Agile Approach to Prayer

At work, I’ve been moved onto a new project. This uses an Agile approach, a technique for managing the development of software and systems.

One of the components of this methodology that I’m rather fond of is the daily scrum meetings. These are limited to 15 minutes and each person on the project answers the following questions:
– What did you do yesterday?
– What are you going to do today?
– Are there any blockers?

I’ve found this immenseley helpful to stay focussed. It maintains accountability between the project leader and those doing the work, keeping the relationship active. It also reminds me at the start of the day what my focus should be.

I’ve started to I’m trying to apply this to my prayer life. The aim is to build consistency, transparency and to encourage focus. I don’t want it to be the only praying I do, but to be a framework for the relationship. I’m using it to remind me what I want to achieve at the start of each day, as a remedy to getting lost in the busyness of life.

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Review: Noah

Before I get to my review, I think it is best to add some context. As you can see from my previous posts, I’m a guy who likes the story of Noah. Genesis is without doubt my favourite book in the Bible and Noah is one of my favourite stories in that. It’s very short I know, but it has such an epic scope. I have had thoughts about adapting it as a science fiction film myself, with the ark being a spaceship and our planet being completely destroyed.

When it was announced that there was to be a film based on the character, naturally I was curious. I followed production eagerly, fully aware that the man creating it was not a christian. His first comments on the news was that he saw Noah as a great environmentalist, which I couldn’t quite understand. Having seen it, I now get his point (and agree with it), but from the very start I knew that this was going to be someone’s reaction to Noah, not a traditional adaptation. I was still curious though, and wanted to see what makes someone who questions the Bible want to make a film about it. I kept updated with news, laughed when filming was halted by flooding and was wowed by the first trailer.

When it eventually came out (I heard of it being an option back in 2007) I was too busy to see it immediately. I therefore saw the reviews before I got to see it myself. To put it simply, they are mixed. Some love it, singing its praising for acting, scope and bold scriptwriting, while others criticised all of those things and more. Christians too were divided on what they thought of it, with some praising it, others condemning it as evil. I asked my friends on facebook, and all were negative, some of whom hadn’t even seen it. I’ve made that mistake before (see Sucker Punch here) but in short, the reactions were overwhelmingly hostile.

There have been a lot of claims that this film is unbiblical. That is a big claim, especially since the bible passage is very short. For example, in the film fallen angels help Noah build the ark.  This is not mentioned in the Bible at all, so does that make it unbiblical? I suppose it depends on your definition on what that word means. It is as unbiblical as dinosaurs are I guess, which in my opinion is not at all; they have just been left out for some reason.

After doing more research, I have found out that this is following the Jewish tradition of midrash, where they use their imaginations to fill in the blanks from stories in scripture. This is not done to set the record straight on what actually happened but to give flesh to the bones provided and see what holds up in context of the details we know.

In this light, I think the film makes a lot more sense. The director has a strong emotional resonance with the story, there is no doubt about that. He wants more than the Bible says and has spent years imagining what those look like. Coming from a Jewish background, now being an atheist, his view is not fully formed, but it has a lot of interesting questions. This is what frame of mind you should see it in. This is a film of one man’s reactions to the story which has been told as a sweet story to children in churches but when thought about as an adult has a lot more depth than simply getting all the animals onto a boat.

With the parts he has imagined, there are details which contradict the Bible but I believe the film’s core holds true to the story. Aronofsky employed someone to ensure that he did just that. The contradictions to the text are always used to illustrate a point, either about humanity or about God. The story speaks of judgement and mercy, two things that are rarely covered by Hollywood.

So what did I think of it? In short, I loved it. It was simply superb and while I can see people’s objections, I thought that it was excellent filmmaking and a must watch. The acting is for the most part very good with each character coming across as fully formed, complex and believable. The story is grand in scope and mainly serves to highlight the theological ideas and questions that Aronofsky has.

What I particularly loved about it was that Noah was a real person. He has very big character flaws, something which many people have found difficult. All that we know about Noah from the Bible is that he was a man of faith, deemed righteous among his generation. This film focuses on the first part, showing a man who did amazing things without ever seeing clearly. The latter is harder to explain, as he most definitely sins. This is shown in the Bible though, when he gets drunk and naked in Genesis 9. This is shown in the closing moments of the film and it’s clear that the director has extrapolated backwards to try and explain why Noah would have turned to drink after leaving the ark.

I know that some people fear that because Noah is a more unconventional film it will turn people away from God or confuse them. I would disagree for several reasons. At the core, it is the same God being presented and I truly believe that only a few details have been changed. Secondly, this film is not intended to replace the Bible; only that is the word of God. Also, I believe that God can use a negative reaction, one of repulsion, to the parts which are not of Him to drive people away from what is wrong and closer to Him. And finally, I think that people with questions are likely to ask people about them and that conversation will have greater impact than a blockbuster ever could.

I know of another christian film released at the same time, the Son of God, an adaptation of the Bible television series for cinematic release. I’ve heard nobody talk about this, know nobody who’s seen it and only one person, a christian, who wanted to. That I imagine would most definitely falls into the safe conservative film category, something Noah would not do. This is a risky, controversial film that definitely leads to a reaction. It does not present a God that most people know, but shows them another side to the God called Creator.

I would highly recommend this film.  It is worthwhile film making that made me spend 2 hours engaging with big questions and with God. A film studio have never spent as much (a reported $125 million) on adapting a biblical story before. Even though the director was not a christian, there would have been many working on it, praying for it and hoping that this would be a success.

Please, if nothing else, give it a chance. Don’t write it off without having seen it; God can work miracles. If you’d like to watch it and live in the UK, you can currently get a 2 for 1 offer all this week if enter the code NOAH at this website and is accepted at most major cinema chains.

 

A parable rewritten

A homeless man was lying in the road. He’d got in a serious mess and was now begging not for change but for help.

The first person to walk by ignored him. They thought to themselves, “what can I do to help? He probably deserves it anyway, after all, he made the choice to turn to alcohol, cigarettes or illegal drugs.”

The second person to walk by offers to buy him something to eat. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The third person to walk by gives him enough money to stay in a night shelter. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The fourth person to walk by offers to take him home where he can have a hot meal and sleep on the couch for the night. The homeless man accepts but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The fifth person to walk by advises him to join a back to work program. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. He follows the steps for a while, but he slips back into old habits and is kicked off the course for bad behaviour. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The last person to walk by sits down beside him. They say they’re here to love him and will stay with him . The man smiles and feels at home.

Easter

Today is Easter Sunday, probably the most significant day in the Christian calendar. Friday saw us remember the death of Jesus Christ, an event which only has significance because 3 days later he rose from the grave. Unlike Lazarus though, his resurrection took place to ensure salvation for all those who would follow him by redeeming them of their sins.

I have been pondering on what I think about Jesus and this year rather than confident self assured cliches (which are only so cliche because they are simple, catchy and poetic ways to describe something so very vast) I find a sort of uncertainty. I don’t like the word uncertainty, I’m not sure it’s the right word, but for now it will have to do. I will explain what I mean.

Many things have been said about Jesus and about what kind of person he was. He was loving, he was a healer, a teacher and cared deeply for the poor. All of these are true, but only when taken together. To say Jesus loved the poor without mentioning the rest ignores the fact that he did other things. He spent a lot of time speaking in the synagogue ignoring the beggars outside and as Judas rightly said, the perfume which Mary poured on His feet could well have been sold to raise money for the poor.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that Jesus didn’t care for the poor or that Judas was right. Heaven forbid that I should be one to tell Jesus what to do.

What I am saying is that all our minds have filters and interpret these things differently. There are certain aspects I identify quite strongly with, those things which are on my heart too. These can, if I’m not careful, colour my understanding of the other parts of His nature and lead to a skewed view.

The scary realisation I have come to, which is remarkably simple, is that Jesus was a person. Like any of us, he was not just one thing, but he was a complicated mix of feelings, personality, timing and genetics. Like, for example, your mum, he is not easy to sum up but someone that you only understand by getting to know them. Simply put, Jesus is far more than the adjectives which describe Him and to try to understand Him by learning these adjectives is lunacy.

For example, Jesus is loving. This I believe is true, but what does it actually mean? Euthanasia, vengeance killings and allowing someone to do whatever they want can all be defined as loving depending on how you personally define it. Surely if He is my God, shouldn’t I be changing my definition of loving to fit Him?

I think the thing I’ve learnt this Easter is that the Jesus in my head is purely that, an idea in my mind. It must be held loosely, else the gaps, mistakes and misgivings I’ve inevitably made will block out the truth.

The real deal is out there though and like any other person, the only way I am going to get to know them is by spending time together. Hearing other people’s stories of Him are all well and good, but it’s no substitute for meeting face to face. How blessed am I that this is possible? Praise God!!

Hear the sound

It starts as a whisper. It didn’t come suddenly, breaking the silence before, but it was soft, as if it had always been there.

Then I hear a heartbeat. It’s faster than my own; scared of something unseen. Another joins it, this one slower. It sounds weak and I don’t hold out much hope for the owner. More join these two, all at different paces, until I hear the heart cry of the whole earth. Then voices rise up; clamouring, shouting, screaming and crying.

Up above it all, I hear God shed a tear for His people’s pain.

Someone stands to their feet. They are in sharp focus now and I hear the sound of clothing being ruffled. There is a metal clanking and I recognise it as armour being taken up. A blade is unsheathed and I hear it being sharpened.

Again, more sounds come into focus. The soldier is not alone and is joined by many others getting ready. There is a clatter as everyone gets ready at his own pace. Some are quite frantic, others calm and measured in their preparations.

Then a singular drum is beaten. The preparation stops and the soldiers rush into position and fall still. They are quiet, only the background groan of the world can be made out.

The drum is hit again and the people start to march. There is a repetitive undulation which shows they are now working together in perfect time. The church is rising.

Above them, a crowd of heavenly beings cheer. Most are shouting encouragements to keep going because they see what is coming. A seldom few are barking out orders from above. If the army is listening, they’ll know what to do.

A swooshing sound fills the air. Thousands and thousands of fiery darts are flying towards the army. They come to a stop and I’m relieved to hear the sound of shields bearing the brunt. They’re not still for long though and I hear more shields being raised as they start moving again. The din is now like a thunderstorm on a tin roof; I can only assume they are in a Tortoise formation.

This carries on for a while before combat breaks out and the noise is chaotic. There is roaring, gasping, yelping and the sounds of war. It’s hard to isolate any one note; the battle is all encompassing.

After a time though, this too gets drowned out, but now with jubilation. The army has gained ground and the enemy flees, wailing in fear. The army cheer and thank God for their victory.

The cry of the earth is brought back into the fore, but the sound is changing here too. I hear chains falling to the ground and the sound of sadness has stopped. There are many reactions, to many different things, but all over the world, victory is at hand. Some say I am healed others that I am free.

Faintly in the background is the sound of rushing waters.

In heaven above there is singing and music rejoicing over those who have been released. Harps, trumpets and various other instruments blare out a song of praise. The voices sing in a language I don’t speak, but the message is clear all the same. They speak of victory and triumph, peace and love, and of being accepted and fully known.

God says, “Come to me friends and have rest.”

———————————————————————–

My church is about to release their first album, Hear the Sound. It’s about listening to God and trying to make Him the focus of our lives.

When I hear that phrase, this is what my mind eye pictures. I’m sharing this because it makes me love Him more and I long to give Him praise.

If you would like to find out more and possibly pre-order a copy, you can go to http://hearthesound.com/

Bumblebees and Prospectors

Recently [EDIT: It was when I started writing this, now it’s over a month ago] I was pointed to this blog about excitement in church, and it really is quite a good read. It talks about managing expectations and what we should be searching for. I found it thought provoking and while this post was definitely provoked by that, it’s not written as a response.

The take-home message for me from the article was that we should come to church expectant and hoping for one thing from God each time. We may have to fight to hold on to that approach, as we sometimes have to search hard for that one thing, but it’s worth it.

It was the idea of focus and passion that stuck me. What I came up with a model for how we seek pleasure, or more accurately two.

The first approach is that of the bumblebee. The person flits from one thing to another, not staying long at any single flower but instead enjoys the whole garden. Each bloom is seen as a fuelling station and the journey from plant to plant allows an adventure to begin.

The second is that of the prospector. He decides to take interest in an idea and then searches there for something to love. If he picks the wrong location, his search will be fruitless but if he finds the right place he’ll have untold riches. So he makes his choice and there he stays, sometimes for years, digging for more and more.

Now this model has flaws and limitations, as do all. Perhaps model is the wrong word, it’s more like a scale and we all fit somewhere between the two. Whichever works for you, I think it gives some quite useful insights.

  • The quantity of fruit versus the value of the fruit.
    The prospector has to wait until his choice yields results. When it does, if it does, the amount is tiny compared to his body size but it is very precious. The bumblebee gets a lot of nectar, and all for very little personal cost or risk.
  • The nature of the fruit.
    The bumblebee gets nectar to feed itself but the prospector cannot eat what he finds. He has to give it away, to someone else who does need it and in this giving his needs are met.
  • The risk
    While the bumblebee is living easy, the prospector has all his eggs in one basket. One is an all inclusive package, the other is an all encompassing lifestyle.
  • The two different approaches to life they both have.
    I imagine the bumblebee as a happy animal, flying carefree through the world. It sees the world as bright, full of colour and opportunity. I don’t see the bumblebee as a creature that thinks of others and if it does, I imagine it would believe it couldn’t make a difference.
    The person who is like a bumblebee will be exciting to be around, as they have lots to say and a varied amount of things to talk about. They don’t know any of them in depth though and rarely offer an insight that can change your world.

    The old fashioned gold digger though I see very differently. The stereotype is an old man with a toothless grin and worn out clothes, who probably lives alone. Whether that’s true or not, they work hard at their physical labour and some days get little thanks. I imagine they would not see life as quite a joyous free-for all as the bumblebee does, but neither is he miserable. If he were, he’d give up, but to keep going he sees some far off reward.

Those whose passion is like the prospector will only have one topic of conversation they want to be involved in. Any other themes that are being talked about, they find a way to work it back to their passion. For those who have the same interest, this person is a leader, but others perceive him as a bore. The bees see him as blinkered, as a kook who’s missing out on what life has to offer.

This is sort of a thought experiment really, but the more I ponder it (which I have been doing for months, sorry it took so long to get my thoughts together) the more I feel that as Christians we are called to be prospectors, digging for revelations of God. He’s asking us to stop choosing to run our own lives and give it all up for Him.

This analogy can also be used for how we seek wisdom and knowledge of value. In this, I think the Bible is very clear that the approach of the bumblebee (which I believe is a natural instinctive one the flesh wants to follow) is wrong.

Proverbs 2:2-5 (NASB)

Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the Lord
And discover the knowledge of God.

I’ve just come out of a season where as a small group we have been focusing on becoming more passionate about God. We listened to a song where the rapper said he was more excited about Genesis 1 than the next Hollywood release. I want to feel that too, and although I’ve changed, I’m not a single minded dedicated follower of Jesus. My interest in cinema has lessened, certainly for the blockbusters, but the more low key ones I still get excited about. Argo looks fun, I wanted to see Looper and Coriolanus is definitely on my Christmas list.

There are others though that I’m only interested in because of how they relate to Christ. Noah is going to be a massive event picture, as it has an A-list character and award winning director so I’m looking forward to that. I’m also keen to promote and see Twelve Years a Slave, which could be used for raising awareness of modern slavery, something we as Christians should be fixing.

One of the major failures with this model though is that Jesus is a person, so to pursue Him doesn’t quite look the same as digging for gold. If I go to these films, I could be doing it for Him, but also be interested in them being good films.

To extend the model then, we need to understand what following God looks like, and that is why studying Jesus’ small time on earth is so vital, as He managed that perfectly. One of the things I know is that we have to develop the heart of God. This means changing our desires, our passions to be His; to cry over what he mourns, to rejoice in what He sees as worthy of praise.

In conclusion then, I think we should make God our focus, and in doing so, become focused on other things too. On that logical tongue twister, I think I’ll leave you to your thoughts. I know I’ve just sprayed mine at you but I hope it helps you to come up with new ones of your own. Hopefully, you’ll then act on them and not just leave it as a mind game 🙂