Thursday, 31 March 2011

Praying Leaders

When a leader prays

"As I travel across the country folks often ask me what is it that I pray for. And like most of you, my prayers sometimes are general:  Lord, give me the strength to meet the challenges of my office. Sometimes they're specific: Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance  where there will be boys. Lord, have that skirt get longer as she travels to that dance. 

But while I petition God for a whole range of things, there are a few common themes that do recur. The first category of prayer comes out of the urgency of the Old Testament prophets and the Gospel itself.  I pray for my ability to help those who are struggling.  Christian tradition teaches that one day the world will be turned right side up and everything will return as it should be. But until that day, we're called to work on behalf of a God that chose justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable."

Barack Obama
Prayer Breakfast speech

Courtesy of MINemergent, Emergent Village

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Journey To Disbelief

My twin bro Tom has been blogging recently about identity. His posts are well worth reading and reflecting on.

His story is one of a journey to disbelief. From faith in God to one of disbelief in this same faith. Now he is on a journey as an atheist. And it is a fascinating journey.

Read his blog journeytodisbelief.blogspot.com

He asks some questions as he grapples with identity, questions that his therapist would encourage him to reflect on. The questions are:

What's your name?
What do you do?
Who are the closest people in your life?
Have you ever been in love?
What would you like to be doing in 2 years time?

I like these questions and think I might follow him in answering them.

Go check his blog out.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Love Wins - A Review

So I finished Rob Bell's new book Love Wins last week and have decided to write a short summary of what I thought about it. If you haven't read it yet then you might not want to read this yet and wait till you've read the book. If you have read it then I'd be interested to get your thoughts. I've only read it once so this is a brief review based on what I can remember about the book and my initial thoughts. So it will probably be muddled!

First thing to say is that I think Rob Bell is a very genuine guy. I think he is very generous and is really seeking to show in his words and actions the love and grace of God. The book is good to read and it is engaging. I think he is asking questions to challenge us all to think and to ask for ourselves. And that is a good thing. I don't think the book is perfect or a classic, but it is well worth reading.

Ok, first things first, does Rob Bell believe in universalism (the belief that all people will one day be saved/redeemed/rescued etc)?

No.

When I finished the book it seemed obvious to me that he does not believe in universalism. He does ask some serious questions about the nature of God and the concept of heaven and hell, but he does not come out and say that all people will be saved. He is universalistic in his belief about Jesus' death on the cross and that it was for all people because God WANTS all people to share in the divine nature for all eternity (2 Peter 1:4), but he is quite clear that not all people will want to be with God in this way.

And I would want to affirm this. I believe that Jesus died for all people because his desire is that all people would discover and embrace the life, love and hope that is found in Him. I believe God's heart is that all would be rescued from the disorientation and contamination of sin.

He affirms throughout the book the uniqueness of Jesus and the Christian belief that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He does ask questions however of whether there will be those who do not recognise that it is Jesus that has led them to God.

His chapter on heaven comes across as nothing new. When reading it I could trace that some of his thoughts stem back to Irenaeus and the idea that creation is on a journey to perfection but lost its way. NT Wright has said much about heaven and these thoughts are echoed in Bell's book. I said to Sarah that Rob Bell has simply said things simply. What he is saying about heaven are the things I believe.

His chapter on hell is again nothing new, but written well. He wrestles with the idea of hell being a place of purging and that imagery of fire is to emphasise how God seeks to refine and cleanse. He rejects the understanding of hell being a place of fire and torture, something that I have rejected too. Bell suggests that hell is a place that people choose for themselves having chosen hell like behaviour here and now. So they continue to pursue pain and reject love. Hell then is something people choose for themselves and not something God chooses for us. I think it was C.S Lewis who said a similar thing when he said that there would be two types of people when Jesus returns, those who say to God 'Thy will be done', and those to whom God says 'Thy will be done.'

Bell does say that we need to leave room for questions about if whether one day God will restore all people or will people eternally choose to resist God. He doesn't answer the question as such but wants room to be left open for the question. And throughout the book there are a lot of questions that he asks without answering them. This is the style of his writing, and I'm comfortable with that. I think we need to allow more room for mystery and questions. Too often people want to answer everything, and the reality is that there are some things we simply do not know.

My criticisms are that I felt it 'floated' at times, in other words, there are times I was reading it and it felt a little like Bell was getting a bit side-tracked and wandering away into a bit of a dreamy place with his own thoughts. And I'm not always sure that some of the questions he asks are the right questions and become more of distractions.

I enjoyed reading it and was not disturbed by it. It's not ground breaking in its theology. It's not the best written book. It won't define the church. And it is worth a read.

So why call it 'Love Wins'? The choices we make today are significant. The end of the book concludes that in the end God loves each of us enough to give us what we truly want. So if we really don't want Him and if we are adamant that we don't want to be a part of His love and new creation, then God will give us what we want because he loves us enough to do that. God loves us so much that he will seek us out every moment of every day in order that we might know and embrace Him and His love for us. Yet He loves us too much to override our freedom of choice because in the end, Love wins.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Pain and Resurrection

A powerful and moving video with Viv Grigg speaking honestly about where God is and the brokenness in the world.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Love Wins and Death

My copy of 'Love Wins' came through the door today, so I'm looking forward to reading it. I will blog an honest reflection of it when I've finished it. The blurb on the back reads:

'God loves us. Here's how the traditional story goes... God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part. Unless you do not respond the right way. Then God will torture you forever. In Hell. What?

...Rob Bell presents a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance. The result is the discovery that the 'good news' is much, much better than we ever imagined.

Love wins.'

Thinking about life and death I came across this video...


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Hell and Redemption

There is a video doing the rounds on You Tube at the moment of a bully punching another kid in the face. The young lad being bullied, who is a lot bigger than than the bully, suddenly grabs the bully, lifts him in the air and throws him onto a concrete floor. The bully staggers up and runs away.

It is proving to be popular. I think it is popular because the bully gets what's coming to him. The innocent lad finally gets his revenge. Society likes this idea. We like it when the 'bully' or the bad guys get slammed by the 'innocent'.

Films show us this idea all the time.

We watched Taken the other night, and there is a real satisfaction when the dad of the kidnapped innocent girl goes after all the bad guys and gets his daughter back. There is redemption.

The thing is, redemption in most films happens through violence. And society seems to enjoy that. Which is probably why this You Tube video seems to be popular.


If someone hints that there won't be a violent world waiting for all the 'evil' people, then some people get very agitated by that. Society likes the idea of bad guys getting what they deserve, and getting what they deserve usually involves torture and violence. So the big god finally gets his own back for being picked on and sends people to fire and damnation. And people wrongly think that this is justice.

Yet this is not the God I see revealed in Jesus Christ.

The God I see in the face of Jesus is one of grace, love, compassion and justice in its truest sense. Jesus is the One who we look at to see who God is and what God is like. He is the One who does not inflict violence on others, but rather receives violence upon Himself in order that humanity and creation might be healed, redeemed and reconciled to God.

I like to think God is more like this You Tube video:


Monday, 14 March 2011

A Prayer

'Father God,

We do not understand suffering. The depths of the suffering in Japan breaks our heart and causes us to ask why? When a mother cries out for the loss of a child, or a child cried for the loss of a father, we recognise that none of this suffering makes any sense.
We pray for the people of Japan and ask that you would be the God of all comfort. We pray that you, the God who in your Son has suffered and died on the Cross, be with these people in their suffering.

We pray that you, that God who, in your Son and by your Spirit, has defeated death and been raised again, bring hope and love to these people in their suffering.

We pray that you, the God who has sent us His Spirit, would enable us to be a people who would reach out in love and compassion to the people of Japan. Help us Lord, whoever we are and whatever we believe, to do what we can to share their burdens and relieve their suffering.

We thank you Jesus that one day you will make all things new. But right now, in the midst of the brokenness we pray for healing, hope and a glimpse of that newness.

Et teneo et teneor - 'I both hold and am held'

Amen.'

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Constance

Here is a provocative video about the realities of prostitution, pornography and human trafficking.

The reality of these things is one of devastation, and this video captures that devastation well...


Thursday, 10 March 2011

Falling



Interesting advert...

I think advertisers are pretty good at judging where society is at in terms of their beliefs and interests, so this new Lynx advert says a bit about what they think is going on in our culture right now.

I'm pretty sure there is a vast amount of people in the UK who believe in angels. I'm sure there are many who believe in angels more than they believe that God exists. The belief in angels is not what really got me thinking though.

It was the concept of 'falling' and what that might mean.

Here it is that in 'falling' there is something exciting and forbidden to be explored. To fall is to move away from the 'good' or the 'angelic' and to throw off the halo and be excited by the new prospects.

So excitement is falling, whereas angelic is boring.

And I wonder if that is how most people view the church in that they see it as something restrictive with a halo and very boring. I wonder if in turn people see Christianity as something that seeks to strangle out fun and excitement, that places rules and restrictions on you and is something completely unattractive. Falling however is seen to be attractive and exciting.

If people do perceive Christianity as boring and restrictive then the church has seriously misrepresented the person of Jesus.

But another point is in the 'falling'.

I remember when I was at the height of my drinking. The sensation I had everyday was like I was falling. Falling into a pit that I had no way of getting out of. Falling into a life of despair that I knew no cure for. The initial fall felt good. The feeling of only pleasing myself and not caring about others. The feeling of always living in a state of drunkenness and fantasy, living like there was no tomorrow. Yet when you hit the floor and gain your sense a little, that feeling of excitement wears off. Suddenly I realised that I was hurting and in trouble.

I needed someone to pick me up and lift me into a new life.

That's what Jesus did.

And a life with Jesus is a journey towards life and hope and love. It is a journey forwards not downwards. It is about perseverance, suffering, love and hope. It is about being shaped into the image of Jesus. And only he can lift us up and set us on that new journey.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Peace

'As I write this a madman is howling in the next room, and I am howling with him inside of me, howling for my lost integrity, sundered from God, Man and myself, shattered in body, mind and spirit, yearning for two clasped hands to usher in the great miracle - the unity of my being.' Friedrich Nietzsche, My Sister and I, p233

Peace can be an elusive thing.

Some argue that the book above was not actually written by Nietzsche, while others more recently believe that is was. Whether it was or wasn't, I'm sure many have felt like the quote above.

Howling inside.

Shattered.

Yearning for unity within and without.

Longing for peace.

*WARNING BAD LANGUAGE*


We can read all the books in the world on how to find peace. We can study every guru and philosopher, every writer and expert on peace. We can travel the world, climb a mountain or dive in the ocean looking for peace.

Yet if we have no centre, nothing that compels us from within, that gives meaning to our words and actions, then we will never discover peace.

If we have no meaning to life, no reason for our own existence and no real concern or reason about the existence of others, then we will never discover peace.

If God is a thought or philosophy, a theory or personal preference, then peace will never come.

Peace is encountered as we live in relationship with the living God. Peace is given to us by the Prince of Peace who is Jesus. As we are compelled from within and without by Jesus, then peace compels our hearts and actions. As we discover meaning to our lives by being in relationship with Jesus, then we discover an overflow of love for others. As we recognise that God is not a theory or personal preference, but the dynamic and living Lord of the universe we are unsettled by ourselves, but given peace from God because of who Jesus is.

We encounter peace as we are sent to be peacemakers.

We encounter peace as we go into our communities to be bearers of God's love.

'Jesus said "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."' John 20:21-22

Monday, 7 March 2011

$200 Conversion

Peter Rollins talks about whether a desire to 'go to heaven' or 'not go to hell' is actually like wanting money to become a Christian, and that if this is actually wrong.


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Blasphemy

There is an interesting debate on 5 Live at the moment about blasphemy laws.

It is in light of the Christian minister in Pakistan who was murdered for speaking out against the blasphemy laws in that nation.


Listening to the phone in people were talking about how in this country the term OMG is used a lot and can be offensive to people of faith and whether we need a blasphemy law again.

Of course a blasphemy law would be ridiculous in this country and impossible to police. And there is no way we want to go down a police state.

Some were phoning in to say that 'OMG' offends God and that it is not a phrase that should be used in the media. The thing is, when someone says or writes 'OMG', what God or gods are they on about? And I don't think God needs our protection. He would seem to be a very sensitive easily offended deity according to some. That's not the God who we see in Jesus Christ.

I think we need a bit of perspective.

People being murdered in Pakistan for seeking equality and justice is something I am sure that makes God weep.

Children dying because of treatable diseases grieves God.

Let us keep our perspective on what really matters and what we, the people of Jesus, should really be standing up for and seeking to transform.