Friday, 24 October 2014

Swimming Against the Tide: Part 1

Lately in our church we just finished a four part series on love, romance and sex (don’t worry, this isn’t one of “those” blogs!). The series itself was excellent at unwrapping those particular topics (it can be found here) but one thing that also stood out to me is that in practically all aspects of christian life, we are swimming against the tide of our secular western world. Pursuing God and doing things his way and the way he designed them is so counter to what our culture would say. We live in a fallen world, a world that is lost and confused, a world that says identity and satisfaction can be found in sex, money, status, possessions and self worship. Since the fall of man, so many wonderful things that God created for his purpose have been twisted and moulded to fit man’s own selfish wants and desires. So as Christians walking in this broken world, seeking Gods kingdom come and the ultimate reconciliation of man to God, how do we go about living our day to day life against this ever rushing tide of secularity and worldly influence? I was pondering and praying about the ways in which we can go about this and on the drive home from college today, 3 things stood out to me in my mind, the first of these I’d like to share today.

Part 1: A strong personal relationship with the Father

As we look at the life of Jesus in the bible we can soon notice the strong connection he has to his father in heaven. In Luke Chapter 5, news of Jesus’ teaching and his miracles is starting to travel abroad and crowds are starting to gather in wait for him, then in verse 16 it says 

“Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.”

Jesus was a rather busy man back then, healing the sick and teaching the good news all over the place, yet still he understood the importance of quiet time with God. In order for God to use us to win this broken world back for him we need to be like Jesus and take time out to spend with our heavenly Father. Even when we get busy and overloaded with the stresses of life, we need to do what Jesus did and take time to withdraw and spend with God. There’s no use trying to swim against the tide of culture and worldly influence if we don’t have the presence of God and the Holy Spirit with us, it would be like an athlete trying to run a race with no energy, or trying to drive a car without filling it with petrol. The Lords prayer asks God to “give us today our daily bread” He is the bread of life, he is what we need daily in order to live and be more like him. Taking time out for him is the most important thing we can do. 

When Paul writes to the church in Ephesians he says to not get drunk on wine, but keep on being filled with the Spirit. In short, what we put in is what we get out. If we are spending ALL of our time being filled with the things of the world (the wine so to speak) then we can very easily start to drift back downstream and begin to compromise areas of our lives and thoughts. Bearing in mind though, wine itself, like many other things in the world, is not inherently bad when in its right and godly place, but to “get drunk” on these things and engage with them in a way God didn’t intend is what Paul is warning us of. However, If our priority is to be consistently asking for more of the holy spirit, fueling up on the words of the bible and aligning our will with Gods will through prayer, then we will become equipped and ready to go out and be salt and light in the world. 

Something else important to note in that verse is that Jesus withdrew to desolate places, other translations use words like deserted, lonely and wilderness. When Jesus teaches us to pray in Mathew chapter 6, he says to go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father. One important thing I think these passages are saying is that in order to spend good quality time with God, we need to unplug from everything around us and create a space which is quiet and away from the outside world. That means not only closing our door, but also turning off our phones and laptops, switching off Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and all those other things that can so easily distract us with constant notifications, messages, invites etc. With technology the way it is, it’s so easy to be wired in and connected 24/7. More information is accessible at our fingertips than every before and communicating with friends and family is only a few clicks away. Like the wine Paul speaks of, all that stuff is great in it’s right place. However to become addicted and unable to be without these things for long enough to collect our thoughts and begin to draw close to God is a huge danger we face in modern life and even more so in our relationship and our quiet times with God. When we take time out for our Father in heaven we need to make sure we are removing any and all distractions and obstacles that can hinder our relationship with him. Being aware of technology and it’s right place in the kingdom of God is something that as Christians we should be really aware of on a daily basis. By letting ourselves conform to the worlds constant need to be plugged in, we may miss opportunities to plant gospel seeds, do good for others, have important conversations and most importantly, hear from God.

Without spending consistent quality time with our provider and our sustainer, the tide we swim against is one that can seem relentless and unbearable. But by spending time with the Father and learning what it means to withdraw to the desolate places to pray as Jesus did, we soon realise that it’s a battle that has already been won.  

“What then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, then who can be against us” 
-Romans 8:31

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What would I change?

This week, while eating lunch a friend said to me 'You can't tell me that when you look in the mirror and find nothing you want to change about yourself?' and it really struck me, and that day I went home and looked in the mirror and I had a bit of a revelation.

I've been reading about creation this week and while looking in that mirror i had a 'OH MY GOSH YES!!' moment about how precious I am to God. I looked in that mirror and saw all sorts of things that are 'less desirable' or not our societies definition of attractive. But I was just so amazed as I remembered that God made trees, some so big they look as if they disappear into the clouds, 
he made mountains that do indeed disappear into the clouds. I can't even comprehend how big they are!

 He made oceans, the sea is so big and vast that we dont, and probably never will know the full extent of it.
 He made animals with necks as tall as me, he made sharks, kiwi's, elephants, horses, lions, tigers, Zebras, Pufferfish...
The list goes on and on and on.
you wot mate?

heeeeey, you sho funnnneeeey!!

Boris the Pufferfish

Yet he called me. He made me so perfectly, and I may not be perfect for a cover on a magazine, (the percentage of people that look like the typical magazine cover type is so small and ridiculous lets face it.) But at times we can get caught up in this desire to look perfect to meet the standards of the people around us. The desire to look the way they expect us to look. But God made us perfect the way we are, and if we're good enough for God then we're good eough for the world around us too. 
So when I look in the mirror and ask myself 'what would I change?' The answer is nothing, cause my Daddy runs the entire universe and he made me like this and I'm proud to be who he wanted and designed me to be. (Bit cheesy I know, but who doesn't like cheese?!) 
Psalm 139, reminds us that there is nothing hiding from God and that he knows it all. he knows how we're feeling, knows about the things we're self concious about, knows our flaws and still loves us. It reminds us that God has a plan and made us the way we are for a reason.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Importance of Being Thoughtful

Sitting in a waiting room the other day, I decided to do some reading. I had downloaded Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' a while back (it was free) and thought I'd give it a go. I got a few pages in and found myself laughing at the following quote:

"But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful."

It made me laugh and then it made me think... it made me think two things.

The first is the importance of thinking...
Lord Henry's comment about the church is an interesting one - and I'm not talking about the fact that all clergy are good looking (a look at our elders would surely derail that theory!). It's interesting because it makes a good point. It is very easy to become an armchair Christian. One who sits in church and accepts everything that they hear, without thinking or questioning. One who carries on believing the same things without thought or reason for years.

This isn't a good place to be. Augustine said; "I had learned ... that because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false. Nor, again, is it necessarily true because rudely uttered, nor untrue because the language is brilliant."

Augustine was one of the great leaders in Church history. He was a thinker. He wasn't happy just accepting what he was told without first considering it, nor was he happy accepting what he thought without challenging it. We need to be the same. Doubting isn't a bad thing. If harnessed properly, doubt leads to greater understanding. Thomas doubted what he heard about Jesus, but when confronted with the risen Christ, this doubt led to the declaration that Jesus was 'Lord and God'. Our doubt can lead to the same outcome.

It is important for us as Christians to consider what we believe and why we believe it. It's okay to change our mind towards things as we think, research and consider them. It enables us to truly think through our beliefs and therefore stand firmly in them when and if they are challenged.

The second is the importance of trusting...
The quote above is also interesting because it makes a bad point. The bad point is that for something to be true it has to be constantly changing and evolving. That what was thought 50, 100, even two thousand years ago is less likely to be true than something believed now. This is one of the great fallacies of our post-modern world view; That we are the pinnacle of knowledge and know better than everyone else.

The reality is quite different. Look around at our superior civilisation and you quickly see that our modern worldview on a whole number of moral and societal issues is causing a whole lot of damage. It is important not to think too highly of ourselves and to consider the thinking of the past. In some areas this isn't obvious. For example, modern medicine beats middle-aged medicine everytime, I would much rather have anti-biotics than be bled and dung poulticed. But, we can still learn something from middle-aged medicine - herbal remedies are becoming more popular and you will notice that hardly anyone back then died of obesity... our diets certainly could learn a lesson from the past.

Considering the past is especially true of Theology. We are quick to assume we modern Christians know better in many instances than our forbears, but 2000 years of church history can teach us a lot. Many of the ideas we may challenge have been challenged ongoingly for much of that time; free-will vs. pre-destination; paedo-baptism vs credo-baptism. Other ideas we challenge are only coming up now - challenged by our post-modern world view - and it is important that we don't throw away 2000 years of thought and tradition just because it doesn't sit neatly in our current world - which like every other world view is temporary and incomplete. It is important for us to view the thoughts and bibilical interpretations of church history as a great starting point for our thinking, and often we will find that they become the end point too.

So, yes there is a huge need for us as christians to sit and consider our faith. To reflect and question what we believe and why we do things. But there is also a need to trust God and Christian traditions, because we don't necessarily know best! I highly doubt that when I am 80 I will agree with everything I think now, but if I do, I hope it will have been after much thought.

If you're interested in having a think about what you believe and why, consider taking TF2 in the coming year. Registrations are coming up and it would be great to see a whole bunch of young people growing in their knowledge and faith together. Follow this link if you're keen to find out more.