Tuesday, December 12, 2006
It is quite strongly worded – in my opinion rightly so, but I am aware that this could sound really full on. I genuinely want opinions about this because it is actually a massive issue to me, and I think it is the deep burden inside of me that sometimes causes other niggles to come out. But I am aware that I can sometimes (or maybe always) have expectations that put way too much pressure on people. If I sometimes make you feel like that then I am sorry. I am sorry if my words sometimes come out harshly and judgmentally instead of gently and gracefully. I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad or hurt or judged – I just get so anxious that we do the best we can as Christians and I get frustrated by half-heartedness. I promise that I do not judge others for the way they live out their faith even if it sometimes seems like I do, I am just not good at expressing myself and in actual fact I actually feel like most of my friends are better at the whole 'being a Christian' thing than I am. Really it is my issue, as what frustrates me is that I am so half hearted – but I am a bit too unsure of myself to actually do anything about it. Scared I will fail and make a fool of myself. I know it is my responsibility to turn my passion into action – but euugh! Its so hard – its so big and its so scary.
The start of these thoughts were based on a question: “What if you were to realise at the end of your life that atheism is true and that there is no God? Tell me, what if it were true?”
Paul has already kind of given a response to this question –
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19
What follows is selected passages from John Pipers book regarding these ideas:
“Why didn’t Paul say ‘Even if Christ is not raised from the dead, and even if there is no God, a life of love and labour and sacrifice and suffering is a good life’? Why didn’t he say that ‘even without the reward of resurrection, we are not to be pitied’? Why did he say instead, ‘If our hope in Christ proves to be false in the end, we are to be pitied more than anyone’?...
…It seems that most Christians in the prosperous West describe the benefits of Christianity in terms that would make it a good life, even if there were no God and no resurrection. Think of all the psychological benefits and relational benefits. And of course these are true and Biblical: the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, and peace. So if we get love, joy and peace from believing these things, then is it not a good life to live, even if it turns out to be based on a falsehood? Why should we be pitied? What’s wrong with Paul then? Was he not living the abundant life?.It does not seem to be pitiable to live your three score and ten in a joyful and satisfying delusion, if that delusion makes no difference whatever for the future. If delusion can turn emptiness and meaninglessness into happiness then why not be deluded?
The answer seems to be that the Christian life for Paul was not the so-called good life of prosperity and ease. Instead it was a life of freely chosen suffering beyond anything we ordinarily experience…
…Christianity as Paul understands it is not the best way to maximise pleasure, if this life is all that there is. Paul tells us the best way to maximise our pleasures in this life. ‘If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ 1 Corinthians 15:32…
…But what he means by the phrase, ‘Let us eat and drink’ is that without the hope of resurrection, one should pursue ordinary pleasures and avoid extraordinary suffering. This is the life Paul has rejected as a Christian…He means there is a normal, simple comfortable, ordinary life of human delights that we may enjoy with no troubling thoughts of heaven or hell or sin or holiness or God – if there is no resurrection from the dead. And what stunned me about this train of thought is that many professing Christians seem to aim at just this, and call it Christianity…
…How many Christians do you know who could say, ‘The lifestyle I have chosen as a Christian would be utterly foolish and pitiable if there is no resurrection’? How many Christians are there who could say, ‘The suffering I have freely chosen to embrace for the cause of Christ would be a pitiable life if there is no resurrection’? As I see it, these are shocking questions.
‘If the dead are not raised… why am I in peril every hour?...I die every day’ 1 Corinthians 15: 29-31. This is what Paul has chosen. He protests because he does not have to live this way, he has chosen it…
…This is not normal. Human beings flee suffering. We move to safer neighbourhoods. We choose milder climates. We buy air conditioners. We take aspirin. We come in out of the rain. We avoid dark streets. We purify our water. We do not normally choose a way of life that would put us in ‘peril every hour’…
…Oh that we would embrace the necessary suffering appointed for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world!”
Are these harsh words? Do these statements draw out for us a set of guidelines that are beyond our reach, or place too much pressure on us to be perfect? Do they call us to strive for too much perfection, or is that just the way we see it because actually we like our comfortable life? Do we end up saying , ‘well I gave up this thing for God 3 years ago, is that not enough?’ Or ‘really, I just can’t be bothered to make that much effort?’ Is it just me or does there seem to be a startling gap between the sort of suffering that Paul chose to endure and what we allow ourselves to go through? Is that just because of the vast difference in cultures, or is that just an excuse? Surely there are opportunities to preach the word without hesitation or compromise in the way they used to? Why don’t we take them? Sure we would get in trouble for it and face many difficulties for it – but isn’t that what this is saying we should be choosing?
I have been told by people in the past that I need to relax with my faith a bit more, and stop striving so hard for perfection – but how do you do that when these words are so challenging? These words so describe what has been buried deep down in my gut for so long – how do I respond to it? And should I? And what if I don’t want to?
Just realised that once again I have written an honest post making me vulnerable! Am quite scared by how often I am doing this right now! Just thought I would add that in.
Monday, December 04, 2006
I went to visit my lovely brother in Southampton at the weekend, and on Saturday night, I attended Shirley Salvation Army’s community carol service, ‘The glory of Christmas’. It was strange taking a backseat, and being part of the audience as I am so used to being involved in it. Its good, it lets you see it from a different perspective.
To give you the context, you should probably know that I wasn’t expecting to get much out of this. In general I don’t enjoy carol services, mainly because I hate singing carols because most of them are filled with dodgy theology, and when you think about the words you realise that you are singing complete nonsense. Sorry, I will get off my soapbox! I just hate the carols. Anyway, this was going to be a positive post, so forget that!
For the most part it was your normal Christmas carol service but when it came to the nativity, it was surprisingly simple. The ‘nativity characters’ came onto the stage slowly to a piece of music. There was no story in the background, no words for people to learn, they simply just created before us the scene. Then it was time for the angels dance. This is where my eyes welled up, and God took me by complete surprise.
Let me set the scene. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and, most importantly, Jesus were all on the stage in their costume and the normal ‘manger scene’ set up. The three angles (three beautiful young ladies who I love dearly anyway – this probably added to the ‘welling up thing!’) were in front of the stage, and their costumes I have to say were simply stunning.
A simple but incredibly beautiful song, which I used to love as a child began and the angels started their dance. It was very, very simple. The song words will help to illustrate the scene so I have written them below:
Lord, You are more precious than silver,
Lord, You are more costly than gold,
Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with You.
As the words ‘silver’, ‘gold’ and ‘diamonds’ were sung, each of the girls threw appropriately coloured glittery paper over the manger scene.
It will obviously not have the right effect, being written in a blog, but the effect was stunning. There is much beauty in simplicity. I truly felt like I was no longer in Shirley Salvation Army hall, watching their interpretation of the Christmas story, I was in the presence of real angels, truly worshipping their beautiful Lord. I was surrounded by beauty.
At the end of the carol service, lots of people came on stage with coloured tops and ribbons and performed a sort of ‘ribbon dance’ to the song ‘Joyful, Joyful’. This also was beautiful, but in a much more majestic, powerful way, and once again, I felt like I was truly in the presence of the angels, celebrating the great news of Jesus coming to earth.
As if that wasn’t enough, on Sunday, back at Romford, baby Masie Howell was dedicated back to God. I guess nothing more need be said, the beauty of that act speaks for itself. Then on Sunday night in the prayer time we sang two songs which also spoke of all that I had experienced this weekend:
Light of the world you stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore you
Hope of a life spent with you,
So here I am to worship…
Jesus, name above all names,
Beautiful Saviour, glorious Lord…
I think I have already received my Christmas blessing – the awareness of the beauty of Jesus, and the chance to join in with the angels in their celebration of that beauty.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Sorry, no more waffling, here it is the question of the day:
Why is faith required for Salvation?
In my head, the brief (very) history of the redemption plan is this:
- God made a perfect world, humans were in perfect relationship with Him.
- Humans messed up and ruined it – we were separated from God.
- The huge gap between God’s holiness and glory and our sinfulness meant that we could no longer see God fully or be actually with Him in the fullness of His presence because we would simply die. (This is true – right?)
- God still wanted to be in relationship with His people so He chose a nation and set some guidelines for them on how they might be able to still be in relationship with Him - sacrifice, the holy of holies, the tabernacle, the ten commandments and covenant relationship etc etc. Namely the law.
- Skipping a whole load of "stuff" - the law was powerless to remove the sins of the people: "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." Hebrews 10:1-4
- Jesus came to earth, became a man, lived a perfect life, and died for our sins, becoming the perfect sacrifice and therefore the fulfilment of the law.
- Now we are in a transient state. We have forgiveness of sins through Jesus, and can 'gain access' to the Kingdom of Heaven through faith in the son. But what we see now is only partial because the Son has not yet returned in all His glory. So we are still imperfect, and still do not experience the complete fulness of His glory (nor can we till we have been made perfect).
That is my understanding. My question is this:
If God is omnipotent - can do anything - why was he bound by the 'law' in the first place? Why did sin seperate us from Him? Why couldn't he just turn round and say sin can exist with holiness? (or more metaphorically - I choose that darkness and light can now exist together)?
Secondly, even if that is explainable, when Jesus died for our sins, why was that not the end of the story? Jesus sacrifice has enabled us to have a relationship with God again, why now make faith a requirement? Surely Jesus came to do away with requirements?
Basically, why make it so difficult? Not that He is not justified in doing so. I am not angry or frustrated that we have to have this faith, It is totally justifiable. He is God, and besides look at how much he has done for us! How can we even think about questioning some tiny little requirement He has of us? In a sense, I am not questioning it, more questioning why it is necessary.
We are told that God is able to do anything. This is a fundamental belief which I understand and agree with. We are also told that God really deeply desires a close relationship with us. (Something I struggle with a bit more as you know from my previous entries). If both of these are true, then why make it hard? why not make it easy? Why put an obstacle in the way?
John Ortbergs 'God is closer than you think' series talks a lot about how much God desires a relationship with us. How much He loves us. He uses the illustration of the picture in the Sistene chapel of God reaching out His arm, stretching out with His whole body trying to reach us, and all it requires is a little lift of our finger to meet His outstretched arm. Beautiful! BUT He is not bound by anything, He is God, He is not stretching out to His full capacity because that is infinite. He doesn't 'need' us to lift our finger, He could reach us anyway, and if that is what He so desires, then why doesn't He?
I know I have left out free will, but that little lift of our finger is not simply an exercise in free will - 'yes God I do want a relationship with you' - I exercise my free will and say 'yes please'. The 'little lift' often requires huge sacrifice, huge cost. Basically 'huge faith' (Huge is relative - i know its nothing in comparison to what we owe!)
Once again, I am not bitter about the need to have faith, I know it may sound like that but I am not. I am simply trying to work it all through in this logical brain of mine!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The two concepts, grace and truth, are both massively important elements of the Christian faith, and both should be emphasised and adopted in the living out of our faith. However, it is so easy for us to let these get out of balance. Many Christians would often find themselves very passionate about presenting ‘truth’ to the world, and when truth is being questioned or ignored would take that as an invitation to fight. Others would recognise that people need love and care, and would keep their focus on the people and their feelings rather than on imposing rules and regulations.
What is the right way? To grab people by the throat forcing them to listen to the gospel until they accept Jesus as their personal Saviour, or to accept that they have a right to choose their own lifestyle and belief system and never challenge that, possibly at the risk of them never hearing the truth? Truth vs. grace.
As a Salvationist I have to say that in theory, my inclination is towards truth. I am very passionate about my beliefs, and about presenting the truth to a world that seems to me to be spinning out of control. I often find myself in church, or in my quiet times, or even just in general living, wanting to beg and plead with people to listen to the gospel and am so desperate (inside) for people to grasp how vital and important this is. I also feel very passionate about our Christian responsibility to fight for social justice, to heal the broken hearted, to feed the hungry, help the poor, care for the alcoholic and the drug addict, love the prostitute and visit the imprisoned. I am also anxious that none of that is worth anything unless we are also praying for their souls and pleading with them to accept Jesus as their Saviour. As I write this, I can feel the burden inside me welling up. I want this so badly, sometimes it makes me want to cry.
And yet what a hypocrite I am. What do I do in my life that displays any of this passion or commitment to fighting for the truth? It plainly and simply isn’t there for public display, meaning that I am not actually doing any of that stuff. Can I even want it as badly as I think I do if I am not showing any of that desire in the way that I live?
When I questioned why these two, (theory and practice), do not tally I came to the conclusion that it is because 1) I am too scared, and 2) I live in a society where acceptance is the key. Everyone is fine with everyone else’s choice of belief system as long as nobody pushes anyone else to believe the same thing. People don’t tend to react well these days to forms of attack on their lifestyle choices, and so we have to work within these boundaries. I hate confrontation, and I hate anyone thinking badly of me, so I tend to err on the side of keeping my beliefs and lifestyle choices as my own, and never questioning others about theirs.
In a sense, both of these characteristics are good in themselves in some way, but Joel Edwards pointed out that there has to be a balance. Truth and grace come as a pair, we cannot separate them. If we do, the impact they will have is massively reduced. So how do we do it? How do we balance truth and grace?
Joel emphasised the fact that Jesus was the perfect role model in terms of keeping this balance right. He was passionate about the truth, and showed it, whilst also being gentle and kind and loving. He didn’t let people get away with living badly, (don’t the Pharisees know it), but he also loved them into changing. Joel used the example of the woman caught in adultery by saying that Jesus challenged the woman’s behaviour, but in a way that was not accusatory or caused her to be defensive. On the contrary, his dealings with her caused her to change her lifestyle.
So how can we follow his lead? This is where I get stuck. We were encouraged to live ‘curious’ lives. To live in such a way that causes people to ask questions. Great! But how do we do that? What does that mean practically for the way I live? I am so desperate for people to understand how much more to life there is than what is in front of them, but how can I help them to see that without pushing the gospel down their throats and causing them to run a mile in the opposite direction? How can I be gentle and caring with people without missing an opportunity to speak truth into their hearts? I don’t know how to be curious! Plus, how can we know when we have the balance right? Do we only have it right when we see results, because if so, then I have it so badly wrong!
Friday, November 03, 2006
I have recently become very concerned about how easy it is as a Christian, surrounded by other Christians, to never think about what my faith looks like to a non-believer. I do not mean, "how good a Christian am I?" or, "do my actions show that my faith is genuine?" I mean it more in terms of actually what do people think of me when they hear that I believe in God, and that I have "given my life to following Him"?
I realise that what other people think of me is not important, and in all honesty, I don't really care if they think I am strange because I believe. I am going to believe anyway, stuff them. It is more that I hate the idea that they would pity me. I hate the thought that some people might look at me and think, "poor girl, she has been taken in. Why can't she see that she is believing in something so illogical". I guess it stems from the fact that I have been educated in very scientific and exact subjects. There is always an answer, and the world makes logical sense. Everything has a pattern and an order and just fits in place. And for me, I need to know that I have the right answer. I need to know that what I do is "right"; that the formula I used is the most logical one, and that it gives me as accurate an answer as possible. To be honest faith is not like that. Believing in God doesn't always make logical sense.
I guess there are some who would fight against that point, and in some ways I would too. I mean, when you look at the vastness of the world - the moon and stars; when you hear a storm, or experience extreme weather in some way; when you see a newborn baby, or the beauty of nature; when you look at how the human baody was formed so perfectly to allow us to live and move and breathe and communicate; how can you not think that the world had a creator; someone who thought all this through. Surely this is a much more logical explanation than...there was a big bang and it was all suddenly there!.
But, it is more the experiencial side of faith that concerns me. The trouble is, nobody can prove or disprove anothers experience. Expereince can be explained away very easily, and is often doubted and met with scepticism. For instance, if I met someone who told me they had just had a conversation with an alien I would look at them as if it was them who was from another planet! I simply would not believe them. I think some of my previous posts look at this idea in greater detail, (Chance or Not?) but what if some of the things that we Christans say we have experienced are actually just in our heads as some non-believers would suggest. What if answers to prayer are in fact products of coincidence.
I have this problem mainly when it comes to the idea of hearing God's voice. Its easy to talk about calling. Its easy to say, God has told me to do this, that or the other, but what convinces us that is actually God? Are we positive we are not deluding ourselves? What if it is all in our heads, just like it is with the people who see UFO's etc? The trouble is, these people who believe they have seen all these weird and wonderful things like UFO's, totally believe that they have. They don't doubt it at all. What if we are just falling into the same trap?
A friend of emailed me a link to this article:
Have a read, if you get a chance. It describes my questions much more eloquently, (but much more like fact than questions). The article is quite long so if you don't want to read it, here's a flavour:
Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is conspiring against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people’s heads. We humour them but don’t take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them.
Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous. Sam Harris was not being overly cynical when he wrote, in The End of Faith: “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them ‘religious’; otherwise, they are likely to be called ‘mad’, ‘psychotic’ or ‘ delusional’... Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.”
I want to just stop scaring you all for a moment. I do not doubt the existence of God. I still absolutely believe in, and love God with all my heart. I guess I am just questioning why I do, mainly from the perspective of how I can convince others that I am not delusional. How can I convince them that there is universal truth and God is it? Also, from a personal perspective, how can I know when I am hearing God's voice and know it is not just my mind playing tricks on me.
This response I found very useful, and totally agreed with:
"There is more than enough evidence around to prove whether God exists or not in creation. But what about feelings such as love? Or, how does the human brain store so such vast quantities of knowledge? Gods ways turn human logic upside down. It is impossible to understand him without the spirit within. And to get that, you need to invite Jesus into your life and Christians cannot do that for you. Obviously you can only do that if you believe He exists in the first place, otherwise you won't recognise the answer when it comes. Skepticism will see to that. We all know the scripture "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" etc, so don't just take our word for it, ask Him yourself. Answer the door. You will be pleasantly surprised and wonder why you wrote such a diatribe against the one person who loves you more than any human could ever do." David Hunt, Bristol, England
I know I am not deluded for believing. I know I believe in a God that exists and is present and active in our world. I cannot be moved from that. I know that both because I choose to and because my eperience tells me so. I guess I just need to learn to trust my own experience and not listen to others when they question that and tell me that I am mad or delusional. Sometimes, or rather always, I am just so thankful that I am on God's side of these arguments. I don't understand or know how to answer all these questions. But he knows all things and one day "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:10-11
Just before I sign off for today, I would like to mention two things.
1) Glyn's latest blog entry is very related to this one - thanks Glyn for the inspiration!
2) Look at how consistent my blogging is - three per month! Couldn't have planned it better if I had tried!
Thanks for reading. I will revert back to introvert-ism soon I promise!
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Let me give the context: Richard started by reminding us of all the things we knew so far; God wants to be close to us, and can be with us in each thought, each activity and each moment of our day. Sometimes though, we have days where God seems far away, or where we deliberately push God away, or where we have got a bit stuck in routine and may have 'spiritually habituated'. When that happens, how do we react to it? How do we go about re-discovering God's closeness?
Richard mentioned a few of the things we may try to do: Adding extra disciplines to our routine, trying harder to ensure we get a quiet time, and maybe making it longer, or changing its structure, reading more books, etc. Eventually, we can end up simply trying too hard. (There are many other things that Richard mentioned that people may do in this situation, but I have forgotten them so will update this when I find my sermon notes!). Often we find that whatever we try to do, just simply isn't working.
What if we could find God right now, live with God right now, today, in this moment? Maybe we need to stop trying so hard and just, "dive into the river of the Spirit of God".
He said it much more eloquently than this of course, and it really was powerful. The question is, how do you simply 'dive in'? I have asked a number of people about this and had some interesting answers. For example, its about recognising that we can feel and sense God's presence even just when we are doing the mundane things of life, and in having fun etc.
Someone else said that it was more than this, and mentioned something about a character change, and said it was different for different people. But he didn't really have time to qualify what he meant by that.
Surely 'diving in' requires activity. To dive is a verb - a doing word. But what is it? What do we do? How do we dive in.
A friend of mine (you know who you are) would probably say something about it involving 'resting' in God. (and no I am not implying laziness!), but how do you do that? And is it really about resting? I am not convinced of this either. Plus, I try to rest in God by making sure I spend time being still and trying to imagine God with me. But 1) should I really need to imagine, and 2) surely I am back to trying hard. (Oops, this is getting personal again!)
Someone else (again, you know who you are) would tell me its about making a choice - but I really don't want to get into that here. (Refusing to go personal!)
Am I just confusing the issue? Is there even an answer, or do I just have to wait and see what 'diving in' means for me?
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
As you are already aware, we have been going through the "God is closer than you think" series at Romford recently. The latest things we have considered is how God is active in our world, and how we can have different types of days according to how much we see God. John Ortberg refers to some of these days as "rainbow days"; days where God seems to be right there in front of you, so close to you. I haven't had many of these days lately, but last night and this morning I had two stunning "rainbow moments".
Yesterday night we were at worship band practice, and we were singing a song, the words of which I love, and it was just one of those "wow" moments. The words to the second verse and chorus are:
Who has told every lightening bolt where it sould go,
Or seen heavenly store houses ladened with snow?
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light,
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night?
None can fathom.
You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name.
You are amazing God.
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim,
You are amazing God.
Then we sang, "How great is our God". Need I say more!
Then this morning I was on my way to work, and all of a sudden I saw a flash. I thought it was a camera at first, but then realised that was unlikely as I was stuck in traffic driving at 10 miles an hour. In fact, it was lightening, and suddenly I was driving through the most torrential storm. I love storms - it was kind of scary as I couldn't even see the car in front thanks to the rain, but I was so struck by the power and glory of God. Then, as it calmed down, and the sun was beginning to show its very orange face I wondered if there was a rainbow, and sure enough, to my right was that unmistakable sight. The promise of God that He is always with us. It was slightly hidden by the clouds, but it was there, no doubt. In that moment, I was just really overcome with joy, and felt so close to God. I guess you could say I was overwhelmed by His majesty. It was just so fitting that we had been singing those words the night before. It was almost like God was saying, I am going to show you that what you are singing about is true. So I sat in the car by myself - no music playing and just sang that song back to God in true heart-felt worship.
I feel a bit funny having shared that, its like I am giving something of me away. But I hope it is encouraging to someone. God truly is closer than I often think.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Let me start with a quote from John Piper’s book, “Desiring God”, as it was whilst reading this that many of these questions were brought to my attention:
“The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever. The reason this may sound strange is that we are more accustomed to think about our duty than God’s design. And when we do ask about God’s design we are too prone to describe it with ourselves at the centre of God’s affections. We may say, for example, His design is to redeem the world. Or to save sinners. Or to restore creation. Or the like. But God’s saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These He performs for the sake of something greater; namely the enjoyment He has in glorifying Himself.”
This, by the way, is the first paragraph of the first chapter! It totally blew my mind! What is this saying? Surely God’s ultimate aim is not to glorify Himself. Wouldn’t that make him arrogant and proud? The Bible surely teaches us to do the complete opposite of this. I have to say, that by reading on in the chapter, this concept now sits a lot more comfortably with me than when I first read that paragraph, and lots of those initial questions were answered. I will not go into this right now, but you can always read the book if you want to look deeper at this. However, it has raised a number of other questions which, whilst not directly related to the above, do stem from it. I am going to focus mainly on one big topic here, and may write more about my other questions in a future post.
In my experience, Christians are reminded regularly that God has a plan for them. The Bible does also say this (Jeremiah 29:11 – though this message was actually for the exiles of Judah, but lets not get into that!). My question is, “Is God’s plan for us limited to that which will help to fulfil his plan for mankind, and therefore ultimately to that which glorifies Him?” In other words, if I get to a hypothetical crossroads in my life, where I have a decision to make, has God definitely already planned which way I go? Is this true even if the decision will in no way affect His Kingdom, or His “Salvation plan”. As Rachel and I say, does God care whether I choose a tuna sandwich for lunch today as opposed to some other delicious filling? Plus, if all this is already in God’s plan, and as John Piper says, God’s plan can not be frustrated, (He is sovereign after all!) then how can I possibly do the wrong thing?
Could I offer an alternative suggestion, which is likely to be completely wrong, and maybe even heretical! Please leave a comment to say why this is wrong if you do have an opinion, because in truth I don’t really believe it, but don’t know why as it seems to make a lot more logical sense: Could it be that God has a plan. One plan which is for the whole of mankind. Wherever we are required in order to fulfil a certain part of that plan, (which may be very regularly and may even include seemingly small details of our lives, such as what friends we have or where we work, and also, could include different things for different people), there God plans for us. In that sense, He cannot be frustrated. Those things will happen as God wants them to. This would mean that God has planned for us, but only to the point where that satisfies his ultimate plan for mankind. The smaller, more mundane parts of our lives are ours to decide what to do with. Me choosing tuna over cheese, would not affect God’s plan for Salvation, and ultimately to glorify Himself, therefore He really doesn’t mind. In this sense, God hasn't planned each detail of my life, rather He has a plan, and I often fit into it and therefore much of my life is indirectly planned out for me. If this is not true, then what is the point in praying for anything? I know it shows our dependence on him, but could we not just tell Him that we know we are and stop praying for the things that we want to happen? If God's plans every tiny detail of our lives, and cannot be frustrated, then why bother desiring anything? We might as well just wait and see what we get.
Also, whilst on the subject of plans, if God is out of time, then how can he plan? Surely by definition a plan is produced in order to achieve a future goal. Why would you plan an outcome you can already see? It doesn’t make sense!
See my confusion?!?!?! And thats just the start!
Its a good job God knows what He's doing isn't it!
I realise that this has many connections to a previous post of mine, (God, an individual relationship), particularly the part that says, "Does God care about the things of "life", that I really care about unless these are the very things that themselves have an impact on His Kingdom." I will retrack, and read the comments that were left for me back then, but I did just want to bring this up again because I think it is really important.
Monday, September 25, 2006
It seems quite clear that if we are purposely going against God’s will, if we are consciously disobeying, and letting sin reign in our lives, then we would want to keep God at arms length, because we don’t want Him to see it. However, God can see our whole lives anyway. We can’t control that. The point is though, that we can, to an extent, control how much we let ourselves feel God’s closeness. Sometimes it is easier to push God away than it is to change the things in our lives that He will ask us to. It’s almost like saying, “If I don’t let God come close to me, if I refuse to lift my finger to meet his outstretched hand, then I won’t feel so guilty about not doing His will, and I can even convince myself that it’s not that big a deal and God doesn’t care that much about it anyway.
Also, sometimes if God has asked us to do something huge for Him, and we are obedient, it is so easy to push Him away afterwards. Why do we do this? Is it because of resentment or bitterness? Maybe fear of having to do something else that hurts that much. Maybe it could even be a determination to control our own lives; we obeyed and now we want to regain control. It’s almost like telling God that He came too close, and now it’s time for Him to back off for a bit – a need for some breathing space now that He has made us deal with this hurt and pain.
Maybe we sometimes think it is easier to go though the desert of feeling far away from God, than it is to go through the pain of sacrificing our will to follow His, or to acknowledge that pain and hurt after the sacrifice is complete. Therefore, 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.
Having written this post, I am beginning to feel that it is a bit random; a kind of statement stuck in the middle of a huge bundle of questions. I wrote it mainly as an accompanying part to the previous post, as I felt I wanted to make sure that these were more than passing thoughts in one discussion at cell group. I think it is important to acknowledge that it is not always a matter of teaching people that God is closer than they think. It may sometimes require the acknowledgement that, in truth, God is closer than we want.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Is God really closer than you think? Is He right next to me as I type this? Is He reaching out to me, stretching out His arm as much as He can to try and reach me? I guess the first instinct is to say yes, of course He is, but do we really believe that? How does that impact our living? As John Ortberg says, what if we really believed that God is closer than we think?
Let me give a bit of context. The Church I go to have just entered a period of time where we will be focussing on ‘God is closer than you think’, the series by John Ortberg. We will be looking at this material in our cell groups and in our meetings on Sundays. I love it when we follow a series like this. It feels like we are on a journey together as a whole church, searching out what it means for God to be close to us. It’s nice to be able to go to Church, expecting to take the next step on the journey.
We had our first cell group of the series on Monday night, and I have to say it kind of blew my mind. We went off on a number of tangents and ended up discussing all kinds of massive topics, such as God’s sovereignty, God’s desire for His own glory, (I will write about this later – massive subject, thanks Jo for the John Piper book, its reshaping my whole understanding of God!), suffering, Gods will and predestination. It was mad! I guess maybe we should have tried to stay on track a bit more, but I have to say that unless we had been able to openly discuss what confuses us like that right at the beginning of this series, we would have been unable to see past that stuff to get the real message of the book. For example, if we hadn’t been able to say, I don’t get how God can love us so much if he allows so much suffering in the world, then for the rest of the series we would be sitting there, with this thought playing on our minds and not really letting ourselves hear that God loves us. Does that make sense?
I guess the main question I have based on this first cell group is how do I know that God is really reaching out to me? How do I know that God is actually that close to me? It all sounds very nice, but nice doesn’t make it true. Let me elaborate:
One of the stories John Ortberg tells is of a time where he was sitting next to a guy on a plane who was looking at some pictures of his son on his screensaver. John Ortberg asks him about the boy and the Father then goes on to talk for ages about his son, telling him lots of stories etc, and showing him loads of pictures. This is of course because he totally just loves his son. His son hadn’t done anything particularly special to make his father want to describe him so tenderly, he hadn’t won some special award or made a life changing discovery. His father loved him, just because he did, not for what he had done. John Ortberg says that God loves us in that way. Just because He does. It is like we are on His screensaver and He is adoringly showing us off because He loves us so much.
My reaction to this was eeuugghh! How cheesy! I honestly am not convinced that God sees it like that. I don’t even like the thought of it, God showing me off on his screensaver. It just doesn’t feel right.
I am not wondering about possible reasons why I might feel this way, I don’t really think of it as a personal thing at all, it is more one of logic and theology. Is this actually true? Does God really think of us in that way? What do you think? Do I have reason to be suspicious of this sort of description of God?
Its not that I don’t believe He loves us, of course I do, I know that He most definitely does. Its more one of how He expresses that love I guess, and how we view it. I just see it as too focussed on us. I am worried that I am going to go through this whole series and not get past the fact that we are so central to the message of the book. It feels like we are being self-indulgent by allowing ourselves to revel in the fact that we are at the centre of God’s attention. I am not convinced that we should be.
Sorry, to be negative, I absolutely agree that this material is totally brilliant to be doing, I don’t for one second have a problem with the material or the decision to use it. It’s absolutely right. However, I need to know whether its ok to allow ourselves to think of God loving us in this way, or whether we should be careful when we are studying it to make sure that it is God at the centre of all of our desires, rather than using it to satisfy a desire for significance through the focus on God’s love for us.
What do people think? Could we be in danger of being self-indulgent in this?
Monday, September 04, 2006
Today's topic has been playing on my mind for some time, but has been sitting at the back waiting for an oppotunity to really present itself. Its also the first personal post I have written, so I am being vulnerable! Let me start at the beginning. I am somewhat of a perfectionist in nature. Not that everything I do is perfect, (if only), more that it severely winds me up when it is not. I have recently been discovering how that has a massive impact on my spiritual journey. A while ago in cell group, a statement was read out which reminded me quite a lot of the 24-7 vision. You know the kind of thing, radical people doing radical things, being prepared to die for the cause of Christ, that kind of thing. Its in the freedom for Christ book, sorry, I can't remember what it says. Anyway, when we were asked our opinions of it, I couldn't help but open my mouth and let all my frustrations pour out. (Sorry about that cell group people!). I totally agreed with what it said, I couldn't deny the truth of most of it, but I just felt completely worthless after having read it. I am nowhere even close to that sort of spirituality, and the distance between there and my current position is so massive, it really wears me out even thinking about trying to get there. The annoyance is that in reading it, I totally wanted to be that sort of Christian. I wanted to be that passionate, that secure in my relationship with God, to care nothing about the world and only about Him, it just totally annoyed me that I wasn't already there, and that I was so far away. I hated the thought that God might be disappointed in me for not being that 'good a Christian'.
After my little rant at cell, I kind of forgot about it for a while. Till Saturday! I was reading this book, (Hunger For Reality by George Verwer), and there is this one page in there saying this:
"We have committed ourselves in reckless abandonment to the claims of Christ on our blood-bought lives. We have no rights! Every petty, personal desire must be subordinated to the supreme task of reaching the world for Christ. We are debtors. We must not allow ourselves to be swept into the soul-binding curse of modern-day materialistic thinking and living. Christians have been 'willing' long enough to forsake all - the time has come, (and is passing) when we must forsake all! Christ must have absolute control of our time and money. We must yield posessions, comforts, food and sleep; we must live on the barest essentials, that His cause might be furthered! The propagation of the faith we hold supreme! Christ is worthy of our all! We must be ready to suffer for Him and count it joy, to die for Him and count it gain. In the light of the present spiritual warfare, anything less than absolute dedication must be considered insubordination to our Master and a mockery of His cause!" George Verwer
A very wise person, (and someone I trust implicitly) once said to me that it is possible to be striving so hard for perfection, to be trying so hard to be perfectly holy, that we miss the beauty of the love of our God. We can get so caught up in trying to be this amazing Christian and do all this stuff for God that we burn ourselves out, get disappointed and frustrated and end up hating ourselves for not being who we are so desperately trying to be.
To be honest, I have to agree with both of these people. The Christianity described by George Verwer is the Christianity I find in the disciples when I read Acts. Surely we should still be just as passionate, just as dedicated, and just as faithful as they were. After all, we serve the same God, and preach the same Jesus. BUT, we still have to live in the world, we still have to reach the people in our culture, and maybe, (correct me if I'm wrong), being that radical is going to alianate us from our culture rather than helping us to reach people in it.
Take for example the whole thing about yielding posessions, comforts, food and sleep. What is this actually saying we should do? Give them up? It wouldn't be very healthy, and on the other hand, we get told an awful lot that we should take care of our bodies and look after them because they are temples of the Holy Spirit. (See earlier post!)
Where is the balance? Are we Christians being too lukewarm? Should we be more radical? And how do we strive for perfection without frustrating ourselves so much?
Thursday, August 17, 2006
It’s funny how easy it is to fall into the trap of letting it be just another summer school. Just another big event where you have a spiritual high, and then forget about it as soon as you get back to ‘normality’. Well I am going to try really hard to not let that happen this year. Summer school is a reality. I know it’s not normality, but it is still reality. The issues, questions and lessons learned are real, they exist, and they have to be faced at and beyond summer school. So am I listening? Really listening?
A massive question which must be faced when dealing with the subject of listening for God’s voice is; what do you do when you can’t hear God. I think the first thing to do is establish some possible reasons why this may be the case:
1) It could be that the individual concerned is not really listening; not really spending time with God, genuinely asking Him to speak or making the effort to read the Bible and spend time in silence with Him, purposefully listening to His voice.
2) It could be that the individual is genuinely trying to listen to God, but there are distractions that stop them from hearing. Maybe their mind wanders in the middle of praying, or they start praying but spend their whole time praying for other people or asking God for things, that they never actually get round to listening. Maybe they start to but then they think of another person or situation to bring before God. Maybe they just tend to fall asleep.
3) It could be that the distractions have turned into barriers. They truly do take time out for God. They try to spend time with God, they read the Bible regularly and spend time quietly thinking about what it could mean both in the context of the Bile and in their own lives. They could stay focused on God throughout the whole of the quiet time, utilizing tools and methods for eliminating distractions, and yet they could remain un-tuned to the voice of God because they have things going on in their lives which they don’t want to change, don’t want to give up to God and don’t want to lose control of, whether those things are wrong in themselves or not.
4) It could be that God is purposefully not talking to them for a while. I read about this in a book once (I really can’t remember which one but will most definitely try to find out). It is very rare to hear of people who have been, “in the desert place”, and have not come out the other side much stronger in their faith, and much more dependent on God rather than themselves. I am honestly not sure why God might stop talking to them for a while. I need to re-read that book I think, any comments on this would be appreciated. At the end of the day, God knows what He is doing, and if He really has stopped talking there will be a reason for it that makes sense.
As I was writing the four categories above I was thinking that one of the problems might be knowing which of the categories your desert place was related to, (if any). However, on reflection I think it is pretty clear. If you are not spending time with God, it could be to do with category 1. Sort that out and then see where that takes you. If you get easily distracted in your prayer times, then you are in category 2. Try using methods and tools for keeping focused – writing down your prayers, meditating on scripture, memorizing Bible verses etc. Then see where that takes you. For the people in category 3 it can be very difficult to admit that you are in this place. Generally if you don’t want to give something up to God to take control of, then it is easier to pretend you don’t realize it and to ignore it and to say therefore that you must be in category 4. However, I believe that if you pray enough for God to speak, and there is something in your life that needs to be given to God then God will reveal it to you. You usually know deep down that you are in category 3. You just need to admit it and deal with it, praying that the desire to be close to God and really in tune with Him becomes stronger than the desire to hold onto whatever it is. This can be a dangerous place to be in because if you stop hearing God’s voice, it is easy to become disillusioned and therefore further away from God, meaning that the desire to give something up to Him is lessened as well, and therefore making the situation worse. It is so important so be totally in love with God, totally consumed by Him, really eager to maintain a close, deep friendship with Him. I guess we have to rely on the Spirit to give us those desires,
Category 4 is much more difficult. If God has stopped talking, how can we help the people in that place to not start doubting the existence of God. I can’t really blame people for doubting when God stops talking. You can go through the whole process of thinking, any time that I experienced God in the past I could have been making it up. It could have been psychological, me wanting to hear God so much and so fabricating that experience in my head. Where I am now is the reality, no voice, no God. (For starters, if you fabricated those experiences in the past out of a deep desire to hear God’s voice, why would that not be happening this time?) Of course, it is a matter of faith. Saying in spite of the doubts, I choose to believe. Making it a choice based on knowledge rather than on feelings. “Blessed be your name, when I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness, Blessed be your name.” This is a very difficult song to sing in the face of this kind of doubt, and yet it is based on real truth.
Of course, it may not be as clear cut as this all suggests. For some the desert place may consist of a number of factors spanning all 4 categories, and most likely there are other categories I have missed out, but these were specifically the things that I felt had been identified during the week at summer school.
Sorry that this entry has been much more statements rather than questions. (That is actually unusual for me!) I just really wanted to scratch down all my thoughts about this. As you can probably see, I have thought about this a lot and am really trying to figure this all out mentally and intellectually. However, this does not mean that it will be sorted. Knowing what to do is not enough. It requires action, and that is the bit we have to be prepared to do if we genuinely want to hear from God. How can we make ourselves want to do this? For those of us in category 3, how can we make the desire for God’s voice stronger than the desire to hold on to our baggage?
Answers on a postcard please!!!
Monday, August 14, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139: 13-14
Your hands shaped me and made me... Did you not clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit. Job 10:8-12
However, having spent time doing many internet searches on this topic, I have found relatively little else to support this view. I can’t find any other scripture that suggests this sort of intricate, individual design. Even these two passages do not explicitly state that God designed each of us (bodily) in detail. Take for example Psalm 139: What is it actually saying?
This is basically, (I think), poetic language to describe the idea that God created us and knows us intimately and personally. It is mainly discussing the fact that God knows us, knows everything about us. The psalm does not say, “You decided what colour my eyes would be, whether I would have straight or curly hair”. It is not meant to be a theologically accurate statement that defines the exact nature of how each of us was created, but a poetic description of the presence of God in our individual lives.
“The basic thrust of the psalm is that God knows all about the psalmist, even before he was born, so it will do no good to try to hide "any wicked way" from God. There is even the poetic imagery of God carefully crafting him in the womb, with the implication that if God made him then God would know everything there is to know about him. With that confession that God knows all about him, the psalmist places himself in submission to God, and uses that confession as the basis of the prayer for God's guidance in the "way" of life.” Dennis Bratcher - Psalm 139:16 and Predestination: Text Criticism and Interpretation.
This is not a discussion about whether God created human life – I believe He did, but I think that He designed human life so that genetics could determine that sort of thing. Therefore, if there is something about or bodies that we don’t like, or tend to moan about, we aren’t saying that we don’t like God’s workmanship. Its not humanity in general that we are moaning about, but about the specifics of that which were not necessarily designed by God, but happened through the design process which God set out. Obviously, fixation on the outward appearance is still contrary to the instructions of scripture – (“Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7b), but it is surely not for the reason that we are criticising God’s creation, rather that our focus is wrong.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
I was just reading some posts on a friends blog, (www.fromthesamesky.blogspot.com), and one of them spoke about her thoughts on suffering and the providence of God. She used this quote to help her thoughts:
“When one person gets cancer and another does not, that is not because God wants one of them to get cancer, it is because the world is fallen and not as God wanted it and chance has been at work. When Christians deny that luck plays any part, they are often implicitly (though usually unintentionally) attributing all disaster, suffering and death to the hand of God. But God is good. We need, therefore, to accept that there is an element of chance in the way things turn out.” Michael Lloyd
I have to say that reading that summed up my confusion quite accurately. How much of what 'happens' in this world is attributable to God? Is God behind everything? Certainly he knows about everything, but how much of it happens because God made it so? Rather than looking at the situation of someone getting cancer, lets turn it round and say that there are two people already with cancer, (or whatever - put any situation you want in the place of cancer here!), both of whom have people around them praying for their healing. Say one person dies, and one recovers, well, the friends of the one who recovered would most likely thank God for answers to prayer, attributing the healing to God. But what about the one who died? Why did God not answer that prayer? Or rather, why was His answer to that one 'no'? Could it not just be that the treatment worked on one and not the other? How do we know that God was involved at all? Are we sure that this is not, in actual fact, attributable to chance rather than God? If so, how then can we know when it is God that does something in our lives and when is it chance? When do we pray for something, or say thankyou for something?
On the other hand, God could be absolutely in charge of everything - chance could be non-existant. Certainly there would be concerns here, (such as why is there suffering, why do some people suffer and not others etc), but surely a God who is in control of everything, (and also totally loving by the way), would have reasons for all these things. We may not know why now, but as long as God does, that's what matters.
Which one is it? Do we even need to know? I am toying with the thought that maybe, just maybe, this is supposed to be a bit ambiguous. Maybe we are supposed to not really know exactly how much control God chooses to exert over the world in which we live. Would us knowing actually make any difference to the way we live? Surely, even if God does leave some things to chance, we can still pray about it, and trust that God knows which situations to take control of and which not to? It would help to know, (and maybe some people think that they do know the answer to this - maybe I am just a bit thick!), but I guess that its part of our responsibility to just trust despite the fact that things seems confusing. Its a case of choosing to trust despite the ambiguity.
We are truly blessed to be able to have a God who is worthy of our trust. He is so good, so holy, so upright, so loving and so just that we can trust Him to know how to deal with our world. We can give all our situations to Him and know that by just putting faith in God, all things will work out for good, (whether it seems like it in this life or not). Thanks God for being so wonderful, so so totally trustworthy. I choose right now to trust you with this world - to trust that regardless of my uncertainties, and misunderstanding, You in fact know what You are doing. Thanks, and please help me to leave it there, knowing that it is in Your hands.
Friday, July 28, 2006
God established His coveneant with Abraham. He promised Abraham that he would have many descendents - and (eventually!) provided him with a son. God tested him in his devotion to God - and Abraham passed, so this son became the one through whom the covenant would be fulfilled. The promises that God gave to Abraham would have meant a lot to Abraham. In those days the promise of many descedents would have been such a blessing to Abraham, but they didn't just serve as a purpose for making Abraham happy. It wasn't just about blessing Abraham. These promises served a greater purpose - that of the establishment of the nation Israel - The Children of God. I want to be clear; I don't think that this in any way diminishes what God did for Abraham, or makes God any less good or loving. If anything it makes Him more so. My point is simply that God's dealings with Abraham were not simply for the sake of Abraham.
I am still at the very early stages of these thoughts, and I have in no way thought this through properly yet, hence why I am using this blog! But here goes - this is where all these thoughts are leading:
How does God deal with, or relate to me? I am but one individual in a massive history of Christians. There is nothing particularly that sets me apart or makes me different to any of the others, and yet, apparently, God is meant to "be my Father", my "friend". And apparently, He "loves me". (I feel at this point that I have to say sorry to God for even questioning this. The truth is that I know really deep down that He is and does, I just don't really get it. I know He understands my search for understanding). I think my problem with all this is the emphasis on me. If God is my Father - that puts the emphasis on me in the sense that a Father is there to look after their child and to nurture them. What about putting the emphasis differently. I am God's son, and therefore my role is to make my Father proud, to be obedient and to do all that I can for Him. When I pray or speak to God, is it right that I should bring to Him all my concerns, hopes and desires, asking Him to bless me, when the focus is so heavily on me. Will God answer those prayers? Does He even care about them - except where they relate to the growth of His Kingdom and my role in that. I think that is the crux of it for me. Does God care about the things of "life", that I really care about unless these are the very things that themselves have an impact on His Kingdom. In other words, should I be asking Him for the things that I really really want, even though they are worldly desires which show that I am still attatched to (and to some extent - love), this world, and probably have no bearing on His Kingdom.
Does God care about those things? Does He look at me and see what I desire and long to make me happy as a Father does His child? Does He care, and yet ask me to give them up because they are of this world, not His Kingdom? Does it pain Him to see me struggle through that giving up process? Or does He look at those desires, see they are not relevant, and not even bother to get invloved because they are not to do with Him anyway?
I guess I am seeing Him right now as a bit of a distant God who requires that we fulfil certain criteria, who only gets involved in our lives where it might have a real impact on His Kingdom, and who gets angry when we sin and don't meet the requirements He expects of us.
On top of this, I get really concerned when I hear people say, "I wouldn't have got through this time without God". What does that actually mean? What does God do to help people through this time, and why are we so convinced that without God we wouldn't have made it? Non-Christians seem to manage ok. What truly is the difference between me and a non-Christian aside from the fact of Salvation and all the joy that brings? What is the difference in day to day life except that my focus ought to be on building the Kingdom? Are there any other things that are different? When we say God answered my prayer, and a non-Christian would tell us that it was a coincidence, are we convinced that it was actually God? Why? How can we be sure?
Deep down I know that God is a God that gets involved in the lives of us as individuals. He is involved in my life. And yet, I just don't really get how. I don'y really get why He seems to answer some prayers and not others, whether I am allowed to ask Him for the things I want, or whether I should instead be striving to not care about them any more. I know that I can have an impact on His Kingdom and He does have a plan for my life. I know that - but I know it in my heart, not my head. (I know the other way round to usual.) I tend to rely on my head to make my decisions, not necessarily my heart, and so not understanding these things makes it hard for me to believe that I can actually do anything for God.
God is closer than you think. Is He? I really hope that studying this book at the corps for a while will help with that. I need to know that He is in my head as well as my heart.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Anyway. That is what this blog is about and here for. I hope it doesn't get too confusing.
Thas all for now