Watching Daily At Wisdom's Gates

A Yorkshireman's take on life, death, and eternity

Month: Jan, 2015

John 8:1-11

“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.””

Controversial subject for this post. Although Palestine was under the rule of the morally lax Roman Empire, the Jewish people still claimed allegiance to the Law of the Lord, given to Moses in the Sinai wilderness. Jesus was a Teacher of the Law who called people to follow Him and His demanding application of the law: where he says even wanting to commit adultery is to break the seventh commandment of the 10 commandments. So when the Pharisees caught a woman in adultery, they decided to use her to trap Jesus. The Law might demand death for adultery, but the Romans held the authority to put people to death. So would Jesus side with the Law, or the Romans?

Strangely, rather than answer, he simply wrote in the dusty ground. We’re not told what he wrote, but the finger of God that wrote on the stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai could quite easily stoop down to the dust of the earth to bring us back to Himself. Apparently the Pharisees ignored Him because they kept on with their questioning. So He said “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”. Of course, only God is without sin. Jesus continued writing. And the Pharisees went away, the elders first, until only Jesus was left: with the woman still standing there. Only God has the right to kill, and Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who became man asked if any man condemned her. No. So neither did the Son of Man, commanding her to leave her life of sin.

It’s a powerful story, but perhaps in the 21st Century West it seems distant, primitive, and unsavoury. But what Jesus did that morning was to prevent an honour killing. The woman deserved death. Whoever the man was deserved death. Any unborn child they may have had would have died too. And with very few words, Jesus saved the day. He’s the only one named in the story. We don’t know what happened to the other people, apart from the fact that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (the religious people) would eventually persuade the Romans to put Jesus to death. But on that morning, no-one was going to die for anyone’s sins. And when Jesus died he died for the sins of the world: for all who will believe in Him.

The Three Trees

I love writing poetry!

This is a poem I wrote with my friend Luke Sheldrake after a talk at our church by Malcolm Macgregor:

The Three Trees

There once was a garden where God walked with man,
who knew Him and loved Him, God told him His plan:
“Go tend to my garden, be fruitful and free,
eat all it produces except that one tree-
the tree of the knowledge of evil and good:
Don’t taste of its poison, trust Me as you should.”

But man in his folly, his shame and his pride,
He ate of the fruit and he spiritually died.
Now we as his children, we share in his sin,
walking in the darkness, with hatred within.

But God in His mercy, He made us a plan,
to take away our curse by becoming man-
Christ took our curse on Him and died on a tree,
He gave of His lifeblood to set sinners free.
By trusting in Jesus we walk through the door,
His Spirit lives in us, we’re orphans no more.

Christ calls those who love Him to take up their cross,
we deny ourselves and count our gain as loss.
Before we’re glorified we must suffer first,
but to deny our Lord, we would then be cursed.

So now we look forward to glory to come,
no longer in darkness, in light of the Son,
walking by the river with water of life,
no longer rejected but now God’s own wife
enjoys the tree of life with leaves of healing
for the nations of God, its sweet fruit tasting.

The tree of the knowledge only made us cursed;
the tree of the Lord’s cross now means that we’re blessed;
the tree of life to come, we’ll eat with our Lord,
assured by His Spirit and His faithful Word.

So take up your cross now and follow Jesus,
by His death and the tree He has now freed us
from the curse we deserve because of our sin,
from shame now to glory we are welcomed in.

CS Lewis Biography: Book Review

So Alistair Mcgrath has written a biography of CS Lewis: the “Eccentric Genius” and “Reluctant Prophet”, who wrote lots of excellent, and readable books in the mid 20th Century. I enjoyed the Narnia books as a kid, and have read a few of his other books since (dad’s got quite a few of them).

But pretty much all I knew of Lewis was that he was a Christian who wrote books, was an Oxfordian academic, and was mates with Tolkien (of LOTR fame). I highly recommend Mcgrath’s biography as an introduction to the man behind the magical myths of the Chronicles of Narnia!

I actually had the priviledge of hearing Mcgrath as a guest lecturer at my uni several years ago, where he gently and convincingly debunked his then colleague Dawkin’s pop Antitheism. Mcgrath is now at some London uni but continues to write good stuff (I’ve read one or two of his other books).

I was guessing Lewis was going to be an average bloke with a vivid imagination. Turns out he was a genuinely eccentric man, and often in morally dubious circumstances. After an idyllic childhood in Northern Ireland, his dad sent him off to English boarding schools after his mother’s death, and he hated it. Mcgrath, himself an Irishman exiled in England stresses that although Lewis is accused by some of “sacrificing his Irishness on the altar of an English education”, Lewis Jr. never chose that path, and almost always holidayed back over the Irish Sea.

As it turned out, Lewis was a very bright boy who got into Oxford just as World War 1 was breaking out. It wasn’t the best of timing and he soon got shipped out to the trenches of Northern France. Surprisingly, especially for the day in which he lived, Lewis had become an atheist by this point, embittered by his mother’s death, his (perceived) abandonment by his father to the hell of English boarding schools, and now the horrors of war, where he himself was injured and his best friend was killed. His friend’s mum had become a surrogate mother, but also, unhelpfully, his lover in a clandestine relationship that would have scandalised the morally straight laced England of the time.

Seeking to hide this relationship from his father further soured that relationship, and in his autobiography he states the fact that they were never properly reconciled as one of his deepest regrets in his life, that he dishonoured his father in such a deceitful, cruel way.

But in his misery, Lewis, now an Oxford academic, as he spoke to theistic colleagues like Tolkien and spent time in the misty green Mountains of Mourne in his homeland, Lewis was unexpectedly “Surprised by Joy”. He realised that his bitter, miserable atheism was eating at him and his relationships like a cancer, and so became “the most reluctant convert” to Jesus Christ in his estimation. I really related to that: although I was an 8 year old kid when I became a Christian, I was surprised by how simple it is to be reconciled to God- no divine voice out of the clouds or angelic choirs in my hearing, just tears of relief and joy that my sins were dealt with.

Of course Lewis’ life circumstances didn’t change overnight but to cut a long story short he basically became the voice of moral backbone and fortitude for an embattled Britain in WW2 in some BBC radio lectures that became his classic Mere Christianity. Then of course there are the wonderful Narnia books that point to the God of Wonders beyond our Galaxy.

Lewis’ partner died and he eventually married an eccentric American (appropriately named Joy!). And he leaves a legacy of books which are all worth reading- start in Narnia if you haven’t already!

The Hobbit Film Review

I’ve always loved the Hobbit. Dad read the book to us when we visited Nana maybe as long as 20 years ago and I loved it! I can still remember the chapter where Bilbo and Gollum have the riddle competition- me and my brothers tried to guess the answers before dad read on but I think he had to give us them. Obviously with it being just one book I didn’t like the fact they made three films out of it, but the other two were enjoyable so I went on Christmas Eve to see this one.

The problem with the last Lord of the Rings Film is that it was mostly a mindlessly epic battle of orcs getting their heads chopped off. I wondered whether this film with it’s Battle of the Five Armies was going to be similarly CGI intense and character light. Thankfully it was alright. The film picks up the story with Thorin Oakinshield and his merry band of dwarves (and Bilbo) barricading themselves in the Lonely Mountain whilst the Smaug the dragon goes and destroys the town below. I think they maybe overdid the scenes with Thorin admiring the riches that would have turned him into a Gollum whilst people were getting burnt by Smaug. But we’ll let Bilbo off not giving him the Oakinshield because that wouldn’t have helped at all, he might have turned into a dragon himself or something.

The town of men was a more likeable place- especially Bard the random Welsh bloke who saves all his English neighbours from destruction- apart from the boss of the town who goes down with the dragon into the Loch. Thorin gets even more annoying when he tries to lock the human refugees out of the Dwarf mountain to starve or get killed by orcs. Thankfully the elves come and save the day.

To be honest, at this point I dozed off, not because it was boring, but because I was shattered. I don’t think I missed much because the next thing I knew an orc army had turned up and the Battle of the Five Armies began. I’m glad to say that as far as battles go, this was better that the LOTR one. Instead of CGI overkill, there was hand to hand combat between individual characters. It was a bit computer gamey, but better than generalised carnage. So Legolas had a run in with some orc commander, Kili and the elf woman got the worst of some goblin mercenary, and Bilbo got skewered by some genetically modified creature or other.

It  got a bit ridiculous with Legolas defying gravity and jumping up a falling brick staircase, and Thorin managing to kill a beast several times his height, but it was entertaining, and I found myself rooting for the good characters to win, which they did eventually, thanks to the eagles. The eagles! It’s always the eagles that save the day in Tolkien novels: just when all is lost the eagles turn up and it’s all okay again!

I got dad a biography of CS Lewis for Christmas (which I read myself), and apparently Tolkien couldn’t work out how to end The Hobbit so Lewis gave him the idea (LOTR? :D). So maybe Lewis takes the blame for the eagles swooping in and saving the day!

For Bilbo however, not even the eagles could save his property from his Hobbitonian neighbours who’d assumed he was dead and were selling off his stuff. Thankfully he managed to clarify the situation and sort out Bag End ready for a long retirement to his 111th birthday and Frodo’s Mordorian LOTR adventure.

So yeah it was an alright film, and definitely worth watching in the cinema rather than the small screen, but I still prefer the book: read it!

The miracle of life

I’ve heard life described as a miracle. I’ve also heard it described as an accident. But I’ll stick with the miracle. In the words of The Streets:

“Since the outset of time
Every single one of your ancestors survived
Every single person on your mum and dad’s sides
Successfully looked after and passed onto you life
What are the chances of that like
It comes to me once in a while
And every where I tell folk
It gets the best smile”

Ever since Adam woke up and met Eve, ever since Noah built his wife a boat and so on down the generations, God has looked after our ancestors and preserved our lives so that we’re here today. Amazing! We could have been swept away in a flood or natural disaster, we could have been violently killed by abortion or war, we could have died of some disease or famine, and yet here we are today. I often feel miserable about my life, but I’ve no excuse for being a misery guts: I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, and I’m sure you do too.

I was thinking about life as a miracle, because even with designer babies and stuff, the actually process of becoming alive is relatively straightforward. I’m not sure of the dictionary definition of “miracle”, but I’m sure it’s “something out of the ordinary”. Well babies are born all the time: surely that doesn’t count? And to be honest, although I could wax eloquent about the wonderful uniqueness of each little child, I don’t know if I could describe my life as miraculous just for the fact I live. I know when we’re babies our mums and their friends like to dote over us, but at that stage all we can do is cry, feed, sleep, poo and wee, so I’m not sure that counts!

But life is a wonderful thing: family, friends, neighbours, languages, cultures, music, countryside, animals, plants, food… That we can enjoy all these things is a great blessing, but a miracle? I think this is where I start to see the miracle. I don’t have some kind of divine right, or entitlement to life. I don’t deserve any good thing from God, never mind the enjoyment I get everyday, usually in the simplest of things. That a good God would give good gifts to a bad man like me is a miracle, and this fact fills me with wonder, love, and praise.

Jesus’ stepbrother James wrote these amazing words:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

I can see that life is a miracle: but even more astounding is that I have been born again by God! It sounds so weird- how can a full grown man be born again? But although we’re all physically born, we’re all born spiritually dead (thanks to Adam and Eve, and that snake the devil), so we need God to make us truly alive so that we can be recreated by him. Yes, we still face a physical death some time, but in Jesus and his rising again from the dead, we too can know victory over death, and can enter the courts of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to know him and enjoy him forever.

Life is a miracle. Eternal life is a greater miracle yet. And although I don’t make new year’s resolutions, if I did it would be something like “moan less and be more happy”! You can ask me next year if I succeeded God willing 🙂