Saturday, 24 December 2011

The return of the king

Isaiah 9v2-9 - For unto us a child is born and all that.

Christmas has not been the same since they stopped bringing out Lord of the Rings films. For three years every Christmas would involve numerous trips to the cinema to sit through hours and hours of orcs, hobbits and wizards fight over the fate of middle earth. If that doesn’t make you feel festive then nothing will. The final (and longest) instalment is called the Return of the King and revolves around Aragorn (Son of Arathorn) returning to Gondor to take his rightful place as king. As he returns there is the obvious conflict between the current Warden of Gondor (Denethor) and Aragorn as Denethor sees his power and influence passing away. You see the great news of a king returning is also the news which brings confrontation and hostility.

So we come to Isaiah 9 and we read these words and songs start ringing in our ears as we hear this great news of a child who is born. A child who will bring joy, a child who will bring peace, a child who will bring justice and stability and righteousness. We hear of this child who will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and our minds flash forwards to the Christmas story to visions of a baby sat in a manger surrounded by an ever increasing sea of talking animals and we feel suitably festive and a little bit religious and ready to make the most of the coming yuletide.

I can’t help but feel that when we read Isaiah 9 our minds are maybe racing to the wrong place. You see it is true that Jesus’ birth represents the birth talked about here but it’s not easy to see this king in the weakness and ignominy of the stable. Some wise men saw it and brought him gifts for a king. Herod saw it and tried to kill this rival but generally the birth itself looks unthreatening and is easily ignored. If our minds simply go from Isaiah 9 to Jesus’ birth and then stop there I’m not sure the connection is obvious. No to see just how wonderful Isaiah 9 is we have to keep reading.

You see Isaiah 9 is fulfilled in Jesus’ life. When Jesus starts his ministry he starts it by declaring the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel. Now gospel simply means good news. So do you see what Jesus is saying right at the start of it all? He’s saying the good news of Isaiah 9 is here. This kingdom which was promised all those years ago is now at hand and Jesus’ great call is to enter that kingdom. Isaiah 9 reminds us that Jesus did not come simply as an inspiring example of how to be a generally decent kind of bloke but he came as the king of a kingdom and he called people to it.

So we return to where we started. Aragorn returned and he claimed his rightful position as king. He ultimately brought victory to Gondor and through that came peace and prosperity. The king was here and he offered light in darkness, peace in conflict, justice and righteousness in what had become corrupt and self seeking. But when a new king is on the scene then kingdoms will inevitably collide and power will not be given up easily.

It’s maybe taken me a long time to get there but here’s the heart of Isaiah 9 and it’s what should go through our minds every time we hear these words read or sung this Christmas. Christmas is the time when we remember the moment when the Kingdom of God burst into our world. It is a great kingdom, a kingdom of peace, joy, justice, righteousness, prosperity and stability. It’s a kingdom run by a king who can be legitimately called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ This kingdom is here but it stands against all other kings and all other kingdoms. Jesus repeatedly says you can’t serve him and other things so either Jesus is the king or something else is. Either you’re a part of his kingdom, or you’re not. So I don’t know what the king of your life is – Maybe it’s you? Maybe it’s family? Maybe it’s success? Maybe it’s popularity? Maybe it’s money? I don’t know, but Isaiah 9 reminds us of what Jesus repeatedly said. There is a new kingdom, a better kingdom but if you’re going to be a part of that you do not need to go to church a few times, you don’t need to give a bit of money away, you don’t need to get a bit of religion in your life but you need leave the kingdom you’re in now, you need to reject the king you follow now and you need to find a new kingdom, with a new king and new values and become part of a new people, the people of God. If at Christmas you’re not confronted with a radically different kingdom which forces you to choose your allegiance then you have failed to understand Isaiah 9 and failed to understand Christmas and failed to understand Jesus at all. The good news of the return of the king and a new kingdom must also be the good news which strikes terror into every other king in our lives or it is not good news at all, in fact it’s not even news.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sundays and a heart for Jesus

OK. so you're a Christian and you get up on a Sunday morning and decide to go to church. Or you get up and decide to lead a Church service. What should you expect? What should you be doing? What is the function of getting together? What is the point of the one hour, two hours or whatever we give for a Sunday morning.

Well the problem with humanity is undoubtedly the heart. Our hearts do not love God or other people as they should. The Bible calls this sin and says that it is our nature. So on a Sunday morning surely it stands to reason that our goal is to warm our hearts for Jesus? Surely a Sunday morning is there to help us love Jesus more? So on a Sunday morning we help people to recognise the true state of their hearts and then we point them to Jesus and enable his work and his character to win their hearts.

I need to say that I think that this is an invaluable way of thinking about things and much better than numerous other things which people focus on during a Sunday morning. However, there are a couple of dangers with this which I think are worth thinking about.

If it's all about our heart and our love for Jesus then we are undoubtedly going to have failed in the week leading up to church. Our heart is not going to be what it should have been and because of this our behaviour, thoughts, words, relationships are not going to have been what they should have been either. So if what happens at church is that we are brought face to face with the state of our hearts and then reminded of Jesus work there is as very real danger that it becomes expected that a Sunday morning service provides 2 functions.
1. Absolution - At church we expect to be brought face to face with the state of our heart. Then we expect to be reminded of the fact that despite the state of our heart Jesus died for us and so forgiveness is available for us. The danger is that through this Sunday focus we end up living a life without ongoing repentance and sanctification, instead relying on a meeting to provide the absolution we need.
2. Reheating - Then at church we expect to find our hearts reheated with love for Jesus. So the way we expect our Christian life to work is that we go to church and have our hearts warmed for Jesus and then during the week they cool down until we return to church next Sunday morning to have out hearts reheated.

All of a sudden our Sunday meetings have become precisely the ritual which we were hoping to avoid by focusing on the heart instead of externals. Sunday mornings become events we go to for absolution and refocussing and fail to impact the rest of our lives. Sundays become the very religious exercise which we so wanted to avoid.

So what should Sunday morning's be about? Maybe I'll return to that in my next post.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Love that will not betray you

Over the last couple of months I have done a couple of things which have caused me to think about things again. The first thing I did was change jobs and the second was to read 'Counterfeit Gods'. What's interesting in any job is to see what motivates people. Every workplace and every manager is trying to work out what it is which will motivate their employees. What is it which will make people want to come and work for them, what will make them remain loyal and what will help them to work to their maximum? The answer which most people come up with here is obvious for all to see - 'Money'. Sure there are other things which can motivate people and there are other things which workplaces try like status (change the job title), time off (increase holiday allowance), work environment (team building, nice environment etc). However, when it comes down to it if you want better staff the answer is normally to offer more money, if you want to keep certain employees then the answer is normally to give them a pay rise and if you want to encourage people to work better you offer them performance based pay. Why is it that money is the ultimate motivator? Well surely it is because we are best motivated by the things we love most. Everything seems to point to the fact that the thing we love best is money.

This may well be true but just because we love something doesn't make it good. You see the love of money is dangerous. People often end up pursuing money at the expense of their families, their health, their relationships and a whole host of things. Often our love of money actually fails to make us happy but rather so dominates us that we ruin our lives pursuing it. Money also traps us. We have a certain amount of money or are promised a certain amount of money and so we buy a certain house and pursue a certain lifestyle and then we have to keep earning like that or else our whole life would fall apart. So we love money but maybe we shouldn't.

The song 'Sigh no more' has the following line 'Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free'. Here they recognise what I have been saying here and what Tim Keller says in Counterfeit Gods. Love tends to betray us. We believe that it will bring us all we are looking for but then we get it and find that it betrays us. Love tends to dismay and enslave us. Rather than bringing us the freedom and joy we thought it would we end up trapped by it as we continue to pursue things which cannot ever deliver.

So what do we do? Well love is not a bad thing. the problem is that everything we love in this world is corrupted and damaged by sin and therefore disappoints. The problem is that we are corrupted and damaged by sin and therefore we love things more than we should. The gospel is the message of a perfect God's love for us and of the way we can love God and find that it is in fact that love and that love alone that will not betray us, dismay or enslave us but will instead set us free.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Filling Diaries

Having moved to a new area then it is just incredible to look through your week and realise that you have free evenings. Free evenings are something which as time goes on seem to become few and far between but when you've just moved you start with a blank canvas and you have a short window to start thinking about how you fill it.
This proves to be surprisingly difficult to do and perhaps the chief battle is that to get the balance between the right between careful planning of your time and making time for the unexpected. The danger is that without careful planning of your time you end up not doing some of those things which you view as important. Meeting with people, playing sport, enjoying corporate times of studying the Bible and worshipping God together requires planning. Basically everything which involves other people is going to involve some organisation and the use of some calendars.
However, the danger with this is you so carefully plan everything and you manage your time so closely that you don't actually leave time for people. You actually find it impossible to make time for a friend who's going through a difficult time. You can't make the time to get the rest, or the time alone, or the relaxed time with close friends you need or the extra investment your children or family or friends find themselves in need of. You see the problem with life is how do you plan for the unexpected?
I have no real answers for this. I guess I will constantly be battling this and be getting it wrong however, I write this to force myself and maybe to encourage a few other people to at least think about these issues.
God has given you a certain number of hours. No more and no less and often these are wasted and not enjoyed to their full simply because we haven't thought about how we are going to use the life God has given us. Perhaps thinking about these issues is a helpful starting point when it comes to thinking about these things. However, all too often we fail to make it even to the starting point.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Tracing Rainbows

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

These words are found in a hymn written by George Mattheson (the story behind why he wrote this is quite incredible but not the point of this blog).

The phrase 'I trace the rainbow through the rain' was one which had never really registered with me before but which I haven' been able to stop thinking about this week. He is referring back to the story of Noah's Ark when the world experienced God's judgment for it's wickedness. In the account of Noah's ark God saw the wickedness of the world and sent rain in judgment. However, following the flood God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow. A promise that he would never again judge the world like this and that the world would continue to enjoy God's blessing.

So this image of tracing the rainbow through the rain is the image of seeking out God's grace, seeking out God's promises even in the midst of difficulties and disasters. These are the words of a man saying that when he is going through hardship rather than concentrating on the 'rain' which is all around him he is going to work hard to find the comfort offered by the rainbow (God's promises).

From our point of view this would look like in the midst of the incredible grief caused by the death of a loved one we would work hard to fix our eyes on God's promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.

This would look like in the midst of illness and suffering we would not become consumed by our pain but rather work hard to instead focus on God's promise of resurrection bodies without pain.

This would look like in the midst of stress at work we don't become obsessed with thinking about or worrying about things at work but instead set our minds on God's promise of perfect rest and rewarding work.

And the symbol of all these promises of God is found at the cross. So if we are to trace the rainbow through the rain we actually are to trace the cross. We are to work hard to see the cross and remember that it acts as God's guarantee of those promises which we need during those difficult times. Tracing rainbows in the midst of rain is a hard thing to do but that is the way which Christians must deal with the difficulties and pain they inevitably go through.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Hungry but tired

Augustine writes in his confessions of a time when he hungered after God. He longed to experience more of God, to enjoy more of God. Those around him presented him with ways of experiencing Gods. They presented him with a language of spirituality. They spoke to him of truths. They presented him with the elements of this world and they encouraged him to feed on these and find God. He concludes his time pursuing God in this way using these words,

'Because I thought them to be Thee, I fed thereon; not eagerly, for Thou did not taste to me as Thou art; for Thou wast not these emptiness, nor was I nourished by them but exhausted rather.'

So he fed on these things but because these things did not taste like God should he didn't do it eagerly. Because God was not to be found in these things he didn't find himself feeling well fed and refreshed but instead tired out.

I wonder how much of this has gone in our churches. It seems to me that many people were told that they would find God in church attendance. So they merely committed themselves to attending church. They turned up but they didn't experience God because they were just attending a meeting and so they found it to be tiring rather than nourishing.

It seems to me that many people have been led to believe that they will experience God in a variety of religious experiences. They were led to believe that experiencing and enjoying God was about wearing certain clothes, acting a certain way, obeying a set of rules, reading a certain version of the bible, reading the Bible a certain amount of the time and a whole host of things.

But here is the problem. They experienced exactly what Augustine did. They didn't find any joy or satisfaction in these things but because they hungered for God and had been told this was where God was to be found they pursued them. But over time they found their hunger unquenched and them tired with all their work and so they gave up. The thing is they didn't just give up on those things but they gave up on pursuing God. They had been told that God was to be found in those things. They had done those things and those things had disappointed so they give up on pursuing God as a bad idea.

I think our churches are full of people who were told that God was to be found in certain activities. They did those activities but because those things were not really how you experience God then they ended up tired and so gave up. They ended up thinking of pursuing God as a tiring demanding and unrewarding thing. So then when someone like me stands up and says that they should be pursuing God they think I tried that and it didn't work and so ignore me. When I stand up and say that pursuing God is not a heavy burden. When I say that he promises to be bread and water which truly satisfies they think well I pursued him and didn't find myself nourished and fulfilled but rather still hungry just more tired and more stressed.

What we are reaping now is the harvest of people who like Augustine hungered for God but were pointed to the wrong places for feeding. This harvest is people who think the best way to follow God is just to drift along with him rather than to passionately pursue him with their lives.

Let me encourage all people to do what Augustine does and realise the problem was not that God does not satisfy. It was not that God wants to weigh you down with heavy burdens it was that you were trying to experience him in deeply flawed ways. Experiencing God is truly satisfying but it is not found in religious observance it is found in relationship building.
It is found in spending time with God. In understanding his word and letting it speak to you and change you. In talking to God in prayer not through religious formula but with honesty and transparency. It is through experiencing the joy of being part of his kingdom through enjoying real, genuine, loving relationships with other Christians.

To all those who've given up pursuing God as a bad job let me suggest you give it another go with a focus on building relationships not following codes.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Pharisees need the gospel too

Churches are full of Pharisees. Churches are full of people who subscribe to a certain morality, to a certain set of values and to a certain view of religion without any real knowledge of, love of or relationship with Jesus. Churches are so full of Pharisees that when people hear that I go to church people assume that I am a Pharisee. They assume that I believe that if I do certain things God will like me as long as I also avoid doing things God does not like. Pharisees preach an anti-gospel. They are about morality, appearances and judgmentalism when the gospel is about forgiveness, the heart and graciousness. Pharisees discredit Christianity, damage my witness and poison the church.

But the problem is that I dislike Pharisees so much that sometimes I forget that they need the gospel too. You see Pharisees are just like everyone else who hasn't been reconciled to God through Jesus' death - they are just people looking for something with which to make sense of, and bring some meaning to, life. As such they need to hear the good news of a relationship with God which makes sense of why we're here and brings meaning into life. They need to hear the good news of forgiveness which frees us from moral superiority and constantly trying to appear good. They need to be rescued and changed by Jesus' death. They need to repent of their Pharisaism.

As a minister I need to work hard to make sure I don't give up on the Pharisees. I don't write them off but I keep trying to preach the gospel to them and demonstrate their need of it. I have just listened to a fantastic evangelistic service which effectively preached the gospel in a powerful way to Pharisees and I was forced to ask myself am I lovingly but forcefully preaching the gospel to Pharisees or have I given up on them. Pharisees are hard - the Bible clearly shows that and warns us about it. But God can change anyone's heart so I need to think about how I do evangelism for Pharisees.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Obedience

The idea of obedience is horribly unfashionable. So unpopular is the idea of obedience that I even thought about renaming this post in an attempt to get more clicks. However, when it comes to Christianity obedience is incredibly important. Jesus calls on his followers to obey him and Peter in his first letter refers to his recipients as 'Obedient Children'.

However, we struggle with obedience. Many of us know that it is important, we would even say that we want to obey and yet time and time again we fail. We long to pray like God says we should but we lack discipline, get distracted and find it repeatedly pushed out. We long to love like God calls us to but when such a person (insert name here) comes along we find ourselves again and again giving into impatience or malice or selfishness. How can we obey better? Is it even possible?

Well let me suggest that much of this will depend on our attitude towards obedience. Let me articulate two attitudes towards obedience and explain the difference the attitudes will have.
The first attitude goes something like this...
'God created me. he gave me life and breath and many good gifts. He then came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and went to the cross to suffer humiliation, death and hell on my behalf. He now offers me free forgiveness (not earned by obedience) and an eternity with him. It therefore goes without saying that I should obey him.'

The second attitude goes something like this...
'God is absolutely and completely holy. He is perfect in his morality, in his judgment, in his decision making and in his actions. He loves perfectly. He is completely satisfied. He is completely joyful. He doesn't make mistakes. He doesn't fail to see the consequences of his actions and his is completely in control as demonstrated perfectly in Jesus' work on earth and I get to obey him. I get to be like him.'

You see the first one seems fine. It seems like it is grounded in the gospel but the problem with it is that it still sees obedience as the thing we should do as a result of the gospel. Now whilst it is true that we should obey all too often that fails to motivate us. The second way, however, offers something completely different. Still routed in the gospel rather that concentrating on what God has done it concentrates on what God is like. Rather than being motivated by God's actions it is motivated by God's character. When Peter talks about us as 'Obedient Children' he is conjuring up the picture of a child who longs to be like their dad. He goes onto say 'As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct' Do you see the difference? Rather than obeying as a response to what God has done we obey because we see God in all his wonder and long to be like him. Obedience is the act of us becoming like God.

Too often we see obedience as the unfortunate side effect of eternal life. In order to be saved from hell and get heaven we need to put up with the earthly side effect of obedience. This all too often fails to motivate us to obey. But when we realise that obedience is not something a Christian has to do but rather something the Christian's birth enables him to do well then we're excited to be like God and so rather than thinking we have to obey we consider it a great joy and a privilege that we get to obey. Maybe now we will find greater motivation to obey as we seek to become more like God during our time on earth.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Married Bachelors

Trying to find things that a God who can do everything can't do has proved to be somewhat difficult for sceptical humanity. In an attempt to find things people have said things like well God couldn't make a square circle because a circle is circular by definition. Now this is a facile argument because it is asking whether it is possible for God to do two mutually exclusive actions. The simple answer to this is that God is unable to do two mutually exclusive actions because nonsense remains nonsense even when addressing God! To talk about square circles or married bachelors is to talk nonsense, to speak gobbledegook. Now in Christian circles I hear a lot of statements which fall into the same category. I am just going to state a few here...
1. A Christian who isn't bothered about obeying Jesus. This is not a position which can be held. This is not a statement which can be engaged with. It is nonsense just like talking about triangular circles.
2. Someone who loves Jesus but has no time for the church he purchased with his blood. To say you love Jesus but not love his church makes as much sense as to say you are a married bachelor.
3. A non-committed Christian. No such category exists. It's nonsense. To talk about a non-committed or not a proper Christian is to group some words together which make no sense. It'd be like saying I'm a non-footballing footballer or I'm a non-acting actor.

These positions are not even things which we are open for discussion. They're not legitimate positions which can be reasoned because they are nothing more than gobbledegook and you cannot reason with gobbledegook. You cannot be a married bachelor. You cannot reach a compromise position with someone who thinks they are a married bachelor (well maybe you are on weekends?). You cannot have a discussion about the position of married bachelors in the universe. The only solution is for them to stop talking rubbish and own up to what they really are 'married' or 'bachelor'.

Christians are people who long to obey Jesus, who love his church and who are committed to him above all else. You cannot claim to be something which is mutually exclusive - so are you a Christian who wants to obey Jesus or are you not a Christian who has no desire to obey Jesus? We need to stop creating nonsense phrases and start making sense and then maybe we can start talking and actually get somewhere.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Was it love or fear of the cold

One of the Mumford and Sons songs has the following line in it,
'Was it love or fear of the cold that led us through the night'
which got me thinking about our motivations in life. So many friendships are based on fear of the cold rather than love. So we don't like the cold. We don't like feeling lonely. We don't like feeling alone. We are afraid of being alone and so this drives us into relationships. So many relationship groups are built around the questions of who's around and who's willing to be around so that I won't be alone. I remember this from the start of university. You start university and you're so scared of being alone that you just find anyone who is happy to spend time with you and you hang around with them - It's better than being alone. But these friendships don't last. You see your relationships need to be built on more than fear of the cold if they are to last they need to be built on love. So you get bored, you get frustrated, you start feeling lonely again and in the end you find people you like and you start building relationships out of love rather than fear of the cold.

The same thing happens with many people and Christianity. They start to feel alone. Either without a community around them or alone in the universe. They are scared of living without a community, without a framework to live their lives by, without anything above and beyond them and in Christianity they find these things. they find a community which will accept them. They find a framework by which they can live their lives and they find a God who is bigger and better than them. So they come into Christian community and become Christians. Now there is nothing wrong with this as a starting point however, if your Christianity is always motivated by fear of the cold then like human relationships it will not last. You will fall out with the people, you will find the framework frustrating and you will find God distant unless your motivation moves from fear of the cold to love. You see it's fine to be drawn to Christianity by fear of the cold but if it is to last your motivation must change to one of love. I see so many people who don't like their life, are afraid of their future and so come to Christianity for a while before at some later point drifting away again. Why is this?

Well I think it is because it was fear of the cold not love which led them to Christianity. Christianity which lasts is Christianity motivated by love for who God is and what he has done.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Another hour of your life

So this week I have given an hour of my life to the following...
1 - Watching Man City v Blackburn (not sure why I did this)
2 - Watching Real Madrid v Barcelona (wish I hadn't done this)
3 - Playing Fifa 11
4 - Playing Tennis
5 - Playing Monopoly (First time for about 15 years and I remembered why it had been so long)

Much like last week my week has involved a mix of enjoyable and not enjoyable. A mix of things which were a good idea and things which weren't.

Now for those of you who decided that an hour on Easter Sunday was too much to give up to see if it had anything to say to you let me suggest you join us this Sunday (10:45am at Browning Avenue Baptist Church) for the start of a new series we're doing looking at the meaning of life from the book of Ecclesiastes. If you don't normally go to church why not give it a whirl and see if the Bible has anything interesting/useful to say about the meaning of life.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

An hour of your life

As you look across your life I guess all of us can think of any number of things which we will give up an hour for. Here are some things I have recently given up an hour of my life for
1 - An episode of the Sopranos
2 - Watching Middlesbrough Football Club (I guess this is longer than an hour)
3 - Playing Angry Birds on my phone (I'm going for 3 stars on each level)
4 - Playing football
5 - Speaking to friends on the phone
6 - Visiting a farm
7 - Watching Beauty and the Geek (only once I feel I must add)

I guess if you were to list some of the things you give up an hour to do you would get a list of some worthwhile stuff and some stuff which is quite simply a bit of a waste of time.

Here is my question - When most of us are willing to spend an hour doing practically anything, why is it so hard to get people to give an hour of their lives to come to church and see if Jesus' death and resurrection actually has anything to say to them?

That's what we're going to be looking at tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 10:45 and let me encourage as many of you as possible to give up just an hour of your life to hear me talk about what this Easter weekend is all about.

So join us for 'A matter of death and life' at Browning Avenue Baptist Church - Sunday 24th April - 10:45am.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Syncretism

I apologise if this makes no sense but I am aware of this problem in myself and feel like I should try to articulate it!

So idolatry is a bad thing. Well at least according to the Bible it is. Idolatry is in essence allowing something else to take things which only God deserves.
So when we love something instead of God then that thing has become an idol.
Idols are rarely bad things but normally good things which we allow to become too important to us.
So a high view of family is a good thing but when I love my family so much that I allow it to dictate my actions, thoughts, attitudes more than God then it has become an idol.
Football is a good thing but when I love that more than I love God then it has become an idol.

However, this is quite a narrow view of idolatry. In the Old Testament when God's people turned away to idols they rarely gave up entirely with God. No rather they worshipped God along with other gods. This was called syncretism. Trying to worship two things at the same time. God may even still have been number 1 but they wanted another god as well.

I do wonder whether today syncretism is more of a danger than straight out idolatry. It's not that I want rid of God I just want success as well. It's not that I want God out of the picture entirely I just want to be rich as well. The problem is that syncretism is more difficult to spot. You see idolatry is in some ways easy - Do I love this more than God? If I do it's an idol if not then it's not.
But syncretism is harder. Syncretism is harder to spot because in order for something to be an idol now it doesn't have to be more important than God it simply has to take something belonging to God.

Let me explain...
Say if you were a person who likes to do things well and be successful. There are 3 things which could be going on here.
1. You could just like being successful. You like doing things well but it's not a problem you still love and follow God and your desire to be a success has no impact on this. Your success is nothing more than a means by which you serve, enjoy and glorify God.
2. You could be an idolater. By this I mean you could actually love being successful more than you love God. You therefore choose success over God and thus show that success is your real God.
3. You could be a syncretist. You love God and want to follow him but you have allowed success to take some of the things God deserves. So some of your significance is found in being successful and so you have allowed success to be part of what identifies you as well as God. But your identity should come from God so by doing this you have allowed success to provide something only God should provide. So you are a syncretist. You want God and like being identified by him but you have allowed something else to provide your worth which should only belong to God. You have allowed something else to take your energy and steal your affection apart from God.

Now this becomes more complicated to identify because enjoying and loving God through success is a good thing. It is when these things become disconnected from God that we have a problem. However, for people within church it is more likely that you are a syncretist than simply an idolater. It is much more likely that you have allowed other things to give or take things which only God should than that you have allowed yourself to love something more than God. However, syncretism is still idolatry so we need to be serious about identifying it and rooting it out because God is the one worth being loved with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The god I don't believe in

I believe in god but...
I don't believe in a god in the traditional sort of way. That's just a social construct.
I don't believe in a god who makes moral requirements on my life. It's my life why should he care!
I don't believe in a god who allows such terrible things to happen. If he's out there this stuff must be beyond him.
I don't believe in a god who cares about what I think of him. Surely he should be above that?
I don't believe in a god who sends people to hell. Hell? I mean come on!
I don't believe in a god who lets rapists get away with it. He should step in there!
I don't believe in a god who lets children be abused. He shouldn't stand for that.
I don't believe in a god who'll just forgive anyone for anything, no matter what they've done. Anyone can be sorry but it doesn't make it o.k.

It's easy to think of the things you don't want to believe and then turn them into a list of things you don't believe but at the end of it the question you have to answer is what do you have left to believe in?

If all we simply do is state all the things we don't believe in we run the risk of never actually battling with the issues in order to work out what we do believe. Beware you don't assume that stating what you don't believe and why is the same as being able to justify what you do believe!

P.S. The views stated at the start of this blog certainly do not all represent what I don't believe (it was a rhetorical tool)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

21st Century Island Syndrome

The film 'About a boy' (which I like more than I should) begins with Hugh Grant telling us what rubbish the statement 'no man is an island' is because in our age now is the perfect time to be an island. The film goes on to suggest that he is wrong however, I reckon a lot of us still think he is right. What with computers, books, tv, sports etc sometimes being an Island can feel rather nice. It feels especially nice when you have been let down and hurt by people. As life goes on and we grow in our realisation that people are unreliable and often hard work it's often tempting to pull up the draw bridge and withdraw to our private island.

I see a whole host of people within the church who seem to have withdrawn from people. Perhaps they cross paths with other people occasionally but in terms of real, vibrant, honest, committed friendships they have given up on them. They view them as unimportant, not worth the effort and something they don't have time for.

To be like this is to rebel against God's purposes...

God's purpose in creation was to make something which was capable of real friendship with him. That something was us. We are designed for real friendship.

However, when man was alone (in a perfect world) there was still something not right in the world because God had created something in his own image which meant he had created something which needed real, strong and loving relationships.

Humanity messed that up so God came down to earth to redeem his people. Why did he do this? Well the whole purpose of this redemption was to rebuild these friendships. To make it possible for people to have a real and vibrant friendship with God and strong, loving friendships with each other.

To reject honest, genuine and loving friendships is actually not simply a question of choice but a rebellion against God's purposes in creating you and redeeming you. It is worrying to see how many Christians seem to have opted out of real friendships, for one reason or another, considering that it was in order for you to make real friendships that you were both created and redeemed.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Love Wins

Well following Rob Bell's video and the christian media storm which erupted I am aware that many people have been waiting with baited breath to see what the Parker line is. I mean they know where Piper stands but they just want to see where the other big guns stand before nailing their colours to the mast. So somewhat tardily I have decided (prompted by a tweet I read) to state my official line on the matter!

The triune God before time itself decided to create a universe as an overflow of the love they had always enjoyed. In a battle between inaction and love - Love wins

The people God created turn their back on him and start making something of a mess of the universe he created. However, God continues to be long suffering, patient and kind with them as he reveals himself to them and works to restrain evil and bring people back into relationship with him. In a battle between indifference and love - Love wins

Knowing full well mankind's inability to relate to him, each other or creation properly, God the Son becomes a man and suffers incredible hardship and difficulty as eventually he is crucified by the very people he came to rescue. Through this crucifixion forgiveness is made possible and through this a renewed relationship of love between people and God. In a battle between comfort and love - Love wins

One day God promises a new creation in which everybody relates to each other, and to God, in perfect love. God will not allow hate, suffering, and all kinds of evil to go unchecked and one day he will do away with them forever. Ultimately in the battle between sin and love - Love wins

So about this much at least Rob Bell is right - Love definitely wins!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Who decides who loves Jesus?

It has become popular to talk about Christians as people who love Jesus. This is a great definition of a Christian and it is not new. This is surely the definition Jesus gives when he talks about the importance of loving him more than anything else (Matthew 10v37-38). Christianity is not primarily about the things you do, the things you say or anything like that it is about a relationship of love with Jesus Christ.

However, today someone said to me how come such a person gets to decide who loves Jesus and who doesn't? You see if it's about loving Jesus then surely I am the only person who can say whether I do or not and everyone else should just get their nose out of other people's business. You see the idea behind this statement is a really popular one which states that as long as I love Jesus (by my own definition of love) then I'm o.k. and no-one can tell me that I am or am not a Christian. So what we end up with is a group of people who can say anything, do anything but still claim to be Christians because they love Jesus. What we end up with is a community whose only response to any teaching, lifestyle choices or anything is to say 'well they seem to love Jesus' or 'well as along as they love Jesus' or 'they seem to love Jesus more than these other people'

So Christianity has become about nothing. It's become about whether people say they love Jesus and whether they talk about Jesus in a loving way and nothing else.

So back to the original question. Who get's to decide who loves Jesus and who doesn't? Well let me suggest that Jesus does. What does he have to say about the matter? Let me quote but a few things he says on the matter?

1 - John 21v15-19 - When Jesus meets with Peter after the resurrection Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter says yes and so Jesus tells him to 'feed my lambs/sheep'. Jesus here says that people who love him will feed his people.
This means that you can't lead people astray and love Jesus. You can't teach people things which leads them away from Jesus and still love him. So people who talk about loving Jesus but are teaching error can and should be confronted because what they are doing is not loving Jesus.

2 - John 14v23 - Jesus here clearly says that those who love him obey his teaching. This means that it is a contradiction to pursue a life of disobedience to Jesus whilst still claiming to love him. This means that disobedient acts can and should be confronted because what they are doing is not loving Jesus.

3 - 1 John 4v20-21 - Here John says that Jesus taught that it's impossible to claim that you love God if you don't love your brother. This means that it is impossible to say that 'I love Jesus I just don't love Christians/the church'. How can you love Jesus but not love the church he purchased with his blood? So this means that a disregard, indifference or hostility towards God's people is incompatible with love for Jesus. Therefore yet again this attitude towards Christians can and should be confronted because this is not loving Jesus.

That's just a few examples I'm sure there are more but my point is that although Christianity is about loving Jesus this should not make it the subjective wishy washy thing which it seems to have become with so many people and so many Christian communities!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Say what you mean

Say what you mean and mean what you say was one of those sayings which people always said and which makes absolute sense. If you're going to say something make sure you say what you are meaning to say and if you are going to say something make sure you mean it before saying it. How much aggravation would be avoided if people simply did this? But anyway that is an aside.

It makes sense for people to do this. It is common sense. It is good advice for you to follow apart from in church! Well at least according to the head of churches together I heard on the radio on Tuesday. Chris Evans was questioning him about what he'd been doing at St Andrews University and this guy responded by saying he'd been doing some call and response stuff. So he would say something like 'God is good' and they would respond 'All the time' (I think this is right but I apologise for my liturgical ignorance if it isn't). Chris Evans then asked him whether it mattered if people said it without meaning it to which the guy responded 'Not really' before qualifying it with 'it's better if they do'.

Now I was flabbergasted by this. I mean if it doesn't matter whether people mean it or not then what exactly are we doing. What good can it possibly do to have a whole host of people saying something they don't believe? No wonder people consider church to be a waste of time. It is a waste of time if what you do there is say a few things you don't believe and then go home. When someone from within the church says that what matters is doing some religious stuff rather than what you believe then it only reinforces peoples view about church being all about tradition and ceremony rather than about anything real. I mean after all if what they say isn't real then why should we believe that anything about Christianity is true.

But Christianity is about a real relationship with a real God. There is actually nothing more real than this and so we must ensure that we say what we mean and mean what we say. Simply stating words is of no value but when those words flow out of a real relationship then those words become powerful, encouraging and meaningful. So whether it's liturgy, prayer or singing make sure you say what you mean and mean what you say and if you don't mean it then please don't say it. Until people see that we mean the things we sing, speak, pray, read and listen to then they will fail to see Christianity as anything real, significant or relevant in any way to them!

Friday, 4 February 2011

What does God's goodness mean?

O.K. do I don't normally put clips of other people on this because I figure if you want to hear their stuff you can just read their blog etc.
However, I follow a lot of Chandler and yet had missed this until this week so why not give it a watch!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Counting friends

One of the songs in the Muppet Christmas Carol contains the following words (Yes I know I'm in the wrong season but I've been absent from the blogging world for a while so give me a break!)
'Life is like a jouney, who knows when it ends?
Yes and if you need to know the measure of a man
You simply count his friends'

Now this leaves me with a problem as I'm not sure I'm leading any friendship league table. According to facebook I have 166 friends (which seems like an obscenely high number to me) however when compared to others of my friends it appears I don't measure up too well. One of my friends Scott has 620, John has 580 and even a man who describes himself as unsociable has 312! If someone was trying to ascertain the measure of men by friends I'm not sure I'd be measured too well.

However, I guess the question I am left wondering is whether this really is the best way to measure men? Is someone's significance really measured in their number of friends or is it something else. Many people think that their significance is found in the jobs they have, the money they earn, the stuff they possess, the position they hold, the things they have achieved, the abilities they have as well as their popularity. I have found it's very difficult to not judge people on these criteria. It's very difficult not to see the popular person's significance in their popularity or the footballer's significance in his footballing ability. It's difficult to not view the person with a great job differently because of the job. It's difficult not to see the fact that someone is stinking rich as significant. Their are many things which make me think of someone as significant.

However, Hebrews 11 suggests that it is something else which makes someone significant. It is not the money they earn, the things they achieve or even their number of friends. No it is the faith they demonstrate within their lives. So Hebrews 11v6 says 'without faith it is impossible to please him (God)'. So do you see your significance before God is not found in the things which we think make someone significant but rather in the faith you demonstrate. So it doesn't matter if you have loads of friends, loads of money, if you are really nice or even super religious. What matters is whether you have faith in God and the salvation he offers through Jesus' death on the cross. It is then by allowing that faith to impact your life that your life becomes significant even if you only have 166 facebook friends, no money and have never done anything worthy of note!