Archive for the ‘Christianity Explored’ Tag

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!

WHO TO INVITE?

Posted 1/2/09

I write this having just learned that the two friends I’d managed to convince into coming along to church this evening (we are running a Christianity Explored course during the next few services) have pulled out. Such is the way of things – I’m disappointed, but I’m determined not to fall into the trap of worrying what others in church will think of my apparent lack of evangelistic endeavour. Oh OK, I’m already in that trap! I worry about it because they know, and I know, that I should be able to rustle up someone at events such as these – given the large number of non-Christians with whom I socialise and converse. There are, after all, some at church who claim not to know a single non-Christian to invite! I suppose it’s possible… some move into the area, make the church their social network, and perhaps work for Christian organisations too.  I however, strange as it may seem, went to a school full of non-Christians, moving on to a university where I lived in halls again full of non-Christians, prior to taking a job in a company, yes you guessed it, full of non-Christians. Therefore I know loads of them… its Christians I’ve traditionally had a harder time getting in with (prior to CCB of course)! So then, returning to the purpose of my post, where ARE they on evenings like these??

Well, being honest, I tend to see them in various categories: the Opportunities, the Toughies, the Impossibles and, in a category of their own, the Self-Confirmed Atheists. I’ll also allow for a few floating Who Knows?

‘Opportunities’: These are the ones who often grew up in churched families. They may purport to believe in God or, even if they don’t, the concept still exerts an emotional hold over them. They are more likely to say yes to events like the one tonight, and seem, in human eyes, eminently ‘convertible’. In reality, of course, no-one is convertible until the Spirit does His thing, thus meaning that these individuals, proving just as unlikely as anyone else to see Jesus as their actual living saviour, often prove to be the biggest source of frustration.

‘Toughies’: these are the biggest group in my life. They are generally middle class, university educated, comfortably placed in society… basically think they have life figured out. They are usually agnostic and happy to keep it that way; in fact they are uncomfortable talking about the messy matters of faith. They are liberal enough to cheerfully accept my faith, just as long as it’s not forced upon them, and as long as I don’t start acting ‘weird’ (ie let it affect my decision-making and priorities).  Being honest, I haven’t invited these guys tonight. They don’t want to sit around talking about Jesus per se, but they can generally be enticed by the more acceptable mechanisms of pub quizzes and Carol Services. Outside of this, the tactic is to engineer those rare one-on-one discussions in which you can actually start asking some deeper questions. MSN Messenger conversations are a handy tool, as are car journeys. Some would be shocked were they to discover how intricate my plans are for engineering such situations!

‘Impossibles’: this is where God has to change my heart – the guys who I don’t invite to anything because I’m scared. There aren’t many, but I know they would think me an absolute weirdo or would be too embarrassed for words. That said, there is some sense in there too. Often the reason it would be so awkward is simply that we don’t know each other that well. There is something to be said therefore for genuinely getting to know someone before you start gospel-bombing them. Why should someone open up to you if you have no relational foundation to base it on??

‘Self-Confirmed Atheists’: Funnily enough, these guys are the easiest of the lot to deal with when it comes to inviting. OK, they’re not likely to come along to church, but I can assure you of the following… If someone is interested enough to call themselves an atheist on Facebook, then they almost certainly want to argue the fact with others. In fact, they probably want to carry out a little evangelism of their own. So start arguing!! Before you know it, you will have laid down the gospel a dozen times – all whilst correcting the 500 misconceptions he/she holds about your beliefs and activities. At least the battle is being waged in the open! For so long, apathy has been the bain of British evangelism I’m sure.

‘Who Knows?’: It was one of these scheduled to come along this evening. Sometimes you just have to take opportunities when they emerge. A mate, more a mate of mate, whom I haven’t seen for a while, posted a note on Facebook this week randomly listing 25 things we might not know about him. One of them was that he believed in God but ‘didn’t have to go to church to prove it’. Seeing the way in, I ended up emailing him with 25 responses to his 25 points, all so I could invite him to church in Point Number 7. Almost worked as well…

Above all, don’t forget, we’re not expected to convert all our mates – that’s in God’s hands. However, the one thing we should never leave ourselves open to is the possibility that, before the throne of judgement, they can turn to us and ask “Why did you never tell me? Why did you never let me know??” Once they’ve heard the truth, the decision must be theirs… although we can always have another shot. But, whether by hearing Perks at an event, whether by having us challenge them to read Tim Keller for balance having seen them read Dawkins, or perhaps, one day, by actually just telling them the gospel ourselves… we need to let them hear.