Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Cry of Christmas

All that we know is changed and transformed by the coming of Jesus into the world.  That God is made flesh turns our whole world upside down and challenges who we believe God to be and what we believe God should be like. 

As God made flesh is born he sucks in His first breath and releases a cry into the darkness.

The cry of this newborn Jesus is the cry of God into the darkness and brokenness of our world.  It is a cry that screams at the injustice, oppression and suffering of our wounded world.  It is a cry that longs for the weak, vulnerable and downtrodden to know that God has not forgotten them.  It is a cry that shares in the suffering of humanity.  It is a cry that exposes how weak and vulnerable we are.  And the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the One in and through whom all things find their being, shares in that weakness and vulnerability crying out into the darkness and cold of that first Christmas night.

Jesus is born into the danger of an unforgiving world, his life threatened from the moment He is conceived, from the moment He draws His first breath.  

The stench of the stable filling his newborn nose nothing compared to the stench of the violence Herod would inflict upon the children of Bethlehem.   

The splintered wood of the manger echoing the Cross that one day will hang of his back.  

Songs of joy bursting forth in the Temple at the sight of this newborn King, in stark contrast to the violent jeers at this same now thorn-crowned King who stumbles through the streets of Jerusalem.  

Angels declare the birth of the Saviour and will one day announce this Saviour’s resurrection.  

The oppressed and abused shepherds hurry to this Saviour just for a glimpse, and they, like many after them, will spread the news of this God made flesh.  

Foreign magicians carrying gifts, strangers to the promises of Israel, fall to their knees and worship Immanuel, God with us, just as lepers and prostitutes will fall in worship at the gift of new life they are given by God being with them. 

And so this Christmas we celebrate that God is with us.  We hear the cry once again of Jesus as a newborn, his cry on the Cross and his cry of resurrection victory and we, in hearing His cry, we can be assured that this God who is with us will heal the broken-hearted and bind up our wounds.  We can have hope that He will transform the stench of violence into the fragrance of peace that covers the whole earth.  We can celebrate that this God made flesh has the victory over sin and death and is ushering in a new dawn when all will be well.

This victorious God is the one who lies weak and vulnerable in the manger and on the cross.  And this God calls us once again to himself this Christmas to follow him.  To follow Him is to be like Him, not seeking power and fame, but to be weak and vulnerable as He, surrendered to His will.  It is a calling to share our lives together, vulnerable and honest.  It is a calling to go to the oppressed and outcasts, the stranger and the outsider with the love of God.  And just as the angels declared His birth and resurrection, so we go and invite others to know this God made flesh for themselves. 

God cries out once again this Christmas beckoning the world to Himself.  May we together join with His cry of salvation to this world that was made by Him.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

I'm Sorry...

I have a confession to make.

I am really sorry.  I'm not sure what came over me, but I need to share with you what happened.  I hope you won't think any less of me, but...

I watched God TV last night.

I know it was wrong and that I shouldn't of done it.  Maybe it was because I was tired and I let temptation get the better of me.  I'm not sure.

I know that it isn't a true picture of what God is like.  I know that they are showing me something false and unhealthy.  I know it is full of lies and propaganda, but I just felt myself drawn in by the sheer absurdity of it all.

I mean when you hear preachers telling you to 'sow a seed of $1000' so that you can release the currency of heaven, you know it's ridiculous, but you can't help but keep watching. What is the currency of heaven anyway?  Does Jesus take Mastercard or is it cash only?

When they tell you Jesus is going to lay down some serious butt-kicking against anyone who stands against the place of Israel, you think you're watching a Hollywood film.  Picture it, 'Are you ready for the Master?' said in a deep manly voice with pictures of floating people going up to heaven for the Rapture, demons fighting angels, and God laying some WWE type smackdown. You know it hasn't got anything to do with the Bible, but we like films, don't we?

When they are talking about demons mating with humans and creating demon/human hybrids that are walking the earth right now becoming an army for Satan ready to lay down some serious Armageddon, you're spitting your tea out in laughter, but you keep watching.

I hope you'll all forgive me for my sin.

My worry is that people watch this and believe it is what God is like.  My worry is that people watch this and allow their theology to be decided by it.  My worry is that people watch this and stop thinking.

Lord, have mercy...

Monday, 26 November 2012

In the summer my twin brother and I did a very short film on our different belief systems.

Tom is an atheist and I am a Christian and so filmed us to hear our different perspectives.

You can watch the film here.

I hope it is a good discussion starter.

The films are 2 minute clips that look at moral, ethical and religious themes with people discussing their take on a particular issue.  Tom and I enjoyed doing it, but are also aware that the time given does not adequately represent what we think.  Hopefully though the film gets across something of where we are both coming from.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Fish Climbing a Tree

'Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.'  Albert Einstein

We need to name the relentless activism of church life for what it is, that is, idolatry.

The constant pursuit of busyness is yet another form of temple sacrifice that we believe will cleanse us from our sin and make God do the things that we want him to do.  So we continue in this ever increasing cycle of activism believing that somehow this will get the church to grow and the Kingdom to come.  And we can justify our activism through the many different people we see through the week through our idolatry.  We can say that we saw X amount of people and we were very busy trying to satisfy the needs of said people.

Yet when the dust settles and we stand in the presence of God, our relentless activism will not be how we know God.  It will be how we lived with Him that will matter.  Indeed, our relentless activism will only ever lead us away from God.

In our activism we don't need to pray.

In our activism we can live as atheists because it is our busyness that sees people coming to church and programmes and events.

The problem is that people are drawn to the activism and not to God.  And so we have an ever increasing culture of people who declare Jesus is Lord with their mouths but live as though God doesn't exist.

And in our activism and our relentless pursuit of 'more' we try and squeeze people into roles that they are not called, gifted or passionate in, because, without them, who then can we sacrifice to the god of busyness?

The church is filled with gifted people, passionate about many and various things.  They need to be released into their proper calling, not squeezed into something that they have no passion of gift for.

Ministers and leaders and churches need to repent of the relentless activism and busyness.  Things need to change for the spiritual health of our church communities.

We must not bend our knee to the god of this busy age that demands that we sacrifice our souls to the pursuit of more time, more activity, more success and more salvation.

God is not impressed by our busyness, and people will not discover their identity and life in Christ through our busyness.  The very opposite will happen.

We end up with a community full of fish who have no idea what the tree of Christ is really all about.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Relevant Gospel

The church is not called to make the Gospel credible to an unbelieving world.

The church is not called to make the Gospel 'relevant'.

The church is called to make the world credible to the Gospel.

The Gospel is relevant because it is the Gospel.

The world does not determine what the church believes.

The world does not determine how the church lives.

The Gospel determines how the church lives and what the church believes.

So the church is called to be faithful to the Gospel, living as the people that God has called us to live according to the life that Jesus beckons us towards.  Jesus embodied his very teaching, living what he taught, and he calls his disciples to follow him in the same way.

To live as faithful disciples of God is to live the Gospel and be determined by it.  The lies of the world will expose how Christians are meant to live.  The church therefore lives in this way.

This is relevant.

This is credible.

This is the call to faithfulness.

Monday, 24 September 2012


Our calling as disciples of Jesus is not one of success.

'Rather, to do what we have been told to do by Jesus and to do what we have been told to do in the manner he has instructed is what is important.  Our responsibility is to be faithful to the task God has given us.  The result is God's doing.'  Hauerwas, Matthew p 112

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Police, Guns and the Death Penalty

The tragic and horrendous killing of two unarmed police officers on Tuesday has re-ignited the discussion on whether police officers should be armed and if the death penalty should be brought back.

Prayers and messages of sympathy are being sent to the families of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone after their murder.  I have no idea how their families must feel, but the pain and shock would be crippling I am sure.

In light of what happened there is understandable anger and high emotions about whether or not police officers should be armed.  Along with that discussion is the call for some murderers to be given the death penalty.

Now, as I have said before, I have no idea how I would respond if my wife or daughters were murdered. But I do know how Jesus calls me to live my life and how his call on my and our lives must impact every decision and every political and ethical act that the church makes.

Too often the teachings of Jesus are divorced from the person of Jesus.  The teachings of Jesus simply become a tick box of beliefs and ethical acts rather than being rooted in the very person of Jesus.

Jesus enacted and lived out what he taught.

So when it comes to non-violence it is not simply about Jesus teaching that we should turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute you, he actually models and lives what that teaching looks like.

It is therefore not a naive ideology, but a concrete reality.

Jesus lived it and calls the church to live it.  He shows us how to live it and says 'follow me.'

It is as a follower of Jesus that I would always oppose the death penalty and for all officers to carry guns.

It is as a follower of Jesus that I believe violence is wrong.

It is not a naive ideology that doesn't work in the 'real 'world', but a call to live another way, to not let the world determine my life and ethics and to not let violence be the way of life that I live, but to live as a follower of the Prince of Peace.

Death is not the final word.  Jesus is the Word of God who speaks life beyond death.  He is able to do that because violence and death unleashed their worst onto him and he took it, absorbed it and defeated it through his own death and resurrection.

My prayers are with these bereaved families.

Peace will not come through violence but through prayer and the active pursuit of peace through peace.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Jehovah's Witnesses and Truth

The Jehovah's Witnesses came round on Saturday.

One of my mate's and I have spoken quite a bit about having visits from the JW's and how best to actually engage in conversation.  When they come round they have a set agenda and questions that they ask in order to speak according to how they have been 'trained'.  My mate and I both agreed that it is pointless to enter into discussions like this because you're never really having a proper conversation and actually getting to know them as real people.  So if they ever come round I actually try and get to know them as people.

On Saturday I said to them I was interested in truth and honesty.  I said to them that I wanted them to be honest with me as to why they were standing on my door step.  I told them not to give me all the pre-planned chat that they always use but to simply be honest with me about why they were standing on my door step.  So they shared a little bit, but kept going back into their safe shell of pre-planned chat.

And then they started to say things that simply are not true and I really challenged them about this.

They come out with blanket statements that simply are not true, but if someone is not aware then they will swallow these statements.  And I've got no time for lies and half-truths.  If we're going to chat and discuss anything we need to speak truthfully to each other otherwise there is no point.

'We're the only organised religion who believe in pacifism.'

'We're the only organised religion who opposed Hitler.'

'The Christian Church teaches that people are resurrected without a body.'

'The Christian Church doesn't believe Jesus is King of the earth.'

These are all statements that were said to me on Saturday, all of which are false.  So I told them that they were false and gave them concrete examples of why these statements are false.  I said to them that it is not right that they stand on my door step saying things that simply are not true about the Church.

I told them that Quakers, Mennonites, Anabaptists are examples of pacifists within the Christian Church.

I told them to look up history properly and not Jehovah's Witness history and they will find the 'Confessing Church' who opposed Hitler.

I told them that the orthodox position held by the Christian Church (which I take are any who can declare the Nicene Creed) is that those in Christ will be resurrected with a body, as Jesus himself was raised with a body.

I told them that the Christian Church absolutely believes Jesus is King of the earth and will establish his Kingdom upon the earth for all eternity.

I told them that they can't make statements like this unless they really knew what they were talking about.  I told them that they needed to read Christian writers to actually know what the Church believes.

I said that I am interested in the truth, and if they are standing on my door-step being untruthful then that simply is not right.

To be fair to the two guys, they had obviously been told these statements and were simply repeating them.  But then this is the problem.  They had not thought or looked into these things for themselves.

I hope I see them again...

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Problem with Street Preachers

I was driving to a meeting yesterday when I stopped at a traffic light behind a man on a bike.  On the back of his bike he had a huge sign that had some kind of message about Jesus and a bible verse.  I didn't take too much notice to be honest because I find this kind of thing ridiculous.  

I've had conversations before with people about street preachers.  Most people find the whole thing strange and thoroughly off-putting. But I do meet the odd person who loves the idea of street preaching and thinks that Christians should be doing more of it.

There is good reason why Christians need to stop street preaching.

Street preaching really finds its root in the belief that everyone has the ability to understand the bible and 'make up their own minds' as to whether the gospel is true or not. It is the belief that if the preacher just tells everyone that God made the heavens and the earth then people will use their common sense and realise that what the preacher is saying is true.  It is the belief that if the preacher just tells you 'this' or 'that' about the bible then people will understand the text and then 'make a decision'.

The massive problem with all of this is that the street preacher is completely oblivious to the truth that Scripture is a text for the church community that is read and heard in the context of church community, where people are being transformed, where there is confession and forgiveness and where the Bible is understood through the life of community.

The Beatitudes for instance only make sense within the church community in that together we see that God has brought together into the church peacemakers, the poor, the meek and the persecuted. 

Jesus' call to love one another as he has loves us only makes sense when you know how Jesus has loved us.  And you only know how Jesus has loved us when you become his disciple and daily walk with him and see your own life in the shadow of his cross.

The street preacher does not realise that they are simply turning the bible into another rule book with a tick box of beliefs.  They turn grace into law and deny the very gospel they think they are preaching.

Scripture only makes sense within the life of the Church and the history of God's people.

That is why the street preacher and the militant atheist are so similar to each other and have so much in common.  They create a god in their own image that bears no resemblance to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Scripture is like a machine gun that they use to kill the god they have made in their own image. They go on and on about what the bible apparently says without any clue as to what the bible actually says.

When you see how much the street preacher and militant atheist have in common you realise how the bible belongs to the Church and the Church to the bible.

To See

'To see the world as it should be seen, and to see the true glory of God reflected in it requires the cultivation of charity, of an eye rendered limpid by love...the Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply 'nature' but 'creation', and endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed through the veil of death; it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days.'  Hart 2005, 60-61

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Where Are You God?

I've been reading an article on the 'hiddenness' of God.

'But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?'

Psalm 88:13-14

It is a discussion Tom and I have had many times.  Tom has often spoke about the silence of God and God's hiddenness.  Tom decided that God was so hidden that God actually couldn't exist and so gave up altogether.  Many atheist's would say that there is no evidence of God's existence.

Christian's know only to well how distant God can seem.  Indeed, throughout the Story of God with us people have called out to God imploring him to answer prayers, make himself known and to draw near in comfort.  Above we hear the psalmist's cry of desperation, 'Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?'

I am sure many have prayed this prayer or something similar.

Interwoven throughout this question of God's hiddenness is the question of suffering.  For throughout the history of humanity suffering has been a very real part of our story.  Many have looked at the suffering they see and know and have decided that there is no God.

'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'  Mark 15:34

In the depth of his suffering, Jesus felt abandoned and deserted by His Father.  Alone, suffering in the darkness.

Jesus bears the mark of his crucifixion into all eternity, a sign that his suffering is a very part of who he is but that he has ultimately redeemed the whole cosmos through his suffering.  We are included within that work of redemption and are beckoned to be shaped into His image.  For that shaping to happen we too will suffer and share in the suffering's of Jesus.  Humanity has a goal.  It is to be shaped into the image of the Son of God.

Sometimes we suffer in order to discover who we truly are, that we might more and more become who we are called to be, that we might become more like Jesus.

That is not to make light of suffering, it is actually to see it in light of Jesus' suffering and therefore realise that he knows us in our suffering and will be with us in the midst of it. 

When we cry out 'Where are you God?' it is merely an echo of Jesus' own cry on the cross.

Which brings us back to God's hiddenness.

At his death Jesus was taken down from the cross by friends.  It is the hands and compassion of friends that placed him in the tomb.  They had no idea, but they helped prepare the way for the resurrection.  God was at work through them.

When the church is truly the church, we encounter a God who is preparing the way of the new heavens and earth through one another, by the Spirit.  In the midst of our suffering and seeming silence of God we encounter God through one another.  It is the hands and compassion of God through the church that carry us through the darkness preparing us for the dawn of hope.  God is present in us and seeks to minister his love, grace and forgiveness through his people and to his people.

I know that church can be a place of pain, unforgiveness and hypocrisy.  I know that people have left the Christian faith altogether because of this.  And I'm sorry about this, I truly am.
But I also know that there are wonderful followers of Jesus who are daily stretching out their arms in acts of love and compassion, forgiveness and accountability, truthfully and authentically declaring that God has not forgotten the world, that God is present and is with us.

In the midst of the seeming silence and hiddenness you are not hidden from God, he has heard your prayer and maybe today you will encounter him through the hands and compassion of his people, those people being shaped into the image of His Son.

Monday, 20 August 2012


Security is the great idol of our day.

So we build bigger houses, try to earn more money, try to put more money into savings, try to win the lottery, try to keep the wolves from the door...try, try, try...

Then we are told that dropping bombs on other countries is for our own security.

We need to get rid of 'evil people', protect our citizens from terrorists, wage war to get peace, overthrow the tyrants.

And if we believe the newspapers and the government then you've most likely got a terrorist, rapist, murderer or some other demon living in your street ready to hurt you.

All this, the need for more money and things, the need to protect the country and your home from evil people, are lies.

We have become obsessed with security as if security was the most important thing.

Rather than live by faith, trusting God with our lives, living the Way of Jesus, forsaking violence and the love of money, we would rather try to establish our lives on crumbling foundations.

God doesn't call us to a life of security but a life of faithfulness and truthfulness.

The church is not called to make people fell a little bit better about themselves and to live a bit less miserably.  The church is called to help people live truthfully and to see clearly.

Jesus is the ultimate antidote to security and sentimentality.

Read the gospels and see for yourself.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Living Well

Living in a society where people feel that one of the few ways 'of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous.' Sex often is used simply as a way of covering up a growing sense of emptiness and the meaningless 'one thing after another' routine of their lives. When it comes to figuring out what is 'right' or 'wrong', people often use the 'I'm an individual and can do what I want' line or 'As long as it feels right to me' line. People have become very detached from each other believing that the best way to live is to be be 'free' from traditions, living however you see fit. Community often looks like a group of people who look the same and sound the same and deal with their detachment from others by joining with others who are just like them. You then get dangerous groups who become very ideological, zealous and with high ego's talking about the world and the way it should be. Capitalism and cooporations wants you to feel lonely, empty and detached so they can feed you the lie that money and possessions, power and fame will fill the void. They want you to be detached so that you will be at their beck and call. The danger for the church is to respond by giving people a list of rules to follow. Or it says that the most important thing is for people to belong. So we end up continuing to feed the desire to fill the void of our lives with just another thing. The Way of Jesus is about living faithfully to the story he has called us to follow in and to live out. We are called to be a gospel people who's lives are shaped by living faithfully to God, following Jesus in his radical call of discipleship. This is where community is found. Living faithfully to Jesus is our highest goal and where we discover our true selves. In relationship with the living God our lives rightly shaped and lived. Resident Aiens is an amazing book. It is from this book that these thoughts have sprung. Buy it and read it if you can...

Monday, 25 June 2012

Bow to the Empire

Have we conformed to the Empire's expectations rather than being a people who live as the Gospel demands?

Do we bow to the image of Caesar and Caesar's power and wealth too afraid to live as radical followers of Jesus?

Have we turned the teachings and call of Jesus into making people feel a little better about their lives?

'Alas, how many in our day who profess to be the Lord's are as abjectly dependent upon their fellow-men or upon an arm of flesh in some shape or other, as if they had never known the name of Jehovah at all.'  C.H. Spurgeon

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Next To Me

I used this song for Communion a few weeks back.

I used it to consider how God has promised to always be with us.  In the act of Communion God meets with us by His Spirit and Jesus' Story becomes our story.  We encounter God and His eternal promise 'I am with you' is truth and life for us.

'So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.' Isaiah 41:10
'And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' Matthew 28:20

Some words from the song,

'When the money's spent and all my friends have vanished
And I can't seem to find no help or love for free
I know there's no need for me to panic
Cos I'll find him, I'll find him next to me.

...When all I need's a hand to stop the tears from falling
I will find him, I'll find him next to me.'

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Did God Create Himself?

'Did God create Himself?' was the question my five year old daughter Grace asked me the other day.

I think this is a great question, especially because she is only five years old.

I love this question because she is thinking for herself, pushing and questioning the faith that she has and sees in Sarah and I.

It is a question that is asking who God is and what he is all about.  And I am going to encourage Grace to keep asking, keep questioning and keep thinking for herself.

After she asked me I asked her what she thought.  She sat quiet for a while and then said, 'I'm not sure. I think God made the whole of everything...'  Then she went quiet again as we drove past a cemetery. 'I'm going to put you there dad when you die.'  And the conversation moved on!

I left the question in the air and have not given her any answer as to what I think.  I think it is such a good question that it deserves to hang in the air blowing gently like a whisper and forcefully like a shout.

I know what my short answer to her question is, but I didn't want to just say that to her, partly because I wanted to think about it some more.  It made me think about time, origins, beginnings and endings, creation and who God is.  It is a question that reveals more than just one question, it taps into mystery; beautiful, challenging mystery.  I hope she always asks those kind of questions.

In light of all this mystery, I certain of one thing though...

She has my funeral all sorted!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Don't Lie to Your Children

The other day on BBC 2 the animated film The Prince of Egypt was on.  It is a re-telling of the story of Moses taken in part from the book of Exodus and artistically adapted for the cinema.

Grace and I started to watch it together and something happened that completely threw me.

It got to the part in the story when Moses kills the Egyptian.  The Bible says, 'One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his people were and watched them at their hard labour.  He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.  Glancing this way and that and seeing no-one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.'  Exodus 2:11-12

When Grace watched this part of the film she became absolutely distraught.  She cried and cried, filled with fear.

I managed to calm her down, we talked it through and as the day went on she stopped thinking about it.

But I haven't stopped thinking about it.

For a while now I have been considering the way in which we share the Biblical story with our children.  Time and time again we treat our children with no respect because we feed them lies and half truths about the reality of the Biblical story.

The story of Noah is a nice little boat trip, the Exodus is a few insect inconveniences, David and Goliath have a little spat, Jesus has a lovely little birth, says some nice stories and give lots of hugs.

Not only do we share the same stories over and over again, missing out massive chunks of Scripture, but the stories we tell are not even the reality of how the Bible portrays them.  No wonder our children grow up and walk away from the church.  The get to an age where they realise that we haven't been telling them the truth, where we haven't shared with them the whole sweep of Scripture and where we have avoided the hard and messy parts of the Biblical story.  When life gets messy for our children they should find comfort and hope and challenges in God's Great Story, but because we have painted a picture where everything is always lovely and easy, they seriously don't not think our faith has anything to say.

Grace's reaction to The Prince of Egypt helped me realise again that the Christian faith is filled with stories that are painful, difficult and scary.  But if we want our children to explore, wrestle and grapple with being a follower of Jesus then we have to be honest and share the reality of these stories.  Then with integrity they and we can journey together.  If they decide that they do not want to be a part of this then at least we know that it is out of a truthful reality and wrestling.

Let us stop lying to our children and ducking the hard questions that the Bible throws us and start to all be challenged by what God has said and is saying to us through the whole narrative of Scripture.  Don't avoid these stories because you're scared and uncomfortable of them.  When was being a follower of Jesus ever comfortable?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Marking the Jubilee

'It is time to separate the civil function of the monarch which relates to all UK (and some Commonwealth) citizens from any religious functions which are recognised only by some of them. To come clean, the Queen is not, never was and never will be a sacred figure for me or for people like me. I see no biblical or theological justification to support this, and indeed, have never seen any offered. The Queen is a civil power and as such worthy of respect and prayer, but not a religious one in any other sense than that as a devout and dutiful Christian (for which much thanks) she is a fellow-member of Christ's church. Granted that some Anglicans may have difficulty recognising in Charles (or William?) a similarly sacred figure, the issues are actually much larger. A head of state needs to be a focus of unity. While an explicit denominational religious loyalty is integral to the monarchy as currently understood the religious dimensions of that role militate against the civil ones... The inclusion of the religious dimension in the coronation has constituted a kind of English imperialism. Even within England, historic Nonconformity has always expressly denied a religious function to the monarch, although generally supportive of the civil aspects of monarchy. And in an increasingly religiously diverse and secular country, the religious dimensions of monarchy are not exactly relevant.'

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Church and 'Doing Stuff'

There seems to be something about 'doing stuff' that is deeply addictive within the life of our churches.

Without doubt it is also a cultural thing where we want to prove our worth by how much we work and do.  We think doing stuff is the most important thing.

Within church life it can mean the end of community.

Churches can have meeting after meeting to talk and plan the stuff they want to do.  And the stuff we do can very easily become the thing that defines us so that the church that does the most stuff is seen as the church who is getting the important stuff done.

We believe we are finally a success.

We come to believe our own self importance as church and see the relentless meetings as a sign of our success.  And the meetings become a place of business, a place to decide how the stuff is done properly.

Then the power games begin.  The ones who do the most stuff make a challenge to become the top dog, the power player, the one who decides how the stuff is done.

It all gets dressed up in religious and spiritual language, yet it is no different to a business meeting in any secular organisation.  Worse than that, the stuff we do becomes the god of our lives and church, the thing we bow down and worship.

I was reading about when Moses struck the rock in Meribah and water poured out from it.  Moses is chastised by God for not trusting him.  God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water will gush out, yet Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff.  Water still flows, yet Moses has done it his way rather than God's way.

Moses did not trust God enough.  Moses wanted to do stuff to get the water.  God simply wanted Moses to pray.  And Moses suffered the consequences of his disobedience by not entering the Promised Land.

Doing stuff might well get good things done, things that bless our community and people in need.  God is a good God and desires to rescue, redeem and raise up the poor, oppressed and abused.  And praise God when he uses the efforts of our churches to do that.  But in our desire to do stuff we may well suffer the consequences.

In our desire to always be doing stuff we may well forget how to trust God.  We may well see prayer as obsolete or an after thought.  We may well come to believe that God only acts when we do stuff.

The consequences may well be that we lose our love and intimacy with God.  We may well find ourselves trusting in what we do than the One who as done it all.  God may become an after thought to the work of our hands.

What good is it to gain the whole world yet forfeit our soul?

It is important that we serve God in action, in practical ways to see lives changed and communities transformed.  But that transformation comes from God, not us.  And only God can do the stuff whereby real change and redemption happens.  So the Church is first and foremost called to pray.  And out of that place of prayer we go and act in ways that God calls us to.

If we believe the lie that as churches we should be really busy doing lots if stuff, then we will become proud, no longer trusting in God.

And if we believe that God will only do something if we 'strike the rock' rather than 'just' praying, then maybe God is challenging us to think again...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Being a Minister and 'Doing Stuff'

There is a lot of discussion around at the moment, especially within my own Baptist denomination, about the role of a church minister.

Some people are saying that the future of ministry is bi-vocational.  In other words ministers now should either be paid part-time by the church and work part-time in a secular job or work full time in a secular job and in their spare time lead a church.

I did three years of bi-vocational ministry.  I worked part time for my dad oyster fishing and part time for the church.

There are a number of reasons people are arguing for this;

1. Money - Churches are struggling to pay their ministers full time stipends, so it makes sense for ministers to look for other ways to pay themselves.

2. Community Involvement - Ministers need to be in their community, so working in the community in a 'normal' job helps this to happen.

3. Working Hard - The people in our churches do full time jobs and help in church.  Why should the minister be paid for doing what our members do for free?

4. Leadership - Why should someone be a church leader?  Everyone is an equal so there shouldn't be one person who decides what happens.

5. Leadership 2 - We need a leader to lead us, so they need to be in the real world in a normal job doing what the rest of the church does.

I have summarised greatly and probably missed out other reasons, but I think these are the main thrust of the argument.

And we have a problem.

'Doing stuff' is the problem.

People are wrongly assuming the being a Minister/Pastor/Reverend is about 'doing stuff'.  Once again we are allowing the world to tell us what is primarily a theological and therefore church defining topic.  Being a minister is not about 'doing stuff'.  We live in a world where we do stuff all the time.  Our jobs in all their variety call us to do lots of different things, and quite rightly, in the doing of those things we are displaying skills, craft and working to make a living.  Some jobs are more rewarding than others.  Some love and some hate their jobs.  Some find it easy to see God at work in their job and some find it extremely hard to see how God is at work in their job.

And then there is church.  We do lots of things in church.  Lots of activities, clubs and groups.  And these are run by the people who are also doing a job.  So they give a lot of time working and then helping at church.

People are doing a lot of stuff.

So what does the minister do then?  Well many think that the minister is also doing stuff, yet all his/her stuff is to do with church.  So why are we paying a minister to do the stuff we do for free?

Being a minister is not about doing stuff.  Being a minister is something different.

God has called some woman and men to serve Him within the life of the local church in a way that is distinct and different.  Some have been called by God to primarily be a person of prayer.

A ministers first calling is to be a person of prayer.

So the minister is set apart and called by God to pray.  To pray for her community, to pray for her church, to pray for those that cannot or do not want to pray.  It is a calling to be a living sacrament, a means of grace within the community, revealing the Risen Christ to those whom she meets.  She is set apart to pray and devote to prayer.  Out of such prayer the church will see lives transformed and communities changed.

It is out of this place of prayer that God's people, the Church, can flourish and grow in their relationship with God.  The minister helps people, by the power of the Spirit, to know God.  It is out of this place of prayer that the church grows.  It is out of this place of prayer that communities are changed.

Just doing stuff won't.

People have neglected, rejected and forgotten this though because we have become obsessed with doing stuff.  We think if we work harder God will reward us more.  We think if we do more God will do more. And yet God calls his people to pray first.  And there are some who are set apart to do this on behalf of the people.

This is an honour, privilege and extremely high calling.  It is not something to entered into lightly or carelessly.

It is out of this place of prayer where real worship takes place.  Worship expressed in mission as the minister spends time in the heart of the community, sharing lives with others and leading people to Christ.  Worship expressed in servant-hood as the minister prays for others, serves others, listens, loves and gives up their lives for others.  Worship expressed in devotion to God by reading and responding to Scripture, observing the Sacraments and spending time in contemplation.  Worship expressed in finding the heartbeat of a community, where the Spirit of God is already at work and joining with Him in what He is doing.

A minister is not a leader in the worldly sense.  They do not manipulate, dictate, lord over or control others.  They are to follow Jesus, the Crucified God.  We are servants who wash the feet of others and are willing to die for God.

Ministry is not about doing stuff.  'Doing stuff' does not require us to follow God.  If a ministers role is about doing stuff then they can go through the week without even needing to pray.  The stuff we do can be dressed up in religious language, but it does not require the existence of God.  Ministry is a call to pray.

Don't hear me wrong, I believe God is at work in the nitty gritty everyday reality of our lives, whether that is oyster fishing, working in Sainsbury's or whatever.  I believe we all have a ministry in our workplaces, revealing the love of God to the people we come into contact with. Our lives are all called to be lives of prayer and worship, wherever that might be.  As an oyster fisherman I was called to serve God and honour Him in that.  And whatever we do God calls us to love and serve Him in and through that.

And there are some who are called by God to serve Him by serving God's people, the Church.

This is a distinct calling that some are called to do.  It is not a matter of authority, power or rank, quite the opposite.  And this requires those called to gives their lives over and commit in prayer and worship on behalf of those they serve so that those they serve will grow and flourish in their relationship with God.

This is something of what a minister is called into...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Passion Week - Wednesday

'Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.  “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.'  Mark 14:1-11

Faith is not simply what we think, a set of beliefs or signing up to a certain doctrine, no, faith is about how our lives are orientated.  Christian faith is about a personal commitment to Jesus, the one who has come to rescue us, that then leads us to a whole new way of life.  To have faith in Jesus is something that cannot go unnoticed and radically transforms who we are.  The evidence of our faith is seen through how we live.  If what we say we believe is a contradiction to how we live, then we must be rightly challenged to question what we really believe.

Now many of us would hold our hands up right away and confess that we know how our lives do not always reflect our love for God.  This is where integrity plays its part.  Integrity is about what we believe and who we are becoming.  In Jesus we are not who we were, but we are not yet who we will be.  We are on a journey of becoming. God is calling for our lives to be orientated towards him and to be absorbed and concerned about his goodness.  In this way we will rightly be utterly concerned for those who are treated in evil ways.

Judas and the woman who anoints Jesus help us consider which way our lives are heading and who we are most concerned about.

The woman, we are told in the other gospels, has lived a 'sinful' life, or, in other words, she was probably a prostitute.  Her life had been filled with rejection and abuse, and now she lived a life that excluded her from society, and where the religious said she was denied access to God.  Yet she encounters Jesus and sees in him something remarkable.  She recognises in Jesus the compassion, forgiveness and love of God.  And so she reorientates her life to God and responds in a way that she sees fit - the pouring of expensive perfume on his head.  This was an act of love, an act desiring the mercy and grace of God.

People rebuked her though, calling at a waste of money and a stupid thing to do.

But Jesus rebukes them and sees where the heart of this woman is.  He knows that she has responded to him in love, and that is quite simply all that he asks of us all.

We need to be careful to not dismiss someone's actions just because it does not fit with what we think is right and proper worship to God.  We need to be careful not to make faith all about signing up to a set of beliefs, because when we do we leave no room for spontaneity, expressiveness and creativity.  We need to keep our eyes open to how God is moving and acting in people's lives and the surprising ways he is revealing himself.

The Spirit of God is wild and un-tameable, and we need to be prepared to be led by Him in the most challenging and surprising ways.

The actions of Judas reveal another story.  It is a desire for self, a 'me first' mentality.  His love for money deceived him. We are not told the full extent of Judas' thinking behind his betrayal of Jesus, but once again we see an orientation of life, yet this time it is away from God.  Judas was one of Jesus' closest friends.  He was one of the twelve disciples, someone who had been with Jesus from the beginning, who had seen the miracles and witnessed God's amazing ways, who had heard Jesus teach and preach and been with him in the deep conversations, sharing his life with him.  Yet despite all of this something got hold of Judas that denied all of this and sought another way.
And so we need to be careful that we don't allow ourselves to walk the same path as Judas.  Love for money, power, sex and fame can all easily replace a love for God and our lives can all too easily orientate themselves away from God.

When we see the widows, orphans, abused and oppressed yet do nothing about it because of our 'me first' menatality, then Jesus will challenge us.

When we believe that faith is all about what we believe and nothing about what we do, then Jesus will challenge us.
When we dismiss people because their actions don't fit with 'our way', then this story reminds us how Jesus sees things very differently.  For the one who looks the most religious can indeed be the one who cares least for Jesus, and the one who appears to be the biggest 'sinner' can indeed be the one most devoted to God.

Let us ask God to challenge us this Easter and to allow him to re-orientate our lives towards him and his ways.

Passion Week - Tuesday

'One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.'
Mark 12:28-34

The Shema is a daily Jewish prayer which recites Deuteronomy 6 saying, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  By the time of Jesus it was a prayer spoken three times a day that had gone deep into the hearts and minds of those who said it.  At first glance it might seem to be more like a statement of faith, like a kind of checklist telling people what you believe.  But to the Jewish people it was a way of reorienting their lives once again to God, a prayer of faith and hope, a way of remembering who it is they worship and who it is they are called to follow.  This prayer ingrained itself deep into the lives of those who declared it as a way of helping them to live each moment within the will and heart of God.

This prayer begins with 'Hear', and reminds us that our first calling as God's people is to listen.  We are to listen to God.  'The Lord is one.'  God is not a contradiction with multiple personalities, changing his mind all the time.  God has told us to listen to him and the most important command that his gives us; love him.  This never changes.
To love is not something that can be forged or faked, earned or brought, forced or manipulated.  Love is to desire and crave and freely give of yourself to another.  God's desire for us to love him is a desire for us to freely give of ourselves to him as he freely gives himself to us.

Listen to him and he will show you the most excellent way of love.

In answering the question in this way, Jesus once again challenges us about who God is what it most important in life.  The Pharisees wanted everyone to say and do all the 'right' things according to the way they saw fit.  It enabled them to have power and helped keep the people under control.  Yet they had distorted who God was and who God was calling people to become.

The history of Israel needed to remember that God was compassionate, slow to anger nad abounding in love.
God was a rescuer and redeemer, the One who had delievered Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.

God was concerned and passionate about the outsider, poor and oppressed.

God wanted people to know Him and love Him in faithful lives of worship.

Jesus called people to listen and watch as to who God really was and who they were being called to become.  It is a calling to become like Jesus and to love God in way that puts him first and a desire to know him intimately.  It is a calling to love others sacrificially, putting their needs ahead of our own and to lay down our lives for them.
'Hear' and then 'Do'.  Listen to God and then love him with your whole life, not simply with what you say, but how you live.  Love others as a sign of your love for him.  Love others like you would love yourself.  Love others in a way that puts them first, listens to their needs and sees their pain.  When you listen to God you realise that He is sending you into the world that was made through Jesus to go and do his will of love and justice.  When you listen to God you realise he is sending you to share His Gospel with your community.  When you listen to God you are changed in what you think is most important and are challenged by your own prejudices.  Listening to God challenges us to see that abundant living is about serving and giving your life to others.

Love God with all your mind and let your thinking and understanding be shaped by this journey with Jesus.

Love God with all heart and allow God to open your heart to his heart and desires.

Love God will all your soul and seek Him in the depths of your being.

Love God with all your strength and use it to see the peace of God in your community and families.

Love your neighbour as yourself, desiring that they might know God and join in the journey of relationship with him.

As we continue on this journey to the Cross with Jesus we are once again challenged as to what it means to love God and what it means to love one another.  I wonder how that might look for each one of us as we continue in this journey?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Passion Week - Monday

'The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.'  
Mark 11:12-18

Jesus has begun his journey to the Cross.  Throughout this week, leading to his death, the pace and drama grows, with Jesus powerfully unsettling and challenging the people he encounters.  As we journey with Jesus we may well find that we too are challenged and unsettled by what he reveals to us.
Throughout the Old Testament God is concerned with the poor, oppressed and abused.  His desire is for justice; justice is the re-balance of power, of all people being treated with respect and dignity because they are created in the image of God.  Justice is about those who have been treated with injustice being treated fairly, being cared for and loved.  Jesus approaches the Temple and sees the injustice and oppression that the powerful are inflicting upon the powerless.

The Temple was the place where people could go to worship God.  It was seen as the place where heaven and earth met, the place where God had promised to dwell and be present.  Yet the temple was being corrupted.  The temple authorities decreed that no Roman coins could be used for to pay for sacrifices because they bore the image of Caesar, so they had to be exchanged for currency that could be used.  However, in the process of exchange the ordinary people were being scammed, losing money that went to the priests in power.  It was a religious scam, one of many that happened in the temple grounds, and it angered Jesus.

On top of this was how the Gentiles (non-Jews) were being mistreated and denied true access into the temple to worship God.  The 'Court of the Gentiles' was the only place non-Jews could go in the temple area, and it is most likely that this was the area where all the dishonest trading was taking place.  Rather than the temple being a 'house of prayer for all nations' it had become a 'den' or safe house for robbers.  
Exploitation, injustice and corruption dressed up in religious tradition.

People being denied the presence and gift of God.

Jesus comes in righteous anger and justice to challenge and change that.

His cleansing of the temple was powerfully prophetic, revealing God's heart and the future of things to come.  For in Jesus God has come to dwell in all his fullness; 'The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us.'  Here, in Jesus Christ, is full access to God.  No longer are you denied the promise and presence of God by the powerful, but you can come, just as you are, meet with the person of Jesus and encounter the living God.  This was a spiritual, social and religious revolution.  Jesus was calling Israel to examine herself and to once again take up its true vocation and mission given to her by God.  Jesus' actions show that God had been repeatedly rejected by His people.  In Jesus, God has come to the temple only to be rejected.  Yet God has come to renew and restore all things and invites all people through all time to encounter Him in the person of Jesus.

Jesus challenges us to examine our lives once again and consider if we have denied ourselves and others true worship of God for the sake of power or wealth or manipulation.  Does he call us to be cleansed and renewed by His Spirit that we might refocus once again and fix our eyes on God?

The call to authentic Christian discipleship is call to challenge the corruption and injustice of our day.  To expose all abuse, exploitation, manipulation and oppression, and then challenge it and join with God's Spirit in bringing change.  It is a call to join with God in bring hope and justice to the world in which we live, seeking to be used by God in the communities where we live.

It is a call to reveal to others through our own lives that God is present in Jesus and desires all people to know Him.  It is a call to share the Gospel with all people.  It is a call to help those who believe they have been denied access to God that, in Christ, God desires to meet with them just as they are, just where they are, today.

As we begin this journey with Jesus to the Cross we are challenged yet comforted by this revolutionary and radical God.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Relapse of Depression

My twin bro suffers with depression.

I myself have never suffered with depression.  I have had times in my life of being very down, but I have never had depression, so I cannot speak with any confidence about how Tom feels when he is consumed by the darkness.

So here are some of his own words that he has recently put on his blog;

'Depression is not having a bad day; it is not being in a mood and waiting to get out of it.  Depression is an illness that must be monitored and managed.  It's not like a headache that will eventually go away after taking a couple of pills or lying in a darkened room.  The trouble with depression is that your mind can feel like a dark room and all you want is to experience some light.
My problem is I can grow complacent and believe I'm 'better' (whatever that means) and don't need to pay such close attention to my illness.  I've recently become lax in the regularity I have been taking my medication and when I realised I needed to get back on track it causes problems.
You see, when I miss my medication and then go back on it, it actually causes more severe symptoms of depression as your brain adjusts.  My mistake was to get a bit drunk at the weekend whilst only two days back on to my pills. I can safely say I have almost complete memory loss of that night; the medication mixed with alcohol created a rather obnoxious Tom.
I'm ashamed and I dislike myself for not being more careful, because what it does is not only affect me but others around me.  I'm thankful for loved ones who care for me and support me.'

Tom is very honest and open about his illness.  I hope his story and honesty, and stories like his, enable others who are suffering to seek help and support.

The Bible does not shy away from people feeling the way Tom does.  In Psalm 88 for instance it says,
'But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?'

The Psalm ends with the haunting words, '...darkness is my closest friend.'

There is no happy ending with this Psalm, no 'everything will be ok', no 'God is here for me'.

Darkness is my closest friend.

The Bible does not run away from Psalms like this because the Bible is full of people's stories, people like you and me, people who struggle and suffer and cry out and doubt and fear and fail.  This Psalm was written by someone who was depressed and consumed by mental darkness.

Tom has spoken to me before that he has felt this very way many times.  Tom's story is real, as is yours as is the Psalmist.  They are stories that need to be heard in order that those who are suffering in the same way might find love and support and care.

Too many people suffer in silence because of the continued stigma, fear, myth and ignorance that surrounds mental illness.  Bit by bit, story by story, change can happen.  It doesn't mean that a magic trick will happen and everyone will be freed from depression and anxiety, but it does mean that those who suffer can find support, companionship and care.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Monday, 19 March 2012

Christians are Atheists

The term atheist comes from the Greek ‘atheos’ meaning ‘without God’.  Atheos is used once in the New Testament in Ephesians 2:12 saying ‘remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, exluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God (atheos) in the world.’

Polycarp was an early Christian writer who was executed by the Romans in around 155 A.D for his commitment to Jesus Christ.  At Polycarp’s examination the Pro-Consul asked Polycarp to repent and say ‘Away with the Atheists’.  

The Romans believed in many gods and named them and worshipped them and knew what these gods did and how to control them.  Christians knew that you couldn’t name God, only God can name Himself.  So Christians worshipped the God who had revealed Himself to them and refused to bow to the pressure of any other way.  The God who raised Jesus from the dead was their God. Christians were something altogether very different.  Christianity is not about ‘belief in god’ but a calling to way of life.  Christianity is not defined by what you believe, although belief plays it part, no Christianity is about the orientation of your life, about who you worship.  Who you worship matters, because whatever is the most important thing in our lives will ultimately be the thing we worship and adore most.  What I believe means nothing unless how I live my life reflects that. 

Atheism assumes you can name God and thus get rid of God because you have God all figured out.  You’ve figured out who God is, why you don’t need God and why belief in God is irrational.  Theism quite simply means ‘belief in a god’.  If you believe in the existence of at least one god then you are a theist – it is a general naming of God.

Christians argue that both these ways are inadequate.  The general ‘god’ who started everything, who atheists deny and who theists affirm is not the God who delivered Israel from Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead.  This God cannot be named by us, defined by us or figured out by us because of what we believe.  This God calls people to a Way of life not a set of beliefs.

Christians are once again called to be atheists.  Christians do not believe in many gods.  They do not believe that God can be named by humanity, manipulated by prayer or figured out and tested in a laboratory.  Christians therefore are atheists to the gods of this world.  They follow the God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

There will always be atheists, but I suspect that many people today desire and hope that they are not ‘without God’.  Whatever people believe today I suspect few would want to believe they are without God and hope that somehow and in some way that God is indeed very much with them.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Why I'm an Atheist

My bro has posted on his blog why he is an atheist.  I used this last night for our discussion night at the pub.  People were very moved by what he had written.

Here is what he says:

I don’t believe in atheism. What I mean by that is, I don’t believe atheism is a universal truth. I don’t believe atheism has all the answers and the non-existence of god is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  I do believe in integrity though, and being true to yourself and what you believe.

I was a Christian and a very passionate Christian at that.  I was able to preach to large groups of people about God and how amazing he is.  I truly believed god was amazing and could do life changing things.  I really felt he had changed my life and I was on a new path, with a new life, with new hopes and new dreams.  I thought Jesus was one hell of a bloke and I still look at Jesus and find him a superb example of what it means to be a human being.  Jesus is a great example of how to live, but also his anguish at the exploitation of the poor and marginalised is so appropriate for the way society is at the moment. 
There is a “but” though.

Over four years of being a Christian I was always left with a niggling doubt.  An itch I couldn’t quite scratch.  Something like a knot in your stomach that doesn’t quite go away and ends up growing and wrapping itself around you.  It was to do with prayer.  Why weren’t my prayers answered?  It, at first, felt like God was hearing my prayers but maybe answering them differently to what I expected.  It then felt like I was making excuses for God’s silence by believing his inaction made a better result.  Over time though I just felt like god wasn’t answering and didn’t really care.  And then it felt like I was saying these prayers which were drifting up into a vast expanse of emptiness.  Ultimately I didn’t see prayer working and it made me wonder if there was even a god there listening to me.  If god didn’t care about me, why should I care about him?

For me, I am an atheist because I feel I have no choice. I felt so disillusioned by god’s silence I actually found more peace in thinking that if god isn’t there then I don’t need to pray and get disappointed if he doesn’t answer. 

I also found disbelief more of a peaceful route because of how some people within the Church treated me.  There were a few who made me feel less of a person and who upset me and hurt me. I felt judged.  I spent time away from the Church and met people who loved me for who I was, with all the scars and tears and pain I carry.  They loved me unconditionally.  An unconditional love I expected from some people within the Church, but never got.

I do believe many in the Church give unconditional love but they don’t have the monopoly on it and it got me thinking that either god shares his love freely throughout all people or maybe people simply have an innate ability to love each other just the way they are. 

I chose the second option because I found more peace in it.  My girlfriend loves me simply because it’s me. She knows my past pains and present struggles.  She understands my future worries and my distant dreams. She loves me because she loves me, no more, no less.  I get physical comfort from her when I am low and I get emotional comfort too.  I guess god became too abstract, distant and silent. I prayed to him and felt I got no answer, no hug, no tears wiped away from my eyes. Only recently I was upset and asked where he was and silence boomed back.

I don’t think atheism will ever become the dominant belief system in the world because it doesn’t have all the answers. I don’t even know if I agree with a lot of what atheists say! I am an atheist because I feel, through life experience, god doesn’t exist. 

I must admit, I’d happily be proved wrong though…