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Welcome to the new blog from the CVM team, let’s start with a question:

Have you ever been walking along and a complete stranger greets you warmly with a smile and a nod? You may be thinking ‘what does he/she want? Have I got breakfast around my face or in my beard?’ (happens to me regularly). Or you may take the greeting for what it’s worth, feel encouraged and be on your way. The point is, sometimes it’s the really simple things that can make a difference to us.

Take the Bible for example, in particular a book written by a guy called James. He talks about ships being steered by a tiny rudder and a match that can set ablaze a huge amount of trees… or was that the Stereophonics? Anyway, your tongue, proportionally tiny, but very powerful, can build up or bring down. These things are small and simple, yet have huge effects and implications in life.

A few years ago something so simple had a huge impact on my life. I remember a very elderly lady getting up in Church, walking slowly to the front. Lifting her head she stood gazing at the congregation. In silence we waited, watched, but nothing. She just stood there looking out at us. The microphone buzzed and squealed as the sound guy started to panic boosting the audio levels, but she remained calm, still, waiting. What she said was simple, ‘Read your Bible and pray every day if you want to grow’ then she shuffled back to her place, head down and still.

The service moved on and we all went home, but that simple truth stayed with me, why? She hadn’t just invented it; Jesus spoke the message before, that ‘man cannot live by bread alone, but on every single word from God.’ Matthew 4:4

The faith and relationship that we can enjoy with God because of Jesus Christ has to be a life that is fed and cared for. Much like how we care for and feed our physical state, our spiritual one is in need of spiritual food.

Perhaps you have made a commitment to God before and things have gone cold, or the challenges of certain life experiences have caused you to move away.
The message is simple, if you want to grow in your relationship with God, if you want to be the man you know God desires you to be, read His Word (the Bible) and pray each day. This is not a prescription like the doctor will give, this is a living relationship that requires you to respond, to move forward and closer to God, that’s done in reading and praying.

And remember this simple guide, as you open and read God’s word, ask Him, ‘Lord what were you saying then, and what do you want to say to me today?’

Striking A Nerve

Striking A Nerve

What is the one thing about you that is off-limits? Even your closest friends know not to talk to you about this. It’s personal and it’s private and it is not open for discussion.

It’s not that you’re ‘closed off’. Just careful with certain parts of who you are. After all, it is wise to be careful, isn’t it?

One area we tend to cover up contains the things in our lives that we don’t like. Perhaps this is what we call shame. You could be in debt, or you messed up at work, or there’s emotional pain from things long ago that prevent real relationship with those persons involved.

But equally, our hopes and dreams, those that are left, are often cocooned in emotional bubble wrap. We store them like the wedding china, unused for fear of breaking them and not being able to find a replacement.

Like a squirrel buries their nuts before the coming winter, we can bury our deepest thoughts and feelings, and like some of those squirrels, often forget all about them.

We think that they’re safe, deep down, out of the way. We’re unaware though, of how these emotions seep through us, like unsecured toxic waste. We think we’re immune to their presence because they’re buried deep, but every now and again they become exposed.

Sometimes it’s someone else doing the digging. Maybe it’s our wife, or a friend prodding a little too deeply. It’s amazing what people find when they get under the surface (just ask the Crossrail guys who have recently finished the new train tunnels below London).

More often than not however these things are exposed by complete accident. In the fields of Flanders after WWI, the frosty winters were known to bring up unexploded shells to just below the surface. The Belgian farmers knew all-too-well about this annual menace and the problems they posed to their ploughing.

Sometimes it’s a friendly, unassuming conversation that touches something of us we had forgotten about long ago. And sometimes it’s something with a little more bite.

At the beginning of the year Stephen Fry was interviewed on Irish television channel RTE and when asked what he would say to God were he ever to visit the pearly gates of Heaven, he replied vehemently, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Of course Fry isn’t the first to voice this age-old problem in such strong terms. But the response seemed unnaturally large. Newspaper articles and blogs were published in reply and the clip from the show went viral on YouTube.

For many people Fry touched on a nerve. His words shattered the flimsy structures constructed around such buried thoughts like, ‘why did I have to experience that horrible thing?’

There are some big questions in this world that aren’t easy to answer. There are also big parts of who are that we’d rather leave unquestioned. But it was Socrates who told us that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.

Sometimes the thought of sifting through our inner person feels about as fun as receiving a do-it-yourself-molar-extraction kit for Christmas. Thankfully, we’re not left to our own unskilled hands to do this. In an ancient Hebrew poem a request is made of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”(1)

The God of the universe, who made you and knows you and loves you and has complete skill in all matters, wants to work with you to uncover who you really are. If you let him he will deal with your unexploded ordinance and he will unearth your buried treasures.

God’s love frees us from the fear of tough questions, from the pain of deep memories, and it frees us to be the person he created us to be. Life is too precious to live it in avoidance of who we really are, so why not, as the Good Book says, ‘cast all your anxieties on him.’(2) It’ll be a load off your mind.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the problem of pain, might I recommend ‘Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense’ (Faith Words, 2014) by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale as an excellent starting point on the subject.

1. Psalm 139:23
2. 1 Peter 5:7

Jesus, Adam, You and Me – Interceding for God

Tree-TruthAdam had an assignment from God on the Earth that God had created. His assignment was to ‘rule’ (Gen 1:26) and to rule in God’s name (as God was and is King) but, and it is a significant but, Adam alone was created in his image. Adam was quite a bit like God, not “God” but like Him ie in his likeness. The animals were not like God but Adam was and it was Adam who was given this awesome responsibility- to delegated rule, in God’s place, over the whole created order. When creation looked at, listened to and sensed Adam they were seeing, hearing and sensing God- that is until the fall when Adam fell short of the glory of God. We, however, in covenant with Jesus, in this time, are on the journey of being changed back to God’s image ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor 3:18).

This is called sanctification and Paul referred to this “progress” of the faith

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith’. Philippians 1:25. But back to Adam.

Adam was to be God’s manager or steward, representative, go-between or mediator.

Ps 115:6 ‘The heaven …the eternal holds himself , the earth He has assigned to men’. (Moffat Translation). God did not give away ownership of the earth, God has assigned responsibility to humans.

If you are unfortunate and end up on the wrong side of the law and appear in court you will most likely need the services of a lawyer who will spend much time listening to you and represent your case to a judge. Your lawyer will stand between yourself and the judge , the opposing lawyer and all the evidence being presented against you – the lawyer will mediate- interpose between two parties.

Adam, as we know, was not successful in his assignment and God sent another human the ‘last Adam’ to succeed where the first Adam failed. Christ came to represent God on Earth. He became the mediator or go -between, representing God to humanity. But wasn’t Adam supposed to represent God to creation ? The irony here is that humanity now needed their own intercessor, Jesus, to mediate for them. Jesus mediated God to man and also man to God – this is the priestly ministry of Jesus.

The risen Jesus is now functioning as our advocate interceding on our behalf to the Father. Our relationship with him guarantees our prayers access the Father because they are mediated through Jesus and are therefore in his name. Jesus has gone between ourselves and God and reconciled us to the Father. Jesus has also stood between us and Satan and broken his evil hold on our lives. In these ways Jesus has brought redemption to our lives by breaking the power of Satan and reconciling us to the Father. Jesus the ‘last Adam’, has done it all!

So we, now redeemed, may resume the journey to engage in the original assignment given to the first Adam – to represent God to creation. This assignment has never been revoked – we just needed to be redeemed.

How are we getting on with the ‘progress in the faith’ in representing God to the whole of God’s created order?

Lessons from Backgammon

I went on a mission grip to Turkey a few years ago where I noticed many of the men sitting playing backgammon. I noticed similar trends in other countries on previous travels and had always wondered how to play the game. When I got back to the UK I decided I was going to learn, so I downloaded the game to my iPhone and taught myself to play.

I like the fact that it’s a game of both chance and skill and that the result is fairly unpredictable. Often times I think I’m going to win only to get beaten right at the end. Other times I’m convinced that the way things are going I’m going to lose and debate with myself whether to forfeit the game only to win before I concluded the argument.

I won’t try to teach you the rules and strategies here but the lessons learned are worth airing. You see, I see a parallel to life. Getting a good or a bad start in life doesn’t necessarily dictate the way your life will end up. Sure the circumstances of our birth and early life have an impact on the rest of our lives – more usually on our material circumstances. But perseverance, hard work and the choices we make affect us much more.

I’d like to end up being rich and happy but if I had a choice between the two I’d choose happiness. Now that I’m older I can see clearly that it isn’t the house you live in, the car you drive or the holidays you take that make for happiness. I know plenty of discontent people who score highly on these stakes. What really counts is contentment, relationships and integrity.

The way we live, the choices we make and the ability to persevere through the difficult times are things that make us who we are. It applies to the spiritual realm too. There are loads of verses about this in the Bible. Here’s just one – “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5

When I feel like giving up, running away or just opting out, I remember my games of backgammon.

Every blessing
Marten Holmes
National Director, OAC Ministries

All for one and one for all!

Our pastor resigned yesterday. He’s off to be a chaplain at Wheaton College in Chicago. Wonderful opportunity for him of course, but he’ll be greatly missed.

When you’re 50+ it appears to me that transitions seem to happen faster and faster; even more so in an expat community when some 30% of the congregation changes every year. Pastors come and go, leaders come and go and the church council mutates; the latter fortunately with a core of long-stayers or locals which gives some continuity at least.

However, I have noticed through all the transitions, time after time, that God remains faithful and works through us (and often in spite of us!) to expand His kingdom. He raises up new pastors, leaders and council members to step up to vacant positions for which back at their home church they may have felt excluded or ill-equpped. These steps of faith the incomers need to take invariably lead to greater spiritual maturity which benefits our congregation and, in time, the congregation to which they return or go on to serve.

Praying for our interregnum and transitions (and yours if you’re going through change too), that it would be a time of personal and corporate growth and not decline, and of conscensus and not division. All for one and one for all!

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10-11

Give us your money!

If you happened to be walking along your high street and all of a sudden someone accosted you and said with menace “Give us your money!” I would like to think that you would not be intimidated and your response would be “No!” and you would, out of concern that this might happen to someone else, report the matter.

Are you aware that each and every day in your high street someone else is doing exactly the same thing but they are very subtle in how they approach you? They won’t approach you with menace. They will use more sophisticated methods to lure you. By appealing to human nature they seem to offer something for nothing they even say participating is fun and you can do it with your mates. Of course this is False.

I am of course talking about the Gambling industry. As I write this, over the next 3 days in London a whole host of countries from all around the world are participating in a gaming industry event with the sole purpose of showing off the newest developments to the industry.

This industry does not stop in its ever increasing appetite to take the money out of your pocket and put it into there’s. Don’t be fooled that its anything but that.

We can make a difference in this area and in fact we are called to do so. I encourage you to lift this up to the lord in prayer, he hears those who are crushed in spirit, isolated, lonely and suffering.

There’s No Such Thing As Truth #25objections

There's No Such Thing As Truth

This seems like a good place to start a book that answers the tough questions posed of Christianity. After all, if there is no such thing as truth then Christianity cannot possibly be true in the way that Christians hope it is, and so there’s no point writing a book that tries to support and outline the truth of Christianity, is there?

So, is there no such thing as truth? Or, to put it another way, is the statement, ‘There’s no such thing as truth’ actually…true?

We live in a very post-modern world. A world where radical scepticism is king. The most pure definition of post-modernism is simply: not modernism. However, when we talk about things being ‘post-modern’, we often mean that they reject the idea of absolutes – absolute truth, for example.

And it would be lovely to think that truth is whatever we decide it to be. Indeed, you will hear people say, ‘This is my truth; what’s yours?’ But what if my truth is that your truth can’t possibly be true? What happens then? If my truth is true, then my statement that your truth can’t possibly be true is also true, and so your truth can’t possibly be true. Alternatively, if my truth isn’t true, then it’s not truth at all.

Somebody once said, ‘If someone tells you there’s no such thing as truth, they’re asking you not to believe them, so don’t.’ And here’s the problem with the statement, ‘There’s no such thing as truth’: it’s a self-refuting statement. If the statement is true, then it proves itself false. And if the statement itself is false, then it’s still false.

It would seem that using the idea that there is no absolute truth is just a way of making ourselves feel like the kings of our own lives. But nobody really lives as though truth is so easy to manipulate – it’s all around us. If I told you, in my native English tongue, that ‘I only speak Russian and Turkish’, then there isn’t really any way of that being true. It’s obviously untrue from the moment I start telling you in English.

Every adult who has ever died was born. A giraffe has never played Premiership football. There are no married bachelors.

Lots of things are objectively, absolutely true. And we all know it. Nobody is post-modernist when they are reading the warning label on a bottle of poison.

We live in the world of scepticism. We don’t like to commit to truth claims, because it makes us feel controlled. We want to be free, to be critical thinkers. But to be truly sceptical, you have to be sceptical about your own scepticism. How do we know that scepticism is the best way to view the world? If we’re prepared to accept that we need to be sceptical about our own scepticism, and that the idea of truth is a true on – that there are things out there that can be said to be true – then we can ask the next logical question: what, exactly, is true?


This is the first of a series of excerpts from the forthcoming book from the Demolition Squad, tackling #25objections to the Christian faith.

Seperation

seperation-blogSeparation must be one of hardest things to endure for a husband and wife and family. They have to face situations , through war, being away for work, out of fellowship, divorce, going off to university, hospital stays etc..

We have seen two of our close friends face the hardest situation of death of a partner just before Christmas. Others who have had to make very difficult decisions related to jobs, retirement, education and a calling to progress their careers .
There is no choice with death, but at other times we have to weigh up the choices we make and the consequences separation will bring.

As we see things round about us change we try and look at things in a balanced way., We can keep our minds active, and know we should exercise and have a good diet for our bodies but spiritual things are not always that easy.

The recent events in Paris have highlighted the cultural differences that exist in the world today. Freedom of speech has brought unity of the world leaders marching together instead of separation .

When last did we talk to someone about mediation, prayer, a rhema word, quote from the Bible, or God’s love, in our materialistic world ?.

Trust pray and that we do not lose the Love of God in our lives to help us through separation.

Rev 2:7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Kingsman: The Secret Service (15)

CVM-blog-review-Kingsman

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sofia Boutella

“Manners. Maketh. Man… Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson…”

Full disclosure – I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Millar’s ‘The Secret Service’ since it came out in the classic CLiNT magazine back in 2012 as a comic series. Millar’s comic puts the ‘graphic’ into the title ‘graphic novel’ and Kingsman does have some troubling moral viewpoints that reactionaries like The Guardian’s Jason Ward have picked up on. So it was with nervous anticipation that I went to witness Matthew ‘Kick Ass’ Vaughn’s big screen take on this tale of world saving superspies who are at heart as old school as they come…

Kingsman: The Secret Service is however a total endorphin rush, cheeky, classy & action packed, both a reverent homage to and a street-smart update of the ‘old-school’ James Bond movies. Co-writers Jane Goldman and Vaughn are on top form adapting Millar’s hyper-violent, rousing story of young Gary Unwin (Taron Egerton) – known as ‘Eggsy’ to his pals – who transforms from teenage council estate petty crim to smooth Kingsman agent with the help of the erstwhile Harry Hart (Colin Firth).

The Kingsmen you see are an elite group of agents who operate at the highest levels but with complete discretion. Headed by Arthur (Michael Caine) and taking their names from the Arthurian Legend, including Merlin (Mark Strong) and Lancelot (Jack Davenport), they are the new ‘knights.’ Stylish tailored suits are their armour, guns, gadgets and technology their weapons.

Whilst young tearaway Eggsy is undergoing ‘the most dangerous job interview ever’ – up against rival candidates like the gorgeous Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and others who all herald from privilege backgrounds – a dastardly global threat comes to light in the shape of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).

Can the Kingsmen rise to this challenge that threatens all mankind? Will Eggsy make it to become an agent? It’s delirious fun finding out… Millar’s story is gripping and amusingly self-aware, Jackson’s baddie gets many of the best lines – delivered with an outrageous lisp. In fact all the cast go about the action like their lives depend on it and the manic energy translates to a rip-roaring blast of decidedly non-PC fun.

Valentines’ sidekick bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), whose character was originally a guy in the comic, is superb too – adding to the ‘Bond’ feel by slicing enemies to pieces with the blades she has for legs. But Kingsman is made most by the standout performance of Firth who takes to dealing out violent action as if he’s been doing it all his life. It’s hard to explain just how great it is to see him beating thugs, mowing down enemies and generally out ‘Bonding’ 007 himself – all the while personifying the perfect gentleman spy.

One scene may rankle in particular with extreme fundamentalist ‘Christians’ as they are portrayed as a hate group and dispatched en-mass in a delirium of violence that must push the boundaries of what a ‘15’ rated film can pass. So prepare yourself for lively debate as to the thinking behind this!? Indeed director Matthew Vaughn said “We’ve got an action sequence in a church which is going to cause a huge reaction. I’ll probably end up with a Christian fatwa on me!?”

So those who like their spy thrills sedate and high brow, or who are adverse to sweary dialogue might not go for Kingsman as much but for anyone who’s ever enjoyed an action film, you should make seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service an absolute must – as this just might be film of the year!

Thinking material:

There is much to admire here in the midst of the violence and crazily overly the top moral vacuum – at the core is a warm beating heart of gentlemanly valour and noble ambition to save mankind. You won’t find much by way of Christ like analogy or positive spiritual enlightenment but there is a fantastic tale of how a young man on the wrong path can fulfill a destiny greater than that his situation in life has set him upon.

If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film and felt roused to make a stand for good, to face down deranged megalomaniacs and fight what’s right – be it through violence or sheer daring courage… I’d say that this is a primal inspiration that harks from an intimate connection to the larger purpose that can be traced through historical Christian thinking about valour. It was Thomas Aquinas the philosopher theologian who argued that courage / valour is a virtue that could only be exemplified with the presence of the Christian additional virtues of faith hope and love. True courage in Christianity has to be tempered through love and charity – only then can we call the natural virtue of ‘courage’ a Christian virtue.

So Kingsman might be an adrenalin thrill ride / a testosterone drench alternate ‘My Fair Lady’ rather than anything more – but there are always wider perspectives to think about if you have the time and inclination. And at the very least I have a feeling you’ll want to go and upgrade your suit after seeing these gentlemen spies in action.

CVM Rating: **** 4 out of 5 stars (5/5 if you aren’t easily offended)

Related Films: Kick Ass, earlier James Bond films – especially ‘Moonraker’, Mission Impossible

American Sniper (15)

CVM_reviews_sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed, Elise Robertson, Keir O’Donnell, Marnette Patterson, Jake McDorman

There are 3 types of people in this world. Sheep, wolf and sheepdogs.
If hatred appeared at the door of a sheep they would not know how to protect themselves.
The predators use violence to prey on the weak. They are wolves.
Then there are those blessed with talent and aggression to protect the flock.
They are a rare breed, they are sheepdogs…

We do not raise sheep in this family.”

Hoorah for American Sniper – a powerful autobiographical big screen account of Chris Kyle who became a legend during his four Navy SEAL tours in Iraq where he was credited with over 160 kills. Director Eastwood certainly knows a thing or two about depicting (and playing) alpha males and here he gives admirable time not just to the intense battle situations but also to the formative experiences and the costs on Kyle and his family in the aftermath.

From the very first moment American Sniper grips and induces a state of shock and awe as the bullets fly but more than that, it skillfully makes you care about the lives of those whose experiences we are sharing. By ‘humanizing’ the soldiers on the front line and showing their lives outside of the war where they have families and day-to-day issues to deal with, the filmmakers manage to really put the viewers into the patriotic sandy boots of the US soldiers.

This is impressive cinematic warfare writ large, the plot looks beyond the politics, much like last year’s frenetic Lone Survivor mixed with The Hurt Locker. Sure the lives and experiences of men of war has been done many times but American Sniper is a class act, thanks in no small part to the incredible performance of Bradley Cooper in the lead role. Nominated for ‘Best Film’ and Cooper for ‘Best Actor’ at this year’s Oscars – this is a film that demands to be seen – whatever your thoughts and feelings about the Iraq war.

The climax sees Kyle going head to head with a fearful Syrian enemy sniper who is a worthy nemesis as he crosses paths with the US sniper at several points and leaves dead marines in his wake – the showdown is almost unbearably tense.

American Sniper was made in consultation with Kyle’s wife and she is portrayed with real heart by Sienna Miller who is a beating heart behind the unstoppable killing machine of her husband.

If you see one war film this year, American Sniper should be your choice, this is a vivid, hard hitting cinematic experience that deserves a wide audience.

Thinking material:

What kind of man are you? Are you a sheep, meek and trusting and wholly at the mercy of those who might resort to violence or menace? Or perhaps in your heart you know that you side more with the wolves, bullying, controlling or threatening your way through life – even if not resorting to actual physical violence. But maybe you are kindred with the sheepdogs – a man who will stand up for or fight to protect those who cannot for themselves.

Most of us are probably a little of each in different situations but it is worth thinking about and looking at your heart. Being willing and able to stand for what is ‘right’ can be hard, especially when there is potential person cost but at the centre of the Christian faith – this is a principal that those who confess to have a faith should strive to live for.

American Sniper has a tragic side, there are no guarantees that things will turn out OK however much we align ourselves with what we believe is ‘right’. I recommend seeing this film with some friends as it is worth discussing, Chris Kyle will be remembered as a legend by the men of the US Armed Forces but Iraqi insurgents dubbed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and put a massive bounty on his head. Every action and ideal lived for can have huge repercussions on those who do not agree, conflict is a part of life – and we potentially need the ‘sheepdogs’ to stand against injustice and oppression more then ever. Will you step up to the challenge?

CVM Rating: **** 4 out of 5 stars

Related Films: The Hurt Locker, Fury, Lone Survivor, Saving Private Ryan

Check out our Movie study resource: ‘Cinemania’ here… 

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