Unconditional – the type of love only God can give

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:10)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Unconditional love is certainly an interesting topic for a pop princess to sing about. I’ve written before of the way Katy Perry’s lyrics often contain (perhaps) unintentional references to the wisdom and character of God. He is the God she was brought up to know and though she has now clearly denied him, he still speaks. (See a previous post:  ‘Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam, or maybe a Firework). Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally” expresses a commitment to live out the type of love that has no strings attached. It’s the sort of inspiring song that would well suit a marriage ceremony of committed Christ-followers, those who know God’s unconditional love in Christ and desire to minister to another person’s needs, in love, regardless of their response.

Here are some of the lyrics (chorus and verse 2)

Unconditional, unconditionally, I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now, Let go and just be free, I will love you unconditionally

Come just as you are to me, Don’t need apologise, Know that you are worthy
I’ll take your bad days with your good, Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you”

Thanks to Katy people are now singing along to a song about the type of love God shows us in Christ! (though the visuals of the film clip don’t seem to illustrate that too well :))
But in thinking this through I just have to ask: how unconditional can our human love really be? Despite our best intentions, if our partner were to suddenly start abusing us or our children, or blatantly breaking all social or moral laws (including their marriage vows) would we stick by them – really? We could work to resolve issues, but how well would we love if we received nothing back, or worse? We cannot love perfectly or unconditionally because we are not perfect.

Katy no doubt experienced this harsh truth in her failed first marriage, and no matter how much she sings about it, only God can love unconditionally. No matter how much we declare it, our sinful pride will overrule our best intentions. It is only the power of the risen Lord Jesus living in us which allows us to reflect God’s unconditional love in any way. It is his strength in us that helps us choose to keep loving, regardless of the response. Let’s pray that Katy and her fans will come to know the truly unconditional love of Christ, in the freedom and power of the Gospel.

Here is a song from Casting Crowns which I think does a much better job at describing the brokenness of human relationships, and the way we can love and accept each other, in our brokenness:

BROKEN TOGETHER (Casting Crowns)

What do you think about when you look at me Casting-Crowns-PR-Image
I know were not the fairytale you dreamed wed be
You wore the veil, you walked the aisle, you took my hand
And we dove into a mystery

How I wish we could go back to simpler times
Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light
Now on this hallowed ground, weve drawn the battle lines
Will we make it through the night

Its going to take much more than promises this time
Only God can change our minds

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and Ill bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way well last forever is broken together

How it must have been so lonely by my side
We were building kingdoms and chasing dreams and left love behind
Im praying God will help our broken hearts align
And we wont give up the fight

Is your Smart phone making you dumb?

driving texting dangerousSmart phone technology has brought many radical social changes in the last decade or so. People are doing things (without a second thought) that were once considered really stupid or anti-social. Who would have thought we humans would try operating a motor vehicle while staring at a three-inch screen? Or walking on a train platform doing the same? Imagine sitting with a group of friends and gazing intently at the palm your hand, offering them no conversation or eye contact! Perhaps you have already observed some of these odd and addictive tendencies in the people around you – and most frighteningly, in yourself!

A columnist in our local paper just confessed to being a phonoholic. “My phone has become the 207th bone in my body. I think I would feel barely upright without it. . . Such a feeling has been named nomophonophobia – the fear of being without your mobile phone.” (J. Fynes-Clinton, Sept 26, 2013)

Smartphones don’t discriminate in taking prisoners! It is not only those selfie-taking tween addicts who are at risk of losing all their ‘smarts’ to their smart phone. In fact, our “selfie-obsessed” Prime Minister posted his latest shaving cut via Instagram just weeks before the election (he lost). So, before we all lose our common sense to our smart phones, let’s ‘hang up’ on excessive smart phone use. Here are 10 things you should know about your awesome smart phone (before you find yourself cast in the sequel of Dumb and Dumber To):

1. Smart phones don’t make you smarter and won’t make you happy.
Yep, they sure are sleek, complex and nifty little gadgets that do cool things. They can connect you to a web of ‘friends’, music, video, games and the latest social news – but they may detract from your wisdom, intelligence and satisfaction level. You can become so reliant on mobile google that you give up thinking or remembering anything! Smart phones may make you look cool, acceptable and impress your friends, but there are more important things in life, which can bring greater and lasting joy.

2. People are better than Smart phones.galaxy-s4-life-companion
Have we forgotten this?  People are unique and complex individuals. They have more potential to surprise, entertain and inspire you than anything you’ll flick by on the small screen. Living, three-dimensional, high resolution people make far better company. No matter what Samsung may tell you, your smart phone is not a ‘life companion’. People are way smarter and worth investing in. Try paying close attention to their faces, eyes and body language – and see what happens. Don’t become so dependent on that small screen that you lose touch with real people and relationships.

3. They make you forget basic good manners and conversation skills.
Smart phones make us think it is acceptable to silently stare at a little screen in the presence of another human being, especially when everyone else is doing it! (Actually, everyone else has to do it so they don’t feel ignored!) We even think it’s fine to do so when someone is actually speaking to us. Hello!?

4. They tempt you to build your self-esteem on how many people like your social media updates.
How easy to become addicted to that sort of affirmation when it is at your fingertips? Do you really need to know that people like your latest meal or cup of coffee? Smart phones encourage us to binge on social media. Turning off those distracting phone notifications may allow you to engage fully with people in the moment.

attention-while-walking5. You look pretty silly when your phone is constantly in hand.
And you’ll looking sillier if you injure yourself while walking and typing. In New Jersey, police began (May 2012) issuing $85 citations for careless walking, and the Utah Transit Authority made distracted walking around trains punishable by a $50 fine. Signage is also being used widely to reduce pedestrian accidents caused by texting. Try putting the thing in your bag or pocket, or in another room. And by the way, smart phones and toilets don’t mix well for many reasons!

6. They tempt us to be a stupid driver who texts or updates Facebook while driving.
How easy would it be to stop the car to attend to that important text message? Facebook also can wait! If you must recharge your phone in the front of the car, shut it in the glove box or put it out of reach so you won’t be easily tempted. (Besides that, it is pretty stupid not to avoid a fine for being on your phone while driving, if you can.)

7. Smart phone technology addiction can actually rewire your brain, to be less smart!
In “The Brain that Changes Itself” (2008) author Norman Doidge says that our dependence on this technology can rewire our brains to the extent that it becomes difficult to concentrate on a complex conversation or listen to a lecture. “Electronic media are so effective at altering the nervous system because that both work in similar ways. . . Both involve the instantaneous transmission of electronic signals to make linkages. Because our nervous system is plastic*, it can take advantage of this compatibility and merge with the electronic media, making a single, larger system. . . Now man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull, and his nerves outside his skin” (p.311). At the very least, excessive smart phone use discourages us from tackling problems, conversations, a novel or the philosophical writings of great thinkers. Why? Because these things do not involve the instantaneous gratification of electronic media.
(‘Plastic’ means it can change and adapt.)

8. Your eyes can suffer.
Those muscles for distance vision will become weak if you are staring at a small screen constantly, keeping your eyes operating at the same focal length all the time. Researchers have actually recorded an increase in myopia (short-sightedness). Read more here.

9. Sleep can become elusive.electronic-light-sleep
The glow of the smart phone screen prevents our bodies releasing seratonin, which helps us fall and stay asleep. Your brain needs sleep to be smart – so again the smart phone doesn’t make you smart. No smart phones in your bed/bedroom may be a smart policy in your home (and mine). Read more here

10. Excessive self-absorption will not make the world a better place.
The idea of showing a random act of kindness or service to someone else can become so far-removed from our thought patterns if we are no longer observing the people around us. Blinkers are for horses, not for people – people who have the power to impact those around them for good. If you want to see more good, more love, more thoughtfulness in the world, take off those smart phone blinkers and live again!

(Check out this post about a guy who is going to divorce his iphone: http://www.oddcrunch.com/why-you-should-get-a-divorce/0)

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All You’ve Ever Wanted (Casting Crowns – new single)

casting crownsYou may be very interested to know that Casting Crowns has just released a new single “All You’ve Ever Wanted”. You can listen on Spotify or buy from iTunes and Amazon. The song focuses on the “relentless love” of a God who simply wants our hearts! There are plenty of echoes of the challenging lyrics Casting Crowns have presented before, but with the comfort that our guilty stains are already washed away. I love the piano riff that underlies the track. Enjoy!

All You’ve Ever Wanted

I just looked up today
And realized how far away I am from where You are
You gave me life worth dying for
But between the altar and the door
I bought the lies that promised more
And here I go again

Lord, I know I let You down
But somehow, I will make You proud
I’ll turn this sinking ship around
And make it back to You

But all my deeds and my good name
Are just dirty rags that tear and strain
To cover all my guilty stains
That You already washed away

(‘Cause) All You’ve ever wanted, all You’ve ever wanted
All You’ve ever wanted was my heart
Freedom’s arms are open, my chains have all been broken
Relentless love has called me from the start
And all You wanted was my heart

I was chasing healing when I’d been made well
I was fighting battles when You conquered hell
Living free but from a prison cell
Lord, I lay it down today

So I’ll stop living off of how I feel
And start standing on Your truth revealed
Jesus is my strength, my shield
And He will never fail me

No more chains, I’ve been set free
No more fighting battles You’ve won for me
Now in Christ, I stand complete

Publishing: © 2013 Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI) All rights on behalf of Sony/ATV Tree Publishing administered by Sony/ATV. / My Refuge Music (BMI) (adm. at EMICMGPublishing.com) / Bernie Herms Music (BMI) (adm. by The Loving Company). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Writer(s): Mark Hall, Bernie Herms

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C.S. Lewis on musical taste and grace

music tasteA few days ago I wrote about the way we can show grace to others by not demanding that they pander to our prideful ‘good taste’ (in a variety of areas).
Here C.S. Lewis talks about a related topic, musical taste. Disagreements over the ‘right’ or most godly church music have produced many hard-fought and rarely-won battles. While Lewis’ comments below are a bit of a challenge in terms of the language, it is worth the slog if you can get to his main point. Grace is the key! We must bear with one another in love, bear with things we dislike for the sake of others whom we are called to love, in Christ. If we are in music ministry and find ourselves filled with pride at our skill, or contempt and hostility to the congregation we serve, it’s probably time for a break! It’s probably time to re-examine our motives – and pray for God to work in us for His glory. Blessings!

Musical Taste

“There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.”

This was taken from an essay entitled “On Church Music” by C. S. Lewis. It can be found in a current publication called Christian Reflections published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN: 0802808697.

Ps. Today I celebrate my 150th Blog Post! Thanks for reading.
Read more about C.S.Lewis on this post: Our Glorious Capital C Church

When our ‘good taste’ overrides our grace towards others

coffee heartThe other day I turned my nose up at an instant coffee made for me from a jar of Nescafe 43. I thought I could justify this ungracious response by defending my ‘good taste’ in coffee, but apparently not, according to C.S. Lewis.

“(Humans) . . .  are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity. They ought to be made to think themselves very knowing about food, to pique themselves on having found the only restaurant in town whether the steaks are really “properly” cooked. What begins as vanity can then be gradually turned into habit. But however you approach it, the great thing is to bring him into the state in which the denial of any one indulgence “puts him out”, for then his charity, justice and obedience are all at your mercy.  Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy.”  (Letter 16: Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, 1942).

Ouch!  If you have never read the Screwtape Letters I would encourage you to rush out and get a copy (or download). The Letters record fictional (but strangely believable) correspondence between a Senior and Junior devil. The uncle instructs his nephew on how to keep his ‘patient’ (a new convert to Christianity) from getting too close to the Enemyscrewtape (for them the Enemy is, of course, God).  In the section above Uncle Screwtape explains how to get at his patient, to annoy him, by encouraging the unbearably fussy eating of his mother and her delicate tastes.  If he can make her insist on having her food served in a particular, apparently simple way he will have some delightful amusements. It is also designed to keep her deluded in selfishness and pride.

Here Lewis makes an insightful connection between the “god of the stomach” and pride in our own good taste. This is a much more dangerous distraction from godliness than simply overeating. What I find most interesting here is that he wrote on such matters long before our addiction to both reality TV cooking shows and the great variety of good foods we enjoy in the West (thanks to globalisation). Lewis’ words also come before ‘coffee culture’ swept our world and people became ‘coffee snobs’ – who insist on having their particular bean roasted a particular way on a particular machine in a particular shop, or their own kitchen. I have met people who will rave for hours about having the best taste in coffee and the most knowledge of how to make it – properly! How gracious are they when offered inferior coffee? (How gracious was I?) And it’s not just coffee. Our egos can be fed and mislead by thinking we have the best taste in food and the best skills in how cook it, to create amazing dishes and impress others.

I suppose I am not that far behind the people that I call coffee snobs! I do prefer real coffee from a coffee shop (though not A particular shop) and I do think I have better taste than others in many ways (doesn’t that just sound awful in print)!  The more I think such proud thoughts, the more I train myself to respond to others with less grace, less charity, less justice and kindness. Let’s measure our “own good taste” against God’s measure, of perfect grace, humility, charity and kindness to others. We are more likely to display the fruits of the spirit to others when our hearts are not bent on satisfying our own ‘good tastes’, and proving our superiority in such matters. I’ll keep working on this!

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The Basin and the Towel

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
Mark 10-:29-30

When we are saved into Christ we are saved into community, a community of believers. This is a great promise from Mark 10. Even if we lose many things in order to own the name of Christ we gain so much more. We gain family! We gain relationship. We gain brothers and sisters in Christ. (And yes, we gain persecutions, though that is not the topic for today so I’ll just leave it to the side). As we serve one another, we grow relationships, we grow bridges between us – between people who would naturally be enemies of each other. Christ’s love makes it possible to serve and love one another. Songwriter Michael Card beautifully sums up this “call to community”, demonstrated by Christ in his earthly ministry. The call is now to us as his followers, to grow community in our churches by taking up the basin and the towel. I hope you have the time to chew over the lyrics below and reflect on your own attitude towards serving and growing community. (I know mine needs work.) The “servant’s bow” is a fragile bridge (see the bridge section below). Blessings! (Read more on Christian community here)

The Basin and the Towel (Michael Card)

In an upstairs room, a parable is just about to come alive.
And while they bicker about who’s best,
with a painful glance, He’ll silently rise.
Their Savior Servant must show them how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.

And the call is to community,
The impoverished power that sets the soul free.
In humility, to take the vow,
that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place,
on any ordinary day,
the parable can live again
when one will kneel and one will yield.
Our Saviour Servant must show us how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.

And the space between ourselves sometimes
is more than the distance between the stars.
By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow
we take up the basin and the towel.


You can look up sheet music for this song at the link below:


Now Go, Be the Church

“Don’t think of church as an address or location . . .
but as something deployed.

Don’t think of it as a place you are for an hour each week, but rather WHAT YOU ARE every day of the week.
The Church is the hands and feet of Jesus. . .
Now Go, be the church.”

church has left the buildingThis comes from a great 1.5 minute clip from Igniter Media. We have used it in our church services, when plenty of people were around who don’t normally come to church, or know what it means to follow Jesus. It’s also a good reminder to all of us, of what church is, and isn’t. Hope you can find a use for it. Blessings! (Click link below to watch the clip.)


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Why do we sing about Wrath?

I’m sharing this post from one of my favourite blogs (The Blazing Center) by songwriter/Pastor Mark Altrogge from Sovereign Grace:

lightningSometimes I think if a stranger came into our church he might wonder why in the world are we singing songs about a Roman instrument of death, spikes, whips, and a crown made out of a thorn bush. Why are we singing about some poor guy hanging alone in darkness, bleeding, and thirsting while crowds mock him and spit on him?
And it might really seem strange that so many of our songs mention wrath. This stranger might wonder if we’re fixated on death. He might say, “I thought I would come here and sing about God’s love.” We do. We definitely do. But God’s love for us involves….wrath. We can’t sing songs about God’s love without mentioning his wrath, and a cross, and a bloody sacrifice.
“The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we remain hateful toward Him. The cross belies this picture. Yes, the cross occurred because God loves us. His love stands behind His plan of salvation. However, Christ was not sacrificed on the cross to placate us or to serve as a propitiation to us. His sacrifice was not designed to satisfy our unjust enmity toward God but to satisfy God’s just wrath toward us. The Father was the object of the Son’s act of propitiation. The effect of the cross was to remove the divine estrangement from us, not our estrangement from Him. If we deny God’s estrangement from us, the cross is reduced to a pathetic and anemic moral influence with no substitutionary satisfaction of God.” — RC Sproul

God’s wrath makes his love that much more amazing and sweet.

If there were no wrath, if God somehow just loved us and didn’t deal with our sins – if he somehow just put up with them – “Oh boys will be boys. You just have to love them anyway” – we wouldn’t appreciate his love and mercy. Most likely we wouldn’t love him, but go on loving our sins. But God’s wrath that once hung over our heads like a very real sword, waiting to overwhelm us with unspeakable and unending horror and unimaginable, infinite agony is gone! Gone forever! And where did it go? It fell on the one human being who didn’t deserve any wrath. It fell on the innocent, spotless Lamb. It fell on Jesus.

And why? Because of God’s love for us. Because of God’s tender mercy and compassion. Oh yes, we will sing of wrath. Wrath well deserved. Wrath stored up from day one. Heaps and mounds and oceans of wrath barrelling down on us like a juggernaut, then suddenly diverted. Suddenly turned aside. And heaped on Jesus. Jesus, like some kind of heavenly lightning rod, absorbing billions of volts of retribution that was due us. Jesus, on the cross, going to hell.

Yes we will sing about wrath. And meditate on it. And marvel at what we deserved but didn’t receive. We will celebrate and sing our strange songs about wounds and blood and darkness of soul and a cry of abandonment. Because God’s wrath makes his love for us so much sweeter.

O Father, thank you for your deep, deep love. Jesus thank you for the height, width, breadth and depth of your love. Thank you Father for sparing us the terrifying wrath we so well deserved and pouring it out on your Son. Jesus, thank you for taking our place on the cross and drinking this unimaginable cup to the dregs for us. Holy Spirit, thank you for showing us the wrath of God and the love of God.

Fullness of grace in man’s human frailty

I have been dusting off all my Christmas CDs in anticipation of that most wonderful time of the year. A song I’ve enjoyed for quite a while (on the Christmas album NEW IRISH HYMNS 3: INCARNATION) has just been re-released on the newest Getty album: Joy – An Irish Christmas. The song is called “Fullness of Grace.” It effectively captures how the Incarnation event, when God became Man in Christ, is all about Jesus’ willing choice to wrap himself in our frail human form – an embodiment of the grace of God. Though he was despised and rejected he was obedient to the Cross, that we might be forgiven. This is such a simple message, yet so many miss the grace of Jesus Christ. Might we be faithful in focusing on and carrying this message of grace throughout the Christmas season. (You can listen to the new or old versions of the songs, with different singers, by clicking on the title/link to that album, or watch the clip at the end.)

Fullness of grace in man’s human frailty
This is the wonder of Jesus
Laying aside His power and glory
Humbly He entered our world
Chose the path of meanest worth

Scandal of a virgin’s birth
Born in stable cold and rejected
Here lies the hope of the world

Fullness of grace the love of Father
Shown in the face of Jesus
Stooping to bear the weight of humanity
Walking the Calvary road
Christ the Holy Innocent

Took our sin and punishment
Fullness of God, despised and rejected
Crushed for the sins of the world

Fullness of hope in Christ we had longed for
Promise of God in Jesus
Through His obedience we are forgiven
Opening the floodgates of heaven
All our hope and dreams we bring

Gladly as an offering
Fullness of life and joy unspeakable
God’s gift in love to the world

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The sum total of God’s grace

“The sum total of God’s activity towards his human creatures is grace. The sum total of the benefits is peace.”
C.J.Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries