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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

You Are Meant For More

Just the other day I saw a beautiful quote that Jeanille decided to use for her Melbourne photo album. The most interesting thing is that the quote was about friendship and from Karl Marx - a man who interestingly despised the notion of family and marriage as nothing more than a social institution to keep people in check. He also is famous for saying that religion is the opiate of the people: a drug to keep us all from thinking. So this got me thinking that it is fascinating that you can have on one hand a man who seems to stand for everything opposite to family and friendship can say something on the other hand as wonderful as "Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through."

But that has been the case throughout history interestingly. Some of the greatest quotes I have ever read have come from murderers, adulterers, rapists and various individuals society would deem to be morally reprehensible. Read through, for instance, the speeches of Adolf Hitler and you will discover that he had an incredible leadership gift and ability to motivate and inspire individuals. Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao had the same kinds of gifting. The issue is that they turned these gifts to the wrong purposes.

A man like Karl Marx had a gift for communication and for thoughtful insight. He saw plenty about the human condition - yet he also held a disdain for God and religion that blinded him emotionally. God created us to work together, follow him and worship him forever: the way that an artist creates an artwork to reflect their own personal 'glorified abilities'. How much more does an all powerful creator create his greatest artwork to reflect his eternal glory and power?

The challenge though is that we as people, as humans are left with a choice of free will. We can either use our abilities to glorify God and follow His plans for our life or we can go off on our own paths. God has given me various gifts - particularly in terms of communication and expression. I could easily use those gifts for my own purposes or to convince people to follow my own ideologies and create a cult. Yet in doing so I would be fashioning myself into so much less than what I could be.

I had a thought, very early this morning, that God doesn't always give us what we want the most. This can be a challenge to our faith at times when we are dreaming and desiring about something so much and find doors in life slammed in our faces. Interestingly the story of Lazarus teaches us something about faith and trusting God in such circumstances.

John 11: 21-25

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus could have gone to Lazarus sooner and saved him from death. However, instead, Jesus arrives after his death and resurrects him. As it continues in John 11:41 'So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”'

Jesus used the death of Lazarus to teach those around the area a lesson about faith and the power of God. It became a more powerful miracle not because Jesus prevented death but because he completely reversed it. This might sound like a tough lesson - after all Lazarus would have therefore become one of the few men in history who unfortunately have to die twice - but it is a powerful one. And when Jesus has the power and authority to reverse death who are you, who am I, to question when he decides to act in his authority? For us to question that is to say we believe we are morally superior or better than God himself.

I've been contemplating the notion recently about whether love is blind or not. Given that God is love I think I can safely state that love is not blind in the way that poets so often state (real genuine Godly love at least). I also believe that faith which connects to God's love for us, and our love for God, is also not blind. I believe that love sees the flaws and the problems but chooses to act towards solving those problems and resurrecting the individual behind there. Jesus did not come to Lazarus and simply fix the problem of his sickness: he resurrected Lazarus and no doubt provided spiritual redefinition to his life.

I believe that God looks at us and sees us as the best we can be - as the resurrected versions of ourselves when we might only see a tomb filled with some rotting corpse. Some of us may choose to abuse our abilities, such as the Karl Marx's and Joseph Stalin's of the world. Or in the more modern day and age it is easy to see the decline of pop stars like Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga who have all the talent in the world and yet make choices that poorly affect their health and don't glorify the God who created them. Even those of us who accept the salvation of Christ make choices day to day that do not fully honour our God.

Despite all these things though we are still meant for more. We are meant to be rulers and guardians of this world - walking in the spiritual power that God grants us and realising the full potential of our gifts and talents. That's why I say that faith is also not blind. Faith is the key to trusting God and being able to see His power more at work in our lives, but for faith to really be powerful it must be based on a solid foundation: the knowledge and intimacy of who God is in all his three aspects.

Let me give you a quick analogy: if you never met me and I told you to jump off a cliff you would definitely not have faith in my reassurance that I would catch you. If however you knew me very well and knew that I could catch you you would be more likely to jump. The same goes for us: the better we know God, the more we realise that he has our best in mind - that he made us for more than mediocrity.

My church is going into a week of prayer and fasting next week. I look forward to drawing closer to God, family and friends in this time and seeing his resurrection power come to life in me. I encourage you all who may be reading this to think about how you can draw closer to God and become the more that you are meant to be. I personally am looking forward to the surprise of 2015 as I journey with God!

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

Sunday, 25 January 2015

I Am Torn And Broken

Here's a secret to confess: I am as broken as any person who has ever lived or ever will live. Sure things may look great on the outside but deep down it's a different story. But here's the other secret: though naturally I may be broken, in Christ I am healed and set apart.

Today I was given a powerful reminder of trying to do too much in my own effort. In my own effort I am weak - I stuff up the best intentions, I take people for granted, I don't explain myself as well as I should. The care that I have for people turns to selfishness and ambition when I do things my own way. But fortunately I was also given an even more powerful reminder that God is more than enough. Let me explain...

So today I had my 21st birthday party bbq and right from the start things didn't go quite as I planned. I stressed myself out trying to find a bbq spot, the meat didn't cook as fast as I hoped (and I wasted time on that rather than being with the people I love and initiating unity between different groups). That said I've been having an interesting discussion with both Jay and Ken about the idea of God using all things for our good and I was pleased to see that most people enjoyed the bbq. Of course I know I stuffed some things up very wrong there in hindsight and learnt a lesson.

But when I read the birthday cards I was reminded also of this fact: no matter how badly I stuff up in my own strength, when I am weak He is strong. All of my doubt and fear and insecurity is because I keep trying to do things my way rather than His way. These were cards that spoke the same message of hope, love and a special God-given future. A reminder that I don't need to do it all in my own strength.

So here's the thing: despite how good everything looks on the outside, inwardly I bleed like a man with knife wounds running through his arteries. That is, when I try to do things as a weak sinner. But Christ was gracious enough to deliver me and give me a chance everyday to be truly redeemed...

Monday, 19 January 2015

Faith v. Reason: A False Dichotomy

A while ago I read an article on the 'Men Christian Women Shouldn't Marry'. Naturally the article didn't reach me as the intended audience but I was interested to see if I ticked the checklist of the 'good Christian man to marry'. Jokes aside, this week another friend pointed out a second list by the same blog author about the 'Women Christian Men Shouldn't Marry'. Reading through both articles each time I was struck by the fact that the articles relied upon specific interpretations of scripture. They also ignored things like the power of grace and the fact that we live by faith and not by sight. In other words it was a typical Christian article the way that people have come to stereotypically see us: people with faith but acting in legalistic manners.

For instance in that article the author points out 1 Corinthians 6:9 "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality." He claims that this verse says that anyone who commits such sins means they can't receive eternal life. That's a problem interpretation for me - because the scripture actually says not inherit eternal life but inherit 'the kingdom of God' and that to me is something even beyond eternity. That's a thing of power we can live in here and now. Not to mention that such an interpretation ignores the fact that Christ said even looking lustfully is equal to adultery - so therefore according to that interpretation very few people would ever make it into eternity...

The problem that I see, and it's a problem that all of us deal with from time to time, is the balancing of reason with faith. And that's because I think I see what I call a false dichotomy being created. In literature a dichotomy is a comparison of two differing or opposite forces or ideas. So for instance light versus darkness, hot versus cold, love versus fear etc. Yet does there have to be a dichotomy between faith versus reason? I don't believe so. Many skeptics would love you to believe that and many people build strawmen arguments built around emotionally convincing others that reason (or they might say logic or science) is entirely opposite to faith.

We as Christians often don't help out that cause because too often we just quote scriptures to support our points without reasoning out fully what those scriptures mean: why they mean what they mean and how they apply to life. If you bring up scriptures about what sin is pardonable or unpardonable maybe someone else can tear you to pieces by pointing out contradictions. Which is why I think it's important to reason out that there is a difference between eternity and the kingdom of God. In fact from what I see in the scripture it seems clear that Christ came to bring the kingdom of God to Earth when he came. But that's another topic.

While I am on the topic of contradictions, let me just point this verse out as an answer to the contradiction that might be seen in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (because the Bible actually doesn't contradict itself - but our understanding of it might prove contradictory).

Mark 3:22-30
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:“How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
 Now, blasphemy means essentially to speak profanely about God and some people falsely (because of English translation) take this to mean that using God's name in vain is the unforgiveable sin. However this passage (and the corresponding one in Matthew 12:31-32) most who look into it agree that Jesus is talking about a true blasphemy: the blasphemy of not accepting Christ as Lord and saviour. The meaning of one scripture cannot contradict another scripture and understanding the scripture here in this sense makes true sense. The only unforgiveable sin is to not accept the forgiveness of the one who can pardon all sins.

My point, however, in talking about a false dichotomy between reason and faith is this: I believe faith stems from reason. I always make the point when asked to provide evidence for God's existence that I have the same evidence as everyone else, I observed the facts, I saw the observable phenomena/read about them, and then made a different conclusion. A conclusion that was a leap of faith, the same as the atheist who observes the facts and naturalistically claims the universe exists because it must.

One of the harshest comments underneath the article mentioned above was this 'when will Christians start thinking'. Of course it was a snide and shallow remark - a very obscure generalisation - because I know plenty of Christians who do indeed think. But it also got me thinking about why do these stereotypes of Christians as 'spiritual people' without reason or logic, come from.

Sure I'm not saying that we all need to have a billion science facts - because in the end it does come down to faith. I'm not saying we need to have the most logical rhetoric planned and ready for instant delivery: a quickfire 'selling' argument of our faith. What I am saying is we need to live reasoned faith based lives. True faith is not blind faith just as true love is not blind love. True faith is active - and comes from everything that we can see and feel (things we can reason out). I guess what I'm saying is that I get tired of those millions of Christians out there with good intentions (myself included at times) saying what 'should be' or 'what shouldn't be' and yet not living the faith based life that they should. That's why I say there is a false dichotomy between faith and reason - a false opposition - the two should work together.

I personally believe because all the evidence in my life, in the world around me, in ever law of physics, chemistry, biology points to a creator. Every work of art, every emotion, I cannot reason out how such things could have no intelligent cause. At the very least everything must have been created by some kind of super power. Because say all you want about chance and so forth - it still doesn't explain the origins of our universe or what kind of power it took to create everything. I have the same reasoned evidence as anyone can have access to: I just happen to take the opposite leap of faith to other people. The leap towards hope.

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. - C.S. Lewis"

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Am I A Good Person?

Am I a good person? I suppose most of you would look at me and say 'well he doesn't smoke, drink, do drugs, treat people too terribly or have that many visible vices so I guess he's a good person.' I'm pretty sure someone like Jeanille would say I'm a good man. And here's the thing: maybe I am a good person by a general measuring stick, but who is to say that the general measuring stick is any good at all?

Have you ever seen someone do something really terrible in the news or even in person. I notice that often a wife or mother or friend may come to their defence and say that 'they're really a good person - I don't understand it'. Here's the thing that these loved ones were missing about their 'good' man or woman however: you can be externally good but it is impossible to be fully good when it comes to the heart. As Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) states "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

No doubt you're wondering why I bring up this topic of 'being a good person'. What's the point of it all. Well the point comes down to purpose - I obviously believe that my purpose is to glorify God: to worship and serve Him forever and to be in relationship with Him. However those who do not believe in a God often say that their purpose is to be a 'good person' or some might rephrase that and say that their only purpose is to be the best in their area of expertise in this life: to live for the day, rather than an eternity they do not believe in. Some more nihilistic individuals might claim their purpose is to have no purpose, which entirely defeats the purpose of purpose.

I note, however, key logical flaws in stating that your purpose is to be a good person and do good to others and that is what I wish to bring up properly. The first of which is 1) what is the point in being good if there is no God or higher being to provide structure to your morality. In other words, if purpose is about being good: then why? If we live just the one life, for the purpose of being good then why do we need morality? Maybe we just need to be good to do good - like how some argue the universe exists because the universe just needed to exist. But that's a circular argument which doesn't explain why the universe needed to exist or why we need to do good. It all becomes relativistic unless you accept that there is a greater reason to needing morals than just because we need them. Of course that doesn't mean that you need God to be a 'good person' but this ties into my second issue.

The second issue is 2) what is the measuring stick for 'good'. My point being that sure you can be a 'good moral person' without God but your morality will not be an absolute morality. The argument might be made that you don't need an absolute morality, that morality is subjective - that it is innate within people. Of course my question is again: why is it innate to all of us? Did evolution as a 'blind watchmaker' (a flawed analogy because a watchmaker knows exactly what he is creating, blind or not) give us all a need to have a shared sense of morality? I'm just asking questions here out of curiosity because I don't see an answer to the question of why it is important or why we have universal morals if it's just to be good here and now. It doesn't fit in with the purpose of natural selection (survival).

But here's an interesting quote from this site here
"Western morality began with the enlightenment about 500 years ago. The enlightenment was the first time that Europeans started separating religion from morality. Through the last few centuries, Western Civilization has developed a code of morality that is not dependent on any religion, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the United Nations Charter, to the International Court of Justice, The Geneva Convention on War, and much more. These institutions and laws make no reference to gods or religion and are often agreed to by countries whose citizens have radically different religions.
"Here is something to consider. No major religion on earth condemned slavery until the enlightenment came along to condemn it. All the major religions claim that women are inferior to men. None thought that women had a role to play in political life and rarely in religious life. Most churches still believe that only men may lead. Many major religions espoused “Peace on Earth” but were quick to start huge devastating Crusades against one another. Christians who espoused Christian morality in the 1500’s spent decades killing one another across Europe in the 30 years war. Millions died in the name of a god. Not much morality there."
 The point is right: there wasn't much morality in the Crusades. The point is also wrong that the various moral charters are not dependent upon religion - they base their entire premise along codes which are linked back to the absolute morality of the Old Testament Law. But here is the point now that all of this has been leading to: you can be a good person without God, you can be a good person without any religion or so on. The fact that the Crusades, terrorism and humanism exist is proof alone of this (although I debate the point of having morality without God or at least some higher power but that's another topic). But my question is this: how good a person can you be?

Maybe I am a good person. Maybe I'm a better person than some guy who murdered his wife because I haven't done that. Maybe I can feel proud and contented in myself that thankfully I am not like that other guy. Or maybe I should stop for a minute and consider that actually I am just like that other guy - I am a flawed human being.

I might be able to be a good person, maybe one day I'll even be a great one, but by myself I cannot be a perfect person. No one can be perfect by themselves, because the human heart is deceitful and flawed in even the most perfect individual. A design flaw of sin that makes even the best of us essentially as bad as the worst tyrants in history. That's the bad news, but Christianity is about sharing the good news that even though Romans 3:23 points out that "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Romans 3:24 continues to reminds us that "and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

So yes, maybe I am a good person according to your own subjective morality. But according to the absolute morality of God - in my own right I am His enemy. But in Christ I am a perfect and new creation and that's worth talking about!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Fairytale Life

Fairytales are something that everyone tends to know - every culture has their own version involving magic and romance. It's a wishful tale, a story of delight and cheer but often with truth inside it. The interesting thing to me is that today I've been contemplating the notion of how so often people can view Christianity as a fairytale in that sense. Yet those who so often call it a fairytale just as often try to aggressively kill Christianity and Christian influence and who tries to destroy something they don't believe holds power?

One of the age-old fairytale ideas is that of a damsel in distress being rescued from some perilous situation by a knight in shining armour. In reality we know that there is no such thing as such fairytale romance right? And as I said to Jeanille today, to be a knight in shining armour is to be someone who shows off that they haven't really been through the battles. That is, your armour should have some dents and scratches - some wear and tear to prove that it has been used. Apparently according to her I'm more of a partner in crime anyway...

So yes, I am no knight in shining armour for anyone, even if people might think so at times. I'll readily admit that there are bumps and scratches here and there. But this life is not meant to be a fairytale and Christianity isn't meant to be just a fairy story. That said, one of the great experts on fairystories - J.R.R. Tolkien - wrote that Christianity was the greatest fairy story. Or rather that it was the great story that surpassed any fairy story. He wrote that the point of fairy stories is about fantasy, about escape. They are about that perfect knight in shining armour who can walk through battles without blood, sweat or any kind of difficulty. Fairy stories are there to point us towards what can be beautiful in life and ignore the reality of the world.

So when Tolkien wrote that Christianity is the 'great fairy story' he was saying that it is the perfect example of what a fairy story ought to be and is made more perfect by one fact: it is real. In On Fairy Stories he writes that “The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath."

The word eucatastrophe essentially is the opposite of catastrophe, that is it is a happy resolution. Tolkien points out to us all that the Resurrection is what the Birth of Christ is all about. It's not just the fact that Christ came to Earth, nor is it the fact that He died. Those two things are entirely normal events: human beings are born and die. But the great and powerful resolution is in the fact that Christ was resurrected! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17 "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."

So when you are arguing the merits of different doctrines or contemplating what the importance of a particular scripture might be, don't forget to remember the basics. Don't forget to remember that what makes it all important is the power of the resurrection: that impossible 'fairytale event'. So yes, I might never be the romantic notion of a knight in shining armour. I might never be a dragon slayer, unicorn hunter or magical wizard, but what I can be is someone who walks in the power of a resurrected, redeemed life. That's worth more than just any set of morals.

Monday, 12 January 2015

An Ugly Self-righteousness

I have been thinking the past few days about myself in the past. I believe that there is a difference between being brought up in Church and coming into the Church in the future with a bit of a history. It's not wrong, or unequal, it just creates differences in how your life has shaped out I think. 

Today I discovered my old photo album (and a letter Mum wrote to me when I was five about who I am: it was spot on) and I was looking through it. I've always been a super positive people person from the start. But that meant that I had idyllic, naive tendencies that God had to reshape. Sure I knew that not everyone had a life like me, but for some reason I tended to live as if I didn't know it. I believed that surely the people I would become closest to would have to be the most pure, perfect Christian people ever etc.

But of course that didn't turn out like that. But God has shown me that there is a beauty in people being flawed and not fitting any of my past ideals. He has shown me what true beauty is: people's hearts and souls shaped by His hands. He is teaching me to look beyond the natural and see the spiritual, which is something I wish more people could do. I saw a couple of comments today on Facebook that were completely the opposite in how self-righteous they were about judging if a Christian should 'dress like that' or if someone should act like that. It's not the fact that they were questions of course, but it's the heart attitude that shone through.

You see, here's something God has pointed out to me: self-righteousness is just as unattractive as self-destructiveness. By which I mean that to stand there and judge other people is just as ugly as someone falling into a cycle of self-destruction. It's easy to judge someone like Miley Cyrus for her drug habits and raunchiness - from turning from innocence towards that - but it's also just as unattractive and unhelpful to stand there and judge in a sense.

And why is that? Because to judge in a self-righteous way is to say that you are perfect by your actions. It's to fall into the trap of making actions and ways of doing things, the most important thing in life. Which is the same attitude that leads to corrective surgery for say obesity, when the real issue of overeating or poor diet may not be corrected. As is clearly pointed out in 1 Samuel 16:7 'But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."'

In Titus 3:5 the Bible also states that "he (God) saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit," Ephesians 2:8-9 continues this idea: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."

It is quite clear from what the Bible says that salvation comes through faith and faith alone in God's mercy, not because of what we do. It is interesting to note therefore what James says also in the Bible with what appears to be an apparent contradiction: 

James 2:20-21 "20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?"

However I think the most important part in connection to James talking about 'works' is at the end of James 2 in verse 26: "26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." As I have said before, faith that has no action is empty faith. Much as the Christian life, lived without grace, mercy, love or 'Christian virtues' is not really a Christian life. It's just a life that claims to be Christian. My favourite metaphor to use is a car that just sits in a garage. Unless it can actually run as I say it can it is just a piece of decorative metal. Something that cannot deliver on its promise is just decorative: or even less than that, it's empty.

So yes, there is a challenge of contradiction: working out the difference between letting actions be actions of faith or actions of self-effort. Self-righteousness is clearly not an action of faith however. It is an action of judgement where you take the position of God and judge other people as less than yourself when you should be looking first to yourself to realise that you are as low a sinner as anyone.

So if people ever ask me how I can hang out with a particular person, how I can love particular people, how I can just be me? The answer is easy. I recognise that I am no better than anyone else firstly. And secondly because Christ came to be a friend to sinners - not to be a sinner but to befriend them and not stand to one side pointing out all their sin. The world doesn't need more people standing and pointing out all the flaws in people's lives. People are already aware of their flaws, what they are looking for is something that can save them! And the answer is not me, but I hope to show through my actions of faith that there is a deeper source that is the answer. And that source is Christ alone and faith in Him!

Friday, 9 January 2015

I am weak, I AM Is not!

This morning was meant to become a tough morning for me. Or so I think the enemy would have liked it. First of all my replacement at work was an hour late, leaving me tired and drained of energy and with a lot of physical labour still to do. Secondly, Facebook happened to remind me that it would have been my Grandma's 81st birthday today. Which naturally brought back memories of a tougher time last year when she passed away. A time at which I questioned God's timing in finally taking her to be with Him.

The thing is though that there is always something that no loss, no difficulty can take away from you. No one can take away my Grandma's love for me. No one can take away the foundation I have been given in Christ because He wraps me all the tighter in His loving arms when the enemy tries to bring me back down. And I thank God that He reminded me that despite that time of loss, a time of his blessing followed shortly afterwards. 

Psalm 30:4-5
4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Everyone has weaknesses, flaws. It's part of being human and I've discussed in the past year that I often think my weaknesses are also my strengths. My emotional side can be pushed and punched by the tragedies of life: my persistence can be twisted into 'clinginess', my desire for knowledge and understanding can be directed to meaningless trivia. I know that this morning was meant to turn my strength of trusting in God's purposes away and was meant to remind me of the loss of someone I care about. Because I care so very much about people,

Instead I recognised that God has taught me in the past couple of months more and more that he has a destiny and a purpose despite any minor losses along the way. No matter what anyone else says about me, what shadows lie in the past that try and reappear, I know that peace between God and myself is what I can hold onto.

Try and take away this moment
In a second, a glimpse from the past
Yet come what may before us
I hold to the soul fed promise
Eternity lies before me
An empty grave now stands behind. 
I can see the lie of torment,
Lying still upon the air
A putrid smell of decaying presence
This hellbound power now departing
Recognised as weak and abased
For I stand in grace. 
Messengers bringing letters of doubt
Enveloping this joy I hold
Yet none, will ever steal this from me
Though lost for a moment
Forever I know I am found
And shielded by faith. 
Bring an empty past toward me
Its power lost through change of hope
Cast shadows over my future
And I will walk clearly toward my goal
For nothing can remove the promise
That love will guide me home.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Ultimate Relationship

What is 'Christianity' meant to be? Is it meant to be some kind of weird, love-everyone-no-matter-what-cuz-everyone-is-actually-good philosophy? Some kind of religion about doing good? No it's's about being more and more like Christ and that's something that we all forget at times. We can get so caught up in which church is doing what and which is the best church to go to and what new theological argument is the best that we miss what it's all about. It's about life.

It's about living a life of hardship, of pain, of suffering and about living a life that might seem just as bad at times as everyone else's. There's not always special privileges for following Christ in the natural. It's also about living a life of joy, celebration and happiness. Paul puts it well when he talks about the things that he as a follower of Christ can boast in.

2 Corinthians: 11
18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,b in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness
Paul understood that life in general, whether you follow Christ or not is tough. For him there were many physical trials, for other people there may be many emotional trials. James 1:2 says "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds," And it certainly is helpful, despite our human weaknesses to recognise that the joy of the Lord can be our strength in times of toughness and disaster. Paul again later wrote the following in 2 Corinthians 12:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
My little reflection and encouragement for today is this: Christianity is not about any doctrine, teaching idea or anything else that other religions can be about. It might feature some of those concepts: peace, love, joy, faith, hope etc. and they are all important to living a Godly life. But what Christianity is meant to be about first and foremost is the ultimate relationship. 

In life we can spend time chasing after the wrong kinds of relationships, after all it's not just what you can do as much as who you know that will get you far in life for the most part. And whether those be friendships, love interests or mentor type relationships if they are bad relationships for us then they will tear us down. And even good relationships can never truly bring us the satisfaction we desire in life. I saw an interesting TED talk by a woman who talked about looking for love in relationships rather than being satisfied in who she was. While there's definitely an element of truth in that - you need to be satisfied in yourself to be happy and whole to a degree - it doesn't go deep enough.

Ultimate, means final. It's the end of it all and nothing can surpass it. The ultimate relationship is the relationship we were created for: relationship with God. No religion, no effort, nothing can get you that relationship that we all crave - and the reason we try to be in great relationships with other people and ourselves. Because in the end we all are looking for the greatest love we can ever find and the greatest intimacy we can find. And that is with the one who first loved us.

For those who are reading this and have that kind of relationship this is just a reminder to you (and myself again) that He is the finishing point of it all and the centre. From loving Him we can learn to love other people, and from His love we can walk through life's trials. For those who do not I encourage you, if you feel like something is missing in your human relationships, why not ask if you are really searching for something deeper and more authentic. I promise you that if you reach out to God He will reach out to you even further.

Life sucks: it's a basic principle most of us cynically learn to accept at some point. Life isn't fair in the natural view of things. But we are called to live by faith and not by sight so that we can understand that even though everything might be good or bad it doesn't matter. Sure it might matter for a time but it doesn't truly matter. What matters is who you travel through the storms and the good times with: are you going to be alone or just with other people, or are you going to have a reliance and intimacy with your true Lord and Saviour?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Bandaid Society

I was going to write this blog this morning, but given the discussions I have had today I feel like this post will be even better for the time I have had to ponder and think. The somewhat enigmatic headline should inform you a little about what I have in mind to write about, yet hopefully it's not just ridiculously obvious.

I read a couple of articles in the past week about different issues but both of them interesting me for the same reason. I won't discuss the articles in detail but I will provide links to them here: Leelah Alcorn and Kate DeAraugo. The reason these two articles so interested me, apart from one of them being a clear tragedy, was because they highlight to me what is so wrong with our modern society. I don't expect you to agree with my conclusion necessarily but at least continue reading onwards. What is so wrong with our modern society is that it is a 'bandaid society'.

What does a bandaid do? It's an instant bandage, it covers a wound and hopefully the wound naturally clots up and heals over time - but it doesn't heal the wound for you. So when I say that our modern society is a 'bandaid society' I mean that there is a tendency towards 'quick fix' solutions to heal much deeper problems. Each of those articles features a quick fix solution in some way to a more serious issue and I would argue that these issues are heart issues.

What I am really pointing out here is that we are a cosmetic society, we care more about surface appearances. Or we also mistakenly believe that we are treating the disease of our times by addressing, say, drug use or suicide rates, rather than addressing the genuine causes of such problems. And the cause of such problems essentially returns to a broken heart. A heart which has not experienced the genuine love and acceptance that it was made to receive.

I try and make it very clear to everyone that I am not here to judge people. I say that I try because I probably will inevitably judge someone at some point here or there. But that's not who I am. I don't care about people's pasts, I don't care about the terrible things people are capable of, I don't even really care about what people are stuck in right now. I just care for people and maybe it's idyllic to say so but it's who I am.

And the main reason I don't care is because of the following, as said by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
So you see, I don't care not because I simply don't care like many people in the world but also because I know that I, according to my own measuring stick, am the worst of sinners. As Romans 3:23-24 points out, "23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," Who am I to judge anyone else when I am as worthy of being judged as anyone?

So when I was thinking early this morning about this concept of a bandaid society it struck me that I do only care about one thing in people's histories: have they met Christ? And are they on a path that means that they can meet Christ if they haven't? Because Christ is enough for everything - the sacrifice which he made is no mere surface covering, it's whole and complete. It renews your heart ultimately.

This is the great news for a bandaid society: that there is a great and true fix to their problems. The only catch? That it's impossible to please God by anything other than faith. It's not about religion, some particular creed or magic words. It's nothing you can do or buy - it's purely about having the faith to recognise the lordship and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I was thinking beyond this however and questioning what role I can have in being a solution to a bandaid society. How do I point people who are not resolving the deeper issues to a God who can meet any need. Well one answer can perhaps be seen in how 1 Peter 4:8 says "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." Tie this into the golden rule found in Matthew 7:12 - “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." - and I believe I have a challenging encouragement for myself and others.

You can't prevent people wanting to take the easiest path to solve their problems. I often still do it myself, stubborn as I am. But you can provide a powerful remedy that will truly resolve their inner, deeper issues. And to see this happen, to see the change you want to see in others lives, you need to take the first step. If you wish people to be loving, then be loving first. Loving earnestly so that they can see the evidence in your own life of a faith in Christ which means that they do not have to walk around covered in makeshift, temporary, bandaids...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Thing About Doubt...

At the end of 2014 when I started this blog, I wrote a lot about faith because God was teaching me so much about one of the crucial concepts. It strikes me that we as Christians get caught up in these overly complicated ideas rather than going back to what Jesus' ministry and the early work of the apostles was: simply complicated. In other words that they held onto simple ideas without over justifying them but that those simple ideas are the most complicated things in all the world - like faith, hope and love. Things that we find more difficult in our commercial world to live daily like we need to.

So yes, faith is one of those things that I've been thinking about a lot. But now I want to turn to the flipside of faith and examine doubt. A dictionary definition of doubt throws up that it's a "lack of certainty or conviction" - in other words doubt is really lack of faith for "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) And given that as 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us "For we live by faith, not by sight," the Christian should be someone who has a strong conviction in their life. Unfortunately, we are also not perfect and while I have a strong conviction founded in Christ - even I have doubts.

I was thinking about this in the morning today, and I realised that what I really have doubt in is myself. But even saying that is to say that I doubt Christ's ability to cover over my flaws and failings if you understand what I mean. Who am I to really doubt myself when my God is capable of doing above and beyond anything I can do to stuff anything up? It's like how in the story of Job, Job lost everything but God was beyond the situation. It's like how in the story of Jonah, Jonah almost threw away the opportunity before him - but God restored Jonah to his prophetic call and gave him another chance. My God is the God of second chances and the God of authority and power - so I really want to come to understand that more and more. You know those moments in films when a character knows their ability and authority and walk into a room radiating that? How much more incredible would it be if we could do that in our daily life?

There is plenty that the Bible has to say about doubt. For instance there's the story of when Peter walks upon the water out to Jesus and falls and begins to drown. Matthew 14:31 "31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’he said, ‘why did you doubt?’" You see at that moment that Peter fell it was doubt that led him to fall.

There's another story where a father asks Jesus for a miraculous removal of a demon and Jesus asks him whether he believes that Jesus can heal in such a way: Mark 9:24 "Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”" And Jesus is able to heal the man's son of the demon. There are other similar stories too where the admittance of faith - that yes there is some doubt but they choose to believe - leads to powerful healing by Jesus. 

And again in 2 Timothy 1:7 we are reminded that doubt is not a natural state for God's people. "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." We are made to walk in power, love and self-control and not the fear of doubt. 

In fact when in Ephesians, Paul writes about the spiritual armour of God that believers are to put on he talks about faith and says: "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." (Ephesians 6:16)

Here's what I want to say to encourage anyone reading this and to encourage myself. Doubts are flaming arrows to try and burn away at who we are, or to find some chink in our armour that maybe the arrow itself doesn't quite leave it's mark - but the flame burning on that dart will. But faith and its conviction completely extinguishes the flame of doubt as well as protecting you from the penetrating arrow.

It's a simple encouragement for us all: when doubt comes, grab hold of faith all the more. Believe when it doesn't look like it should be possible to in the natural because we do not live by sight but by faith. I had a great little conversation with my friend Jay, about what sin really is, and he made the point that it's not just disobedience - it's about a lack of faith. It's faithlessness. Think about it. Anything that is ever done and considered as sin in the Bible or in modern life has a link back to not being faithful to God. The desires of this world on their own are not sin, after all Jesus must have experienced the same desires equally, but he remained faithful to his father and carried on his mission above all else in perfect faith.

Faith should be the natural cry of our heart, to hold firm to the conviction that no matter what happens that God will be there holding onto our very lives. And that is what my overall position is, because I have a saviour who is there for me. The problem comes when in the day to day we make the wrong choices or we give in to doubt or fear or anything else momentarily. Because I, like you, am so weak - but despite that He is strong, And that's what I want to understand more and more: to walk in His strength and not my own. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Perfect Imperfection

I used to be a perfectionist - I still am, but I'm far less of one, now I'm more of a procrastinator - either way it used to quite affect my talents with writing. I would edit and re-edit to the point where I simply wasn't moving forward. I was stuck on trying to find the perfect words to use but I wouldn't progress with the important part: actually writing. Today when I write blogs such as this there is almost no editing - only minor edits as I go. I find it makes for a more conversational and flowing tone. Importantly, I also actually get the writing done.

So what I want to quickly discuss in this blog, is the topic that has been running through my head all night and won't let me rest until I type it out: perfection. Now, I've seen many people in life search for perfection (I've searched for it often in the past) in terms of the perfect husband/wife or the perfect job or the perfect house. But something that has struck me is this: human perfection is imperfect.

And what I mean by that is our overall concept of perfection is imperfect. It ultimately won't leave you satisfied. Because to expect the 'perfect' relationship or 'perfect' job or 'perfect' life is unreasonable. No one and nothing in this world can ever be truly perfect.

In 2014 I noticed a lot more people giving me varying advice on different things. I also gave out a lot of advice. While each piece of advice was obviously told in love and had different useful applications, I noticed that some more cautionary advice also seemed more directive. Obviously the reasons for that were apparent when going on my teaching rounds but it struck me today that often when we give advice we are seeking perfection. How many times have I said 'this is what I would do', thinking that I had the perfect angle on how to resolve a relationship issue or some moral dilemma etc. And I have done it because I wanted to make the situation perfect for the individual I was advising.

The problem is that human perfection is perfection by self effort. It is the perfection that says 'if I change something, I can make this right.' And because of this it's a perfection that can never be satisfied. I thank God that He has apparently helped me to see this in advance because at the moment I'm not looking for a perfect job, life or relationship - at least by human standards. I know I can never really have those things. But what I do want is for God to direct me to the jobs, life and relationship that are right for me.
Hebrews 11:38-40
"38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us."
This comes from the famous passage on the men and women of faith. None of them were perfect - Abraham tried to fulfill a promise of God's in his own strength through Ishmael, Moses acted many times in ungodly anger. David had another man killed so he could steal his wife. The flaws of each of the men and women mentioned in this passage are so visible. But yet they are the prime examples of faith left behind and the Bible tells us that they were 'too good for this world' (other translations say 'the world was not worthy of them').

You see God's standard of perfection can be reached in our imperfection. We can be imperfectly perfect. But only through faith. For without it nothing pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), and only faith in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ who provides the great gift of redemption for our sins can perfectly save us from, and in, our imperfection.

So yes, that's my blog reflection to start off the new year. I don't know how 2014 was for you, for me it was an up and down but incredible year all the same. Maybe you're hoping that 2015 is a more perfect year: my thought for you is that it won't be. You can hope all you want for that, but according to your standards of perfection, 2015 will disappoint you.

I'm not looking for perfection in my life. I'm not looking for perfection in a relationship. I'm looking for the true beauty that comes from faith and godliness and I want that to be my standard for 2015 - to live by faith and not by sight. It's that faith that enables me whenever people may judge me by their standards of perfection to admit that yes, I am not perfect and could name millions of ways I am not. But that's okay, I don't need to be perfect, I just need to perfectly fit in with God's plan for my life in my own imperfect way.