Sunday, July 05, 2009

Black & White?

I seem to be undergoing a personality transplant! I am trying to work out whether its a good or bad change, and there seem to be very mixed opinions on it. However, I am trying to remember to not be so absolutely obsessed with whether other people think I am doing the right things and thinking the right things, so right now, I am kind of allowing myself to explore this potential 'new me' to see whether she is ok or not.

Truthfully I know we wont ever change who we are, though we might change the way that we view the world, and that seems to be at the root of the changes in my life recently. I think it can mostly boil down to one main subject area and that is Black & White Thinking.

For most of my life I never even realised how black and white my worldview was. I have always been very careful to know what I think is right and what I think is wrong and to act accordingly. I have held fast onto most of my principles and have been very careful to always try to remain above reproach. (In fact - being 'above reproach' became one of my favourite phrases a while back - I think this proves my point). It was actually upon entering the world of work - the secular world, where I became aware that 'black and white' was such a full definition of who I was. It has been pointed out to me time and time again by people at work and sometimes even church friends, and mostly it was not seen as an altogether good thing. People have also pointed out to me that maybe I just need to relax, not be so intense all the time, but chill out and stop thinking so much.

I guess I never really believed I could do that, and maybe, in some ways, fearing the need to change actually caused me to become even more like that, and I ended up getting myself into some pretty sticky situations.

At my last cell group, we talked about the concept of black and white thinking. It occured to one member of our small group that when they were a child, they would never have watched T.V on a Sunday, because that was considered 'wrong'. Now, they would not have an issue with it. Its interesting how our concept of 'right and wrong' can so easily shift with the cultural changes around us. For someone who has always reveled in absolutes, this is quite a scary thing to acknowledge. In principle I would believe that if something is wrong, it is wrong, regardless of what the culture looks like at the time. However, there is no denying that our opinions and principles do change over time. Even mine have!

Its scarier when it starts to affect how you see yourself as a person, and how you see your future panning out. Its scary when you always thought you would become a certain person, and then you realise that maybe that's not what you want after all. What do you do when your own happiness starts feeling like it is contradicting the person you believe yourself to be. When it seems you can't be that person AND be happy so you have to choose one or the other.

My point is that I am finding that as I get a little older (not old yet) and as I spend more time outside of the little Christian bubble I often find myself in, there is a whole world of grey areas just waiting for me to experience them. I am scared of venturing into those grey areas because of the fear that I am turning my back on the person I always believed myself to be, and the fear of getting it wrong, and the fear of the disapproval of others. I guess I have always NEEDED to know that I am ok. I have always needed confirmation that other people think I am doing the right thing. I have ALWAYS needed other peoples approval. I know that I need to start listening to and trusting myself, but that is really scary when you don't even know what is right and wrong anymore. When the black and white edges of life seem to have blurred. How can I know whether I am doing the right thing in a world of grey?

Now I anticipate that at this point a lot of you will be reading this and thinking, 'you can know what is right and wrong - the Bible should be your guide', and I know and understand and believe that. There are many things in the Bible which to be honest are black and white and which are rocks that are unmovable. They will always be principles I will stick by. However, I think that there are a lot of areas in which the Bible is a little bit more ambiguous. I can know this simply by the fact that many a very clever theologian have debated and studied and researched the Bible and yet come to very different conclusions about a lot of the issues raised. People interepret the Bible differently to other people, and it is that interpretation issue that makes the black and white all the more grey.

I have recently been toying with the idea that maybe we are a lot more obsessed with knowing what is right and wrong - with finding the black and the white than God is. I think ultimately what God wants is a relationship. The first and most important commandment: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul'. Similarly, when Jesus was on earth he shattered the Jews very carefully planned out and structured law. For them black and white was the rule of their lives, and Jesus was the one that introduced the grey.

I guess ultimately what I am asking myself right now is, should I venture into the scary world of grey in spite of my fears of being wrong or of others disapproval or should I stay here, in the security of the black and white, but potentially miss out on the most amazing experiences that life (and even God) has in store for me? Is God in the grey? How can I know whether he is offering me the grey areas, or whether he is asking me to sacrifice them? How does one ever know the difference?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Clothed in Righteousness

I haven't really been feeling very eloquent recently - particularly in my thoughts regarding faith - however something really struck me in this mornings meeting and I really wanted to blog about it so here goes.

The first song we sang this morning was 'And Can it Be?' After singing it we spent a few minutes just looking back over the words we had just sung. To be honest - I usually do that anyway - or at least think about them an awful lot while I am singing them, so I had already done this. When Ann asked us which line or phrase had particulalry struck us I knew mine straight away. The words to the last verse are below; my phrase is picked out in green:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Clothed in righteousness. Why did it strike me? Well to be honest I feel kind of dirty and dressed, well, not in rags, but maybe scruffy jeans and a baggy jumper. You know - the kind you wear on a sofa night when you want to hide from the world and certainly don't want anyone to have to see you dressed like that. Trying to picture yourself standing before the King of King's clothed in righteousness and claiming the crown is hard to do when you know you're such a mess.

The Bible reading for today was Colossians 1:15-23. I have read these verses many times before, and they have always felt important, and I have always understood what they meant and agreed with them. But today they were made alive for me. In the light of what I have just said, take a look at this (from verse 20b):

He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has bought you into his own presence and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don't drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. (NLT)

Once again the poingnant bits for me are picked out in green. Ok - so this is nothing new - no new wisdom is being envoked here, but I wanted to extract some thoughts from my own mind. Being a realist and having a very practical mindset I can't cope very well with concepts I can't apply directly to life. So I always immediatly look for how scripture or sermons or books or songs etc affect my life. Today, to do that, I had to try to picture myself standing before God and being called holy, blameless and without fault. That is so hard to do, and to be honest - it made me feel a bit sick. It frustrates me a bit because that should be a joy to read. It should make me smile and laugh and be filled with contentment, but all I feel is sick and bedraggled and useless. I have questionned myself time and time again as to why this might be, and the best answer I have come up with so far is simply because I want to deserve it. I know I never can...but...

Don't get me wrong. I am so grateful to Jesus for what He has done and for what that means for me eternally, I guess I just feel unworthy of that grace - but more than that, unworthy of living up to the response that I know that should provoke in me. If God has done something so amazing for me - surely my response of faith and love (that spring from the hope I have received - Colossians 1:4-5) would be to all out live for God, holding nothing back -sacrificing my all to live for Him and to please Him in all I do. Despite my own desires and my own agenda. Why do I feel unworthy of living that life? Honestly - because I know the truth of Colossians - I believe in it, and yet, giving up my own dreams, my own desires and my own selfish hopes, still makes me feel lonely, sad, dissapointed and yes, a little bit resentful.

I once wrote this:

'hearing that God is closer than you think is not always the comforting message it ought to be. It is in fact a bulldozer that shatters an otherwise quite comfortable view of God being distant and un-involved in our individual lives.' (See here for context)

Maybe that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but honestly - I think it is so often true - certainly for me. Sometimes God's truth hits you in the face like a ton of bricks, and whilst its great news - its also shattering at the same time.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


This is a difficult post to write, and I will most likely regret it. I guess I just have some stuff to get off my chest. Tonight our worship was focussed on Peter's confession of Christ. Jesus asked him the question, 'who do you say I am?'. I say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour of the world, my Saviour. I am and will be eternally grateful for what He has done for me, the grace He has shown me. Additionally I believe two fundamental things about God.
  1. God is completely loving
  2. God is completely just

However, there are some practical things about that which I just don't get - which I really struggle with. I noticed a lot of them tonight. There are three main ones I want to discuss here:

God gives us strength.

One of the main focusses of tonight was God's strength. There was a time of testimony where people were able to express ways that they felt God's strength in their lives. I love testimony, its so nice to hear what is going on in the lives of the people I worship with. Tonight though, someone mentioned that there are times where they feel really frustrated about situations, but when they remember God, even in those situations an incrediable peace comes over them and they are able to get through anything with God's strength.

The problem is there was a time in my life when I decided to do something a bit different and I found it incredibly difficult. It was emotionally crippling for me. I struggled through every moment of every day during that time. I prayed a lot and read my Bible morning and night, and prayed so hard with tears flooding down my cheeks that God would give me the strength to get through it. To get through the next day, or at least the next hour.

I hate putting it so bluntly, but I have to be honest and say I never felt that strength. It became more and more difficult for me and I had to give up. I don't think I have ever really got over that. I just don't get it. Why do Christians find it so easy to say 'God gave me the strength'? Am I the only one who has had an experience where that doesn't seem to be the case?

I love God and I don't want it to seem like I am questionning Him. Over the years I have talked with people about this a few times, and there are a number of possible reasons for this happening that have been discussed, but I don't want to make excuses for it. I don't want to be someone who says they believe something and then makes the circumstances fit. I want to be able to talk about my faith from my experience, not from what I believe in spite of my experience.

God gives us what we need

I wont go into this one too much. I guess people who know me well will know what I mean by this - and those that don't can probably guess. Its just hard sometimes when you say you believe that God gives us what we need, but there is something you really struggle to be without. You try to rememeber that all that you really need is God, but then you end up feeling guilty for wanting something that you don't really need. (Especially when there are so many people in the world without even safe drinking water). Then other people tell you that actually its ok to want it, and then you just get confused. I guess what I am trying to say through all this babble is why do I say I believe that God gives me what I need when I feel the way I feel without it?

God's light breaks through the darkness

I do believe this. I truly do. I guess sometimes the eternal truth of that statement is hard to see when you are trying to live in the present. Sometimes the dark times go on for such a long time, its hard to see any light breaking through, or even when it will. Singing songs about it is so emotionally difficult when in the here and now you feel so different to that.

I guess I have really openend myself up here and let out some of my most poingant feelings and now I feel a bit vulnerable and dont know whether to post this or not. I don't want this to be a woe is me type blog. I guess I just don't know what to do with this stuff anymore, and I think most of the people who read this are good enough friends to not judge me for it or think less of me. I am sorry for this -I just refuse to be fake, and sometimes I feel like a hypocrite singing these songs when I feel like this.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow Day

Well what a lot of snow!!! I decided to blog about it partly because there have been a lot of things today that have made me laugh A LOT!

Firstly, as I metioned on facebook, it made me giggle how a flurry of snow bought the Country to a halt. I wondered how other places cope with this type of weather. When I lived in Germany, we got heavy snow much more regularly than this. Having said that, I would like to stand by London Underground and show my loyalty (!!) .

I am sure there are many people who have been really frustrated by the snow, who have had some really important things to do, but were unable, or things that were made really difficult because of the weather. I guess there are lots of people who have been really affected with accidents and so on too. I don't want to gloss over that and pretend its not important, but I want to celebrate the snow today.

I never planned to go to work today - I was having a 'work from home' day anyway, so my plans were pretty much unchanged. (Yes I have been working!) I have been looking out from my balcony today and looking at the beautiful white-ness. There were a few snowmen in the car park at my black of flats, I saw a fair few snowball fights, (it seems my neighbours were throwing snowballs from their balcony - that may be a bit mean but ... still!!)!

It is amazing how something a bit 'different' causes people to act differently. I wondered over to Asda today and everyone I met on the way smiled at me. People have been having fun. I have heard loads and loads of laughter. EVERYONE has been on facebook!

It just made me think - with everything that is going on in our Country at the moment - the credit crunch, the fear over loss of jobs, and so on and so on, its nice to get a bit of a break from it all. It seems like, just for a moment, the country was able to enjoy itself again for a while. Maybe that's a bit twee, but it really encouraged me today. We often talk about the need to stop for a while - to take time out and just refresh. I think that, for some, is what has happened today.

It reminded me of how much I need a spiritual 'snow day'. In all honesty the need to spend time with God, just taking time out with him, has been the theme of many many church events I have been to recently, and I have heard but not heeded the message. Its about time I did. Its about time I stopped and enjoy God for a while.

I am going to sit on my sofa now with some hot water (not a hot water bottle as my flat is 23.5 degrees without me having put the heating on...I had a big thick jumper on and was actually sweating!!!), and read (and hopefully finish) the Shack.

Happy snow day!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Perfection - Part 3

The Impossibility of Perfection

I ended my last post by suggesting that Jesus ethic of perfection, as found in Matthew 5:48, is not practically applicable, certainly whilst on this earth. If the answer to the question, 'how perfect is perfect?' is 'Jesus', then I think the Bible quite clearly shows us it is a standard we will never reach. In fact, if I think back through the life of Jesus, it is absolutely incredible how He lived His life, and how He died His death. We don't know all the details of every day of His life, but we know that when He was tried (unfairly) and murdered (unjustly) He didn't complain. He didn't fight back. He was hurting - physically, emotionally and spiritually (think of that anguished cry - My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?), yet he took it all upon Himself. He saw it through - He did God's will in spite of what that required of Him. How can I even begin to think about trying to reflect that sort of perfection?

So if it is impossible to achieve this perfection on earth, why does Jesus ask us to? Is it about trying to even though we know we wont fully achieve it. Is it about always steadily trying to become more and more holy (perfect) as we live our lives? Is this part of our purpose? To become holy, or at least, as holy as we can before we leave this earth?

The Case for Imperfection

I have been part of the evangelism cluster group at my church for a while now and I have found myself increasingly wondering why it is that people would refuse to enter a church. I have found that there are numerous reasons, and though it may not be the most common reason, I have certainly heard it said that people sometimes look into a church and think they could never belong. Why? because apparently everyone in church is sorted. Now those of us within the church would certainly know that is not true - but do we sometimes give that perception?

Thinking about that made me think about what people would think of me upon looking into my church. I am quite involved in my church. I lead a cell group, I am part of the songsters (senior choir), I am a salvation army soldier and I wear a uniform, I am part of the evangelism cluster and the worship band. I think anyone who really knows me knows that I am in no way 'sorted'. Very very far from it, particularly right now, so I would hate to think that anyone would look at me, and think to themselves that they could never be that 'sorted' and so would never belong.

This makes the case for not being afraid to show, or at least admit our imperfections. Are we too British? Do we try to keep our 'business' to ourselves too much? The truth is, I don't really know what to think. I was recently told by a non-Christian that my faith was obviously not working for me bearing in mind some of the things I am dealing with right now. If I hadn't have told this person about some of my failures and rubishness, they may still be under the illusion that my faith is 'working', but then I would be in danger of falling into the trap of making Chrisitanity - or church - look un-approachable.

I think its always the right thing to do to be honest, but at the same time, does that necessarily have to mean telling everyone everything about your life? If you are grumpy one day, should we hide it and pretend we aren't and that we are full of the joy of the Lord? (especially if we are helping to lead worship - I do sometimes have this problem being in the worship band!)

It seems whatever you do it is wrong - either you are sharing too much and therefore being unhelpful to other people in their worship, their experience of faith (or indeed their introduction to faith), or you are not sharing emough and making people think that Chrisitans have no problems and are therefore completely unapproachable.

Writing this has helped me to think about it a little, and I think I may have reached a few of my own conclusions:

  1. Being honest doesn't have to mean telling everyone everything - it means telling the truth when asked. Pretending to be someone you are not isn't the same thing as not telling EVERYONE EVERYTHING about who you are. (True or not?)
  2. Those people who think that Christianity is something they couldn't look into because they aren't perfect enough, are bound to meet a Christian in their lives. Hopefully, this Christian in their life would be someone who was close enough to them, and honest enough to show them that that is not true. If that is their perception, it must be because they have never had an honest, deep, one-to-one with a person who has experienced the grace of God in their life.
  3. Maybe sometimes, trying so hard to be perfect, or trying to be honest about our own imperfections, however genuine the motive, is actually being too focused on ourselves. If I try instead to focus on God and on others - to think of myself less, I will worry less about what perception I am giving off; less about what other people might be thinking of me, and more about them and God.

In all honesty, I wonder if number 3, in essence, is part of the process of becoming more holy. I don't think I will ever achieve number 3 whilst here on this earth. But I can certainly make an attempt. So maybe attempting to become holy is not about me - but is about how much I think about God and others?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Perfection - Part 2

Does God Expect Perfection?

Its interesting actually that the comments to the previous post follow the same train of thought I have been on. I want to start this post with the passage of scripture that first inspired it:

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48

For my Christian Theology A level I had a piece of coursework based on this passage which asked whether Jesus' ethic of perfection fails the test of practical application. I need to try to dig this essay back out again to find out what I thought back then. Now, having a bit more of an understanding of myself and who I am, I have been really trying to work out how there can be any common ground between passages such as this, and the advice that people often give me reminding me that aiming for perfection will always lead to disappointment.

I remember that one of my conclusions was that perfection will never be reached while we remain on earth, but that should not stop us from keeping that aim as a backdrop to all we do in life. However, I now know that the desire for perfection can seriously be damaging to your self esteem and so it seems that passages such as the above should be considered carefully before staking your life on it.

Both of the comments made I have considered too. Could this mean 'be the best you can be' rather than 'be perfect'. The problem I have with that is that it is not what the scripture says, and also, who is to say what 'the best I can be' is? How can I or anyone else say whether I have reached that goal or not? I do agree that we need to define what Jesus might mean by perfection. I tend to think that perfection means being the best at everything, and always doing the right thing. But if to fulfil the above scripture I have to be good at art, or dancing, or directions, then I might as well give up now!

I like the idea of comparing today's (or at least my own) idea of perfection with holiness. Surely that is what Jesus is talking about; living totally surrendered to God's will and being pure and righteous, not being good at art! I read up on it a little bit and found the following quote:

"God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him." Wayne Grudem

This brings us right back to Dawns comment about us being as perfect as we are meant to be. I guess that my concern about how to define what perfection means for me can be answered simply by 'look at Jesus'. Surely the answer to the whole question of what perfection means is 'look at Jesus'.

So, does this fail the test of practical application? Actually yes, it does. But more about that in the next post! I know! You can't wait right?!?!?!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Perfection - Part 1

Before writing this post I want to acknowledge two things:
  1. Its been ages since I updated my blog. I have neither posted any new thoughts, nor updated my 'friends wot blog' list. Glyn was most upset about this after his astounding success of blogging every day not too long ago, and so because of that, Glyn is now at the top of my list. I will endeavour to update this properly in January.
  2. The lack of recent posting means that this topic (perfection) could turn out to be be very long. My posts are always long anyway, let alone when I haven't blogged for a while; so to try to not bore everyone to death, I have decided to split this up into (at least) three blog entries. This one will talk about 'me and perfection' (not that I think the two belong together), the next will talk about whether God expects perfection, and the last will talk about the perfection to come.

Me and Perfection

I overheard a conversation the other day where someone said, 'its not about perfection is it!'. This comment was made in relation to a carol service for the community put on by our church. I, somewhat facetiously, said, 'oh yes it is, perfection is everything'. Actually, in all honesty, I probably didn't say that, I can't remember exactly what I said, but it was certainly a comment suggesting that we should always aim for perfection.

I DID mean that tongue-in-cheek. I don't really think that a church carol service has to be perfect - I was genuinely joking. However, it did raise the point that I do have a bit of a perfectionist streak in me. I think I have mentioned on here before that I hate being called, or especially calling myself, a 'perfectionist'. If I was asked to imagine what a 'perfectionist' was like, I would immediately think of someone who was nearly perfect, and hated that they weren't quite there. That is the image conjured up in my mind when people call me that, and yet I am so far from that. I don't in any way think of myself as anywhere near perfect. I am not a perectionist because everything I do is always perfect, but because I HATE that it isn't. I know it may seem trivial to make this distinction, but it is really important for my understanding of who I am.

WHy do I say all this? The next couple of posts will say more about this, but the point is largely this: I think being a 'perfectionist' can cause all sorts of problems, and I am often being reminded that no-body expects me to be perfect, but I really struggle with the idea of not striving for that. I do want to be perfect, and I am not sure that I agree that I should start to tell myself its ok to be less than that. Not that I think I am, or ever will be, anywhere near reaching that goal, but surely its not wrong to strive for it anyway; to strive to be the best we can rather than excusing ourselves for being less than that and therefore never reaching our potential?

Like I said, I will expand on this thought in a more spiritual context in the next post. I guess this might come across as defensive, but I don't mean it in that way; these are genuine ponderings of mine, and I am not trying to make statements, of right or wrong, merely trying to work out my own issues in this area.