Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Australia - The world's happiest nation

So the BBC website today reports that Austraila is the world's happiest nation among developed economies. This is an award Australia has won for the third year running and having never been to Australia it is one which I cannot argue with (although I am confident they will be a little less happy after this year's back to back ashes!!!)

However, the obvious question I had when I read this was how did they decide this? Did they simply poll everyone or a sample and ask them how happy they were? What exactly did they do? Well here is the description of the survey

'The survey ranked more than 30 countries on criteria such as income levels, health, safety and housing.'

Now I'm not doubting that income levels, health, safety and housing are very important. However, simply because a nation comes out on top of these areas does that necessarily mean that they are the happiest?

You see this is what our culture believes and therefore our culture says it as if it is fact. Of course if you are wealthier and healthier you are going to be happier. This is so much the air that we breathe that it is just stated as fact that because Australia are the top performers in these areas they must be the happiest nation. However, I would question the reality of this statement.

We believe this so intently that we make ourselves unhappy in our pursuit of health and wealth believing that it's the next step up in these areas which will make us happy never even considering that the problem is that these things cannot ultimately deliver what we need them to. The Bible repeatedly states that we were built to find our joy in relationships. Relationship with the God who made us and the people he created.

Australia may well be the the best when judged against those criteria, they may even be the happiest but the fact that the former brings the latter seems to me at the very least open to debate.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Christianity without 2000 years of history getting in the way

Sometimes I look at Jesus' life in the Bible and wonder how we ended up where we are. When you look at the life of Jesus there can seem to be a disconnect between what we see there and what we see all around us. As you see a big churches and church politics all around us. As you see Christianity which is built around structures and a few weekly meetings you can think how did we end up here. But I suppose the question is well where should we end up? What would Christians do if they didn't have 2000 years of history getting in the way?

Well I think perhaps the clearest answer to this question comes in Acts 2

'So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.'

So what do we have here? Well we have the first Christians. People have just heard the gospel. They've just come to believe that  Jesus died for their sins and accept the forgiveness he gives but now what? They have no church they can join, no tradition to fall into. Just the gospel and the Holy Spirit so what do they do? well they do the things the gospel naturally drives them to do so.

1 - They devote themselves to understanding the gospel more - When you first taste the gospel and experience it's power and release it is only natural that you want to know more of it, understand it better and so you devote yourself to learning more.
2 - They eat together - eating together is not only a natural way to spend time with people but also a sign of acceptance. As those who have all received the gospel into their lives it is natural they would long to spend time together and accept all people as those who have been rescued by a work of God not human achievement.
3 - They pray - As they understand and experience more of the gospel in their lives then of course they want to talk to the God who they can now approach in absolute confidence that he loves them and accepts them
4 - They saw and were in awe of God's incredible work - As you see the gospel work itself out in a myriad of ways it is only natural that you respond to God in awe as a God who works in incredible ways.
5 - They saw each others needs and cared for them - As those who recognise that when they could do nothing about their need of forgiveness and a new heart God stepped in and met that need it is only natural that they would then be driven out to do this for each other.
6 - They met formally (in the temple) and informally (in their homes) - Meeting formally was a natural way to all grow and learn together but the gospel naturally impacts all of life and therefore it can never be constricted simply to occasional meetings but must be a part of day by day life. Meeting with each other regularly in their homes was the norm as the gospel impacts this.

You see these early Christians didn't need 2000 years of Church history to do this stuff the gospel naturally drove them to it. Therefore what will create this kind of Christian community? Well the gospel. I don't need to tell people they need to learn more about the gospel but rather as they experience it of course they will want to learn more. It is the pearl of immense value which you seel everything to get. Of course you want more of it. I don't need to tell people to meet each others needs, or to attend church meetings, or to meet together - As the gospel goes deep into our hearts then this is what we will do. It wasn't the church or tradition which made these early Christians do this - they didn't exist. They simply heard the gospel and responded the only rational way anyone would.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The thin line between everything and nothing

So this month I read North and South again. It is a good read although I need to be careful how gushing I am as it is in essence a period romance story. One of the characters in it is a miner who doesn't seem to believe in heaven or God or any of that. He says his concern is this world not anything else. At one point when questioned on this he says that no-one really believes it. People may say they do, people may even convince themselves that they do but throughout a week they don't seem any different. They don't really believe it any more than him. He articulates what I've heard so many people say before. If Christianity is true how coming it seems to make no difference (or very little difference) in people's lives? It's a good question and one of the answers is that churches are full of hypocrites who say one thing but don't live it. Another is that all Christians fail to live consistently with what they believe the same as everyone else in the planet. However, I think the chief reason is something different. I think the reason people think this is because there is a very thin line between everything and nothing. Let me explain.

People want to see life changing but what they imagine is that a life changed would involve obvious things. So if every Christian gave up work and instead just volunteered for a charity that would then look obviously different. But of course the danger is that life outside of this still looks the same. You see Christianity doesn't call for Christians to adopt obvious isolated changes. Christianity doesn't call on you to stop eating meat, or only wear brown or give all your money away or anything that small. Christianity asks you to live for a different purpose. Christianity asks you to worship something different. Now these changes are more fundamental but less obvious.

Christianity doesn't ask you to stop working but it does require you to approach work in a dramatically different way. Work is no longer about simply earning money, status and respect but is instead to be about loving people wall, loving creation well, working hard with the gifts God's given you. I still go to the same job as before but my entire outlook is different. This might look like nothing but it should be everything.

Christianity doesn't require you to get married but it requires you to view the whole situation in a different way. If single I view this not as an excuse for selfishness but as a gift from God freeing me up to love and serve him and other people in unique ways. If married I view it as a chance to reflect something of God's love in the way that I love and sacrificially give myself for my spouse. When married I am able to love and serve God and others in a different way. This might look like nothing but it is in fact everything.

Now Christians sometimes use the lack of laws as an excuse to do nothing but in reality when the Spirit lives inside of you everything may look the same on first glance but actually on closer inspection of motives and passions you will see that nothing is actually the same as it was. Maybe before you say why doesn';t more change you should just take the time and look a little closer and see if actually although they do the same stuff their outlook, passions and therefore fruits are changed dramatically.