Welcome to the crazy church family

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Since joining my local church last summer, I am pretty taken aback by the fellowship of St James simply because there is a real sense of an all-embracing family atmosphere. I really long to live in community and be rubbing shoulders alongside people of different ages and backgrounds. Although we all have ‘the Island’ in common, the church family is made up of, the sick, the healthy, the rich and the poor the employed and the unemployed. There are doctors, teachers, mums, dads, widows, grandma and toddlers to teens and the odd gap year student. Some have come from a strong Christian home and others have just started on their way. But we are all here and we are all here together united under Christ.  We eat together, go on holidays together, go on walks, lunches and beaches together and we learn about Jesus together.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2; Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well

Paul encourages us not only to share the good news about Jesus with people but our very lives. This means sharing life in the everyday as well as ones that feel bigger.  This for me means babysitting, doing crèche, helping running and speaking in youth group, handing out flyers, running bookshops. Eating with my family, eating with my friends, eating with my church family. Having shoulder to lean on when you feel weak, praying that God would make the impossible possible and upholding our overseas mission partners. Yes welcome to our crazy church family. Its not perfect, in fact its pretty messy at times but thank God he works despite our weaknesses as we are just trying to live out these words this year;

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ( 1 Peter 2;8)

We are the people of God, royal, chosen and holy in His sight. He has called us out of darkness into his light. We want to show that light to our community and consequently God has answered that prayer;

  1. In December (last month) we hosted ‘A gift of Christmas’ – A completely free Christmas fair. Church family and local businesses donated gifts. Over 500 people received gifts  and just when all the presents were gone, the queue of people vanished too!
  2. A lady who was a JW for over 20 years become a Christian though Christianity explored course.
  3. The women in the church host a ‘Gingerbread house evening’ where you make a gingerbread house and a short evangelistic talk is given. It was sold out before I even got a ticket!
  4. Womens weekend away was a huge time of fellowship and bible teaching. I was so struck by how open people were to talk about their personal struggles and joy’s of being a Christian.
  5.  Above all, I don’t feel awkward about inviting my friends and family who don’t know Christ – in.

There is however a big vacuumous hole in my life, no Christian union, no university students (unless it is holiday time), no more UCCF. This has taken some adjusting too and there isn’t much room for pride here as the majority of people don’t understand what a CU is, let along explaining Relay. At times this has been frustrating. Equally though it is a blessing to be able to give IVP books away, point people towards thinking about the trinity and being able to lead bible studies. However, I know I have to watch my heart. I have been cynical towards other people in the fellowship and when things don’t meet my expectations or simply because people do things different here compared to other churches I have been in.

I have come to the conclusion that my Church is simply a glorious ruin. Glorious because we aim to glorify God and a ruin because we are still a work in progress.  As for me, I am now unofficially ‘welcomed into’ the fellowship since the ‘welcome group’ fellowship has now split for geographical reasons. I am now going to join an existing house group within my local area.  It is going to be a challenge to get to know a new set of people. I simply need to keep reminding myself of that 1 Peter passage and warming my heart back to Christ to sustain me personally and keep us sharing our lives and the Gospel with people around us as a church family.

Welcome to the family.

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A royal stomp – A Royal Affair

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A Royal Affair is based on a true story of Caroline Mathilda, who is married off to Christian VII, a Danish king. The film opens with bright and noble Caroline in England as she is about to travel over to Denmark. Although Christian doesn’t turn out to be the perfect prince that she was hoping for as his lunacy only gains him disrespect and bad manners.

Whilst Christian is touring Europe, a common doctor and enlightenment idealist, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mikkelsen) is appointed the King’s personal physician as the court struggle to deal with Christians’ outbursts. Meanwhile the Queen’s first child is born and she conceals herself from court and social duties as the King prostitutes other women.

The Queen is then constrained by the royal circle and is seen as unwell. However Strensee sees that she is just lonely and the two ride out into the countryside during the summer resistances and bond over Jean Jacques Rousseau.  After Johann manages to save the heir to the throne, Carloine and Strensee fall deeply in love. Together the duo take control of the King, court and country and there ideals around freedom and the enlightenment unravel into all parts of society.

With the King freely signing any paper handed to him, Johann soon rises to power, however this starts to cause suspicion about the love affair, which eventually becomes his downfall and leaves the queen banished from court.

The plot takes many twists and turns alongside the usual pomp of a period costume drama.  In the backdrop of the 18th century enlightenment, the film is less of a royal romp and more of a royal stomp about the search for freedom.

 Sexual Freedom

This search for freedom is primary seen through Caroline. At first we see her as a bright young girl in England longing to venture oversees and flee her parents. She enjoys being artistic but her books are soon taken away from her under Danish censorship and soon her enjoyment to play the piano is lost.

After this scene, Caroline’s freedom is slowly taken away from her, confound to the royal grounds and chambers. As Christian suppresses Caroline, ‘the world’s full of princesses, and I got stuck with the grumpy one,’ he says. The more time the Queen spends with Christian, the more she loathes him and her spirits soon becomes downcast.  She quotes Rousseau, ‘man is born free but everywhere there are shackles.’  From Caroline’s perspective, Christian didn’t meet up to her childhood expectations and she wasn’t given a choice about the engagement she feels trapped by the King. However she understand that she can use her body to display power by producing an heir and freedom as she falls in love with Johann.  As her relationship with Johann grows she becomes more satisfied in the bedroom and this liberates her from the mockeries of the King. Unlike Christian, Johann understands her frustrations about her circumstances, her ideas and intellect and this is what brings them together. Caroline allures Johann at the masked ball, ‘ this is the one ball where everyone can be themselves,’ she says.

We see Caroline is searching for freedom that she eventually finds with Johann as she is sexually satisfied but together with their liberal ideas they start working for the common good of the Danish people. This is contrasted with the self seeking, spoilt King Christian. Christian understands that as a king, the court and his family cannot manage his outbursts. His laughing out loud and his madness are explained, ‘I think most of his problems stem from excessive masturbation,’ says Reventlow, his parental guardian.  In history, the King’s excesses also include drinking, sado-masochism and an official royal mistress, Støvlet-Cathrine.  He plays the court clown, choosing to laugh out loud in inappropriate places, play fighting with chamber maids and ignoring the courts advice. This type of freedom that Christian expresses is selfish as his behaviour and decisions are on his terms and when he wants to express himself, regardless if this offends others.

Lawfully Free

This is displayed the most in the tensions and moral decisions made in court, we see three views, mindlessness, traditionalist and liberal. Christians outbursts and uncontrollable freedom are unhelpful to the council and his lack of compassion on the Danish people. He has no sense of what is right or wrong and blindly signs any order given to him. Juliane Marie and the court present a traditional and religious view. They are portrayed as having high moral standards, laws and a belief in God. Johann as an outsider represents the needs of the Danish people in the court and stands for equality, freedom and liberalism. As well as speaking for the people, Johann and the Queen ultimately want to be morally free from judgement, as the queen asks Johann, ‘Will the enlightenment set us free from divine punishment?’   When he is given power over Denmark we see him lifting restrictions on capital punishment, publishing censorship and education to all men.

Thinking free

Johann’s free thinking and reforms reflect a movement in wider Europe which is called the age of enlightenment.  The purpose of the enlightenment was to reform society using reason, science and knowledge that predominantly took place in the 18th century. Johann represents the position that people should think for themselves as individuals rather than accepting the traditional values that were being communicated from the courts and the church. The enlightenment was mainly built up of scientists and philosophers and doctors like Johann. The film then makes the wider suggestion that all free thinkers of the enlightenment during this time period are atheists. However this is not the case, as German philosopher, Immanuel Kant was part of the moment and he affirmed his belief in God. He says, ‘[Religion should be] …. successively freed from all statutes based on history, and one purely moral religion rule over all, in order that God might be all in all. The veil must fall.’

Overall the film leads you to have empathy on enlightenment thinking as step mother Juliane Marie is told to ‘put her trust in god’ just as she goes to sign the order to banish Caroline from the royal palace forever. In the final scenes we are left to have compassion on Caroline as she writes to her children on her death-bed and Johann is executed for the affair.

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Great Expectations

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Fleeing his childhood ways, Pip heads out into the wider world without any real sense of direction….

Here is a film review of Great Expectations (2012) that I wrote for Threads which is Christian blog for people in there twenties. It is a real privilege to have my writing on a wider platform and it was challenging thinking about Pip’s character. I hope you enjoy reading it and thank you Threads team for the opportunity!

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All roads lead to recovery

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All roads lead to recovery

Here is just one of collage from artist Ergo Phizmiz. He recently had an exhibition at my local art centre in Ryde. His work is very avant garde and uses a lot of religious and Christian imagery in his collages.

This one really stood out for me, thinking about life after death, heaven and final judgement. He questions, Do all road lead to recovery?

If you look carefully you will see stairways and doors contrasted against Mary and Jesus and the people at the temple.

Personally, It reminds me that I long for the day when there will be the new heavens and the new earth. No more crying, no more pain, all things will be restored. Above all were be with our bridgegroom forever:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (NIV, Revelation 21:1-4)

A Bitter Island

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Island is a tense physiological thriller that follows orphaned and mentally disturbed, Nikki Black (Natalie Press) as she moves to a Hebridean Scottish island to seek, find and kill her birth mother.  

The story opens with Nikki travelling over to the Island to seek lodgings at Phyllis’s (Janet Mc Teer) house in order that she can undertake a fake geography project. Nikki is quickly recognised as an outsider in the local village, alongside the extreme Scottish weather conditions, life on the island already starts to look bleak. Phyllis’s son Calum is played by BBC Merlin star Colin Morgan but is away from his usual cavalry for a more deeper and challenging role as he offers to show Nikki around the Island.

calum

Colin Morgan as Calum- Image Source

The two characters are both as shady and hesitant as each other as Calum’s unemployment leads him to an obsession about beachcombing and Nikki’s flashbacks and insomnia causes tension.  However it is not until Nikki walks out in a deep mist and Calum comes to rescue her that it sparks a sexual undercurrent between the two.

Meanwhile Phyllis uses a strange concoction of medicine to relieve her long term cancer and refuses to speak to Nikki who is determined to find out the truth about her birth mother.  As no conclusions are made about Nikki’s past, Calum and Nicky decide to leave the Island. However the evening twilight of the Island reveals a deadly storm and the fate of the two are caught up in the waves. When Nikki and Calum finally challenge Phyllis it wasn’t the answer the two were looking for, an outburst of anger leads to murderous results.

Myth and Mysteries

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jane Rodgers, the directors Elizabeth Taylor and Brek Taylor describe the film as a ‘fairy-tale’ thriller. The film plays repeatedly on the idea of, part myth, part mystery.  The myths create the backdrop of the film, as from the opening sequence when Nikki’s drawings are animated over old storybooks and she narrates:  ‘When I was 29 I decided to kill my mother but don’t believe everything you are told’. The setting of the Island provides Calum with tales of sea beasts and local stories in a child like nature.  For Nikki and Calum, the pain of rejection in past experiences has led them to use storytelling to hide away genuine emotions and the reality of life. For example whilst the two are exploring the forest:

Calum: ‘There are houses of little people that live here. Nikki, Do you know who the little people are?
Nikki: ‘ I don’t believe in fairies.’
Calum: ‘You shouldn’t say that.’
Nikki: ‘Why not?’
Calum: ‘You can’t keep sheep here because the little people drive them mad, they run in circles, around and around until they die. They were lucifer’s angels[ from Paradise Lost?] when he left heaven, they had to leave too, some of them fell in the sea and… others fell on land. They play all sorts of tricks and deceptions.’

In there fairy-tale world there seems to be a sense of order as they can choose the fate of there characters, which like Nikki and Calum, none end up with a happy ending. This use of storytelling helps them to express their different personas and reflects the isolation and fear of living on the bleak island. By using storytelling as an escapism, the two resist the fact that the truth is too much to bear in trying to reconcile there relationships with Phyllis.

The use of myths and mysteries blur the lines on what is the truth overall in this film. Nikki and Calum long to find out the truth about Phyllis’ family history but equally they struggle to find the right moment to raise the issue. This then leads to anger and frustration.  This does raise the question, how do we reconcile our relationships in a loving way? Do you tend to try and hide away and escape the problem like Nikki and Calum or do face up to the situation. Ultimately, God has faced up and dealt with the sin of the world at the cross, offering forgiveness of all sins and uniting his people to Christ, ‘ But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.’ ( Col 1:21)

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“It is a certai…

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“It is a certain truth that God has mercy in store, mercy in reserve. But never did this appear as so in sending his Son into the world to save us…it has always been so. But he has manifested his mercy, so as never before, in sending his Son to bring in a everlasting salvation for them who fear him, and this from generation to generation. In him mercy is settled upon all that fear God, pardoning mercy, healing mercy, accepting mercy, crowing mercy, from generation to generation, while the world stands.”

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation Luke 1:50

Matthew Henry speaking on Luke 1:50 which is part of Marys Song in Luke 1 (46-56). God mercy never ceases.

“But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house”

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This week i spoke on Psalm 5 at friday night squash, which is my church’s youth group. The average age is about 11/12 years old. Here are my notes:

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God,

David is the King of Isreal, but look in v2 He recognises that even though He ( David) is a king, he needs help from God. v2 also says, My King and MY God, so David knew the loving arms of the Father personally.  David understood that he is a man under God’s authority and power but yet he doesn’t need to struggle alone because he knew that God delights to hear his prayers.

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue

David knew God personally, he knew that the Lord was his King,that he created him and David praised God for his Love and mercy towards him. But then his thoughts turn to wicked, arrogant people who cannot be trusted because they speak lies (v6)/ (v9). David is praying against, the mouth, throat and the tongue because what we speak about reveals what we love in our hearts.  The tongue can be used to build people up in love and friendship or hurt people with lies and bullying. Again we see that We have this problem in our hearts, that the bible calls sin….

S – Shove off God
I – I am in charge
N- No to your rules and your love

What is at the end line of v10? (they have rebelled against you.) People rebel against God, they do not know him and have chosen to be his enemies.  this is why the Lord is angry, but remember God is STILL a father and he doesn’t change . So he is always a Daddy. When you were little and you ran away or got lost by mistake, what happened? You got a telling off  for being naughty, but your Dad would always give you a hug afterwards. He didn’t want to tell you off but he had too so that you would be less likely to do it again. Running away from your parents is dangerous because they can offer you protection and love and they know what is best for you, this is exactly the same with God the Father in v10.

We see a clear contrast in this Psalm –  David who runs to God-  trusts God to be his refuge and his shield (v11) and those who choose to run away from God . However even if we have run away from God, thanks to his great love and Mercy, we can always come back to him – And be held in his arms

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house

It  is ONLY because of God’s love and Mercy towards David that he can come into his house. David was right with God because god has chosen him to be his friend. But it wasn’t because he was a king or anything he had done. David was right with God because he knew and trusted in the  promises that were made back in genesis. We can be right with God today because Jesus come and took the punishment for our sins  and lying tongues but he has also clothed us with HIS Righteousness. This means we are covered in Jesus’s royal robe – even thought i am just a commoner who deserves not even a penny! It is because of this that I can come into his house and presence fully without fear.