Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Isn't Christmas time amazing. Granted it's quite busy for people in my profession but having done the Carol service on Sunday I can now look forward to a week with virtually nothing to prepare. A week where I have some time off work just time to do that stuff I never normally have time for. As a Christian the good thing about this is that specifically this gives us time away from our normal pressures to focus on God coming to earth as a human being and all that means for us!

The problem is that as soon as I get given all of this time I proceed to waste it. In part I get carried away by the socialising, present buying and all that associated with it but generally I just find myself drifting from one thing to another without really thinking about how I'm using my time. So rather that talking to God more, reading my Bible more, serving better during this time I end up doing it worse as a result of some time given me specifically for this reason!

I want to enjoy my Christmas time but the temptation is always to think time off work equals time off God. The problem is that this sort of attitude pretty much scuppers any hope I have of enjoying Christmas time! I hope I use Christmas a bit better this year!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Why buses come in threes

Driving along the road the other day I realised why buses do come in threes and thought I would share this. As it is so obvious I'm not sure if I am here demonstrating my incredible perception or my ignorance at only just realising this.
As a bus pulls into a bus stop just before me I pull out and go round it as do all the other cars. The problem is that when a bus comes up to this it can't get passed and so we now have two buses in convoy. Observing this occur made me realise why buses all come together and that it wasn't just to spite and irritate the person who has been sat in the bus stop for half an hour waiting for any bus!
Anyway I thought I'd share!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Why I should be joyful

On Sunday evening I was looking at Luke 2v22-38 and it struck me that the people who met Jesus as a baby were all full of joy! So Mary was full of joy and the wise men were full of joy and Anna and Simeon were full of joy. There was a whole lot of joy knocking around. However, this joy was not like the joy which we enjoy at Christmas time. You see I have nothing against Christmas and positively enjoy it however, the joy we feel at Christmas is a completely manufactured joy! So we do certain things so that when the 25th December comes we will experience some joy. So we arrange parties, listen to certain music, get with friends and family, give and receive gifts, eat certain food etc all so that we can feel joy. You see basically we decide we want to have a good and exciting day and so put things in place to make it happen. This is very different to the natural joy which comes out of something good happening. This is a very different sort of joy to that enjoyed when we pass an exam or get married or have a kid or win the lottery. You see here something has happened which you cannot help but be joyful about. You don't have to put things in place to make you joyful the event itself is a joyful one!

Now because we can't go back to the actual joy when Jesus was born and experience the genuine joy many people seem to have felt on that day the joy around Christmas can seem a bit fake. However, as a Christian surely I should be as joyful as these people about Jesus coming to earth. So let me end with a few reasons why I should be joyful about Jesus coming to earth.

1. By coming to earth Jesus rescued me. The thought of being rescued from a seemingly impossible situation is a powerful one. I can easily imagine the joy I would feel if someone amazingly rescued me from impending death. By coming to earth Jesus rescued me from sin and the judgement that sin deserves.

2. By coming to earth Jesus brought me out of one kingdom and into another. Without Jesus I am a member of the kingdom of darkness. By that I mean that I cannot stop doing bad things and am living a life opposed to God. By coming to earth Jesus moves me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. By that I mean that he gives me his Holy Spirit so that I start resisting sin and brings me into a relationship with God.

3. By coming to earth Jesus showed me God. Imagine the joy you'd feel if you actually met God. All that doubting gone, all that speculation over. Imagine actually seeing what God was like and experiencing his power, his perfection, his love! Well Jesus is the revelation of God and so by coming to earth Jesus makes it possible for me to see God.

4. By coming to earth Jesus reveals the thoughts of my heart. When Jesus came to earth he said certain things and did certain things which are so incredible that they enable me to see my heart, to understand it better and to recognise my failings better. As I get to know Jesus I actually get to know Jesus better.

The truth of it is that I either don't believe this or I forget it because I am not nearly as joyful about those things as I should be! I shouldn't need a dead bird, some cheesy songs, a pile of presents and some wild parties to make me feel joy. No I should be constantly experiencing a joy which comes out of the amazing things Jesus has done for me!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Why will people not go to church?

O.k. so that is the question but what is the answer. You will find no shortage of theories about this and I guess there will have been a number of blogs on it in the past and will be many more in the future. However, working for a church and dealing with loads of people on a weekly basis it does often baffle me why it's so hard to get people into church. In a culture where people are up for trying anything how come no matter how many invites I put out at the various groups we do as a church there are still so many people who are unwilling to just come along on a Sunday and have a look? I mean they're happy enough coming to whatever it is they come to (Elmer's Patch, Hot Potatoes, Kids' Cafe etc) and they seem to know the people from the church a little bit, at times they even seem to quite like us. So why not try out church on a Sunday?

I have no answers to this apart from a growing realisation of how weird a church service is for people who are not used to going to them. For a start there's singing and I mean singing with music. If you're not used to going to church there's a good chance you never sing and haven't for many years. You feel like an idiot if you join in the singing and you feel like an idiot if you don't. Then churches tend to talk about things which people never talk about. For example churches talk about love a lot and the average person never talks about love and is a bit uncomfortable with the way the word id thrown around in church. The listening to a guy speak for 30 minutes. When do you ever do that? Apart from university and church I'm not sure I've ever sat and listened to a person speak for that long!

I get some sense of this when I got to other churches and I feel out of place. I don't know the songs, I don't know the format, I don't know the people and I don't connect with the person talking. I just feel uncomfortable. However, I guess my reason for writing this blog is to try to get one thing straight in my head and that is - 'Church is always going to be like this!'. You see if church was just a meeting then we could make church not like this. We could work out the things which make people comfortable and which people connect with we could try to put those things in place until we finally create a meeting which people can attend with complete comfort. The thing is that church is not a meeting but a community and it takes time to become part of a community. Until you become a part of that community yourself you will always be on the outside looking in and feeling slightly uncomfortable.

So my desire should not be for people to simply go to a church meeting but rather to have a look at the community, see if what they declare with their mouths is real and then enter the community. So come to church - not because you'll feel comfortable but because it's by seeing the community that you can examine whether what we say actually has anything to offer!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


So on Sunday we were talking about hypocrisy and it struck me just what a widespread problem it is. Everyone loves to put on a public face and most of us have become quite expert at doing it. Most of us want to be someone other than who we are and so it is only natural that we project the person we want to be rather than the person that we are!

However, perhaps what struck me even more than the widespread nature of the problem was the destructiveness of it! How can we hope to build real, supportive, honest and lasting relationships for as long as we are pretending to be something that we are not. How can I hope for people to help me get through the various doubts I have if I am always presenting myself as not having any? How can I hope to enjoy loving relationships with other people when despite talking about wanting them I actually have no desire to pursue them. Honesty is a key part of community and so our community's suffer because no-one is actually willing to be honest about who they are. We talk about wanting to follow God, we talk about loving people, we talk about serving God but then our lives call us liars. We need to have lives which measure up to our words if we are ever to build the sort of relationships we not only want but need!

Many of us have taken years creating this public face and getting people to see us a certain way and so are not only loath to destroy it we also don't know how to do anything different. It's one thing to know that we need to be honest and real with people but it's another thing to know how to do it. Some people don't know how to do it and so never build deep relationships other people don't know how to do it and so make everything into a drama in an attempt to connect in some way! I shall endeavour to be as real with people as I can but I think it's going to be a long process and I might need some help along the way!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Doing the Washing up

O.K. so yesterday I went round to a friends house and we were chatting about a variety of things. Before I left I suggested that he prayed about some of the things we'd been talking about. His prayers are the most informal I think I've ever heard which is very refreshing, however, in the middle of his prayer I was shocked to hear him pray something along the lines of 'Please help Ben to do the washing up'. Possibly the funniest and strangest thing that I've been prayed for in a long time.

However, on reflection I can't help but feel glad that some people still pray about things that matter. My prayers are so often dominated by things I want to see happen or stuff I want to see God doing without prayers about God actually changing me and those around me so that we are nicer people who actually care for those around us. After all isn't this guy's prayer just a specific version of Paul's prayer 'that your love may abound more and more'?

I do pray that God would be changing me and those around me in real and practical ways so that we become more like the people he wants us to be! So to the washing up bowl I go and pray that God would be working in me and those people around me so that we all become more committed to other people's good than our own comfort!

Friday, 20 November 2009


This blog is called reflections of a mule.
The word mule was a word we used at university for someone who does nothing or wastes time (no insult meant to the mule species who I'm sure are very active and industrious). The word muling was therefore all too often used (to my shame) to describe what our plans for the day were or what we were doing at any given time.

The question remains what does a mule think about? What are the reflections of a mule? I thought I would share some with you.

1. Football formations. Be this inspired by the team I play for, the team I support or the computer team I manage (o.k. so I am currently playing football manager) I spend a decent amount of time thinking about this.

2. What I'm going to eat. I spend a fair amount of time each day thinking about when my next meal is and what it's going to be. It's just too much fun.

3. Computer Games. What I need to do or could do in order to win/succeed at whatever computer game I am into at the time.

4. Things I need to do. I spend a lot of time trying to think about all the things I need to do in order to try to ensure that I can do them.

It is hardly surprising that with all these things floating round my head I rarely think about anything useful and I often feel like God is absent from my thoughts and therefore life. Someone said to me maybe if I stopped filling my time (or perhaps more importantly my mind) with things such as computer games maybe I would enjoy the better relationship with God I so want.

Monday, 16 November 2009

What can church do for me?

I have often suggested that this sort of question is the wrong sort of question to ask about church. After all if a church is not simply a club you join but actually a new family you become a part of then it is not all about what it can do for you. In a family it is not only about what the family does for you but also what your responsibilities within the family are. In the same way we don't want to have a consumerist approach to church where it's all about what I get rather that what I give and how I can serve.

However, having said all of that I do think that asking the question how can church help me is a great question to ask. My worry is that is we never ask what church can do for me then church attendance becomes something we do out of habit, tradition or simply to make us feel better rather than something we expect God to use to develop us into the people he intended us to be! So we keep going to meeting without ever really thinking how God can use it to change us or expecting him to use it to change us!

Last week at church I encouraged people to ask the question 'How can church help me to know God better?' I long to know God better and I believe that God can use not only his Bible and his Spirit but also the body of believers to help me do this. I'd encourage everyone to ask themselves this question, think about it and then sit down with someone from the church to talk about how we can make it happen. I'm sure that anyone from the church would be excited and encouraged by a conversation like this.
So I've spent some time thinking about this and here are a few things church could do to help me know God better.
1. Ask me how I'm getting on. I'd love people to ask me how I'm getting on with God at the moment. What I'm reading in the Bible at the moment? How am I praying? How are my relationships with other Christians. I know conversations like this are hard but in my experience God uses these to help me connect with him.
2. Live the gospel in our relationships. The church would help me know God better if in the way we related to each other we demonstrated our love of, and commitment to, the gospel. As relationships within the church show that we think that sin is serious and a terrible thing but that forgiveness is wonderful and freely available, I get to see God and know him better.
3. Talking about the Bible. I love talking about the Bible. I love working to understand it and chatting about what it means for us and whether it makes any difference. I, therefore love opportunities to discuss God's word with other people. By giving me opportunities to do this both formally (in meetings) and informally (in conversations) the church would help me to know God better.

There's a few thoughts from me. I shall continue to think as God continues to use his people to help me know him better!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

If it makes you happy...

When I was growing up I remember a song being played on the radio which had the following very memorable words
'If it makes you happy,
Then why the hell are you so sa a a d'

Every now and again those words come back to haunt me. Every now and again when I have a day off and I spend it doing exactly what I want, these words seem ever so appropriate. Maybe it's the catchiness of the tune, maybe it was the fact that they were repeated ad tedium that makes them stick in my head but having not heard the song for years they are still there. How can I spend a day just doing what I choose to do and at the end of it still not feel happy?

It strikes me that I am not alone in this. I find a lot of people unable to do things to make themselves happy despite having that as their primary focus. So many people's primary focus is making themselves happy and yet they fail to even achieve this.

Jesus said that he came to bring a new full life for people. The kind of life which only flows out of right relationship with God. However, some days my decisions show me that I prefer my old empty life to the new full one which Jesus offers! It frustrates me no end when I see people unwilling to give Christianity a go because they're not willing to give up a life which doesn't even make them happy. However, every now and again, I spend whole days doing exactly the same!
I need God to continue to transform my heart, soul and mind because I have become a consummate pro when it comes to deceiving myself!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

How can you believe God's in control?

When you look around the world it at times seems out of control. I mean I'm no economist but it seems bizarre that mankind creates something called money which then manages to get so out of control that we become a victim to the very thing we created. As if we cannot even control a system which we created. However, as the recession has shown many people have become victims of the forces of economics.
Then the Bible asks us to believe that in this chaotic world God is the ultimate ruler. The Bible tells us that everything in creation is subject to him and so when all around us seems to be in turmoil we're still meant to believe that God is ultimately in control. The world doesn't look much like it subject to God. It looks like it is going it's own way. Much of the world doesn't even believe in God never mind feel subject to him. How can we believe that in a world which is so chaotic, in a society where so many people are going there own way and rejecting God, that everything really is under God's rule.

I read these words today in the Bible
'As it is, we do not yet see everything subjected to him. But we do see Jesus - made lower than the angels for a short time so that by God's grace He might taste death for everyone - crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death.'

Here's the answer to that question. We believe the world is subject to God because we see Jesus dying on a cross to take the punishment our sins deserve. Those verses clearly say what I feel which is that everything doesn't seem subject to him. However, they go on to say that we can believe that this is the case because we can look to Jesus. You see God doesn't say 'I know it doesn't look much like I'm in control but just believe that I am despite the evidence.' No God says 'I know it doesn't look much like everything's subject to me but remember Jesus. Remember that Jesus came to earth and did things which no-one else can do. Remember that he died for your sins and as you remember that allow the thing which is undeniable (Jesus life and death) to convince you that this thing which seems deniable (that I'm making everything subject to me) is true.'

People tend to think that Christianity is about bullying yourself to believe something which is unlikely. However, what God says is that there was a person called Jesus who lived, did inexplicable stuff and died for you. As you have seen me working there now trust me in the places where you currently can't see me working.
So we don't see and understand everything. But we do see Jesus and in that God has surely given us enough evidence for us to trust him with those things we don't see and don't understand!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

How could God write the Bible?

Last week I was doing a Holiday Club for primary school aged children in Accrington. During the first day of this I was trying to explain that the Bible is not just a book written by a few insightful people a few thousand years ago but that it's actually God's means of communicating with people. I was explaining that the Bible is God's book, written by him which records his dealings with humanity throughout history.
After doing this, quite expertly and clearly I thought, one of the children put their hand up and asked me the following question...
'How could God have written the Bible if he's dead?'
Now needless to say I was a bit taken aback by this question. I hadn't really envisaged having a follower of Neitzsche in this group. So I responded by saying that the Bible doesn't really say that God is dead, in fact it says that he's alive. The girl responds by saying
'I know he's sort of alive but he's also a little bit dead.'
Now after this clarification I was obviously fine.

Whilst this ended up a quite humorous, and very interesting discussion it did get me to start thinking. I guess many people's problem with the idea of God doing stuff is that he seems a bit dead. You see for us life is so bound up in the physical and as God is not currently physically in front of us then the idea of him being alive and doing stuff seems bizarre.
The strange thing is that the Bible says that the exact opposite thing is true. It's not that God is a little bit dead but rather it's that we're a little bit dead. We're alive physically but spiritually we're dead and so we are incapable of recognising spiritual life. This means that God seems a little bit dead when actually he is more alive than we can possibly imagine. However, humanity has always been better at seeing the problem in someone else rather than considering that it might simply be that we don't see and understand everything completely!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Dealing with Criticism

Generally I tend to think that I am right. If I am not acting idiotically (which I do sometimes), then I would not be doing or saying something if I didn't think I was right. The problem is that I am not always right. I know this because I know that no-one is always right. When I look at other people I can spot their blind spots however, the very definition of a blind spot means that I cannot see my own.
Criticism, rebuke and correction are therefore essential. They can do things which I myself am incapable of doing. It is essential that my life is full of these things as without them I will remain right in my own eyes but wrong in everyone else's. If I am truly reading and engaging with the Bible then criticism, rebuke and correction can come from there. However, often God uses people to do this work and to help us grow in godliness. This unfortunately leads to a few uncomfortable conclusions.
1. I need to repent of my pride and my unwillingness to hear criticism. I tend to respond very badly to criticism even when it is about something completely unimportant. So someone criticises the volume of music or the way I set out chairs or anything completely unimportant like that and I immediately find myself bristling. If I respond so badly to insignificant criticism what chance do I have of God using criticism to change my heart.
2. I need to build relationships in which criticism, rebuke and correction are the norm. It is difficult to build relationships where these things are just part and parcel of them but I need them and so need to invest in relationships so that this can occur. I am rubbish at dealing with this but maybe if it was more normal and natural I would be better?
3. I need to be willing to criticise, rebuke and correct. I need to do this in love but I do need to do it. If I need it then so do other people and to not do it is to not care for the person enough to help them grow. It's one thing to resolve to deal with it better but it seems a much more daunting thing to resolve to be better at doing it. But if we don't we are not helping people to identify and deal with the blind spots they inevitably have.
So I may hate criticism but I need it and need to learn to value it better!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Practically it makes a whole load of difference...

O.K. so as Sarah and I continue to work our way through House it is inevitable that in an ideas led hospital drama the issue of abortion is never going to be too far away and sure enough we've just watched a couple of episodes dealing with the moral arguments for and against abortion.
At one point House presents the following argument to a patient he's trying to convince to have an abortion. He says that in the end we have to draw a line about abortion and that although people may quibble about trimesters ultimately the obvious line is birth. He then goes on to say this - Morally it doesn't really make much difference but practically it makes a whole load of difference.

That line has stuck with me all week because I think it's such a great summary. Ultimately lines are pretty arbitrary morally however practically where you draw the line is huge. I think what house was saying was that in practical terms aborting feels nothing like and very different to killing a baby - even though morally the only difference is time.

Now if I'm honest this has stayed with me not because of my views on abortion but because of what a brilliant summary it is of how most of us make many decisions. Let me explain.

Morally there is not much difference between downloading a film on the internet and stealing a dvd but practically there is the world of difference. Practically one feels worse than the other.
Morally there is not much difference between being lazy at work and stealing from the till but practically there is a whole load of difference.
Morally there isn't much difference between lying to someone and trying to deceive someone without actually lying but practically they feel different.

I know the temptation to do life like this is there because I tend to live life according to how it makes me feel. But surely life and morality shouldn't revolve around my feelings.
May God save us from expedient morality and help us to start doing things because they are right not simply because they don't feel wrong!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The key to obedience

Having written on Monday about our inability to be motivated to obey Jesus' teaching and instruction by the fact that it is in our own best interest I then read these words from Psalm 119.

'Teach me, LORD, the meaning of your statutes, and I will always keep them.
Help me understand your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
Help me stay on the path of your commands, for I take pleasure in it.'

Now whether you call this providence or merely coincidence I certainly found it striking that here I see the Bible giving its answer to my query. In the last sentence of this section the person who wrote it acknowledges what I know to be true, and articulated on Monday, that despite the fact that I take pleasure in obeying God I still can't do it and need God to help me do it.

However, what really struck me in this section is the correlation between being taught and obedience. You see I know that God's ways are best. I believe it to be true and I have in some ways experienced it. I therefore think that my lack of obedience is down to something other than knowledge. It's easy to think that I don't need to be taught any more rather I just need to become better at doing what it says.
However, the Bible doesn't seem to recognise my distinction. The Bible's verdict is that if I am still not keeping God's commands, if I'm not obeying, if I'm not following him with all my heart then what I need is not some new supernatural feeling, it's not simply to try harder, it's not to find a stronger motivation. No what I need is for God to teach me. What I need is to understand God's ways better. I might think that I know and understand them but if I truly did then I would obey them.

No wonder when I distance myself from my Bible, from fellowship with other Christians, from studying with other Christians and from hearing people faithfully explain and apply the Bible my obedience suffers.

Monday, 19 October 2009

If it makes you feel good...

I have just been for a run (I hope you are all suitably impressed) which was at times difficult but overall relatively enjoyable. I know that running makes me feel good. People tell me that exercise releases dolphins into my blood which apparently swim around and make me feel happy. However, I don't base my knowledge that running makes me feel good solely on that but also on the fact that I know that if I exercise regularly I find the everyday struggle with emotions and moods to be somewhat easier.
However, despite the fact that I know running does me good and despite the fact that my experience tells me that running will make me feel better and make my life better I still often find it hard to motivate myself to get ready and go out to run. Sometimes the thought of having to go out and run makes me want to do nothing more than stay in bed or stay in front of the television.

In house groups we have been looking through John's gospel. I love John's gospel because John has the brilliant habit of explaining why he's writing what he's writing or including Jesus' reason for saying or doing what he is doing. So we see Jesus encouraging Christians to love and abide in him, to unite with each other and to listen to his words because by doing this they will experience joy, peace, love and fullness of life.
Yet again I not only know this to be true because Jesus says it's true but I know it to be true from experience. Although following Jesus can at times prove difficult I know that when I am abiding in him, when I am listening to him, when I am talking to him and loving his people I do experience that peace, joy and love that he offers. My life is fuller when I do what he says I should do than when I don't even though I have to wait until eternity for that absolutely full joy, peace, love and life!

However, still at times I don't do those things Jesus tells me to do even though I know they're to my benefit. Like going for a run, even though I know I'll feel better for doing them I still can't motivate myself to do it. I see many people like this in the world. I see many people in the church who have a similar problem. I see many people who are not enjoying the fullness of life Jesus offers because they're not doing the things Jesus told them to do in order to do so. The question is how do we ensure we do those things and enjoy the life Jesus offers?

Up until recently I have thought if I could just teach myself and others that the things Jesus tells us to do are actually for our benefit and make us feel good then we would suddenly start doing them. I thought that if I could just encourage others to taste and see that the LORD is good then I would see people becoming more and more committed to doing as Jesus commands and enjoying the life he offers. The problem is that it doesn't work. Like me and going for a run, sometimes knowing that it improves your quality of life is not enough to actually get you doing it. When we are fighting against our own laziness, our own selfishness and our own sinful nature no amount of knowledge and logic is capable of motivating us to live Jesus' way. It might motivate us temporarily. We might get 10 minutes or 10 days or even 10 weeks out of it but by itself it will not triumph. What we need is supernatural help.

So following Jesus might make you feel good but I'm going to stop relying on that to motivate me, and others, to live his way. No instead I'm going to pray that God would come into our hearts and motivate us because I'm fast learning that I'm incapable of motivating myself, never mind others, even when it's in my own best interest!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

When the ideas run out

In my short and undistinguished career I have done two jobs which have been quite ideas driven. So when I worked for Middlesbrough Football Club in the Community I was responsible for coming up with new and creative ways to teach young people a wide range of things using the football club as a hook. Over time I felt that many of my ideas became stale. Thinking of new and innovative ways to communicate became more and more difficult and constantly being expected to come up with new and whacky ideas I found somewhat exhausting.
My work for Browning Avenue Baptist Church at times feels very similar. The content is radically different but again at times I feel the same pressures. The pressure to think up new and innovative ways of communicating the gospel is at times inspiring and exciting but at other times stressful and depressing. What do you do when the ideas run out? I often feel like keeping interesting and original is just too difficult and I go back to the same stuff again and again.
I have no idea where this blog is going except that I need to remind myself that God is a creative God who created creative human beings and that God's work is not dependent on me having good enough ideas. At the football club my lessons were completely dependent on the ideas I had and my skill in delivering them however when it comes to the gospel, although I pray that God will use my ideas and gifts, ultimately his success does not rely on those things!
So I pray for good ideas and creativity but until they come I shall just have to get on with doing the work despite feeling uninspired and trust that God knows what he's doing!

When being rubbish is being good!

We often bang on about how being a Christian is about having a relationship with God. I long to have this relationship with God. Being able to talk to the God who created and sustains the whole world is an incredible privilege and one there can be no doubt I do not make the most of. However, there can be no denying that talking to God is very different to talking to our friends. For a start he is very different to any friends we might have (how many friends do you have who are morally perfect and have the power to create the world with a word?) however, perhaps the biggest difference is that when I talk to a friend they normally respond audibly. When I pray to God the conversation often seems to be very one way. So we go on about it being a relationship often failing to recognise that it is completely different to any other relationship we will ever have.
It is difficult to maintain a conversation with someone when the communication so often seems to revolve around you talking. Over time your prayer's develop and with experience, thought and biblical study you sort of learn how to make this bizarre sort of conversation, this unique relationship work.

However, on Tuesday I went round to a guy from our church's house who's only been a Christian for a few months. At the end I asked him if he'd like to pray and he said that he would but that he was rubbish. So he prayed and it was in many ways nothing like how I pray. It was pretty unstructured and even the content was very different. However, I have to say it I found it the most amazing thing. Here was a guy who was genuinely just talking to God as he wanted to and saying the things he wanted to say to God.
I try my hardest to be as real as I can in my prayers however I inevitable carry into my prayers my own personality, my own theology, my own experiences and just a whole lot of other baggage. I found that sharing in someone who seemed to have so little baggage's prayer was an incredible blessing. I often think that when it comes to prayer the more rubbish they are the better they are.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

My Christianity

Over the weekend we were looking at the religious nature of people's hearts. One of the aspects which really struck me was how we all tend to make religions which we can perform o.k. in. So we make the things which we consider to be virtues (whether they're down to a belief in the supernatural or just the sufficiency of man) things which we are good at.
As a Christian I was challenged at how often I do this and so here is my attempt to recognise that tendency in my life and identify some of the places it manifests itself.

In my Christianity...
...being self obsessed is better than being boring
...being unkind is better than being weird
...having a quiet time by yourself is better than doing it in a group
...being self controlled is better than being honest
...being irrationally committed to a new style of church is better than being irrationally committed to an old style
...being theologically sound is better than being loving
...speeding is better than under age drinking
...avoiding conflict is better than confronting sin
...talking about Jesus to non-Christians is better than talking about Jesus to Christians
...looking morally good is better than confessing to people and repenting
...being able to preach is better than being gentle
...being funny is better than being wise
In my Christianity I make the rules and I decide the priorities.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

I am proud of you

Sarah and I are currently watching through House (we're a bit behind on Series 3 but will soon have you series 5 addicts caught up!).
Last night we were watching an episode which dealt with the thorny issue of euthanasia (I notice there's a lot about this in films and on the television at the moment - The phrase hearts and minds springs to mind!)

As the three doctors debate about the ethics of ending this person's life who apparently wants to die there are a number of opinions. However, the episode ends with Cameron delivering a lethal injection and helping the patient to die. The episode ends with House telling Cameron he is proud of her for doing what she believed in.

Now whilst this sort of thing is commonly heard in our society I can't help but feel a it uncomfortable every time I hear it. After all Hitler was only doing what he believed in as were those people involved in the Crusades or the attack on the twin towers. It strikes me that doing what you believe in is not really something which either you or others should necessarily be proud of.

However, I guess if we are going to get rid of any sense of absolute morality all you can ask from anyone is for them to do what they believe in! Good job I believe in peace, love and the brotherhood of humanity or else who knows what I might do!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

How many is enough?

Working for a baptist church in Hartlepool is a weird thing. We work and work to tell people about Jesus and to get them to engage with God's teaching in the Bible and the salvation he offers everyone and yet on a good Sunday Morning we still have less that 100 people there and it still feels like the vast majority of people have little or no interest.
I so often find myself just wishing that as a church we were a bit bigger. I was talking yesterday to someone and found myself wishing that we just had another 100 people in the church. How encouraging it would be to have 100-200 people in the church rather than 0-100. How much easier it would be to organise things and then to do them.
However, this couldn't help but lead me to ask the question How many would be enough for me? You see if Hartlepool has 90 odd thousand people living in it then all that going from 100 to 200 would do is mean that there are 89800+ people we don't have contact with as opposed to 89900+. Would this be enough for me? I guess not. I guess I'd still want more. Even if we got mega church size and had 5000 people coming on a Sunday that would still leave 85000+ people who don't have anything to do with us.
I long for God to be working in Hartlepool. I long for his church to be growing here and I long for people to be saved but thinking about it I think I'd probably better leave the numbers to him!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

My worst moments

'Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.'

In my worst moments I do some terrible things. I say things with the sole intention of cutting and hurting other people. I put myself first so often at the expense of others. I remain indifferent to so many other people's trials and difficulties as long as I make my own life as easy as possible. Looking back on this week I can see how often I have spent my time doing what I want whilst leaving those things I don't want to do for my wife to do after a busy and stressful day at work. Looking back further than that I can still remember things I have done which have caused real damage. So I look back to times when I have been irrationally angry, when I have been spiteful, when I have been oppressive and I can look on people who I have been repeatedly unkind to.
Then I look to Jesus and I recognise that in terms of my relationship with him I have done some terrible things. For years I rejected him and went completely my own way. I repeatedly marginalise and sideline him. I often rebel against his ways and decide I am still going to go my own way. My love for Jesus at times feels insignificant or even non existent.
I am certainly not the person I should be!

But actually those things don't represent my worst moments. No, my worst moments are when I see myself like that and don't care. My worst moments are when I am lazy and waste my life and it doesn't bother me. My worst moments are when I don't give a monkeys that I am living completely for myself, that my focus is on making my life as easy as possible at the expense of everyone else (including the people I love most in the world). My worst moments are when I find myself dismissing people and having no time for them and I think that it's o.k. to be like that. My worst moments are when I find myself ignoring the God who loved me enough to die for me and I couldn't care less.

But in my best moments I feel that. My best moments are not when I don't do those things (they are not my best moments but rather my imaginary moments). No my best moments are when I look at my life and I feel just how badly I am living my life. In my best moments I am ashamed that I allow my wife to do all the housework when I've had an easier day than her. In my best moments I feel the pain that my words and actions have caused to so many people throughout my life. In my best moments I am traumatised that I ignore Jesus and fail to live for him. In my best moments I cannot believe I so often fail to love God, read my Bible, pray to him after he came to earth and suffered death and hell for me. In my best moments I recognise that if I was God I would be blisteringly angry with me or have given up on me altogether.

It is in these best moments that the words I put at the top mean so much to me. In my worst moments the promise of being without sin seems insignificant to me. But in my best moments it seems like the most wonderful thing. To no longer hurt people. To no longer rebel against God but to be free of that is such a wonderful promise which in my best moments I cannot wait for. Of course this is not the pipe dream of some hymn writer. No this is just what Paul writes in Romans 6v6-7
'For we know that our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.'

In my worst moments this means nothing to me. But in my best moments I long to cling on to this promise now and so in Christ's strength I start resisting sin knowing that one day I will be free from it completely. The thought of being saved to sin no more not only spurs me on to fight sin now but it also gives me so much excitement as I look forward to the day when that salvation will be complete and I will not only sin a bit less but will be truly freed from it forever!