Thursday, 2 December 2010

Whatever happened to heroes?

When I was a kid I had a whole host of heroes. I had fictional heroes, like liono. I had footballing heroes, like Ugo Ehiogu (or Juninho). I was used to the idea of looking up to people who seemed to be better than me.
As I've grown up I've sort of gradually grown out of heroes. Liono turned out to be a moralising prude and Ugo Ehiogu got old, slow and rubbish. Throughout life you quickly realise that heroes are flawed and tend to fail and so you give up having them.

However, I've been thinking about this a lot recently and have reached the conclusion that actually the largest reason why people grow out of having heroes has nothing to do with other people and everything to do with their view of myself. What I reckon happens is that we grow up and we become more and more self satisfied and so we have less and less heroes. We forget our weaknesses and failings (which we were so aware of when we were kids) and instead convince ourselves we're awesome explaining away and mistakes we make through a variety of adult means.

As a Christian I accept that I am imperfect but still fall into this self satisfied trap. I need to learn to recognise that other people are better than me. They are more godly, they are more patient, they are kinder, they are more passionate or whatever and I need to therefore look up to them and seek to be more like them. After all Paul (the apostle) calls on people to imitate him.

Yes heroes are flawed and if you're looking for perfection they will let you down. Yes you do have to be careful about building people up too much. However, if the solution to this is simply being self satisfied and assuming you have nothing to learn from other people then I wonder if we need to learn to have a slightly lower view of ourselves and get a few heroes back into our lives!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

James Dean, Death and Living for now

When I was at university I remember this poster being an ever present in poster shops. I think it was so popular because the sentiments at the bottom of this,

'Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.'

sum up most students attitude towards life. Death may be coming but the only thing we can do about it is make the most of each day we get.

Now cool though James Dean undoubtedly looks, this poster somewhat irritates me.

Firstly I don't think it's possible for most people. You see only rich people can live each day like it's their last. I unfortunately have to live many days as if it's not my last so that I can enjoy other days more. I work all week so that on Friday I can have a takeout. If I lived Monday like it was my last I would not work but I assume I'll be around at the weekend, I assume I'll be around in 6 months for a holiday and so live days looking forward to that.

However, even if it were possible I'm not sure it's terribly helpful. You see what this in essence says is that death is a reality but there's nothing you can do about it so just enjoy whatever time you get! Now this is not terribly liberating but may be as good as we can hope for if death is a reality and there is nothing we can do to get ready. Now death is a reality and it's coming for all of us so the only question we're left with is can we do anything to get ready for it? Is death really the end and if not what do we do to prepare for what comes after.

People tend not to think about this issue and so fall into an attitude simply says, 'Death is coming. There's nothing I can do about it so I'd better make the most of however much time I've got.'
However, the Bible suggests that there is something after death. That death is not the end and that after that there will be eternity. If this is true then suddenly life is about more than just doing what you can with the time you have. If this is true then life is about getting ready for eternity.

In order to be ready for the perfect world God says he is creating we surely have to be made perfect. Jesus asserts that he can offer us forgiveness (through his death on the cross) and that he will then make us perfect so we are ready for this world (a work completed after we die not before). Life is therefore about getting to know Jesus, finding the forgiveness and life he offers as this is something which will outlast death.

So is there anything after death? If not then eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. But if there is something after death then don't waste your life assuming that there isn't.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Why I love being right

There are few greater sensations than being right. Whether it's successfully predicting what's going to happen in a situation or winning a quiz or, the ultimate, winning an argument, being right is a fantastic experience and I love it.

However, I suddenly realise that this might be a problem. Proverbs 12v15 reads...
'The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.'

So there may be a problem with my being right. It may be that actually I'm not right at all I'm just so stupid that I think I'm right.
You see it's possible to be right because you are right. 2+2=4 is right and I know this because I have sufficient information to know.
However, when I was growing up I was convinced that Chesney Hawks 'I am the one and only' was the best song ever recorded as I blasted it out from my bedroom. Now here I thought I was right but actually I was a fool. I just didn't have enough information. I didn't know enough songs and so despite being right in my own eyes the whole world could see I was a fool.

So here's the challenge for me? Stop thinking I'm right all the time, stop valuing thinking/proving that I am right and start listening to people. You see what this proverb encourages us to do is keep an open mind and keep questioning those things which we think are right.

People tend to be very bad at doing this. Christian tend to sit happily on their theology confident they are right and not allowing it to be challenged. You may be right but you also may be a fool without the information necessary to make you realise you are a fool. So go to church an be challenged, read books and be challenged, talk to people and be challenged. People who aren't Christians though can be just as bad. They think they are right and know so much but never expose them to things which challenge those ideas. You might be right or you just might not have enough information to realise you are wrong. I mean why not venture into a church? Why not talk to a Christian? Why not read a gospel? Why not get more information and allow what you know to be right to be challenged?

'The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.'

Monday, 25 October 2010

Is it logical to say that there is a God of love when there is so much suffering in the world?

The presence of so much suffering in the world can seem inexplicable to many people of many different beliefs. It can, however, seem especially incompatible with a belief in an all powerful, all knowing and all loving God. However, suffering is not something new and it is something which Christianity has long learned to live with and about which the Bible has much to say. The Bible offers a number of coherent explanations regarding the existence of suffering in our world. However, it must be acknowledged that it does not offer comprehensive answers. Precisely how we fit the tragic death of a baby into this framework can, at times, seem unclear. However, the Bible is also clear that we should not expect to be able to understand why God permits so much evil in this world. The Bible stresses that God does not think like we think and that we are incapable of approaching him as his intellectual equal. However, in a sceptical age it seems unreasonable to hold such blind faith in our own cognitive facilities that we believe that if we cannot see the entirety of the explanation for all suffering there must not be one.

The Bible offers a framework for understanding suffering which, although not complete, is certainly logical. In fact the Bible offers considerable explanation for the existence of so much suffering in our world which is noticeably lacking in other frameworks and philosophies. Any claim that it is not logical to believe in a God of love when there is so much suffering in the world fails to take seriously the explanations given by the same Bible which asserts that God is a God of love. However, ultimately the belief in the God of the Bible is not a result of a logical analysis of the suffering in our world. Rather belief in the God of the Bible is a result of God’s revelation to us primarily in the person of Jesus Christ. Even if the existence of so much suffering in the world does create a logical barrier to believing in the God of the Bible this is not strong enough evidence to counteract the evidence for believing in him offered by the written accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. In the person of Jesus, God came to earth as a human and revealed himself to us. He lived on earth, he suffered on earth, he died on earth and he came back to life on earth. The evidence offered by eye witness accounts is so strong that any problems offered by the existence of suffering cannot be sufficient to logically keep anyone from believing in the God of love the Bible presents.

The temporary nature of suffering

At the heart of the issue of suffering (this is part 4 of the discussion I think) is the question of if there was a God of love why would he not do away with all suffering and make a world where there is none of the suffering which seems to plague our world? Although the Bible gives us numerous reasons why God currently allows suffering in this world, the Bible’s answer to this question is that ultimately this is exactly what God is going to do. The Bible clearly states that one day Jesus will return to judge this world finally. On that day this world will be destroyed and God will create a new world. The Bible describes this new creation as a place with no tears, no death, no mourning and no more pain. So the very thing people think that God should do is, absolutely, his intention. If the question is why a God of love would not create a new world in which there was no more suffering then the answer is that he is going to.

So why not now? Why does God not just get on and create this new world? The Bible’s answer to this begins with the assertion that not all people will be a part of this new creation. In order to be part of God’s perfect new world people must be made righteous. As none of us have lived righteous lives we cannot rely on this and so we must be made righteous by faith. Therefore it is only those who have believed in Jesus and accepted the forgiveness he offers who will be part of this new creation and escape the full judgment they deserve. Therefore God does not bring in this new creation immediately so as to give as many people as possible the opportunity to find the righteousness offered through faith in Jesus and, therefore, be spared their just punishment and, instead, become part of his new creation without pain or suffering. It is perfectly logical for God to create a world with no more suffering. However, it is equally logical for a God of love to delay this, even if that means the continuation of suffering on earth if, by doing so, he can give more people time to find the righteousness he offers and be able to become a part of his new creation without any pain or suffering.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The rehabilitative nature of suffering

Whilst we must not overlook the punitive nature of this world’s suffering the Bible also clearly presents suffering as rehabilitative. Suffering is not merely God’s judgment but also one of God’s means of challenging and changing people. The most significant way the Bible talks about God using suffering is to call people to repentance. This is seen throughout the Bible. The pattern of people rejecting God, people suffering and people returning to God is present throughout the pages of the Old Testament. This is again seen clearly in the book of Joel. Whilst Joel does begin by showing that the locust plague is God’s judgment, he then moves on to use this judgment to encourage the people to repent. Joel seems to clearly indicate that the correct response to recognising that suffering is a result of God’s judgment is repentance. Jesus also sees suffering as a call for people to repent. In Luke 13v1-5 Jesus uses examples of suffering to remind people that this is what all people deserve and that repentance represents the only correct response.

So whilst the suffering humanity endures clearly represents part of God’s punishment on humanity it is also used by him to remind people of their rebellion and the judgment which they deserve in order to bring them back to him in repentance. It is therefore completely logical for God to give this world some small tokens of the judgment they deserve, if by doing so, he can cause some people to turn to him in repentance and avoid his final judgment.

However, God does not only use suffering to bring people to repentance and back into relationship with him but he also uses it to bring about other good effects. The suffering of individuals throughout history has, at times, brought great benefits to both the individual and society at large and so the fact that suffering can lead to good results is undeniable. However, the Bible does not merely observe this reality but repeatedly claims that God uses suffering to make them better people. In Romans 5v3-5 suffering is presented as God’s means for producing endurance, character and hope. In James 1v2-4 suffering is seen as the very thing which tests people’s faith and makes them perfect, complete and lacking in nothing. The Bible repeatedly presents suffering as part of God’s plan for moulding his people and making them better. God created us to be in relationship with him, to love each other and care for creation and suffering is one of the means he uses to make us more like the people he created us to be. The greatest problem to people’s enjoyment of this world and fulfilment in life is not suffering but, rather, their inability to live in it as God intended. It is therefore completely logical for God to allow suffering if by this people are changed in such a way that they live life more like God intended them to.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The punitive nature of suffering

However, we do have to acknowledge that there is a certain amount of suffering in our world which would exist even if humanity were not involved. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and famines may cause more suffering because of human involvement but would still cause some suffering even without. The Bible clearly states that it is God who rules this world and who sustains it. This leads to the question of why a God of love would allow such suffering to come into the world? Surely if he is omnipotent, omniscient and completely good he would rule the world differently so that the suffering of natural disasters were not a part of it.

However, the Bible clearly presents suffering as not merely permitted by God, but part of his plan for this universe. In the beginning God created a world in which there was no suffering. However, when mankind rejected God and decided they wanted to live their own way, then, not only did humanity begin causing suffering for themselves, but also God judged them by bringing suffering into their lives. So in Genesis 3v14-19 we see God pronouncing his judgment on people for their disobedience to him. This judgment includes a breakdown in the relationship between people and the natural world so that the natural world now is the cause of much suffering for humanity. The Bible therefore clearly presents suffering as part of God’s judgment on humanity for their rebellion. Throughout the Bible we see humanity’s suffering repeatedly as God’s judgment. The book of Joel was written regarding a locust plague which had devastated Israel and Joel clearly presents this as a judgment from God. So the explanation the Bible gives for suffering is that it is not merely allowed by God but rather it is part of God’s judgment on a world which has rejected him.

This leaves us with an obvious question of whether it is logical for a God of love to bring such suffering into the world as judgment? Many people see the idea that God loves and that God judges as mutually exclusive. So God is presented as either a God of love or a God of judgment but certainly not both. The problem is that these two aspects of God’s character are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually dependent. If God truly loves creation and he loves people then he must judge people when they act wrongly towards it. When God sees the damage we have done to our world by rejecting him and going our way God cannot simply ignore it because he loves his creation too much. The ability to ignore evil is not a sign of love but rather of moral indifference. It is precisely because God loves the world that he cannot let our wilful abuse of it go unpunished. Humanity’s problem is that we have forgotten how bad we are and therefore lost sight of the judgment we deserve. It is a mark of our lostness that we think we deserve the times of blessing and prosperity and that the times of suffering are not only unfair but call into question God’s goodness, or his power or even his existence. Really the truth is that we deserve much more severe judgment than we receive but the peace and tranquillity we enjoy show us God’s goodness and forbearance. The Bible therefore presents the suffering we receive as a logical part of God’s judgment on us for rejecting him, rejecting his ways and damaging his creation.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Human responsibility for suffering

The first thing the Bible asserts is that human beings are responsible for their actions and therefore the suffering they cause. As we examine whether the existence of so much suffering makes belief in a God of love illogical it is essential that we do not overlook humanity’s contribution to that suffering. Secular journalist and author P.J. O’Rourke sums up humanity’s contribution to the suffering in this world brilliantly in the introduction to his book, ‘Holidays in Hell’. He writes:

‘I wanted to know where trouble came from and why the world was such a lousy place. I wasn’t curious about natural disasters – earthquakes, mudslides, floods and droughts. These are nothing but the losing side of the Grand Canyon coin toss. OK, it’s sad. Now what? I was curious about the trouble man causes himself and which he could presumably quit causing himself at the drop of a hat, or, anyway, a gun. I wanted to know why life, which ought to be an only moderately miserable thing, is such a frightful, disgusting, horrid thing for so many people in so many places.’

The first explanation of why there is so much suffering in the world is that it’s because of people’s actions. The Bible’s summary of God’s standard for people is that they love him with all their being and that they love other people like they love themselves. It is mankind’s failure to obey God specifically in this second area which is responsible for there being so much suffering in the world. The fact that people choose to do terrible things in this world which God created cannot easily be used to demonstrate God’s lack of love. When you examine the suffering of the world you cannot help but conclude that much of it is a consequence of human action. War and violence are obvious examples. When you consider, however, how much suffering man could prevent then mankind’s responsibility becomes even more striking. When you consider the three million children who die each year from diseases for which immunisations are developed and available and the deaths from flooding in Bangladesh which are compounded by both tree felling up-stream and the fact that the poor are made to live in dangerous low lying areas, it becomes apparent that even much suffering which we would consider humanity to be innocent of is still a result of human decisions and actions.

The question which humanity is ultimately left with is not how a God of love can exist in a world where there is so much suffering but rather how humanity can be responsible for so much suffering. The Bible clearly says that mankind’s decision to reject God and go their own way has led to a break down in relationships between humans. This leads to human’s acting badly and inflicting much suffering on each other. Fundamentally the Bible’s answer to the huge amount of suffering caused by humanity is that we have all rejected God and his ways. This rejection causes us to be slaves to sin and so makes us incapable of loving people as we should. It is this lack of love for each other which leads to the pride, greed, selfishness, anger, hatred and neglect which causes so much of the suffering in this world. This Biblical answer not only offers some explanation of how it is logical to believe in a God of love in a world with so much suffering but it also offers an explanation for why man causes so much suffering. The Biblical answer of humanity’s fallen nature leading to us damaging the world and harming each other offers a logical explanation of why humanity inflicts so much suffering on itself. It is the Bible which makes us able to answer P.J. O’Rourke’s question of why man causes life to be such a frightful, disgusting and horrid thing for so many people.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Is it logical to say that God is love when there is so much suffering in the world

Seeing as people seemed interested in this general idea I thought I would post some more detailed thoughts over the next few days. Here is part 1!

Human beings have always found the world to be a somewhat ambiguous place. Whilst there is incredible goodness, beauty and creativity in the world there is also much evil, ugliness and destruction. Reconciling the existence of both good and evil, of suffering and tranquillity has proved to be a challenge for people throughout history. Some have suggested that a multiplicity of rival gods offers a logical explanation. People’s suffering is therefore a result of the capricious nature of the various gods or of which god has gained ascendancy at any one time. Human suffering is therefore often seen as little more than a by product of ongoing conflict between a variety of gods. Others have seen suffering not as the result of random interactions of a number of deities but rather as a simple conflict between two forces. Perhaps in its most common form this solution argues that there is a good God who brings everything which is good into the world and a bad devil who brings everything which is evil in the world. This sort of dualism argues that sometimes evil gains the upper hand and so people suffer and sometimes good does and so the diversity of human experience is again logically explained. Recently another logical explanation to suffering in the world has emerged in the form of scientific reasoning. Atheist scientist and author Richard Dawkins explains suffering in the following way in his book entitled 'River out of Eden'
‘In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.’
Suffering is therefore explained as a result of nothing more than the physical forces and natural laws which dominate our universe. As we examine these suggested explanations we are left with two questions. The first question is whether these explanations represent a logical explanation of the amount of suffering in the world? Do physical forces and natural laws really explain the irrational murder of 13 schoolchildren and suicide of the murderer which occurred in Dunblane on 13 March 1996? Do physical forces and natural laws offer any logical explanation of the seemingly irrational kindness and sacrifice seen by people throughout history? The second question is whether even if they do offer logical explanations there is any reason to believe that what they are saying is true. A multiplicity of gods may explain the co-existence of real evil and suffering and real goodness and joy but is there any reason to believe in a multiplicity of gods? The mere fact that something may offer a logical explanation for there being so much suffering in the world is not enough to accept it as the correct explanation.
A Christian is forced to answer the same question as anyone else. Why is there so much suffering in the world? This question is made more complicated by their assertion that God is omnipotent, omniscient and completely good. Surely it is not logical to believe that a being who knows everything (presumably including about all suffering), can do anything (presumably including prevent suffering) and loves perfectly (presumably including those who are suffering) can exist in a world with so much suffering. Whilst this assertion sounds convincing it remains only an assertion until the Bible’s explanation for the existence of so much suffering in our world is examined and proved to be illogical.

To be continued...

Monday, 11 October 2010

The curious incident of the baby in the night time

Being the father of 9 month old twins is a great joy most of the time. However, when one of them is awake screaming at 4 O Clock in the morning it quickly becomes one of those few times it is not. During these times I find myself babbling like a pagan asking God to stop her from crying so that I can get some sleep (oh and so that she's happy of course). However, sometimes God doesn't answer this prayer and she screams for hours and hours.

Now I know what goes on in my head at these times. I start reasoning with myself and my reasoning goes like this.
There is no reason why God would want this to happen.
I am asking God to stop it.
God wants to bless me and wouldn't pointlessly put me through this.
Therefore either God doesn't exist or he lacks the power influence to do anything about it.

This argument might sound stupid but it is the heart of the suffering argument made by many people and experienced by me regularly at 4 O clock in the morning.
Fortunately by the morning I am normally thinking more clearly and realise that just because I don't see a reason doesn't mean that there isn't one. The argument is ridiculous as it relies on us having absolute knowledge but yet it's such a common thought process in arrogant humanity.
Maybe through my baby's crying God is teaching me patience, maybe he is helping me to realise that in this fallen world even the best things (my amazing daughters) are not perfect and to long for something better! The fact is I don't know what God is doing but the fact that I can't see a reason is hardly a strong argument against the existence of God. Dawkins may talk of a God of that gaps this is well and truly an argument of the gaps.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

How can you know? You have not been there!

So I am currently watching through season 4 of House (yes I am behind) and was watching this episode where a guy tried to almost kill himself in order to get a taste of the afterlife without actually dying. House thinks the guy is a moron (which I have to say I do to - although for different reasons) because there is no such thing as an afterlife. Wilson responds to this by asking the question 'How can you be so sure there isn't anything after this. You haven't been there'. House responds by saying 'I don't have to go to Detroit to know it smells'. Wilson thinks this is a facile argument and they depart.

As a Christian I was watching this discussion with interest and here are my thoughts.
You don't have to go to Detroit to know it smells but you do have to have some information about it. You have to be getting some information from someone who has actually been there otherwise how would you actually know? If you have no contact with anyone who's actually been to Detroit then how could you know? If House is so adamant that there is no afterlife then he can't get information from someone who's actually been there and so his reasoning is always going to be fallible.
However, Wilson's answer is equally infuriating because all he is promoting is a 'we can't know for sure' attitude. If that is the case then who gives a monkey's whether it's there or not? If we can't know. If we don't have enough information then it can't really impact our lives.

The Biblical answer to this question is that there is an after life and we can know about it because someone has been there and told us about it. That person is Jesus Christ. So I don't believe every nut job who says they saw lights etc. But I do believe that at a point in history God came to earth and told us, not that Detroit smells, but that the afterlife is real and that we need to get ready for it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

What would God say to Raoul Moat?

I have been reading the accounts of the murders committed by Raoul Moat and the manhunt which followed and decided to do a talk on what God would say to him. You see we all like to think about what we would say to God but actually what God would say to us is much more important.

At the end of the manhunt (which lasted almost a week) Raoul Moat was faced with two options. Kill himself or spend the rest of his life in jail. He decided he did not want to spend the rest of his life in jail and so killed himself. Whether it was that he couldn't live with what he'd done or merely with the consequences of what he'd done he decided to escape it by killing himself.

The first thing I think God would say to Raoul Moat is therefore that he can't run away from what he's done. God says that one day he will judge the living and the dead and so even suicide cannot get you out of answering for what you've done with the life God gave you. Raoul Moat will have to answer for the lives he took and the people he hurt and I will have to answer for the crimes I have committed and the people I have hurt. Raoul Moat wanted to avoid this but even death can't get you out of it.

This is why forgiveness is the centrepiece of Christianity. Because none of us are perfect and we cannot escape having to answer for the bad things we've done the only hope we possibly have is forgiveness. We cannot run away so we must cry out to God for forgiveness. The amazing message of the gospel is that because of Jesus death in our place that forgiveness is guaranteed for all who ask.

Jesus died next to a criminal who found forgiveness there as he was dying. Raoul Moat could have found the same forgiveness and so can I. All we need to do is stop thinking we can get away with it. Stop thinking we can escape the consequences and ask!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

How we deal with Jesus Part 3

O.K. so some people want to lead and they want Jesus to follow. Some people like having Jesus around but don't want any real relationship but Jesus himself repeatedly calls people to follow him. The question is what does it mean to follow Jesus?

Well although this might need some unpacking today for many of the people Jesus said it to it was relatively straightforward. They just left whatever they were doing and followed him. They learned from him, became friends with him, served him, loved him and many of them died for him. However, as we look around the church today we may be surprised at how far it has moved from this model. For no-one Jesus met did following merely mean something intellectual. They all actually did follow.

So the really bizarre thing is that our churches seem to be full of people who say they follow Jesus without actually doing anything. They intellectually assent to a number of beliefs however they do not seem to have left what they were doing to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is always about leaving one life and beginning another. So why do so many people seem able to say they follow Jesus without giving any time to him, without learning from him, without obeying him, without sacrificing anything for him and ultimately without doing anything which demonstrates any love for him. Surely the act of following Jesus has to involve some act of following not just a set of things we say we believe.

So as we think about how we relate to Jesus perhaps the biggest question is not do we say are following him but are we actually following him. Read a gospel and just look at the things those who followed him did and then look at your life and see how you measure up. It's an honour, a joy and a privilege to follow Jesus. It gives you hope, it gives you relationship and it gives you not only a new way of doing life but a new life entirely. It's an amazing thing to do but just saying that you are following him does not necessarily mean you are. As they say in the bronx 'The proof of the pudding is in it's eating'.
(O.K. they probably don't say that in the bronx - but they should. It's a very useful phrase!)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

How we deal with Jesus Part 2

O.K. so in church we see a lot of people who relate to Jesus as co-pilot. Jesus is not the king, I am, and Jesus can play the role of consultant when it suits me. However, there are other people in church who don't relate to Jesus like this. No rather than allowing Jesus to follow them around they follow him. However, this can be done in a bad way. Some people in church seem to relate to Jesus as his stalker. They like to follow him round, they like to know a lot of information about him, they like to be at events they think he'll be at but there is no real relationship.

I think this is a huge danger in church. We go to all the church meetings, we like to find out about Jesus, we read books about him, we can tell people more about him than anyone else but there is no friendship, no love, no real and meaningful interaction between us and Jesus. I think most of us would agree that stalking someone is not the same as a real relationship and yet it's very easy to con people into thinking we have a real relationship with Jesus when really all we are doing is stalking him to gain information about him!

So the question we're left with is are we actually nothing more than a slightly weird Jesus stalker? Are we more interested in knowing about him than knowing him? Are we more bothered about being around 'Jesus things' than we are actually relating to Jesus.

To reduce Jesus to an advisory role fails to recognise how awesome Jesus is but to simply stalk him fails to recognise how approachable he is. Many people in church confuse these ways of dealing with Jesus as real relationship wit him. I'd like to suggest that they're not!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

How we deal with Jesus Part 1

I have been thinking a lot recently about the way which we relate to Jesus. You see I guess everyone relates to Jesus in some way whether it's as an insignificant person in history or as something more! However, what really interested me was how different people in the church relate to him so I'm going to look at a few different ways we see people relating to Jesus in the church.

1. Jesus as co-pilot
O.K. so this is something both Michael Hall and Paul Lintott were talking about at church and it struck me as so true. What we find in our churches is people who basically want to pilot their own lives but are fine for Jesus to help out a little bit every now and again. If I'm in a bit of a fix or if it's something I don't really care about then Jesus can do a bit but if not then I'll do it by myself. We see this all the time in the church.
People who only obey Jesus when it fits in with their lifestyle
People who only obey Jesus when it fits in with their view of the world
Churches which are more committed to their way of doing things than to what Jesus wants!

If we relate to Jesus as co-pilot we are making 2 mistakes.
1 - We think we are capable of piloting our lives
2 - We think we know more than Jesus

To judge when Jesus deserves to be followed and obeyed and when he doesn't assumes that we know more than him. The problem is that he knows everything and that we don't! You can relate to Jesus as your co-pilot but ultimately you are not really relating to him properly and you are not relying on him at all. If this is you then you are still relying on yourself and unfortunately you are not capable of bringing about the forgiveness and transformation you need. Jesus is not your co-pilot, he's not your PA, he's too good for that!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Being Married to Cal Lightman

I have recently been watching through the TV show 'Lie to me'. In this show the main guy (Cal Lightman) has studied micro-expressions (if such things exist) for years in order to be able to spot when someone is lying and the different emotions they display. As seems to be the want in programmes such as these he is separated from his wife and has relationship issues.

In one of the episodes his ex-wife turns up and they spar in an ex-husband and wife sort of way before she explains why the marriage didn't work. She said that she just wanted to be with someone who didn't know every time she was lying, every time she was even moderately attracted to another man and every different emotion she felt.

I guess most of can empathise with this thought. It would be terrible if someone knew every lie we told, every emotion we felt etc. This is, however, what the Bible says that God can do. It says that God knows everything about us (see this for example) and can as such see every lie, every selfish thought or act, every wicked intention or desire. The amazing thing about God when compared to Cal Lightman is not only that he knows more but that despite all this knowledge he still loves you. God sees it all but still was willing to die for you so that you could find that forgiveness.

The fact that the idea of someone knowing you completely terrifies you shows your need of forgiveness. However, it is by asking this very same person to forgive you that it become possible to find forgiveness and a hope that one day you won't feel so ashamed!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Freedom

O.K. so being horribly behind the times I didn't hear the world cup theme tune 'waving flag' until after the world cup had actually finished. However, having heard it I couldn't help but be intrigued. As a song it has a very upbeat and hopeful feel and is easy to memorise (I was struck by this when a kid in our church knew all the words). However, what I couldn't help thinking while I was listening was what a big part the hope of freedom played in the song. So it starts off talking about freedom and each chorus it says 'they'll call me freedom. Just like a waving flag'. I can't help but wonder why this idea of freedom plays such a big part in upbeat, aspirational songs.

Many of us would consider ourselves to be free and yet we still long for greater freedom. Why is this? I think it's because we all still feel like we cannot be the people we long to be. We may be free in many ways but when we look at our lives it seems like we still feel trapped by circumstances or natural constraints.
So I feel trapped by my inability to be the person I want to be.
I feel trapped by circumstances which require me to do certain things.
I feel trapped by my need of money and other resources.
I feel trapped by all my limitations.

We therefore all have this desire to be free. Jesus describes all people as slaves to sin and death this would seem to be supported by the fact we all do bad things, we all day and we all have this desire to be more free. However, Jesus also says that he is the person who can set us free.
It's easy to think that we are free and that Jesus wants to enslave us. However, this is to forget the sense of limitation and constraint we all feel in everyday life. The truth is that we are not free and that it is actually by finding forgiveness, a new heart and a new way of life that we can begin to see just how free Jesus makes us. As we recognise this we look forward to a new life of complete freedom, with Jesus either when we die or he returns.

I guess many people hope that throughout their life they will become more free but actually time and age are just as incapable of freeing us as we are ourselves. If like me you hope to become more free then you need to find someone with the power and inclination to free you from the limitations of our sin, a sinful world and death. Look at Jesus' life and you'll see that he not only has the power but also the will to do just this!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Unity and Secondary Issues

During the past couple of weeks we have been blessed by having a team of students from some northern universities come to serve in our church. It would be fair to say that although this has been busy it has been an incredible experience for me personally and, I hope, for the church as a whole. To see God working and people in Hartlepool engaging with truths they previously weren't engaging with has been fantastic.

However, through the process of looking through the book of Ephesians as Christians from different churches and different backgrounds the issue of being united despite theological or ecclesiastical differences became not simply an academic issue but a practical one.
Is it possible for Christians to hold different positions on secondary (non gospel) issues and still be united? I guess most Christians would say yes and this fortnight has certainly demonstrated that to be true.

However I guess a better question is 'Is it possible for one Christian to say that another Christian is wrong and still be united?' Following a long discussion last night I think that this must be possible. If not then I don't see how we can ensure that we are sitting under the Bible's authority. We want to be being moulded and changed by the Bible and so for a fellow Christian to say to me 'I think your wrong about this issue and this is biblically why I think it' shouldn't threaten me or cause disunity but should rather serve to help me to sit under the Bible's authority better whether I am convinced by his argument or not.

So how do Christians unite? Well I think the temptation is to boil Christianity down to the bare minimum (the deity and humanity of Christ, his death for our sins, the resurrection followed by a response of faith and repentance) and then say anything goes with the rest. But the Bible has more to say than that and we should have more to say too. Just saying that I believe the Bible says that this is a right approach to a secondary issue does not mean I have divided myself from people who hold a different position.
In my church there are a number of people who are Christians but have not been baptised. I think that these people are wrong because I think the Bible repeatedly calls on Christians to be baptised. So what do I do with this? Well I hold that position, I am not scared to voice it but as a church there is no lack of unity because of it because unity comes through Christ's work in us.

It is the job of both the person disagreeing and the person being disagreed with to not allow this to cause division because you both belong to Christ and so are united.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

I could have taken ecstasy but I didn't

Meadow Soprano throws the mother of all parties at her grandmother's abandoned house. 100s of people turn up. The house get's trashed, she ends up drunk and the police have to get called to break it all up. All in all I think it's fair to say that it's the kind of thing most parents would consider to be somewhat out of order.

However, on being confronted about this she comes out with the following line 'I could have taken ecstasy but I didn't'. It strikes me what a weak defence this is. Just because you could have done something arguably worse that doesn't mean that what you did was o.k. In some ways that is irrelevant to the seriousness of what she has done.

Yet how often we use the same defence. So when I think an unkind thought about someone I say to myself 'What's your problem? I could have said something unkind to them but I didn't'. Or when I say something horrible to my wife I say to myself 'What's your problem? I could have physically attacked her but I didn't'. Or maybe when I lie a bit on my tax return I say to myself 'What's your problem I could have lied about loads of things but I didn't'. The problem with this defence is that much like Meadow's it is weak. It's true that I could have done those things which I didn't but that in no ways excuses the unkind thought, the horrible speech or the lie on my tax return. The truth is that I shouldn't have been thinking unkind thoughts, speaking horribly or lying/stealing at all!

We wouldn't expect a burglar to get away with it if his defence was simply that he could have killed the guy he was burgling but he didn't. The fact you didn't do something worse is irrelevant. How can a non-action make up for an action. We may not be as bad as we could be but that is no defence for how bad we are. When we realise this we have no option but to turn to Jesus for forgiveness!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The spy who came in from the cold

For book club this month we read 'The Spy who came in from the cold' by le Carre. It is a book set in the cold war which deals with a main character, who seems to believe in nothing, attempting to infiltrate and arrange the death of a member of East Germany's security force. In the story you seem to have the main guys pragmatism contrasted with the misplaced ideology of those who believe passionately in either communism or western capitalism.

It struck me as I was reading that what seems to occur in this book is not that people change their ideologies but rather that other things (a romance, a friendship, money, power, success) become more important to them than their ideology. So although on paper they would still have the same ideology the determining factor in their life is no longer primarily their ideological belief but rather something else. This process also seems to be at the heart of the film 'The lives of others'.

Now it seems to me that although ideological shifts do occur this process goes on a lot in churches. So whilst some people who once believed the Christian message of Jesus come to a point where they no longer believe that, many more don't reject it but rather find that through their life other things become more important than their Christianity to them. So they pursue a relationship which they find becomes more important to them and then they get a bit of money and find that the acquisition of money becomes more important to them and then they find a cause and find that this becomes more important to them than their faith. What then occurs is that they actually are no longer living according to their ideology despite the fact that they would still say that they hold to that ideology.

I think as Christians we must be careful that we allow our ideology to dictate our actions and values rather than drifting through life and finding that it is our actions and circumstances which have determined our ideology.

Friday, 28 May 2010

It is not what Jesus does...

.. it's what he says that I have a problem with. That's what Mrs Soprano says to her Priest. When she said it I couldn't help but feel just how accurately this summed up many people's views of Jesus today. They like the idea of a guy who goes around feeding people and healing people and all of that. It's just when Jesus opens his mouth to talk that we have a problem.

We don't like it when Jesus talks about the fact that none of us are perfect and as such none of us are good enough for God. We don't like it when Jesus bangs on about being the only way to God and heaven. We don't like it when Jesus keeps insisting that his death is the thing which really matters and we don't liken it when Jesus talks about the judgment we will have to face if we reject his offer of forgiveness!

It strikes me that many people blandly say that Jesus was a decent enough person without really knowing what he said. If you actually listen to what Jesus said then he was not just a nice guy who did a few nice things but doesn't have anything to say to you. No he is a man who says extreme things which you have to do something with. At least Carmella is trying to engage with the stuff Jesus said unlike most people who assume it's just nice soundbites which it's fine to ignore.

Why not read something Jesus said (you could start with this?) and start thinking about if he was mad, bad or the God in human form he claimed to be!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Pride



As I was driving around Hartlepool the other day I saw this advert. Now whilst understanding the premise and generally being a fan of doing your own cooking I couldn't help but think of another advert which says 'Time - You won't find it in home baking'

However, I have found it a strangely thought provoking advert. You see it works on the premise that we all want to believe that we have achieved something. We want to feel that we have worked hard and that we have done something which we can be proud of. I can't help but wonder if this is why biblical Christianity is so unpopular. Biblical Christianity says that actually you can't do anything to make yourself good enough for God. You can't work hard, do the right stuff and achieve some level where you'll be good enough for God. No Biblical Christianity says that you are not good enough for God and that even your best attempts are rubbish. Biblical Christianity says that what we need is someone else to do the work for us. It's the ready meal approach. Biblical Christianity shows us that even though we're well off the mark we can be forgiven and made good enough not through our own efforts but through Jesus dying to take the punishment we deserve and giving us a new heart which means that one day, in heaven, we will be perfect.

Like this advert acknowledges people like pride. You can find pride in being a good person and feeling that you've managed to become a pretty nice person. You can find pride in your intellect and believing that you're cleverer than others. You can find pride in the way you care for people. You can find pride in your religious activities, your praying, church attendance, giving to charity, bead work etc. However you can't find it in Christianity. I wonder if this is why hedonism, moralism and religion are so popular but genuine Christianity is not. The problem with pride is that if you're not feeling proud, if you've had a bad day or realised your not as good as you thought you were, then you so easily slump into despair. So we have this weird mix in our society of pride and low self esteem as people battle to feel superior but when they fail end up feeling rubbish. Christianity should leave no place for either.

Pride - You won't find it in Christianity but you will find forgiveness, relationship with God and a future based not on you making an impossible grade but on grace!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Counselling does not deal with the soul

Or so Carmela Soprano says. On hearing that her husband is going to therapy she says that is doesn't deal with the soul, that's something else, but it's a start.

I found this a fascinating comment on the way our society thinks of the soul and of religion. People seem to think of religion as basically counselling with a spiritual edge. So Carmela thinks that ordinary counselling is good but religion is better. It strikes me that many religious people think like this and that most people think of religion as sort of some weird form of counselling! People who are struggling in life can find help in counselling but religion might prove a cheaper option!

However, despite all the depressing assumptions she seems to be making about Christianity what she says is ultimately right. Counselling may be good but ultimately it cannot deal with the soul. She speaks better than she knows. Lots of people, Christians included, have things which they need to get out and talk through with someone, this is a good thing and it worries me that so many Christians are so insular. However, talking through issues is not really what Christianity is about. Church is not a place for people simply to talk about the different life pressures they have. No Christianity is a place which offers you a way to sort out our soul.

Humanity's problem is not something that can be solved merely by counselling (helpful though it may be). No our problem is that we have a propensity to do bad things and to not do good things. What we need is to find forgiveness and some hope that this can change. Counselling and self help cannot do this so Jesus dies to make it possible. He pays the price for our sin so that we can be forgiven and he offers salvation to our soul so we can look forward to being perfect in his new perfect world. Christianity is not and must not be simply a spiritual version of counselling because ultimately it offers forgiveness and salvation for our soul which no counsellor can grant us!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Is democracy really that good anyway?

O.K. so in just over a week hordes of people will be descending on a collection of small buildings to put a cross in a box so that they can have their say on who can govern our country. We do this because we are, loosely speaking, a democracy and that is the way we run our nation. Now there are other ways to run a country (autocracies, monarchies, meritocracies, aristocracies etc) however, we in the west believe that democracy is the one and still seem to hold out hope that democracy will be strong enough to sort out the mess that is 21st century civilisation.

So we form international organisations, we educate people about democracy, we encourage other countries to adopt it, at times, we even forcibly take it into countries in the belief that if we can just spread democracy far enough we will be able to sort out our world.

The problem with democracy, as I see it, is me. That is to say that if I am anything to go by then democracy is doomed to failure. You see the problem is that I don't know enough, I can't do enough and I too often make bad or even evil/unkind/selfish decisions anyway. I therefore remain unconvinced that even 6 billion people who don't know enough, aren't strong enough and too often make evil/unkind/selfish decisions are going to be up to the challenge of sorting out our world.

You see democracy is all well and good but its track record isn't flawless. Democracy is fine until the majority want something you don't - then see the big guns (be it locally or internationally) throw around their social, financial or even sometimes military weight! Also what about when the majority are just wrong. There was a time where the majority believed that the earth was flat or that women were second class citizens. It's worth saying that the Nazis came to power in a democracy. You look at the world and you see that democracy has not solved the world's problems. The world is still plagues by wars, famine, exploitation, abuse, pain, division and a whole host of problems and much though it seems like we want to believe that democracy will be the world's saviour I personally don't see it! Democracy may well be the best sort of government a fallen, sinful and selfish humanity can hope for but it's certainly not up to the job of sorting our world out.

What we need is an all powerful, all knowing, morally perfect and completely loving ruler who will only ever make perfect decisions and do the right stuff. The Bible says that this ruler is God and that we rejected him and decided to try to rule earth our own way. However, Jesus came to earth to offer us forgiveness and a chance to come back under his rule. The Bible says that one day God will make a new earth which will be perfect because he will rule it perfectly. Their is a saviour for this world but it is not found in democracy but rather in a perfect rule by a perfect being. That's why getting to know Jesus, becoming a part of his community is so important because it is by doing this that we put ourselves back under God's rule and become a part of the new society he is rescuing for the new earth.

Humanity wants to believe that we can rule the world perfectly fine without God. History tells us that we can't. Jesus makes it possible for us to come back under God's rule so see if he has anything to offer because, significant though May 6th may be, it will not sort out this world!

Monday, 26 April 2010

A fresh start

Just listening to a sermon (from #babc) on the story of Zacchaeus and the guy speaking was talking about how incredible Jesus' offer of a fresh start, of being born again is. The problem is I think that all too often we don't recognise this offer as amazing in any way.

One thing the guy said really struck me! He said imagine that you could go back to the start of your life again. Wouldn't it be amazing to have another go at life. To be able to have a go at doing life and see if you could get rid of some of the mistakes, see if you could make some better decisions. The thought of being able to do that sounds incredible but what Christianity offers is even better than that.

Christianity offers us forgiveness for those mistakes and a fresh start but it doesn't then leave us simply to make the same mistakes again. Rather Christianity gives us the Holy Spirit which changes our heart and starts making us better. Sure we still make mistakes, we still do things wrong but the Holy Spirit works in us and promises that one day we will be made perfect, when we go to be with God in the new heaven and new earth!

How do we make such an incredible offer and such an appealing one seem to uninspiring and so unappealing to so many people?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Maybe she's born with it

Maybe it's Maybelline went the advert. I never quite got it because I always just assumed she was born with it and that the product couldn't really take the credit. However, in our youth meetings we are looking at Esther and this week we are looking at her being chosen to be queen. The amazing thing about this story is that she is chosen simply because of her beauty but then God uses her position as queen to rescue the Jewish people and to keep his plans for the salvation of people through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus in tact!

It struck me here that on the one hand it was Esther's beauty which got her the job as queen but on the other hand it was God's plan all along! So 'Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's God.' could be the slogan for the book of Esther! At times Christians can get so irritated with the superficial image culture that we see all around us that we write off physical beauty as unimportant. However, it's worth recognising that beauty doesn't have to be used purely for superficial ends, nor does it simply have to feed pride but God can use it for his glory and our good just as he did with Esther! Whatever God has given us the key is to bravely allow God to use it. As you read through the book of Esther you have to conclude that she certainly did this!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Now you are ahead of everyone else

Today I was walking through town and I saw an advert for a new iphone type thing and it said this (or something like) - 'Now you're ahead of everyone else'. Now this advert struck me because it made me realise just how obsessed we are with status and being ahead of other people.
You see the fact that this phone is ahead of everyone else's shouldn't really matter. After all what should matter is how good the phone is. If the advert said 'this phone is better than other phones because it has this, this, this and this' then it makes sense. After all that's what matters. What matters is how good the phone actually is. However, the manufacturers know that actually we don't care so much about how good the phone is but rather about how it makes us look. We like the idea of being ahead of everyone else.

Even our phone shopping so often comes down to that old ambition of being better than everyone else. Companies know that this ambition runs deep and so advertise accordingly - 'This phone/tv/car/perfume will make you better than all people who don't have it'. However, Jesus tells his followers to have a radically different ambition. Jesus says (see Mark 9v35-37) that his followers should not seek to make themselves better than others but rather should make their life ambition serving others regardless of their status. This is a radical ambition (you don't see adverts saying 'buy this phone it will make you appear worse and better at serving all people however unimportant') but it is the one we are called to so let's try at work, at home, at church wherever to avoid wanting to be ahead of everyone and instead think about how we can serve all!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

How badly can I do this?

I've just been to a seminar on church leadership at #nwa and have as such been prompted to ask this question.

At university I spent my life asking this question as I attempted to get through my history degree doing as little work as I could for the maximum possible result. I am fairly sure that this is not the best nor most rewarding way to work.

However, I do wonder whether in Christian work this is a question I should ask myself more. Rather than seeking to do things as well as I can maybe I should consider how badly I can do a thing for the same net gain? You see the temptation for me is to do anything I do as best as I can so that people realise just how clever/gifted I am. However, perhaps it would be a better use of time and better for my pride if I got used to trying to achieve the same things badly.

I don't want this to be an excuse for sloppy work however, let me give you an example. When writing this blog I could write it as I think it and not worry too much about grammar, punctuation, spelling and general articulateness. Alternatively I could work hard to ensure that the writing flows well, the argument sounds good, my use of English makes me sound clever etc. Now it may be that a better use of language or the correct grammar does make some difference to people's understanding of what I am writing however, it is more likely that it won't and so I can do it worse and as such use less time, worry less about how I look but get the same gain.
The same principle could be applied to preaching, youth work or whatever.

Maybe sometimes it'd be good to sometimes ask ourselves how badly can I do a thing to achieve what I want rather than killing ourselves to do it as well as we can so that we can feel better about ourselves and slowly burn ourselves out!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Bible Churches

So I'm at New Word Alive (#NWA10) and I can't stop thinking about one sentiment Hugh Palmer said this morning. He said that what is important is not whether we believe in Bible teaching but whether we believe in Bible living.

It strikes me that in church most people would say they believe that good Bible teaching should be at the heart of what we do however, I do wonder whether we are as committed to Bible living.
So as individuals I often wonder if we are committed to hearing good sermons based on the Bible or to actually being transformed by Bible based sermons?
However, what worries me more is our attitude as churches. As churches are we constantly reviewing our practices based on what we are learning from the Bible? If our churches were really into Bible living not just Bible teaching you would imagine members' meetings would revolve around what we have been looking at in the Bible and how our church needs to change according to what the Bible teaches. Instead we make concession after concession in the name of pragmatism and spend members meeting talking about use of the building and paint jobs!

Hugh was spot on good Bible teaching is pointless if we are not going to bother with Bible living! I can't help but think our churches would be changing more if we were really committed to this!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Relationship with Jesus

At church this weekend I was asked 2 questions.
1. Do you have a real relationship with Jesus
2. Are you willing for that relationship to grow?

I have been thinking about these two questions quite a bit and have had a few thoughts.

1. I am pretty sure that my relationship with Jesus is real but often forget that it is a relationship. I know it in my head and can talk about it a lot however my Christianity is often too wrapped up in the things I do rather than the person that I know! Having said that I also have to acknowledge that however real my relationship with Jesus is I will not be able to enjoy it fully until heaven due to the limitations caused by sin and therefore my own limitations. I cannot see Jesus, I cannot have a normal conversation with him and I cannot understand him.

2. I am in theory willing for my relationship with Jesus to grow however, yet again in practice I show a different desire. As I was thinking about this I was struck at how easy it is to settle for what you have. I have a relationship with Jesus and rather than longing and striving for that relationship to grow and grow I settle for the relationship I already have. I also find myself arguing about theories rather than acknowledging the simple truth that I have things I need to improve. I can enjoy a detailed discussion about how I need to become better at engaging with people about Christian things however, at the end of that discussion I can still fail to actually do it. Yet again I settle!

I find them good questions to ask and shall continue to think about them and make my life reflect what my lips say!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday

There was nothing in the room to endear it to anyone. The walls were dark and empty, it was cold and there was no-one there. But it was locked and at least alone in this room he didn’t feel frightened. He hadn’t slept for a whole day and he knew that he should be exhausted but there was no chance of him sleeping tonight.

Jerusalem was always going to be dangerous but nothing could prepare him for the day he’d just had. It started with an arrest. His teacher, his guide, his leader, his friend. The person he’d spent the last three years of his life devoted to had been arrested. It all seemed to happen so fast. One minute it was just the group of them together and the next the soldiers were coming to take his friend away. He wanted to resist, he wanted to make it stop but it quickly became apparent that there was nothing anyone could do and so he had to watch as the soldiers led him away.

He decided to follow at a distance but it was obvious that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for him so he kept away and tried to avoid being noticed. But try as he might it seemed that people knew him and now in this room, alone he was forced to face up to the fact that whilst his friend was being tried, whilst his teacher was facing his accusers, whilst his leader was being sentenced to death he had been swearing that he didn’t even know him. He had been frightened, he had been scared but still he couldn’t believe he’d done it. He had thought he would do anything for this man. He had thought that he would willingly die for him but when a girl suggested he was one of his followers he had crumbled and said over and over again that he didn’t even know him! As he pictured each time he’d said he didn’t know him it hit him like a punch in the face. It would be easy to say that he’d panicked. It would be easy to say that he had no choice. But as he looked back he couldn’t deny that he knew exactly what he was doing, that he did it out of fear and that he definitely did have a choice!

It was almost too painful to remember but as the day unfolded the pain only became more and more real. The day itself was a bit of a blur and it seemed that confusion was widespread. But he remembers watching as his friend went from place to place being questioned and he remembers that before he’d really known what was going on the sentence was past and the verdict was death. He remembers a numb disbelief as he watched his friend carry his cross up to the hill. He remembers the despair and pain that swept over him as he saw the nails hammered in and he remembers the fearful hopelessness which swept over him as he saw his friend being taken away to be buried.

He didn’t know what to do. Who knew what would happen next. Would the authorities come looking for him? Were they going to round up his followers and kill them too? What was he to do? He’d never thought of what he’d do when he stopped following this leader. He’d always assumed it was a permanent position but now what? He’d never even considered that it might end and certainly not like this! Somehow he’d decided to come to this room knowing it would be empty and hoping it would be safe.

So there he sat alone with his thoughts. Anger washed over him as he thought of the injustice of it all. Anger at the guards, anger at courts, anger at the executioner, anger at God even anger at his friend. How could he die? How could this happen? But even stronger than the anger was the shame and guilt which seemed to be suffocating him. How could he have been so weak? How could he have been such a terrible friend? Why hadn’t he stood up and been counted? He thought he was better than that and yet when it had come down to it he had abandoned his friend to face his fate alone. As the day ended and reality sank in hopelessness overtook him. His life, his future, his identity and his hope had all been bound up with this man but now he was dead and the dream was over. Sat alone in this room he quickly found himself to be looking at a future with no meaning. He found himself questioning his identity. What sort of a man was he if he could deny his friend so easily and so completely? He found himself searching for hope but finding none and he even found himself looking at life and wondering if there was any point to it anymore! Now that Jesus was dead he was nothing more than a guy called Peter sat in a room in Jerusalem wondering what on earth he should, or even could, do next!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Making decisions

O.K. so maybe I'm obsessed about making decisions or something but I have been thinking a bit about this and I reckon there are three basic ways we make decisions in our life.

Active decision making - The first way what I call active decision making. This is the thing we do throughout our life of picking between different options based on the perceived merits of each. So this includes decisions like...
PC or Mac
Call of Duty or Bad Company 2
Going to university or getting a job
Moving to Oxford or Moving to Cambridge
Taking one Job or taking another
Getting married or staying single
Eating cereal for breakfast or eating toast

This is the way we normally think about decision making. We normally think of the vast array of things we decide on throughout our life. The specific examples will change but we all make many decisions like this.

Decision making by neglect - So the second way we make decisions is what I call decision making by neglect. This is all the decisions we make because we never even think of them as options. This includes decisions such as...
Deciding not to kill someone today
Deciding not to take up pilates
Deciding not to get a job as a professional plate juggler
Deciding not to paint my house orange

Now the individual examples may not apply to you (or me) but what I am talking about here is that whole host of things which we never decide to do because we actually never think about them or consider them as options. It's not that we make a conscious decision to not do these things it's just that by never thinking about them we decide not to do them.

Decision making by default - The third way we make decisions is what I call decision making by default. This represents all those things which we never decide either to do or not to do but which our lives decide for us. This includes decisions such as...
Getting fat - You don't sit there and decide I am going to get fat but by each day eating more than you should practically you have made that decision
Not going to lectures - You may not decide you're not going to go to tomorrow's lecture but by staying up until 6:00AM practically you have made that decision

Now it strikes me that when it comes to becoming a Christian or not many people make this decision either by neglect or by default, That is to say that many people go through their lives without ever thinking about whether they are going to become a Christian or not. They therefore make the decision not to by neglect. Others go through their life never mixing with Christians, never going to church, never reading the Bible, never finding out about Christianity and therefore although they would describe themselves as open to Christianity their lifestyle makes the decision not to become a Christian by default.

Jesus says that he came to divide people and the division he makes is based on what people make of him. Let me encourage you to make an active decision about Jesus rather than making it by neglect or default!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

What should I do

I feel like my life is absolutely full of this question. I ask myself again and again what I should do.
So I wake up on a Monday morning and I ask myself the very basic question what should I do today. I get into difficult situations and I ask myself what I should do about them. I think about my future, my career, my year, my time and am constantly asking myself what I should do.

Not only do I ask myself this question all the time I am often asked it by other people. People with a whole host of decisions (about careers or where to live or what to do or how to make things better) all asking the same question 'What should I do?'

Now what has struck me about this is that we ask ourselves this question in the specific but too often fail to ask it in the general. By this I mean that when it comes to specific decisions (about time, money, locations, careers, relationships etc) we are obsessed with asking ourselves what we should do but when it comes to the big question of what should I do with my life we fail to ever ask this question.

It seems to me that most of us live our lives on a sort of firefighting basis so we hit a decision we need to make and then fret about what we should do without ever taking the time to think about what we should be doing with our life as a whole. However, if we asked ourselves what we should be doing with our lives more often I wonder if we would find it easier to think about the specifics.

I have been challenged recently by the parable of the talents (Matthew 15v14-30) to ask myself the question 'What should I be doing with my life?' more often. We are so often too busy fighting the current fire to ever stop and think about this but how do we hope to fight the fires and what do we expect to get out of life if we never ask ourselves what we should get out of. The Bible promises me that life is for getting to know God so as I think about what that means for my life hopefully I will become better at answering the smaller questions.

I should be getting to know and glorifying God through my life what should you be doing with yours?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Ugly things

The other day I was listening to a Ben Folds song (yes I am not going to try to deny it I like Ben Folds) and I was struck by one of the lines. He sings this,

'Alice, the world is full of ugly things that you can't change
Pretend it's not that way
It's my idea of faith'

As a Christian I live by faith. However, the problem I have when I say this is that most people's idea of faith is this head in the sand mentality. People think that when I say that I live by faith what I mean is that I spend my life believing something which is frankly unbelievable. The thing is that this is not how I understand faith. When I say that I have faith in God and his revelation in the Bible it means that because of what God has already done (as recorded in the Bible) I have confidence that he will go on to do what he has promised. We all exercise faith in some things and the trick of life is to try to have faith in things which won't disappoint. I have faith in God because I believe he is the most trustworthy person in the universe.

The other thing these lyrics got me thinking about though was the ugly things in the world which I can't change. I read an article last week by the one and only Richard Dawkins in which he said that Christians were obsessed by suffering. Now whilst I disagree with this assumption I would like to say that in a world which is full of ugly things which you can't change you either have to face up to them or live life pretending that it's not like that. Christianity faces up to and tries to deal with suffering when most people (myself included at times) simply pretend it's not that way.
Sadly the world is full of ugly things that you can't change and I don't have sufficient 'faith' to simply pretend it's not that way.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Looking Back

It strikes me that we all too easily forget. For many of us looking back is too painful and so we don't bother for others of us we are just too busy to find the time. However, looking back is essential. Christianity is built upon having faith in Jesus and if we are to have faith in him we need to look back to his actions and allow those things to give us confidence that he is worth us putting our faith in!

In the Old Testament we have many examples of people struggling to keep on trusting in God but finding the strength needed to do so by looking back. The book of Habakkuk provides a great example of this.
Habakkuk is stuck in a world which is full of injustice, evil and violence and he finds himself crying out to God asking him how he can allow such evil to go on? Habakkuk lives through a time of incredible evil in his own land followed by a brutal invasion and occupation by the Babylonians. He finds himself struggling to believe that God can just sit back and allow such evil to happen.

It is only by looking back to God's incredible rescue of his people in the exodus that he is able to once again trust that God is truly loving and will bring about salvation. You can read this in Habakkuk 3.

In the same way if we are to keep trusting God in this unjust, evil and violent world we must look at his past record and allow that to show us why he is worth trusting. We don't look back to the exodus but rather we look back to Jesus. In an attempt to help me look back to Jesus and remind myself why he is worth me having faith in here is my attempt to do a New t
Testament version of Habakkuk 3. I am no poet but it helped me none the less.

'God came from Bethlehem and God’s son from Nazareth. Angels declared his splendour and shepherds and wise men were full of his praise. His perfection was there for all to see and his wisdom for all to hear. He came in humility and he brought in gentleness. Love went before him and forgiveness followed at his heels. He prayed and he fed thousands; he spoke and he stilled the sea. He reached out and he cleansed the lepers; He prayed and he raised the dead. Yet I see your anointed one in anguish; I see him crying out to God in pain. I see him despised, forsaken and rejected; I see him giving up his spirit to death. Was your wrath against your son, O LORD? Was your anger against your anointed one? You stripped your sheath from your bow calling for many arrows, darkness fell, the mountains again shook as your son faced your fury. Yet he suffered this for the salvation of your people. He crushed the prince of demons and turned Satan’s own schemes against him. He triumphed over all wickedness and now rejoices at his victory.

I hear and my body should tremble and my lips should fail at the thought. I will quietly wait for Jesus to bring salvation to all his people and to return again in power.'

Monday, 15 February 2010

Christianity for the Lazy

The other week I was at a secondary school in Hartlepool and was trying to explain what I see the difference between Christianity and all other religions. Now the group is made up of mainly year 11 lads and so often I don't really feel like much goes in. I was attempting to explain that what all religions seem to teach is that we need to do certain things in order to make God like us. So we have to go to certain places, do certain things, obey certain rules, participate in different ceremonies and if we do enough of the right things God will like us and go into heaven. Religions are built on the idea that if we do enough of the right things we can make ourselves good enough for God. I then went on to explain that the Bible teaches us something quite different. The Bible says that even our best efforts are like filthy rags to God and that actually the only way for us to be good enough for God is by him doing something for us rather than us doing something for him. I ended by saying that I don't consider myself to be religious because I don't believe I have to do certain things to make me good enough for God, rather I believe that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, died on a cross to pay the price for my sin so that anyone who believes in him will be accepted by God.

At the end of this one of the guys turned to me and said 'So basically you believe in Christianity for the lazy'. Now although I don't think this is completely accurate I was pretty happy about this because it means that at least he was listening and that he's grasped the central idea that Christianity is not about us trying harder but rather about a gift we don't deserve from God.
It is only by understanding and believing that we become inspired and empowered to live for God!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Christianity v My social life

As I live my life and I see other people living their's I can't help but think that most people see any decision about whether they should become a Christian as a decision about what is worth more to them, Christianity or their social life. This is true whether you are a Christian or not.
If you are not a Christian then you may decide that Christianity is not for you because it would ruin your social life.
Alternatively if you are a Christian you might to decide not to obey Jesus' teaching because your social life is worth more to you than Jesus.

At the heart of many people's social life in our society is a substance called alcohol. A brief tour of people's status's on facebook will demonstrate the accuracy of this statement. Therefore many people's objection to Christianity when all is said and done is as simple as this - 'The Bible says don't get drunk. I like getting drunk. Therefore I'm not going to become a Christian' For many people life without the heavy nights out/in is so unimaginable that they will not even consider giving it up to give Christianity a go.

In an attempt to fight against this I want to give you 4 reasons why I think the Bible is against getting drunk and just see if it makes any sense.
1. Getting drunk can lead to doing things you regret - Anyone who has been drunk knows that this is true. The Bible says that God gives you life and holds you responsible for what you do with it. Being drunk is therefore condemned because it robs you of self control and leads you to doing things you would not ordinarily do.
2. Getting drunk can lead to hurting other people - Just look at the figures of crimes associated with alcohol abuse and tell me that I'm wrong. Alternatively look at your past and see how many people you said unkind things to, said unkind things about, fallen out with or hurt someone in some way because you were drunk. God says we should love other people like we love ourselves and being drunk does not help us do this!
3. Getting drunk is an abuse of your body - I don't mean this in any super pious way I simply mean that generally throwing up is your body's way of telling you that it would rather you didn't put so much alcohol into it.
4. Getting drunk is too often a form of escapism - My worry about getting drunk is that as I talk to people they use it as a way to escape from life. They spend Monday and Tuesday looking back at their drunken weekend and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday looking forward to their next drunken weekend. So many people seem to find life hard and unsatisfying and use alcohol abuse as a way to escape. The problem with this is that God gave us life for the living. Surely it would be better to find a way to find joy and meaning in the whole of life rather than simply finding ways to escape it for a while!

Now I am aware that as soon as I blog on something like getting drunk many people who previously have had no problems with my blog will feel that I have gone too far. After all it's fine to say anything but just don't tell me not to get drunk. Others of you who have had the pleasure of seeing me drunk will think 'what a hypocrite' but of course Christianity is not about whether you get drunk or not. Christianity is about confessing to God that I have done things I shouldn't have; I have hurt other people, I have abused the body God gave me and I have used alcohol to escape from the life he gave me to live, and then finding forgiveness in Jesus dying on the cross to take all the punishment I deserve for that.

Christianity is not about whether you get drunk or not but I worry that too many people trade in their chance to get to know the God who created everything and who loves them more than they can imagine for a night out on the town. I'm a miserable drunk but however good that night out is for you I am pretty confident that trading forever on a perfect world with God for it is a bad trade!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Using our gifts

Often we act as if pleasure is to be found in those times we don't have to do 'work'. However, it strikes me that actually there are few things more enjoyable than finding something you can do well and then doing it. So for example most people who enjoy pub quizzes are coincidentally those people who are good at it, most people enjoy the sports they are good at more than those they are not, most people who are really into playing music and getting better at it are those with some natural aptitude, basically we enjoy doing things we are good at.

The Bible says that this is the way we were created. God created us with different gifts (to be good at different things) and he created us to enjoy using those gifts. Even if we were perfect there would still be stuff for us to do and so our satisfaction and pleasure is not to be found in doing nothing but rather in doing the work God has prepared us to do.

I have become aware that all too often I try to avoid doing the work God has given me to do believing that doing nothing will bring me more pleasure it doesn't. However, all too often the work we do doesn't bring pleasure either. Now all work will at times be difficult and unenjoyable but often I wonder if this is the case more often than strictly necessary because we haven't taken the time to think about what gifts God has given us to use.

At our church we are going to run a course to help us all identify what gifts God has given us and how we can use them. The temptation is to think that this course is one to be avoided because identifying gifts sounds scary and because at the end of it we'll only end up doing more stuff and therefore having a worse life. I need to remind myself that the use of these gifts will not lead to a worse life because God made us with gifts and that using these gifts is the very thing God created us for. I hope I find that I've got some good gifts and that I can find myself ways to use them for God's glory, other people's benefit and my enjoyment!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Good days and bad

I have read a lot recently about how we understand, need and appreciate the gospel in our lives depending on whether we feel we have had good days or bad days. The basic argument goes something like this.

When you have had a bad day - So when you have ignored God, lived for yourself, done things wrong, failed people maybe even hurt people then it is easy to think that we are far away from God and that he must be rejecting us. However, this is not true because Christianity is not about us being good enough for God but rather about Jesus dying on the cross so that we can be forgiven for all that bad stuff. So the bad day actually has no bearing on our status before God because our status before God is all about Jesus not about the levels we attain.

On the flip side when we have had a good day - So when we feel we have managed to stay focused on God, when we have lived for him and for other people, when we have served people and helped them it's easy to think that we are closer to God and that he must accept us now. However, again this is way off because we are never good enough to hit the perfect standard of a perfect God and so our status before God is again all about what Jesus has done rather than how good we have been.

Now it is worth me saying that I consider this to be absolutely true and essential to anyone's understanding of what it means to be a Christian and on how we can come into a real relationship with God. However, I just want to look at it another way.

Whilst good days and bad days are not the determining factor when it comes to my relationship with God they do matter. You see what arguments like this are doing is looking at all from God's point of view and how he relates to us. However, if we for a minute look at it from our point of view I think we can make a distinction. Let me explain.

Good days - If by a good day we mean living the way that God intended then the way you feel about life and your day will and should be different if you have had a good day to if you have had a bad day. So for example on Thursday when I managed to study God's word deeply, to talk to God honestly, to serve God at youth work and to relate to people according to the grace God has shown me I felt better about the day, I worshipped God better and I enjoyed my life and the things God has given me more.

Bad days - If by a bad day we mean living in way contrary to that God intended then the way you feel about life and your day should surely be different from that enjoyed in a good day. So for example on Wednesday I didn't manage to relate to people well, I didn't talk with God honestly, I didn't study God's word deeply and I didn't serve God well and the way I felt about that day was worse because of that. I did not enjoy the day as much, I didn't have the same satisfaction out of it, I worshipped God worse and I felt worse about that day.

So whilst good and bad days might have no bearing on our status before God they do have an impact on our ability to enjoy and find satisfaction in the lives God has given us. If God really exists, if he really made this world and if the Bible is his revelation to people then living his way must lead to a better life than living opposed to it. My experience tells me that there is a difference between good days and bad days even if God, in his incredible grace, decides to see no distinction and love me regardless!