Archive for August, 2010

// bible in one year

I’d like to extend a quick plug to anyone reading this to go and check out the new initiative from our friends over at Soul Survivor – the Bible in One Year project:

(http://thebibleinoneyear.wordpress.com).

If you made it to the summer festivals this year then you’ll have seen the guys from Soul Survivor selling the book, which is divided up into daily chunks and which you can still buy online – they’ll also be posting the passages on the website so that you can follow it along from there instead.

Plenty of people have done year-long Bible reading guides before, but the real beauty of Soul Survivor’s idea is that it sets up an online discussion community around the passage for each day, meaning that there is the potential for debate and comment on what is posted and it genuinely feels like you’re doing it alongside a load of other people. It kicks off tomorrow, and I’ll certainly be posting some thoughts on various passages throughout the year, so do have a look at it – it’s on the “links” to the right of this page as well, and it’s going to be quite an experience.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve been told that ours is the generation that is going to change the world – but in practice that’s always seemed a bit diffuse, hard to work out when you leave the summer festivals. So huge credit for Soul Survivor for putting in place a system where you do start to learn the hard graft of what it means to change the world in the day to day, and make sure you’re praying for it, even if you don’t take part; I, for one, know how easy it can be to get burned out on the daily Bible schedules.

Check back here tomorrow for some thoughts on Genesis 1 and Psalm 1.

// redemption, glory, and a wedding

Yesterday I was at the wedding of two of my best friends here in Oxford, and it was a truly beautiful occasion. There’s something amazing about walking out of a wedding so overflowing with joy that you can’t stop grinning about it for a day afterwards.

Part of that is down to the story of my two friends, who have overcome a whole host of obstacles to get to this point alone. People say that Luke is a born storyteller, and they are right on that fact. There is a distinction, I have realised recently, between being a born writer and a born storyteller. That distinction is evident in the way in which people look at life – I would argue, at least, that writers are more pensive, more poetic, more prone to wonder and paralysis, where storytellers make things happen. Whatever the case, no-one could deny that God glorified that quality in Luke by giving him and his now-wife the most amazing story (and that’s just so far).

Many of you reading this blog know these two, or know their story. It is a beautiful reminder of how God works through the details of day-to-day life, and although it is not my story to tell here, suffice to say it is an example to all of us who know it of what we can attain towards, what God can shape us into if we let Him.

But there’s more to that, too, because every wedding points beyond itself to something bigger. At the end of the book of Revelation, the apostle John wrote down his vision of

the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…

And I always thought that was kind of a weird image. After all, how does a city look like a bride on her wedding day? But all that said, on days like yesterday, it’s possible to catch a glimpse of what it will be like on that day, the joy and the anticipation that will radiate through all of creation when God makes all things new.

At one point yesterday, a friend of mine reminded me that, although Luke’s wedding was indeed an occasion for joy, the fact of salvation, that God came to earth to save us, is endlessly more joyful than this, and we don’t make enough of that fact. I see his point, and it’s well meant, but I think I also see yesterday as pointing towards something more. A shadow of what is to come, a momentary glimpse of that joy which will one day await us in the midst of a world that often doesn’t seem all that joyful…

I would argue that the joy that was shot throughout everything that happened yesterday is a reminder of what is possible in this life – like sun breaking through the clouds, a momentary snapshot of what will one day be our visible, eternal reality. I get more and more excited about heaven these days, the prospect of a life that is overflowing in eternal, radiant joy, our days spent in the continual presence of God. And days like yesterday only serve to enhance that excitement.

I love that the Bible ends with a wedding day. Maybe I’ve just not been to enough weddings to get bored with them yet, but at least at the moment they still seem like the moments where heaven visibly touches earth, and I’m grateful for those glimpses.

So thanks guys, for that picture. Here’s to both of you – for living a life that points beyond itself, and towards the God to whom all glory and praise is due, both now and forever. Amen to that.

// affirmation

People used to tell me that you should never have a ‘quiet time’ last thing at night. They would say that people who do that often get distracted, end up falling asleep or rushing through their time with God, which wasn’t a good thing. They would say that you should do it first thing in the morning instead, before the chaos of the day rushed in, before you got tired or stressed. The way they used to tell it, it sounded like a chore, something that you had to get out of the way at some point or you had failed.

You had to talk to God each day, after all. That was the rule.

I think it had something to do with how your time with God was supposed to be a time of study, and you were less able to concentrate late at night, less able to remember everyone and everything that you were supposed to pray for. There is a logic to that, I suppose.

I don’t know about you, though, but last thing at night is so often the time when I most need to be spending time with God – and not time to read out a list of requests, not to study, but time just to sit with Him. To let His perspective soak into me, and to be reminded of how the issues that I face and the stresses that have gotten to me throughout the day are not as important as I make them, because He is in control, and to remember who I am in Him, irrespective of what the world says. All of these things are life to me, like water to my thirsty soul.

Currently, I sleep alone, and I am told that even those of my friends who are married still occasionally lie awake some nights, unable to communicate what is really going on in their heads to their spouse even if they were to try. Those are the times when we need a relationship with God, and need one that is honest and real, where we dare to be vulnerable with Him, rather than just calling out our requests to a far-off God to whom we are dutifully obedient because he gives us stuff. We need someone who will hear us when we lie awake at night, someone who knows the depths of our hearts.

Lots of people love the image in Zephaniah of God quieting us with singing and rejoicing over us with His love, and I am one of those people. I love that idea that when God speaks, often He gives us great vision, but He also gives us deep peace, too. I like especially that, late at night, when I get reflective and sometimes melancholy, God speaks a better word to me, one that goes beyond the systems of the world, back to the original identity of who He says that I am because I am in Him.

Lately, I like having quiet times last thing at night. Those seem to be the best times. The times when I need to hear His voice the most.

Sleep well. And may you let Him quiet you with His love.

// hope

Parts of this might become a part of “thoughts from an average Christian” in the next chapter. We’ll see. Normal blog service should resume in the next few days, I’m just getting back on track after the summer break.

* * *

The other day I was at this seminar with a bunch of 14-18 year olds from the youth venue where I was working, and we were talking about evangelism. We sat around telling each other our testimonies in a minute, and after I’d heard seven or eight, my own included, something felt… missing. It was hard to place it, but there was definitely something distinctly off about the whole thing.

And then I realised what it was. None of us – not one – in our minute summaries of why we followed Jesus, had talked about Jesus. At all. We had talked about Christianity, becoming a Christian, and other Christians who we remembered had helped us, but nobody mentioned Him. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have noticed it if another writer hadn’t pointed it out before me, but once you see something that, it’s hard to feel anything other than this was not the way it was supposed to be.

It got me wondering what we are selling, if we are not selling Jesus. We are selling a brand, then, of people who do particular things and go to particular places on particular days and take our holidays on the same campsites. But a brand never changed anybody’s life. It’s like choosing between Coke or Pepsi, MacDonalds or Burger King. Nobody ever started a war over these things, and for good reason. They are not that important.

Once, back when I started out, I thought that a brand could change the world. If it was cool enough, and well enough presented, then it would appear to be a better option than the others out there and people would choose to believe in Jesus. I really believed it, and I believed it for quite a long time, too. I brought my friends to church, occasionally, thinking they would be impressed, and they weren’t, so I figured that we just needed to find somewhere cool to go instead, and they would come.

But people are clever. They can tell from a group whether or not it measures up to the claims that it makes about itself, especially if that group is promising to change your life. They will look at who you have been changed into and see if they want that. Lots don’t.

I had a friend at University who I tried out brand-Christianity on, and she called me on it. She asked me if my life was quantifiably better as a result of being a Christian, and I couldn’t honestly tell her that it was. She pointed out that, at least through her eyes, it seemed to have just made my life worse, had made me more anxious and more stressed on top of my other concerns, given me a whole range of other commitments that I didn’t have time for. And the thing was, she was right, kind of. It had given me more to worry about. I already had enough on my plate without more to do. I didn’t have an answer for her at the time, and I’m not sure that Christianity did either, although that didn’t stop it from trying.

I didn’t realise it until six months later, when the two of us had argued about something and were no longer speaking, but what I should have told her was that I wasn’t sure that it was even supposed to make our lives quantifiably better for now. Don’t mishear me on this. Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself, after all, and there is so much truth in the fact that we are called to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth now, not just wait to fly off to heaven when we die. The Christians stole that bit from Plato, for the most part. And there are real examples of healings and miracles today, of God intervening in the world in dramatic ways.

That said, though, Paul did tell the Corinthians that “if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Brand Christianity is slowly building an empire, and it’s now possible to live within a cushion of Christian stuff (books, music – even films, lately) with its own series of issues and rewards to such an extent that it becomes your life. Dress right, act right, go to the right seminars, read the right books, talk in the right way. But it’s not supposed to be that way, is it? Christ is supposed to become our life, not Christianity.

Being a Christian is never going to change the world. Knowing Christ is. And I realise that there shouldn’t be any distinction between them, believe me I do, but technically there is one, and it’s now increasingly possible to do one without the other.

When my friend asked me if my life had become quantifiably better since I became a Christian, I couldn’t tell her yes. I had more friends who were dealing with huge issues and struggles than I had ever had before, and I was involved with some of those people at a deep level. I had more responsibilities, some of which kept me up at night. More was expected of me from those around me. I mourned with those who mourned and rejoiced with those who rejoiced, but it seemed like there were more people mourning than rejoicing a lot of the time.

When she asked me, I should have told her that I was more fully alive than I had ever been before. I felt more acutely the fallenness of our world and all the brokenness that was its consequence, and I longed more desperately for the redemption of all things. I should have told her that now I lived a life of hope, not pretending that life was okay right now but acknowledging that things were not right and letting them be restored by someone who was capable of doing that. Told her that all of us who sought to follow Christ lived a life of hope, and sought to bring hope into the places where there was none, sometimes by our mere presence alone.

I should have told her all of these things, but I didn’t. I stammered out an answer that went something along the lines of how I had great friends, good community, purpose and support networks and so on, a very secular list of benefits. I should have pursued reconciliation when things fell apart, proved that this life is a life of hope, that broken things can be restored.

I believe that a better world is possible now, but I’m not always sure that it is going to happen within the bubble of brand Christianity. That stuff came from a good motivation in the beginning, admittedly, stuff like running businesses along Godly principles and from seeking to stand apart from a seemingly corrupt secular world, but now it serves less as a model of hope so much as a model of detachment sometimes.

I hope for a better, purer world. One where I can breathe again. And it is coming, and it is there, even if you have to hunt for it sometimes. Because this life is not the end. And praise God for that. Because if it were, we would be to be pitied indeed.

// festivals

I’m going to be pretty busy for the next fortnight or so, working for a week helping run one of the youth venues at New Wine Central South-West before taking a youth group out to Soul Survivor for Week B, so things might be pretty quiet on here for a bit. I’ll try and blog while i’m away and type it up when i’m back, but that really depends on time.

If you have a burning desire to share something, do feel free to email me and i’ll set you up as a guest contributor. Until then, if you’re around one of the festivals, i’m sure i’ll see you (let’s have coffee!), and if not, i’ll be back soon.

Posted by Wordmobi