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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Resolution of 2014

So, 2014 has approached the end of its short life and we're going to be welcoming in 2015 shortly. And this generally provides a great opportunity for looking back at a whole year in retrospect. Which is precisely what I plan to do in this blog post. But rather than just reflect and make a resolution I wish to share some of the key adventures in 2014 and the lessons God has taught me.

I don't really believe in 'New Year's Resolutions'. While I do understand that the end of a year provides a great opportunity to try and resolve to do something new or different, I believe that everyday should provide us that opportunity. God is always doing something new: or rather he is always redeeming the old to make it new once again. And that is what 2014 will stand in my memory as: a year of redeeming the old to make it new. I hope for 2015 to be an even greater year of following and serving him.

So then, what have I learnt...

2014: The Year that Was

In 2014 life continued on its merry way. I finished my third year of university, watched as many films at the cinemas as ever, and read over a hundred books once again. But 2014 also had its unique ups and downs for me. First there were some downs with people deciding that they needed to return home for a season (my good friends John and Redj in particular) and the loss of close loved ones (my Grandma) or family friends. Further down moments included my best mate Victor decided he needed to head off for a time, meeting many friends at YWAM who also needed to return to their homes and seeing a moment of antagonism towards my pastor at Uni. 

However God is always good and despite such let downs he also raised me up and showed me more about my leadership potential with my Life Group and the ability he has given me to counsel friends and speak prophetically into their life. He also enabled me more and more to use my communicative abilities for Him while gave me a position with my friend Martin in a revamped club. This enabled us to be able to build community on the University campus and give hope to students who want that sense of unity and friendship love! 

I won't deny also that God answered some secret hopes and prayers of mine, bringing special people into my life in this moment and time. I love you very much and I cannot wait to see what the future will hold for God's desires here but I know it's a great and beautiful thing he is doing in my life. 

Knowing God Truly

Hosea 6:1-3 
1“Come, let us return to the Lord.He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us.He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds.2 In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence.3 Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him.He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

This is probably the biggest, truest thing God has taught me across this year. I may have only started to properly grasp it in the second half of the year but it was something He was teaching me from the beginning. All of my hopes, desires and dreams of love, outreach, finding my role - I hadn't realised that in the past so many of these things I had tried to do in my own strength alone. But as God showed me that I was doing this, he prompted me to return to gifts that I knew he had given me: prophesy, teaching, encouragement, positivity etc. and use them for his glory.

But more than just this he provided mentors who could point me in the right direction and remind me that God is not meant to be just another aspect of my life of our lives: He is the center. And I learnt through this such an important thing that I want to hold onto more and more: knowing God is different from knowing about him. There is a power that comes in true intimacy with God and that has lead me on to discovering other love, finding outreach and becoming more and more the man I know he wants me to be.

You Gotta Have Faith

To be fair he began teaching me this in 2012 when I needed work to get me on a trip I believed he wanted me on. He taught me more and more about this throughout 2013. But again He continues to remind me about the importance and power of faith.

This year He has taught me about the practicality of faith: about living in faith and not by sight. It's been a real encouragement for me to help me overcome various minor fears and worries, and it's been powerful for me as I have talked, prayed with and counseled friends.

You are going to get things in life wrong. You might get them so wrong that you fear you've lost the opportunity - that you've hurt someone beyond resolution. You might have worries and doubts that threaten to crush your dreams. But you have to life by faith - because something that God has given you or put before you? He won't let that slip away and when you have faith and step out despite circumstances: well He will be even more faithful for you.

It's easy to believe when everything is going well. It's easy to love when there's no adversity. But it's hard to follow when you can't see something going on in the natural though and when life is tough and that's what God has taught me about faith: to have it no matter the circumstances.

God's Timing And Will Are Perfect

There are things that have happened this year which have made me doubt God's timing. For instance the loss of my Grandmother and then the loss of a family friend within a short space of time. Add to that the various issues of friends and myself and I was starting to wonder...

But God told me quite clearly when I was questioning if His timing really was perfect, or whether my heart was just being its deceitful attracted self, He reminded me first about living by faith and not sight and then told me clearly to 'Seize the moment.' That is something I want to continue to do.

And sure, following and trusting Him that the moment is right, that what He is doing is right can be tough. I've had to have a few tough conversations as a result, but they were what was needed and they were beautiful in the end. So yes...I guess I'm seeing that God really is good all the time.

And One Final Lesson: The Future Is Now

If you're like me then you probably had things in 2014 that you put off or that you couldn't commit to like you wanted. God has shown me throughout this year that even if His promises and plans for your life are not being met this year then they are being prepared this year for the next year or the year after.

It's hard to be patient. Particularly when you really want something and you know it's right there. But God has everything worked out perfectly for the right time. The most important thing as I have learnt is to come to know Him more and more intimately. As that happens everything else falls into place as it has for me this year with work, uni, love, family, friends etc.

And though I say falls into place that doesn't mean that everything just becomes easy. Not at all. In fact sometimes the things God does makes your life harder. It's hard to be a Christian in a secular society where so many people have hurt deep within their hearts. It's hard to love someone who hates you for your beliefs. But just because it may be difficult doesn't mean it's not right. It is more than right because in the end, this time on Earth that I have right now is only short and in the end God will redeem it all for an eternity to be with Him,

1 Corinthians 4:20: "For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power."

That's what I want to do in 2015 and onwards more and more: live by God's power fully, knowing that I have the authority to live life on the edge for Him and with the people He places around me. I'm looking forward to that in fact. And it's that perspective that makes all the little ups and downs truly worth it: the knowledge that in the end everything will work out. Here's to an even better 2015 with some new adventures for us all!

Monday, 22 December 2014

The God I Don't Agree With

I had an interesting discussion on Saturday with a friend. He was talking to me about the fact that he struggled with the idea that salvation wasn't for everyone: that you have to accept what Christ does for you. I answered him with the metaphor that it's like all of us are hanging off the edge of a cliff and basically while Christ is someone reaching out to us - God is reaching out to us - that we have to also reach out and accept that gift of salvation. He still told me he didn't really agree with that which I said was fine.

It is fine to not agree with God. It's a human reaction - but it's also somewhat problematic. Take a look at the following two cartoons:  and Each of  the cartoons makes an interesting point about how we can approach the Bible and Christianity. In response to how people can approach God let me say one thing. I have read a lot of different apologetics works and a lot of different scientific stances on God that argue about what we should take as literal from the Bible or who needs to prove the existence of God or not. Let me make this point: you can choose not to believe in God, you can choose what God looks like for you, you can put him in any box or so on you choose - you can even say he doesn't exist. But here's my point: it doesn't matter what you choose to say about Him or believe about Him if as I believe, He is the Creator of it all. 

Imagine if I was God. Just imagine - using me as a literal figure - and here I am, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Then you start to debate whether or not I exist or what kind of power I have if any. But really, despite any debate, what does it matter? I do exist and I do know what kind of power I have. Shouldn't it make sense that if there is an all powerful being that you call 'God' that he isn't defined by our laws or rules? That you can't measure him scientifically or define his power in such a way? In fact, perhaps that's the single greatest reason people refuse to believe in God: because really, His existence is a weighty thing. It means that there is a right and wrong not defined by personal morals but by His standard. It means that what you agree with might not be correct.

In Exodus 3:14 God really compounds this to Moses: 'God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"' God names himself I AM as a powerful statement that despite any Egyptian gods, despite anything that comes against Moses or anything else: that He remains all powerful and all sovereign.

I had a great little chat yesterday with Jay at Church which pointed out to me that really sin is not about merely disobedience: it's about unfaithfulness. Sin is about not trusting, not having faith, in the most powerful, most perfect, being in all the universe and beyond. From that, disobedience comes, but sin itself is found in a lack of faith, hope or love. It's the opposite of all that I have been learning this year: that when you place God first and foremost in your life everything will fall into place.

As I have said before, earlier in the year in some things I didn't place my faith in God, but in my own strength. God has slowly been shifting my attitude around to placing my faith back in Him, and making him the center of what I do. I say slowly because it is still a process that I am learning. I am so far from perfect that it makes me marvel at how good God is everyday that I reflect upon it. God has truly placed people in my life as answers to prayers and in ways that I didn't even realise.

I was reflecting on this today because I was thinking about how many people approach life. God might bring an answer to prayer to them that doesn't fit their criteria. In fact, no answered prayer ever has for me. I didn't ask God to be working nightshifts at a fast food store! I asked him for work - and really asked him for work elsewhere. But you know what I said to him when I prayed? Your will be done. And his will has been done and his will has taught me the lessons I have needed to make me the man I am now.

My faith isn't about getting everything perfect. It's not about getting a perfect career, perfect job, perfect wife. It's about seeing God be faithful in providing the life for me which is stamped by His Will. That doesn't mean that God won't provide things for me which are 'perfect'. It's simply that His idea of perfect might very much differ from mine.

And the reason for this is because human views of perfection are weak. Human ideas of perfection are imperfect. There's no such thing as a 'perfect career, job or partner'. But there is a perfect God who loves perfectly and unites all things together with his love. Our idea of perfect is for there to be no troubles, worries or human blemishes. For everything to be smooth sailing. God's idea of perfection is all about redemption. It's about purity through Christ and that is what I realise He taught me long ago without me even knowing.

This is where it all returns again to the idea of not agreeing with God. We choose not to agree with God often because we want to believe we have a better idea - or that blasphemously enough, we shouldn't need God to fulfill our own moral codes and be good people on this Earth. Well maybe that's true, but tell me: are you one hundred percent following your own moral code? I'm not. I cannot be good enough to follow my own code: no human effort can cause me not to fall to even the pettiest of blemishes.

And that's the problem: God is the absolute judge of moral codes and he demands nothing less than 100 percent perfection. The kind of perfection that humans can never meet on their own. In the NLT it states in Romans 3:23 "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard." Yet the following verses deliver some great news in Romans 3:24-26.

"24 Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus."
By ourselves, we can perhaps make it to the 99 percent mark of being 'good enough' by our own standard (I'm yet to meet anyone who is anywhere near that). But yet that 1 percent means that we could never meet God's standard: given that he is eternal and all powerful. You might be white, but only as white as snow, which despite its appearance has a tiny microscopic spec of dirt at the core. Which is why the Psalmist in Psalm 51:7 asks God to "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."

So yeah, it's fine to not agree with God but if you don't agree with God you also must accept that God might not agree with you. In fact, God won't agree that you are good enough to keep to your own standard. He won't agree that you alone can decide your best destiny. And he won't agree that you don't need Him.

Psalm 139:13 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."

God for you might be the God you don't agree with. I still don't always agree with God when he drops gifts or people in my life. Sometimes it just adds extra difficulty, with me being unable to see the bigger picture of my own life. And that's where faith comes into it all. Unfortunately I was never promised that life would be easy or fair. But I never got to choose where I would be born or as whom either. It is a fallacy to think we have any real control over our own lives - as great a fallacy as it is to believe that we have any right to disagree with God - because in the end God is always good, He is always great and He is above and beyond anything we can imagine or dream. 

My friend may have been struggling with why God doesn't just save everyone. I'd like to believe it's Him giving us the chance to realise that we truly need to agree with His Will and that our limited human free will is best aligned with His in true, glorious worship. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Life Is Pain, Highness...

One of my favourite movies is The Princess Bride, for its one liners and overall charm. There are simply too many quotable moments from that movie but one of those quotes is "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." It's a quote that highlights for me how the humour of the movie rests in the truth of statements made throughout it. Truly, life is full of pain.

This past month we have seen two different types of pain in the Australian community. Firstly the pain for the cricket community with the freak accident that took Philip Hughes. Secondly the pain in Sydney with the Sydney Siege event just this last Tuesday. I myself have experienced personal pain this year with firstly the loss of my Grandmother and secondly the loss of a family and church friend. Life really is full of pain.

To use another movie, The Lion King, "Oh yes, the past can hurt, but from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it."

I was busy camping when I heard about the Sydney Siege. I could also tell you where I was when the other tragic events happened for me. There's something about tragedy that etches itself in your mind - I can still remember the exact moment when I walked into the living room to see the Boxing Day tsunami roaring across the television screen as a news update.

The thing that touched me however about the Sydney Siege is this: here I was in the beautiful serene natural environment and yet I knew that in the world around me there was chaos and pain and tragedy. It was an interesting contradiction for my mind to think about - but it was also a revelation for me about God.

You see the humour of The Princess Bride is that it takes a variety of nonsensical, tragic and laughable moments and weaves it into a narrative of sparkling romantic beauty. It's a tale that despite death and hardship becomes a 'happily ever after' story in the end, while poking fun at such fairytale stories. Similarly I think that's what our world is like: despite the pain everything is woven together into something more beautiful in the end.

As I stood on a mountain on Wilson's Promontory, I became aware that yes, indeed, my God is a great and powerful God. He is a God who holds an entire universe together and yet bothers to care about my life - about your life on an individual level.

Romans 8:28 (NLT) "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

I saw the Australian Cricket community bond together tightly over Philip Hughes with #putoutyourbats. I have seen the general Australian public bond together over the Sydney Siege with shows of support such as #Illridewithyou. I love that people bond together when this happens: it's a strength of Aussies to rally together as mates in tough times and it's a wonderful thing.

I was lead to reflect however that I need my life to be more than just a single series of hashtags or signs of support: not that I don't want to support a hashtag campaign, just that I want to live a life of support. I want to ride with all people regardless of what events are going on. I want to stand with those who lose a loved one regardless of whether it's a big event in the media or not. One thing that disappointed me about both situations are some people I know complaining and questioning 'what is the big deal.' The big deal is that it's people in pain and no one should ever belittle someone else's pain because it's a personal deal. What you can do is stand and support.

We're almost at the end of 2014, Christmas is in one week's time. My challenge to myself and anyone reading this is to remember if you are a Christian that you carry the eternal restorative power of God himself within you. The power to redeem a fallen world around you: live that out, practice it, live an example of love to the people around you this Christmas. Be like our Saviour was in John 3:16 (NLT) "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." Be an example of eternal life through love. And as for anyone else? My challenge still stands also to be an example to the people around you: show others that despite life being painful and full of tragic moments that it truly is worth it in the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Life is pain: but it is also beauty and love. What are you going to live out this Christmas and New Year?

Please feel free to comment, share and let me know if you did read this! I appreciate it everyone :)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Love Is The Evidence

Anyone who knows me closely should know that I get different topics, ideas and songs stuck in my head. The song above is one that has been running through my head in connection to things God has been sharing with me in general. I love the lyrics to this song, particularly when it says something like: "Mercy and Grace and Compassion. They're only words without action."

1 Corinthians 4:20 states that, in a context of Paul warning the people of Corinth not to just speak arrogantly and not listen to the apostolic leadership he brings, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." Bam, the Bible again pretty much speaks for itself. I get frustrated when people get caught up in talk about different little doctrines or 'church politics' or so on. We are meant to be living examples - living evidence - of the Kingdom of God, to walk in power and authority.

That is why I love this song: because love - true God-inspired love - is meant to be the evidence for those around us that there is something more to life than just existence, pain and death. That the very world around us is all a sign that God truly has placed eternity in the hearts of all men.

I read somewhere recently someone saying that 'the Bible is the greatest cause of conflict in the world today.' I had a little laugh at that, because to me that's like saying 'the machines that manufacture guns kill more people than any other kind of machinery.' Okay yes it's a poor analogy but bear with me on this: the point I'm trying to make is that it's not machines that make guns that kill people, it's not even guns that kill people - it's guns in the hands of the wrong people that kill and cause war and destruction. The same goes for Christianity - the Bible in the hands of the wrong people has unfortunately been used to cause a lot of destruction and that's because we live in a fallen, broken world where people love to twist things to their own ends. The point to me in all this, however is that it's a continuing challenge to me to reflect on one simple aim: am I living a life of Godly faith, hope and love? Or am I twisting those to suit my own agendas.

I watched Exodus: Gods and Kings yesterday and found it an average film with some highlights such as the whole idea of God not just testing Ramses as Pharaoh, but of God testing the heart of Moses at the same time. I also found the angel of death scene to be one of, if not the most, powerful versions of that scene on film. Probably to me though what I found to be the most interesting (and yes that can be a loaded word I know) was the idea of Moses trying to do various things in his own strength rather than in his faith in God and God leading him to a point where he was able to trust. Now, I definitely can't say what proceeded from that was Biblical but it was an interpretation that made me think - that in the end yes God wants to save his people as a whole, but he also wants to save, redeem and raise up that one pivotal person: Moses.

The same goes out to all of us: God loves his people as a whole, but he loves you as an individual. The encouraging reflection for me today is that from this personalised love God has for us: we can know him intimately. In the Old Testament God spoke through miracles and chosen people - today after the arrival of Jesus Christ he speaks personally to each one of us and through each one of us. And that makes the fulfillment of the law through Christ a truly special privilege. And the evidence of this love is the outpouring of love in my own heart.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Active Love

I previously wrote a post that suggested  something along the lines of 'love should be active'. I think I was a little mistaken in my phrasing because here is what I have been reflecting on this past night: love shouldn't be active, love is active. And even if that is a minor semantics argument I think it's an important distinction to make: to say that love is active rather than that it should be is to talk about love as a current force, rather than a passive, potentially active force.

Why is this so important to distinguish? Because as 1 John 4:8 says "8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (NIV) God is love: so if love is active, then God is active and vice versa. It's an important distinction for me to think about in terms of serving a God who is always doing something new or different - or possibly rebirthing something old. It would be tough to serve a passive or dead God in my opinion.

I have often heard of people talking about 'falling in love' or particularly that they couldn't 'help but fall in love.' I know that romantic love - eros - is a different type of love, yet I think the entire metaphor isn't entirely correct. To say that anyone just 'falls in love' denies one crucial element - and it is that element that to me makes love so very active. The element of choice.

Sure, with romantic love there are passions and desires that are hard to overcome but at the end of the day human choice plays a key role in everything: how you choose to act on your passions determines whether you truly act in loving manner, or merely a shallow lusty way.

God however is not a man that he should ever be ruled by passion and that is what makes his love so powerfully active: he chooses the un-chooseable. As Romans 5:8 points out: "8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (NIV)

I was thinking last night about the power of celebrity and how so many people in society want the fame, money or lifestyle of a celebrity. However, they don't want the cost - the paparazi, the hours of public appearances or the various signings and fan favours/requests. The same goes for modern love: so many people want the euphoria and energy that comes from being in love or from having friends and family to love - the acceptance - but they don't want to put in the hard work. They don't want to make the tough choices.

Fortunately for all of us the love of God is so much greater and lasting than any romantic love - which is why I need it. All the other forms of love are great to have in my life but true agape - Godly - love is what binds them all together in my life. Following Christ is a tough choice to make, it costs nothing but everything in a divine paradox, but when you do, as with how Godly love binds together all other kinds of love, it binds all your life together with purpose.

Colossians 3:14 "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (ESV)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

I'm A Better Christian?

Have you ever heard anyone proclaim that before? I have, just not in terms of audible words. I've heard it through their actions and through more veiled words. It's always interesting to see and unfortunately I've caught myself acting as if I am a 'better Christian' at times. But reality (and God) set in and help correct me fortunately.

I was driving to work yesterday, wrestling with some of my doubts about God's timing for certain events and relationships with people and asking whether he was really in the timing of the next two weeks. As I neared work, my thoughts turned to the concept of life and how it can be so tragically short (for whatever reason). It was then that I heard him say so clearly 'seize the moment.' Not that he was saying that death is approaching (that was my own thoughts wrestling with events I have seen happen in the past week), just that he was encouraging me not to wait around on events.

If you've ever seen the film Dead Poet's Society then you might recall the phrase 'carpe diem' Latin for 'seize the day'. It was that same concept that God sent resonating in my soul and now I can't stop thinking about it. Many of my doubts of late that I have been turning over to God have been about timing, and while I trust his timing to be perfect, that's tough. For him to tell me to 'seize the moment'? That was powerful and it gives me hope that yes, now is the time to act with a passionate urgency.

I once saw this Derren Brown experiment (and while I can't condone or recommend all he does some of it is interesting) about luck. I posted the video link at the bottom for anyone interested in such things (it is a full 45 minutes or so). The conclusion that he drew about 'luck' is that lucky people are those who seize opportunities around them with both hands. Those people who consider themselves to be unlucky are those who ignore the opportunities around them.

This has remained so fascinating to me because I have often wondered why it is that some people seem to have all the luck in the world and others have no luck at all. Obviously this provides a rational explanation, however there's no doubt a more spiritual explanation about God's favour and blessing! That those who choose to follow his guidance, despite any setbacks, can truly seize the moment before them and walk in true blessings.

But how does this all tie into the idea of being a 'better Christian' however? Well let me ask you: have you ever known a Christian who has in any sense judged or disqualified someone from following Christ on a particular basis? Appearance, background, habits, lifestyle? You no doubt would have, and you've probably unconsciously done the same thing - even if it was thinking 'I'm glad I'm not like that person.'

You see, as people we tend to judge even if we try and be open minded. But in doing so we just fall back into following the natural law - the law that none of us can fulfill. In Luke 18 Jesus provided a story of two different individuals: the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
Luke 18:10-14
10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It's clear that Jesus really sought to address the religious spirit in those around him, to remind people that before God none are righteous. That is none are righteous unless they accept Christ. So you know what that means? There are no 'better' or 'worse' Christians. There are only the righteous and the unrighteous. Good and evil become mere ethical concepts because I know that in myself I am not good and my actions amount to evil in the sight of God: but grace covers over all that sin.

The revelation I had last night is this: when we look at someone and see their actions and deem them to be 'less Christian' or something similar we essentially are subscribing ourselves to God's commandment law yet again. And when we do such a thing we ourselves cannot be Christian in the slightest. Further, when we judge in such a way it's us saying that the grace of God doesn't have enough power to cover the sins of another person.

I'm not saying that actions are not important. They are: I spent a whole couple of blog posts talking about how faith without action is dead and that Christianity needs to be active. What I am saying is that we can't use the gospel as a tool for behavior modification - to get people to look, talk and act as Christian. Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman provides a great argument about that attitude when it comes to Christian music.  Essentially it all comes down to you following Christ and making him Lord. Am I a better Christian? No of course not. I don't believe there can be any such thing, but I am trying to follow him more and more. So when he spoke and said 'seize the moment', well...that's what I want to do.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

No Worries God?

Last night I felt a whole heap of different worries and concerns hit me all at once right before I went to work. I learnt today that someone close to me had some similar concerns at the same time and I realise now that it must have been an attack of the enemy trying to snuff out dreams and aspirations - to remove my trust in God and replace it with doubt. It was at that moment that God spoke to me clearly and reminded me to cast my concerns upon him. And it made an immediate difference.

I'm not someone who is big on logistics necessarily - however at times when I think about how the future will all work out, rather than just simply remembering that God has it all sorted, I tend to think about how I am going to get everything sorted. It was that kind of doubt and worry that tried to creep into my mind last night. But I prayed over that and I was reminded of the words of Psalm 46, particularly verse 10: "He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'"

When we accept that God is God, despite our human failings then there is a peace which surpasses all understanding and enables us to live a life of hope despite not understanding. This last couple of months I've been questioning why my Grandmother had to die from such a terrible sickness, why a family friend passed away despite her faith and the faith of those around her. Today I'm definitely question why a promising young cricket talent in Philip Hughes was taken in such a freak accident.

It's easy to say 'no worries' as a throw away phrase. It's harder to live it. I have worries, I have doubts, I question. I wonder whether my friendships will remain as strong into the future. I wonder if I'll still be pursuing the same career path. I wonder all these multiple trivial little details that really do mean nothing. Because in the end what matters is trusting in God. It's not about having no doubts, but it's about being able to cast those doubts upon God.

Do I get why this suffering has happened? Do I get why the timing of events is happening? Do I understand why love works as it does? Do I understand why faith works like it does? No, even as I might wish. But I want to trust God despite that. Because there was something he told me a while ago which is that even if things don't turn out like I hope, they will turn out for me like he hopes and that makes all the difference.

To finish this post off before I just inanely ramble: we are Christ's ambassadors in a world of pain, fear and all manner of doubt. Like the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11 we are not called to have no doubts (Abraham and Moses had doubts) but we are called to have faith. And that means stepping out in the hope we don't always understand, recognising that God loves perfectly. And it's this trust in God that carries me on into the future.

Psalm 46: 1-3
1God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Be Zealous With God, Not Just For Him

I've had multiple thoughts that I wanted to share in a blog post but I was unable to find a way to link them until now. In the past year God has been teaching me about the concept of coming to put him first, not making him secondary or less, to really know him. I had my own desires and passions that I was putting first. It can even happen in the church where a particular ministry (a desire to have the best music, prophets or healers) can be put first. What God has been teaching me is that when we seek to know him first that all the other things should flow from that as a natural progression.

So the whole idea of being zealous for God is something that has been playing on my mind. In Romans 12:11, Paul encourages believers to be living sacrifices and to: "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."

Paul was a very zealous individual and one of those men who changed the world from God - he didn't stop enjoying life but he learned how to enjoy life while making God first if that makes sense. And today God spoke to me saying 'be zealous with me, not just for me.' It's an idea I think is not just for me, but for the church in general, an encouragement for us all.

There is a particular story in the Gospels that shows me a prime example of being zealous for God, rather than with him. The story begins when Jesus is arrested by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Luke 22:47-51
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
 In other Gospels it specifies that Peter was the disciple who struck off the man's ear and this is important because Peter is clearly shown as one of the more zealous of all Jesus' disciples. But his zeal (his passionate enthusiasm to follow Jesus) was misguided when he told Jesus that he would not allow him to die, nor would he ever deny him - and in this situation when he cut the ear off the servant of the high priest. Fortunately for Peter, and for us, when we allow our zeal to get the better of us Jesus still in his grace forgives, admonishes lovingly and can fix our wrongdoings.

So then how can we practically be zealous with God?

Colossians 3:12-17
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
 This passage has several key ideas which I personally want to come to understand better. But the key one for me is to do with recognising that the attitude I must have it to be a representative of Christ in all I do.

I get frustrated when different churches, different Christians and of course I myself - get caught up and focused on a particular doctrine or idea as more right than any other. Because in the end I'm coming to see that Christianity - that walking with God - is one of the easiest things. It's simple, but wrapped within that simplicity is a hidden and deeper complexity.

That's why I believe God has been teaching me more and more about the key principles of following him first - because in the past I tried to move onto what I saw as more mature Christian principles without grasping some of the concepts that will take me a lifetime to hone and understand: faith, hope and love. Jesus didn't go around arguing with the Pharisees and Saduccees about which interpretation of the law was more correct from what we see in the gospels - he lived his beliefs and hat is what we are all also called to do.

So while I (and the church) are asked to be zealous (and I certainly am an enthusiastic, positive and crazy). it's not for mere zealotry's sake. That only leads to religious laws and sets of checklists dominating how you live your life. The point is not to stir up a false sense of energy and urgency to try and be zealous, it's about following God first - from this you should not help but want to pray for the sick, pray for those who need provision, give to those in need and preach the gospel. In short when you walk with God? Everything else follows.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Loving God = Doing Hard Things

I've been noticing across the past two years (well across the entirety of my life) that God never answers my prayers in an expected way. I could have hoped for some flashy miracle where holy fire and a spotlight from heaven opens my eyes up to the perfect job, the perfect house, grants me thousands of dollars or tells me immediately that 'bam: that's the woman you're going to marry.' But oddly enough none of these things have happened for me. Sure, I'm proof that these do happen to some people. For instance Dad saw a vision of Christ that led him to salvation and also heard directly from God that Mum was going to be his wife. But I myself have seen God play a lot more practical jokes...

When I say practical jokes, I mean that God seems to love testing my faith and providing answers to prayer that are obviously what I was praying about, but are answers in ways I didn't expect. For instance when we prayed for the right house as a family we found the one that fit all the criteria but we had to then take action and go to auction - it didn't fall into our laps. We received our family dog Romey thanks to prayer however but even at the time I thought it was an amusing thing to pray (that we would get a free dog) and I guess God wanted to show us all that no prayer is too minor for him to answer. God provided the money to get me to the USA in a ridiculously weird last minute moment that also granted me the income I've needed for the past two years of university.

Even more recently He has brought people into my life in ways that I would never have imagined at the start of the year. I can't really describe just how powerful and odd this is as an answer to prayer because I am always praying for new connections and relationships (and there have been specific prayers about that also) but it has been so very necessary. Necessary as God calls me to become a leader for him (as we all are called for). I may not have seen God raise people from the dead in front of me or turn water into wine but I believe because in his own difficult enigmatic way he has shown me the reality of his presence in so many small and difficult things.

It's not about religion to me, though some might call Christianity a religion. Because to me religion is works without faith and while faith without works might be dead, works without faith means just as little. The two must go hand in hand. Faith without works is speculative belief. Works without faith is blind routine.

It's very easy to be theoretical about something or to dream about it from a distance. Raised in a Christian household I saw that myself firsthand that it was easy for about seven years to bow my head and follow the rules - but it was only when God tapped me on the shoulder (at around that age of seven) and let me know just what I would miss out on (eternally being with him), that I realised I wanted to surrender my life to his will. And from that moment I saw a lot of God's provision and guidance without being fully aware of it - however it was only as I became more self dependent aside from my parents that God truly began to teach me about active faith.

It's easy to sit in services and repeat what other people provide to you. It's easy to 'run' a lifegroup from set materials. You know what's hard? Hearing from God to have peace when you know that you need 500 dollars in two weeks and still have no job that you have been praying and seeking. But he is faithful and he did provide when I did not give up.

In short I'm learning that God is calling us all, not to take the easy route, but to take the path less traveled by that makes all the difference (sorry Robert Frost). As Matthew 7:14 points out (NIV) "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." The pressures of life and the challenges we all face cause our faith - or rather the activity of our faith - to become a difficult thing. But God is wanting us to do hard things, because only in doing hard things can we become true champions.

One of my favourite verses is found in Galatians 6:9-10: "9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."

This verse with how it says to not become weary in doing good is always a challenge to me, but I believe God in his timing is revealing new elements of different scriptures to my eyes. This scripture is one that encourages me in perseverance alongside 2 Corinthians 12:9 "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 

God wants us all to see in his word that to live by faith and not by sight is difficult, but that his power can help us overcome such difficulty. I can't explain it but there is a peace that comes in the midst of trials when you walk with God, a peace that surpasses all understanding. And when you persevere that leads to reaping a harvest.

As James 1:2-4 states: "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything"

This has been one of the most challenging years I have faced on an emotional level. There has been so much joy (daytrips, friends, family celebrations), so much pain (funerals, hospital visits, sicknesses) and some disappointment linked to university. But despite all that God is teaching me about who I am through who he is and that truly makes all the difference. You see, God might not always give me what I want and how I want it: but he will give me what I need and what is necessary in the perfect time.
I've seen plenty of people ask me why I'm so mature for my age as I've met them which always surprises me. The only answer is that my maturity is not found in my age or who I am as a person (it would be nice if it were) but in trusting in God first and foremost. As Galatians 3:28 points out "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Similarly age has no limitation in God's kingdom - the only limit, the only rule in a sense, is to follow Christ as Lord. That might mean doing hard things as we act out our faith. It might mean being ridiculed and mocked for having 'bizarre' or 'unpopular' beliefs. But just because something isn't popular doesn't mean it isn't true. And I know deep down that this is truth and I want to 'do hard things' more and more as I work out my salvation in faith.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

True Christianity = Active Christianity

"Christianity is in its nature revolutionary." ― Walter Rauschenbusch
I have long believed that Christianity is both the easiest and the most difficult, thing in all the world. I believe it to be easy because it's a simple faith that means trusting in the Lordship of an all powerful God despite uncontrollable circumstances and involves three simple concepts: faith, hope, love. Yet it is the most difficult thing in all the world because to follow Christ involves sacrifice of your life and ambitions. In the process you become all you are meant to be and become more truly your best self, but your selfishness and ambition is lost at the same time. There's a strict conflict of interest here.

As Philippians 1:21 says "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." And there is such a truth in recognizing this very idea: to live in this world that is not my home means sacrificing my own ambition for the goals of Christ - to know him and the power of his resurrection zealously. I use the word zealously purposefully because the idea of being zealous is not a popular one but really to be zealous is to be full of passion - but more so to be active in that passion.

It is this idea that more and more drives me onwards. Yes, I am human and I fall to the temptations of life and my own passions and emotions. But as I come to know Christ more and more I realise that I would rather lose a friend for the sake of letting them know the gospel, than not share that gospel with them and keep their friendship. There is a zeal that is being developed in my life - an urgency that I want to lay hold of.

To me, true Christianity is not something that any one denomination or person can lay claim to. But it is a Christianity that is active. To be a Christian is to become like Christ and he was not an individual who sat around in pews listening to motivational speakers for his lifetime - he was active in hearing from God and discipling those around him.

It was only this year (thanks to others discipling me) that I have come to grasp what James was getting at in James 2 when talking about faith and works. Because James writes in a passionate, almost legalistic manner, I missed the whole point to a degree.
James 2:22-24 "22Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only."
 James is providing a reminder to us all that our Christian faith is not about being lazy, about every so often telling people about who we are. It's about actively living life as a follower of Christ - of allowing faith to guide us in the prophetic words we speak out, the encouragements we provide, the ways we use our gifts and talents in various fields. My greatest talent is in my positive outlook and communicative ability which enables me to encourage people and to write and speak in ways not everyone can. But I want to use that gift all for God's glory!

I just read Ezekiel 6, in which the prophet is told by God to go and speak out against Israel and tell them that God will bring a sword against them. In verse 13 it says "And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols." I felt prompted by God to read this earlier and it quickly struck me what he was saying in relation to this whole post: knowing Him means being active in your daily choices.

The people of Israel chose to turn to other idols, other material things, rather than trust in their God who had provided so much. They lost the active edge to their faith and God therefore needed to shake them out of that with selected trials and persecutions.

Recently I have come to realise myself just how much I want to turn to and truly know him intimately: not just intellectually but deep down. And as I have begun this process I've found that some prayers I have had for a while have been answered and that I have found a new sense of peace and relevance in an irrelevant ungodly world. And what God has been teaching me is that knowing him is about being active - that human relationships are in a sense an indicator of how we are to know him. When you are in romantic love there are indicators to everyone else that you love. In a much greater way, because I know the all powerful God, I should let my faith, my hope and above all my love be active to the point where people should be able to just see that I know the love he has for me and that I love him.

As Colossians 3:14 makes a point of saying "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." My concluding point is this: make your love be active, make your faith active. If you believe in Christianity, do not just believe as you might believe in a sporting athlete, a movie star or a musician. Believe actively - with all the signs and passion of someone who truly knows that you are just passing through and that there are better rewards for you in the future. It might be difficult to grasp fully (impossible in a sense) but we can all begin to get this right now before God needs to shake our world up. Because, let's be honest, despite all the pain and difficulty life throws at us, we should be shaking the world as conquerors, not the other way around! 
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Indirect God

Today we were running through a Bible study at my Uni campus, looking at Matthew 11 and this intriguing concept struck me. For those unfamiliar with Matthew 11, we particularly looked at the section from when John the Baptist sends his disciples out to find Jesus and report back to John.

"2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
4 Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’"
Reading this particular passage here, we don't actually see Jesus directly answer that, yes, he actually is the Christ who has been called and asked for. Later on, Jesus speaks to the crowd and says:
"16 ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others:

17 ‘“We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.”
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.”19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’"
In fact this whole passage up till this point seems to be about Jesus teaching a point indirectly. And as a student teacher I love that Jesus is the perfect teacher and uses so many different methods of teaching and so on. But really this whole passage pointed out to me something that we also see later in Matthew 16:
"13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’"
And what was pointed out to me was the whole concept that Jesus himself is not directly telling his disciples (or John's disciples) who he is. Instead he's asking them to look at what he has done - the signs and miracles - and to not judge him based on their own expectations but to recognise that only the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, could have done such acts of power.

That is why I believe in Christ - in Christianity - with such conviction. Because I see the things that have happened in my life, I see the world, I see everything and I know that it can't just be a pure coincidence for me. Particularly when things I ask for in prayer are coming true - I just don't have that kind of magical word ability (even if my tongue is silver hahahaha).

So this is my point for today about 'The Indirect God'. If you ever find yourself thinking that things in life are happening in an odd way or that God is not making himself clear to you - ask yourself 'could these things that happen to me be nothing but chance?' I know that there have been things that happened for me in the past couple of days that were absolutely not by chance and could only have been God moving in his perfect timing. God wants us to come to know him not just because he tells us that he is God, but because we come to know for ourselves in truth that he IS regardless of anything else.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Why Now God?

My pastor, Ken Johnston, preached a great message yesterday about the best response to suffering. Rather than wallowing in the question of 'why me' the Biblical powerful (faith-filled) response is to say 'I don't know why me but I praise you anyway God'. And that's why I want to use this blog post to write about another similar question that has plagued my mind this year: 'Why now God?'

When my Grandmother passed away earlier this year I had that very question on my mind and it took time for the pain to die down and for God to really show me that everything was in his control. The timing was terrible - or so I thought. Even more recently there have been other events where it has seemed like the timing has been terrible (people confessing things to me, people getting hurt, having to pay off unnecessary costs when there hasn't been money etc.). But God has still been teaching me that even if I think the timing is terrible, he actually has perfect timing every time.

Isaiah 55:8 says '"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." (NIV)

There we go. The Bible has the answer, end of story, time for me to wrap up this post. No, not seriously, but it is pretty amazing how straightforward some scriptures can be - so how can we not grasp this fact that God is not human and doesn't follow our rules? Human pride? Human arrogance? Lack of faith? Not knowing him?

Christianity is, in my eyes, one of the hardest and easiest things to do. I have a strong conviction deep down about its reality - I see it in the world as something so tangible: a slice of eternity in everyday life, At the same time there are natural doubts from secular sources and other religions that really try and tear me down in regards to this whole issue.

So this morning when I woke, I felt compelled to read John 6 - in fact after I asked God what to read he specifically said John 6. And I am so glad that I did.

For anyone unaware, John 6 begins with the feeding of the five thousand. One of the most impressive miracles of multiplication and giving that Jesus performed.

From verses 5-7 (NLT)
"5 Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” 6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!"
The italics and bolding are my own work because this struck me when I was reading through John 6: Jesus already knew the divine miracle he was going to do and so he tests the faith of his disciples. We all know that we test people all the time when trying to get a certain answer to a question from them or to see what they are capable of - and Jesus himself tests his disciples to see what kind of answer they could come up with to an impossible situation. And of course his disciples decide that the best solution is just to get some food for Jesus (and maybe for them) with the 5 loaves and two fish that a little boy offers to them.

And then of course Jesus performs this incredible miracle and leaves twelve full baskets afterwards. I'm still staggered by the concept that he knew what he was going to do in advance though - that is amazing to think about. And the next thing he does is walk across the water when his disciples travel to Capernaum. The following day the people who Jesus had fed by a miracle follow him across the water in their boats and when they get there:
"26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”"

And verses 30 - 31
"30 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’"
It's crazy to think, but even after seeing this miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the crowd still do not believe in the power of Jesus. In fact if you read later on they talk about how he is just the son of Joseph and Mary - no one special really.

So having read this today two things struck me:
1) Jesus knew what miracles he would perform but tested his disciples about his power
2) Even after seeing Jesus perform miracles, the crowd wanted more miracles - not because they truly believed in his power but because they just liked seeing miracles as a kind of show

And it is these two revelations that provide the answer to my question: why now God?
Why now? Because God didn't want to move earlier or later. He wanted to move now in his own way so that I (so that you) will see his power truly at work.

That may seem like a cop-out answer but it's true. God moves when he wills - not just when we want (though by grace he allows us a chance to participate). He knows in advance the plans and purposes (the perfect plans and purposes where all his promises are YES and AMEN) he has for our lives and brings them about in the perfect timing - even if we cannot see it like this. And when God works with his timing, we can see it as a test of our faith - to see whether our faith is without action and therefore dead (like those who say the miracles and did not recognise God's power behind the miracles).

God's timing is glorious, righteous timing. So maybe I need to stop saying 'why now God' and say 'I thank you that you choose to act now God because I know that you are perfecting my faith.'

Hebrews 12:1-3
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

What Is Love?

I realise this will be my third blog post in three days, however since I haven't been doing anything but work and lazing around the house I have had plenty of time to reflect on various ideas running through my mind. Not to mention that right at this present time the cricket is slowing to a lull...

I discussed faith in my first post and yesterday I discussed seeking his kingdom and righteousness first, a concept that ties into both faith and hope. Well today I want to look at love, the third part of that 'trinity'.

1 Corinthians 13: 4- 13 (NIV)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The most important part of this entire chapter on love is the point that Paul makes multiple times: without love we are nothing. As Colossians 3:14 says "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection." (NKJV) Other translations say "which binds them all together in perfect unity."

The Bible clarifies this further in 1 John 4:8 when it says "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." So of course that in itself explains why love links everything together perfectly - why it unifies: because it is a part of God's very nature to bind everything together and he is love. It also explains why the greatest of the things that remain is love: it is part of all that God is.

Which leads to the question that a lot of people have: why does love begin so sporadically at times and why can we as humans be so controlled by our emotional love? That's because we cannot fully know love at the moment and as C.S. Lewis explains rationally and carefully in The Four Loves, human love is limited (much as our faith is naturally limited at times) by what we see and feel. You have philia, storge, eros and finally agape. Philia is the love between friends, storge is affectionate love as between family members, eros is romantic love and agape is the most powerful love of all: unconditional love.

Aside from unconditional love the other three forms of love are mere shadows of what God's love is. We as people are bound by our passions - our desires, needs, wants, attachments etc. - but God is not a man and while he is passionate about us, he is not controlled by passion as we are. And therefore his love can be limitless, unconditional and freely given not in a fit of passion or desire as a romantic falls in love but of choice.

It is this idea of choice that links together the three different points I've made across my blog posts. To truly step out in active faith, then you have to make the choice to trust God with everything - believing that he chooses the best for you. To trust God more and more you need to seek him and his righteousness first - to know him not just mentally but deep within, with all you are. And as you seek him first it is his love that helps you to really know who he is. And it is his unconditional love that helps our conditional love to become truly powerful - that binds our affection, friendships and romantic endeavors together with him.

Essentially it's all about getting to know him more as God and putting him in the center as he needs to be! It's a process of active faith and trusting in his love, but it gives you such security and peace in the end...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Seeking His Will First

I always have a multitude of thoughts that run through my head. It's part of how God has designed me as an individual - to be capable of juggling many differing things that I can still find connections between. In fact I've been doing several different personality and strengths tests across this year and seeing the type of person I've been made to be and it's interesting to see that I have really been growing more and more into my natural personality. Most of that has come from one key choice: to seek him first.

Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

As I had pointed out to me, a lot of commentators ignore the 'and his righteousness' and I do believe that part of that is because we as humans like to ignore the idea that Romans 3:23 explains so clearly "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Which of course means we need a saviour - salvation - a means to be righteous (right with God). But no one wants to acknowledge that, no one wants to admit that "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). We want to believe that we can save ourselves.

I saw Interstellar recently and despite it being a fantastically looking movie one thing irked me: the concept of salvation as made visible by the film. It started off by saying that we need external supernatural powers to save us from death on a decaying Earth and then ended with circular logic, pointing instead to the idea that we can save ourselves. My inner alarm went off because no, we cannot save ourselves in the end. There is no human power capable of doing anything like that.

The problem though is that, in recognising this, some turn 'seeking his righteousness' into a religious act of purification. The ages-old idea of 'if I could only be good enough for God to see me as right'. But the only way for God to see you righteously is not by you changing yourself - not by you making yourself righteous. That's like saying you can clean up a filthy car with a filthy sponge and make it better than new. No, the only way to be righteous is for God to act and provide the means. And fortunately he does through Christ's sacrifice and the provision of the Holy Spirit.

So what does 'seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness' mean to me? Well it's a concept I'm starting to grasp and it revolves around my previous blog post about faith and in particular the concept of the trinity of faith, hope and love. I said that hope is the soul's anchor, faith is the active power of knowing God - of having hope - and love unites and binds everything together in perfect unity because God himself is love and he is One.

So seeking the kingdom and his righteousness first? In simple terms it becomes about coming to know him and his love not just superficially but to truly know it as a part of you. To make your relationship with the all powerful Creator the core focus of all you do. In the past I've struggled more with this. I've made work, relationships, university, school, the future, the past, loss, prayer, church and so on the center. I've said: the end goal of what I am doing today and tomorrow revolves around my reaction to these mundane ideas and God can stand at the side and help me out like he should. And again that's not only selfish it's almost blasphemous in a sense - it turns the one deserving of everything into someone standing on the side like a genie handing out wishes.

I'm getting closer now however to seeing that what it all needs to be about is a change of perspective. That the greatest sin I could ever commit is to reject the plans and promises of my God and my Lord - to put him to the side and do it alone. Sure none of us are perfect so we do mess everything up from time to time. However, seeking first his kingdom and righteousness is to place him at the center and say 'God I ask that you guide my path in what work I do, what university course I take, who I focus my attention on today, who I choose to love, what I choose to do with my money.' And when you start to do that? It means that the fear of the future and uncertainty begins to slip away and the things you desire and seek fall in alongside you.

All in all, in short: seeking a new job? Getting into trouble with the law? Wanting to find a wife or husband? Hoping to make new connections you can bring to Christ? Wondering what your purpose is? All these things are solved by the one thing in the world that is so simple and yet so difficult: to come to know him and his heart first and foremost.

I'll close this blog with two links to songs that I've been listening to a fair amount because they really contain those exact ideas for me. The first is A Little Closer by Group 1 Crew and the second is Mercy Me's Greater. A Little Closer really covers the idea of getting closer to understanding and knowing God more and more intimately in your life and Greater really explains the idea of God's power being alive and active as you understand more and more just who he is!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

What is Faith About Anyway?

My greatest passion is not what you might believe. It's not books, films, stories, music, video games or sports. I love all these things, but my great passion is found in all God has created - such as his people. The art of the previous things mentioned provides a gateway to connect and learn about people again. It's like how I can learn about God through the creation, so I can learn about people through their art. It's why when I contemplate ideas and thoughts, often I'll turn to a song or a poem or another narrative that tells it perfectly.

Kutless, in their song I Do Not Belong sing "I do not belong in a world of broken pieces/I was meant to be in the arms of your redemption/ I am moving on to the place of your perfection." And it's the realisation, more and more, of what 'being set apart' means that has lead me to decide to create a new seperate blog to reflect upon different spiritual ideas that God is 'running me through the gauntlet' with, so to speak (or in this case write). 

I'm coming to see that what my life, like any life, is a progression. It might have its detours, it might end up going in circles, I might run backwards every so often. But even if I stumble and fall and with the beasts that fight inside of me, I still want to continue to push on: to move closer and closer to the version of me that Christ is calling me to be (even if I know that I am and have been justified, sanctified and glorified). Either way, I hope that makes sense as a long-winded intro as to why I've titled my blog the way I have.

But let us move on to what I really wanted to talk about: faith. What is faith about? Is it some static thing that I just 'have to have?' Is it just for the here and now? Am I not getting all the promises of God because I don't have enough faith? Why can some non-Christians pray and see the power of God move while I don't?

Let me look first at the story of Jonah before moving onto the famous chapter of Hebrews about faith. At the beginning of Jonah we see Jonah run from God when God asks him to go to Nineveh and preach against it. And when Jonah flees, God sends a storm after him. Jonah then ends up being thrown overboard and rescued by a huge fish of some sort and this incident leads to the men on board that ship actually worshiping God himself for calming the storm. And then God gives Jonah the same choice again to go to Nineveh and finally Jonah gives in, goes to Nineveh and the people there repent to God. And when God spares them you know what happens? Jonah feels that this is unjust. The guy who runs away from God's desires? From Gods will and is given grace to spare him feels its unjust that a whole city can be spared. In the end to me, Jonah becomes a story about God's grace towards one man just as much as to a whole city and Jonah doesn't even seem to get that!

I'll be honest now: the future at times scares me. Why it scares me is because of my human capacity for doubt despite God's unrelenting grace. I worry that my human emotions will control my choices rather than God's will. And the reason I have to share this is because when you share it, speak out your fear, the power it can hold on you lessens. Because it is ridiculous that I can feel that I can have more of a say over my own life than God's will if he wanted to step in. It's ridiculous to think that I can stuff anything up to the point where God can't redeem it. It's ridiculous to think that God's choices for me cannot be made more visible than my own desires. And so on. In short: GOD'S WAYS ARE NOT MY WAYS!

As God said to Job when Job questions God's ways:  

Job 38: 2 - 3 (NIV) " 2‘Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me...'"

Because we are not God it's incredibly audacious of us to think we can question God's will and consider that we might have the ability to in any way truly confuse or damage his plans and purposes. Yes, we have choices but like with the story of Jonah, in the end it might become a choice of facing a storm (or trial) without God or with him.

So what then, is faith about anyway? Well here's the small scratch in the surface that I am starting to realise. Faith is in a sense trust, but it's more that trust is an aspect of what faith is overall. It's not some static force that you just need a particular amount of, it's a dynamic power of God to shape and define.

Hebrews 11 in the amplified really highlights why I've come to see this (cheers to Jay Mitchell for helping to point this out):

Verse 1 "Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]."

So faith is about assurance and proof of things we cannot really understand alone. Things like God himself and the trinity, or saving grace. If you continue to read the amplified version of Hebrews 11 it points out that faith is doing different things (prompting, actuating, urging on, motivating etc.) for the men and women of faith who came before Christ. So you know what that suggests to me about faith? It suggests that it's a dynamic force: a power of action to spur us to act on any belief in the eternal. As verse 3 in Hebrews 11 points out: "By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible."

All of Hebrews 11 can really be read as a chapter not just giving many great examples of faith acts: but a chapter that teaches, that shows, that faith really is active. 1 Corinthians 13 mentions that "12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Hope: my true anchor to God's saving grace.
Faith: the active power of my hope.
Love: the very nature of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, yes, I guess this is all very interesting theologically. But what does it all mean? Well, here's the conclusion I've reached at this point: James 2: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Faith without action is not true faith, it's power that isn't being used. Show me a car that just sits in a garage all of its life. You can claim it has power and a battery, but until I see that battery in action and working, then it's not really a car. It might look like a car, but it's really just a piece of decorative artwork - or furniture. It's the same with faith: unless you are actively living out, working out, your faith, then is it really faith?

This is not a post to condemn but to prompt and encourage. It's why I brought up Jonah - God had to prompt Jonah to stop living out of his fears and to remind him that really being a prophet wasn't just about Jonah: it was about a city of living souls. The same goes for anyone reading this, and for me too, I can't live my life out of 'what might be' or 'what if I get that wrong'. I need to live in the power of faith - and sometimes that means being taken into uncomfortable situations (like Job) or being corrected by God like Jonah. What is faith about anyway? It's about God's power living and working in my day to day life!