Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Operating System, not Multi-map

As some readers will know, I have a huge respect and admiration for Rob Bell, for his ideas and perspectives, what he believes Christianity to be and how we can communicate and live it out (and no, I'm not trying to look like him with my new glasses, before anyone starts!).

I was listening to him defend himself and his church recently, after they had received a lot of criticism. One thing he said really hit home.

He said that a lot of Christians have made the Bible their idol, like a golden calf. They have started to worship the Bible rather than focusing on how to live it out. The Bible has become more important to some than following Jesus, its become their idol. Christians can spend so much time and energy picking out phrases and lines from the Bible, and arguing about issues which in the end don't really matter.

Issues which while important, at the end of it all aren't at the root of the message of Jesus.

The Bible is God's word. It is inspired by God and authoritative. It shows us how God wants us to live and shows us the values that God has. It shows us what God has done for us and what He has done throughout history. It is useful for training, for guiding us and directing us. It is to be respected and it has to be used. It is a gift from God.

But it is not to be worshipped or made an idol in itself.

You see, the Bible is not the point.

It is a means to see the point.

God speaks now, He still speaks today. Many of you will have heard God speak to you. Those words He speaks to us are just as authoritative if they are truly from God.

The Bible is God's word for us. But its not the only way God speaks to us is it? God is bigger than just the Bible (I can hear the cries of heretic already!). He is bigger than everything, everyone, bigger than all things we can imagine or comprehend. Beyond our minds and imagination.

The Bible isn't the point

The point is God. The point is living like Jesus and the truth and power of the cross and resurrection.

Following Jesus.

Serving Jesus.

Having the same values as Jesus.

Being a community that reaches out to serve, give, blesses and show the love of God to the world around us. Making a choice each day to live differently.

Being a community that does not judge or condemn or exclude anyone, including those they disagree with of our own faith, but welcomes and includes and forgives.

Knowing that through the cross and resurrection we have a new hope and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, whatever the Kingdom of God is.

That's what is important as a Christian. The Bible is merely a tool, a way of seeing and understanding God, a collection of books inspired by God and useful for training, equipping and encouraging people in their faith. A device for helping people to see a fuller picture of God and of what He wants for us.

The Bible is not the point. The Bible is not God.

Lets not limit God and the message of Jesus to the Bible. Lets not limit being a Christian to the Bible.

Being a Christian is so much more, and God is so much more.

We aren't made or designed to fully comprehend God. Its like trying to put a computer operating system requiring amounts of memory on to an i-pod-mini. It just can't do it. Its not designed for it.

God is like the operating system, we are the i-pod. We can use the operating system, its the background and the method we choose to live and work by and through. The Bible is one of the tunes that God gives us, to take with us, to use as a tool to help understand Him. Its almost like Multi-map, in that it shows you who and what God, the cross and resurrection is all about, and you can zoom in to the point you want to refer to, to examine and to try and navigate, and you can keep coming back to it again to try and understand it better.

But we'll never have the full operating system or be able to fully comprehend it. We just aren't designed to.

People try to limit God to the Bible and the visual signs He performs today. People seem to want to have an organised and rigid explanation for everything.

The answer to everything, ultimately always comes back to God. We don't need to know everything about God. If we can't explain something, say so. Just say that you trust that God knows what He's doing. Sometimes things happen we can't explain and all we can say is that we don't know why but we still love and trust God.

But although we can never know Him fully, God still wants us to know and understand Him more. Because we can't comprehend God we can always learn more about Him. He wants us to.

We have to keep probing, questioning, re-examining the Bible, listening to what God is saying, seeing what He's doing, and what it is to be a Christian here. Today. Now. Wherever we are.

We have to keep on going, and never be satisfied or think we 'have the answer'.

We need to accept that God is more than we will ever be able to comprehend or imagine or understand.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to learn as much as we can.

That's why God gave us enquiring minds.

To explore, probe, question and think about what He has said, and to try to understand it better and in doing so understand Him better. To understand better what it means to follow Jesus and live like Him.

We keep on learning, we never stop learning, we never know it all or have all the answers. There is always more to learn about God and always will be. We should keep trying to learn more and have the humility to know that we will never know it all, and that there are some things we will never totally understand about God.

And at the same time we need to live out what we learn and put it into practice every day, relying on God to guide, direct and strengthen us.

It doesn't mean we have to be religious nuts or Bible-bashers. It doesn't mean we have to quote the Bible all the time in every conversation we have. That's not it at all. That's going to make us look weird and strange, and alienate people.

But we need to just live it. Do it. Put it into practice, and just keep on learning. There's a time for talking about it, and God will show us when that is.

What an adventure we are on with God in learning about Him, and the great thing is it just keeps on going, we keep on learning and growing and doing. It excites me even writing about it.

Its God, not the Bible, that we worship. The Bible is hugely important, but its not the point.

God is the point. God is the reason for everything and what everything comes back to.

Let us never forget that.

Todd Bentley - A response (1)

In my 100th post I posed some questions regarding Todd Bentley, and today I will try to begin answering them.

I don't know where this will take me, but it should be interesting.

So to begin, lets look at the issue of substance. Now its all very well performing miracles, healing people and making people fall over in the spirit on stage. But if their core root beliefs are not rooted in the truth of Jesus and the Bible and there is no backbone to what they are doing, and they are merely doing miracles and healings for the sake of doing them, well that to me is a faith without substance, a message without substance, a ministry without substance.

I mean exactly what else happens apart from healing and prayer ministry? Everything else seems to fit around it. Its like that is the centre of what they are doing and everything else isn't as important.

Its very dangerous to submit yourselves to prayer ministry by anyone not knowing what they believe or what they are preaching.

Being a Christian, and being a church, is about being community together and healing is only one dimension to this. Good teaching and getting spiritual direction to help you follow Jesus in the world is more important, to me and I think to God, than how many people get healed of whatever sicknesses or conditions. Surely its more important to know the right way to live and get good direction and teaching on that, so you can put it into practice, than to be healed. God cares about both, but learning to live like Jesus is of more long-term value to us as people.

So when people come along doing things like this we need to ask the question of what they believe, and where their faith comes from.

If someones faith in Jesus is dependent on Him healing people to 'prove' He loves us and His power is real, then in my opinion that's not true faith. Faith is believing in something we cannot see or prove 100%, and if someone is medically healed, that is a very obvious and outward demonstration of God's power.

Jesus attitude to all of this? Even Jesus got tired eventually of how He kept having to perform miracles for people, not because He didn't want to heal people, but because of what it said about the faith and character of the people who asked for a healing.

In John 4 v 48 Jesus says something very telling which is very relevant to this. A man has come to Him to ask Him to heal his child. Jesus does go on to heal him, but His first response speaks volumes. This is Jesus initial response when asked the heal the child. The first thing He says.

"Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe.""

Wow. What a response.

Try and imagine His tone of voice here as well. I think its almost an air of resignation. People needing to see miracles to believe and Jesus knows this, and He wishes it were otherwise.

This is precisely the danger here. Do people going to this and the leaders involved need miracles to support and justify their faith in Jesus?

One of the big dangers with this too is that people end up thinking that Jesus is 'only' in this place, that Todd Bentley is the only man who is bringing the power and spirit of Jesus down for healing, that everyone needs to go to these meetings to meet with Jesus.

This of course leads to people beginning to idolise the leaders of these meetings, like Todd Bentley.

The other big danger is that people will start to go to these meetings expecting to get their needs met, almost demanding it. They will start to think that if they aren't healed then God is being unfair, unjust, or doesn't love them as much. They will become consumer Christians, taking what they can get and beginning to demand more of God to prove He is there and that He loves them.

They could slowly and surely start to consume Jesus, demand to get what they want and have their prayers answered, and think God doesn't love them if He doesn't.

When its over, they can become disillusioned and lose their faith because God isn't doing such spectacular miracles and they've come to expect them. They could fall away from the church, which would make the healing totally counter-productive. But that has more to do with the attitude of those going and the character of the leaders than the power of God to heal.

It becomes a show, and the leaders become celebrities and in all the tide of emotion and popularity there is a big temptation for them to start to think its all about them and forget about God - if it is the power of God they are using.

These are all big issues and very real dangers of meetings like this.

In the verse above in John 4 Jesus gives his response. He is saying that the signs and wonders are not the most important thing.

That there is more to faith than miracles, signs and wonders.

There is more than a spectacular show.

He's totally spot on.

Christianity isn't just about miracles of the Spirit. Its about how you live.

I wonder, would he say the something like that to these people if He got up on stage?

Christianity is about living a life like Jesus.

Having the same values as Jesus.

Being Jesus wherever we are and whatever we do or say. Jesus isn't just in these meetings, He's always with us.

He's with us wherever we are. He can heal us wherever we are.

He is all around us.

Faith in Jesus is not about all the signs and wonders, its about staying true to what we believe even when all seems against us. Signs and wonders are encouraging, but they don't develop character and a strong faith which sustains through the good and bad times.

Jesus can choose whether to heal us or not, and its His choice. Either way, He still loves us.

I believe in Jesus whether He's healing me or not, whether I feel good or bad, whether things are happy or painful. In fact the painful times are often the times that I've actually felt I've grown and developed and got closer to God. Not when God's been obviously present and doing powerful stuff in a congregation, but when life is difficult and I have to trust God more because I need Him more and He might feel more distant.

Faith is so much more than deeds. Being a Christian is so much more than God doing miracles.

We need to remember that.

I have still to make my conclusions on Todd Bentley and there are more issues to tackle in a future blog before I do so. But so far, I can only say I am concerned about what is happening - not because it may not be God necessarily, but because there doesn't appear to be much substance behind it, and because it may be leading people to put their faith in something which is only an outward sign, rather than on something far stronger - the real God at the centre of it.

There is more to discuss, and I am looking forward to doing so.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


A very good friend of mine today revealed to me a simple truth. I want too much control over my life.

That's what our society today is built on, people's desire to have control over their own lives. Make their own choices, do what they think is best for them.

Many of us like it that way. Its easy, and we always get our way. Nothing is out of our control or influence in terms of our life choices. We choose which jobs we apply for, where we live, what we do in our spare time, who we have relationships with.

Its all "me, me, me" in our society.

I have been as guilty as anyone.

I tried to think of the last time I surrendered control over an area of my life completely and utterly to God, without any comeback if things went wrong. When was the last time I gave myself to God and did something for Him without feeling I wanted or deserved anything in return, or that there was nothing in it for me but doing God's will.

I struggled.

I don't have all the answers. I have such a lot to learn and far to go in my walk with Jesus.

But I do know one thing. That my life will be better once I orientate my life, my choices, my attitudes and relationships round Jesus. When I let Him take control and trust Him with my life.

The practice, though, is much harder.

I thank God that my friend was there to open my eyes to see it. Now all I can do is take it to God, and see where it goes.

I pray I have the courage to do that.

Creation or evolution - Why not both?

Before I go into answering all the questions posed in my previous blog (more on that later this week) I want to talk about the creation story and the creation/evolution argument..

When we talk about what we believe it can with a lot of issues end up being and/or. In this case if you believe in the theory (yes, theory, not proven historical fact) of evolution, then to some or even to most people you can't believe that God created the world.

A question. Why not both?

Can't they be two sides of the same coin?

Why can't God have created the world, and used evolution as His tool? Just because the Biblical story of creation (which is actually a poem, and more likely a metaphor rather than historical fact) doesn't advocate it doesn't mean it isn't how God created.

God is God, and He can do things however He chooses. You don't mess with God.

Its only when we get legalistic or proud, and insist on being right and that you have to believe one or the other that we start to get into the realms of falling out over these things.

Creation/evolution issues have caused major division amongst Christians. There are other issues as well where people are falling out over either/or when it might be both/and. God isn't rigid and bound by anything. He can do as He chooses.

The bottom line is that however it happened, none of it changes the truth about Jesus. It shouldn't do anyway.

The point of the creation story for me isn't to tell us in exact detail how God made the world and isn't necessarily historically accurate (I hear cries of heresy already...). The point is that it illustrates the fact that God made the universe and everything in creation, and that we were the pinnacle of that and rejected Him, hence the need for Jesus.

That's more important than actually knowing the exact details of how He did it. The idea that He made it in six literal 24-hour days has flaws. For a start, the way we measure 24-hour days isn't even created until the third 'day'. So how were days measured before that? Who measured them?

It doesn't add up.

If God used evolution to create the world, then so what? Seriously somebody give me an argument to prove that it matters.

Truth is, it doesn't.

What matters is believing and knowing God made the earth. God created everything. That's the principle behind this story.

Some people criticise Christianity purely on the basis of the creation v evolution argument. But once you tear that down they are left with the simple truth and way of Jesus. Then they have little left on that score. Because they seem to have the same way of thinking, not the three-dimensional way of thinking outside of it all that God has.

It could change everything.

There are some people whose whole relationship with Jesus depends somehow on whether God made the earth exactly as described in the creation story, in six 24-hour days.

If your faith depends on that, then its not very strong faith. Take one thing out and it all falls apart? Not exactly built on rock is it?

However God made the earth, that's up to Him isn't it? The point is He made it, and however He did it doesn't change one bit the truth about Jesus and our need for Him. God created everything, we rejected Him and He sent Jesus to save us and show us how He wants us to live and the values and lifestyle He wants for us.

That's what's important. Not how God made the world.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

100th post....and some challenging questions

This is my 100th post. Hooray!

Anyway, while I celebrate, I want to (finally) write about the ministry of Todd Bentley. I've watched some of his ministry times of TV and read a lot more about him.

It worries me. That's the truth of it.

Its not the healings and the miracles themselves that worry me though. I have total faith in God's desire and ability to heal people and perform miracles. God is totally capable of that.

But there are serious questions to be asked.

1)What is the substance?
2)What do these guys believe about Jesus and the Bible?
3)Where does their faith come from - faith or miracles?
4)Do the people that go think that Jesus is 'only' at these places and not at their churches?
5)Do the people who lead or people who go think that this is all there is to church and being a Christian, and that miracles are more important?
6)Is this just consumer Christianity?
7)What's going to happen to the congregation when this is all over?
8)What are the new Christians in that congregation going to believe?
9)Where is Jesus in this - and does it reflect what He did in his ministry?

Lots of questions, lots of answers and lots to talk about.

No time to talk about it today, but I'll be back to try and answer these questions soon. It may take a while.

This is an issue that needs to be examined and looking at it will bring up a whole load of other questions about faith in Jesus and modern Christianity.

Should take a few blogs, and some time. Will be interesting...and quite exciting too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jesus - The best adventure we can have

I was talking with a friend a few days ago, and we talked about various issues surrounding theology and the church. We discussed the emerging church and the work of Brian McClaren.

We both agreed that in order to mature and continue to grow in our faith, to get closer to God and to find out more about Him and about the Bible its important to ask questions. Children learn often by asking questions, and we are children of God. Therefore providing we have the right core beliefs and values, and the right level of maturity in our faith, we shouldn't be afraid to ask questions of God and the Bible. Not questions to try and disprove faith, but merely to strengthen it.

Some Christians say we should never question God or question the Bible. I know what they mean, but in my opinion that type of 'questioning' is more about attempting to disprove Christianity and maybe even insult and attack it. To disrespect God.

The kind of questioning I'm talking about is simply asking questions. Looking at the details of what's in the Bible, the cultural context, the historical context, the Biblical context and looking at principles and values outlined in the Bible and seeing what else we can learn from them, whether there is anything new we can take and apply to our lives.

The more you ask questions the more questions it leads to. You answer one, and it leads to another. We should not be afraid of this, we should trust the basic truths we believe in about God, because they never change.

Which leads me to my next point.

My friend made the point in our meeting that its important in doing this to know what precisely we believe, what the core values of our faith are. I realised then that I needed to define for myself what those are.

We assume sometimes we know what we believe, and there's no problem with that. But how often do we re-visit it? How often to we actually vocalise it?

Not very often, in most cases.

We need to. Its important. To grow, we need to know what our core beliefs are. Our interpretation of the basic truths of our faith. As Rob Bell puts it, they can then act as springs to jump and push the boundaries and ask questions. Like gravity those basic truths and values always pull us back if we go too far off course. There's only so far we can jump, but there is freedom in jumping to go in all sorts of directions.

So what core doctrines do I believe in?

Jesus as the divine Son of God who died and rose again for my sins and who is the only way to eternal life.

God as supreme being who created the universe and the earth and everything in existence, even time itself.

The trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That the power of the Holy Spirit is at work today and that all of us have gifts given to us by God to serve Him in the world and are called to be Jesus to all around us wherever we are.

Those are the key doctrines of faith I believe in. But I also believe in the following values.

That Christianity and following Jesus is a way of life, not a religion with defined regulations and rules.

That church is not a tradition, its not an establishment organisation, that its meant to be a community of believers serving, loving, giving, blessing and being Jesus to each other. A group of people discipling each other and having accountability with each other and towards God Himself. Then reaching out love and serve and be Jesus to those in its immediate community, both locally and internationally, and to try and re-define our culture to God's values. A group that sets the agenda for change and is active is seeking and promoting God values to the wider world. A community of activists.

That church is a place that is welcoming to all people no matter their circumstances and tradition, not a place of judgement and condemnation. People to be held responsible for their actions, though never to be judged and condemned, but be treated with grace and love.

That's just for starters probably. But those are the things I believe in most strongly and are most passionate about.

I know I have so much more to learn and so far to grow. But I'm excited and looking forward to it. Asking more questions, getting more knowledge and always coming back to those same core doctrines and values.

Its an adventure with Jesus. An adventure with the God, with the creator of everything.

The best adventure we can ever have.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Church growth - new wine, new wineskins, same vine

At church today our pastor talked about Mark 2 v 18-22. What really spoke to me was the point about wineskins and new clothes.

In Jewish culture it was well known not to put new wine in old wineskins and vice-versa. If new wine was in old wineskins they would ultimately burst and be ruined and the wine would spill everywhere. It was also well known that when mending clothes (and this is still the case) that you don't patch up old clothes with new material because eventually it would tear even more.

The metaphor Jesus uses in this passage implies that we need to change completely and immerse ourselves in Jesus, we need to put off our old clothes and old wineskins if we want to follow Jesus and put new ones on completely, not just patch up old clothes or put Jesus' new wine into our old wineskins. Ultimately, that will just cause us problems and hold us back.

But as Jason said all this I began to see a different application, which is for me fast becoming a reality.

The church needs to put on new wineskins. We have that truth inside of us as a church, but the way we interpret it and live it out is always changing, the practical ways we live out our faith and the ways people learn and respond, the needs of people in society change and culture changes.

The message of Jesus today, the things God is speaking today to today's people are different from what they were. It is new wine.

The vine from which the wine comes is the same - Jesus said He was the true vine, after all - and the essential truth of Jesus message and who He is remains, but the way this message is relevant has changed, the people this message is going out to has changed. The church is the wineskins, and they need to change them.

Division in the church is rife. The church is tearing itself apart. Traditionalists, Evangelicals (with a big 'E') and emerging church leaders are in disagreement on many things. People say this new interpretation of scripture from leaders like Brian McClaren and Rob Bell is heretical, not of God, not of the Bible.

I have read one blog from a man who is near-obsessed with exposing these alleged heretics, and trotting out Bible verses which supposedly support their view, when never once have McClaren or Bell disputed the essential truth that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose for our sins, and has called us to follow His example and try and live like Him.

That's the essential truth. That's the vine.

The history of the church is littered with people who were radicals for their day coming along and giving a new, more relevant, fresh perspective on Jesus which was controversial for its time. This generally became accepted as the norm.

What the people who label emerging churches fail to see is that a few hundred years ago their interpretation would have been labelled heretical and they would probably have been burnt at the stake.

What this passage and church history seems to be saying to me is that we need to change and evolve as a church, we need to rediscover the best from what was before and add something new or fresh, something still of God, still speaking the truth of Jesus, but bringing a different dimension, an added dimension, to what has come before.

Its the same vine, the same source. New wine, so new wineskins. The church needs to take the lead, not wait 100 years before changing.

In fact, we need to be constantly looking to change, to grow, to take the best of what has been past and add new things, keep putting on new wineskins.

That's the only way the message of Jesus is going to have any relevance to the world we live in and is going to continue to really impact lives, certainly in Western culture.

New wine, new wineskins, the same vine.