. For in God is all good, for he is its beginning and its being.

Being aware of this great separation can be a help if we’re struggling with sin, or with hiding from God:

Feel sin in its totality – as a lump – without specifying any particular part, and that all of it is you. And then cry ceaselessly in your spirit this one thing: ‘Sin! Sin! Sin! Help! Help! Help!

4) The fruit of contemplative prayer is love, and intimacy with Christ

This kind of prayer is done to know God more, and to love him more.

The nature of love is that it shares everything. Love Jesus, and everything he has is yours.

…He may, perhaps, send out a shaft of spiritual light, which pierces this cloud of unknowing beteween you, and show you some of his secrets… then will you feel your affection flame with the fire of his love, far more than I can possibly say now…

Happy praying!

Stephen Fry, it’s not God that’s the problem with the world, it’s you and I

I write this knowing that there’ll be very few who read my opinion, compared to the millions for your recent tirade against God. Apart from the Pope, or perhaps Bono… even learned and accomplished believers get little coverage compared to you and Dawkins and all of the other famous celebrity atheists. You have an awful lot of power. Somehow The Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t seem to go viral, he seems a nice man but he’s just not got the street cred I suppose. Most of the believers who get the headlines are the nasties like Westboro Baptist Church, and they’re about as representative of Christians as Stalin and his cronies are of atheists.

As many of my learned friends have pointed out, your anger against God assumes that this world is the way he designed it to be. But it’s not, if we take a Christian view on the subject. It doesn’t take much reading of the Bible to see that the God described in those pages is not very happy with the world as it is. In fact when he’s most angry, in the much maligned Old Testament, then God’s raging about the lack of compassion for people in poverty, the murdering of children in pagan blood sacrifices or just plain selfishness and hate. Most clearly in Jesus’ teachings, you can see clearly that God wants people to care for one another, not to be greedy etc. Yet, we ignore him.

The problems you cite in your rant on RTE – as with most of the suffering of the world – could be alleviated, if not eradicated, if human beings chose to love. (Not the fickle, randy, romantic kind of love that is usually what’s counted as ‘love’ these days, but the agape, compassionate, caring kind of love that Jesus talks about.) How? Well, we could be giving our money to the care of those children turned blind by worms, rather than spending it on nice meals out, posh clothes or sunny holidays. We could be adopting the orphans and tending to the sick kids – spending all our time caring for them rather than all the ‘leisure’ activities that us Westerners love so much. We could be studying for the ultimate purpose of relieving suffering and treating illness rather than just the learning for enjoyment’s sake that we tend to do – or the learning we do to make ourselves sound clever and be admired, even worse. We could be spending as little money as possible on ourselves, in order that we can give it to others. In short, we could be living lives of pure love, and focusing all of our time and energy on relieving the suffering of others. But, we don’t. You and I, Stephen Fry, do not do that. Even the people I know who do a much better at it than I do, still obviously fail at it on a regular basis.

This, according to the Bible, is why God is angry. He doesn’t want it to be this way, because he loves us. He created a world that was meant to be good, where humans were meant to love one another. But, we were given free will. We have many choices that we make each day, that could make the world a better place. They involve more than just giving a fraction of our handsome surplus or of our time to our favourite charity – it involves genuine sacrifice of our whole lives for the sake of others.

We’ve been given that responsibility. And most of us have it in our power to do something about it, however small that something is. If everyone used their little bit of power for love’s sake, then most of the evil in the world would either be stopped at source, or at least alleviated. It’s no use shouting at God for the evil we claim he is responsible for. He’s given us the power and the free will, to make things different. And we choose not to do that. Heaven is the place where what God wants is done perfectly, not here. He’s given us the reins while we’re on Earth, and we’re doing a hopeless job of being in charge.

Jesus was pretty clear, when he was asked by a rich young man how to be good enough get to heaven. He said, we’re to give all our money up for the poor – to the people who are genuinely suffering. The rich young man was sad, as I suppose we would be too, if told we had to give up our comfortable, Western lives, to help those who are suffering today.

His disciples were too. But thankfully, Jesus had more to say – “nothing is impossible with God”. Christianity is not about us being good enough, but instead recognising that God is good enough. That’s pretty good news given the very clear reality that there’s no-one who’s perfect in this world – no-one who is giving up everything for the sole purpose of genuine self-sacrificial love of others. It says that Jesus saw this problem, and decided to take on the negative consequences of all our selfishness so that we can be free of it. If we choose to, we can accept this free gift, accept our own responsibility for the problems of the world and say sorry to God for this – and then learn from Him how to love better, love more, and relieve suffering. But we have to recognise that we can only do this, by turning to God, for his leadership and his love. On our own, we just don’t manage it.

Now you might say, with good reason, that the church is not presenting this utopia to the world. We’re not the perfect houses of love that we’re meant to be. That’s very true. There are some pretty irritating and occasionally nasty people within church walls – such as myself, I would say. But I came from a very typical liberal, secular culture and then moved into the church after I became a Christian as an adult. No, it’s not perfect, but when you find a genuine church that is truly seeking to follow Christ, then you do start to see something a little bit different. You see glimpses of the way the world is meant to be. Not a window, but just glimpses. A drug addict who has been healed and now has a happy family and is holding down a job. A church rallying round a mum whose disabled daughter and poorly husband have left her exhausted. People who give up well paid and powerful jobs in order to go and practically help the suffering in other countries. Those who suffered terrible abuse as a child who find peace through faith, and start to give their lives to help others. These are glimpses of heaven, and of the way the world is meant to be. Sometimes those glimpses are seen outside the church, it’s true, but in my lifetime I’ve most often seen self-sacrificial love within the church. It’s not a wishy-washy, State-dependent, ranty, political kind of ‘love’, either (though there is quite a bit of that too, to be fair, it not being perfect). There’s a ‘taking on of responsibility’ kind of love, making things happen with our own hands and not blaming the government or whoever else for the problems. It’s recognising the massive responsibility that has been given to humans to choose. To choose whether to obey God’s commands for genuine love and to avoid greed and suchlike – or not. To choose his way, his redemption, or not.

So, when you get to the Pearly Gates, you rage to God all you want to. I suspect what he might say to you or I, or anyone who chooses to start wagging their fingers at him: “And what about you? What did YOU do with the money, time, gifts and relationships that you had? Did you love others or did you love yourself and your own desires? Did you follow Jesus’s instructions for making the world a better place, or not?”

I think that we’re living in this world where God’s will is not done, to see whether we want to live in the world where his will IS done – heaven. There, is pure joy and pure love, with no greed or selfishness at all. If you don’t want to follow his way of love – loving God, loving people, and recognising that the world’s problems are our fault and saying sorry for that – it’s your choice. But you might find out that who you should really be angry with, is not God, but yourself, myself, and everyone else.

A summary of Tom Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”

I love this quote from Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, which I think summarises the whole book quite well:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

It’s expanding on 1 Cor 15:58: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless”.
I find this massively encouraging! Keep loving, peeps…

Why I went from party girl newspaper hack to committed Christian

All weekend I was talking about my story, of why I became a Christian. I was hearing other people’s stories too. People are always interested, especially when you come from a pretty secular background, like myself.

In my old life, I would have thought it hilarious if I’d known that I would become a Christian. But it’s without doubt, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. The best thing being Jesus.

I used to love to party. I smoked, drank, danced and suchlike. It was fun, at times. But it didn’t bring me a lot of joy. Joy being a more whole happiness – from inside out. Not dependent on situation, friends and nightclubs, but just in my being.

I left a fairly decent newspaper career in my mid-twenties, to try to do something more caring. I worked in mental health for a while. But dropping the gear from the frenetic and boozy world of journalism to the chaotic and humble acute mental health ward prompted a lot of thinking. Why did this suffering go on, and what is the answer to it?

I had a kind of itch inside. I knew I needed something spiritual, but didn’t know what it was. I started exploring various different kinds of faith. Buddhism, paganism, Islam… Christianity would have been the last on my list, because it seemed to be a bit uncool. Really, there was a bit of social stigma about it – a prejudice – that is very prevalent in the liberal left world in which I had inhabited. But hey, I like to swim against the tide. Often that’s how you get to the truth.

When I first started going to church, and reading the gospels, I knew that there was something about Jesus that I wanted. I started seeking, and asking, and knocking. And as Jesus promised, I found. And what I was looking for was love – and the love of our Creator.

You can’t really describe spiritual experiences, you have to know it for yourself. But all I can say is that my worldview changed into one where love was the real meaning behind the universe, and the source of it all was God. Jesus is the visible image of God – how we can understand God and his love for us.

That’s the problem with the world – there’s not enough love. And that’s because we’ve shut ourselves off from the source of that love. That’s the answer I’d been seeking.

That might sound a bit ‘hippy’, but I’ve had seven years of scientific education and I can assure you I’m pretty hard-nosed when it comes to investigating the truth. I spent a long time questioning my beliefs.

Well, the story is an awful lot longer than this. I’ll not going to go into too much more detail. After working in the NHS for a bit, and finding that secular approaches to mental health did not seem to provide the kind of healing that Christian approaches could do (especially for addicts) I thought I’d go back to journalism to pay the bills, and spend more time doing voluntary work rather than taking an NHS cheque.

Journalism in the Christian world is a lot softer and calmer than the mainstream kind. This kinda suits my lifestyle. Plus, whether the NHS or newspapers, I don’t think it’s easy to be a person of faith in those workplaces these days, unless you’re willing to shut off that part of you. And when that part is what makes you tick, then you don’t want to do that.

All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I think Jesus has his arms open to everyone. You just have to ask him for a hug.

Ten quick responses to atheist claims

I attended the Evangelists’ Conference in London on Tuesday, with the view to reporting it for Christian Today. Professor John Lennox was the main speaker, and very good he was too.

He took queries from the audience, of questions they’d been asked by atheists or skeptics. I collated ten of these into a short article for Christian Today – click here. Those who like to discuss their faith will find the atheist claims very familiar.

Of course, most of these touch on subjects that could take books and weeks of discussion before they’re even partially resolved. However some of the atheist claims are a bit daft and illogical, so can be answered pretty quickly. Anyway, I hope the article stimulates some thinking and seeking in whoever happens to be reading it.

How did Bono come to faith in Jesus?

It’s not that widely known that Bono is a Christian, and has been throughout his very successful career. It was only when I became a Christian myself in my late 20s that I found this out, and then their music developed new meaning to me, as the lyrics are full of Christian imagery and meaning.

Interesting that his faith seems to have been sparked by Billy Graham, who at one time was a regular preacher in the UK. This comes from this poem released by Graham’s library, which is rather sweet. I wrote about it for Christian Today yesterday.

The journey from Father to friend
is all paternal loves end
It was sung in my teenage ears
In the voice of a preacher
loudly soft on my tears
I would never forget this
Melody line
Or its lyric voice that gave my life
A Rhyme
a meaning that wasn’t there before
a child born in dung and straw
wish the Father’s love and desire to explain
how we might get on with each other again…

To the Rev Billy Graham (that preacher)
Ruth and all the Graham family
From Bono (March 11 2002)
With much love and respect

Johnny Cash’s “Man comes around”: what do the lyrics mean?

Johnny Cash was a deeply religious man, who loved Jesus and the Bible.

So much so, that in one of the last songs he wrote, “The Man Comes Around”, he gives a deeply personal message about Christian faith to his fans. I’m going to go into a lot of detail in this post.

Cash saw the song as one of his most significant pieces of work. “I spent more time on this song than any I ever wrote,” he said in August 2002. “It’s based, loosely, on the book of Revelation, with a couple of lines, or a chorus, from other biblical sources. I must have written three dozen pages of lyrics, then painfully weeded it down to the song you have here.”

So what is the message he’s trying to give?

Revelation is an amazing book of the Bible but it does require work to understand what it means. It’s full of rich symbols and striking images. One of its main themes is the end of time, when God will come to stop the wrongdoing in the world, and give the people the judgement that they have chosen. Instead, God’s Kingdom will reign, a place with no more crying or tears. But for those under judgement, God’s offering a way out.

When you examine the song’s lyrics alongside the Bible passages it mentions, it becomes clear that Cash is giving a very clear message to his listeners – he’s saying, “make a choice, before it’s too late”.

That’s not very fashionable. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t say it bluntly: we’ve got to study the song to understand it. So, here is the song dissected so that we can do this. The Bible verses are in quotes, Cash’s lyrics are in bold.

And I heard as it were the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw
And behold a white horse

This is Cash’s spoken beginning to the song – it makes quite an impact! It’s based on this verse from Revelation:

As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked up and saw a white horse standing there… He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.” Revelation 6:1-2a

So what does it mean? The four ‘living beings’ are first mentioned in Rev 4, and probably symbolise either goodness in Creation or God himself: here they are showing John, the author of this book, events in the future through a series of images such as the white horse. In this passage the horses refer to the judgements of God that are coming to the world – this means that human beings will be allowed to do their worst and therefore there’ll be much evil and many problems: war, death, famine and disease. While some say this is a prediction of what will happen at the ‘end of time’, it’s obvious that this is already happening on the Earth, sadly.

There’s a man going around taking names

The song opens with this line, and it’s key to the meaning of the whole song. A theme in the book of Revelation is the ‘book of life’ – who will be taken to God’s eternal Kingdom? If we are to go there, our names are recorded within the book:

I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” Revelation 20:12

As made clear in the rest of the song, it is Jesus who is coming to ‘take names’ and judge the people of the Earth, according to what people have done.

And he decides who to free and who to blame

It’s made clear in this line that it’s Jesus who is making the decisions here, about whether someone is to be ‘saved’. This reflects what it says in the Bible, for example:

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war… He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. Rev 19:11,13-16

Jesus will make a decision for every person, whether they will be judged by their actions – whether they’ll be free in heaven or live forever with the weight of sin on them. This passage presents a fearsome image of Jesus, but it reflects the incredible horror of the wrong things we do and how God feels about them. Not that God wants people to hurt, but that if people want to continue to do evil, they are choosing for themselves an evil existence for eternity. As we will see, God offers a way out…

Everybody won’t be treated all the same

Again Cash isn’t being very PC. It’s fashionable to think that God does not judge, that he will take everyone to heaven without any consideration of whether their lives have reflected the reality of heaven. Revelation makes it very clear that this is not the case: that there is a black and white, clear choice to be made, such as in this passage:

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. Rev 20:11-15

Although the gospel of Christ offers forgiveness and redemption to all those who are willing to accept it and want to turn away from a life of apathy and wrongdoing and towards a life of love, this passage shows that our deeds will be judged. It’s important to follow Christ in this life – that means giving our lives to him. Not just a decision in our minds, but a decision with our hands, our feet, and our voices. What we do, matters. So, Cash is saying, we won’t be treated the same.

There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down

So while he’s warning of the judgement to come, Cash is pointing to the way out of the horrible fate he’s described, from the book of Genesis:

As [Jacob] slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway. Gen 28:12

This is what God offers – an escape route from the judgement, here depicted as a ladder. We are always offered forgiveness and entry into God’s Kingdom, if we repent. (Repenting means turning away from a life of selfishness, greed, lust, hate, apathy, anger and pride, and toward’s God’s love). So as again elsewhere in the song, Cash is saying that there’s an escape route towards heaven if we want it.

When the Man comes around
Cash’s song title comes at the end of each section of the song. He’s referring to Jesus’ return to Earth at the time of judgement, which is mentioned throughout the Bible, including this vision the Old Testament, which Jesus later said was referring to himself:

I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One [God] and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honour, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed”. Daniel 7:13-14

The man comes around’ refers to this passage from Daniel. Jesus often referred to himself as ‘The son of man’ in the New Testament.

The hairs on your arm will stand up

Cash continues to paint a picture of a frightening time, which Revelation also makes clear:

“Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” Revelation 6:15-17

This isn’t a fashionable way of viewing the end of the world. But it’s what Cash was saying, and it’s what Revelation says.

At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup?

There are two references here to drinking. The first probably refers to this Revelation passage, talking about drinking from the cup of judgement:

Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand  must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. Rev 14:9-10

Although a cup of suffering is referred to in the first line, the second ‘Partaking in that last offered cup’ probably refers to the cup of communion – that salvation through Jesus’ blood will still be offered even at the end, however bad it gets. Again, and as the Bible passage referred to in the next slide says – God will always offer a way out of the judgement if a person or a nation repents. So however frightening it is, there is a way out. Cash is telling his listeners that there’s an offer on the (communion) table.

Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the Man comes around

I think this lyric means, that if you don’t repent take that ‘last offered cup’, which is the cup of forgiveness and new life that Jesus offers us, then the alternative is the potter’s ground, which is a symbol from the book of Jeremiah:

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.  Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom,  but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would. Jeremiah 18: 1-10

So the implication is that we’ll be ‘crushed and started over’ if we don’t repent. However this Bible passage is again talking of the possibility of a new start, of forgiveness. So, again, Cash’s inclusion of this passage indicates he is telling his listeners that there is a way out – God always offers a way of avoiding the judgement. We must turn away from wrongdoing, and towards God’s way of love.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers

Cash is again using the imagery of the book of Revelation, painting the picture of the end of time:

Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.” Revelation 8:13

David Pawson says the trumpet is used in Jeremiah and Ezekiel to warn people to ‘get ready’… because God wants to save them. So once again, it’s an image that gives a warning: that bad things will happen if we don’t pay attention.

One hundred million angels singing

Cash makes another clear reference to Revelation, where the angels are singing praise to God:

Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered— to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing.” Revelation 5:11-12

God is being worshipped by angels all the time. The ‘Lamb’ is a name for Jesus used throughout the Bible, who took on all our suffering and sin at the Cross so that we could be free. So the angels are praising God, for his sending Jesus and offering a way out of the judgement and the pain of a life without God.

Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling, voices crying

Cash is probably referring to the armies of heaven on white horse that we saw in Revelation 19. The image of voices crying is again painting a picture of a time of trouble and suffering.

Some are born and some are dying

Again Cash is making it clear that there’s a clear division between those who are saved and those who are not:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:7

On the day of judgement some will be reborn into God’s Kingdom, and some will face the second death – a terrible fate. Cash is trying to warn people of this.

It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

This means that it’s God’s Kingdom come:

I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” Revelation 1:8

The ‘kingdom come’ is often referred to by Jesus, as in the Lord’s prayer. When we pray ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven’, we are hoping for a time when life on Earth will be as it is in heaven: no wrongdoing, no suffering, no pain. Just purely in the will of the Father, pure love, peace and joy. But for those who do not want God’s Kingdom, it’s not a joyful time.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. Matthew 25:6-7

This is a passage of the Bible again referring to judgement – the wise young women had their lamps ready for when Jesus (the bridegroom) comes – the foolish ones were going to get some oil and weren’t ready. So it seems clear that Cash is warning his listeners to be ready for the day of judgement.

The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

This is a reference to a dream that Johnny had that inspired this song.

Till Armageddon no shalam, no shalom

Revelation says that there will be a battle at the end of time, at a place called Armageddon. This might by symbolic of the spiritual fight between good and evil, or it might refer to a real battle:

And they gathered them together at the place which in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Revelation 16:16

As we’ll see later, the terrible events of the judgement and the war that will take place will not last – God will bring his peace (shalom) to the world once all evil has been vanquished.

Then the father hen will call his chickens home

This comes from a very comforting passage in Scripture – which shows that even while we reject God, he longs for us to come to him as children and be protected under his wings:

Truly I declare to you, all these [evil, calamitous times] will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Matthew 23:36-7

God longs to draw people to himself and be kind to them, as a mother hen. And yet, we continue to reject him. I think it’s clear from this passage that any judgement, as fearsomely described in Revelation, is not what God would ultimately want: he would want to care for and protect his children. However, he allows us to choose what we want to do, as any good Father does.

The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at His feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the Man comes around

This is another clear reference to Revelation, where the people who have accepted Jesus as Lord will bow before him at the end of time:

Whenever the living beings give glory and honour and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” Rev 4:9-11

The casting of crowns is an indication of worship.

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still 
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still

This is a direct quote from Revelation. The actual passage makes it clear, again, that there is a judgement coming, according to what we have done:

Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy. Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. Revelation 22:11-12

Again, we will reap what we sow – we will face the consequences of our actions. But as Revelation and Cash makes clear, there’s always a way out. That’s why he’s writing the song:

Listen to the words long written down
When the Man comes around

When Cash says ‘listen’ – he is again showing that this song is very personal, written directly to those who listen to it. As it says elsewhere in Revelation, the invitation to come to God is always open:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. Revelation 22:17

The song repeats itself. Then:

In measured hundred weight and penny pound
When the Man comes around.

This probably refers to:

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. Revelation 6:6

Theologians debate as to exactly what this means, but in this song it probably again indicates that we will be judged by God, as it says in Daniel 5:27; ‘You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting’.

Johnny’s narration returns to give a chilling finale:

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked and behold, a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was Death
And Hell followed with him.

Well, Cash couldn’t make any clearer what he means. The four beasts and pale horse come from this passage:

I looked up and saw a horse whose colour was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease and wild animals. Revelation 6:8

This judgement could be said to be on the Earth now. But I think Cash is ending the song with these words to emphasise that the choice is stark: loving God and giving our life to his law of love, or going to the place of Death – the natural extrapolation of a life of wrongdoing.

This can all sound very frightening – I think Cash and Revelation do intend to do this, actually. It’s interesting that both of them are presenting a crucial and alarming message: but both are doing it using imagery, not going around with sandwich boards.

However Revelation also has a very positive message, for those who have repented of their wrongdoing and accepted Jesus as Lord. We have a future that has no more evil, only pure love and God’s rule:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

Rev 21:3-5

Will you listen to the words, long written down?

Stuff. Addictions. Simplicity. Why live a simple life?

Shopaholic

Shopaholic (Photo credit: Monerda)

What do you worship? What can’t you live without? It might be your fast car, lipstick or your football team. It might be your new house, your carefully selected wardrobe or your TV. It might even be your partner or your job. I think that making a list of these things can really help us to learn spiritually.

If we look at Jesus, we see someone whose only priorities were loving people and his Father. He told us in Matthew 8:20 that he had ‘no place even to lay his head’. He was homeless, and without possessions. He was supported by some disciples, we learn in Luke, and he was blessed with other people’s perfumes and hospitality. But his life was one of pure simplicity: loving, teaching and serving.

If this is our model, we can question some of our attachments to things of this world. Are we actually addicted to our techology and our material possessions? An alcoholic can’t live without his drink – what’s the difference with being attached to other kinds of material objects? What would happen if everything went up in smoke – the computers, the DVDs, the clothes and the cars?

Perhaps material objects were meant only to serve us and help us in our life – but we’re in a situation where most of us are serving them instead. I love this which flies round social media now and then:

We were created to
Love people and use things
The world is in a mess because
We are loving things and using people

The less stuff we have and need, the more we can give to others: of money and time for example. The less time we spend buying and earning, the more time we can spend loving. Let’s follow the example of Jesus, and worship only the Father, and seek our treasure in heaven alone. God is the only thing worthy of worship, after all.

The 8 silliest myths about Christianity

When you look into a subject, sometimes you’re shocked to find that the perceived wisdom of our day is totally and completely wrong. Totally. When I became a Christian, I discovered lots of these on the subject of my faith.

From Hitler being a Christian, to Jesus not existing, to the Bible being created at the Council of Nicaea, there really is a lot of misinformation out there. Here’s a short list of 8 of the daftest myths I’ve come across, written for Christian Today.

The jellyfish man: an encounter with ‘liquid love’

What happens when we die? Some people have very vivid Near Death Experiences, which could provide an answer. This guy, Ian McCormack, felt that God was guiding him as he was on the brink of death after being stung by box jellyfish. When he asked for forgiveness, he found himself in the presence of Jesus.

There is a short version of his testimony, but I’d really recommend listening to the full version below. What really struck me is his description of being in the presence of God: ‘liquid love’.

An atheist denies that Jesus was a myth

Atheists sometimes like to claim that Jesus didn’t exist – even Richard Dawkins has tried to do this. But it’s not just Christians that defend the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Professor Bart Ehrman, who isn’t a believer, and often criticises Christian beliefs and the claims in the Bible, states very clearly that the idea that Jesus didn’t exist, or was a mixture of several people, is not taken seriously by any reputable scholar. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in this interview above, he gives the atheist interviewer a bit of a telling off.

“We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody in his time period… I’m not a believer, but as a historian, you can’t just dismiss it, and say ‘We don’t know’. You have to look at the evidence. But there is hard evidence. For example, we have one author who knew Jesus’ relatives and his disciples – Paul.”

Ehrman’s argument is that the nature of the what Paul says in his letters about Jesus, gives strong evidence for Jesus’ existence.

“Why would he lie about it? Paul says things about Jesus as off the cuff comments, where he’s not making a point. That’s very important to historians. Historians look for disinterested comments. He says things, for example, like ‘James, the brother of the Lord’. That’s very important information… you have a disinterested comment.”

Then the atheist fella tries to argue that Paul didn’t write Galatians, but Ehrman states very clearly, that no serious historians have doubted that Paul wrote Galatians (a letter that contains evidence that Jesus existed).

“You have to do the serious historical work and work out what is an embellishment and what is not… you have to approach it sceptically. I’ve spent 30 years studying this… I can tell you, that everyone who has looked at this thing seriously, there’s nobody that doubts this.

“You can systematically doubt everything, sure, but that’s not how you do history. You do history by looking at evidence.”

Later, in part 2 of the interview, Ehrman talks about the reality that for all ancient historical figures, we don’t have the original documents (it’s very common to hear atheists state that because we don’t have the original copies of the New Testament books, that we can’t trust them).