Sunday, December 23, 2007


What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here the silent Word is pleading:
Nails, spear, shall pierce him through, the cross be borne, for me, for you:
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary!

So bring him incense, gold and myrrh, come peasant, king to own him,
The King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy for Christ is born, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

Maybe it's that I've spent half this year being a babysitter, but for some reason this Christmas I can't stop thinking about how thoroughly amazing it is that God should come to us, and come as a baby. As something so vulnerable, so humble, so dependent, so unassuming, yet something that symbolises the promise and potential that every human is given from the start of their lives.

I can't put it into words, but if anyone were to ask me right now what separates Christianity from other religions, or what makes our God special, I would say - he came as a baby. Christ born in a humble stable, laid in a manger, and the first people to hear of his birth mere shepherds - that tells me something about the character of our God that seems so powerful to me that I can't quite understand why people forget about it in favour of tinsel, Santa Claus and "Jingle Bell Rock".
Merry Christmas, everyone - I hope you have a lovely day tomorrow (or the day after, depending on your timezone) with your loved ones.

Friday, December 07, 2007

split personality

There's something about having an injury like mine that brings out both my strengths and weaknesses. About two weeks ago I broke my heel, and less than a week ago my heel was diagnosed as being broken. I am now in plaster for about four or five more weeks and I'm not allowed to put ANY weight on my right leg. None. I can do basically nothing.

The worst: When I am just tired and depressed and lonely, when I've just almost fallen over again, when I've crawled up the stairs and then realised I left the most crucial thing at the bottom, when I've walked about ten metres and already have to sit down again, when I remember something else I was going to do over the next month that I can't do now, when I think of the hard work and physiotherapy and time it's going to take just to get me normal again if I'm lucky - all I can think about is how much this sucks, how much I want to cry, and WHY ME GOD? Who cares about other things going on in the world and how they measure up to this relatively? What difference does it make that I have family around who want to help me and access to medical help? Then I start feeling selfish and it's even worse.

The best: At times there is part of me that looks around wherever I am - maybe the Emergency Department where I got my cast on - and I cannot escape seeing people that are far worse off than me, like the woman who lay on her floor with a broken shoulder for a whole day until a friend found her, or the old man who is lying on his bed looking grey and not speaking. There are other times when I wonder if it's not actually a bad thing to understand what it feels like to be cut off from things you want to do, to be housebound, to be dependent on others for basic necessities. And sometimes I almost want to thank God for using my accident, a not wonderful thing in itself, to teach me something.

I still need prayer to get through the depressing part though!

My point is, though - maybe it's not great that when I'm at my weakest I am despairing, yelling at God for allowing this to happen. But I think perhaps God doesn't need us to be cheerful all the time. Maybe it's better if we can praise him joyfully in all circumstances and stay optimistic even when it's hardest. But the important thing is that it's God I'm yelling at, God I'm imploring, and God I'm leaning on when I find it hardest to stand on my own (and I say that both literally and figuratively!).

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Holy Spirit - pay attention!

Before I start - the last few posts have been unintentionally in two sections, Studied Stuff and What Is Happening To Me Right Now. So I'm going to keep going with that, but intentionally this time!

Studied Stuff

Today I want to share some of the things that appeared to me to be saying - BE CAREFUL. I've been stuck on the extreme of being very skeptical in the past; while I read about the Holy Spirit in the Bible I found myself being quite challenged about this. Here's some of what I found:

Matthew 12:30-31 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

I wanted to put this first because in the past I've avoided this verse like the plague, worrying that it means that if I've ever been slightly flippant about the Holy Spirit in the past it means I'm destined for hell. When I read it through, though, it seems clear to me that this is not saying that at all. In context, Jesus seems to be saying that the only sin that cannot be forgiven is never choosing to stand with him and accept him. In other words, ignoring the Spirit's voice whispering to us the truth is the only thing that keeps us from God. Still, this verse isn't completely clear - but a renewed thoughtfulness about it helped me move on to a fairer understanding of how the Spirit works.

Nehemiah 9:30 God was patient with Israel for many years; By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid you no attention.
Hebrews 2:3-4 How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Revelation 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Repeated several times in the next few chapters.)

Shall I paraphrase? Don't ignore the Holy Spirit. In one sense here, the Spirit is talking to nonbelievers who have not accepted Christ. In another, he is talking to the churches - those of us who are already saved. And he repeats this message for each of the seven churches spoken to in Revelation - it's important. Growth, constancy and vigour are not possible unless the Church listens to the Spirit directing them - and I wonder how much attention we pay to the Spirit in our individual churches and as one entire body?

A verse that seems one of the most serious to me:
Hebrews 10:26,29 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left… How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Acts 5:3 Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?

In both these cases - ignoring the Spirit brings consequences - none of which we can blame anyone other than ourselves for. In the passage from Acts, Ananias' ignoring of the Spirit goes as far as lying to him, and in Hebrews, to refuse to change one iota after initial salvation is to insult the Spirit of grace, the Spirit who brought us to the Lord out of bondage. It is like saying "thanks for removing my chains but I'd quite like to keep toiling, please".

On the other hand:
Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

This is perhaps a more positive side of the coin. If we do listen to the Spirit, and do our best to please him, there is nothing he will not give us. Eternal life. A phrase that is used so often it loses some of its power sometimes, but nevertheless a powerful phrase.

And in summing up, this is the verse that seemed to put it all together for me and undo all the tangles and contradictions in my mind:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

Here, I in my earlier position am warned not to treat prophecies contemptuously at risk of extinguishing the fire of the Spirit by my negativity. But I am also encouraged to 'test everything' - not to treat everything I hear Christians assert as the gospel truth willy-nilly. This passage deals with both extremes, and I feel a bit more comfortable now as to where I am on the spectrum.

What is happening to me right now

I only have about six weeks left before I go back to New Zealand now, and only four of them will be in Australia. As it suddenly seems so close, I've been thinking a lot about what I am going back to. I have really enjoyed attending my sister and brother-in-law's church, a fairly evangelical and laidback Anglican church called St Philip's in Cottesloe. There is a huge range of people there, a lot of whom are very open to experiencing the Spirit in ways I never have. Some of them have taught me really interesting new ways to think about things that would never have occurred otherwise. I feel challenged and stimulated there.

Whereas my church at home is a wonderful, really wonderful church that is like my extended family. It's not big but not tiny, and I know that a large number of people there will be praying for me regularly and fervently. What made me most moved was that for my birthday last week I received a card in the mail that someone had taken round the church and everyone had signed for me. To know that you have all these people who really care about you and would put themselves out there for you even when they don't see you every week is just amazing. The sermons are meaty and we still sing the really good old hymns (along with some of the really bad old hymns).

My problem is that I've been there forever. I am so used to being the same person and thinking the same ways while I'm there that I'm beginning to feel like I'll be stuck in the same Me when I'm back. I do get challenged and so on while I'm there but I can predict exactly what people will think on some issues, not least the Holy Spirit. The kind of accepted view at my church at home is that the Holy Spirit is very active in our lives and in our reading of scripture but he doesn't need to make us talk in tongues etc. I don't know what I think about that yet. But I want to find out, and I think if I ask people at church I will get the same answers as always but without any proof. I may come to the same conclusions eventually but I want to know that they have been my own, and I have found out for myself. Another small but influential issue is that there is no one my age there except a few people who come very irregularly.

I am pretty sure that people at my church would understand exactly why I was leaving if I left, and would not blame me at all. In fact, I think some would advise me to leave, as much as they like having me there to play piano and so on. But I feel a very strong loyalty to the church that has raised me up as a Christian and given me such a strong foundation in the faith, and I think our church is in such a crucial position in a needy neighbourhood, so I don't want to weaken it by removing myself, one of the only young adults. So I don't know what to do and I mean to pray a lot about it before I return. Any prayers you might like to pray for the subject would be so much appreciated. I would also like to go and talk to some of the people at my church who I really trust and see what they have to say.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Holy Spirit - the Comforter

By starting with 'Creativity' and moving on to 'the Comforter', perhaps I'm choosing the nice cushy areas first. Perhaps I should be getting my teeth into areas like 'baptism of the Spirit' and 'insulting the Spirit' with more gusto. All the same, I would like what I write here to reflect my personal journey through all these passages, and for me, I needed to hear what the Spirit is actually like before I could get into the "deep" stuff. To trust someone, you need to know them first. To let go of inhibitions and ask them to use you as they wish, you need to be sure they are going to be there for you. So here I am writing about the Spirit who is not just a friend and a comforter, but the Friend and the Comforter.

Here is the passage that really summed it up for me:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Isaiah 61:1-3

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:25-27

Two of my favourite passages ever. I don't know where I'd got this idea but perhaps in the past the Spirit seemed frightening to me. I don't mean the fear of the Lord sort of way which is positive, but a way in which he was the one I expected to be always convicting and berating and stopping you from doing things you wanted to do. A negative power, a 'do not' power. But here, the Spirit is a bearer of good news, a comforter, an emancipator - someone who moves people to wholehearted praise. An entirely positive person, a do-er instead of a do-not-er. And from the second passage, the Spirit brings peace to us and we no longer have to fear, because he is like a parent to us:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:16-18
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 (Another favourite passage!)

Another passage that made me quite relieved:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. Romans 8:26-27

Through such passages of Scripture, I have finally learnt the niceness of God. I know I've been writing under that title for quite a while now, and to be honest with myself, it's probably wrong to say 'finally' which implies completeness, because I'm not sure if we could ever completely understand the niceness of God. My point is, the Spirit is close to us like a father if we let him be, and the result is he knows us, he understands us, and he allows us to be frail human beings who are not always sure if we want to pray or what. I no longer have to freak out that I'm not like one of those scary superhuman Christians who prays for five hours before breakfast, but I can take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this world, bereft of Jesus like an orphan, even if I was the only Christian in New Zealand. It is from this starting point that I hope I can start allowing the Spirit much more space in my life.

A side note: this weekend after I wrote that angry last post, I had a big conversation with my brother-in-law and sister, who are also acquainted with the person I was writing about. I ended up bursting into tears in the kitchen with my brother-in-law and saying all the stuff that has been worrying/annoying/angering me about the issue of healing - namely, if lack of physical healing means lack of Christian-ness and lack of connectedness to the Holy Spirit, why did my mother die, who was probably the awesomest Christian I knew? And why do Christians make such a big deal of healing anyway? Why do we make death into such a big scary thing when everything we read in the Bible tells us it's not?

My brother told me about a conversation he once had with a guy who was very into the charismatic movement and who used to hold meetings where he would heal people. One time, a sick woman stood up, said "I feel better", went to the bathroom, and died. And his response to this was not to say - I've failed! God has failed! - but to ask the question, "What if her death was the most complete healing of all? What if that was the real miracle? Maybe by taking her away, God was healing her more completely than can be imagined while alive."

That question has been hanging around me ever since - and I have come to think it's the right question.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Holy Spirit - a digression

I was going to continue with what I had started in this post, a discussion of what I read in the Bible about the Holy Spirit, but today I looked up a "school" on the internet that some acquaintances follow - I'm not sure if follow is the right word, but for them, it's a substitute for church, and they take part in it over the internet. It's called the New Zealand School for Prophets and Intercessors. I did a little browsing, and started reading this article.

I don't want to condemn them entirely as they evidently mean so well and want to discover truth. I don't want to sound too damning and I don't want to be too negative about something that despite all my instincts may be true in its entirety. But what I read made me angry.

Rightly divided, Scripture sets out for each Seeker, the way of Salvation.
The Way is an inward spiritual journey for which sequential teaching
progressively casts light upon divinely ordered steps. His Word –
ministered as the Holy Spirit reveals and quickens it –comes in power to judge
and subsequently change the inward parts, thus bringing healing and restoration
to a damaged soul. This is Salvation.

It is an on going – not instant – process, bringing also physical healing
to the body as the soul prospers under restoration. The simple fact is
that when one does not properly minister the Word in this way, the Christian
religion becomes little more than a superficial palliative, only touching skin
deep, where people – if they are honest with themselves – are living in a state
of pretence. God calls that hypocrisy

I can cope with the idea that salvation is a healing of a damaged soul. What this man goes on to say, however - that physical healing is inevitable - is in my experience a lie. A grotesque lie. Made even more frightening to me by the fact that my acquaintance who follows these teachings is themselves at this moment gravely ill, well before their time. They have followed faithfully where the Spirit leads for a long time now and to teach that this person is a hypocrite, and their faith is superficial, is a libel. It is even frightening to me because if this person, undergoing the most difficult trial of their life over these last months, listens to these teachings, what are they to conclude? That everything they have believed and experienced so vividly is a lie? That they are not really accepted by God?

The writer of this article talks about how the modern "so-called" Church is no longer led by God but is generally made up of hypocrites. But he fails to see what is in evidence every day in your average community church, the living out of Jesus' command: "By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you show love one for another." (John 13:35) It is not love for your fellow Christian to attack their faith when they are most in need of it. It is just not, and I will never accept that. Granted, the "modern Church" is in many ways stumbling off track, myself included - just as the early Church or the medieval Church or the Renaissance Church or the Reformation Church (etc) did. But it is the age-old Church's capacity to love and encourage and nourish believers and non-believers alike, and to help them through dark times, that is in my opinion the greatest proof of God's hand. It is when we fail in that respect that we most tellingly demonstrate to the world our hypocrisy. And to my mind, this writer has just failed his suffering brother/sister, who is a faithful servant of the God we all try our best to serve.

There was a lot of other things in the article that annoyed me, and some things that were okay, but you can read it for yourself if you really want to. It is this issue that I find the most objectionable of all.

Friday, October 19, 2007


[A little interlude in my series on the Holy Spirit:] Since I came to Perth, it's taken me a while to sort of get settled into a church or home group. Finally I've started going to this thing called small church through my sister's church, but I've only been a couple of times because sometimes I've been out of town or I haven't heard when it was on - whatever. So on Tuesday I went along and it was only my second time, but nobody was there except the woman - let's call her "Liz" - who has it at her house. We decided to go ahead with the evening anyway, just the two of us, and we read through Philippians 4 and talked about it and drifted into a lot of other areas as well. It was great. Especially as I've really missed that sort of small group/one-on-one environment where you can share what's really bothering you or making you happy.

Well, a few days later, I got an email from Liz, suggesting we keep in touch about the things that are going on for us spiritually, so we know that someone else is praying for us, and is there to discuss things that are going on.

Firstly, it has been a long time now that I have been wanting this to happen. I've been put in leadership roles in my Christian group at uni and at my church, but this has always felt weird to me, as I've known for a while now that I need someone older than me to splurge to. Liz is in her late thirties, I think; she really knows her stuff regarding the Bible; I can keep up with her in that but I can't keep up with her in spiritual maturity, and I really need someone like that to talk to. It's not like I have been praying for this every single day but whenever I've thought about it I have tossed it up to God, hoping he might send someone suitable. I thought maybe I'd just have to approach someone myself, the idea of which freaked me out, especially as I just didn't know anyone I would feel happy putting myself into this position with, and also because I feel terrible asking people who are already busy to help out silly wee me.

So - I am stoked. And moved that God has answered my very casual prayers. It's always everyone else that seems to have their needs exactly fulfilled by God, and I won't pretend I haven't been a little bitter about that. I think I've avoided praying almost because I'm worried that that horrible Christian inanity "Sometimes God answers prayer with a no" will come true. Now I am just so amazed that this has happened for me - it's nothing miraculous, but exactly what I needed. Thanks, God.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

introduction to the Spirit

A while ago I went to my home group and we split off into even smaller groups just to talk about "where we are with God". I said (honestly) that I'm really bad at reading my Bible and praying, and I was getting very very confused about the Holy Spirit. You may remember a few months ago I wrote a post on this blog about how I was finally getting to know the Spirit for myself and how I had resented Pentecostalism a little for making the Spirit seem so foreign to me. That was all true, but I have still been totally confused. Perhaps the fact of trying to be closer to the Holy Spirit has done this, because I've had to question my earlier perspectives a lot. Perhaps the Spirit has taught me that I haven't been quite fair to Pentecostal ideas, although I think I had to go through that step to get to the next one. On the other hand I still have serious problems with extreme Pentecostal ideology. Basically - I've been getting very twisted up with different points of view. But in this home group another girl suggested I take the subject of the Holy Spirit, look him up in a concordance, and just go through the Bible methodically - thus solving two problems at once. This seemed such a simple idea that at first I was a little taken aback, but slowly it grew on me, and I decided to do it. (Why didn't I think of it myself?!)

So for the last few weeks I've been going through every Bible reference that mentions the Spirit of God or the Counsellor etc etc. This has been fantastic for me, to see what the Bible says about who the Holy Spirit really is and what he does, and to try to draw my own conclusions from it, without the baggage that denominational interpretations inevitably bring. I think the methodical approach suits me, because so far I've organised all the verses I copied down into subgroups, and I'd like to write a few posts sharing what I discovered. I still haven't figured out all of it - I'd like to study a few of the subgroups a bit more carefully, such as "Baptism of the Spirit" or "Difficult Bits", and check out what a few commentators have written about them. But there are also sections I found really helpful without having to read other people's opinions on them, and here's the first subgroup I'd like to share:


Exodus 31:3 regarding Bezalel: I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts...

1 Samuel 16:14 The Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. v.23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

2 Samuel 23:1-2 In his last words, David refers to himself as Israel’s singer of songs, and says The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.

Ephesians 5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was a huge encouragement to me to learn that music or creativity in general is an agent of the Holy Spirit. I love and rely so much on music that it has sometimes concerned me a little; what if that's wrong? But now I feel like my feeling for music is a big bonus in my quest to understand in some way the character of the Spirit of God and how he works and what he gives people. I mean, if the Holy Spirit is a lover of music and he shows us things through music, he must really like us.

I also love that God is a God who shares his best gifts with everyone. Some of his gifts can be destroyed or mutilated, like the gift of family. But you don't have to do what God says to enjoy music although I have a theory that perhaps it's not until you know him yourself that you can enjoy things like music to their full extent. God is a truly generous God.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

we are lucky

The other day I went to the art gallery in Perth which is featuring an exhibition of amazing Egyptian artefacts from the Louvre. Trying to get one's head around the sheer age of exhibits that could have been around when Moses was floating the Nile in a basket is one thing; trying to get one's head around the complex and elaborate rituals Egyptians underwent in their preparation for the afterlife is another. As I walked around I was reading about how this particular amulet or model or painting would trick or convince or appease the gods into accepting them, or would defend the person from evil spirits, or many more things. It was mindblowing and I actually found it desperately sad. This entire civilisation had so much that revolved around death. They Got It - the fact that death is what we are all heading for and that we had better prepare ourselves for it - but they missed out on so much.

And then today I was thinking about how many Thai people (or Indians, or many others) customarily refuse to say that a beautiful baby is beautiful - instead they comment on the baby's ugliness, so evil spirits will be tricked into not taking the baby away.


I hope I'm not offensive when I say these things, but I cannot help but be sad at the thought of living under such a burden of fear. To constantly have to appease someone, to trick someone into accepting you... if this is how we must live, what a horrible life that would be. And we Christians slip into it so easily. An extreme example is the Flagellants of the fourteenth century who went around whipping themselves because they believed by sinning, they had brought the Black Death (bubonic plague) as God's wrath upon them, and perhaps, perhaps if they just made their own lives very very painful, that would make God like them better.

As I heard in a truly wonderful sermon today, that is not the heart of God towards us. God is the loving Father who runs towards his lost, sinful sons with arms wide open; God is the one who sells all he has to find his treasure in us (Matthew 13v45); God who considers us 'his glorious inheritance in the saints' (Ephesians 1v18); God who 'for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame' (Hebrews 12v2 - one of my favourite passages by the way). And when we, as saints, die and meet God, he will not shame us with our misdeeds and question our right to come before him, but he will rejoice we are there, and he will say to us "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord!" (Matthew 25v21)

We have a wonderful God who likes us.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Just a short little post tonight, to share a quick thought:

Last Sunday I went to the 150th celebrations of the Anglican church in Western Australia. The people I went with are not Anglicans of the high church type, and they thought it much too long, full of smells and bells, and too pretentious and high-church in many ways - such as the long parade of all the ministers and bishops into the stadium, in all their paraphernalia, the high point of which was the clown walking solemnly in among them holding his feather duster up like a standard - although the Bishop of York, who was there, and who spoke, was fantastic.

Anyway - personally, it was just interesting for me although I did notice the length, because I have never had much experience of Anglican church, especially high church, rituals. Apart from the Bishop of York's sermon, my favourite part was the Communion. At my home church we simply pass around the bread and the wine, after prayer, and swig it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, it's just that I've grown used to it, and it doesn't come across as particularly special sometimes. This time, I received Communion from the Archbishop of Brisbane, I had to go up to him to get it (a whole freaky experience in itself as I had absolutely no idea what a real Anglican looks like in receiving Communion and was anxious to fit in) with hands outstretched while he said a little blessing thing (I think) and then dip it in wine and eat it. And it was an exciting, special thing. That sounds terribly inane, but it was just a new experience for me to see that ritual, which I've been used to thinking of as boring and pointless, can actually make me think more about the thing itself, the body and the blood of Christ shed for me. Not bad.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I just want to update those of you who prayed for the woman I mentioned two blog posts ago - she died almost two weeks ago, and her funeral was on Monday. I couldn't attend because I am now in another country. Sadly, no one knows how she stood with God before her death. Her close friends at the church found it very hard because she couldn't make up her mind while she was still lucid, and then she could no longer communicate or even realise they were there. It's been difficult for the church to realise we just have to leave it to God and be comfortable with not knowing.

Friday, June 29, 2007

praise and music

My dad subscribes to New Zealand's Open Brethren magazine, the Treasury, which comes out monthly, and here is an excerpt from the editorial by Ken Edgecombe in July's edition:

C.S. Lewis claims that only damaged people fail to give praise. Everywhere,
he says, the wolrd rings with the sound: praise of weather, of wines, of dishes,
actors, pets, flowers, rare stamps, beetles, colleges, even politicians or
scholars; of any conceivable thing. In fact, he believes that the giving of
praise completes the experience. Other people have come to the same conclusion:
Elvis Presley asked (All Shook Up), "Who do you thank when you have
such luck?" The healthy person looks for a way to acknowledge the

In that sense, God's people are offered a fullness of life. I always
admired Ed Hillary's Everest climb, but I was thrilled to meet him when I was at
high school, and his autograph is still in my book. We love to admire the music
of Handel, but what would it be like to hear the man himself play it? Surely
nothing would be more natural than to say "Isn't he great" if we watched the
maestro perform. And when we see the wonders of the created order, we are
invited to move beyond the creature and acknowledge the creator. It's the most
natural thing for a witness to do. "Let everything that has breath praise the

To me, this was a really interesting thought. It's true; it seems natural for us to want to look beyond a brute fact of nature like a sunset and to ascribe some sort of responsibility for it somewhere. In fact, how can a sunset be beautiful at all if we were not given minds that comprehend beauty? In looking at things created by humans, it seems stunted to ignore the existence of an artist figure or a mind behind it, because that can add so much more significance to the thing itself. If you look at most modern art, this rings very, very true. There's no point in observing Duchamp's Urinal, for example, as a work of art unless you know what the artist intended it to be, or it's just a urinal, nothing more and nothing less. So why should it be any different for the created world that owes nothing to humans?

I was especially interested by the analogy using Handel. I don't really like analogies usually, as I think you can make anything sound plausible using analogy, but I think this one is a good one. It seems to me that music is a perfect example of the way we are naturally inclined to give praise. In watching an oratorio like Messiah, or perhaps a concerto or symphony, a portion of the praise falls to the music itself. But a larger portion falls to the musicians. Sound cannot help itself, it just is, in the same way as a sunset is just light, even if it's beautiful. The musicians' skill, however, cannot be ignored; they have worked hard and long to perform something that is pleasing. If they are particularly good, their portion of praise grows slightly, and they become like a mini-creator.

But. At the end of every performance of Messiah I have ever been to, the conductor holds up his score above his head for everyone to see, and the audience claps long and hard - because the true genius behind the performance is not the performers or the acoustics of the hall or the minds with which we understand the music, although they are all necessary. It is the person who formed the music from nothing, who gave it meaning and rhythm and beauty. It is almost the most moving moment of the performance for me.

So: what this says to me. Understanding life and living a good one is, in a sense, a praiseworthy goal, and if we ever achieve some success in this, we are entitled to some credit. Often our parents are too, as the ones who performed the crucial step of bringing us into the world and teaching us how to live - much like the musicians. Appreciating beauty in itself can never be a bad thing. But if we fail to look beyond these aspects of life to the very first cause, if we cannot look past the sunset to see the Creator, we are missing out on the most important aspects of it all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

urgent prayer request

To be brief: a woman I know has today been told she has days to live, an unexpected outcome of treatment she was having for cancer.

This woman was a friend of my mother's, who spent hours with her in Bible studies and at our church's craft group before my mother's death, but as far as I know this woman has never accepted Jesus as her Saviour. From what I have heard she's never quite got to the point of acceptance though she's come close to it several times. She's had some hard times in her life, not least being this cancer, and I think she finds it hard to get past them. She has two children who have become Christians; the youngest is only sixteen.

Since my mum's not here to pray for her and to visit her, I feel really strongly that I need to pray for her. For her recovery, which would now be miraculous, and her acceptance of Christ. I believe God can bring about the first, but if he doesn't, she needs to get to know him very quickly. Please pray for her. I know this sort of thing happens every day, and there are a lot of things to pray for. But please do.

Also, another woman at my church who is her friend has been visiting her every day in hospital lately, but her mother has taken ill and she has had to go away to another city for at least the weekend. I am praying then, also, that this woman will be able to come back to talk to the dying woman and be a friend to her in her last days, if that is God's will.

I seem to slip into Christianese when I talk about things like this. It may come across as a bit inane. Hopefully not; I'm actually really serious about everything I've said, and I believe it all.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

a grudge

I have had, for a long time, a grudge of sorts against Pentecostals. I'm not saying this is fair, or unilateral, or anything - in fact, it would be hard to live with a bitter aversion to Pentecostalism as some of my best friends are Pentecostal, or go to a Pentecostal church (ha! this is sounding worse and worse and I'm just digging myself a deeper hole).

Please let me try to explain myself (properly): I went to a Christian high school, where a lot of people went to Pentecostal churches on Sunday, would talk about amazing miracles and how they spoke in tongues, and then the rest of the week be bratty, insincere, drunk teenagers. That, for a start, put me off, because I don't see how the Holy Spirit can give you such wonderful 'gifts' and then for the rest of the week you can forget about them. Obviously, this is not the behaviour of all or most Pentecostals, and I have long since got over that.

But for the purpose of this blog post, the more important thing that has annoyed me about Pentecostalism is the implication that if you 'have' the Holy Spirit, you're going to be showing it in some fairly wacky ways. Last year one of my very best friends would go on about this all the time, and I could tell she thought I wasn't that great or fulfilled a Christian because I don't speak in tongues or fall down screaming all over the place on the slightest encouragement, and I don't dance around when I sing at church, and my church is a quiet, fairly restrained place. I also have some pretty strong opinions about faith 'healers' such as Benny Hinn. While this perception of my 'spirituality' annoyed me, it also made me feel quite insecure about my acceptance by God. What if the Holy Spirit did only come to believers in that way? What if I was a cold, repellent being who hadn't yet come to true faith or true acceptance? Who is the Holy Spirit, anyway? (Although, then, I tended to think of him more as an 'it'.) Because I'm not the sort of Christian who is going to go to the other extreme and say that there's no such thing as speaking in tongues etc etc, I found it very hard to find a firm place to stand on the spectrum, and I've tended to be sometimes a little flippant, even rude, about the Pentecostal church.

Lately, however, I've begun (thank God) to feel very strongly that the Holy Spirit is always present in my life. Because some Pentecostals presented him in a very specific light, it took me a long time to come to a realisation that he'd never actually been gone from me - but now, I've realised that whenever I hear God talking to me, through the Bible or through my conscience or through people or through anything else, it's him. That seems such a simplistic, obvious thing to say, but it's taken a long time for me to realise it. As I write this, I'm not quite sure how to put into words exactly what this means to me. It's like I've had a friend hanging round me all my life whom I've only just discovered, a personality that has only just made itself known to me, although I've felt him there all along - it's just I always assumed I had to label him God the Father or Jesus Christ, because I wasn't experiencing him in a way that made me inclined to writhe around on the floor. I suppose it's a bit like that footprints in the sand poem that people always quote.

So this is my grudge against the Pentecostal church (although it's not really a grudge, perhaps more of a concern): I'm only just getting to know someone who has actually been there for a long time, because the way they portrayed him didn't add up with my experience. Who says the Holy Spirit needs to work in the same way, every time? Not the Bible, that's for sure. I think the fact, also, that Christians feel forced to categorise God into three neat little boxes (that's the Spirit, that's the Father, and that's the Son) goes entirely against our own doctrine and the Word of God - God is not an entirely understandable God. He is mysterious. This doesn't mean he's unknowable, but there are things about him that we don't need to understand quite yet. That is what I was trying to do, unsuccessfully.

So I would encourage any Pentecostals who may read this (not that I'm saying every Pentecostal fits into the same box, either) to be very careful about the way you present God. (I would also encourage the other extreme not to scoff at acts of the Holy Spirit; it's just that the former view has presented more problems for me personally.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believes.
Romans 1v16.

Tuesday nights are Navs nights (= Navigators). I get in the car and drive my little self off to uni at 7pm, and meet with a whole lot of other Christian students. Then we all go off in small groups to different flats and do a Bible study. We have just started going through Romans, chapter by chapter.

The last few weeks have been rather depressing for me. There's a lot of stuff that seems to be going wrong for people. It seems a bit attention-seeking for me to say that it's depressing for me when it's all happening to other people, but that is seriously how it's been. Just knock after knock after knock for people I know and care about, or know a little, or don't know at all.

I've had a few crises in my past and here I am, still a Christian, going reasonably strong. So really, I should have sorted out any issues I have with the topic of suffering. The thing is, when it comes to my suffering, I don't have to try and be sensitive to myself or anything like that. I am aware of how I feel and so I can be grateful to God for many things despite the things that don't make me happy. However, it's not so simple to tell others to be grateful, especially when what they're going through is about five hundred times worse.

I'm not the sort of person who feels embarrassed to say that I am a Christian, most of the time. I'm not particularly interested in how that may change someone's opinion of me. I'd rather they knew, actually. All the same, there's part of me that gets very, very embarrassed that I subscribe to a belief system that says yes, suffering sucks, but there's something more important than that. It's so easy to slip into all the little cliches that Christians come up with to explain away suffering - everything happens for a reason - God is in control - sometimes God answers prayer with a no - etc etc etc. They just embarrass me now and I don't want to admit that I am so arrogant as to pretend I can get something meaningful out of suffering. And then I start getting very, very confused. Because I do believe God is in control. I just don't know why he doesn't choose to intervene sometimes. I'm studying the military resistance to Hitler at the moment, and Hitler escaped assassination by the minutest of chances a significant number of times - why did God allow Hitler to be lucky? And my mind becomes a huge tangled spider's web. And I don't want to try and explain suffering to someone who is suffering, because I know that nothing I say can explain it.

Yesterday, for the Navs study, Romans 1v16 glaringly stood out to me. There are times when it has been very dark and scary for me over the last few years. But somehow I didn't just drop the gospel, because for me, beyond all the darkness, the gospel trumps death. Beyond all the suffering, all the contradictions and confusions, the gospel is a powerful thing and the only thing in the world that could ever offer hope to get through death and suffering.

So my conclusion is: I don't need to explain suffering yet. I'm sure to have more question marks about it and I'm sure to find it difficult. But I do have to trust God to pull me past it, and I do have to stop being ashamed of a faith that dares to say that something about suffering is meaningful.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

the heavenly man

I succumbed to temptation a few weeks ago and finally bought myself a copy of this book - The Heavenly Man. Written with Paul Hattaway, this is a memoir-type book about Brother Yun, one of the Chinese house church leaders who is now living in exile from China. As it turns out, the urge to spend money this time wasn't so much temptation as a jolly good idea.

Several people had recommended the book to me before, and it seems like everyone has read it. I was therefore a bit dubious about reading it, because I thought it might be a Purpose Driven Life-type book - which was an okay book, and the forty days thing was fantastic for our church, but the book itself didn't grab me as that amazingly helpful personally. Anyway, I'm digressing (as usual). The Heavenly Man is in no way a fashionable but vacuous Christian read. Be prepared, if you read this, to really want to change your life. So it wasn't written by a Tolstoy or a Rushdie. It doesn't need to be because the story is so amazing. I'm not going to go into the details because that would ruin it for you, but this Brother Yun is one impressive person, and his story of the Chinese church is amazing, encouraging and humbling. His personal sufferings for the faith are heroic, and he doesn't hold back an opinion on how the western churches are tending these days. But at the same time, I did not come out of this book feeling wicked and lukewarm. Instead, I almost wanted to be persecuted so I could have a chance to stand up for God. Is that masochistic? Maybe I should rephrase. I came out of this book excited, because God really does exist, and because I have a chance every day to represent God in a hostile world. A Big but exciting responsibility. So far I doubt I've lived up to it but this is one of those few books that I could actually say has changed my life, and not feel corny saying it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Okay, so - almost a week ago I handed in an essay for my history class on the response of the German churches to the Nazi regime. I have been planning for a while to write about it on this blog because I found it so absorbingly fascinating, but I have an aversion to posting my essay on here, for anyone to plagiarise, and also I think it would be pretty boring for a blog-reader to wade through 2,597 words of essay-style writing.

My conclusion, all the same, was this: that the churches in general did not respond admirably to Hitler. It was embarrassing and puzzling reading what happened in Germany, although in many ways I can see exactly how such inaction came about. The only times the church as a whole, or the majority of its leaders, acted against Nazi policy was when it threatened their own independence. Not much was said against genocide; nothing was said against the persecution of Communists. Some of their actions did force the regime to change things, such as stopping the euthanasia programme, but all this shows, to me, is that had the church done more, they could possibly have prevented the worst crimes of the Nazi regime. This essay was obviously therefore very challenging to my own standards. How would I respond? Having done more study on it, I'm not too quick to say that I would definitely have responded better. I just don't know. What they were up against was just so frightening and threatening in its brutality; why the church in the main responded the way it did is understandable, though shocking.

Which is why I have developed a deep admiration for certain individuals within the German churches who consistently opposed the Nazis, at great personal risk, from a strong ideological standpoint. The one that came up in my study the most was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, although there are others as well who were equally obnoxious to the Nazis. Having seen how many Christians behaved in those times, it makes people like Bonhoeffer, Lichtenberg, and Delp, who died rather than betray their faith, stand out even more. I just wanted to share some of the things about Bonhoeffer which amazed and fascinated me the most when I came across him in textbooks. The following is quoted/paraphrased from pages 205-207 in On the Road to the Wolf's Lair: German Resistance to Hitler, by Theodore S. Hamerow (Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997):
From the very beginning Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a consistent and persistent
opponent of National Socialism. From the start he argued Nazism was incompatible
with Christian beliefs. After the establishment of the Third Reich he had to be
a little more careful. But there could be no question about his views. In an
article ('The Confessing Church and the Ecumene') in summer 1935, he deplored
the erosion of sense of religious universality within German Protestantism. "The
fact attested in the New Testament and in the symbolical books that the Church
of Christ does not stop at national and racial boundaries but transcends them
has been all too easily forgotten and denied under the assault of a new
In January 1936 his eulogy at his grandmother's funeral became a
bitter condemnation of Nazi teachings. "With her a world is disappearing for us
that we all somehow carry within us..." Her last years were saddened, moreover,
by "the great sorrow she felt regarding the fate of the Jews in our nation, a
fate she shared and pitied." And yet, "that legacy, for which we thank her,
imposes a duty on us." Those listening must have understood what he meant.
The most eloquent and moving protest against Nazism's inhumanity was
Bonhoeffer's sermon of July 11, 1937, concerning Psalm 58, the "Psalm of
Vengeance". He lamented the "evil times", "when the world silently allows
injustice to take place, ... and when the persecuted community in its greatest
needs calls on God for help and on men for righteousness and no word is heard on
earth to provide it with justice." Bonhoeffer repeated the words of the psalmist
denouncing acquiescence of society in wickedness: "Do ye indeed speak
righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?" He
condemned Nazi bigotry without naming victims - there was no need to. It was
enough that they were "human beings who are the creatures of God like you, who
feel pain and misery like you..." Yet those in power offered them only "pitiless
and biased" words, judging them by their status, not justice. Bonhoeffer had
become an impassioned Old Testament prophet decrying the iniquity of the proud
and mighty.
I don't know about you, but having studied a bit more of what Nazis did to those who opposed them, reading something like that sends shivers up my spine. As soon as I read this part of the textbook, I got out my Bible and looked up Psalm 58, and realised how extremely apt it was for the Nazi leaders, and how courageous one would have to be to use it against them. Here it is:
Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge uprightly among men?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.
Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanted may be.

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
tear out, O LORD, the fangs of the lions!
Let them vanish like water that flows away,
when they draw the bow, let their arrows be blunted.
Like a slug melting away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child, may they not see the sun.

Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns -
whether they be green or dry - the wicked will be swept away.
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
Then men will say,
"Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth."
I don't know how well I've done at painting a little picture of people like Bonhoeffer. I don't know as much about him as I'd like to know. All the same, it thrills me reading such passages of the Bible to see people in modern days acting on them, and it saddens me at the same time to see people ignoring them, as the majority did in Nazi Germany. The example of Bonhoeffer and other such martyrs makes me want to stand up just as he did, and I hope and pray that if I had to I could.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

attack mode

I happen to have been going through a pretty stressful few weeks. I've just been pushing myself very hard with my studies, so I am always sleep-deprived and tired. Then the whole start of the university year - there's all these things to organise and get sorted. I'm working ten hours a week tutoring, which actually takes up quite a lot of time and effort and I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to get through the whole semester.

The thing I've found the hardest is this: I am doing two English literature papers, on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Drama and on the Twentieth Century Novel. Just about every second class the main topic of discussion is "what is silly about Christianity" or "what is hypocritical about Christians". So it's not phrased like that, quite. And I'm probably exaggerating the problem. And the lecturers are actually quite fair-minded and we're only critiquing the religion featured in the books, ostensibly. But - it does always turn into a discussion about religion in general, by students in the class, and basically I feel like every day I am under attack. I don't want to be melodramatic but I'm actually finding it really, really hard. This constant attack on the mind. Essentially I can't defend myself or I'll be told I take things too seriously, I need to be more tolerant, etc etc. The only times I have tried to join in the discussion people look at me like I'm mad. Examples:

Drama lecturer: "Where does the saying 'the truth will set you free' come from?"
Me: "The Bible."
Lecturer: "I don't know if Karl Marx would agree with you about that."
Me: "No, it's an actual verse in the Bible. 'You will know the truth and the truth will set you free'. Jesus said it."
Lecturer: "Oh. Well, I was meaning the Enlightenment." Continues.

Novel lecturer: "Why is it bad when religion and politics mix?"
Random girl, oh-so-originally: "Well, look at all the wars religion has caused, throughout history."
Me: "But if you look at Nazi Germany, it was the Church's refusal to get involved in politics that laid it open to criticism later."
Everyone looks at me strangely and then continues without a response.
[Actually I agree that religion and politics shouldn't mix but this conversation had been going on for about twenty minutes and it was irritating me!]

I am just having trouble getting out of my defensive mode. I don't know when to let things go and when to stand up for what I believe. It's very confusing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

if it's allowed...

Here is a list of some of the people I would like to meet in heaven. Assuming it's possible to meet other people in heaven, and leaving out the obvious choices of family and friends, I make this list without passing any judgement on who has gotten there; this is simply a list of dead people I would like to meet, who are not Bible characters, and since I feel half-confident most of the time that I'm going to heaven, it seems a likely place to meet them.

1) Of course, Jane Austen tops the list. This is the one person who I really, really hope that I'll get to meet one day. When I read her books I feel like I'm reading something a friend has written. She is always there, hidden behind the words, with a little smile on her face. I know that sounds very, very weird - it just is that way.

2) C. S. Lewis. This is probably not a very original choice. All I know is that I love the Narnia Chronicles and one of my most vivid ideas of heaven itself comes from the last in the series, The Last Battle. The things he has written have helped me so much, and I think he would be a very interesting person to have a chat and a beer with. Besides that, the writing group I am a member of is named after his!

3) Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Usually known as Mendelssohn. I have no idea what Mendelssohn's religious leanings were, but when I play or listen to music of his such as 'Hear My Prayer' - especially 'Hear My Prayer' - I am absolutely certain that he understands the call of the human heart for God. It is quite possibly my favourite piece of classical music, and definitely my favourite vocal classical music. I would like to talk to him and tell him how much his music means to me. In this category, special mention goes to Handel. His Messiah has also influenced me very much, and I would love to discuss it with him.

4) Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre is one of my very favourite novels, and I will always feel indebted to Charlotte Brontë for creating characters so compelling despite being unattractive physically. I think it's taught me a lot about writing well. Also, I am very curious as to why she disliked Jane Austen's writing and if she ever changed her mind about that! Special mention in this category goes to William Thackeray, whom I would like to meet, and discuss Vanity Fair with.

5) Oscar Wilde. He strikes me as one of the cleverest, funniest people that have ever graced the English language with their wit. I think he must have been an electric person to be around but at the same time I don't see him as a self-obsessed or selfish man. Not that I would have any fair judgment of the case at all, but that's just the feeling one gets. I also have a lot of sympathy for him, and what became of him. I see it as very sad that someone so talented and clever became so unacceptable to other human beings.

Other special mention goes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Grieg, Bach, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Wycliffe, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Corrie ten Boom, Gandhi, and probably many more that I cannot think of right now.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


The other day I met up with a friend from church, JP, for coffee, and, as you do, we got talking. Sooner or later, she started telling me what someone #1 had told her what someone #2 had told them. A certain man at our church is rather disliked by someone #1 for saying something slightly unkind about their father, and someone #1 told my friend that this man was getting an African mail order bride who was somewhere between the ages of 12 and 20, who couldn't speak English, whom he'd never met before, and who was being paid for in cattle and sheep. I found this almost unbelievable and shocking, and just a little bit disgusting, and listened in awe.

But when I went away, I started feeling really guilty for letting JP tell me this. It was absolutely none of my business and I shouldn't have listened. Someone #1 has a bit of a knack for exaggeration and I shouldn't have even considered it to be reliable until I heard anything about this that wasn't gossip.

Well, tonight I heard from the man himself, and I came away feeling even more guilty. The woman this man might become engaged to is African, but apart from that, nothing JP told me was true. She speaks good English, she and this man met in Africa, she's definitely over 20, and she is most definitely not a mail order bride. I can't believe that the gossip I heard was so far removed from the truth. Usually gossip has some element of truth in it, but this - definitely not. It's really taught me a lesson. I guess one of the things I dislike the most about gossip is that it leaves you unable to form your own impression of a person; your first acquaintance with them will always be marred by someone else's negative words. In this case, there wasn't even an ounce of truth in what I heard. I can really see why God hates gossip so much now. From now on, I want to really try never to gossip myself, or to allow anyone to gossip to me.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

persecution western-style

Okay, so last night on the news, or rather, the discussion show that follows the news, they featured an Englishman who has been writing a few articles about the racism issue raised by the famous Celebrity Big Brother scandal in Britain. One of the things he said struck me quite a lot. He said that a lot of people say that making fun of Christians on comedy shows, etc etc, is actually disguised racism. Why are we allowed to do this when we're not allowed to make fun of Muslims, Hindus, etc? His answer was that the context is different; Christians are already in a position of power and don't need to be protected. However, when Muslims or different races are attacked by the media or by popular entertainment, we need to think about the effect this might have on the way, for example, schoolkids treat children from other cultures.

To some extent, I think he makes a very good point. It is very true that Christians are seen as more normal, and living in pseudo-Christian cultures, us in the west get off quite lightly when all is said and done. That's why it's worse to lightly mock people who don't have anyone to defend them, or don't have the political or social strength to ride through such attacks with ease. Personally, I quite enjoy the satires done of Christians. Christian authors themselves have done this extremely well, such as Adrian Plass, and I don't mind non-Christians mocking us as well. Satire is an extremely good tool to expose hypocrisy in the Church, which surely we should be trying to rid ourselves off. In my opinion, we should take such mockery as a spur to make us rid ourselves of all the things they are accusing us of. Only then can we complain of persecution.

All the same, there's a point where mockery goes too far. I hate, hate, hate it when someone mocks Christ himself. I often hear non-Christians saying, it's only a joke, don't be so wound up, etc etc. It's just that they are mocking someone who doesn't deserve to be mocked. Allright, so I have to accept mockery of myself because I am not perfect. But mocking Jesus is like mocking the ideal. How can one do that successfully? Anyway, most of the satire people create about Jesus just displays their glaring ignorance of the man himself. I can't explain the way I feel about this fully. But whatever the context is - whether the Church is powerful or not - I don't like it when people mock Christ himself.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

me, myself and I

[spoken by John the Baptist] The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.
John 3vv29-31 NIV.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire". Hebrews 12vv28-29 NIV.

Lately I've started writing down my prayers to God in what you could probably call a prayer diary. I've never been great at praying because I get distracted so easily but this is a really helpful and important step for me and I hope it lasts.

The point is, however, that I've had the unavoidable problem of seeing the sort of things I write and the sort of things I ask God. Me, me, me. Despite being so exhausted today that I had to take strong black coffee to church in a thermos, the service today reminded me of the sort of God my God is. A consuming fire who doesn't exist merely to placate me from my worries about the future and to give a big tick to the things I've already chosen to do. I don't want to be the sort of Christian anymore who is always thinking about myself. So I've had a few problems. It's not original. God hears it every day. I want to have a real, exciting, consuming relationship with God, and yet I don't want to enter into it lightly because I know what being consumed by God entails - thinking about others first. Right now I have to think out and decide what my priorities are. I have to pray and find guidance from God that doesn't, as I already mentioned, simply verify the things I want to do already. I have a few plans for the next decade or so that I haven't really run past God, and I don't want to enter so far into them that I can't extricate myself when I realise I'm not where I'm supposed to be.

I just counted and there are twenty-seven "I"s or "me"s in those last two paragraphs, not including the one at the start of this sentence. Let me rephrase it into one short sentence. I have to decide how much I want my life to be about me. In some ways it's very tempting. In other ways I already know it doesn't fulfil me or make me any happier. I will make no promises to God because he takes them very seriously but from now on I want to change.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Christmas + death

Okay, so I grant you that it's a little late to be talking about Christmas. By this time of year, everyone is heartily sick of Christmas. (And then Easter eggs creep into the shops.)

It's just that Christmas has been a little different for my family this year. My mother died two days after Christmas last year, so memories of last Christmas, which was not like Christmas at all, were bound to crop up. Around the same time last year a few people from my church died. This year, some people at church also lost family members, including a tiny newborn baby, and one of my good friends lost her father just two days before Christmas.

It always seems to shock people when things like that happen around Christmas. It just seems such a bad time. As one of the only annual, major celebrations we have, if something happens then, it sticks with us every time we celebrate in years to come. Heck, my mum's death has stuck with me every single day over the past year.

All the same, as much as I was expecting the Christmas of 2006 to be pretty bad, it just didn't turn out that way. It probably helped that we were away from home. But at the same time, there's something about so much death suddenly coming at Christmas, for myself and the people I know, that makes me see so much more clearly why it was that Jesus needed to be here. Which isn't a bad thing, when you come to think of it.
Death is not the opposite of Christmas. It is the reason for it. When I'm getting sick of corny Christmas jingles and materialism, death is the wake-up call that makes me see through to something more raw, more essential, about Christmas.