Monday, September 25, 2006

Cell Reflections (2)

God is closer than you think. That’s as may be but what about God being closer than you want? Is it not true that sometimes we may actually want to block God from being close to us?

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

Cell Reflections

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

Striving for perfection

Firstly, appologies for the lack of posting recently. I haven't had any massive topics running through my brain for a while. I think it must have been on standby. Anyway, I was chatting with a very good friend of mine late on Saturday evening, and about three post-worthy topics came up, so expect a few more posts in the not too distant future.

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?