Archive for the ‘CCB’ Tag

NEHEMIAH AND THE GOSPEL

A couple of really interesting comments on the last post regarding the necessity of ‘giving the gospel’. I will get to responding! However, I want to start with Nehemiah. I am all over that book right now. I’m reading and studying it in my quiet times and listening to Driscoll preaching on it on my journeys to work. It’s just a great book for those of us who live in the city. It’s about a standard guy who sees his city broken, lost and desolate. The journey he takes is inspiring. First, he mourns and fasts over the city. Then he prays. Then he plans. Then he DOES something about it! He humbly approaches the authorities, he figures what he needs, he builds a team, he goes to the city, he speaks to the people, he REBUILDS THE CITY! And, when determined opponents mock, scorn, distract and threaten that work, he remains steadfast, unflinching and prayerful, his people working with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other – ready to defend the fruit of their labours if called upon. Nehemiah cared for the city. He wanted to transform it and so he set about doing so as a man of action. The city is the key strategic place to begin any great work – it has the most people, the most languages and the most influence – it dictates the culture, the media output and the politics of a nation.

I am proud to live in one of the world’s greatest cities and I’m proud to be part of a network of churches that is actively seeking to impact upon it by planting and by telling the good news. There is already some family pressure for us to opt out of the city in favour of suburbia’s sanitised comfort. However, I hope I long resist such temptation – in favour of real multi-culturalism, real community and proximity to real need… perhaps raising kids less sheltered, racist and fearful than the ones I teach! It’s in the city that the battle-lines are drawn and are visible!

People in the city do need our physical help – they need love as expressed by feeding the hungry and caring for the lost. We perhaps need to get better at that – we are a little too white, middle class and intellectual to provide much of a haven for the broken people of even Balham right now. It’s something I know several who frequent this site are very keen to address through initiating hands-on weekend community work imitating the Besom or Nehemiah Projects that already run in the area (and in which they are already involved) to care for those incapable of looking after their own homes and welfare. However, more so, we must be keen to give the gospel, as that is the thing Londoners need the most. It is not enough we be ‘good people’ in the eyes of others. Yes we must live the gospel, with love, in order that our message not be undermined but be strengthened by them seeing the practical love of Jesus in us. But we MUST also tell the gospel. Explicitly. It is up to those who hear and the will of the Spirit as to whether they respond, but they can’t respond to that which they haven’t heard!

And so too with our friends. If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that we are fragile and that life can be threatened or cut short at any time. Therefore I do believe we should push a little harder than Debbie and Simon are suggesting. If our friends can hear the gospel from us within a relationship, then brilliant. However, it makes sense that they also hear it from those teachers best trained to deliver it, at events tailor-made for such a thing. For without hearing the gospel – that is Christ crucified in the place of sinful man so we may be saved through faith in him and repentance of that which grieves him – they will assume merely that Christianity is a meritocracy… a code for ‘good people’ to earn their way through the Pearly Gates. The gospel changes things. I have had one person this week tell me ‘I don’t like it’ and one tell me ‘It’s not fair’. That doesn’t happen when you’re discussing creation v evolution. Or atheism v theism. The gospel provokes, challenges and demands a response to the work of Christ. We must live the gospel, but we must also tell the gospel.

PS A note on Driscoll. Yes I listen to him a lot and I am thoroughly inspired by him. However, neither do I follow him unquestioningly. I am very wary of how much he speaks every week about himself; his life, his church and his family; it really is at least half of every sermon (you only really realise how much when listening through a series in quick succession!). Such a self-referential style I do feel carries with it the danger of fostering a personality cult, plus which his tangents can be more memorable than his exegesis of the passage. But he does love the Bible and he’s presenting it to thousands via the gifts that God has given him and that he has had the courage to employ. So yes I’m a (cautious) fan!

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COMMENT: MEN AND WOMEN!

This is more of a comment than a post – it’s in response to a couple of the comment threads below. There has been some rather heated debate on here of late which, let me say, is brilliant. When I started the blog I very much wanted it to be a forum for discussion and I’m glad it’s finally happening. However, it all seems to be centred around one main issue – the way we view the role of women in the church. Two readers – Debbie (who I must also out here as the ‘Ouraged/Mollified RS Teacher’!) and Miranda – have recently declared themselves ‘offended’ and ‘outraged’ by not-entirely-feminist views expressed by Pete (suggesting men should ‘lead’ in the church community) and Phil (pertaining to women’s dress). Debbie has written that, in Christ, we are ‘redeemed’ from a ‘dominant-submissive’ relationship between men and women. Miranda has referred to Pete’s ideas of distinct roles for men and women as ‘blatant sexism’.

I think what is happening here is a reflection of something wider – a clash not so much between individuals as between different churches and interpretations of Christianity. Perhaps even of where we find our ultimate authority. I know both these Christian women and I know they strive to put Christ at the centre of their lives. Miranda was professing and modelling Christianity to my largely non-Christian group of friends back when I was modelling little more than drunkenness and a foul mouth. If she was a little quick below to assume that perceived Christian ‘fundamentalism’ links to homophobia and racism then it’s only because I know sadly that personal experience for her has borne that out. And Debbie has taken responsibility for the Christian development of so many young people over the years… indeed she was trying to organise prayer sessions among our staff at school long before I got my act together enough to attend them. These are good Christian witnesses both. However, whilst I very much respect them, I must question some of the ideas they’ve been expressing and implying here.

After all – the idea of men leading in the church community; the idea that they have a role different to that of women; is not at all the preserve of one ‘much-argued over verse in Ephesians’… it is the stuff of the Bible, over and over again. To feel ‘deeply offended’ by the implication is to feel ‘deeply offended’ by the Bible – it comes down to whether, when the Bible clashes with the world, we take one or the other as our authority. It’s about whether, when we find God’s word unpalatable, we look for the flaw in the word, or in ourselves.

It is perhaps wise to first state that the Bible implies no superiority or inequality between the sexes. He made both in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and he finds no greater favour in ‘male or female’ any more than between ‘Greek and Jew’ (Gal 3:27-28). Under Christ, the prophecy of Joel has been fulfilled meaning that Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’. Perhaps the greatest passage of equality is found in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 where we learn that ‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman’. In fact, in its day, the New Testament was revolutionary in the status it gave to women (building upon the example of Old Testament heroes such as Ruth or Esther), and in the status it gives their role – whether in testifying to Jesus’ resurrection, spreading the gospel (Priscilla in Acts) or, for example, in raising Timothy to know the word (via his mother and grandmother). However, the roles of men and women ARE different within this equality. And men do have a leadership role implying authority (not ‘dominance’) and, gasp, submission.

Just to make clear, the ‘argued-over’ passage cited earlier is Ephesians 5:22-24, saying ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ This sets out the idea that the marriage relationship reflects the authority relationship between Christ and his church. 1 Corinthians 11:3 also states that ‘I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’, further showing that the equal but ordered relationship in the Trinity is played out by relationship in marriage. We could also go to Colossians 3:18 (Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord) or to 1 Peter 3:1 (Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives) and to many others besides.

You may say this is only true of marriage but, aside from stating the obvious that church IS family, and that what happens there should not be a subversion of what we live out at home, things are again stated quite explicitly. 1 Timothy 2:12 says ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man’, as does 1 Corinthians 14:34 (‘They are not allowed to speak’ – not literally as they’ve been given permission in the same chapter to pray and prophesy… the explicit context cited is ‘submission’). Every apostle is male; eldership instructions are given to men (1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1); all biblical teachers are male. Yes the word ‘submit’ in the New Testament DOES imply authority (same word as creation submitting to Christ, congregations to leaders etc etc). Neither is this just a result of a Fall-era curse. Before that, man was created first, woman as his helper, named by man. God spoke to Adam and held Adam accountable for sin, even when first perpetuated by his wife. The curse corrupted existing roles (men to work, women to bear children etc) not changed them.

Now it must be pointed out there are two sides to this coin. If man does his job, particularly within marriage, and acts as does Christ to his church – loving sacrificially and perfectly, then submission should be a walk in the park. For him to ‘dominate’, oppress or bully would be sin indeed and would ‘hinder his prayers’ to God (1 Peter 3). Men need then to grow up and take up the gauntlet to sacrificially lead – something they are very often failing even to have a decent stab at. Personally speaking, most reading will be well aware this does not in a million years translate to my wife grovelling after me and awaiting permission to speak – the very thought is laughable. The first step of being loving is to want her to flourish and to respect the fact she generally knows better than me. But she does very much stand by biblical teaching on this matter. And she does know I have ultimate responsibility before God in getting her to heaven before myself.

Right, I hope this hasn’t offended. But if it has, don’t argue from gut reaction or worldly perspective. Show me that I’m wrong in my reading of the Bible. Because I will very much stand by God’s word. And, as a final word, just as I have vouched for the witness of our dissenters above, so I must state that Pete, the original purveyor of this ‘sexism’, has a frankly brilliant relationship with his wife which I just love to be around, such is the sparkle between them. In fact, both our pastors at CCB are married to strong, educated, professional, successful women whom they honour. This word does not limit or oppress. It gives security, freedom and a taste of kingdom living.

Guest ‘Week’ Part 4: LIVING IN THE WORLD AS A WOMAN FOR GOD

Hello again – hope you enjoyed your weekend! I am proud now to introduce our first female contributor – Lynda – who has daily dealings with ‘the world’ by virtue of her trendy media job. It’s a piece expressing considerable frustration, much of which should give us blokes pause for thought. Feel free to comment – particularly any girls who might agree!

Many of you know who I am, as I stupidly volunteered to do this and am the only one of us guest bloggers who regularly wears dresses. Despite this, I’m still going to be totally honest. Buckle up… 

At this moment in time, the word that currently sums up my experience of living in the world as a woman for God is guilt.  Guilt that I still do, think and say things, that after 12 years of Christianity, I shouldn’t.  Guilt that my ambition of being a godly woman, who can serve her church and younger sisters well, doesn’t really seem to be happening. 

I’m aware that guilt is not just a female thing, plus I don’t want this blog to be horrendously self-indulgent as I’m aware it could be. However I do believe that the struggle for perfection, the desire to please and the need to be loved and accepted by all is something that affects us girls possibly more than the boys.  

So, I have these words by J. I Packer on my fridge as a daily reminder of the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus brings: 

“There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.” (Knowing God, p. 37) 

Despite my best efforts though, guilt still has a hold over me in many areas. These are my top two. (cue Top of The Pops music…) 

Work: I’ve been blessed with an amazing job and when I started 5 years ago, I passionately knew I was there to proclaim Jesus and do His work. I relied on him for each new contract and praised His name every time I walked through the gates. However, now my job is safer and my career is taking off, the reliance on Him is less. Add to that the bad decisions I’ve made, the wrong things I say each day and how I’ve behaved at wrap parties, I sometimes fear my reputation is beyond redemption. How on earth could God use such a sinner as me, how dare I let Him down so badly.  

And, as you expected, relationships: I never used to doubt that God was faithful and would provide for my every need. And I still believe that, yet it’s getting harder. As a single girl in her mid-twenties, my ‘student’ years feel over and now everything should start to fall in to place. The house, the husband, the children. But, so far they haven’t and the temptation to figure it out without God has led to wrong decisions and heartbreak. Not to mention a complete lack of glory to Him. As a girl, the emotions and the heart speak much louder than the head and the intellect. We are crying out for the good shepherd to guide and comfort us.   

So, living in the world as a godly Christian woman? Currently I suggest you’d ask someone else. But, I am blessed with some brilliant Christian girlfriends who know my struggles well and as such know when to speak, what to pray and how to tell me off.  I know some fantastic Christian men who give me an entirely different perspective on each and every dilemma. And, Jesus has called me and set me apart, and the work that He has started in me will be brought to fruition. Eventually. 

Guest ‘Week’ 1: HOW SHOULD CHRISTIAN BLOKES TREAT CHRISTIAN WOMEN?

We kick off this season of guest contributions with these thoughts from Pastor Pete from CCB – they may seem familiar as they’re adapted from a talk he gave at a Lads’ Weekend Away last year. But that makes them no less valuable! Do give your thoughts below… or the big man will be heartbroken!

How should Christian blokes treat Christian women?  We could spend weeks talking about this but here’s a starter for 10!

We should treat women as sisters

1 Timothy 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, 2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

Treat the women like sisters, in all purity.

Women at church are our sisters.  We are their brothers.  We need to treat them with all purity.  Therefore we must not mess them about, treat them shamefully.  We need to consider how we relate to the women and think how we can do that in all purity.  For the purposes of this blog I’m just talking about relationships between men and women of a similar age.  I think generally with the demographic and narrow age range of this blog (I didn’t say narrow readership!)

Now what does that look like?  I don’t have any biological sisters, but it’s not hard to consider how that relationship should work.  We should protect them, if I had a sister I would hope that I would work hard at protecting her.  Also, there is an aspect of leadership; a brother should take the lead in his relationship with his sister.  But the word purity particularly makes us consider the issue of how we treat them relationally.  Not simply sex, but the purity of our thoughts, the purity of our intentions.  What do we desire most for our sisters?

Surely, we want them to grow in faith?  Surely we want them to love Christ more?  They need us to model devotion to Christ.  They need us to encourage them to love and serve Christ more.  These are not pie in the sky unobtainable desires.  This is what will result if we strive for personal maturity in ourselves and treat the women at church as sisters.

Much of this will be the same whether or not we ourselves are married.  For the health of the church it’s important we think about how this applies to each of.  What does it look like for us to treat the women at church as sisters? 

When in bible study groups, be the first to pray.  Take the lead, it’s our role.  Make sure we prioritise attendance at church, at house group, at KG, and of course at the monthly prayer meeting.  Of course it will be good for us to do these things, but it will also help the women at church grow in their love for Christ, as they see how we are growing in maturity, they can learn from this.

We need to take the lead evangelistically.  This is an area we have not been as good as the women at.  Fabulously, our church (CCB) is not as bad as the national imbalance between men and women.  But we do have more women than men in church.  I went through the directory and we have 14 more women than men listed in there.  There are a number of factors for that, but it seems to me the women have taken the lead evangelistically.  We need to do it.  We need to take the lead and evangelise men.  This helps model the priority of evangelism, but it is also a loving thing for us to do for the women at church. 

The women in church are not stupid, they can count.  Many, most, of them want to get married.  They recognise that if things stay the same, then 14 of them won’t.  Wouldn’t it be a loving thing for us to for our sisters to work hard at evangelising single men, so that our sisters can have someone to marry?

So we need to treat the women in church with purity, they are our sisters.

Now this next bit is specifically aimed at those not married.  However, married guys need to listen too.  Why?  Because they need to encourage the single guys and also to hold them to account for the way they are treating their Christian sisters.

To have any romantic ambiguity with a girl at church is a no-no.  The constant refrain from Christian girls is for us men to “BE CLEAR”.  For a girl to think there might be a romantic possibility with you because of the way you’ve acted towards her and you’ve no intentions with that girl is mean.  It is a long way from purity. 

Now, please don’t get me wrong, please be friends with girls at church.  It’s a normal and good thing to do, they are our sisters, and it’s the most natural thing to want to be friends with them.  But, avoid spending exclusive time with a girl without explaining what is going on.

Men and women think differently, you might say; “we went for a drink she knew it was just as friends.”  Are you sure?  Generally speaking, women psycho-analyse things far more than we do.  They read into things stuff we wouldn’t even imagine could be there.  So be very clear, don’t mess the girls at church around with them speculating whether there is a chance of something more when you’ve no intention of that.  We must take the lead and be clear.

But do make friends with the girls, as an email I got said, “Our girls are brilliant!” 

But what do you do if you are keen on a girl?

Not sure.  But how about this for an idea. 

1. Pray!  Ask God to give you wisdom about whether you should go out with this girl. 

2. Ask the advice of others who you trust. 

3. Ask to meet with her and explain your desire to date her. 

Say you wish to go out with her and you do have a view to the future, you’re not asking her to marry you at this point, but you are saying you would like to see if you have a future together.  If you do not have a view of the future, DO NOT GO OUT WITH HER.  Equally it doesn’t mean you should marry her within the next few weeks, you could but it doesn’t mean you have to.

So now imagine she said yes, she would like to see where things go.  2 questions when you are going out and to keep asking.

  1. If relationship ended tomorrow could you say that you both grew as a Christian during the time you were courting?
  2. If relationship ended tomorrow could you say that you honoured her, both physically and emotionally?

If you say yes to both of these and it does end then it’s not been a failure, you’ve both grown as Christians. 

In all areas, whether we are married or single, we need to consider carefully how we are striving to treat the women at church as sisters.

But additionally, and to help us to do that:

We need to encourage each other to be men.

ESV Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

ESV Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Look at these proverbs.  We know they are true.  Let’s encourage, challenge, rebuke, and train each other to be the men at church our women need us to be.

LONDON MEN’S CONVENTION

Saturday was my first London Men’s Convention. I almost feel it’s too late to post about it now. The blogosphere is festooned with reviews and highlight summaries; particularly regarding the contributions of Tim Keller. However, as suggested by the title, I’m posting about it anyway. I’m going to start with the statement that it was brilliant. I’m then going to suggest some reasons why.

 

1. It was brilliant because it meant quality time with blokes from church

Yes we see each other every week. But the time available around the biscuits immediately preceding or following a meeting is limited. What’s more, it is largely occupied with us asking out about each others’ week, sees people variously joining and leaving the discussion – dependent upon their biscuit needs, and is also populated by those of the fairer sex.

The time spent travelling to the Docklands, taking breaks, eating lunch and getting back home on the other hand was hours long in total, saw us captive in our proximity to one another, and allowed a more bloke-friendly realm of banter. This therefore enabled hours of uninterrupted chat – spent dispensing borderline abuse or considering football, workplace pressures, health concerns, preferred worship styles, ideas for talking to others about Jesus, film recommendations and much else that helps grow relationships. It’s sometimes nice to hang with the boys…

 

2. It was brilliant because the talks were brilliant

 

A confession: I fell asleep during the second Keller talk. It was still brilliant, or so I’ve heard, but I’m really lacking kip at present, and I blame the carb crash that inevitably results in following Pete Matthew to Square Pie for lunch… Anyway, regarding the talks I do remember – I was often struck by the little things I’d never previously noticed – skilfully pointed out in otherwise familiar passages regarding the person of Jesus.

Wes McNabb pointed out Jesus’ authority in ‘dismissing’ the large crowd prior to his walking on water – that and the fact he knew exactly where their boat was! It was pitch black!!

Tim Keller blew my mind by pointing out the significance of every little thing recorded in John whilst Jesus hung on the cross. A few folk more learned than I were open-mouthed at his linking the water from his side to that which gushed from the rock struck by Moses’ staff in the wilderness… particularly when it was pointed out that the rock too played a substitutionary role in taking the blow from the staff (usually a measure of punishment) prior to pouring forth the water of life.

His second talk (that which I was conscious for) was helpful in pointing out the lunacy of no-one expecting Jesus’ resurrection – following all his talk about the ‘third day’ – and then making clear that it’s because they were no more naturally inclined to expect the dead to rise than would we be! This was linked to prevailing ‘chronological snobbery’ in people assuming they would have gone along lightly with such a notion.

Mike Cain strengthened my belief, borne of Revive 2007, that he has rare gift of analogy. Whatever modern day scenario he picks to depict biblical concepts, he tends to stick with it throughout – anchoring the talk in the familiar whilst doing thorough justice to the passage. In this sermon examining Jesus’ return, it was the idea of him awaiting his wife’s return from a trip away; we progressively heard of the wisdom in him following those instructions she left behind and of the need for him to show his love by doing the washing-up before she return, and not waste his time watching football!

I would also like to ‘big up’ Richard Coekin, who looks admirably comfortable in front of a crowd of thousands and seems utterly authoritative in his role as chairman.

 

3. It was brilliant because the worship was brilliant

 

This is a qualified statement. It could have been more brilliant if we hadn’t assembled the most reserved 4,000 men in all London. That number of voices could truly have raised the roof… As it was, most arms were held vigorously at sides, but the basso tones nevertheless swelled my heart as they grew in confidence throughout various well-penned anthems, each pointing surely at the figure of Jesus Christ. Stuart Townend and his band are skilful indeed, but it is overwhelmingly the words, particularly of those penned by Townend himself (In Christ Alone, How Deep the Father’s Love etc), that leave me euphoric… He truly has a great line in triumphant last verses!

 

4. It was brilliant to see people from other churches

 

By virtue of a couple of years doing summer camp, I know a few faces about the place. There is also the constant anticipation of bumping into one of my blog heroes (someone please introduce me to Jam Carey – I never managed to spot him!) and the surprise of stumbling upon of couple of Year 11 students from my school! It is great to be reminded that this community of ours is larger than a corner of Balham. With so many faces, both familiar and otherwise, surely we can impact upon this capital of ours?!

 

So, there you go. It was also brilliant to buy a newspaper, but to be so busy chatting and listening that I never read a single page! That said, I want to add a proviso here – I know from posting a similar review of the Lads’ Weekend Away that not everyone does so enjoy this ‘sort of thing’. The large crowds can alienate those who feel less comfortable among their brethren, whilst the constant singing and hours of Bible-bashing may not be to everyone’s taste. However, there can be little real harm in hearing skilful Bible exposition, in getting to know other Christians a little better, nor in letting the many secular support staff about the place see the passion that exists for Christ. I would hope few ultimately regretted spending the time or money… For my part, I deem it to have been worth very penny. I very much hope I can return next year (along with a non-Christian mate or two – it’s the mission version next time as part of Passion for Life) and tell you again how brilliant it all was!

 

LET US PLAY THE MAN

The phrase ‘let us play the man’ comes from 2 Samuel 10 and gives the title to a blog I frequent by Pastor Brian Barber. It’s a great concept and, as we learned from Perks last weekend during the Men’s Breakfast in Balham, the word used also translates as ‘be strong’ in the good old-fashioned sense of the word. Basically, our session was about men being men. It would have made Germaine Greer explode, but I found it somewhat satisfying. After all, in this world of men as overgrown adolescents, with societal expectations of us lower than ever, it is hugely appealing and important for Christian men to stand as real men unafraid to lead… to provide, to protect, to take responsibility and to be a role model to the next generation. It certainly appeals to women, of that I’m sure.

 

But to get personal about it… Can I play the man? I’m average height – for a girl. I’m never going to win many arm wrestles. I am unsuited to manual labour. I earn less than my wife, and, relatively speaking, am considerably less important in my workplace. I wear my heart on my sleeve so will never be the strong silent type… But maybe that’s not what it’s about. If I am willing to put my wife sacrificially before myself… If I am willing to take responsibility for the decisions we make… If I am prepared to lead in ensuring her spiritual development and her physical and emotional wellbeing… If I am righteous, consistent and marked by integrity… Perhaps I can yet be a man as God intended (although he could have helped out by granting a tad more muscle mass and verticality).

 

The challenges I take on board in all seriousness from thinking this through are as follows: More financial wisdom is required in order that I can lead and ease my wife’s stress. Less passivity in decision-making as a principle would be advisable (particularly when my wife wants me to make decisions – problem is I’m genuinely often not bothered either way!). I must be a rock during her imminent tough times in hospital and beyond – yes, I’m allowed moments of vulnerability, but they can’t be the main event day to day. As for physical strength… it sounds silly but I’m half way to thinking there is genuine merit in hitting the gym. It is good to know as husbands that we are capable of protecting our wife and of course carrying those cupboards and boxes that need carrying! It’s a way of making the most of what God has granted. Watch this space…  

WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE?

I WORE NO HAIR GEL TO SCHOOL YESTERDAY!! ‘So what’ I hear you ask. Well read on dear reader, and realise the scale of my achievement! I wrote this a few weeks back and was, frankly, embarrassed to publish it. Which is normally the best reason for publishing…

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So, there I am. That’s a blurry depiction of what I look like – as recorded by my mobile phone. I’ve had times when I would have given a great deal to have looked different. Now, I’ve got to a point, having just passed my 30th birthday, where I will at least admit it could be worse, as well as plenty better! But how should we, as Christians, regard our appearance? Moreover, how are we coping within an ever more image obsessed culture, where we’ll often be judged more by our looks than our character? As my wife faces the particular risks associated with considering removing a tumour attached to her facial nerve, I consider this issue of our relationship with our ‘looks’ particularly worth discussing.

 

I generally challenge myself on here to maintain honesty, even if it makes me look foolish. Well, there’s no subject more likely to fulfil that aim than me analysing the relationship I have with my own appearance. It’s just not the done thing! In churches we are happy for our women to have self-image issues but, for blokes… with my mates I may talk about my thought life, my prayer life, my sex life even, but the statement ‘I don’t feel very attractive’?! Well it would surely provoke the most awkward of silences. What are they supposed to say, after all? Even so, this is the fact I want to face. I have grown up within a supremely image-fixated society, and I sometimes believe the issues I’ve had with what I see in my mirror have done more than I’d ever like to credit to shape the person I’ve become. Now, following my 30th I can no longer pretend to be a young man… it’s all downhill from here physically-speaking! I think, therefore, it’s probably time to make peace with my appearance, and to consider how to do such a thing from a Christian perspective.

 

I was always short, skinny and ‘kinda funny-looking’ (still am!), to quote the movie Fargo. Ah, let’s get more honest than that… I was a big head on a puny body – my nose, ears, big eyes… I sometimes felt like every single feature God gave me lent itself to playground taunts. I wasn’t unpopular and I was able to treat most banter as intended, developing a nice line in self-depreciation. However, following a lifetime of nicknames based on fictional non-human characters, I did genuinely believe myself to look somehow less than human. I did absolutely presume that any laughter I heard in public was at the expense of my appearance. And, whilst I’m aware I have ‘normalised’ slightly as adolescence has become but a (now distant!) memory, my self-image has been complicated further by the fact I have an improbably attractive wife – years of assuming everyone’s first reaction to be wondering quite how I managed to bat so far ‘above my average’ and what’s in it for her.

 

What effect has it had on me? Well, ironically, I’m guilty of vanity. I’m far more vain than I should be as a Christian man with a keen sense of this world’s futility. I’m subconsciously desperate to make the best of what I see as a bad lot; being honest, I’d rather miss church than attend it without wearing hair gel! Don’t worry, I’m well aware of how ridiculous that is… It has also led to me over-compensating in terms of my personality. If the first impression is made with the eyes then you’d better bet the second impression, the one I can control, will try and make up for it. In addition, I may not have angry short-man syndrome, but I definitely am more competitive than is good for me. I have a burning desire to outdo those whose default setting may be to look down their nose at me.

 

And how does my desire to be godly impact upon all this? Well, I am a loved, valued, planned part of God’s creation. I am made in His image and chosen by Him for salvation. It is not for me to deem His efforts unsatisfactory! ‘God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple’ Paul says in 1 Corinthans 3. Regarding vanity, 2 Timothy 3 places ‘lovers of self’ among the ranks of ‘detestable’ sinners. Our eyes should be focused on Christ, not on ourselves – in Matthew 16:24 he said that ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. So yes I need to get over it. Especially as I am not particularly accursed – sure, the modelling contract is unlikely to be in the post, but neither am I deformed… indeed my beautiful wife considers me attractive, for reasons I will never grasp but remain grateful for nonetheless. The sin I’m actually most guilty of is covetousness. Envying another man’s height, physique or looks is no different in effect to envying his house or car. It is to place my hopes in false idols; it is me expressing a lack of faith and dissatisfaction for the blessings God has bestowed upon me. And he knows best. It would clearly do me no favours were I required to suppose every woman I encountered was tempted to throw herself my way!

 

So, as I have said on a number of occasions through this forum, enough already! Time to grow up. Time to take the events of this strange week as a decisive reminder that the standards and values of this world are not all important or even close to it. It is better that I am more righteous than that I am more attractive. It is better that I am saved than… well anything! If you see me at church with fluffy bowl-head hair, then I really have come of age!          

20 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT 2009 SO FAR…

My year thus far. It starts quite negatively, but persist – it ends quite cheery!!

1. TUMOUR: My wife’s benign brain tumour is clearly the biggest news of the year thus far. It is horrible and scary considering brain surgery… Even so, it is with far more than token acknowledgement that I claim that God WILL use this for the good. I have already seen it in terms of the strengthening of our marriage, the strengthening of friendships, the strengthening of trust in Him. Even so, I really wish it wasn’t happening! (Sorry God…)

2. HEALING: A big challenge to us as UK evangelicals. It is the gut reaction of those in our church to pray for my wife’s ‘strength’ (generally spiritual), rather than for her ‘healing’. To some Christians this would seem bizarre. We are so keen not to give false expectations to believers, to stray into ‘wealth & health’ territory or to see Christianity as initiation into the Magic Circle. But are we exhibiting too little faith? James 5 states that ‘prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’… but also of ‘patience in the face of suffering’, so we’ll see… I’d be grateful if you’d join me in praying that the tumour would indeed shrink.

3. ANKLE: This takes me to my own ‘suffering’. Less worrisome than the above, to be sure, but my unhealing ankle ligament damage, sustained before Christmas, has significantly impacted upon my year thus far. No more chats with Tom en route to the weekly football; no more joining my wife for weekend runs; no more active lifestyle at all in fact… I pray that I too am learning patience, but if so it’s sub-conscious!!

4. 30th BIRTHDAY: Maybe it’s all tied up in this! Five years ago my ankle would have healed. Of that I’m sure. I guess these things can no longer be taken so for granted. Me being me, my birthday has unleashed a dizzying bout of self-analysis. Society says stay young, but I crave maturity, responsibility and progress, albeit whilst still being mistaken for a sixth-former at school! God has been kind to me – I have a saving faith, a wife, a home I own and a career, so I could face this artificial landmark with a certain calm. Not to say I won’t moan about these very blessings! Read on…

5. CAREER: Tumour aside, the worst thing about the year thus far has been the continuation of the annual saga entitled ‘Andy fails to get a new job’. I fear I must learn not to uphold myself by worldly standards. I’d better not, because the sad truth is I have made remarkably little progress as a teacher, whether by promotion or by moving to a better school. I know I have the potential to do more, and that I am a better teacher than some above me. But God wants me where I am for now, so I’d better get on with it!

6. THE FLAT: And as for this… it’s hard to explain how negative I feel about our material home. The next item (Debt) will be largely explained by having bought a flat – having been forced to have it damp-proofed, double-glazed, having bought the freehold and done the bathroom… only to be told that we need new floors, new plastering and that, even with all that, the flat has devalued since we bought it. We don’t have funds or practical skills (at all!). I would love to host more and to stop fretting about where this home-owning saga takes us. 2009 has not gone well in this respect!

7. DEBT: This is the shame I bear. We have been unwise at times. Savings don’t exist. Debt is significant. In this current climate it’s horrible because you’re always one redundancy or vengeful credit card company away from disaster. True faith in God is required, as well as gratitude for all we have (and it’s a lot!), but I would love to be debt-free.

8. ECCLESIASTES: Reading this in my Quiet Times was fascinating. What’s it doing there? It is so deeply cynical and depressed in tone that even the NIV Study Notes don’t seem to have a clue what to do with it much of the time! But that said, I found it massively heartening. Hope placed in anything other than Christ is ultimately ‘meaningless’. This is the alternative – and we have the answer to it!

9. JOY: As seen for much of the above, I am a real worrier (and moaner) – increasingly so as I leave my youth behind! I have a wife who can take it personally and so I need not to let it become my norm. I have begun forcing myself to acknowledge those things I am grateful for each day. Largely by…

10. DIARISATION: If it’s not enough that I record minutely my Quiet Time content and blog my every other thought, I have this year begun keeping a record of what I did each day, perhaps to enforce some accountability in not wasting my time. I want to ensure I’m seeing friends, going places… and to be able to thank God for those recorded daily blessings! It works as I’m normally grateful for most of what I’ve written down. Lets look at a couple…

11. MOVIES: I won’t say much, as when I blogged about it no-one read! My wife and I have long since been movie addicts. The surprise has been that, as I try to watch them more with God-goggles on, I find I’ve been enjoying them more! I do like to consider character motives and lessons learned… seeing how a worldview compares with our own. Turns out God isn’t a kill-joy after all!

12. FOOD: Thank God that my wife has developed a passion for working her way through the latest Jamie Oliver cook-book! Now here’s a discovery – my spiritual regime very much benefits from a general sense of physical well-being. Attempts to eat my 5-a-day, particularly with an increased fruit intake, and to eat decent satisfying meals have resulted in me feeling far more ready to do something fruitful (ha!) with my days. I have more energy and a sharper focus for sure.

13. THE SPIRITUAL ‘REGIME’: The biggest difference in my year. On the plus side it has been enormously beneficial. I have instilled a lot more discipline in 2009. I am working to devised plans regarding the gospel-exposure of my non-Christian friends, have subscribed to Christian blogs, have given more time to Quiet Times and have listened to a sermon a day on the way to work. But there’s a major down-side. I am utterly routine dependent. As shown by the snow days, it utterly falls apart without that set window before work and the journey there. Too many of my good habits, behaviour-wise, are caught up in this dependence.

14. LUST: I remain a keen admirer of the female form. The impulse is correct. But not acting upon that impulse in a sinful fashion continues to be the biggest challenge faced by the Christian bloke, particularly within a society determined to rub our faces in it. To be frank, half of my routine is designed to prevent me from fixating upon sex and the allure of the fairer species. God certainly designed me to be a married man…

15. VS THE ATHEISTS: Remember this? (Read here) What fun it was – and great encouragement. Christianity is robust enough to withstand rigorous intellectual to & fro. I will certainly return for another bout before the year is done!

16. CHRISTIANITY EXPLORED: This deliberately follows the last point. I now view my Adventures in the Blogosphere against the atheist fraternity as being God’s training for me leading a ‘guest’ group over the Christianity Explored programme currently running at CCB in lieu of ‘normal’ church. Questions have arisen of all shapes & sizes. Some I’ve dealt with well, some badly… but I have rarely met the entirely unexpected. I feel like I rehearsed… It’s been great to directly espouse the virtue of the gospel each week… Church shouldn’t be a hiding place after all!

17. BLOG: And of course there’s been this! It’s a strange old business – the time I have spent writing these thousands of words – for an audience often smaller than you could possibly imagine! Why not just e-mail those few I know are reading? Why write at all? Well it’s good to have a reason to set out thoughts – it’s good to challenge myself to see how the events of my life and the world around me come under my walk with God. If no-one at all was reading I would still have benefitted from committing to this blog. But that’s not to say I’d carry on doing it! So please keep reading!! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover one day in the next world that I wrote something God used for someone I don’t even know… That is always the tantalising possibility in the anonymity of cyber-space…

18. WASTING TIME: I need to do some marking! I’m not going to concoct artificial points just to get it to 20!

19. OR AM I? It would seem so…

20. THE END… Well done for making it this far down the post!

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!

WELCOME TO MY NEW HOME

new20home20card20webHello. Andybeingachristian is now on WordPress! I have moved over some of the best-read posts from the past couple of years on blogsome, as you can see below. Exporting posts is one of the many things blogsome does badly, so I have painstakingly copy & pasted over 21,000 words whilst the snow falls outside! Other things it does badly include formatting, stats provision and RSS feeds – hence the move here!

Let me just restate my reasons for doing this…

  • Selfish reasons: I like to order my thoughts by writing them down. I often feel a bit confused and bemused by the daily reality of this walk with God and I find it enormously helpful to articulate my struggles on (virtual) paper.
  • Selfless reasons: It is apparent that I’m not the only one who finds it tough wanting to be like Jesus, but in fact being a big old sinner in a big old sinful world. There are those who I know find it encouraging to see that I’m a bigger loser than they are, and thus feel heartened to carry on running the race!
  • God graciously gave me an ability to write half-decently and I want to use it for Him! I could happily spend all my time writing about movies, the British Empire, football and attempting to be funny. There is a time and a place for all those things. However, there is also a need for me to prioritise, to think about, to hold myself accountable regarding, and to assess that which is most important – my relationship with my creator and saviour.

Hope you enjoy… (and subscribe via RSS – click on that orange logo on the toolbar above and paste it into your Windowns feed list (next to ‘history’ on the left side of your browser) or Google Reader (sign up – it’s great!). Can I also encourage everyone to peruse other Christian blogs as listed down the right. There’s a lot of important and thought-provoking stuff getting discussed all the time!