Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Lyrics (Page 2 of 2)

Reflection, information, obsession, and Jesus

“All the books you never read, just started; all the meals you rushed, never tasted” – U2, Falling at Your Feet

I lament our loss of reflection in this information age. We are the most informed generation in history but we are losing the art of reflection. We are constantly wired, and I don’t mean just connected to an iPod or iPhone but emotionally wired. When we are constantly consuming information we are no longer being still and thinking about the deeper issues of life. Everything is rushed. We are overwhelmed with choice and we no longer feel at peace with ourselves. We have everything at our fingertips but don’t know anymore how to be. We think we have to always be doing something; we feel guilty when we aren’t being ‘productive’; and we wonder if we’re being lazy when we’re lying around on a Sunday afternoon.

Linked to this loss of reflection is our culture’s obsession with experience. We have a terrifying fear of missing out. We are the addict who thinks we cannot do without more and better. We talk about things being boring or cool. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in leading a boring life. The life of following Jesus is anything but boring; it is counter-cultural and filled with opportunities. But what this means is that we live a life that is other-centred and not based on how we feel at a certain time. A life of other-centredness is one that doesn’t have to look for the next fix, because it is inherently satisfying. It is borne out of a deep knowing that we are loved by God and therefore don’t need to spend our days and years trying to prove ourselves to others. We are free to love and serve our fellow human beings. This is what it is to be a follower of Jesus. This is life, and deep down we know it is the right way to live.

The way of Jesus gives the most satisfaction, the most depth and the greatest enjoyment of life. This is anything but boring, but it is not a life that seeks to avoid boredom as an end in itself. It is a life that has a higher end; a life that has found something better. For if we do not find what we are really looking for we will inevitably go back to the life we lived before, and, such being human nature, we will pick up where we left off and it will be worse than before. Jesus spoke of this when he told about the house from which a demon has departed but then has other demons more evil than the first one come back and make the house worse than before (Matthew 12:43-45).

Life in the information age promises so much but delivers so little. We are still dependent beings. The fact of human nature is that we simply cannot live without outside help. We are created with a God-shaped hole and as St Augustine and others down through the ages have said, we are forever restless until we find our hope in Christ. No wonder Edward Mote could write the words of that famous hymn back in the 1830s, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand”.

We are indeed in trouble when our information age gives us so much to take in but leaves us with so little time to reflect on it. The Christian message is one which offers a way out of our malaise; a way out of the self-centred slavery to which we are addicted. The way to life is to fall at the feet of the One who is Life itself; Jesus, who says to our tired and information-burdened age, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). It is when we reflect on this that we come back to reality and find the life that is truly life, where we share with those people down through the centuries who have had their lives unburdened and their hopes transformed.

Some more words from Falling at Your Feet sum it up eloquently:

all the information
all the radio waves
electronic seas
how to navigate
how to simply be
to know when to wait
this plain simplicity
in whom shall I trust
how might I be still
teach me to surrender
not my will, Thy will

Power of a lyric – Window in the Skies

‘I’ve got no shame…oh can’t you see what love has done?’ – U2, Window in the Skies


Therapist John Bradshaw talks about the concept of toxic shame, which arises out of the core belief that you are a bad person rather than a loved person who still tends to go their own way.

Bradshaw uses this concept in relation to the addict who hates their destructive behaviour but is unable to stop it. He then goes on to talk about the inner child and how that child has been deeply wounded and has never grown up. And so we have, in our society today, many children walking around in adult’s bodies. Toxic shame is destructive and must be distinguished from healthy shame. The latter is born of a healthy conscience which lets us know when we have done something destructive. Some might also use the term ‘convicted’ as in when we are convicted of sin.

The huge difference between healthy shame and toxic shame is that when something destructive is done, toxic shame concludes, “I’m a bad person”, whereas healthy shame says “I’ve done the wrong thing but I’m still loved”. The difference lies deep down in the human psyche; it has to do with our core beliefs about who we are. The person filled with toxic shame has a core belief that “I am not worth loving and so therefore it makes sense that I would take part in behaviour that is destructive, both to others and to myself”. The person who is able to feel healthy shame when they do something destructive has a core belief that they are loved unconditionally, and the fact that they occasionally do the wrong thing does not take away from that.

The person filled with toxic shame is much more likely to participate in behaviours that result in a downward spiral of destruction even though they don’t want to. The prime example of this is the addict who desperately wants to stop but finds themselves absolutely powerless to do so.They are trapped in a cycle where their behaviour confirms in their own mind that they are hopeless, so they may as well act like it. So then they act like it, which further confirms their core belief, and so the cycle continues.

The person with such a core belief is also trapped in another sense. They are trapped in the sense that they are unable to focus on anything outside of themselves. Their lives are focused ever inward and they are unable to give. Thus they are self-centred in the extreme. They often want to be a different person, but because they are trapped in the cycle of self, they are never able to realise their full potential. They are therefore despondent and miserable, without joy, unable to think clearly, and riddled with anxiety.

The only cure for the deep wound in the human heart is having a deep knowing of divine forgiveness. John Smith said many years ago that the effect of acceptance of forgiveness on society is much more powerful than any social welfare theory.

Knowing that you are a loved child of God quite literally makes all the difference in the world. It frees you from the bondage of self; it frees you to be able to give and to love, and thereby find the life you’ve always been looking for. The old words of the 1st letter of John are true – we love because He first loved us.

In a society where we are (literally) sold the message that having more stuff will cure the ache within, where the idea of ‘retail therapy’ is believed by millions, the words of Jesus have more relevance than ever – “what will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?”.

May you know the life that is truly life; a life of service of others in the name of Jesus. Perfect love drives out all fear, all anxiety, and all toxic shame. Never again need we resort to acts which hurt others and which in turn hurt ourselves. If the Son will set you free, you will be free indeed. We have been given grace upon grace. Freely we have received, so we can freely give, all because He first loved us.

Power of a lyric – Love Rescue Me

‘Love rescue me, come forth and speak to me. Raise me up and don’t let me fall. No man is my enemy, my own hands imprison me. Love rescue me…I’m here without a name, in the palace of my shame…Love rescue me’ – U2, Love Rescue Me

Most, if not all, of what we say is spoken out of the deep recesses of our being. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. We are only so good at hiding what is really going on inside. Those with eyes to see however, and with hearts to care, will notice and gently bring to the surface the deep things that are troubling us. We are privileged if we have such friends in our lives.

In this haunting ballad, Bono seems to sing of a deep need for redemption. We are adept at bringing across an image of togetherness, of security. Our greatest fear is that we will be exposed in all our ugliness and as a result rejected – discarded on the scrapheap of life. Every day we bring across an image that all is well with our souls. The reality though is that, as we put on our make-up and get on the bus to struggle through another day, the way we look on the outside often betrays the reality of how we feel on the inside. Struggling through the tiredness as we head towards the office, we know that deep down there has to be more than this.

But love offers  a way out, indeed offers and – amazingly – provides a life beyond ourselves. Salvation is the restoration of the image of God inside us, and the glory of God is a human being fully alive, to quote some words of long ago.

The good news is that, as in the last verse of this song, and is in many of the Psalms, all is well that ends well. We can turn the first verse of this song around and sing ‘Love rescued me, came forth and spoke to me, raised me up and didn’t let me fall’. Here’s how U2 put it:


Power of a lyric – The Special Two

‘lies will lock you up with truth the only key’ – Missy Higgins, The Special Two

There is something about Missy Higgins’ lyrics that evoke a raw honesty. This song is a story of someone who is agonizing with regret over a sexual affair which has torn their relationship apart. It is a beautiful song of remorse and grief for what the betrayer and the betrayed once had, but which then turns to a strong resoluteness to make things right again. It is a song of desperate hope that, out of the ashes of infidelity, trust may be regained now that the eyes of the betrayer have been opened and they realise the loveliness of what they once had.

I once heard it said that to be a liar you need to have a very good memory. It is also true that the more you cover up a lie, the bigger it becomes. Then sooner or later you have to tell another lie to keep the original one alive, and on it goes. Truth is indeed the only way out of this terrible mess. I also once heard some advice which was to tell the truth and tell it faster. The faster we can admit we are wrong, the sooner healing comes, and the sooner the beautiful waters of reconciliation can wash over what was once withered and dying.

The words, ‘I’m sorry’ can be the most difficult words in the world to say, for, once uttered, they make us vulnerable to rejection and unforgiveness. But they can also be the most beautiful, for they have the wonderful ability to release the shame that so mercilessly binds us in a prison of our own making. The next line in this song by Missy Higgins says ‘but I was comfortable and warm inside my shell, and couldn’t see this place could soon become my hell’. Lies indeed blind us to the truth. This is true on a cosmic scale in terms of our relationship with God, and it is equally true in our relationships with others.

Being honest and truthful is the only key that can unlock the door and lead us into the healing and liberating freedom that has been quashed by the darkness of our lies. Jesus said that the angels in heaven are more joyous over one sinner who repents than they are over ninety-nine who don’t need to repent. When we admit our wrong, he is faithful and just to forgive us. When we admit it to a loved one whom we have hurt, the response might not be so forgiving. But, incredible as it may seem, that is not the main point. The point is that you have been honest and you have come to the table. That very act on its own produces freedom.

The journey of faith, the journey of following the Master on the long and winding road up this mountain called life, is a difficult one. But it is one where you realise, once you are on it, that nothing else in life comes close anymore; nothing comes close to the glorious freedom of admitting your wrong and knowing you are at once free. It is wonderful indeed to know that truth can open the door and liberate us from the lies which lock us up and destroy everything we hold dear.

Power of a lyric – Brilliant Disguise

‘Is it me baby, or just a brilliant disguise?’ – Bruce Springsteen, Brilliant Disguise

Photo by Nathan GreyThis one is all about integrity. We can fool many people with the masks we wear, even ourselves if we take the delusion far enough. If we fool others, we may say that no one is going to know. But that is not true. You will know, and you have to live with that. Everywhere we go we have to take ourselves with us. Keith Green sang many years ago that you can run to the end of the highway and not find what you’re looking for. People in 12 Step programs call it a geographical. The Pretenders also sang ‘let me inside you, into your room. I hear it’s lined with the things you don’t show’. Beautiful words of acceptance, love and the invitation to come in and be friends.

Such is the offer of Jesus. To broken people like us he says take off your masks and come and be healed. Jesus’ harshest words were for the hypocrites of his day, those who wore the masks and made out that they were far more holy than they really were. But Jesus saw right through them. He didn’t have time for their games. He sees right through us and wants to cut straight through the rubbish to the deepest parts of our soul, those parts where we often put on a brilliant disguise to hide our true selves, lest people find out what we are really like and reject us.

Who do you project to the world? Is the you that you project the real you? If not, what do we have to hide? What is the fear that underlies our hiding? When Jesus said he came to give us life he meant what he said. Soren Kirkegaard spoke of the leap of faith that everyone must make. If we take that leap of faith we will find that Jesus is waiting with outstretched arms.

Power of a lyric – The Great American Novel

This is the second in my ‘Power of a lyric’ series of posts, where I take a line of a song that has influenced me in my life and expand on its meaning and relevance for today. This lyric is from the late Larry Norman’s The Great American Novel.

‘Do you really think the only way to bring about the peace is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies?’ – Larry Norman, The Great American Novel

Many people say that those who stand for peace are naïve; that the idea of not retaliating is to have your head in the sand and not in the real world. It is seen as hopelessly idealistic. These people need to get their head out of the clouds. As Brian McLaren says, “It is not a matter of naïve ignorance about the power of evil or of deluded romanticism about the good heart  of the enemy; it is rather a loss of naivete about the power of violence to cure violence. It is a dose of realism about the futility of seeking security through ‘living by the sword’ (Matt 26:52)” (Everything Must Change, p. 189).

As Barack Obama this week discusses the reduction of the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, we are reminded that the ones who are really naïve are those who believe that war will bring about peace. History is littered with the carnage of what war has brought. Conflicts sometimes rage for hundreds of years. Just take the Middle East or Bosnia as a couple of examples. And in the last 100 years we have seen the Troubles in Northern Ireland. You could probably name other wars and conflicts that seemingly have no end.

Martin Luther King reminded the world that violence only begets violence and hate begets hate. Just this week, on 21 September, the world was reminded again of the United Nations International Day of Peace. As part of the commemoration of the day, my wife and I saw a movie called The Day After Peace. This movie is the story of Jeremy Gilley’s attempts at launching an international day where the guns of the world would be laid down for just a day, a day for which there would be a global ceasefire. It is an inspirational story, one with many setbacks as well as much inspiration. Check out the trailer below:

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What struck me perhaps the most about Gilley’s attempts to get this movement off the ground was evidence of the enormity of what those who work for the kingdom are up against. You see, the day that the UN Secretary General was going to officially launch the International Day of Peace in New York was September 11, 2001. As the bell was about to be rung that morning signaling the launch of the Day of Peace, the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. The thought that occurs to me about this is that it seems that there was something else going on, that there is indeed a spiritual battle occurring among the principalities and powers. The day that the International Day of Peace was to be launched turned into the day that unleashed the so-called war on terror.

A revolution is indeed needed in this world, but it is a revolution of love, of a bringing in of a kingdom where its soldiers march on their knees in sacrificial care and service to the most marginalised and needy, following their master Jesus on the road to Calvary. The irony of the Gospel is that the way to life often seems like the way to death. The way of Jesus is indeed the way to death. For many that includes physical death, but for all it involves a death to self as we work out our faith with deeds of compassion, building for a kingdom in which we can imagine, as N.T. Wright has said, what it would be like if God were running the show.

The power of a lyric

The words of a song can stay with you for years. A simple line can have the most profound effect, not just on our emotions, but on our very psyche. Over the coming weeks and months I would like to share with you some lines of songs that have stayed with me and shaped me into the person I want to become. The first one is below:

‘Would you love me if you really knew me?’ – Sheila Walsh

The cry of every human heart. Every single one of us has a fear that, if someone were to really get to know us, warts and all, they would reject us. Deep down we have a conviction that we are unlovable as we are. And yet into that fear comes perfect love.

Photo by Luiz Renato D. CoutinhoWe spend our lives wearing a mask. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were known for that, and Jesus had harsh words for them. His harshness wasn’t solely for the fact that they would put on a mask; it was because their mask was about putting on a show of being all holy and superior, while not lifting a finger to help the poor. That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites. The word ‘hypocrite’ is a Greek word which was used to describe someone in a theatre play who wore a mask and played the part of a certain character. A hypocrite was an actor. Aren’t we all like that to some extent?

Would you love me if you really knew me, if you really knew the thoughts that I have at times, the things I have done, the intents of my sinful heart? My deepest fear is that you would not, and so I play a role, shutting myself off from the rest of the world, and not allowing you to get to know me as I really am. C.S. Lewis expressed it eloquently, as usual:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

When Jesus said that we must die if we are to truly live, he meant what he said. Life wasn’t meant to be easy said a former Australian Prime Minister. We put ourselves out on a limb when we take the risk of letting people into our lives. Some will accept us and some will walk away. However, this brokenness is where freedom lies. When I dare to reveal my deepest self, it can feel like death. This though is where God steps in. God steps in and unveils the thoughts and intents of the heart, and when he sees them, his first words are “I do not condemn you”.

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