Tuesday, 30 September 2008

encouraging a grace-free society

There's an advert almost non-stop on the cable channels which winds me up to fever pitch. You know the one; there's a dodgy copper-actor from the Bill spouting new-age sounding tosh:

It is said that the universe is in a delicate state of spiritual balance.
If you find yourself injured, and it’s someone else’s fault, you can either say ‘it’s fate; an unavoidable destination on the journey of my life,’ or you can say ‘I absolutely did not deserve that,’ and call [company name deleted to protect the deeply guilty] They’re real laywers who specialise in getting you the exact amount of compensation you deserve: 100% of it. So with their help, the universal balance is restored.

Now, call me a wierdo for shouting at the telly, but this seems to utterly undermine any option I might choose to hold.

I might decide not to assign the events to an uncaring, impersonal universe in which I'm merely a cog in the unending wheel of life. Personally, I find this idea repellant, as it denies the existence of God and gives me no sense of self-worth or purpose. My injury is just tough luck and part of the accident of human evolution.

By the same token, I mght choose not to cry out 'I deserve more respect, and somebody's going to be made to pay for this insult to my pride and the hurt to my body, which I prize above everythng else in this world, except perhaps the money I can make from this! I want all the compensation I deserve. 100% of it.'

The blame culture, litigation and propping up my injured arrogance are loathsome attitudes to have, and it's appalling that this advert actively encourages the greed. I feel sure that if I was to be harmed by someone else, I'd have feelings of rsentment and harbour desires for revenge. This sort of advertising plays upon those dark, unworthy, selfish feelings.

Yes, someone else should have taken more care or trouble. But what about forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace-making and not 'standing up for your rights'?

Isn't that the way Jesus woud prefer? Actually, isn't that the way Jesus acted when he had every opportunity to complain about the unfair injuries others were causing him unjustly...

Makes you think, doesn't it? And if not, why not? Exactly how much is 100% of the compensation you deserve? By Bible reckoning, none, since you don't deserve anything except judgement. You may have received mercy through the death of Jesus Christ, and if so, then remember the bit that says 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.' Matthew 6:12

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Let Justice be done (or at least be on the agenda)

Once again the merry theme music of MotD fades away, and no-one has discussed the crying need for a serious review of the officials within the beautiful game.

Once again, there were refereeing decisions which
1) generate joy or anger in equal proportions among the loyal fans
2) promote or relegate teams (representing dozens of millions of pounds of revenue) and
3) bring the game into disrepute with anyone who cares about things being right and just and proper.

The shame and embarassment of the FA having to overturn the 3-match ban for John Terry following his non-foul the other week could have been avoided. The disgraceful penalty decision in today's match where Bolton's Jlloyd Samuel took the ball skillfully and cleanly off the toe of Ronaldo, who then appeared to dive, should have repercussions which shake the officiating system to its roots. United went on to win the match 2-0.

Now, all I ask is that the referee be given the help which is already available. The caneras are already in place; the technology is there to provide a video judge with the opportunity to examine the slow-mo/multi-view/action replay footage and make the decison based on that.

It is now very common in top-flight rugby, which is another of those free-flowing games (unlike cricket, which is a game that takes five days to complete and never seems to begin) where the VJ can be called in when the ball has gone out of play.

The only other change this sort of innovation would need, it seems to me, is that perhaps another couple of linesmen (let's not pretend they are assistant referees, whatever their official titles may be) can signal 'I think there was an infringement there, so let's talk about it when the ball goes dead'. The sytem works well in American Football, which while being a little more stop-start than soccer, the idea of throwing down a flag at least gives the chance for advantages to be played.

Then if a penalty decision needs to be made, like the one today, we wait until the ball goes out of play, ask the advice of the VJ and take it from there. If ia penalty is given, then so be it. If not, then we play on from where the ball went out of play. If it's a 'did it cross the line?' decision, then again the same principles can be applied.

The same aplies to offsides. If we think it might have been, then check. If it was, then the freekick applies. If it isn't offside, then we continue from where the ball gos out of play.

And let's not have any nonsense about 'oh, but the play might go on for a while before the ball happens to go out of play... are we really going to wipe out five minutes and wind the clock back?' The first thing that'll happen after an offside question is asked will be that the aggrieved side will hoof the ball into row Z in order to look at the video.

The reason why this isn't happening?

Who knows. As managers say, it's not for us to comment. 'We can't rely on the officials; we must see our destiny is in our own hands.'

On the other hand, possibly pride or arrogance is keeping the referre from acknowledging that the game is much harder to police these days. It used to be less of a strain, but now that those chaps in black have to apply the rules, watch for off-the-ball incidents, keep time, make split-second decisions and watch out for the health of players involved in collisions or gaining injuries. As well as being in exactly the right place to see whatever incident is in question. Oh, and carrying on the match ball having ajudged the suitability of the pitch before the game starts. It's too much for any man, isn't it. No shame in admitting 'I need help' when that's been blindingly obvious to every football spectator for the past dozen seasons.

One final point. Is it right that a man earning a small match fee should be able to make financial decisions worth tens of millions of pounds? Can he really have the respect of players who earn more in one week than he sees in several years, in some cases? Little wonder refs are not give the honour they might warrant, when some of them are blantantly not very good at their job. The rest of us face disciplinary statements on our record, written warnings and ultimately the sack if we are shown to be consistently incompetent...

and another thing...

First in a series on noticing stuff when you should be concentrating

Do you know the worship song by Chris Tomlin
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord? Well, in the bridge at the end of the verse repeats, there's a section which goes like this:
You're the defender of the weak

You comfort those in need

You lift us up on wings like eagles

Now, don't get me wrong. But the other Sunday we were singing this with great gusto when a thought crossed my mind and I wondered if it was a sermon structure. How about this:

Taking the idea of Jesus being the defender of the weak and applying a footballing motif:
1 Jesus is the Defender of the Week – protecting us, fighting off the enemy, taking on the firey darts of the evil one and generally doing a Bobby Moore/Tony Adams/John Terry kind of role, tidying up any attacks and launching their own.
2 Jesus is the Striker of the Month – getting in there with incisive attacks on the strongholds of the enemy, taking the axe to the root of our sinful nature, making sure that we're on the victory side. Let's think Pélé, Ronaldo, Bobby Charlton, Keegan, Rooney...
3 Jesus is the Goalie of the Season – we're in a terrible situation and we need a saviour (someone who can save) and prvent the enemy fom taking the lead or getting a foothold. This time, think Gordon Banks, Pat Jennings, Bob Wilson, Shilton, Dino Zoff...
And when the final whistle blows, are you celebrating or distraught?

Fave Hymns

First in a series congratulating writers and exploring the theology in their work.

Seems to me that there is something rather special when a poet and a tunester get together under the power of the Holy Spirit. The result is a declaration of deep truth which can continue for a l
ong, long time to assist a congregation or an individual in worshipping God.

Three examples:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteous;

No merit of my own I claim

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In every high and story gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
Sustain me in the whelming flood;
When all supports are washed away,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in him be found,
Clothed in his righteousness alone,
Redeemed to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

This is a magnificent piece of work, IMHO.
NB in the second verse, imagery of night and bad weather combine to speak of trials and trouble and that sense of feeling far from God. But actually he's still there, sustaining, being dependable and constantly reliable and unchanging. Just because we may feel a bit isolated doesn't mean that he's gone anywhere at all!
In verse three the shorter version of overwhelming is used in a way that strikes me as unusual but poetically justifiable. Note: his oath – God's word is not to be broken; his covenant – not my idea, but God's gracious legal bond to keep his side of the bargain; and his blood – by which I am purchased. Also note, God the Father has sworn the oath; God the Holy Spirit seals the covenant; God the Son shed his blood. This hymn's Trinitarian!
And in verse four, the mild hint of a lack of eternal security ('oh may I then in him be found') is not the writer's intention. My guess is that he knew he was 'once saved, always saved' or he wouldn't have written the rest of this hymn in this way. On Christ the solid rock I may sometimes stand would have nearer the mark... No, I think he's expressing Biblical Hope rather than worldly, vague, wishful thinking when he asks that.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be!

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!


This timeless classic expresses the eternal love of God, always looking out for me, always positive about me, never joining in complaining or moaning about me, despite my many weaknesses and sins. He's always loving, always loyal, always forgiving, always present, always faithful.
Pardon, peace, presence - what a trio of qualities, all directed at me! How wonderful How marvellous! (Oh, that's another song)
Not only does God give me the ability to walk in the light while here on the earth, but he also promises so much treasure beyond this life. What depth this song contains!
And then the chorus (refrain) gives opportunity for expression of joy, gratitute, declaring prophetically over myself that God is faithful and whatever I need is provided. Hallelujah!

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
And make a wretch His treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon the cross –
My sin upon His shoulder.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished!

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom!

The first time I heard this being sung two very unusual (for me) things happened; I wept at the power of the truth expressed so vividly; and I genuinely believed I was discovering some forgotten gem of Wesley or Watts or someone similar. Little did I realise it was a man who walked among us.
The tone of wonder and gratitude reminds me of the old hymn which asks 'Was it the nails, Oh Saviour, that held thee to the tree? Nay, 'twas thine everlasting love, Thy love, thy love for me.' (from Give me a sight, O Saviour of thy wondrous love for me). The first time I sang this one the impact on me was significant, too.
The wonderful revelation in my spirit that Jesus could indeed have come down from the cross and destroyed his enemies at any moment and yet didn't do that on account of his love for me and desire to see my soul saved is utterly breathtaking.
The Fathe's love is deep, far-reaching, soul-searching, eternal (saving to the very uttermost), everlasting, full of forgiveness, undeserved and pure beyond imagining.
My sin held him there until it was accomplished - a variant on the translation 'it is finished!'. The work is complete, achieved, the exchange has happened, the covenant is sealed, the legal transaction transacted.
There is little for me to boast about, yet will I boast in the love the Father has for me, shown through the Son, revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Friday, 26 September 2008

And off we go

So this is how one doth blog, right?
Clearly, I'm merely roadtesting this idea. Once I've got my confidence, I shall refer readers to reviews and fun stuff on my site www.andyback.co,uk