Sunday, 24 May 2020

Struggling with Struggling

Life is a struggle.. 

Anyone who has taken an intentional breath notices the resistance of their flesh to the desire to inflate one's lungs. It requires exertion, an effort, and more so if encumbered with tight clothing or artificial restraint. How easy the breath when we are asleep (by contrast). Or the breathing we do when we are distracted by some other activity, why are such breaths not seemingly laboured or difficult..? Why is an intentional breath so much harder work?

This entire blog has been about wrestling with some thought, idea, conviction, position, application, meaning, existence, intentionality and my place in it. I note that in the passage of some nearly 10 years, I have not progressed much in my comprehension or indeed compassion of the various states on which I have reflected. I find the world as confusing and contradictory now, riddled with paradox and incongruity as I ever have and intellectually at least I have strayed further away from what many would consider to be central convictions of faith, creed, theology and practice. It is as if skepticism has replaced any sense of certainty of belief (as I've tried to resolve the absolutes of being 'in Christ' with the observations of my hypocritical life) and my pursuit of wisdom and understanding has only led me further to the conclusion that I am stupid, naive and ignorant. Oddly there is some comfort in this.

I see long known friends wrestle with physical and mental illness, attempting to hold on to 'truths', denying the power of the chains that bind them and seeing their bondage as only temporary compared to the eternity of worshipful freedom that they anticipate. The 'now and not yet' of salvation that dominates much of our understanding to attempt to hold in tension the contradiction of our reality with the truth of the transformative work of Christ in the regenerated heart. Yet the reality is our regenerated heart is still sick. It is not whole. It is not pure. It can and does still sin, and even Paul testifies to the tension when he laments that the good he wants to do he cannot do and more the bad or evil he does not want to do, he does all the more.. . It would in scientific terms at least be regarded as anything other than regenerated. yet, the contradiction of conversion suggests that we wouldn't even feel that contention (and struggle) unless our heart was regenerated, inclining our will towards God/holiness.. It seems like a circular argument, verified only with itself - (simul justus et peccator, anyone?)

Some of my friends note that I distress myself with incessant thinking. They couldn't think like I do, "isn't it exhausting?" they cry! Yet I respond, the thinking is what I am driven to do. it is how a mind works and I am surprised you spend so little time actually doing it, being content to bumble along without care, burden, certainty, conviction, knowledge, understanding, reference, critical analysis, evidential rationalism or indeed any sense of reason for the actions they undertake,...  'how do you know what you're doing is helpful to you?'  Don't you need to be convinced you are not 'wasting your life?' Are you instead a follower of fatalism or simply being tossed about by every wind of tickling ear doctrine? (to mash metaphor) How can you 'test and approve' if you neither can articulate what you think you know let alone have no criteria for verifying it?  Indeed to gain wisdom or understanding, surely one has to think?   How does one even begin to live with this 'new life in Christ' without thinking about the applications of what would be different?
One doesn't achieve a goal or state by simply an act of the will alone..  instead one takes an aspiration, determines what achievement of that aspiration looks like, creates plans to achieve that success and undertakes a discipline to action the plan, else all that is left is an aspirational target with no ability to attain it. 
What at least I try to do, is think constructively.. have a purpose about it.  It is a struggle, but it is not simply 'over thinking' as if random thoughts pervade and have no purpose or ability to settle into the complex tension of previous thoughts in their logical or philosophical positions.. instead there is an intentionality about it, to find meaning or peace by settling a matter (or parts of a matter) sufficient to be (at least) somewhat 'certain'... If I am to have any hope at all, I need to find a reason for that hope and to be able to  'always have an answer... '  If I do not have an answer I cannot fall back on 'I just trust that is it so' (for to do so I must have implicit trust in the authority of the source of the idea, which requires me to know what the source is, and verify that it is indeed considered to be the authority on the matter - and empirically that cannot be that the source matter determines itself to be the authority on a subject, as that too would be a circular argument and indeed one of the detractors for me in determining that the God-man Jesus should be authoritative in confirming the Word-Flesh scripture. )

Indeed, so many abuses have occurred also by fallible humans in positions of authority or influence in our lives [we are all hypocrites] that it is easy to imagine that there is no-one person capable of being sufficiently authoritative to enable us to take 'at face value' anything they say without having at least a cursory ability to see for ourselves. And yet faith requires us to hope in what we do not yet see.  So maddening is this position, as it is similar to the twisting winds of post-modernism where little seems to mean what it did, all truth is subjective and if you're confused about what you know, yet unbelievably intolerant of anything you disagree with, you're probably doing it right! I have so much sympathy with Thomas, who at least was able to touch the wounds of Christ to verify for himself what he could scarcely believe with his eyes let alone his heart.

But to answer my friend's rhetorical pronouncement from the earlier paragraph, the other seemingly truthful answer is 'Yes, it is exhausting'. Struggling is tiring.  Work requires effort. Energy is expended.  Anything worthwhile generally is. Ironically, metaphysically and practically - the struggle is real.

Still, I am angry and disappointed, at myself and with others.  I am sad, upset and broken, but do not want to be fixed - and certainly not fixed to be 'just like the unthinkers' in their blissful acceptance and blatant ignorance. I am not placated with platitudes and homilies nor personal stories of confirmation-bias which attests to why your 'truth' is right especially where there is denial of my reality or indeed contra evidence in your own life that you fail to accept exists. I don't want to discredit your truth, but I neither wish to accept it nor have it override my own.  Reality is too precious a thing to simply wave it away to whimsy or paradoxical tension in a 'now and not yet' way.  And yet...

I am somewhat envious of those who delight in their blissful ignorance, or blind, faithful, trusting subscription to an ideology or education without any understanding of why they believe it is so.  - that many cannot construct any personal creed stating a source (authoritative or not) for their opinion and yet can be certain of their truth is as inspiring as it is baffling. The level of 'self-belief' required for contentment in 'not knowing' is surely worthy of merit if not respect from others and indeed myself.   And for all I think I think I know, for all that I apply myself to applying, for all I hopefully hope in, I am still stupid, naive and ignorant.  The struggle with struggling is unending until death, and even then what is attained is lost and what is achieved makes little difference when righteousness is imputed by faith, through grace..

So what of the comfort in the struggle...?  

  1. I am not mad.   - Deluded, confused, mislead, baffled, contradictory and purposeless maybe.  but not mad.  To struggle at all seems to conclude that one recognises that there is a reason for struggle..   who has known the mind of God
  2. I am probably in error.   - to recognise that we are understanding metaphorically things we cannot conjure for ourselves, with our thinking shaped by our education and relative understanding of our world and our corporeal nature.  To perhaps accept that whatever we believe we have come to know is still little of what there is to know.   At this juncture we are 2000+ years after Christ and we're still debating and working out what his words mean, let alone others who have contributed to the canon of our scriptures.  We may be governed by theistic absolutes such as 'eternally consistent nature of God' yet there are many a matter that creates a bit of sucking of teeth as we struggle to resolve it within the consistency we acknowledge.. perhaps then I can give myself a little break that better minds than mine have not resolved some things sufficiently?
  3. It is ok that the struggles of others are different to my own. Indeed if all of our struggles were exactly the same, how can we ever offer any real comfort that the struggle is worth persisting? - none of us would be able to attest to being at peace about any such thing!   Moreso that within the body we are all different parts.. We are not aspiring to all be 'the same' in skills, gifts, works or honour - indeed, how easy it is for us to overlook v 24 in 1 Corinthians..?    instead for proper functioning of the body we need our members to struggle with different things
  4. I am not well read even though I've read plenty.  Sometimes to unlock something, some one says or has written something that conceptualises the conundrum and expounds a solution in such a way that scales from our eyes seem to fall. but my quest for understanding is unmatched by my ability to read let alone identify to be read, let alone having the time to read many such volumes in search of answers.  There are many (let me suggest) professional theologians and thinkers who have devoted many hours to many subjects (or just one!) and have gifted successive generations with their insight.  I have but many questions, and few solidly researched answers. This returns to the question of authoritative sources, and I'll at least add weight to arguments provided by those who have dedicated themselves to reasoning beyond my meager contemplations. 
  5. Eventually my struggle will be over.  We all die. Striving will cease - whether for wisdom or righteousness.. Rest will come.  my ignorance will neither enable or prevent whatever might come later, and while it might be preferable to leave this mortal coil with some certainty about what the 'not yet' is, ultimately my preponderance of evidence makes no difference to what actually 'is'. 

Sunday, 3 May 2020

A shout out to all the people living on their own

A shout out to all the people living on their own.

The divorced, the widowed, the separated, the Van lifers, the poor, the sick, the old, the mentally ill. Those who are not living with others, and have no one to turn to when they need a chat, a hug or a smile. The ones with no one to drive them mad with the endless mess, requests for food, their anxieties or to ask to hold their camera for tik tok dances. No, there's no one else to take out the bins, tidy up after, or cook for.

Everything such people relied on for sanity is gone.

There's no eating out, popping over to a friend for a chat/coffee, no clubs, groups, societies or communities to engage with face to face, sweaty armpit to too close nose. They just have themselves and technology, and it all feels like just one more barrier, a sort of connection, but like it's happening in a time vortex, cut off from the real persons by time or space, unable to share, connect, feel, or use the majority of our bodily senses to 'belong' or feel 'secure'.
At the weekends this is all a whole lot worse because those with other premise dwellers tend to shift from their daily routine to maximise the benefit of the time without 'work' or study. And of course what 'normal' person wouldn't..? but weekends show us all the more how alone single people are, and sure they can still busy themselves with the day to day things they do. - water our plants, deal with boring self-care, read something, watch something, work on something, cook something, occupy time and all that, but for the majority, they didn't choose THIS level of isolation. They didn't sign up for endless days/weeks of not interacting with friends, being in their space, eating, drinking, belonging with them... yet that's what they have. That's their burden to bear.

Their entire support network is no longer in reach of the majority of their senses..

So if you have friends, family or connections in your circle who live on their own whether young or old, you need to consider what you can do to help.
  • Call them
  • Go sit in their garden/patio/yard and talk to them within respectable social distancing.
  • Invite them to walk with you
  • Send them something to let them know you are thinking about them (an email, a card, an instant message, a stupid meme you thought they'd appreciate, heck a 6 pack of their favourite beer)
  • Spray your perfume/cologne through their letterbox
  • Give them even 5 mins of your time at the weekend.

They have 48 hours to fill before the 'new normal' routine starts again,, it's a grueling slog to get through it and with each new weekend the slog feels harder. I know you have your own struggles, and I can well imagine getting driven up the wall by those you share a toilet with is a very real challenge in itself, but for the love of God, for next weekend, don't forget them, because they need you too..

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The search for our identity...

In relation to this post.

To me, the crux of this question is whether identity is something that can be determined by an individual or is something recognised by a society.   Indeed, like the emperor's new clothes, one can parade around believing to be dressed, but to everyone else you're still naked.  yet, the struggle to form an identity that a person feels comfortable presenting to the world seems more important than ever before in our societies.
  • Is that because we're becoming more individualistic? 
  • Is that one step away from saying actually we're just becoming more selfish?  
And what of compassion and genuine love for those who choose or identify a certain way regardless of the challenges for their family and friends in adjusting to the person with a new identity?
Those who convert to a different faith (or find faith having had none) have surely had a similar experience when they became adopted into a family of believers, so you'd think, (wouldn't you?), that we would have very real experience and skills in understanding their journey?   Some journeys, like the one in this story, seem very traumatic both for the man and for his former family. Other stories are less traumatic.  Some may even be happy events. Yet in the end, pursuing a personal identity often causes as much difficulty (even grief or pain) for others in adjusting their response as it does 'relief' for the individual.

So why would one who understands they are sons and heirs, constantly search for individual significance, status or identity when our identity, our very self, is hidden in Christ, and where Christ must become greater as we decrease?

Now we could talk about the identities we use all the time within the Kingdom.. We are still sons and daughters of earthly parents, we are often fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, singles and teens... but it seems to me these identities are more shorthands for the responsibilities or offices we hold towards another person, rather than an identity that we select... (other than the choice to marry and have children, say) And while I might indeed be a husband, father and a son all at the same time, switching hats as required to the appropriate perspective and responsibility required by the persons I am interacting with, none of those identities are particularly apparent or important when I am in my workplace, likewise my work identity is wholly unimportant when I am at home (though I dare say the income is nice).
  • Is my gender, whether biologically stated, or personally selected the same?  
For the biological function of 'fathering' a child, it would seem my gender is important, but for most other responsibilities it seems broadly irrelevant.

Beyond the key question then of the supremacy of our spiritual identity, I wonder if any of the other identities are even worth challenging, given that they are all blown away like chaff at the moment of our death? Of course we will be remembered for the lives we interacted with, the feats we may have performed and the ideology and estate we leave behind, but our general identity will, like-as-not, be meaningless. And as we've seen with celebrities who cultivate an image, even after our death the legacy of our reputation is so easily unpicked, tarnished and destroyed, perhaps a sufficient warning to not invest quite so much energy in maintaining it?

They need to see that the love of God in Christ we hold for ourselves, is available for them.

Finally, the very real challenges for people who feel attracted to anything other than their biological, similarly aged opposite or feel trapped in a biological shell different to their sense of being should not be easily dismissed. They are still people, they are still deserving of our time, attention, compassion and love. They do not need our judgment, they do not need our condemnation. They need acceptance. They need to see that the love of God we hold for ourselves in Christ, is available for them.  They need to know that in whatever state they present themselves to us, like us, they have fallen short of the glory of God, like us, they are capable to receive God's grace, like us, they are dealing with all manner of stuff that perhaps we see little of, in short, they are just like all of us. They don't need our questioning. They don't need our urgency to 'correct their behaviour'.  They don't need our veiled prophetic 'encouragement to change'.  They don't need to be shunned. They don't need to be subject to church discipline. They are not challenging church authority, They are not a danger to your kids.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Why do we like sales?

At this time of year, it's easy to be seduced by sales tickets, promising an item at a price advertised as significantly lower than at a previous time.  In the UK these sales have a code of practice which is supposed to protect consumers from the ploys of companies touting a discount where non actually exists. But we're still seduced by the purported value of the saving.. of getting something for less... and many stores get around the rules by advertising higher prices in remote stores for 28 days previously..

You would have spent £100, now you only have to spend £50... the ticket exclaims, but we somehow fail to acknowledge that the item still costs us £50 (and before the sale, probably would have cost us £50 if we'd have been considering the item for some time..)  A shop is rarely going to offer for sale an item cheaper than they bought it, and below the price they can afford to sell it.   A sale price then is often not only a lie, but in the promise of a 'saving' you in fact don't make, it's an additional deceptive sham.

  • I wonder what it is that attracts us to such things?  
  • Why are we so easily mislead?
  • Do we value something more if it costs us less? 
  • How much are our feelings involved in our decision making?
  • What does it say about what we need v what we want?
  • How much does 'impulsiveness' play in our shopping habits? - and what does that prove about the fruit of 'self - control?'

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Look local not international for leadership

I don't comment much these days on things theological and spiritual, but Andrew's comments on Bethel here reflect a helpful attitude when assessing ANY group and provide some seemingly balanced critique which may be helpful to those so minded to inquire.
  • Of course I would also remind that local leadership is preferred to international leadership, congregations should be looking to God for themselves rather than attempting to replicate what is happening elsewhere (as if church was a business franchise - it's not ) 
  • The reason be it Hillsong, Toronto, Rob Bell, Driscoll, Bethel etc has a season of being 'flavour of the month' before being cast aside is because they all speak to local church's disappointment at slogging away in the harvest field without seeing much fruit for their labours. 
Often these things come with a musical feel good factor which for a time also capture the attention of the flock, but when the rubber hits the road, and churches attempt to implement the bits they've cherry picked from the methodology, it invariably fails to make a significant impact.
  • I think this is mostly because we need to travel the journey God has for us, enquire for ourselves at the temple of the Lord and discover how he would use us, rather than attempt to somehow shortcut that drudgery and go straight for the 'what God will do for us...'... but then, who of us isn't impatient?
So while I'd never say, eat the fish spit the bones because few can distinguish truth from a lie, especially when combined with feel good music [impulse purchasing in shops anyone?!] I do think we'd do well to focus our attention and those we have the privilege to lead to pursue Christ for ourselves... be persistent... be patient... but desperate for God to work in us, with us, for us, through us. Then the scale of what one movement is, won't be the attraction because we'll have our hands full at home.. in our local place.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Ephesians 4 ministries..

I wonder if we miss the most important one?  Perhaps in focussing on Apostles, prophets, pastor/teachers & evangelists we've missed the general instruction to live in peace and unity?

It is easy to imagine that speaking the the truth in love is using teaching as a way to correct others,  judging their behaviour... (and deflecting gaze from our own!)  but perhaps being humble, gentle, patient, longsuffering and unified in the spirit, and mindful of the full measure of the grace God has given us, using the gifts He has given to us the point is to make each other stronger and mature. We're actually supposed to build each other and ourselves up, learning with and from each other, as we grow up in Christ.  If unity and growth is the central point of Eph 4, there doesn't seem to be much room for finger pointing, gossip, judgementalism, holding a grudge and pointing out other people's mistakes..  

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Modesty lost?


Some thoughts in response to Kevin DeYoung’s recent article on modesty.

This article seems to trip over itself to miss the point that modesty is a heart attitude, and is not about 'dress' in the same way that worship is about the heart not about 'singing'.

1. Modesty protects what is intimate:

Then address the behaviour of the men who encourage the women to send ‘shots’ of themselves for their titillation. Sexting is immodest, but it’s the men that drive that. Deal with THAT behaviour, and address their need/want to be sensually stimulated without mutual responsibility/care for each other.

2. Modesty accepts that our bodies also live in community

I agree we do live in community, and the secular mantra of ‘please yourself’ is not helpful for Godly living. However that doesn’t give cause to reduce the argument to one of ‘feminism’. No-one should deliberately cause anyone else to struggle. Agreed. However, if we’re not explicitly tackling men’s lack of self control and objectification of women, let alone their dishonouring of them as co-heirs in Christ, our sisters, family.. etc.. then we should NOT make it the problem of women to ‘compensate’ for our lack good leadership in attending to this long standing issue.

3. Modesty operates with the Bibles negative assessment of public nudity post-fall

My biblical theology of nakedness is admittedly weak, but Adam and Eve were ashamed not because they were naked, but because they KNEW they were naked. That was the consequence of their sin. Everything in the garden was naked, why would their nakedness suddenly be shameful? It is interesting that in Kevin’s examples apart from Eve, all the others were men. Ironic then that he’s attempting to control women’s dress.

4. Modesty embraces the strong biblical admonition to refrain from sensuality

I agree with his general comment that pursuing sensuality is counter to pursuing holiness. Yet, our bodies were made, by God to enjoy sensuality. Whether it be a great view, a wonderous smell or a touch that makes all the hairs on our neck stand up, our senses interact with the world around around us. Does it have to be rejected, or can it be redeemed? If it has to be rejected, let us cut off our noses, block up our ears, gouge out our eye’s and wrap ourselves in bubblewrap.

5. Modesty demonstrates to others that we have more important things to offer than good looks and sex appeal.

Timothy’s admonition to let beauty come from within is again dealing with a core issue for Christianity, that IT’S YOUR HEART THAT MATTERS!!!! He is quite right that the key question here is are we radiant with Christ. But his twisting to suggest that we should judge a persons heart by their dress is banal, let alone entirely minimising the construct of things he recognises later (culture, conscience and context). To glorify God with our bodies is not to hide them away, but to subject them to the will of Christ. To use them to do good works. To feed the poor. To serve and love our neighbours. To work to provide for ourselves and our kin. And to worship. God created us. Male and Female, and he said we were good. Everything God creates shouts the praise of his Glory. We seriously need to think differently about our hang-ups and repressions and stop trying to control other people and work harder on controlling our self.

Monday, 18 August 2014

People of love?

It seems to me that for the last 10 years or more most of the christian bloggers I have read, including myself, in an attempt to be `clear` have also been bigotted and judgemental.   Depite many `truths` which are actually doctinal statements, changing over time to soften or strenghten position, the ferocity with which debate among us has spilled into the public domain and moved from an intellectual discussion to public vilification would cause Christ to turn in his grave was he not already risen.   Social media does nothing to help this, whipping up mild disagreements and separating people who may well agree on far more than public argument might suggest.

Where is the gospel of peace? Where is the unity of all believers?  Ah you say, but they don`t believe the same as me, I can't be united with that. What should unite us is the blood of Christ spilt for each of us. Is it ironic to me that many of those who are vilified are practicing more peace, grace and love towards others than those bringing the sword of excommunication as if their `theology` was perfect or their belief without any doubt.

Until those who believe understand that their belief should be practiced in love not metered out with the power of conviction, I cannot see a time when the broken and the vulnerable will be safe among any of us.   Isn`t it time we changed, and rediscovered what it means to Love God, Love others and serve everyone...        
...regardless of  whether we agree with their beliefs?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Newday support team needs your help....

Newday "Elite Venue 'black ops' team" is seeking helpers.
  • Free entry to the event.. 
  • Get to ride in a golf cart.. 
  • Do some tough stuff, like lifting heavy things and being a hero. 
  • Also get to use a CB radio and fix things/'white knight' sort of things. 
  • Some late nights/early mornings.
  • Responsible humble inconspicuous people only..

See me for details... entry requirements.. will writing and assignment of code name.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Not writing… but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking

I reached a point at which writing things down no longer made a difference to the ability to think through a problem. Blogging too seems to have lost it’s way as a communication tool, and I’m not even sure who I’m communicating to or why?

But though I haven’t been writing, I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to be saved, how and why we’re saved, what the point of earthly salvation is, what are the effects of salvation, what the role of church is, what the church is, what worship is, how worship matters, when worship matters, when singing is just singing, the exclusivity of the club that is church membership, the exclusion of sinners, the welcoming of sinners, changing culture, affecting culture, culture as a God, culture change as a metric of effectiveness in our community, engaging with culture, single sex marriage, compassion and healing, polyamory, alternative relationships, family structures, what God thinks about ‘now’ as we wait for ‘then’, bible weeks and other gatherings, what friends are, what friends do, what friends say, what friends judge, how friends pray, how few friends church people have – yet Christ was a friend to sinners..  what remains of Newfrontiers, when women will be Elders in the ChristCentral Sphere, the point of apostles, church administration and the local church, what love is, what love isn’t, how God loves, how we love God, how we love others, how sex affects love, how love affects sex, what matters in love, whether sport is a good thing a bad thing or just a thing, why so few people pray, why prayer meetings suck, why people feel lonely, what loneliness is, why church growth is slow, what size a local church should be, what the best way is to serve families, singles, couples, elderly, children and servers in the local church, what manhood is, what womanhood is, what personhood is, what identity is, what identity isn’t, what christlikeness is, what christlikeness does, how christlikeness loves, what hope looks like, what despair looks like, what role emotions have in salvation, whether love is a decision, an emotion,an action, a cost or a combination. Why marriage matters, why marriage doesn’t matter, whether if Christ had had sex would he have sinned, why the church is splintered, why different groups are still ‘factions’, why character doesn’t produce hope, and hope disappoints, why the heart sees what the head doesn’t, whether political leaders are still god ordained, is Christianity a method of social control, how the songs we sing affects what we think, when meditation becomes brainwashing, when meditation changes actions, when meditation creates calm, why Jesus reached out to a Samaritan, what’s happening to celebrity church leaders (the ones with webpages and international ministries), since no-one is perfect – what is the role of holiness?  what it means to walk a well worn path, why we don’t encourage people to walk unworn paths, why the ‘narrow’ way seems to become the ‘broad’ way, and yet probably isn’t. disregarding age when does a person become ‘mature’.

I’m sure there are other things, but I thought it was an interesting list none the less.  Feel free to ask me about it if you want.

I’m not sure, if and when I might blog again..

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Waiting is always the hardest part

In what is now my 18th unfinished blog post, I am wondering if this one will actually find its way to the WWW, I guess if you’re reading this I have!

As I approach my 40th birthday, I find my life in a state of flux. My youngest is 4 years away from adult hood, my wife has refreshed her employment skills and is now looking for work, and it seems that everyone is looking to transition to a new phase in their life.

As for me, I seem a little stuck. – not the stuck that most ‘nearly 40 something's’ feel as they approach the mid-life crisis years, – I think I did that a couple of years ago! – but the distinct feeling I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a back alley.   I won’t bore you with the details of those things, because actually that’s not the reason for writing.. Instead I’ve been pondering the question of why it is that I find waiting so difficult…

Here’s how it works for me.

  • I send an email, I expect a response in a reasonable period of time. Reasonable is a fluid period, but I suspect a response should be received within a couple of days.
  • If I send a text message, I expect a response within the same day – After all, all sorts of things could have happened that might prevent the intended recipient to reply, such as not having their phone with them that day, or being in a place with no reception or has the phone switched off, but one would imagine that at some point during that day, the recipient would find time to reply.
  • If I send an instant message to a person who is online, I expect a response rather quickly.. – I mean barring leaving IM on (which does happen a lot, actually) if I’m engaging in a conversation I expect a response no longer than a pee break.
  • If I’m in a conversation with a person, face to face, I expect a response pretty much immediately. (again pee breaks accepted)

Perhaps your expectation isn’t too far away from this in respect of communications using various media. Such is my personality, that the longer the gap after the expected response period, the more paranoid I become that I’ve said something which was received poorly and my emotional hamster starts running wildly trying to work out what I could have said better, and whether my relationship with the recipient is damaged etc. It drives me nuts. Most often, something quite rational happened and they carry on oblivious to my angst, and the delay was nothing to do with me at all.

Now it’s not just in conversations that my emotional hamster gets all worked up.  If I’ve promoted an idea, asked someone for a decision on something, made an alteration to something then my anxiousness is the same. What will they think? Will they agree?  And if the result of their musing will mean a change for me, then my uncomfortability rises exponentially, because I really hate living in the end of a season space, where something is finishing and something else is starting..  Innovation always energises me, and having to finish something or having to wait to begin something is like just winding and winding an elastic band on a balsa wood plane propeller (actually much more like twisting a sachet of sauce in  Wetherspoon’s before it explodes).

And so it is with God too.. I generally don’t find God silent. Most of the time it seems easy to determine his will by reading, praying, thinking, strategizing and just making a decision to act and seeing how the spirit feels about that! – God loves a good decision maker and unless he has other ideas (which he seems to make known pretty quickly) He seems pretty intent on my life heading towards His destination by choosing whatever path seems right to me at the time. [ For instance, you want to live in a different place? Put your house on the market! If it sells and you find a place to move to you like, then it would seem good to you and the spirit, so move.  If you put your house on the market, and it doesn’t sell, then that seems a pretty good indication that this might not be the right time to be moving.. and therefore get on with your life.]

But there are other things that are not so easy to wait for.. life changing events, that make ‘getting on with your life’ quite difficult…  That period between putting your house on the market and waiting a period of time to see if it sells, for instance is a horrible place to be. [and how sweet the relief once the house sells or a decision made to come off the market] Or maybe it’s a change of job role, and you’re finishing off your old responsibilities and trying to get up to speed on new ones. Man that can be a difficult place. Pregnancy too, is a big one isn’t it.. the pensive state between not yet being with a new life, and yet, there it is, trapped in a woman’s belly!

But the biggest for me, is in breakthrough.  When God is seemly quite and weak. Where it seems that a decision is obvious but the timing isn’t right, or when it seems that you don’t know where to go or what to do. When you’re struggling through something and waiting for the end. When you’re struggling to get to somewhere and you’re helpless to bring about the change you need. When you simply don’t know what to choose between two seemingly attractive or catastrophic outcomes, and you’re just not sure which one to choose because it HAS to be A or B not both A and B. (like should we move to Australia say, and stay in England.. you can’t physically do both)  These are the most difficult places to be.. and perhaps where our emotional hamsters do the most roiling.  The what if’s come crashing like waves.. it’s difficult to plan, after all you don’t know what’s coming next, and there’s no comfort whatsoever in the  ‘take each day as it comes’ mantra that you whisper to your tortured soul.  It’s an intensely restless period, where peace and joy seems far from your lips and life, even the simple things (like managing freezer food) becomes a nightmare, life becomes painful, itchy and fragmented, relationships become tense or stupendously intimate as you both hold on and let go at the same time, and family tensions boil over into arguments, eggshell treading and lots of tears.

I hate these periods, and I’m thankful they don’t come often. Most of our life actually is quite controllable, and we can enjoy the benefits of planning and executing those plans, and dealing with any variations or course corrections as we go.  Minor alterations from a trajectory are easy to manage because you have momentum, and pretty much everyone is on the bus with you.

  • So where you have seemingly difficult choices, but where they are in your power to make changes let me urge you.. just make a decision.  You’ll feel better once you have made a choice. It may be the right one, it may be the wrong one. – Maybe you just won’t know, but the paralysis of not making a choice, sitting on the fence forever or worse, trying to straddle both positions as they diverge will bring endless [avoidable] pain to your life.  Just decide and move on.  If God is seemingly quiet on the issue, perhaps he doesn’t actually mind which one you choose?  And won’t he bring ALL THINGS together for the good of those who love him? Romans 8 v 28
  • Get on with your life. How often have you heard someone pray or prophesy using Jeremiah 29 v 11?  I wonder why they do that…  I think it’s a very unhelpful verse in the way it’s often applied, because it PREVENTS a person from making a decision, and REQUIRES someone else to tell them prophetically what to do. But the context in Jeremiah 29 isn’t wait on God till he tells you what to do AT ALL… in fact quite the opposite, take a look yourself… note the verses 4-9 a clear instruction to settle down, raise rugrats, eat and pray for your city to prosper.  then the kicker… v 10 WHEN you’ve been doing that for 70 years, THEN I’ll come to you and fulfill my promise BECAUSE [v11] I have plans to prosper you …  So God has a plan to prosper you, but work it out as you live your life.. don’t be paralysed waiting for God to speak, just decide what you want to do..  he’ll make it pretty clear if you’re stepping off plan.

And so with some certainty I feel I must pronounce that indecision is simply procrastination. It is a fear that we will choose wrong, which puts us in the same back alley that making a poor decision would put us in.. So you see, whether you make a bad decision, or no decision, this negative outcome is waiting for you…. The only way to attempt to avoid it is to actually make a decision… 

But if like me, you’ve made a couple of decisions and you’re now in the back alley you feared, there are still two choices!

  1. live in the back alley, give up and wait for death, or
  2. turn around and do something different. 

It is exceedingly rare that God will open up a secret compartment at the end of the alleyway, taking you into an as yet undiscovered life, of extraordinary wonder and fulfilment, instead we have to take responsibility for any poor decision we made that brought us here, stop blaming others (or God) for ‘leading us here’ and TURN AROUND and get out of the hole we’re in.   

The reason friends, that waiting is so unbearably difficult, is that we’re on a journey [aren’t we?] and waiting isn’t much part of getting to your destination. If we’re waiting we’re wasting time.  Waiting should be an active temporary thing (like going to a bus stop, waiting for the bus to arrive) not a passive thing (waiting at home hoping a bus would stop outside your house). Passive is procrastination again.  So if you’re not seeing breakthrough with something, chances are you haven’t made the decision (or followed through with the consequences of that decision (which is the same thing as not having made the decision at all)). 

So where does that leave me?  For the things I can decide, things that are within my power to change, things that ultimate affect my journey/trajectory or ultimately my destination, I can make [and follow through] a decision or two and end my discomfort. I may make the wrong decision, but a decision at least will have been made and I’ll have to rely on God (at the end of my three core years and ten) to bring about those plans and purposes he has for me to come good. For the things I’m waiting for others to decide, hopefully they’ll not drag out the difficulty for too long, noting that it is destabilising for them also to have these things hanging about undecided.   I’m not sure what a reasonable period of time is to wait for that… but I can’t imagine being in the dead zone for more than a month will produce a happy bunny, so I guess that’s the yardstick by which I’ll get very twitchy.. Finally, I can be hopeful that whatever I decided and whatever is decided for me, there is a future hope that all things will work together for good, so I needn’t worry about how many wrong decisions I make, or how blunderous my steps, I just need to worry about how I am leading myself and my family, in Christ.  And if waiting isn’t a passive thing, then I’ll wait for my end of days, by living my life for the glory of his name while there is breath in my body. In the end, isn’t that what we’re all called to do?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The end of one road, usually leads to beginning of another


The Olympics are nearly over. The culmination of years of hard work and up to 4 years of dedication to win a prize has been completed for many an athlete and sportsperson.   The partying has begun, and for many the ‘wheels will come off’ for a while as the focus on practice and the goal ahead is left behind, in favour of celebrating (or commiserating).

Sometimes in the Summer, we do the same.. after working hard to reach an objective, we choose to take ‘down time’ from the responsibility of our tasks, enjoy ourselves, and find refreshment in not being motivated by the work left to do.

1) It is important to rest, but while we rest, don’t sin.

“When in Rome” is an oft quoted euphemism for fitting in with what everyone else is doing.. – but just because many in the Olympic village are partying hard and ‘forgetting themselves’ doesn’t give us licence to do likewise.  When we’re on holiday we’re often away from our support structures and people that know us. ‘Who will know?’ we say to ourselves. “It won’t really matter if…”  but the measure of our heart change is what we do in PRIVATE, not what we do in PUBLIC ( Matthew 6:6).

The purpose then of vacations is to relax and refresh, not to sin. Yet isn’t often our inclination to drink too much, eat too much, spend too much, as if personal responsibility has gone by the wayside? How confusing it must be to our children when all year we have been saying to be watchful, disciplined and careful, and then we blow caution to the wind when the opportunity arises? Isn’t it hypocritical of us?

2) Refreshment produces a light feeling, not a heavy burden.

If we come back from holiday with a bump, feel more tired when we return than when we left or are suddenly facing a load of issues that were not present before our vacation isn’t it likely that we failed to exercise our responsibility carefully before our departure and didn’t actually refresh ourselves during our vacation?  Refreshment actually refreshes us. The clue is in the word. It’s not about whether we have an activity holiday or a quite seclusion, what activity energises one may not energise another, but recharging our batteries by diverting our energies from our regular responsibilities provides the space for us to be refreshed, but not the means.

3) What is actually refreshing?

Having the time to spend in the word? reading some edifying material that we didn’t have time for before our break? focussing on relationships with those we’re vacationing with? Releasing some burden or other that you’ve been carrying ‘to the Lord’? Relating with some other part of the Lord’s family to encourage us and them, and be amazed at what’s He’s been coordinating to bring about His kingdom purpose.. finding Solace and purpose in His embrace?  Getting to bed early and sleeping in a little later? [actual rest can be very refreshing!]

Yet when we set our vacation agenda, I wonder,  do we think ‘it’ll be nice not to have to go to church… ‘ or ‘I’d love to see what [name of church] are doing, It’d be great to go see them? Do we just look to ‘be on our own’ have some ‘me’ time? Is that what Jesus did?

4) But I’m going to Newday, together @, Soul survivor, New Wine etc…

Going to a conference may provide spiritual nourishment and energising refreshment but they are also hard work, not generally relaxing (results may vary) and for those not used to camping, can be stress inducing.  In all cases, it is not a holiday or vacation, and though it is expensive and are often for convenience sake held in vacation time, it may well be worth considering finding some reflective, down time where you can actually rest to receive bodily refreshment.  On the seventh day the Lord rested, not because he was tired, but I submit to you to show us that proper rest is important.  Athletes have a recovery period after each race and after each games. It would be amazingly arrogant of us to assume that we who are less fit need less rest and recovery.


5) Rest, refreshment and recovery always leads to the start of the road ahead.

I submit to you that if you are properly rested your perspective on what is to come is signifcantly and positively affected.  You are not at the end of your days, you are at the end of that road. Even if you have to tread a similar path the day after your vacation, each new day enables you to approach that days journey with the refreshment you have received.   When we vacation it gives us a moment to reflect on our destination (and change it) AND the mode of transport (and change that too).  We can determine if the destination is right but the road we’re on is not, and we can determine to change course. We can determine if we’re travelling too fast or too slow and make an alteration to the transport, and we can determine that what we were heading for is really the prize or whether the prize is beyond or in a different direction altogether.  If we fail to spend some time submitting to God our plans and waiting on him in a vacation period, we miss a cherished opportunity to reaffirm his purpose in our lives, remind ourselves of His promises to us, and recommit ourselves to treading the path he has laid before us..  the road ahead will always be there, but let us tread on it with renewed vigour, energy and spirit as we trust Him with our lives our journey, our bodies and our destination.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

What about women in pastoral ministry?

God can and does use all sorts of people (some very unlikely at face value) to fulfil his purposes, the question perhaps though is 'can and does God call women to Teach or have Authority' to which I'm not sure I've heard a satisfactory answer that confirms YES.  I'm inclined to agree with John Piper’s/Wayne Grudem’s reasoning that [authoritive] leadership is male, and hence since preaching conveys ‘at least a notion that a person is sanctioned to address the church gathered in ways which would not preclude them from leadership/eldership of it' such a task is prohibited to women, notwithstanding that I also infer that the literal interpretation of the relevant verses (1 Tim 2:12, 1 Cor 14:34, 1_Cor 11:5 and others) makes the most hermeneutic sense. [I should clarify that I don’t think Paul’s intention was that women are totally silent, given the advice in 1 Cor 11:5]  more on these two themes here.

Now because I have a wife and daughters, I am mindful too of the effect of this position, and mindful too that no-one (especially not anyone who belongs to a body that believes in 'freedom') likes to be told that they *cannot* do something.. but if God does not call women to preach, then what (is it that they are being barred from that) causes them some notion of distress? It would be as ludicrous to me as being distressed that I am barred from giving birth or giving a child suck..  But even if I was certain that God does call women to Teach, why does that seemingly automatically follow that such calling need to be exercised within a pastoral context, and not say, within evangelism, women's ministries, missionary activity...? What drives the need to 'preach to the church' when they are prohibited (at least as far as I am currently concerned) with leading it...? The two things appear incongruous to me unless you also remove the prohibition to leadership which would be a next logical step, [and a step observable within several other denominations as one of the next lines..if preaching then why not leading, if leading then why not eldership?]. Whilst we are to employ logic, we may be on dangerous ground if we attempt to extend scripture on logic alone to suggest that scripture a + scripture b MUST LOGICALLY MEAN scripture c applies to whatever agenda we wish it to affect.

To be wonderfully vulnerable and transparent on this matter, and mindful that I may find few who agree with me, I, personally, would be more comfortable with exclusive male leadership within every serving and leading team within a body, not because of in-capabilities but because the kingdom order of headship appears to be male led within the family, and the church. Let me be clear though I am not a proponent of any form of subjugation of women, nor am I suggesting that they are unequal in respect of status in the kingdom of God. They are no lesser saved nor lessor inheritors...  far from it... but we really must distinguish function and authority from equally saved and equally heirs according to promise. Is Jesus greater than God the Father?  Do they fight among themselves secretly wishing that they can function as the other is doing?  If Jesus understood this key concept of submission, why don’t we?

Do I believe that men are infallible as a virtue of their sex.... far from it and I am (thankfully still living) testimony to that fact! Also I have great sympathy for those ladies who have had such poor examples of male leadership whether in the home or church that they have felt it necessary to step up to lead in the vacuum, but however understandable or mitigating it may be, I believe that practice to be in error and never enables either male or female to reach their full potential in Christ.

That there are some women preachers who are eloquent (and seemingly effective) speakers, does not imply retrospectively that they have been given authority to preach nor infers therefore an understanding of scripture that permits that activity.  Scripture must be a higher authority than our own wants, observations, or social cultural bias surely?  And of course eloquence is not the domain of either sex and I am certain that I have heard enough poor, uninspired, life sucking, sermons to fill many days from men! So it is not 'the sex' of a person that determines this but other factors which are not the subject of this post.

I recognize that this is a sensitive and topical issue for not just women but for men and indeed the [newfrontiers] church.  I welcome opportunities to examine my convictions in light of biblical argument, but I'm cautious of arguments based predominantly around attempting to negate biblical instruction as 'societal/cultural' we seem to have a habit of revising history to fit our uncomfortability with scripture!  In the meantime, I sit where I have outlined and because of the need to guard my heart against every wind of doctrine and a desire to test and approve what God's will is I cannot at this juncture submit myself to the teaching of a woman or to someone who suggests I must.

Ephesians 4:14-16
New Century Version (NCV)
14 Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about like a ship that the waves carry one way and then another. We will not be influenced by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. They make plans and try any kind of trick to fool people into following the wrong path.15 No! Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head.16 The whole body depends on Christ, and all the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to make the whole body grow and be strong with love.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Predestination and Salvation's call

The biggest issue I have with predestination is that I may not be, or people I'm connected to may not be part of the elect.  Though I can be comfortable with God's sovereignty in many areas, that he may distinctly not chose a family member or indeed me makes me very uncomfortable (and unable to know how to adequately respond).

I'm comforted with the passages that also promise whosoever will may come to God, but  isn't that a bit like lining up to play football and being the last to be picked? You're not really wanted there, but since there's no-one else you can play the game?  Perhaps I have the wrong view of election and predestination, perhaps its for similar reasons I struggle to believe that God has to regenerate a person's heart before they can respond to God, when clearly those who might respond to God already understand that their efforts to reach him on their own merit aren't enough and they need 'saving'.  The unregenerated heart still feels the disappointment of success in worldy terms and still reaches for more longing for wholeness and belonging that nothing other than God can bring. This seems to me to  be 'built in' to the dna of a person.  It would be a very odd person who would wish that should God be convincingly demonstrated to exist they still wouldn't care a fig what He thinks of them.

In the end, though for God to be God doesn't he have to set the rules of play?  Isn't it really up to God who he saves and who he doesn't?  Why should he be subject to my preference?  Yet he is loving, gracious, holy and just.    but for totally selfish reasons the challenge for me is to know who God has chosen and who he hasn't.  I want to know if I can ever say to anyone again with certainty that 'God loves you', or is there some way that I can see a permanent banishment from God as somehow loving?    I want to be able to resolve satisfactorily in my head and heart that Jesus' sacrificial gift was perfectly executed, and includes everyone irrespective of whether everyone responds and without what appears to be heretical universalism.   I want to know what the point of evangelism is, if salvation is simply a spirit enabled, sovereign act of God, and HOW to evangelise without misrepresenting the truth and preaching a gospel other than one that saves.

Maybe the truth is that  there is a synergy in the saving grace from God. Maybe it is not we reach for God or he reaches to us, but perhaps it is that both reach for each other from the beginning of time? perhaps looking for a linear logic to understand the cause and effect is too limiting for an action of a God who is so sacrificial in his Love for us? perhaps the paradoxical approach is the only one that fully combines the scriptures which extol the grace of God and our need to respond to the yearning for God that is within every human heart?

But what of comfort?  What of the certainty of where we go when we're finished with our mortal body as we await our resurrection and face the final judgement? "God knows" seems poor comfort when a person has lost the physical comfort of some loved one's presence.  Do we need to be able to determine whether those who have lived with us are included in Christ?   and do we need certainty of salvation to attempt to live right? Isn't the law, still the law?

All I can say for sure right now is that with everything in me that can, I want to love God.  I'm convinced that to the fullest of my ability to respond, I'm organising my thoughts, actions and hopes heavenward, mindful that there are some areas of my life that are yet to be subject fully to his law - even after all these years of trying to follow Him.   If my sins are able to be counted paid in Christ, then I am grateful his sacrifice, grace and love is sufficient for me.  Even if I am not counted as covered by his blood, it does not remove the need to comply with his law which is still a better [perfect] way to live with each other even if there is no eternal reward.  Whether I am or not chosen, elect or disqualified from his saving grace, I hope I can graciously live to bring little shame to his name while I am alive in my body.  God is still God, He is still creator and author of life, I still owe him everything whether he wants me with him forever or just for now.  He is important, I am just a flicker in the flame of life... a gust in the wind... a moment in history.

I'm at a funeral today. I hope that it gives me opportunity to talk about death, life and God. I hope that my own struggles don't get in the way of pointing to Christ. I hope that in pointing to Christ I don't lead people to disappointment, but to life. I pray that to whatever measure possible in my regenerated or unregenerated heart I can be influenced by the Spirit of God to be wise, humble and loving.  I pray that theology doesn't just affect thinking, but action, and that action comes from the heart and the head.  If the power of the resurrection is available to me, I trust that i will use it well to proclaim Christ, and him crucified so that those who can respond to the Gospel of Christ [by whatever method is valid] can do so and there may be a party in heaven for those that are welcomed in.