Tag Archives: faith

How to get your kids through church without them hating God: Part 3

On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.

Read part 1 here

Read part 2 here

In the final session of the evening, Rob spoke about the three disappointments that we need to prepare young people for in order that they don’t give up on their faith and walk away from God.

1) with others

2) with themselves

3) with God

the first two are self explanatory. sometimes we can be guilty of painting a false and idealistic picture of Christianity. None of us are perfect. People will let us down and we will let ourselves down. we won’t always get it right as following Christ is not easy. We need to help young people be ready for when the inevitable happens: when other Christians hurt them. Talk about grace. Talk about God’s grace for us and the grace we need to show others.

The 3rd one is more tricky. I compared a Q&A session with our youth fellowship earlier this year. The young people had the opportunity to ask a panel of ‘mature’ christians (2 of the YF leadership and 2 deacons) a series of awkward questions about faith. One of the questions was, “does God always answer prayer?”. Without hesitation, they all answered “yes” with “but sometimes not in the way we want”.

But that doesn’t cut it for me. And clearly it doesn’t for Rob Parsons either. When I prayed that my gran wouldn’t die of cancer, God didn’t deliver. How ever you wrap that up, the prayer wasn’t successful. God will disappoint young people.

Yes we can say, “well it wasn’t God’s will” or we can talk about “sin” and “spiritual forces” but at the end of the day young people will be disappointed when they pray for something and it doesn’t happen. Rob calls these the “what if not?” moments.

“What if they don’t get healed?”

“What if this never happens?”

I know I’m guilty of not preparing young people for this (and myself if I’m honest). Too often we paint a rose tinted picture of Christianity and its this that mostly destroys the faith of our young people.

It was a great night and it left me with so much to think about? What about you? Has any of these thoughts struck you/ challenged you?

How do we define Christianity?

I read this on JR Daniel Kirk’s blog and found it really helpful and inspiring.

In a previous post he talked about how problematic using a theological statement (like a creed) is  to define what a Christian truly is. It makes faith very static and turns it into a list of rules rather than a relationship.

Here is the Nicene Creed as an example:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Is that what defines a Christian? What if, as I do, we read through that and do not agree with everything that is written? Does that make us not a Christian?

This type of understanding is known as bounded set theology. A second way of understanding Christian identity is what is known as a centred set and is defined below”

“…a centered set is created by defining a center or reference point and the relationship of things to that center. Things related to the center belong to the set, and those not related to the center do not. Kingship groups… are relational categories.

It is a relational category. Our Christianity is defined by how close out relationship is to Jesus. Some days we may be close to the centre and other days we may be further away.

Sometimes, by what we say and what we do, we are closely identified by Jesus and at other times we are not.

This makes so much more sense to my understanding of what a Christian is.

Christianity should not be understood as a series of rules that we need to adhere to inorder to be “in”, rather it should be defined as a relationship with God.

In the same way, Christians should not be defined as those who adhere to a set of rules but by their relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we are closer to Jesus and sometimes we are far away but we are always ‘in christ’.

Youth workers, do you agree? If so, how do we communicate this to the young people we work with?

Jesus was an atheist…and we should be too!

The title’s a little sensationalist and exploitative. I know. But bear with me.

Jesus was an atheist! I believe that.

But not in the way we understand atheism today.

Traditional atheism is understood as someone choosing not to believe in a particular representation of God.

The new atheists (not a term I came up with) Dawkins, Hitchens et al, are rejecting particular forms of theism (belief in God). For example the belief in a creator God or a God who interacts with humans. Not the concept of God itself.

“atheism, at its best, is always provisional- meaning that it is always limited to a particular expression of belief.”

So, in a traditional understanding of atheism, Jesus was an atheist.

He rejected the Pharisees understanding of who God is. He rejected the Roman’s understanding of who God is.

Anyone with a faith in a particular understanding of God is an atheist because in order to believe in one understanding, we must reject others.

I am an atheist towards fundamentalist understandings of God.

I am an atheist towards a God who condemns those to eternal punishment because of a different understanding of God. A God who encourages picketers at gay soldiers’ funerals. A God who oppresses women, children, homosexuals, other faiths etc.

But let me push things a little further.

Rather than simply be atheists towards the understandings of God that we disagree with, we should be atheists towards any conception of God that takes the place of God.

In Exodus 20, the second commandment declares that we should not make an image of God. We should not bow to any description of God that claims to be the absolute authority of God. This is key to the Judeo-Christian faith.

Yes, we can reflect on the experiences of God that we have encountered personally and in the person of Jesus and help the young people we work with to experience this God but to claim that we have the absolute truth of God would be idolatrous.

Once we understand this, we can, as peter rollins suggests, ” stop arguing about God and…dedicate our lives to being the manifestation of God”.

 

A new understanding of the God Shaped Hole

I never understood the idea of a ‘God shaped hole’.

The idea that each human has a void that can only be filled by God.

Because what of the people who don’t have that hole? who are content in their lives? Who are neither atheist, nor theist?

I got a SNES (super nintendo entertainment system) when I was 8 or 9 I think. I remember the feeling of wanting it. And knowing that at Christmas, I would get it. There was, in a sense, a SNES shaped hole in me.

But that hole was not filled when I got the SNES. In fact, the whole originally appeared only after I played the SNES for the first time. It was after playing it, that I realised I NEEDED it.

So the idea of a God shaped hole is not a void in someone that needs to have filled (by God). The God shaped hole is created when someone experiences God.

Pete Rollins puts it like this:

“the believer, far from one having a God-shaped hole in his or her being that is now filled, is one who has a God-shaped hole formed in the aftermath of God, a hole that compels them to see after that which they already have”.

I can testify to the fact that I have a God-shaped hole. That I have experienced God and it affected me. It changed me.  And I’m chasing after that experience again.

So rather than helping young people fill a god-shaped hole in them, part of my work should be about creating that void by finding ways for them to experience something of God.

The Christian Atheist

Sometimes I doubt.

Sometimes I wonder where God is.

It’s not that I don’t believe He exists. I’ve had to many experiences of the mysterious and the miraculous to doubt the existence of God.

It’s just sometimes… He seems absent.

Sometimes I experience the absence of God.

I guess it’s like when you have a party or something and one of your friends doesn’t show up. You experience the absence of your friend. You feel the lack of presence of your friend.

Sometimes I feel that about God.

But then I attend a church service or youth event and it’s all about certainty. There doesn’t seem any room for doubt. Any room to discuss the experience of absence.

“God exists. Here’s what he’s saying. Here’s what you need to do. End”

We sing about this certainty. We hear about this certainty.

But sometimes I’m not certain. And that’s okay. It shouldn’t be a dirty secret.

Peter Rollins suggests that on the cross, Jesus experiences this absence of God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It’s not that Jesus thinks God doesn’t exist. It’s the fact he’s experiences the absence of God for the first time.

It makes me wonder what a service or youth event that embraced doubt and the experience of it would look like?

What would a worship song that embraced doubt and the experience of it sound like?

Getting Carried Away with Theology

It’s true.

Sometimes I get carried away with theology.

Sometimes I get carried away in trying to create authentic experiences for young people to discover faith.

Sometimes I get carried away by wanting to fill their little heads with justice, liberation theology, being salt and light, the difference between open and closed theism, what the bible is, how faith works, what prayer is, how we live out our faith, who God is and how we experience him.

Sometimes I get carried away so much that I don’t realize how carried away I am getting.

On Sunday night, on the drive home from the youth event D:talks, one of the 1st year boys turned to me and asked,

“You see how the world is round, do people at the bottom feel like they are upside down?”

Sometimes God reminds me just how carried away I am getting.

I Hate Christian T-shirts: A Rant

That title is maybe a little strong. I don’t hate all christian t-shirts. But I do hate some of them.

especially the ones below that I saw today:

If you will be so kind, let me spell out why I hate these two particular t-shirts.

GOSPEL- God’s only son provides eternal life

Now late me say I have no quarrel with the statement. I believe it. My issue comes with what is says overall. the word gospel means so much more than just Jesus giving us eternal life. the word in greek is euaggelion. It was a a word that existed before the new testament writers used it and they used it for a particular purpose.

‘gospel’ alluded to the birth of a new roman emperor. It forecast a new and prosperous era. It was a political term.

Mark chooses to start his story of Jesus with this line:

1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This statement was an ‘up yours’ to the Roman Empire. It was subversive. Mark was saying, “here is the start of a new era. And it’s not brought about by a Roman Emperor. It’s brought about by Jesus. The true son of God. (the term ‘son of god’ was also a political statement as roman emperors referred to themselves as god’s son).

So do you see why I have issue with this statement? The gospel is so much more than Jesus giving us eternal life. It is about the coming of a new era. A new kingdom. It is about liberation. Other wise there is no point in mark including the story of Jesus’ life. It might as well just focus on his death and resurrection. But it doesn’t. it focuses on his life on earth as well. It focuses on his message. The gospel is about the gift of eternal life but to somehow say it is just about that reduces its impact considerably.Now on to the second one…

BIBLE- Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth

In some ways this statement angers me even more as it represents a completely distorted picture of the coming of God’s Kingdom. Jesus did not come to say us somewhere else. In the book of revelation it says:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

The word new is kainos in greek which is better understood as renewed. Our hope is in the fact that the earth will be renewed. It speaks of God coming to dwell on earth. Not us going somewhere else. What is remarkable about the gospel story is that the eternal logos came and took on flesh and lived here. It is the coming together of body and soul.

Revelation speaks of the return of the earth to how it was meant to be. Not its destruction. If we are simply going to go somewhere else why bother about this earth at all? e might as well just speed up its demise. What kind of message is that?

Well my rant is almost over. I could go on to say that reducing the bible to an instruction manual is also ridiculous but I think I’ve said enough.

I don’t hate all christian t-shirts but I DO HATE THESE ONES!

Rant over.

Inception and the Power of Ideas

***SPOILER WARNING***

I could write pages and pages about the different theories and thoughts I had when watching the film but for this particular post I will focus solely on the power of ideas.

Cobb (Dicaprio’s character) explains to Ariadne (Page’s character) the power of ideas.

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”

He later discusses that an idea can change who a person becomes. It affects every part of them.

Ideas are dangerous. They affect everything we do or say.

Almost two thousand years ago a man called Paul shared an idea with a church in Colossae:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Paul was transformed by an idea. The disciples were transformed by an idea. I am transformed by an idea.

It is not about words or complex theology or right intellectual understandings, but about images.

Jesus, the image of the invisible God.

In a couple of weeks I take up the post as youth worker for South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats. I am reminded that the young people I see will not be captivated by words or musings. They will be captivated by images. by ideas.

Ideas that transform the way they see the world. The way they act.

“An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”

Capitalism is a Jealous God!

taken from Ben Griffith

Then Capitalism spoke all these words:

I am Capitalism your God–the spirit of the American Dream–who brought you out of the Great Depression, who brought you from poverty and a mere speck on the map to being the greatest empire on earth.  You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not think up for yourself a god that disagrees with me, whether he is one who disagrees with the free-market, laissez faire economics, the desire to be filthy rich, or any other of my values.  You shall not bow down and worship them; for I, Capitalism your god, am a jealous god, punishing the lazy and those who can’t help themselves with generational poverty, but showing kindness to all those who work hard and dedicate themselves to the pursuit of money and power.


You shall not slander my name in any way.  In fact, you should hold classes in your schools that glorify my name and slander the unspeakable name of Socialism.  If you question me, I will make sure that you are embarrassed and thrown out of our business circles–doomed to mail rooms and cleaning toilets.

Never stop working…not for anything.  Some people believe in rest.  But the days are not yours, they belong to the market.  And if you think that you can make it in this world, then rest assured, you will never rest.  For by hard work and labor, the industrial revolution, the technological revolution, and Wall Street were created, and those who pioneered them still haven’t rested.

Take advantage of whoever you want–even if it’s your father and mother.  This is the only way you will prosper and have the retirement that you want.
You shall not murder–that’s illegal–but anything else is fair game.  You can slander, defame, and threaten anyone that gets in your way.  That is the only way to the top.

You shall not commit adultery–that’s scandalous–but never let your wife distract you from your firm.  Don’t get caught having sex with another woman, but the company must come first.

You shall not steal.  Well, at least don’t commit accounting fraud or embezzle, but don’t worry about stealing from neighboring countries by using their cheap labor.  After all, that’s my sprit of Global Economics.

Be prepared to misrepresent your competitor.  It can be a problem when you attack a fellow employee (at least publicly), but that can sometimes be advantageous too.  But always paint your competitor as incompetent, selfish, and below you.  Lie if you have to, do what you need to succeed.
Covet everything.  Covet your neighbor’s house, maids, cars, and everything else that he has.  After all, the world is yours for the taking.

Moses VS Kick-Ass

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6

Pretty harsh words don’t you think?

Maybe there’s another way to look at it.

There has already been much discussion about the character of Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass” and whether it is right that a twelve year old girl should be portrayed in that way. Surely giving a girl a gun is dangerous? Well yes, it is. But I think that’s the point.

Big Daddy is hell bent on revenge. The gangster Frank D’Amico took everything from him. And he wants payback. His way of getting this is by training his little girl into the perfect killing machine.

In the context of the exodus passage, Big Daddy has committed idolatry. He has taken on the role of God and in seeking revenge is ultimately saying that he thinks God isn’t doing his job. God should have punished this man. But he didn’t. So now I must. He has replaced God with vengeance and his whole life is ordered around it. He eats, sleeps and breathes revenge.

And in doing so he has robbed his little girl of a childhood. Her innocence has been taken away. This is how I believe the exodus passage is worked out.

I believe we have evolved from the primitive view of a vengeful God who punishes anyone who steps out line. Jesus showed us that.

The punishment that is dealt out for Big Daddy’s sin is that his child no longer gets to be a child. Her playfulness and innocence have been stolen.

The text points to a truth in how the world works. It’s not about God punishing people. There is a natural cycle to everything and if we fall out of the right cycle, then it will come back to punish us.

Take for example a drug addict or alcoholic. Why is it that children of drug addicts or alcoholics are more likely to follow in their parents footsteps? We are connected spiritually to our parents and if they choose to live destructively and turn drugs into idols, filling their lives with them, shaping their lives around them, then that punishment will come our way in one shape or another.

Salvation is the only way to break that cycle. We need freedom from that. We need a freedom that tells us we don’t need to follow the path of our parents. It sometimes doesn’t even have anything to do with our parents. There are young people I work with who are stuck in a cycle because of where they live and the friends they hang around with.

SPOILER ALERT. In the film, Kick-Ass is the salvation that Hit Girl needs. He frees her from the shackles of revenge and allows her to live a normal teenage life (for now).

Are there ways we are living right now that are off kilter? Are there things that we do and say that need to be dealt with so that that cycle of punishment is broken? Are there people are know that are trapped in that cycle? Will you be the salvation that they need?

Maybe that verse isn’t so harsh after all.