Tag Archives: god

Generosity and Community

god52blog

This year I, along with many others, decided to throw myself into #God52,  A series of weekly challenges, instigated by Martin Saunders, aimed at shaking me out of my little bubble and getting closer to God, and others, in the process. Check it out here.

I was excited to take part. I was excited to see how God might break into my comfortable little world.

Then Martin delivered the first challenge: radical generosity and I got scared. I started thinking of all sorts of excuses that would prevent me from having to give my time or money to other people: I don’t have any time to help people; my wife has just had a new baby and that needs to be my focus; We just have enough money to get by and giving more would put us into the red.

That familiar little voice in my head danced and laughed as I slowly resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t complete this challenge (and probably not any of the others). I felt defeated. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.

What was it that scared me so much? Why was my first reaction to doubt myself and spend time creating excuses not to participate? I realised that generosity scared me because it required me to invest time in others.

I remember being struck a few years ago about a fresh interpretation of the beatitudes.

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

I’d always found that saying odd. Why should anyone be happy when they mourn?

But in order to mourn, you have to have been close to something. If you mourn over someone, it means you invested time in them; you chose to give something of yourself to them. You can only mourn if you’ve chosen to step out of your little world and engage with something bigger than yourself.

It’s the same with generosity. In order to be generous, I have to connect with others. I have to put my interests behind the interests of others.

So I resolve to be radically generous this week. I resolve to enter into the lives of others. I resolve to follow the example of the Triune God: an ever-giving, ever-loving community.

Will you?

The Depths of Isolation: A Review of “Entrance”

“Entrance” is not for everyone. It is a low-budget horror movie that is literal definition of ‘slow burn’. Very little appears to happen in the movie for most of its running time. I know some people who will be bored to tears by it. Happily, I’m not one of them.

The film follows ‘Suziey’, a young twenty-something living in LA as she goes about her normal life. When she mysteriously loses her beloved dog, a creeping anxiety begins to set in and she decides shes had enough of L.A. But on the night of her going-away party, Suziey finds out that leaving might not be so easy.

The film ultimately speaks about lonliness and isolation and the extremes some people will go to have a ‘connection’ with someone. As a Christian, I believe we live in a fallen, fractured world. As a consequence of our own selfish choices, and the choices those before us have made, we live isolated from everything.

The story of ‘The Fall’ in Genesis represents many things. When ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ chose their own wisdom, rather than Gods’, a number of things happened. The ‘sin’ they committed fractured the relationships of everyone involved. The relationship between Adam and Eve broke down because they blamed each other for the mess they were now in. Both of them chose to hide from God and so the relationship between mankind and God was broken and the relationship between Adam and the ground was also fractured.

Alienation is at the heart of ‘The Fall’ narrative. When we choose sin, when we choose selfishness, we become isolated from ourselves, each other, God and creation. Most of the atrocities committed in this world can be attributed to this idea. In the Genesis story we see ourselves mirrored in the figures of Adam and Eve.

As human beings we long for connection. We need to be connected with other people. On a trip to Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke of a “Ubuntu“. It is a South African word meaning, “You are only a human through other humans …through your relations to other humans.”

Our humanity is defined solely by our relationships with others. When we are isolated, we become less than human. The gospel, as I see it, is about the reclaiming of our humanity. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can enter into a new humanity. Through Jesus, the fractured relationships can be restored.

“Entrance” is about what happens when we people try to find that connection themselves. It is about the distorted ways people try to meet those needs. The film is a reminder of the consequences of our sin. It a reminder of the world that we have created through our actions. The film paints a bleak picture of humanity; a bleak picture of the modern city.

But there is another story. There is another city. A city where God dwells with his people. A city where everything has been renewed and restored.

Let us live as citizens of that city and tell others about it.

 

That’s the Gospel? Really?

The 3rd post in an ongoing series about attending a “conservative led” church as a “liberal”.

I am really enjoying the liturgy in the Church of England we are attending. It’s something I found missing in other churches. For me, using liturgy helps me to find my role in the unfolding story of God. There is a flow and a rhythm to the service. We explicitly hear each week of the work that Jesus did in on the cross. It’s important to be reminded of that.

But it also leaves me asking the question, “is that all the gospel is?”

Each week we hear that we are sinful people, heading for hell but because of the cross we are rescued and get to go to heaven.

I’m not against that reading of the gospel. But I don’t think that serves up the whole picture of the gospel. I don’t think that covers everything that’s going on.

This reading reduces everything to a binary transaction. We are the problem, Jesus is the solution.

What of the creation narrative, the Abrahamic covenant, the mosaic covenant? What about the life of Jesus? What about our lives, right here, right now?

None of this matters if we hold to this basic view of the gospel.

Being a “liberal”, I don’t believe that the sole point of the gospel is for Jesus to rescue us from hell and take us to heaven. For me the gospel is the reconciliation of all things. It is freedom from oppression and injustice. It is longing for the Kingdom to come and for Gods will to be done on earth (Familiar words aren’t they?”

I believe that I am saved from something but also saved for something. I am to be a blessing to all people. I have to hold out and hold on to the living word. I care about this world, and its inhabitants, as I believe God cares about it.

The gospel is the proclamation that, through the Son, a new world order is breaking out in the midst of the old one. The gospel challenges us to be heaven bringers rather than heaven goers.

So yes, I believe that through the cross we have been ransomed, rescued and redeemed.

But that’s just part of the picture.

Am I in “God’s will?” Reflections on moving on

Yesterday, the sermon at church was about discipleship, specifically around this passage in Luke 14:

“25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” 

The preacher said that your love and allegiance to Jesus must be above that of your family. He said it was that simple.

I don’t find that simple. I don’t think it’s that straightforward.

In two weeks, I’ll step down as youth worker of South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats and move my family three hours away to Preston where I’ll take up the position of youth minister at Hutton Grammar School. My last two weeks will involve a number of meetings where I seek to hand the work over as smoothly as possible to the youth work volunteers as the church is not seeking another full time youth worker for the time being.

I have many questions about moving away from the church. Is this God’s will? What about the young people who feel I am deserting them? Is this the right thing to do? How do you know if you’re following God’s will? Does God even have a plan for my life?

I know there are people in the church who will be quite happy that I am leaving; people that believe I am unbiblical. But there are also people who are really upset that I am going, including some of the young people. I know some of them think that I am abandoning them.

One of the older members of the congregation, who took the news quite hard, said to me, “well if you’re sure it’s Gods will for you…”

The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything from God on the matter. 

Around Christmas time, a friend of mine said that there was a job coming up near where he worked that I should apply for. He is doing a similar job in a school and I saw how much he enjoyed it (and that the pay was really good too). So when it came up, I applied for it. There was no lightning bolt from God. No clear word that this was ‘right’ but I went for it and got it.

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable doing church youth work as some of my theology is not ‘mainstream’ and I’ve had a lot of criticism for it. Also, church youth work does not pay that well either. The new job allows me to share my views without fear of judgement and gives our family financial security for the next few years.

So, I sat in church yesterday hearing that Jesus should be put first and I’m thinking, “well that’s all good in theory but does it work in practice?” It may have been Gods will for me to stay in the church (and get further into debt financially) but instead I’ve thought about my family and went for the better paid job. I’ll be honest. the wage was the reason I went for it in the first place. It’s the only reason I would move from Scotland to England; move away from the rest of my family and friends. Yes, the job will be challenging and exciting and play to my strengths but, first and foremost, it will provide for us as a family.

So I’m left wondering, am I putting Jesus first or my family first? Am I putting security and a ‘comfortable’ life over being a true disciple?

It’s a hard one isn’t it? It’s not the first time I’ve wrestled with this and it certainly won’t be the last.

On reflection, I guess this situation has taught me two things:

1) Trust. I have to trust that things will work out for my family as well as the church. In everything we do there is an element of trust that we are throwing out there and this situation is no different. I have to trust God. I have to trust those that have been left with the youth work.

2) I really don’t like pithy statements about faith. It’s easy to say you should love God more than your family but it’s far more difficult to know what that means in practice. Let’s not pretend that things are that easy. Life is complicated. Decisions and motives are complicated.

Do you agree? Surely I’m not the only one who thinks like this?

 

Losing My Identity

I watched the film ‘Humpday‘ this afternoon and it got me thinking.

“Humpday” is about two guys, who, high on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, decide to take part in an erotic art project and have sex with each other.

It’s a sweet indie film about friendship, marriage and the need to grow up. (I know it doesn’t sound like it)

As I said, I watched it this afternoon and it got me thinking.

The married guy tries to explain to his wife why this is a good idea. He tells her that there are many sides to him and that he doesn’t want marriage (and the prospect of being a dad) to flatten him into one personae. He’s scared about losing who he is.

I’ve been there.

I got married when I was 21. As the big day got closer, I went through a crisis of identity. I was worried that I wouldn’t be ‘me’ anymore. That I’d be known simply as a ‘husband’. That I would have to be with my wife 24/7 and I would lose my identity. I’m glad my (now) wife stuck by me and didn’t walk away from that insecure boy.

Eight years into marriage and I can look back and laugh at that naive boy. I haven’t lost who I am rather, I have added to that identity. I am now also  a husband and a father (although I did go through a smaller version of that crisis when our son was born).

That’s what committing to someone is about. It’s not about losing a part of you, it’s about gaining something else.

I am the man I am today because of my marriage. I think I am a better man for it.

I just wanted to share that.

God is not finished with you yet!

One of my final preaching opportunities at the church I currently work for (I am finishing up as youth worker there on the 19th of August) is on the 22nd of July where I will be speaking at both the morning and evening services.

In the morning I have chosen to speak on “the (re)newed heaven and earth of Revelation 22 as a symbol of hope in a hope-less world; the title being “God is not finished with you yet”.

I want to to tell a number of ‘hopeful’ stories during my sermon. For example, I’m going to share this story which I read in ‘the week’ this morning:

“when barry eastwood fell over on his way out of a bank in manchester, sending £1000 in cash flying off in the wind, he didn’t expect to retrieve it- especially when a crowd of youths began grabbing the £20 notes. the 54-year-old told his son to find what he could, and went to recover in his car. But then a young man came over and thrust a handful of notes through the window. Another followed…By the end, all but £20 of his £1000 had been returned”.

It’s a great story of hope but one with a challenge. This story challenges our view of young people.

Hope challenges our view of how things are. Hope has to be worked out, by us, in reality.

So, here’s where I need some help. I’m looking for other stories to use in the sermon.

Do you have any stories of hope that I can share? Any stories that bring hope but challenge you on your outlook of things?

I’d be most grateful if you did.

How Successful have I been?

I wrote a whole post answering whether I felt the youth work I have been involved in over the last two years has been successful. I got to the end of the post, read it back and deleted it.

Something didn’t seem right about it.

And the truth is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Christian youth work. Yes we can use the questions I proposed in the last post and (kind of) measure if the young people we are working with are developing, moving on, making christ-like decisions but I’m not sure that’s the point.

I guess it depends on the type of work you’re involved in. When I think about our youth fellowship and our house groups, it is hard to evaluate them.

I look at the work that Jesus was involved in. He got to the end of his two/ three years (there’s debate as to how long it actually was) and what had he achieved? If we evaluate the work, what had he really done? The twelve he had worked with had mostly deserted him. On the face of it, that looks pretty poor. If in two months, when I move on from the church, there are no young people there to say goodbye, no young people left in the church, I’ll feel like I’ve failed.

I wonder what Jesus thought as he hung there on the cross. I wonder what he thought of his work?

I worry about the work I’m leaving behind. I worry about the young people. I worry about the church.

But at some point, I just have to trust. I have to trust that God is not finished with him. I have to tell myself that “I’m not Jesus”. I’m not their saviour. I guess that’s why I started writing about evaluation in the first place. I was scared that maybe I’d achieved nothing. That everything I’d done had been for nothing.

And without God, it would all be for nothing.

But there’s God. And I need to trust in that.

“Alien” and the subjective reading of our faith

I watched “Alien” for the first time on Monday night. I really enjoyed it.

I had tried to watch it a few years ago but, from what I remember, it was pretty late and I got bored and decided to go to bed instead.

Our enjoyment of a film is entirely relative. It is based on a whole number of factors: time of day, how the day has been, how we’re feeling etc. The first time I attempted to watch “Alien” it was late and I was tired so I found the film boring. When I watched it this week, I didn’t find it boring. There is no objective way to watch “Alien”. It is based entirely on our subjective viewing of it.

There are many films that i can watch at one time or another and not enjoy, then watch it at another time and really enjoy.

I would argue that most of our life is based on our subjective readings. I don’t think that’s a new or radical idea. But I think to be aware of it, changes everything.

As a christian, my experience of God, the bible and faith in its entirety is subjective. I believe that God is an objective reality but I view God subjectively. The writers of the bible wrote subjectively about an objective God. We read the bible subjectively. We cannot read it objectively. Our reading of the bible is affected by how we are feeling that day, where we are born, our personality type etc etc.

Again, this is nothing new but I find it amazing how quickly many of us are to forget this.

The 5th commandment given to Moses on Sinai was:

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” or “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. A valid interpretation of the original hebrew would be “do not carry lightly the Lords name“.

When I was a child my view of God was affected by the boring church I was dragged to every Sunday morning and the boring talks of our school chaplain. They carried Gods name lightly. They told boring stories that bored all of us. Their theology may have been ‘right’ but it certainly was not captivating. As Christians, how we act and speak will influence the subjective viewing of God for others. 

As a church youth worker, I may be the only ‘voice’ of God to the young people I encounter. How I speak of God will influence their view of God. How I treat them will influence their view of God. How I “carry Gods name” will affect how they view God. That’s a big responsibility.

Now we can hope and trust that God will use others to speak subjectively about the objective reality of God but that only helps to cleanse our conscience. That’s a ‘get out jail’ free card to make us feel better. We are the church. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the walking embodiment of the Eucharist

How we carry the name of God, in word and actions, matter.

Finding Your Place in the Family

As I’m finishing up my post as youth worker for the church in three months, I’ve been reflecting on the last couple of years there and one of the thoughts I’ve been thinking about is on my place within the church family.

In my last two positions as a church youth worker, I’ve found it had to just ‘be’ me and truly be a part of the family of the church. In this current church post, my family and I moved closer to the church but still I don’t think we ‘fit’. I get on with the young people and the other volunteer leaders but don’t get invited to their social events and I get on with the old members of the congregation but again don’t get invited to their social events. I’m neither one or the other. I’m in the middle.

Part of being a church youth worker is about standing in the gap between the young and the old. And that is often seen as a benefit. But for me, its more of the curse of this line of work. You don’t really fit.

It also has something to do with the fact that I am an employee of the church. I’m not there because I’m drawn to the style of service, or because there’s lots of people my age; i’m there to work with the young people. Now maybe the problem is with that word, ‘work’. What does it mean to work for a church? How do you then become part of the church family when you’re there as an employee? Where do you draw the line between ’employee’ and ‘member’? where does the one begin and the other end?

So, it got me asking the question on twitter, “can you ever become part of the family of the church you work for?” And I’d like to hear some responses. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts because I don’t hear much about this side of the ‘work’. I haven’t seen many articles or training courses on how you integrate yourself into the church.

I realised I’ve asked a lot of questions but I’m keen to hear as many varied responses as possible.

So please…respond.

The Avengers

SPOILERS BELOW

I loved ‘the avengers” film. And I’ve been thinking over it the last few weeks, trying to figure out what kind of discussion would be beneficial to have around some of its central themes. I hope this will be the first of several posts looking at those different themes.

Focused Anger

Just before the final battle takes place in New York, Bruce Banner shows up to aid the other avengers. He is asked how he can be trusted? How he will be able to control himself when he is angry?

He replies: “I’m always angry“.

What Banner has been able to achieve is to control the hulk. He has managed to focus his anger so that it can be used for good. He is no longer the raging, uncontrollable machine. He has a purpose.

We all get angry. We all have things that push our buttons and make us angry. We see things that are unjust and they make us angry. But if that anger is not harnessed and controlled it can lead to all sorts of damaging results. It may cause us to lash out or hurt people. In the case of the riots last year, our anger may lead us on to the streets.

It’s okay to get angry. Jesus got angry. God gets angry. Its what we do with that anger that we should be concerned about.

What makes you angry? What makes your young people angry? How can that anger be harnessed to bring about positive change?