Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

GREATEST HITS FROM BLOGWORLD ’09

I am rubbish at reading Christian books. Or any books really of late. It’s a great failing. It really doesn’t fit with my bookish self-image! Outside of holidays, it’s really just the five minutes before falling asleep in bed when I even try to catch up. I seem unable to fit old-fashioned reading into my routine since I stopped getting the train to work. Thankfully we live in times suited to the busy life and the poor attention span. The blogosphere is here, and is designed to give us bite-size chunks of information and opinion, often as written by those authoring the very Christian books I don’t get around to read. I have become quite a fan…

 

And now it’s time to share. So here we go with a greatest hits compilation of 2009 thus far. It’s by no means comprehensive, as I haven’t been planning for such an eventuality. However, courtesy of the starring system on Google Reader, it does at least represent articles that particularly struck me as I read. So, give it a lunch-break, click on the links and read on…  

 

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

This is SUCH a good post by Jam Carey – a true call to arms for godly living…

 

TRANSFORMING GRACE

Wow. A cancer scare dealt with in honest and godly terms. This is blogging at its most real and compelling by Neil Robbie.

 

TIM CHESTER 1

Two Tim Chesters as I don’t want to miss out either one. This one is a great aid to leader accountability…

 

TIM CHESTER 2

And this one is just unbelievable. It’s a godly guide to washing up. It’s not done as an amusing example – nor as metaphor. It’s just that – a detailed, serious guide to godly washing-up. A reminder that we all have some way to go!

 

THE RESURGENCE

This guy is awesome – not Driscoll this time, although this is his blog, but US soldier Al Lobaina – living godliness in the midst of a brutal war. Macho Christianity!

 

UGLEY VICAR

Just a fascinating concept – that the whole Creation story is about the Sabbath… I am long overdue an examination of what the Sabbath means today. I truly have no idea…

 

SOLA PANEL 

Driscoll went to Australia and told them everything they were doing wrong. Fair dinkum to these Aussie blokes for reacting to it without the understandable kneejerk…

 

SOLA PANEL 2 Another one from the Aussies – their own voice not really represented by the first after all. This is a great help in planning group studies. 

 

PLAY THE MAN Fantastic encouragement for anyone feeling the apparent hopelessness entailed in praying for the conversion of intellectual atheists.

 

FOOD4THOUGHT

Pertinent to the post… Perks’ thoughts on those like me who are failing to read the real stuff!

 

DESIRING GOD

One of the most powerful moments of the year so far, I think, was seeing this. Like some kind of Old Testament judge, Piper delivers a thundering message to the incoming President.

 

INTERNET MONK

This really got me thinking. Are Bible-believers letting the Bible limit their outlook? Internet Monk does controversy as ever!

 

THE GUARDIAN – COMMENT IS FREE

Not a Christian post. A really fascinating insight into the other side of atheism. A God-shaped gap indeed…

 

AND FINALLY… And this is your reward. A rare secular link – for the movie geeks among you!

 

 

HELL OF A THING TO BELIEVE!

You will, I’m sure, be aware of Caroline Petrie; the teacher disciplined for her solicitation of prayerful assistance for her young daughter – herself punished for her evangelistic efforts in the playground. Well, Terry Sanderson has now written on the Guardian website, condemning the sympathy she has received, and suggesting that her daughter was the persecutor rather than the persecuted. His reason? Well apparently this little girl had been ‘scaring’ her classmates by informing them they were destined for Hell unless they believed in Jesus. I know! How very dare she?! (Btw I know I haven’t linked here to the article. Do look it up. However, I’m very keen that the atheistic crumb-trail not lead to this site. This is where I report on my apologetics attempts, not where they take place!)

Well there are a couple of issues here. One is certainly the unpalatable nature, to the unbeliever, of them being considered worthy of judgement and punishment for the life they have led. However, I’m fairly convinced that this is above all yet another manifestation of everyone’s current favourite viewpoint – that all beliefs are ‘equally valid’ and that it is arrogant, nay wrong, for anyone to ‘force’ their views upon another, thus deeming them better in any way. I heard this very argument just last week from a colleague at work – he was perfectly okay with the faith of me and other Christians, just so long as we didn’t see fit to bother anyone who disagreed. He was, after all, a ‘very spiritual’ person himself, as denoted by the fact he had at one time pursued an interest in yoga…

This is, of course, an utter sham. This politically correct version of ‘tolerance’ is in fact the very opposite of what it purports to be. It is, as Phillip Jensen has noted, utter intolerance for any strongly held view – for any profession of truth. Indeed, it is itself a big and bullying supposition – that no one view is true, and therefore that all religious views are equally false. After all, the very existence of truth blows the idea wide apart, as it instantly renders all else false, and therefore not valid at all! To these people, all faiths and worldviews are the equivalent of having drawn ‘a card, any card’ from a deck – no one holds any greater intrinsic worth than another – it’s ‘whatever works for you’. In fact, for the believer it is more like a sum. There is a right answer. A true answer. After all, 1+1=4 may indeed “work for you”… but it’s wrong! And you’ll fail the exam!

So then, no Christian should have any part of this construct. If you are willing to claim that Hinduism and Christianity are equally valid, then you can’t believe that Jesus is indeed the way the truth and the life, or that no-one comes to the Father except by Him. The fact many liberal Christians DO play that game gives us sufficient reason to question their faith. Viewed in the light of this assumption of truth, Caroline Petrie’s daughter becomes, not a bully, but a bastion of compassion. She presumably believes, in all good conscience, that Hell is a real and urgent threat; one endangering her friends’ very eternal lives. What sort of person would she be then – what sort of person are any of us – if she and we don’t warn those we care about?? The person who sees the precipice and tells the person about to step over is not an abuser for upsetting them. And even if you don’t believe the cliff exists… well, you can still respect their good motives. If they are deserving of punishment then so too was Jesus – he, after all, was most indiscrete when speaking of ‘hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9) Many at the time indeed thought him so. They therefore put Him on a cross.

I am going on a bit. But my point is this. As hospitals, schools and workplaces in general begin to view evangelism as an offence, on the grounds that it denigrates the competing views of others, I wish to say that Christian views are NOT just opinions to be kept to ourselves. They are, in our eyes, a matter of truth, expressed necessarily for the sake of those mired in error. You may not agree. But if we truly believe that to be the case, then it is a denial of our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and of our very self-respect to tell us we must always keep it to ourselves.

MY BIRTHDAY PARTY. HOORAY.

I had my 30th birthday party last Saturday night and I know what you’re expecting, dear regular reader… You’re expecting angst, and lots of it, albeit perhaps with a happy ending. You’re expecting me to pontificate on the difficulty of not drinking too much, of witnessing to non-Christians and the like… We have certainly been there before, after all. However, this time is different. My party was a disconcertingly angst-free zone! So… where then has it gone?

 

Well this ties in to the whole idea of happiness, and the fact I fear I’ve become locked into a certain ethos of late. You can see it here. It basically runs along the lines of ‘God never promises us happiness in this life. We shouldn’t expect it. Few people’s lives are truly happy as we live in a fallen and sin-infected world. Happiness doesn’t truly come until the next world’. Well that might be true, but it can quickly supplant joy and, as my wife ever reminds me, it can be tiring living around a ‘half glass empty’ type of person. I was fascinated then by two conversations this week…

 

The first was with my sister-in-law. She is a Christian, and has lost two beloved brothers in their youth to disease. However, she looked at me and my theories as if I was strange indeed. ‘Of course God wants us to be happy’ she said… The truth is probably somewhere in between. I still maintain that an expectation of happiness can leave us feeling betrayed when bad times afflict us. However, I’ll concede that He doesn’t necessarily accurse us either. My riches may be stored in heaven (well they’re certainly not in my bank account!), but He has still been kind enough to grant me immense blessings… I could probably do with focussing on them and letting them affect my mood more often.

 

The second was a brief conversation with a Christian friend during my party. He had just accessed my blog and, being of a more Charismatic persuasion himself, seemed both bemused and amused at the constant self-lacerating analysis he found there. His verdict was ‘you’re doing OK by the sound of it, and you really should worry less’. Again, I reserve my right to pursue high standards and bemoan my sinful failure to reach them, but, okay, he does have a point. I do sometimes end up appearing simply neurotic. Joy doesn’t have to simply lurk in the background…

 

Which brings us back to my party. Maybe a couple of years ago I would have had cause to fret about the collision of my Christian and non-Christian worlds. Perhaps then I was a different person depending on which of the two I was addressing. However, I think I’m generally just me nowadays… Drinking will always be a challenge, but not so much on Saturday – take Christianity out of the equation and I still think I would simply have wanted to enjoy chatting with as many people as possible and remembering what I’d said. There were a great bunch of mates there, after all… You know what?? I just had a brilliant time – really great. Everyone came, everyone seemed to have fun, everyone got on well with one another… My better half had great support after her recent bad news and has been infinitely more cheerful since. Come 2am as the last survivors sentimentally enjoyed the last few tunes, and I had a complimentary drink with the owner, I was about as satisfied as can be with proceedings. Hooray for God’s blessings, his provision of mates and parties. This really isn’t a bad old life, after all… (and thank you to anyone who was there).

 

NOTABLE PS: In case anyone doubts God’s provision in testing times: The neuro-surgeon to whom Nina has been referred is a) a parent at my school b) the Christian father of two of the very few lads to attend the Christian Union I jointly attempt to run! c) Willing to have his secretary spend time at once digging out my wife’s scan in order to deal with it at once. It’s great to feel well looked after!

For a more ironic look at providence, note the fact I made a doctor’s appointment today regarding my ongoing ankle concerns. Just as I worried that there wasn’t enough wrong with it to still warrant the appointment, I this morning tripped on the stairs and ruined it all over again. I will now limp heavily into the doctor’s surgery!

ABOUT A TUMOUR

Well I’d better substantiate that title eh? The tumour is real, not metaphorical. The tumour is in my wife’s head. The tumour is the size of a cherry. The tumour is, thank God, benign. The tumour is on her right auditory nerve. The tumour is resting against her brain. If it grows any bigger it will exert pressure to the brain and will have to be removed, at considerable risk to her facial and balance nerves. Even if not removed, the tumour has accounted for the hearing in her right ear. We learned of the tumour on my 30th birthday earlier this week. She can feel it in her head. She is constantly aware of it. The tumour is making its presence felt. This is not good… although it could certainly be worse (a great word, ‘benign’!).

A couple of things to say. First, if you’re reading this and you know her, please don’t be silent about it around her. This is not a taboo subject. It’s very much the big news of the week, she’s trying to get used to the idea, and she wants to talk about it and to be supported by church and friends. Second, as with all I write about, I want to relate the above to my walk with God, particularly as regards the whole idea of ‘bad things’ happening.

I’ve recently been faced, on a number of occasions, with the age-old question, ‘how can a good God (or indeed a God who actually exists at all) allow suffering to occur?’. It’s sometimes asked with smugness, sometimes with hurt and anger. My answer is this. No part of the Bible, or of the teaching or experiences I’ve undergone, lead me to expect an easy life devoid of tough times. If God’s word did actually promise health and good fortune then perhaps I’d have greater cause to curse him when this failed to materialise. However, as it is, Hebrews 12 tells me to ‘endure hardship as discipline’, Romans 5 tells me that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character’ and Ecclesiastes 3 assures me there is ‘a time to weep’. We are told to focus upon life after death, on a better world to come, and to store our riches there, whilst not investing too much in this mortal coil. We are told that man is fallen on account of sinful rebellion, and that creation with him ‘groans’. We know that we are subject, for now, to the curse of suffering and eventual death. God sent His son to share in our sufferings, to die within our broken world that we might know something better and everlasting. It would be illogical, stupid even, to then turn on Him and spurn the everlasting gift on account of the short-term brokenness He came to fix.

So let me make this clear. However this plays out, and as I come to terms with my wife having this unwanted and potentially damaging intruder inside her skull, I will whole-heartedly praise God. I would do so if the tumour had been malignant. I will praise Him because he acted in mercy to save us from a world of sin, of tumours and of difficult choices that we now face.

ANDY AT THE MOVIES

REVOLUTIONARY ROADI watch a lot of films. In fact my wife and I pay a monthly membership fee at the local cinema, meaning we can go as often as we want.  For her it’s pretty essential, given that she works within the film industry. This, of course, raises issues pertaining to what aids our godliness and what might act to impede it. It’s an area I have touched upon before but one that I am yet to really get my head around.

I would hate to place myself in a ‘Christian box’, watching only the God Channel and listening only to Premier Radio. I would hate to be restricted in the cinema to seeing only Amazing Grace or The Passion of the Christ! I sometimes fear that is the only ‘safe’ response to the guidance of William Lane Craig (thanks for the link Phil) and other godly leaders; they are of course quite right to cite Philippians 4:8 (‘whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… think about these things) but I’m not sure whether I agree with the application. What’s more, I honestly believe the cinema, even when less than pure in its message, can be a valuable resource. We must engage with the worldview of our culture, face the issues of those around us and know the hearts of others in order to respond. Films often present real and/or intriguing snap-shots of our society’s concerns, framed in thought-provoking 90-minute packages. But it all, of course, depends on how we watch them…

 

I have come to believe that it’s not enough to turn our brains off and consider everything ‘entertainment’. To do so is often to swallow whole and unquestioningly the values and worldview placed before us. That isn’t good for us – to accept something as reasonable is often to be influenced by it, even sub-consciously. There is a world of difference between seeing sin and laughing approvingly at it, or us seeing sin, recognising it as sin, considering and discussing WHY it is sin and questioning how we should respond to, or guard against, that sin as Christians. Much of this approach is pilfered straight from Gavin McGrath, our former Assistant Pastor, who gave a list of questions to ask when watching a film: What is the message of this film? What are the consequences of the sinful acts depicted? What would the Bible say about these actions? (My notes are lost in the mist of time so I very much paraphrase!). It DOESN’T have to stop us enjoying the movies we watch – I get a lot more out of cinema, and find myself far more involved, when I am really engaging with the motivations and choices of each character, considering the full weight of their implications.

 

One further point, before a couple of small movie reviews. We will only have our godly specs on if we have already been looking in His direction. It is an absolute fact that, if I’m not reading the Bible, involved in the church community or dwelling on the things of God (ie ‘whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing’ etc), then I will stop seeing this world for what it is, and will instead begin buying into the culture wholesale – it’s a process of osmosis; spiritually, we are what we eat! However, if we are wearing our armour of God: if we are equipped with righteousness, with a sound understanding of truth, with the sword of the Spirit that is the Bible… then we will see things for what they are, and we are a lot safer engaging with the culture. Most interestingly, when watched through a Christian lens, I honestly believe that most film arcs can be summarised as the following:

 

·        Person is dissatisfied in life due to God-shaped hole.

·        Person tries to fill that God-shaped hole with something that isn’t God.

·        Film thus ends with further dissatisfaction OR, more commonly, gives a false resolution in which a short-term option is presented as ‘happily ever after’.

 

So then, a couple of movie reviews written from a slightly different perspective than those of Jonathan Ross (spoiler alerts!)…

 

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD:

This is a film about a married couple, dealing with the issues of marital dissatisfaction, infidelity and abortion. The husband is weak in his leadership and easily caves to temptation elsewhere. The wife, as a consequence, lacks respect for her husband. She in turn is deeply immature, pursuing dreams of escaping responsibility and convention in favour of an unattainable fantasy life in Paris. For this dream she would readily dispense of the baby within her.

I have seldom seen a film where the characters so palpably live out the frustration of fallen humanity. The false idols of pleasure, stability, wealth and status have all failed to deliver. The response to this emptiness is for them to look for ever more sinful and futile replacements – excitement and sexual gratification – and both are harshly judged and punished by the end of the story. I felt the film was brave in not letting anyone off the hook or providing false resolution. It could almost be used as an advert for the need we have to find purpose and salvation. The filmmakers just lacked the knowledge to show us where to find it.

 

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA:

I would well understand you questioning my attendance of this film, seeing as it’s being marketed as erotica. You may be right. For what it’s worth, however, despite the highly cynical marketing, I was aware before seeing it that this is actually a 12-rated Woody Allen film devoid of nudity or graphic sex! It is still sexy, granted, but it also raises fascinating questions regarding commitment, responsibility and the pursuit of pleasure.

One character is looking for excitement and prides herself in being ‘brave’ enough to grasp it when offered. One character is seeking stability in marriage but, in doing so, has chosen a ‘safe’ man she doesn’t truly love. They are both attracted to a man who deems life short, meaningless and best spent indulging sensual pleasures (although he’s actually in love with his tempestuous ex-wife).

Ultimately, the first is shown to be foolish for her failure to be satisfied by anything (even by sharing a man with his ex-wife!), and for not knowing what she really wants; the second is shown as weak, or perhaps tragically noble, for persisting in her unhappy marriage, rather than leaving it for enhanced short-term sexual gratification elsewhere. The man is, thankfully, eventually shown as somewhat ridiculous, fated never to be happy in his bohemian ways.

The overall message of the film, I think, was that we should have the courage to embrace those relationships that ‘feel right’, wherever they may occur, and not be bound by convention.

My response to that would be to point out that sex is a good gift from God, used to bond a loving couple for life within marriage. All characters have been hurt by their misuse of sex and their charms would be better employed in working at and preserving a God-centred marriage, through hard times and good. Application-wise, the first girl needed to grow up and get a job, the second picked the wrong husband because her idol was security, but now needs to make the marriage work. Oh, and they should both have steered well clear of the slimy Spanish loser! For myself, I noted, never let my wife spend two aimless summer months in Spain without me!

 

Feel free to offer your own reviews!

THE BLOG BECOMES THE ISSUE!

2089649326_25dfa9fa9eIt’s been a few days since I posted and it’s really been a ‘cold turkey’ kind of scenario!! You see, I’m addicted to this blog at present. Really am. The fact shouldn’t surprise me – I am obsessive and faddish in the extreme. Things I have previously become obsessed with, to the detriment of my other pursuits, have included, at some time or another; downloading music, online chess, the Football365 chat forum, the computer game ‘Championship Manager’, watching The Sopranos on DVD, going to the gym (didn’t last long!), composing and recording music, uploading photos to facebook, writing a book about the British Empire, playing the computer game ‘Football Manager’ (in effect, the exact same game as ‘Championship Manager’ but under different ownership),  learning the drums, arguing with atheists, reading books by Haruki Murakami, watching The Wire on DVD, MSN Messenger, writing a book about travelling to Australia, eating chorizo, compiling ‘Best of’ playlists, playing online pool… the list could go on indefinitely.

 

However, in the case of the blog, there are issues. This I realised as I posted my Monday offering and then sat, watching the blog stats (rather than doing any work), feverishly pressing F5 to refresh the information. I did this for quite a long time. I felt elated when the number of hits went up by one. I felt distraught when it didn’t. What did I actually want during this painfully pathetic episode in my life? Did I want people to have read my post so they may be encouraged or given food for thought in their walk for Christ? Did I want people to have read my post so that my use of the previous three quarters of an hour would be in some way affirmed and justified?? Scarier, did I sit there craving human recognition, my famous competitive streak rudely shoving the godlier aspects of my personality aside???!

 

If so I do have a problem. I set out to do this so that I may be accountable to others in my Christian life, and so that others, predominantly among my church community, may be encouraged or challenged along the way. I did not do it so I could prove myself clever, or so I could self-seekingly attempt to grow an audience. The problem is WordPress is too good! It gives so much for the sinful nature to latch upon. With my old blog host I was shouting in the dark, with little idea of who, if anyone, was reading until they mentioned it at church. Here I can tell you, since last Tuesday when I launched, exactly how many hits I’ve had, and from whence they have come – be it readers, links, comments I’ve left on other sites or specific search engine terms. There are graphs and charts! For a stats geek like me it is almost too much to bear!

 

I write in flippant terms, but it is ABSOLUTELY a trap. I want to write when I have something to say, not in order to ‘keep the figures up’, to beat the previous week or to send myself up the search engine pecking order. Why? Because we are taught to seek the approval of God, not man. The world’s praise will only turn our head, inflate sinful pride and focus attention upon us rather than upon the Spirit that makes us useful. There is much biblical precedent here: For example, in Galatians 1:10 Paul asks ‘Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men I would not be a servant of Christ’. In John 12 he speaks of Pharisees who ‘loved the praise of men more than the praise of God’. More practically, if it is recognition I seek then a stats slump will quickly dishearten me and stop me writing – to the possible detriment of one among those fickle stats (and it probably is only about that number!) who would actually benefit from my efforts…

 

So, this much I vow in conclusion:

a)      I will only post when I genuinely have something I consider useful to say – not for fear of losing stats if I don’t!

b)      I will retain an honest approach, even when, as in this post, it makes me look stupid. That should keep my pride in check! This is a lot harder to do now that much of my traffic is from strangers!

c)      I will continue to post when barely anyone is reading!

d)      I will pray that this little blog be for God’s service and repent for anything outside of that.

e)      I will stop including the question ‘have you read my blog?’ in every single church conversation.

f)        Any time I take myself too seriously, I will remember that my most popular post is ‘Sex on the Brain’, purely because people searched for the word ‘Sex’ on WordPress. I am sure that every one of these fled in horror without reading more than a sentence. Stats can be highly misleading, after all…

 

IT’S ABOUT THE CROSS, STUPID!

gettingreadyforthecross2 posts for the price of one today – and both with the same tagline.

 

REGARDING THE INTERNET MONK

 

I very much enjoy reading the blog of Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk. He is often a reminder that I have a long way to go in terms of both wisdom and blogging expertise (compare for example his reasoned and practical response on abortion compared to mine!). However, I should technically be affronted by his standpoint. He is, after all, ‘blogging from the post-evangelical wilderness’ and has left ‘our’ branch of the church.

 

But is that really the case? Let us see what he really opposes. It is certainly not the cross of Christ! By way of quick summary, I would say his evangelical baiting (generally framed within an American context) is aimed at the likes of; the health/wealth ministry, an obsession with prophetically-enlightened end-days theology, rigid Old Testament literalism (eg 7-day creation), a ministry of hate and rage towards the lost (particularly regarding abortion), the aggressive corporate approach of ‘mega-churches’, the hypocrisy of some Christians’ conduct and, to round off, their generally anti-intellectual/academic approach. Looking back over this list, would we really disagree with him??

 

It is important, therefore, to remember that, particularly in the global forum of the internet, if we venture apologetics under the label of ‘evangelicals’, it is often the politically loud American brand of that movement with which we will be assumed associated (I’m British, in case anyone wondered!). The result will be that the battle will be pitched along the lines covered above, at least if we allow others to set the agenda. Some of these issues are very significant, yes, and our voices should be heard when appropriate. However, none of them should represent our primary focus. Because, after all, no-one will ultimately be saved by guessing right when it comes to the Rapture; no-one will be saved by putting their faith in a young Earth; no-one will be saved by opposing abortion.

 

It is the cross that saves. The gospel is Christ crucified; God incarnate, a perfect man dying in our place so we are spared the wrath of judgement. This is most important, and this is what we should be known for as Bible-believing Christians. Our message, along with our righteous conduct as we deliver it, will make us a true light to the world. At the end of the day… It’s about the Cross, stupid!

 

GOD OR JESUS?

 

A quicker one now. Looking back over my recent apologetics efforts, I have realised the problem with engaging the Dawkins crowd. The issue is always, in their eyes, ‘Atheism vs Theism’. It’s all very well, but it means we’re forever arguing whether or not there is a God – issues of morality, creation, order, uniqueness of humanity etc. This is the current water-cooler debate, particularly as the ‘atheist buses’ roll around our streets. There’s a problem here, however. Even if we win this battle, for the same reasons listed in the paragraphs below, we have still fallen short of giving the gospel. It is a long old route to get from proof of God to His purposes, His coming in human form, and His sacrifice on the Cross. Most of the time, we’ll never make it there. If we argue exclusively to prove God’s existence it’s a pyrrhic victory we seek as ‘even the demons believe – and tremble’ (James 2:19). Eventually we have to challenge them towards faith in Christ.

 

I’m wondering therefore… the common wisdom is that, without a foundational belief in a creator God, getting them to believe in Jesus as His son is hopeless. But perhaps there is another way? Perhaps a conviction of Jesus’ role in history, his affect on humanity, the worth of his teaching, the authenticity of the gospels and the wonder of his works really can lead others to new belief in the God revealed in Christ? At least with this approach we will have shared the gospel. It’s also worth remembering that, whatever way we go, nothing’s going to happen without the Spirit’s help. However, lest we ever get too caught up in endlessly discussing the Big Bang, it’s worth remembering… It’s about the Cross, stupid!

TEMPTATION IS NOT SIN

Jesus was tempted. Jesus did not sin. We know it, sure, but do we always see the distinction in our own lives? Maybe it’s just me, but I have always had trouble separating the temptation from the sin. It matters because, if you already feel guilty and defeated as a result of having been tempted, then you are far less likely to stand resilient in the face of the sin itself. In fact, I have come to think there is more credit in having resisted temptation than in never having been tempted at all…

 

I give an example (and no I’m not going to wheel out the oft-used analogy of the second look at a girl being the sinful one – much as it’s a good’un): Person 1 hates the taste of alcohol, can think of nothing worse than drinking it in significant amounts, perhaps hangs out with other tee-totallers, and, would you believe it, has not recently succumbed to drunkenness! Person 2, on the other hand, loves a beer, is surrounded by drinkers, but has managed to limit him/herself to a couple of pints – an amount at which he/she knows by experience is safe in terms of conduct implications. In this case, I think we’d agree, Person 2 has showed rather more resolve; rather more evidence of godly decision-making. Person 1 hasn’t done anything wrong, of course, but he/she will have other battles to fight – this one was a breeze! Yet I suspect our gut reaction may be to see Person 1 as the ‘better Christian’ – as the godly stand-out more worthy of praise.

 

Anyway, enough intro – time to apply this to myself. I very nearly fell right into this trap. A month ago, I began my much-blogged spiritual retox and, you know what, I was bang up for it! I was ready for it, enthusiastic, motivated… there was nothing I wanted to do more at that point than to fix my eyes on God. I had little else on my mind… It was easy, to be frank. And, on some level, I’m sure I congratulated myself for the standards I set. Fast forward to last week, and some of the steam had run out of my drive for godly endeavours. My brain was not fixing upon the things I wanted it to fix, I was not half as keen on getting up to read the Bible, there seemed better ways to spend my time than reading about or discussing Christ. It has been a struggle, even a chore upon occasion. Following the loss of routine with Monday and Tuesday’s snow days, I had to drag myself kicking and screaming back into where I should be for the rest of the week in mind, motive and deed. It’s been a right old struggle, to be fair. And I felt as if I had failed. I felt as if I was a bad person!

 

On occasion I may have been right. I am a sinner, and I have been a sinner this week, just as every other week. BUT my issue was with the temptation as much as with the sin. I was far more comfortable, like the non-drinker above, doing the right thing when that was the easy thing to do, than when it went against my every sinful instinct. That’s why I write to remind myself this Christian life is not MEANT to be easy! If it was, why would James write ‘blessed is the man who resists temptation’? (James 1:12). Jesus didn’t brush off temptation with a nonchalant shrug – I’m sure it pained him as it pains us. There are many biblical ‘40’s to choose from in comparing his 40-day stint in the desert. The one that springs to mind however is the 40 days spent by Israel in the Valley of Elah, facing Goliath, the fearsome enemy of God. Sin is meant to be imposing, intimidating and is meant to take courage to face down. There is an inevitable tension in the Christian life. Even Paul cried out ‘What a wretched man I am!’ as he struggled to walk the Christian walk. If I give up defeated every time the wrong thing feels like the appealing thing to do, I’ll never get anywhere beyond short-lived bursts of enthusiasm.

 

The Christian life is meant to be toil, a race demanding stamina, and is characterised by the joy that tells us it’s worthwhile because Jesus died for our sins – not joy because it’s easy. I will be tempted this week, in any number of directions, but I will, God willing, whilst picking up a couple of sprained ankles along the way, keep on running this race of ours…

ADVENTURES IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

UPDATE 6/2: This is a post about evangelism. I didn’t, until today, realise that this was a sackable offence! Unbelievable…

 

typingI had a bit of a spiritual slump in the latter part of last year. You can read about it here. I’m not sure I was entirely accurate in that post however. I wrote that my ‘year’ had been characterised by a lack of passion/enthusiasm etc. In reality, looking back, it was the second half of the year; the period following my dalliance with the atheist fraternity – in particular the atheist friend named on this site as ‘Bob’. Truth is I got burned – it wasn’t so much on account of the published conversation, but more the ill-fated attempt to subsequently set up a joint blog whereby we’d argue the toss and put forward our two sides of various issues. The concept has legs, I’m sure, but at this time, Bob had more time, more friends on board and, much as I hate to say it, is generally better read, better informed and very talented in the field of debate. In short, I was getting my ass kicked – the truth may have been on my side, but it was very much struggling to make its voice heard. The upshot was, not used to being made to feel a bit silly and bested, I got a little disheartened, maybe even flirted slightly around the edges of doubt and, as James 1 warns, resultantly felt much like a ‘double-minded man’.

 

So, fast forward to January… it was with some reservation that I ventured once again into the atheist arena as part of my rehab schedule. My wounds still raw, and my schedule just as busy, it was perhaps a foolish thing to do. I am determined, however, to demonstrate the sturdiness of the Word by not conceding defeat to worldly wisdom. And, just in case, I was taking very much on board that ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’ (1 Cor 1:18). Different from last time, I was also taking with me a wingman! Phil is ideal in this context – intellectually sturdy, intelligent, a professional writer and with a real heart for the lost and the debate. He came on board the project, albeit with reservations relating to how profitable it is to evangelise by blog, it being so removed from the real business of relationship. We also discussed the inevitable reality that these atheists would most likely treat us with intellectual disdain, maintaining focus upon those ‘unproveable’ suppositions that aim to keep us on the defensive.

 

And so into battle we went. And so many many thousands of words were written by the both of us throughout the comments section of Bob’s website – covering a whole range of topics and feeling somewhat like a second job for a while there. Phil’s offerings tended to be more calculated, reflecting the fact he is indeed again better read (and probably cleverer too), whilst mine tended to be of the characteristically ‘heart on sleeve’ variety, and strongly influenced by the Tim Keller book I was reading at the time! And did we win?? Well, I’m not sure anyone got converted along the way… so was it worthwhile?? Well I suppose that depends upon what we were trying to achieve:

 

I wanted to dispel the notion that Christians are scared to think, and are perhaps even anti-thought. This I believe we achieved. The tone we met began characterised by scorn (less from Bob, who is a friend after all, but more from those other atheists, often American, who frequent his site) but certainly evolved to treating us as proffering arguments and ideas worth discussing. The more we came back at them and their ‘open and shut’ assumptions, the less willing they seemed to plumb the old line of our mental delusion or ‘brainwashing’. It was clear that we too had thought things through. Their language is often of putting Christians in their place and fatally slashing their feeble arguments to pieces. I feel we may have helped reveal that this is not always so easily done.

 

I wanted to give them the gospel. Lest we forget, whilst we can’t make people believe (only the Spirit can do that), we are nonetheless called to tell them the good news of Jesus’s substitutionary death for their sins. Within a number of discussions, and often by way of clarification (particularly regarding what actually makes someone a Christian), we were able, more than once, to clearly state the gospel. How they respond to that is now their responsibility.

 

I wanted practise in apologetics. This was a tough crowd. I know no-one anywhere who has read more or studied more than ‘Bob’. He has read the Bible cover to cover more than once and quotes it extensively in his responses, along with a wide variety of other sources. He has the inside track on archaeology of the Old and New Testament period, his parents are both university scientists and he is funny to boot. And then there were others far more combative in their exchanges. These guys seem to spend all their time doing this! I wanted to get out alive knowing that others would be easier to butt heads with by comparison. And I was right. I finally asked a good (and Oxford-educated) friend yesterday where he stood on all this business. He said ‘atheist’ but had nothing whatsoever in return when challenged on questions of morality or the unlikeliness of universal origin. This is, to be honest, probably going to be the more common scenario than for us to be mowed down by well-drilled responses regarding the anthropic fallacy.

 

So where to end? Well I’m out of there for a while. I can’t give all my time to the atheists after all! My wife, job, church etc have to come first. Bob and his mates probably remember the affair as no more than a minor and inconsequential intrusion that temporarily drew an extra 100 hits a day to his site (slightly galling from one who more commonly receives 10!) but only time will tell whether our short-lived labours are destined to bear fruit.

It’s important to remember that it’s the Spirit who saves, and that whilst our best efforts are lame in of themselves, they are potentially life-altering in harness with Him. It’s never going to be about me and my ability, whether with or without a wing-man! There is, however, something to be said, I’m sure, for making visits to the front-line.     

THE JOB INTERVIEW

Wow that was tough… I just returned from a job interview and I feel kind of beaten up. I had to teach an observed lesson, complete a marking sample exercise and was interviewed twice by senior management. It’s only right that they screen thoroughly, given the quality of the school involved, but all the effort can seem slightly soul-destroying given that there were 7 candidates selected for interview – meaning a huge amount of time and effort given for a 14%ish chance of success.

 

How did it go? Well, my lesson went pretty badly, my interviews well. That should be the end of that really – 7 candidates selected from 60 applications should leave little room for anyone messing up the lesson part and retaining any semblance of hope. However, being honest, I think I’ll at least be considered. Call me over-optimistic, but I don’t believe they’d have worked me quite so long or hard if they’d already written me off!

 

And so what? This isn’t meant to be my diary, after all. Well no, it’s meant to be charting my difficulties and challenges in living as a Christian, and that makes all this very relevant. I want this job a lot, after all, and am I willing to retain my trust in God, to thank Him for His good plans, if I don’t get the gig?? Am I willing to retain a sense of joy if I continue into a 6th, or a 7th year in my current role, bored, listless, unchallenged and with little hope of promotion given the permanence of those occupying all senior roles? Am I willing not to bemoan myself and my lot if, for the third time in the past year, I give my all to a day of interview and get told no, I haven’t sufficiently impressed?

 

It IS tough and these thoughts must be vastly amplified when being asked by someone who has actually lost their job – someone who is applying for work from a position of desperation, beset by fear that mortgage payments can’t be met. In these Credit Crunch times, are we each willing to place our faith in God’s sovereign will? Are we still able to state with firm certainty that He knows best? That will be my challenge if the phone call does bear bad news this evening. However, it would REALLY be my challenge if the film industry gets to a stage where PR is deemed unnecessary and my wife was thus next to lose her job. Then we wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage, keep the house, make debt repayments etc… Being honest, it feels like it would be the end of the world!

 

But it wouldn’t be the end. All over the world, Christians live and witness in the midst of collapsed economies, in grinding poverty, fixing their eyes on the next world, not this one. We are saved through grace, and nothing compares to that gift or the price paid to give it. My breathless fears are based on the idolatrous faith I place in my lifestyle, my social standing, my career, my comfort, my desire for CONTROL… We can’t abide anything – be it the collapse of financial markets, or the snow that has shut down my school for half of this week – that reminds us of how powerless we actually are.

 

So yes I will endeavour to keep trusting in God’s sovereign control; I will put my faith in the creator, not in what’s created. I will thank Him even if I don’t get this or any other job any time soon… Who else am I going to trust instead, after all? Certainly not myself, after the mess I made of today!

PS Nope – didn’t get the job…