Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Shield of Faith

Given that we are more than matter (atoms and genes), given that we are caught up in a struggle of cosmic proportions (spiritual warfare) and given that there is a fight going on for men's souls, it matters that we learn how to use our shield. Granted, there are a lot of 'givens' in the above, too many for some people, but I do take them all as read.

I didn't once but I do now.

The worst thing anyone can do in a fight is forget that they're fighting, to take off the armour, to put away the sword, to relax - certain doom, curtains. One of the worst things I can do as a Christian is to live only with an eye on the material world. To be taken in by the enchanting comforts, the short-sighted living and the secular philosophy that surrounds me. I see it in myself, I'm susceptible to it. I wrestle with this world, my flesh and the devil as much as the next Christian. I win some lose some but I always aim to make it my resolve not to simply 'get by' as a believer, not to become neutralised in the fight.

I know that what I really want is to live out with increasing consistency and faithfulness the implications of the empty tomb of Jesus. In accepting the reality of the empty tomb and all that that means for human history and civilisation I also find myself accepting the Bible's conclusions that the Christian life is a battle, that we have an enemy. Being a Christian isn't simply 'hard' then, it is vehemently opposed. Whether I'm a doctor, accountant, soldier or church worker it doesn't matter, I'm a target. We all have unique battles to fight but we all have just that - battles.

So I return to the title of this post: the shield of faith. I must do what I can to obey Paul's instructions to take up the shield of faith. For me this means regularly going to the things that rebuff the lies of the enemy, fight against the schemes of satan and do battle with the all that would sap my faith and cause me to become what I don't want to be, neutralised, ineffective, half-hearted and luke warm. I see no place for these in the Christian life, they are as alien as a fish living on dryland and yet at the same time they are always right around the next corner, the outcome of the latest compliment or pay rise or hearty meal or session of indulgence or aim of the latest advert.

So where do I go? To begin with I go here:

1) The empty tomb and the existence of Christianity, the issue demands an analysis. The existence of Christianity requires a response.

2) The deduction form the natural world as to the likely existence of God. I don't believe in the likelihood of infinitely small probablity nor do I accept the mulit-verse idea.

3) The moral law and the God-likeness of humanity. I am interested in asking the questions 'what makes us different from animals'. We are different, and that difference is more than biological. We bare God's image and likeness - discuss.

4) The supernatural I've seen. The breaking of natural laws in healing and other miracles that I've seen and heard about. These range from impressive though open to theories of psychosymatics right through to jaw-droppingly stick-it-on-your-mantlepiece-like-a-trophy impressive - people being born deaf now hearing simply as a result of prayer, kind of examples.

5) The 'work'ability of Christianity. Given that Jesus' teaching and Christian teaching has been around for two millenium and is still life-transformingly effective, it deserves to be heard. This includes both practical life wisdom (my life is fulfilled, contented and purposeful because of following Jesus' teachings) and the authoratative claims of Christianity about human nature, it's diagnosis and cure.

6) The fact that I live in relationship with God and enjoy his joy giving presence, experience answers to prayer and have the privilege of knowing God and knowing what that means. The (for want of a better word) subjectiveness of following Jesus.

That's the first six steps my mind takes in rebuffing Satan's schemes and dousing out his firey darts. It's not perfect but it's mine and it's what means I can continue standing in my life of following my saviour in a world that hates him, mocks his followers and (worse still) silently pities me.

That's how I take up the shield of faith.
At least for the moment anyway.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Comfortable in my skin

Every room has its ceiling, every bucket its limit and every scale its tipping point.

A lot of getting through life contentedly is about knowing where yours is, and being 'ok' with it. It's about being able to say happily 'I am not the answer to the world's problems, I am not going to set the world a blaze, but that's ok.'

I know that when I die, which I will do someday (shock horror) my death won't result in books being written, stories being sold to the press, calenders being printed or charities being started in my name. I am average. Not to my mum (obviously) and perhaps to my wife and son but to most people in the world upon whose lives my life will never bear much resemblance or significance I am an average human being, an individual life on a planet with billions of lives. For the most part I am a consumer rather than a producer, an idea swallower rather than an idea former.

My big revelation that came recently is this - I have a capacity and quite frankly it isn't what I had hoped it'd be, I'm not that impressive. My biggest limiting factor in my own story of success is in fact myself and, to that statement, and in fact to all of the above i can say quite honestly 'I'm fine with it, I'm happy with who God made me to be.' Now, that's a weight off my mind.

Recently I've been getting ill - which is annoying. My body keeps crashing, like a computer. It's as though everything freezes, the fan overheats and I go into meltdown. I end up being unable to do anything except lie in bed frustrated, hot sweating yet shivering as my body reboots itself. The strange thing is, I haven't caught a bug and I don't think im working too hard. I mean I know I'm not working as hard as some of my friends, my life isn't that full of stress that I cant switch off for lack of trying. I'm not a workaholic, I love being a husband, dad and amateur (some might say very amateur) squash player too much to be a workaholic. I'm healthy, i'm young (still in my twenties, just!), and I'm not financially hard up. So why the crashes? Where i've arrived at is this: my capacity isnt what i thought it was, I'm a shallow bucket that gets filled up quickly. This camel's back can't carry too many straws.

Its taken quite a lot of wrestling to write that last statement. You see, I want to be Iron Man I want to be indespensible, irreplaceable, the guy that everyone looks to, learns from and aspires to be like. What I've learnt is that although I may want to be that guy - I'm not that guy, and in fact the desire to be 'that guy' isn't a God-given desire or even a God honouring desire - it's a desire for self worship, self esteem or known by another word 'pride'. So I've seen how low my ceiling is these past couple of days and months with the recurring crashes, and it's not impressive; it's no cathedral let me say that much. But do you know what - I'm fine with it. In fact I'm happy about it. I won't now swing the other way and say that I therefore am nothing and incapable of anything, no self-pity is as delusional as self-agrandisement.'

I am what I am by the grace and goodness of God. I'm fine with being me, fine with having a lower limit than others - my worth isn't measured by achievements gained, points scored, salary earned. My worth is measured by the price someone would pay to rescue me, to love me, to know me and I know that that price was very high indeed.

I can breathe deeply, feel free and not have to meet everyones expectations of me, not have to answer everyones beckon call. I'm happy saying 'no' because I know I have limits and I'm happy staying within them.

I'm comfortable in my skin.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Maths Never Changed My Life

2+2=4 true? True.

It's true but it hasn't changed my life. I mean it has in the sense that laws of maths and physics govern the world I live in but it hasn't in the sense that it plays any part in my day to day existence. I don't think about sums and mathematical equations much when I play squash, watch a dvd or go to the pub. 2+2=4 is true but it's not really something I devote my life to. It's irrelevant.

For a lot of people raised in church-going families, or educated in religious schools or brought up to respect Christianity Jesus is viewed in the same light.

True but irrelevant.

True but only true on the level that 2+2=4 is true or coastal erosion is true, or photosynthesis is true or other pointless things I learned about at school are true. For a lot of us it's like those things it's mildly interesting, possibly true but ultimately unnecessary for life.

True but pointless.

Occasionally I come across someone who's really into maths (I move in strange circles). They love it. They enjoy writing computer code, they love balancing equations, they love explaining reasons why and how an engine works, they have posters of Einstein up in their bedrooms; you know the people I'm talking about. They're the ones we copied off of in a test when we were at school.

Occasionally I meet these people and I don't really understand them. I'm sure that they're far cleverer than me but that's not what I mean. What I mean is that I don't understand what makes them tick, why they're given to enthusiasm and life-long passion about something that I forgot about the moment I opened my GCSE results envelope. Christians are often viewed like this. We're the weird ones who got a little too into R.E. at school and weren't willing to give it up when we left. We're the 'religious' ones and in many ways, I know, we're viewed with much curiosity and intrigue by people who aren't 'religious'. Rather like the way I view math geeks.

My Granddad used to say that he thought I was from another planet. I'm still not sure what to make of that, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

C.S. Lewis (Narnia writer) said that given the things Jesus said and did we cannot simply dismiss him as a good man, a moral teacher. Jesus said such outrageous things that the only options available to us are that he was a mad man (believing he was God when in fact he was a man), or that he was a bad man (intentionally misleading people into believing he was God), or that he was in fact telling the truth and that he was and is in fact God.

Francis Collins (the leading scientist who mapped the entire human genome - a smart man) said that the best piece of advice that someone ever gave him was this 'decide what you're going to make of the person of Jesus Christ.'

Over zealous? Unnecessarily enthusiastic about faith?

Jesus claimed to have the answer to the human problem. Jesus' followers claimed that he had been raised to life after dying and Jesus' enemies did their best to stamp out the memory of his existence.

Personally since exploring the claims of Jesus and deciding to follow him for myself I have found it to be true. I know direction, peace, pleasure and excitement in ways I've never known before.

Maths never changed my life but Jesus did and that's why I'm happy to be a Jesus-geek.

What about you? What do you make of him?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Euangelion: News or Advice?

Euangelion. (u-an-gell-eon)

It's the word the Bible writers' used to described the Christian message. It's a Greek word, they spoke Greek. It means 'Good news'.

Have you ever thought (or understood) that Christianity is essentially news. It isn't advice, it's a report of something that's happenned. Advice tells you 'do this and you'll be happier' or 'try this and you can be better.' ADVICE is offered and rejected, ADVICE can be taken or left, news is different. NEWS is static, NEWS reports, NEWS isn't concerned primarily with your response but with the facts of what's happened.

Here's some Bible quotes that back that up:

Peter talking to the crowd on Pentecost 'You handed him over to be crucified but on the third day God raised him to life.' NEWS

Paul tells his closest friend 'Christ Jesus died for sinner's of whom I'm the worst' NEWS

John tells the religious leaders 'There is no other name under heaven given to men by which they must be saved' NEWS

Paul writes to a church 'Jesus defeated the powers of darkness and triumphed over them at the cross.' NEWS

NEWS, NEWS, NEWS... Our world is full of news. We have 24hr news channels, daily newspapers, news apps. on our phones and news bulletins on the radio.

Some pieces of news lasts for only a day (like the fact that George McCullen won first place in the school cake baking contest), some pieces lasts for a few weeks (like the suicide of a prominent politician), whilst some pieces of news dominates our papers for years (like the death of Princess Diana). It is BIG news this week that Osama Bin Laden is dead and we're told it'll change the world quite considerably. News plays a big part in our lives. Good news travels especially fast:
'It's a boy!'
'She said yes!'

When Riley arrived in the world I delivered the news to my family and friends and my life has never been the same since. The event of his birth has set my life in a new direction. I have a new routine, a new priority and even a new name 'dad'.

The Christian piece of news that has been talked about throughout history, the world over is this:
'Jesus has beaten death, our shortcomings have been forgiven, God is offering friendship and new life to all who want it.'

The event of Jesus' resurrection is one of the most historically verifiable events of all time. The implications of that event are innumerable; life, the history of the world, the purpose of our lives have been set in an entirely new direction.

That's the difference that news can make.

The next time you're tempted to think that Christianity is basically about behaving well or living right or that the church exists to tell people what to do, stop and remember:

Christianity is good news, not good advice.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Answers.

The kind of answers I'm after aren't academic or intellectual. I don't live in an ivory tower and I'm not clever enough to debate philosophy with clever people. I'm perfectly happy being closer to the bottom of the staircase than the top.

Everything feels so raw again today. My dad's death was 5 months ago, life has moved on, the world has carried on turning. Today I resent it all for doing so. I'm sitting in my parent's old study typing on a computer that my dad used to sit at to work. I'm listening to the radio he used to listen to, wearing the slippers he used to wear and thinking about all the things we used to do together. There are 1000 things all around me that make me think of him and our life together.

I miss him. A lot.

I said yesterday to Amy that I had answers to the questions I've wrestled with intensely over the past few months. Questions about the goodness of God and the chaos of suffering, the silence of God and the noise of pain, unanswered prayers, why God seems to stay so distant when we need him the most. I told Amy I had answers. Do I?

In all honestly I don't think I have any more wisdom or insight now than I ever had before. I could have given a text book, carefully thought through answer then and I can now. There's still so much I don't understand, still so many questions - but that's ok.

I have come to accept the fact that I'm just ever so slightly intense and that I need to relax a bit. I think that the answers I've got now and the place I've arrived at isn't a place of new theories that makes sense of something that is quite frankly senseless. No the answers I have are answers in my soul, too deep to really articulate and not clever enough that they'd ever convince a skeptic. This is subjective.

I think that what I feel now is anger, frustration, disbelief and hurt but in the midst of it all peace and calm. My response (and my answer) is this 'my soul is well.'

This has happened and I cannot undo it and I cannot change it by ignoring it. I HATE that, but there it is and I must live with it.

My answer is this:

There is a God, he is good, and Jesus is the Lord and saviour of all who hope in him.

Life is hard, it doesn't fit into neatly packaged parcels of question-and-logical answer.

God doesn't do what I want him to do, he is not my genie nor does he do what I'd expect him to do. There is much I do not understand about him.

Before I would have thrown him out like a broken utensil for being the way he is.
Now I say 'I don't get it, but I trust you.' Simply put 'my soul is well. You have permission to go on being God, I won't be applying for the job, and I do still love you and am grateful for all of your kindnesses to me.'

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Truth? You're not serious are you?

Truth, we’re all concerned with it aren’t we? Are we?

We might not all sit around for hours on end wondering about the nature of truth and the meaning of life but we all live according to the conclusions we draw from the world around us. We listen to the music, we watch the movies and we enjoy the TV shows that most reflect what we believe about the world (the value systems we agree with) and we hang around with people who have a like mind to ours. ‘Truth’ is a grand word that we don’t use too much, it sounds far too unreachable and ever so slightly arrogant, who are we after all, to say what’s true and what’s not? A few years ago a popular band released an album called ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’. It got to #1 in the charts. I like the title, it’s catchy and I can relate to it. I don’t like being preached at any more than you do but I can appreciate someone elses version of the truth, I like a good discussion every now and then.

I wonder what you think when someone says the word ‘God’ around you. What kind of response does it provoke in you? Anger? Guilt? Boredom? Interest? What about the word ‘church’? Or ‘Jesus’? These are all words that are loaded with opinion and people's reactions range hugely.

I wonder also how you’d answer the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ What would be in your top 5? Would religion? We’ve all seen the horrors of what can happen when religious people get hold of something that they believe to be ‘the truth’ and then use it to justify all kinds of horrible things from blowing themselves (and others) up to waving banners that read ‘God hates… insert here

My guess is that that’s why we don’t talk too much about ‘truth’ it’s too easy to make enemies without even trying. If we’re honest I think that most of us want to just keep our heads down and have fun/make money/get married/all three.

What if there is more to life than simply what we make of it? What if there is a bigger, higher purpose and plan for our lives? What if truth as something obvjective and outside of ourselves actually existed? Wouldn’t you hate to get to the end of your life and find that you missed it? It’d be like Frodo arriving at the Crack of Doom only to realise he’d left the ring at home in the shire on his bed side table – oops, you can’t go back now!

For what it’s worth, here’s my truth, the one that works for me and makes life make sense.

Consider this:

The reason you have a longing for meaning and significance and the reason you have a desire for love and adventure is because God wired you that way. In the same way that hunger can be satisfied by food, thirst by water and tiredness by sleep, so these desires can be satisfied by God.

It would be a cruel world if there was nothing in it to remove my hunger. Imagine a world where no amount of food took away your hunger pains and yet that’s how some people seem to see the world. We all have these deep desires in our heart and nothing it seems can ever fully satisfy or quench them. That’s a cruel existence. We try to stuff ourselves with as much as we can hoping that something will stick, something will make us feel complete. We so often go from relationship to relationship (maybe this boyfriend’s the one, or this one, or this one…), or from gadget to gadget, from job to job, from one pay day to the next never fully experiencing the kind of peace and excitement that we want.

Jesus’ life & death are recorded for us in the Bible, a remarkably accurate and historically verifiable book, and in it he is recorded as saying to a group of people just like us: ‘if anyone is thirsty, or heavy burdened and in need of rest, come to me.’

In fact it’s been said before that as a species we are always restless until we find our rest in God and my own experience has shown me that that’s true.

The Christian faith is good news. It’s not good advice on how to live your life but it’s good news that changes the way you live you life. The news is this ‘Jesus has come to rescue you, God is passionate about you, he isn’t angry with you, he doesn’t expect you to climb a ladder of good behaviour and brownie points, he’s come down to meet you.’

Jesus forgives you and Jesus can transform you. Jesus can equip you for a life full of satisfaction, delight and hope for the age to come.

I’ve found this to be true, having tried and tested the claims of Christianity and having seen and experienced things that are, quite simply, inexplicable without what Jesus said being true.

That's my truth, tell me yours.

Friday, 4 February 2011

More than matter?

I'm not afraid of evolution, I just don't want to be there when it happens.

I'm not sure how 'fit' I am for survival, I'm not sure how fit many of us are. That's the trouble with being at the top of the food chain in affluent, comfortable-class Britain, we've got flabby. I can't run very fast (except around a squash court once a week and even then I'm close to exhaustion), I have no idea how to skin an animal and I am largely a walking DIY disaster. I'm hardly ruthless (unless I'm playing monopoly) and would be useless at using my malice to manoeuvre myself into survival if ever I needed to. No it's true, the process of de-volution has begun and I'm the evidence of it. The only question is - who will replace us as the dominant species... the jellyfish?

There are a couple of things however that I've been considering recently when it comes to the whole area of evolution. You see for many people evolution is the Grand Theory of Everything it explains, well, everything. Everything about who we are, why we're here, how the planet works etc. and it answers all of our big questions like 'what's the meaning of life?' (Survival and procreation) and 'is there a God?' (highly unlikely).

The thing that bothers me about all this is this:

- Why are we concerned even with asking the question 'is there a God?' and more specifically 'Does my life have some greater meaning than this?'

Why ask it? Why does it matter? Richard Dawkins and co. would possibly say that religious belief helped our ancestors survive and so is the reason why we feel drawn to it, survival. Is religious belief genetic? Surely it isn't belief that helped our ancestors but the practices that those beliefs inspired. Surely its our hardwired systems of survival that made room for our conquering of the planet and not our quaint and rather naive belief in a god or gods. My question is, since we are now top of the world and since we live in a country with central heating and indoor plumbing why do we still cling to notions of purpose and meaning? Why do ideas like 'destiny' excite us? Why are people even interested in the question 'is there a God?'. Just survive, recreate and be done with it.

Watching Glee last week (I know, and I sorry) I was surprised to see Sue Sylvester upset by her lack of faith in God. She was adamant that there isn't a God and yet she was sad that she felt like this, her own atheism was a cause of distress for her. My own perception is that when people say things like this it is often accompanied by a degree of sadness or apology as though they were somehow a bad person for thinking what they do.

But why? Why care? What's the big deal? You have money, a car, friends and family, career prospects, a good life expectancy - why do you even ask questions like 'is there more to life than this?' Where does your sense of some higher and more noble purpose to life come from? We live in a secular country, taught secular creeds and instructed that 'God' and 'purpose' are so often refined to the narrow and rather strange Glee club that is 'Religious People'. We don't have any need for it.

But we do. We ask and we wonder. We often sense that our life is meant for more than what we're doing with it. We value compassion and acts of compassion. We think it's worthwhile to speak out for those in need, to stand up against acts of injustice, but why? Surely the bias of our genetics is survival and thinking of no. 1? We feel a sense of connection to people from another nation, another tribe and another country living half the world away. We feel a sense of duty beyond our genetic make-up, we adhere to some moral law, a sense of honour and design, we believe in the dignity of every human life not just the strong ones. Why? Why this desire for transcendence? Why this sense of purpose? Why do we insist on life having meaning and ourselves having a purpose beyond that of furthering the advancement of our family/nation?

I'm sure that for those who ascribe to evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything, there are perfectly reasonable genetic answers to these questions, and I know I've overstated my case to make a point. For me looking on at the world, at the way we live and the things we fill our lives with I can't help but think that maybe, just maybe we were made with meaning in mind.

Maybe we are more than matter after all.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

It's Not You It's Me

Page 38 of this week's Eastbourne Herald features a picture of me. At least I think it's me, it could have been. I'm sure it is. If you squint, turn the page 45degrees and go cross eyed you can just about make it out, it's me talking to a group of school kids. I'm famous; at least in the visually impaired community anyway.

I was speaking to a class of secondary school kids about what Christians believe.
It was part of series the school has been running on the religious diversity in Eastbourne. The class had had representatives from the pagan community, Islamic group and Mormon religion and I was there to be the Christian (which is strange because I used to hate the Christians who came into my school to do that - now I'm one of them; I never saw that coming!)

To get them thinking I asked them the question 'what's wrong with the world?' Pollution, terrorism, drugs, war, gang culture... the list went on. Interestingly, none of them said 'nothing' and I can understand why. I think we're all convinced that there's plenty that needs to be done to fix our planet, something's not quite right.

I was trying to explain the concept of sin which is a hugely unpopular (and misunderstood) idea and one that at its mere mention sends people into shut down and switch off mode: outdated, medieval, guilt-inducing, moral bashing are just some of the things that spring to a lot of people's minds when they see that word. 'Christians talk about sin in order to try to make people feel bad' is often what people think.

Interestingly a lot of people think that sin is simply about 'doing wrong things' like not doing the dishes when your mum asks you to, or looking at Heat magazine when you should be reading Shakespeare, that kind of thing. But that doesn't go anywhere near far enough to reach a thorough understanding of why 'sin' is significant to the question 'what's wrong with the world?'

You see the stuff that's wrong with the world is the stuff that the Bible means when it talks about sin. It's the real underlying cause of every evil.

War, genocide, gang-culture, drug abuse, a collapsing economy, broken homes are the saplings and in some cases full grown trees that grow out of the soil that is sin. Rather like how an apple is the fruit of an apple tree, evil is the fruit of the tree that is sin. Sin is the ingrained 'me-centered' life that motivates so much of my day to day existence. It's in all of us and in my opinion it's what's wrong with the world. If you were to divide the world into 'good' and 'evil' I think you'd find that the line runs right down the middle of your own soul, at least it does mine.

All I'm saying is that the reason Christians talk about sin is because we want to answer the question 'what's wrong with the world?' and we think it isn't enough to say 'other people are'.

The heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart, my heart included.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Stationary Bike of Progress

Life is a stationary bike and each generation gets on it, pedals as hard as they can until they die and fall off and then, the next generation gets on and says, “Well, they didn’t make it, but we’re going somewhere.”

The myth of progress and generational amnesia.
We still all act like the myth is true and we still all suffer from the disease.

Frankly I'm embarrassed by how little I know about history even recent history, my own country and even my own family. It's as if I think to myself 'I wasn't alive so it can't have been that important...honestly.' So many people find it difficult to get along with the older generation. Why would we be interested in a time before our one? If we're honest I think that on some level we're embarrassed by their ideas. Their outlook on the world seemed so terribly shallow and naive compared to ours. We've got the internet.

Not once does it occur to us that maybe our grandkids will be saying the same things about us in fifty years. 'Ah but we're different,' we say 'We've shaken off the shackles of the past, we're liberal, we're free thinkers, we're post-modern, we're... just as naive as they were.'

'Not even God could sink this ship.' Employee of the White Star Line at the launch of the Titanic May 31, 1911

We are still living within a generation of World War II. We're connected to the war by the people who are still alive who fought in it but we don't listen to them very much, we don't make room for them, I rarely think to ask them about it, to learn, to receive the wisdom of history. We've moved on, the world's changed - we've walked on the moon now.

We revere the young and we pour scorn on the old. Our heroes are the beautiful and the artistic not the noble and courageous. If a person can sing and dance well then they are worthy of international acclaim or if someone appears on our television screen we turn them into a national symbol and we go weak at the knees when they walk into a room. We call people 'great' without really knowing what the word means, we cheapen it when we use it for rock stars and game show hosts. We are great believers in 'learning the lessons of the past' but we have become so charmed by the present that we think that history is of very little concern to us. The strange thing is that we are connected to the past and to the people who lived then more than we understand. The DNA in our body, our mannerisms, our habits, we really aren't all that different from the people who lived 500 years ago.

'Why should I care what the war-generation have to say, Cheryl Cole is singing on TV/Frank Lampard's love life is in the news/Coleen Rooney's new perfume's available to buy.'

I write this as a record to myself to read over again next January. I want to remind myself not to fall into the abyss of the present.

My dad was passionate about history, he seemed to know the answer to every question I could ask him. From Nelson and Waterloo to the Battle of Hastings or Agincourt, he had read it, reflected on it and put it into the file of who he was. As I see it I owe it to Riley not to allow him to think that 2010 onwards was a unique period in Earth's history. Life exists outside of us, the world carries on with or without us. We need to be cured of our incessant narcissism, the 'into-me' disease since we're all so 'into-me'. We rarely think to look too far outside of ourselves for answers. This needs to change.

By the way, when I say 'we' I mean 'me'.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Grace and the man seeking God

'Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God seeking man.' - Martyn Lloyd Jones

I saw this recently on Twitter. It's good since it sums up the main difference between Christianity and all the other religions of the world.

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There is a famous anecdote that has been told in numerous books about C.S. Lewis entering into a debate of faculty members at Cambridge University where he used to teach. They were discussing with much difference of opinion the aspects of Christianity that made it unique from all the other world faiths. "That's easy," said Lewis, "Grace."

Grace is a small word and a much misunderstood word, but a word with big meaning. What he meant by grace wasn't a girls name, or the prayer of gratitude we say around meal times. Grace is the message of the Bible, it's the idea that God, a good, holy, sovereign and perfect God chooses to not only forgive but to be kind to people who are rebellious, hard-hearted and anti-God. Grace is God showering rebels with favour.

The things is, our best efforts of God-seeking fall far short of his glory. In the same way that a toddler's attempt to paint a landscape fails to capture any of the actual likeness, so our religiosity and goodness do God a terribly disservice.

Some people try really hard to keep rules, adhere to traditions and make all kinds of resolutions. Those people need to hear the truth behind the opening quote. In Christianity we see God seeking us out. God draws near to us just as we are with all of our shortcomings. Since none of our goodness is ever good enough, we have to hear this, we need this to be true.

Other people think that they are so far beyond the pale, their lives so screwed up, their heads so messed up that God would want nothing to do with them, that the church is no place for them to be found. They need to get to grips with grace. Grace is getting what we don't deserve. Grace is unreasonable and grace goes against every human instinct to want to earn our way into happiness or favour. Grace is God saying through the sacrificial death of his son - I love you I choose you I like you. Grace is God saying 'you are welcome to come near.'

People need to hear this. Religion doesn't work, grace does. Religion can't help you, Jesus can. Living to impress God and working hard to be loved by him, misses the point.

God is seeking you out because he loves you and wants relationship with you period.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Flapping arms can't grab a lifebelt

Riley woke up a few moments ago screaming. I went upstairs and picked him up. I kissed him and whispered "it's ok, it's ok, daddy's here, it's ok." How did he respond? He went on screaming, louder and louder. Ear-piercing and then some.

Amy came up and together we reassured him kissing him, loving him. No change. He just carried on screaming. It reminded me of something. Sometimes when we're scared or confused we can't hear the reassuring voices around us through the sound of our proverbial screaming. We feel like people aren't listening and we don't think there's any comfort or hand of reassurance around us.

When C.S. Lewis's wife died he found himself in a deep state of despair, his faith seemed to desert him. A Christian author, speaker and guide to thousands he found himself alone and unsure of the faith he preached to others. 'Where was God' he asked? Where was the comfort he had hoped his faith would bring him? Was God tormenting him? He felt abandoned by the God who'd said he would never leave him nor reject him.

Fear, grief and unexpected turns in life among other things can do this to us. Challenges we've never faced before seem insurmountable and we can be tempted to give in. We lie awake and allow the cold sweat of fear to take control. The Bible's book of Mark records an occasion when Jesus' followers were out at sea and were caught in the midst of a great storm. Jesus was asleep in the hull of the ship but was awoken by a desperate fishermen yelling at him "Jesus! Don't you care that we're going to drown?!" It's a natural response. The trouble was however that they'd forgotten who Jesus was, what he was capable of. They abandoned their trust in him for panic in the moment.

Looking back on his grief after months of questioning and wrestling C.S. Lewis remarked that he was like a drowning man too busy flapping his arms about him that he didn't notice the lifebelt he'd been thrown.

If only Riley stopped his screaming and opened his eyes he'd have seen two doting parents committed to doing whatever they could to relieve his discomfort and if only the disciples had stopped responding to the storm and responded instead to the man inside the boat.

When fear grips us by the throat and threatens to suffocate us and when a challenge saps us of all our strength and we're anxious about the outcome of events, we need to take some time out and remind ourselves of who loves us and who's in the boat with us. The Bible says 'cast all of your worries onto God for he cares for you.'

Worry doesn't disappear unless we off load it onto someone else and who better to dump it on than the one who cares for us more than we could know? Back-up the dumper truck full of your concerns and empty it over and over and over again. Stop flapping around, stop screaming, stop panicking and remind yourself "he loves me, he cares for, he knows what he's doing."