Batman the dark knight rises

I’ve been a fan of the previous two outings in this trilogy of Batman films and I’ve been looking forward to seeing what Christopher Nolan would do to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. I wasn’t disappointed. The Dark Knight Rises is a great mixture of character development and stirring action. Bruce Wayne is struggling with his identity and when Batman does finally return there is a real sense of excitement. Perhaps I’m predisposed to look for satisfying deliverance models but it is really moving to watch a hero who is willing to give it all for the people he loves. Parallels to Jesus are obvious (John 10:11).

Bane is an engaging baddy although probably not as disturbing as Heath Ledger’s Joker.

I don’t want to spoil the film for those who want to see it by saying more but I would certainly recommend the IMAX experience if you are going. If you liked Batman Begins and The Dark Knight you will enjoy this one.
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Gunning for God

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I’ve just finished one of the best books on apologetics I’ve read in a little while. “Gunning for God” is John Lennox’s response to some of the arguments put forward by the “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins. I have no doubt that some will find the book utterly unconvincing but to my mind the arguments are both logical and compelling.
What is particularly welcome is not only a good exposing of poor arguments but also an excellent explanation of the core issues of the gospel. All of this is done with a calm tone which is a pleasure to read.

A few insights I picked up as I read through:

True atheism not only has no answer to the problem of evil and suffering it also has no hope. It robs us of what the gospel gives us in suffering.

Studies conducted by experts in the field show that religion rather than harming has massive benefits for those who follow it.

Atheism logically leads to a philosophical position that is truly awful: no good or evil.

I was left with the impression that Richard Dawkins’ materialism makes him look like a goldfish swimming around in his bowl shouting “there is nothing outside, there is nothing outside”

The last chapter of the book ends with a wonderful little section worth quoting in full.

As this book comes to its conclusion I should like to point out that Dawkins gives the game away in the Dedication at very beginning of his book The God Delusion. He cites Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame): “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” Some may think that Dawkins does a great job of getting rid of the fairies; although it must be said that most of us have never believed in them anyway – and if we did we soon grew out of it. But when he sees the beauty of a garden, does Dawkins really believe that there is no gardener? Will he hold that its sublime beauty has come about from raw nature by pure chance? Of course not – for gardens are distinguished from raw nature precisely by the operation of intelligence. And that is just the point. Dawkins has a deserved reputation for describing, in enviable prose, the breathtaking beauty of the garden that is this universe. I find it incomprehensible and rather sad that he presents us with such an obviously false set of alternatives: the garden on its own, or the garden plus fairies. Real gardens do not produce themselves: they have gardeners and owners. Similarly with the universe: it did not generate itself. It has a creator – and an owner.

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Simply Praying Simply

For years I have found the acrostic ACTS helpful in praying:

  • A – Adoration
  • C – Confession
  • T – Thanksgiving
  • S – Supplication

I was taught it when I was young and it’s stuck with me as a sensible and balanced way to pray. But looking at it now I wonder if it’s a little bit too complicated. How do you teach someone to pray without it sounding like an exercise in advanced theology? Is it right to make it more complicated than it needs to be in order to simply make an acroymn work?

Charlotte, one of our young people here at the church mentioned that the way she was taught to pray was to use “teaspoon”. When she said that I was rather baffled at what she meant but she explained it and it makes great sense and as a bonus is beautifully simple:

Teaspoon – Tsp

  • T – Thank you
  • S – Sorry
  • P – Please

Thank you, sorry, please works very well. As long as the thank you includes a liberal helping of “thank you Jesus for who you are” then it keeps the whole idea manageable and not too daunting for people who are just learning how to pray. One of the great encouragements of this last year has been seeing and hearing people learning to pray and what a privilege to point them to someone who not only loves to hear them but can actually do something about those prayers.

“Prayer is where the action is.” John Wesley
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A Monster in Paris

What do you do on cold afternoon in Bury St Edmunds when you’ve exhausted the English Heritage sites and the children are fed up with walking? We decided that the cinema would be a useful distraction for a couple of hours so we parked up and wandered in to see what was on offer: The Muppets Movie or A Monster in Paris. It was hardly inspiring but driven by Calvin’s desire for something with monsters in it we settled for the latter.

I’m not going to spoil the film by revealing the twists but it starts as a film about a couple of unlikely heroes delivering bags of something to a scientist who is working on some fairly strange potions in a large indoor forest. The film is slow to begin with and I have to say I was struggling to stay engaged. There is some friendly Parisian banter, a bit of wild car driving, some humourous stuff with a monkey, some romance, a bit of drama with an escaped monster and generally a strange feeling that it is going nowhere in particular.

And then…

And then everything changes. From thinking it was a children’s romantic comedy then to thinking it was a sort of mild horror it all switches to something completely different. I have to say that it was one of those moments where you are really taken aback and shake your head in wonder. Looking along the row I saw nearly everyone sit up straight and take a renewed interest in things. After this change things move along much better and it became a very engaging film.

The genre change and the surprise at the change reminded me of how often people perceive Christianity to be one thing and when they actually hear the good news properly they are often bowled over by how extraordinary it is. For me, one of the most exciting things is seeing the change in people as they start to see that what Jesus is all about is a million miles removed from how they perceive Christianity and religion in general.

I think the film is worth a watch and if you avoid reading any plot spoilers you may well enjoy it much more.

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Spurgeon’s Encouraging Ministry

I’ve often thought, as I’ve read through Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” book that he takes great care to bring as much encouragement to Christians as possible. It may be that the compiler or M&E picked particularly encouraging quotes from Spurgeon or it may be that it is a true reflection of the kind of ministry that Spurgeon had. Either way it is no surprise to me that M&E has been and remains a classic.

Take for instance the following from a couple of days ago:

 

 

“I will help thee, saith the Lord.”
Isaiah 41:14

This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help thee.” “It is but a small thing for me, thy God, to help thee. Consider what I have done already. What! not help thee? Why, I bought thee with my blood. What! not help thee? I have died for thee; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less? Help thee! It is the least thing I will ever do for thee; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose thee. I made the covenant for thee. I laid aside my glory and became a man for thee; I gave up my life for thee; and if I did all this, I will surely help thee now. In helping thee, I am giving thee what I have bought for thee already. If thou hadst need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it thee; thou requirest little compared with what I am ready to give. ‘Tis much for thee to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow. ‘Help thee?’ Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of thy granary asking for help, it would not ruin thee to give him a handful of thy wheat; and thou art nothing but a tiny insect at the door of my all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.'”

O my soul, is not this enough? Dost thou need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Dost thou want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring hither thine empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Haste, gather up thy wants, and bring them here-thine emptiness, thy woes, thy needs. Behold, this river of God is full for thy supply; what canst thou desire beside? Go forth, my soul, in this thy might. The Eternal God is thine helper!

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismay’d!
I, I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.”

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The Golden Compass

I know I’m a little bit late to this party but I’ve just watched The Golden Compass with Talitha and thought I might jot down some first impressions.

The film is essentially about a little girl who can see the truth with the help of a golden compass and who sets out to rescue a friend who has been captured by the evil Magisterium. Along the way she meets various characters some who turn out to be friends and others who turn out to be something less. The backdrop is the suppression of truth about something called “dust” that apparently joins parallel universes.

Overall I found the film difficult to engage with until the arrival of the cowboy and the bear. Up to that point in the film the characters were very angry and seemed to be driven by agendas that even if good made them shout a lot. The bear character and the cowboy (Byrnison and Scoresby) are played by fine actors and somehow they did manage to add some interest to what otherwise were characters I could neither identify with or invest in. This surprised me as the cast lineup was impressive and I expected to connect with the film much more.

Teepsy absolutely loved the talking animals and it made me wonder if in the new creation we might have talking animals although I have no reason to think that other than some wild speculation from Isaiah 11. The idea seems to be borrowed from the stories of witches having familiars or demons/fairies who protected them. If you like conspiracy theories then you might think Philip Pullman is promoting witchcraft and trying to encourage children to believe in dangerous dark arts, my own feelings are its a simple plot device. Teepsy said “surely Jesus is the friend who is always with us” which I thought was particularly brilliant.

The obvious thing about the story is a deep distrust maybe even hatred for the Catholic Church, in that way it reminded me of Dan Brown novels. Perhaps the Church does try to keep and maintain its power but it strikes me as a little paranoid to think that there is some master plan to enslave the world and destroy original thought. In fact the same in reverse might be said of the new atheist movement that wants to keep creation and Christianity out of schools and stop people in public office from having publicly held religious convictions.

Overall I was disappointed with the film and felt that it’s genre predecessors (Lord of the Rings and the Narnia novels) had so much more to offer both in characters and plot line that the “angry” world of Philip Pullman was one I was glad not to live in.

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The AA

Yesterday turned into a bit of an adventure as our car broke down on the way to an afternoon out in Brighton. Driving along the A27, thinking how nicely our rather faded but faithful old Zafira was running, the car started spluttering and coughing and an engine management light came on. We pulled in, I turned the engine off and on again to reset it but was met with the same problem. We limped along to the busiest Tesco car park I have ever visited and I used the Android AA app to summon assistance. Just thirty or so minutes later a very friendly chap pulled up and started stripping down the top of the engine as if he were working in a warm, fully equipped garage bay. He confirmed the problem and then said he had already rung ahead to a local garage to reserve the bit he thought it might be. I was amazed, I didn’t realise the gift of prophecy was alive and well in our (so called) fourth emergency service. He drove off to buy the bit for me and then returned to fit it. To say I was impressed would be somewhat of an understatement.

The feeling of genuine thankfulness was unaffected and it put me in mind of the way that church should function. God has designed it that our mutual dependence on each other should bring him honour and also allow us to serve and be served. There are times when I am like the AA man and I can pull up and help someone out of an hole with some of the grace God has shown to me. There are other times (perhaps more than we realise) when we are the ones broken down and what we need to do is ask for some help. It’s quite tough asking for help for many of us because we don’t want to be a trouble to others but of course such an attitude is often motivated by pride and denies others the joy of serving and ourselves the joy of realising how blessed we are to have others who love us and want to humbly serve.

The ultimate example of this is Jesus who comes alongside to serve and save when we are wrecked and powerless to help ourselves. It’s a pity to let pride drive us to refuse his help simply because we think we can do it ourselves. The profound sense of gratitude I have for his rescue will last into eternity and each small reminder of that, such as the arrival of the AA man, gives me fresh reasons to appreciate what God’s Son has done.

Romans 5
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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