Friday, August 29, 2008
Can you actually imagine going through 33 years without committing one sin?
Not get angry and bitter?
Not one bit of gossiping?
Not one wrong desire?
Not one white lie?
Not one fleeting wrong thought?
I've begun to see that we often, subconsciously (or consciously sometimes) think that 'Oh he was 100% God, so it was probably easier for Him'. 'He was divine, so it wasn't as hard for Him'
But surely the whole point of Jesus living a sinless life is that He shared all the same temptations, emotions, suffering, difficult circumstances and everyday issues that we have to face - granted, in a different context, but nevertheless the same basic issues.
He faced many temptations, He struggled to be obedient to God.
Take Gethsemane. Jesus essentially says if it wasn't up to God, He didn't want to go through with it. "If it is possible, let this cup be taken from me."
What Jesus the man wanted wasn't what God wanted.
But what does He do next? He says 'Not my will but yours be done'
So you see Jesus struggled the same as we do. Yet He didn't give in once. He was obedient always. Even in death.
Whatever you believe, that's some example. To go through an entire life not breaking trust, not being rude, not being selfish, not being bitter and angry, not gossiping, not being disobedient, putting others and God first, loving and forgiving everyone. Its not easy to do.
But He did it. Jesus was a man but committed no sin. He was not guilty of anything wrong.
How did Jesus as a man do it?
He put God first.
He orientated everything around God. He gave up a career in the family business (well, His earthly family business anyway), gave up any chance of a wife and family (another temptation there surely was for Him), gave up His status in Heaven, where He could have stayed for eternity, and ultimately allowed Himself to be killed because it was what God wanted.
Because we were too important to Him and to God.
Of course, none of us are perfect. All of us need to grow, all of us have areas of weakness, all of us need forgiveness.
Its only possible though because one man who faced all the same temptations, problems, issues, and situations we face chose not to give in to temptation or to His own desires, but put God (and us) before them. He chose to love us and be obedient to God.
The more we see just how much Jesus was a man as well as divine, the more we see how much He loves us.
That's because the more human He is, the more we understand how difficult it was for Him.
The more human He is, the greater the power of the cross.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
My first instinct was one of frustration.
We don't live in a perfect world. Situations in Zimbabwe, Russia, Georgia, Iraq and Iran, and the problems with knife crime in this country, don't exactly point to a world of peace and love.
This world is full of pain and suffering. We don't always get good news. We all go through difficult times and have insecurities. Bad things happen to good people.
We need to accept these things are a reality for us.
However, there is one thing.
There is some good news. Really good news.
We're not alone in this. There is someone who isn't about pain, suffering, violence, oppression and selfishness. There's someone out there who is perfect. Who loves us unconditionally.
Not only that, but someone who actually knows what its like to experience all the stuff we experience, and even worse.
There is another way. There is a real hope out there.
A genuine hope.
Something with depth.
It won't make our lives perfect. But it will help us to deal with the real world much better. It gives us an ideal to work towards, that's achievable, that's possible.
Because the source of this hope is the perfect, loving, gracious God of the impossible.
It may be hard to believe, but despite all the problems of the world, there is hope.
We just need to believe it.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Ever got angry about something that's happened and thought to yourself "Why does this always happen to me, and never to anyone else"?
Eight years ago my mum died. Very suddenly, and although I thought I'd prepared myself for it, when it happened it all became surreal.
Then as time goes by I start when bad things happen to me, I begin to start snapping back. I begin to think to myself, and start to pray to God - or shout out to Him, more likely - that this isn't fair.
I'd had my share of pain.
I'd had my share of suffering and frustration.
I don't deserve any more pain
I deserve good things all the time.
But God has taught me over the years that its simply not the case. Life is difficult. Life can be painful. Life can be full of little hassles and annoyances. Life isn't perfect.
Yesterday I accidentally let a virus loose on my computer, which also caused hassle to others. I didn't create that virus, someone else did, and its caused hassle for me and others.
But for the first time in a long time, I didn't catch myself saying under my breath 'Why did it happen to me?'
I now see that while it might be annoying, its not the worst thing that could happen. Its retrievable. Its manageable. It costs some time and hassle, but its not beyond saving. Its part of life.
I can now see that like this virus the frustration I feel, the pain I still feel from losing my mother, is also not beyond saving and healing. Because I know someone who suffered more than anyone else, so that I don't have to live in fear and anger anymore. I know someone who has suffered more than I will ever suffer.
It gives me perspective. It gives me confidence.It gives me hope.
So let us see that bad things happen to all of us. Let us know that there is a saviour out there who has suffered even more than we have, and knows exactly the pain we are feeling.
Let us know that none of us are beyond saving, beyond healing, beyond restoration.
Finally, let us believe that all of us have a new, real, hope within us.
Always with us. Forever.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
As such I have felt recently that to help focus my mind and to allow me to go deeper that I need to start a second blog, focussing more specifically on those type of subjects. It will allow me to go a lot deeper and to focus on these issues, while continuing to write for this blog.
It will also allow me to put the focus of this blog more on issues outside of church and more focussed on asking the big questions about our faith, tackling issues facing Christians today and reflecting on what God is doing in my own life.
So this blog will be continuing, and I will be posting on it regularly still, so keep reading this blog.
However I will now be writing another blog too, and I'd love you to read it once it goes live in the next few days and I start posting more regularly. There will be a link to it on this site and also little snippets and updates on any posts that go on there, but in case you want to bookmark it now the site's address is....
There's nothing there quite yet and I'm still working on it, but there will be lots more soon.
This is exciting for me as I try to write more focussed and subject-specific posts for both this and my new blog, and the process has helped focus my mind more on what I want to write for both sites.
I hope you enjoy it!
Monday, August 18, 2008
But once you understand that church is more than just an institution, more than a building, and that Christianity is about a way of life, then going to church is more than just Sundays. Going to church is a journey.
Its a way of life.
Going to church can be anything we do as part of living out our faith, in particular in our local community. It doesn't have to be an official church-sponsored event.
It doesn't have to just involve people from our church community. If 'the church' is bigger than one local community, and applies to the entire body of Christ over the world, anything you do with another Christian is going to church. Anything you do as a Christian with one other Christian is essentially 'going to church', if you think of church as a community of Christians, and the world church being all Christians.
So that means that everything you with other Christians is ultimately 'going to church'.
Everything we do with fellow beleivers is also part of our relationship with God, everything we do viewed by people outside the Christian faith as what 'church' is like. When people know we're Christians they will look at us and examine us. How they view us will be how they view Jesus and ultimately how they view the church.
Because we are all part of this body. This community.
The church is local.
The church is global.
The church is infinite and boundless.
We are the body of Christ.
So when we talk about us 'going to church' we can start to look at it in a new light. When we go to work, we are the living embodiment of the gospel to the non-Christians where we are. God has trusted us with this responsibility.
Church doesn't end on Sunday, it goes on every single day of our lives.
We are the church.
Wherever we are, people will be seeing us and seeing the church. Lets never forget that. The only way we are going to grow this community is by being Jesus to people.
Remembering that whenever people see us they are seeing Jesus and how they see us is how they will see the church.
The values we stand for.
The choices we make.
The things we don't do that everyone else does.
The things we do that nobody else does.
The way we treat people.
The things we say, or don't say.
Church doesn't begin and end on Sunday.
'Going to church' never really ends. We're always going to church. We are always on the journey of faith. We are always representing the community of Christians from all over the world.
But that doesn't have to be a burden for us.
Because the way of life we're living allows room for us to fail. Jesus knows we are going to screw up. We know that ultimately at some point we will screw up.
But the response to that is merely to say - that's why I need Jesus in my life.
He loves me despite all that.
He accepts me despite that.
I'm free of that.
My past, my mistakes don't have to haunt me and I don't need to go on a guilt trip. I merely need to ask Jesus to help turn away from it better than I have been. If I screw up along the way, Jesus is by my side to help me up.
If I'm in pain, then He can carry me.
If I'm happy then I'm thankful and I remember that without Him it wouldn't be possible.
I am free from the shame, guilt, stress and pain.
I don't have to let that rule my life.
I've given myself to a better way.
I say no to things because I've said yes to something better, something true, something good, something pure. Something which doesn't make me perfect, but makes me better. Not a religion but a way of life.
Church is merely the community of people who live this way of life, and we need to show the world. Show them that the church isn't a religious ritual, a guilt trip, an institution, a group of people who judge and condemn and sit on a perfect moral set of values and proclaim themselves perfect.
But that the church is full of broken, hurting people who need a saviour and have given themselves to a new, better way of living, and orientate themselves around something else.
Then people can relate.
Then the church can grow, because all of us, deep down, have these insecurities, have this brokenness, have need of the love of Christ. Its not even a burden.
Because we need Jesus as much as anyone else does and He's taken that burden for us. The more people understand that Christians aren't perfect, that they're just as screwed up as others, the more their faith becomes the way they re-orientate their lives, a better way of living, a way of dealing with the problems of everyday life.
Instead of a set of rules and regulations it becomes a way of living life.
Suddenly the 'Christians are all hypocrytes' idea takes on a whole new meaning, becuase people see that none of us can practice what we preach all the time. They start to see the real reasons we beleive.
Then it becomes real.
Then it starts to be a message of hope.
Of real salvation.
Not a religion, but a way to a better life and deal with the problems of life.
So the more broken we are, the more honest we are about the face we're not perfect, the more we admit our need for Jesus, the more attractive Jesus becomes and ultimately the more kingdom will grow.
So let us all be honest about our need for Jesus.
Let us say to people who call us hypocrytes that we are, that we are all broken and messed up, and we beleive Jesus to be the only hope to make us better and give us a better way of living.
Let us say that its becuase we're hypocrytes that we need Jesus to change us into something and someone better.
The brokeness of Jesus made forgiveness possible.
Our honesty and brokeness makes people see the need for Jesus and the truth about Him, and ultimately can grow the church.
Why do we go to church?
Why do I go to church?
There are churches that make you feel like you have to go there or you'll 'miss your dose of God for the week'. That not going is almost akin to committing a sin (though they never say it). We don't go to church for our one dose of God do we? Like God is nowhere else and we aren't a Christian the other six days of the week? Like we can't meet with God and have a deep spiritual encounter on our own at home?
I've said many times I believe church is a community of believers who meet together once a week for worship, teaching and fellowship and then need to go and take this message to the world and serve their local community, both corporately and individually.
When we go to church on Sunday, it shouldn't be because we feel guilty about not going. It shouldn't be because we feel we must or we'll be in trouble.It shouldn't be because we always do. It shouldn't be because of shame of sin or fear of what people will think if we don't, or any kind of unhealthy fear.
When I say this I don't include fear of the Lord. A healthy fear of the Lord is a good thing, and wanting to honour God and serve and grow in Him is a good reason to go to church.
But being scared of not going becuase of what people around you will think is unhealthy fear.It also shouldn't be because we want our one dose of God for the week, and this is the only time we ever worship, pray or listen to the word.
A relationship with God is an ongoing relationship, each day. For a healthy relationship with God we need to be reading the Bible (something I struggle with) and engaging with God, whether through prayer or worship of some kind, on a regular basis.
But we go to church to do these things together, as a community. To hear the word preached and be challenged to grow. To meet with God through prayer and worship. To have communion and remember what God did, and to engage with other Christians and serve and encourage each other.
We come because we are set free and want to celebrate what Jesus has done for us together and be equipped to go out and serve God in the community and wherever we are.
We come because in a church environment there is a chance to develop our gifts, be discipled and because it allows us opportunities to serve.
It gives us an opportunity to be prayed for by others, to be blessed by God, to get healing.
We have a chance to learn from those wiser than us, and hear God's word through someone else's eyes and respond. Its a safe place for all these things to happen.
These are all good reasons to go to church.
Whenever we do something regularly we can go through different phases though.
Romance, disillusionment and joy.
When we're at a new church its easy and fun, everything is new so we're more motivated. Then eventually we get to the point where we're so used to it, so involved, that we start to get more cynical, notice the flaws more, and can get bored of the same old thing every week, no matter how good it is.
This happens with everything we do regularly.
Jobs, relationships and of course church.
I say that here because this is the point where it ends for most people. This is the point we think we might want to go somewhere new, where its all fresh and exciting. But this is when we need to persevere, work at it, not give up, remember the good things and endure.
If we endure, then our experience becomes fuller, richer, more true and eventually we come to a point where we know that no matter what happens, we can deal with it.
We get to a place of joy.Maybe you're in that place. Maybe you go out of habit and nothing else. Maybe you go but you're disillusioned with it.
Keep in mind the real reasons we should go to church. Keep in mind all the good things that come from going to church, remember the good times, remember who its all about. Remind yourself.
Remember why you joined your church in the first place. Ask God to help you re-discover your passion for church.
Maybe you go because you will feel guilty if you don't.and are worried that people will judge and condemn you for not going.
If that's the case then may you understand that you have nothing to be guilty about, that you are free from the sin that blocks you from God, and may you see the freedom and joy the comes from knowing why we go to church, and from the forgiveness and promise of Jesus.
May all of us come to see why we should be going to church and the freedom we have in Christ.
May all of us feel released to express ourselves to God, hear from Him and serve Him in and through our churches, to be prayed for, to meet with God, to be healed, and ultimately to know the true joy of being alive in Christ and part of a church that is alive.
All of us have sinned, its as simple as that. We have this virus called 'sinful nature' which is part of the human system, through which the enemy tries to control us.
He even tries to control us through our own guilt.
Sometimes we think that we somehow have to hold on to sin, to continue to feel guilty and shameful becuase then somehow we will feel we have been 'punished' for it. We don't feel free becuase we hold on to sins, or we keep up with bad habits becuase we feel controlled by them or its just easier than it is to accept forgiveness, becuase its so hard to forgive ourselves.
Some churches are guity of encouraging this view, by putting guilt and fear into us. By saying we need to go to church to unload our sin becuase otherwise we're in danger of hell. By almost scaring us into repentance. Through making us feel guilty and worthless in God's sight, whether intentionally or not.
The truth of the matter is though that sins are unloaded by God, and in particular Jesus. We do need Jesus forgiveness to come into His kingdom. If we don't want to be part of His kingdom and reject Him there are consequences.
But we don't have to store up our guilt and shame. We don't have to hold on to anything. We don't need to be made to feel guilty or in fear. We shouldn't be put in fear of eternal damnation in order to get us to confess. We don't need to be constantly be bound up in sin. We are free.
Becuase the sin has
been paid for. Its no longer ours, we have no need of it. We can release it. Jesus has paid the price for it already, we are free to live the life He's called us to.
Repentance means to turn away from something, to go the other way.
That doesn't mean saying sorry and trying to do better. Its about saying that the way you've been living and the habits and things you've been doing aren't the right way, and you need to choose a better way.
We need to let go of our sin, becuase in Jesus eyes it has already gone.
We merely need to recognise our sin, turn away from it and realise that its already been paid for.
taken care of sin.
He has died and risen.
Our sin has gone.
I heard a true story recently about a woman was asked to see her Catholic priest because he was worried about stories that she'd been having visions of Jesus, and he was worried (because apparently to some Christian leaders its not good). He asked straight out that if she was having visions of Jesus, could she next time ask Him the last sins the priest had got forgiveness for at confession.
She came back to see him and he asked her. She took him by the hand and said "I asked Jesus what the last sins you confessed to Him were, and He simply said
"I don't remember"
Jesus says of our sin "I don't remember"
I'm beginning to understand now that its not a matter of unburdening ourselves when we go to church or even when we become a Christian.
Its about admitting that the sins we have and will commit and the sins we hold on to, the guilt we have, has
been taken away.
paid the price for our sins. They have been taken care of. We can let go of the things we have done wrong, the mistakes we make, the bad habits we feel guilty about, the lack of self-forgiveness, we can surrender them to Jesus.
We have had that taken away. We still feel the burden and guilt of it, we still sometimes feel controlled by it. We still sin, because we are not perfect.
We still sin, but the penalty for that sin has already been paid. We just need to allow that sin to be forgiven. God's not a God who does bargains, He's given us the greatest gift. Forgiveness and freedom.
If we don't choose it, then we hold on to the sin in our hearts and we distance ourselves from God. We don't allow the forgiveness we already have to become part of us, so at the end of everything that forgiveness can't be seen, the sin can still be seen. If someone doesn't even beleive they've sinned in the first place, they can't even see the need for it, so they can't accept it.
This could ultimately cause people to be seperated from God when His kingdom comes.That's why we need Jesus.
But even if we've accepted Jesus, we know what we've done and given it to God, we can still hold on to the burdens of these sins and the guilt we feel because we don't realise that the penalty has been paid for it already, and we can surrender it, and no longer need to be controlled by it. We don't need to hold on to it any longer. The guilt has gone.
taken care of them. We merely need to recognise what we have done wrong and surrender it to Him. It's done. Its forgotten. We're forgiven.
Of course there are sins we want to hold on to, to keep doing, that we don't want to give up becuase they are part of our comfort zone.
But we don't need them.
Jesus offers something better, if we just let go, understand we need Jesus forgiveness and realise that we are forgiven already and allow and accept that forgiveness into our hearts, we can then live in the freedom it provides.
This freedom is there welcolming us, and all we need do is accept our need for Jesus forgiveness, and embrace it.Then we are free to go into each day in that freedom, ready to worship God with abandon and to hear what new things He has to say to us, and to then go out and put them into practice.
As long as we hold on to our sin, as long as we allow guilt to control us and live in guilt and fear, then we won't be free from our sin.
But not becuase its not forgiven, but becuase we haven't accepted and embraced the forgiveness that Jesus is offering.
We all need saving.
We all need Jesus' forgiveness.
Its already there, waiting for us. We just need to accept our need for it, turn the other way and embrace it.If you ever feel like this, like sin is trapping you, like you are controlled by the guilt and fear from sin, like you aren't free, then ask Him to release you.
Walk in the freedom you have, then in that freedom choose to go to meet with fellow believers and learn more from Him, and sing His praises in true worship and thankfulness. Go out into the world and serve Him and live according to His values.
When you make a mistake, then recognise it, turn around and accept Jesus' forgiveness
If we all do this, then we will really experience freedom in Christ, and church will become a living, breathing, environment, somewhere we can't wait to get to. Then we become better equipped to be the people we are called to be, and to start 'doing church' outside of the four walls of the church meeting (which I will talk more about in my next blog).
Then we'll have a living, real church and a living, real faith.
Becuase Jesus has said 'I don't remember. It's already gone'
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I feel frustrated.
This is an opportunity. An opportunity for the church to show itself. To take the lead, to show the way. To show what Jesus stands for.
Imagine the power of someone like The Archbishop of Canterbury going to Georgia. Now.
Going there and meeting and serving people who are in need. Giving up his time to serve with a group of other Christian leaders. Making a speech about what's so wrong with this world, and that taking action to stand against violence, injustice and war is what Jesus is all about, that its the right thing to do, that we should all be doing it.
In one fell swoop all the talk of division would be silenced. People would look on with admiration. People would start to think that maybe the church is about more than just division and politics.
In fact, eventually they might start to see that its not about those things at all.
They might start to see Jesus.
Christians - the church - have to start taking the lead in these issues.
Christians have to not be afraid to be controversial.
Christians have to take a stand and get involved, and do something when things aren't as God intended.
That's being church. That's the type of community Jesus advocated and longs for.
It doesn't mean we all have to go to Georgia or another needy country. Not everyone is called to do that, we all have different roles to play. But its the values at our heart that need to be right.
We mustn't have any fear of standing up for Jesus' values, whatever anyone thinks.
Ultimately, Jesus values do appeal to people. When they see them in action and displayed in front of them, when they understand them, they start to appreciate them.
Call me an idealist, but I believe that when the power and love of Jesus is demonstrated publicly and powerfully then people are compelled to respond.
I'm sick of wasted opportunities for the church to display the love of Jesus.
Lets start doing it.
Wherever we are. Whatever the situation. Whoever we're with. In whatever we do. In big ways and small ways. However we can. Whatever the consequences.
We'll all make mistakes of course. We're human.
We also must always be obedient to what God is telling us. Always. We can love one another in different ways, less obvious and obvious ways.
Jesus said that the world would know His followers for how they love one another. Jesus commanded us to love one another.
I believe if our hearts are pointed in the right direction, we can change the world.
I believe in the God of the impossible.
I believe in real church.
I believe real church at its best can change the world for the better, and bring God's kingdom here.
So no more wasted opportunities. Lets begin.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Me too. But we can change it. It can happen.
I've been reading about what's happening in Georgia in recent days and combined with what I've been reading in 'The Irresistible Revolution', I feel genuinely sickened by what human beings are capable of.
This world is so broken. So full of pain. So in need of hope. So in need of Jesus.
Yet because Christians and the 'established church' present such a bad public image of church, people don't see that there is a real genuine hope.
Yesterday I helped clean out a stretch of river in Sutton. Picking up litter, getting rubbish out of the river, finding things like mopeds and computers in the river, and helping remove them.
It was the first time in a long time I actually felt I was living out my faith.
I was actually doing something, rather than just talking about doing it.
Jesus was a man of action, and finally I was taking action myself.
It wasn't enough though, there's always more we can do.
When we actually live out our faith, then we are 'doing church'. Only then are we becoming more fully like Christ in our actions. Only then can we really claim to be followers of Christ.
Anyone can talk a good faith.
Actually living it out, outside of a 'Christian' or church environment is where the real test is.
We don't always get it right, of course we don't and its important people understand we all need grace and forgiveness.
However, if non-Christians see people going to church then not living it out outside of the church, then our faith loses authenticity and legitimacy, its just another bunch of good words and clever-sounding ideas, and there's plenty of them around at the moment.
When Christians take the lead in standing up for the right values and standing against things that Jesus and God is against, when they start to take action, and speak out, then people will finally see what the church and what Jesus is all about.
When thinking about what's happening in Georgia, and seeing a picture of a mother over the body of her dead son, an innocent victim, and reading stories from relatives of victims, I started to feel a righteous anger inside of me, it crystallised how wrong it was, how far we have strayed from God's vision of how life was meant to be lived.
I was sad and angry at the same time. I was disappointed. I was frustrated. I wanted to do something, and the only thing I could think of to begin with was to pray.
I do believe God is upset at what is happening too. Angry even. It pains him to see his people whom He created and loves destroying themselves, destroying His beautiful creation and killing each other. It pains Him to see us so far from how He intended.
This of course begs the question, why doesn't God intervene?
People who don't believe say that He can't exist, they blame God for suffering, wondering why He doesn't do something if He loves us.
Even Christians can start blaming God for their suffering.
I have done in the past.
But God doesn't make these things happen. He doesn't start these wars or elect these governments.
In Genesis God put us in charge of this planet, He made us stewards of this world. He gave us free will to make our own choices. To live according to His values or to put ourselves centre and do what benefits us, to go the way of violence, death, selfishness, greed, pride and selfish ambition.
In the Bible it says we will reap what we sow.
What seeds is our culture sowing?
What seeds has it already sown?
We are seeing the consequences of what has been sowed years ago.
Maybe God doesn't do anything because He sees tragically that the only way people are going to see their need for Him is through suffering.
Maybe he wants to allow people to see the consequences of following their own values, and let them see where it leads them.
Maybe He knows, being outside of time, that ultimately the outcome will work out for the best.
After all, He allows it in the Bible.
To be honest, we don't know precisely why God allows these things to happen and doesn't intervene.
There's no real answer as to why.
We just have to trust God, who uses all things for good and sees everything, future, past, present - all together.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be upset by these events, their consequences or even with the perpetrators behind them, just as I believe God is.
It doesn't mean we shouldn't do something about it or just let it happen. Saying that we trust God with it isn't enough. God wants us to do something. He calls us to it.
Am I saying we should all protest about what's happening and go to Gerogia and try to stop it? No I'm not. Its slightly simpler than that - though no less a challenge.
Let me explain.Lets get back to the question. What can we do about issues like this, which seem to be so big for us?
Ask yourself. What can I do?
All I could think of at first think of right was praying and trusting God about the situation in Georgia.
But then something else occurred to me. Something different and potentially much more poweful and of much more benefit to God, and indeed His world.
The best way we can deal with practically is by trying to make sure it doesn't keep on happening generation after generation. By starting where we are and making sure that in the small part of God's kingdom we're a part of the values of Jesus are key.
That's something we can all do.
Pray about the big stuff, and if God calls you to go and get involved directly, then do so.
It all boils down to focus on how we can make our little part of God's kingdom more like He wants it to be. Try and put God's values into practice where we are, where we live and work. In all the communities that we are a part of. In whatever part of the world He calls us to go to.
Listen to the call of God and go and live it out wherever we are and wherever He calls us to, whatever the location.
Ideally, as everyone does this, in every level of society things change. Slowly but surely, the values of the Kingdom start to spread, and a 'quiet revolution' happens.
Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. Mustard seeds are small. But when they grow they move out and take over the rest of the plants and their branches get intertwined with and effect everything around them.
Its no coincidence Jesus used this analogy.
This is how the Kingdom of God works. It starts out small, then as it grows and develops it can take over and become a part of everything around it.
Imagine that happening.
If the next generation were brought up on these values, instead of the values that we're currently brought up on and which effect us so powerfully - sometimes even when we don't want them to - then they could go into every area of life - politics, medicine, law, film & media, music and many others - and take these values with them, and slowly the world could change.
A quiet, peaceful revolution would happen and suddenly would become massive, because the right seeds have been planted.
We can change this world if we put the values of God at the core of who we are, and as we do it will impact the world around us and change it, and the next generation might grow up starting to put these values into place in more and more fields of life.
It can happen. We must pray. We must act. We must do it now. Go on this adventure with Jesus and try to build His kingdom wherever He puts us, and start to truly bring His kingdom to this world.
That's what church and being a Christian is all about.
It really can happen. It seems so big and idealistic, but we have the creator of the universe on our side. The word of God says it itself, anything is possible with God. We just have to belieive it.
Bring the kingdom. Now
Changing the world. Today.
Start small, put Jesus at the centre, give it all you have, and keep doing it.
Eventually it will come. Jesus promises that.
We can help Him start the work now.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
For Joey, it is her first time.
They are a young couple deeply in love with a strong commitment to each other, and the whole episode is essentially their story of why they are having sex and what real sex actually is. The conclusion is of course, that it is the most intimate act that two people can ever enter into with anyone.
When at the culmination of a loving relationship, it becomes more than a physical act, it becomes emotional, mental, even spiritual (though that is not mentioned).
At the end of the episode the couple start the process, and as the screen fades to black you see them falling onto their bed, still half-clothed, but the implication is clear.
To my great surprise, I found myself weeping.
Why? For many reasons. But I think for the first time I finally got it.
Let me explain.
For a long time I've said to many people (especially non-Christians) why I believe that intercourse should be saved for marriage, but yesterday it really hit home for some reason.
The truth is that sex is too special, too intimate, too private and too emotional for it to be shared with anyone else. Its more than a physical act. Its the whole of one person becoming one with another, giving your whole self in surrender to someone else.
I don't think you can do that with more than one person.
God made sex for marriage, and that's because He wants us to have His best for us.
Not to restrict us or deny us pleasure - God loves sex (He invented it, He told Adam and Eve to pro-create, I'm thinking He's pro-sex).
But He knows sex in its best context is within the context of a loving, committed relationship within marriage.
Non-Christians who I talk to about it often say to me 'What if you're rubbish? You'll have had no practice. You won't be good enough and she might leave you".
That to me is totally missing the point.
First of all if I marry someone who's never had sex neither of us will know any different, and then we can 'get good' together, which is much more fun. Second, its saying that it's just a physical act, which of course it isn't. When you have a deep connection with someone, you love them unconditionally and have total trust in them then it becomes good.
Its more than just a physical act, in God's eyes sex is the ultimate consummation of any relationship between two people, two people becoming essentially one person, one spirit, one being. Totally united physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and psychologically.
Total union. No going back. For life. A total union between two people made in the image of God.I finally got this watching Dawson's Creek, and realised just how special this kind of love and intimacy is, and how amazing it is. I understood in my heart why this is so special and why its really worth waiting for.
God's best for me, with someone I love, trust, am totally committed to and can give myself fully to. More than just a physical union, but total union, two becoming one.
Now I just need to meet that someone...
Friday, August 08, 2008
But its worse than that.
Its worse because it damages the what the general public outside the church perceive as church, so detracting and damaging for what real church actually is.
You see we don't just need to get back to what 'real church' actually is, but we need to show the world and tell the world what real church is. That its not the 'established church' as perceived by so many.
Church at its best is a community of people living out their faith individually and together. When everyone in the body is truly following the way of Jesus, then the body of Christ becomes more powerful
While there are Christians, or people who claim to be Christians, who don't love, forgive, serve sacrificially, give, and orientate their entire lives around God's values, while there are people who are religious but not radical, legalistic rather than full of grace, prefer the establishment to the revolutionary life Jesus calls us to, who would rather appease people than stand up for truth, then the church will always be a poor reflection of Christ.
Christ's body will always be crippled as long as this goes on.
Jesus challenged the establishment.
Jesus was radical.
Jesus was revolutionary.
Jesus stood against the authorities of His day and proclaimed a different kingdom.
Jesus stood up for the values of God, but showed grace and mercy instead of judgement.
Jesus was controversial and stood against the 'established religious authorities'.
Jesus was not legalistic, but proclaimed a living faith.
Jesus was not religious.
Jesus was willing to be treated as a criminal for His faith.
Jesus said it wasn't about what we said, but how we lived and the posture of our hearts, which showed how much we loved God.
This is the life Jesus calls us to today.
Who are the 'established religious authorities' today?
Who is legalistic today?
Who is religious today?
Who judges people today?
I think you could answer 'Christians' or 'the church' to all of those questions couldn't you?
I'm certain I could.
We need to change how we think, and what our definition of what a 'Christian' and 'church' is.
The real meaning has been lost for a long time now, its time we reclaimed it. The way of Jesus is the heart of our faith, its the heart of Christianity and the heart of church. Living like Him, with His values, attitudes, lifestyle and treatment of people.
We do it individually and we start to become real Christians, real followers of Jesus.
We do it corporately, we might just have the church Jesus talked about, for all the world to see.
And it might just appeal more to people than the perception of the church as it is now. But it only works if we all do it. If we heal this broken body.
It can be done. If we work together and we truly put Jesus at the core of our beings and our lifestyle.
Its not easy. I find it very hard. But all of us trying will make a difference.
We first need to change the posture of our hearts, then the change will start to come.Once your heart is turned, then the change becomes easier and easier. It is still a challenge, but one we will meet with more and more joy.
So lets change the posture of our hearts, and work towards healing a broken body.
Monday, August 04, 2008
That's really the purpose of this post.
Indeed, I think that as this progresses that I'll be back here again re-visiting this as I discover and understand more, and want to crystallise my thoughts again. So get ready for a few more posts like this.
I'm posting it here really so that others can be blessed by what God has already spoken to me and also to maybe get some feedback. Hope you like it.
So what about church then?
I believe that the 'established church' in the UK and all over the world is in great peril. The establishment church has become or is in serious danger of becoming nothing like what Jesus imagined church to be and how He modelled church to be.
I believe church is not - and was never meant to be - an institution, but a community of believers. All people who profess the Christian faith are part of this on a global scale, but we all belong to smaller communities of believers, or smaller 'churches'. These communities are intended to be Jesus to their community.
I believe the church is a community of activists, a community of revolutionaries who take action against poverty, injustice and suffering and serve both their local and world communities, through their everyday lifestyle, through what they publicly stand for and against, through serving in their own communities in projects, like 'God loves Peckham' in London.
I believe that church is a place where people are mentored, disciples, healed, prayed for and prepared for works of service, and a safe place where all people should feel welcomed, accepted and loved. A community where individuals gifts are harnessed to build the kingdom of God.
I believe that the church needs to be the community which takes the lead worldwide on major issues of injustice and poverty, without being constrained by politics. Jesus never intended the church to be another institution, or indeed Christianity to be a religion. He called us to a way of life, to do community together and to be like Him to the rest of the world. He stood publicly against injustice, oppression, suffering and poverty and it got Him in trouble. The church should not be afraid to publicly stand against these issues in the world, even if it means saying we don't agree with government.
I believe the best way to grow a church community is not to just go and 'do evangelism', but to actually do what Jesus said. Go and serve the community. Provide for needs in the local community in whatever way that means. Model and show them a different set of values and way of life. Show people how valued and loved they are, how accepted they are by God by accepting, loving and valuing them.
I believe that there are basic principles behind how we do church, but that often how we do church depends on the type of community we live in. Prosperous communities need to be reached but in different methods than you would use to serve and poor and run down area. They have the same needs, but they need different keys to open their eyes to see them, and their resources can enable a church to do more for other areas which have great need.
I believe also that consumerism and the culture we now live in and what so many people orientate their lives now, and what is spoken to us by media and culture, has diluted what the church is all about and hinders us from truly living out our faith, both as Christians and therefore also as a church.
Indeed, I think that what being a real christian and real church are is closely linked. I think if we're truly living as Jesus intended and modelled for us, we end up with what real church is almost by accident.
Even more than that, I think what Jesus models in the Bible shows us that He expects and desires us to be in community, that being a christian to the full can only really be done in a community - church - context.
Maybe I need to write a book not only on how to do church, but on what a real christian looks like.
They seem so tightly joined.
Yet they are also two distinct things.
Being a Christian means living the way of Jesus in community, and that community is both local, national and global.
The community just happens to be called church. It doesn't make it 'the church' as western culture defines it. Its just church - Jesus style.
The church is together the body of Christ, which is meant to act like Jesus and be Jesus to the world. It means it needs to be working together to function properly. It means that individuals and churches from top to bottom need to be living the radical life Jesus calls us to.
We're like a broken, disjointed body which isn't working properly.
The circulation isn't right.
The brain isn't quite right either.
We're trying to pull it apart with our own agendas, through capitalism and consumer culture, through the politics of the established church and through fear of being radical.
Healing a broken body. A story of what's wrong with the church, what church should be and how living like Jesus (being a christian) is at the heart of it.
There is hope for Christianity and the church - if we start putting Jesus back at the centre.The body of Christ has hope and has a future.
We just need to start doing something about it. God's entrusted us with building His kingdom on earth and we are the body of Jesus here now.
Its time we started acting like one.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
Now I don't say this for pride or selfish purposes. I was telling them jokingly that 'imitation is the best form of flattery' and it later struck me just how true this is of our faith in Jesus.
We love to imitate people don't we?
People we have as role models, people we aspire to be like. Especially in a celebrity culture we currently live in, we see it all the time. We copy them, try to be like them. Look like them, talk like them, act like them.
Babies often imitate things they see as they try to learn. Sometimes they imitate their parents.We love to imitate.
Sometimes of course it goes over the top and gets unhealthy and can become idolatry, especially today. It causes problems when people imitate the wrong things.
Yet imitation is actually Biblical, in its proper context. Done in the proper way. As with a lot of things.
In Ephesians 5 v 1-2 it says the following...
"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God"
Now this passage has a 'therefore' at the beginning, and its always helpful when that happens to look at what it says immediately before the passage you've quoted.
In Ephesians 4 v 22-32, the end of the chapter, its says the following:
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
The Bible says we are to be 'imitators of God'.
What a truly awesome statement. There is such power in this line.
God wants us to 'imitate' Him. Just before that (and a little immediately after) He explains what that is.
Just to clear up any confusion, lets look at what the meaning of the word 'imitator' means. Here's the dictionary definition
"Imitator: Synonyms: imitate, copy, mimic, simulate. These verbs mean to follow something or someone taken as a model.
To imitate is to act like or follow a pattern or style set by another"
So how does this translate into the passage?
I believe the passage is saying God wants us to follow His pattern, to act like Him. To model our lives on His values, His standards, to orientate our whole lives around Him. To follow Him.
It even tells us how we can do it.
Living a life of love. Making sacrifices. Serving others.
Paul make it clear that imitating God primarily involves following Christ's example.
God wants Jesus to be our model for how to live a human life.
He wants us to act like Him. Be like Him. Live like Him. Follow His pattern. Follow His way. To take Him as our role model. Not worldly role models who all have their flaws. Jesus is the one to be put on that pedestal, to be copied and followed.
God is saying "If you want to be like me and live how I want you to live, look at Jesus".
Now this doesn't appear to be an optional extra, its not something we do just at church. Its not something we can opt out of.
Its a command.
The Bible and Christian history tells us that when God calls us to something He equips us so we can do it to the full. He gives us all the tools we need to do it.
So when the Bible says this, to me God is basically saying that He believes we are capable of reaching this standard. That if we are true imitators of Him and model Jesus' life, we can be just like Him.
Obviously, not in the sense that we can be divine or be a saviour.
But He believes that we can model His lifestyle, His behaviour, the way He treated people, to stand for justice and truth, to serve those in need, to change lives.
He knows we can be like Jesus. That we are capable of fully imitating Him.
All the things Paul talks about in Chapter 4 are related to that, are all ways of imitating Jesus. All ways to live like Him and deal with the temptations we have every day not to. So Paul gives us everything we need here.
He says what we need to do, how we should do it and makes it very clear for us. What encouragement to know that God believes in us. That God expects such high standards from us despite our sin.
It has to be because He believes in us, and has hope in us. That He knows that if we try to live like Jesus and allow Him to influence every area of our lives, that we can actually do it with God's help and in God's power.
We can do it.But we need to be careful how we do it.
We don't just want to put Jesus on the top of a list in our lives. To truly imitate Him we need to put Him at the centre.
You see I heard a talk today saying that often in the past people have put God at the top of their priorities, that He is number one, above all things. That has value. God is above all things, He does rule over all things, and He should be a priority in our lives.
But being at the top means that you don't often get a look at everyone or everything below you, as the Chief Executives or managers of many companies or organisations know.
To truly know everything and impact everything around you, you need to be at the centre, where you can see everything.
That's where Jesus needs to be.
Then He's much more likely to be part of everything we do, and our everyday lifestyle. He is more likely to impact every area of our lives and everywhere we are.
If He's at the top of a list, then He becomes sectioned off, a part of our lives, but doesn't effect all the rest of it.
No, He needs to be at the centre.
He needs to be the role model we put right at the very heart of our identity and lifestyle. Everything else we do is then going to have Jesus involved, and we'll be looking to model Jesus in whatever area of our life and whatever we're doing, whoever we're with and wherever we are, and whatever circumstances we encounter.
Then the impact is greater.
The passage says we must do this. God clearly believes - or rather, knows - we can.
We might feel like failures or that we'll never get it right. That no matter what we do we we never be good enough. But God says differently. He calls us all to be imitators of Him. He says to us, that if we put Him at the very centre of our lives we can be like Him.
He doesn't just believe it either. He knows it.
So let us put Him at the centre of our lives. Let us become true followers of God.
Imitators of Jesus.
Do things His way and no other.
Orientating everything around Him, His kingdom and values.
He believes that we are capable of it. And He's never wrong and He never lies.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Most of us do. Of one kind or another. Some of them are healthy, others probably aren't. But we all have them.
I had one this week. I met with God at New Wine 2008. It was almost indescribable.
I can tell you what happened. I can tell you what God spoke to me about. I can tell you what God did.
But it doesn't get anywhere near to explaining the full experience.
So what did God say and do?
He spoke to me about areas of my life I'd tried to keep hidden for years, and habits and attitudes I'd had for a long time, and healed me of them and led me into a new understanding.
He gave me clarity in what He wants me to do now, next year and in the long term.
He gave me new self-belief and confidence. Or at least the seeds of it.
I can't really explain any of this in more detail, other than I know I had an incredible encounter with God, and came away glowing (according to one of my friends anyway) which lasted a week and which I know has changed my life.
I know that this was a mountaintop experience. Real life isn't like it at all, and is much more testing, difficult and stressful.
But more than ever before, even other New Wine events, I know that Jesus is with me. That He believes in me.
Even more than that though, I think I want to follow Him more than I did this time last week.
My prayer is that the non-believers reading this one day encounter the Lord in the way I did this week, and that the believers reading will encounter God once again in a new way. For myself, I pray that I can use what I've been given out to others as I go back to the daily grind of every day life, and be an example to people of the best way to live.