Sunday, December 23, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Friday, August 03, 2007
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
Friday, June 29, 2007
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
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
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
Sunday, April 08, 2007
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
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."
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
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
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
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
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
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.