Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Do you ever have that experience where there is something going on in your head – something that you can’t quite put your finger on or define, but it really frustrates you? For me there has been something playing on my mind probably at least since I came back from uni – and it most likely started before that, some concern and frustration that I have, but I have never understood it well enough to describe it to anybody else. I have attempted in the past, but it usually ends up with them not really getting it either, and me getting my words and my logic all jumbled up so by the end everyone is just more frustrated. Well anyway – I was reading a book on the train, (the last chapter of Desiring God by John Piper – I have posted about this book before), which totally just defined my frustration.

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

Surprised by Beauty

To continue the thread regarding scepticism, particularly relating to personal experiences of God, I have to say that in reading Richard Dawkins arguments, I find myself having to try very hard to not agree with him. It is likely to have a lot to do with the fact that in looking at ‘experience’ from a rational, analytical point of view, it doesn’t always make sense, but perhaps that is the very reason we call it an ‘experience’. Its meant to be felt, not understood or justified. Does that make sense? The reason I say this, is its easy to be sceptical until you have one of these ‘experiences’, and then suddenly, they are very hard to deny.

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.