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!