Wednesday, December 22, 2010

merry Christmas!

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2-6

Saturday, November 13, 2010

growing up polite

I did quite a lot of childcare last weekend (if you need a recap, I have two nieces aged 2 and 4). So much childcare, in fact, that I stayed over at my sister's place for the weekend. On Saturday, it rained cats and dogs and so we had to play inside most of the day. By the time their parents got home, the girls were a bit crazy, and Niece-Aged-4 had a few meltdowns in which she was liable to lash out physically at her sister or her parents. After one such meltdown in which she hit her father, she was sent to her room, and a few minutes later she came out to apologise tearfully to Daddy. 'I'm sorry Daddy! I don't want to hit anyone ever again, never!'

Now, I have no doubt that Niece-Aged-4 really, genuinely felt that, but I suspect that she may, at some point in the short-term future, lash out again. The more time I spend with my nieces, the more I love them and appreciate their unique personalities and all their good points, but I also see the seemingly endless battle their parents face with their tempestuous spirits. Trying not to break their spirits, but to teach them. Teach them how to use their manners, how to treat other people with kindness and respect, and how generally to be a member of society. And the funny thing is that the girls themselves want to be kind. They just can't always control themselves.

And neither can I! I've turned out extremely well-behaved. I am hardly ever rude to people, I don't hit or kick people when they won't share their toys with me, and I tend to come across as a polite, fairly likeable person, even if I am a little too shy sometimes. In secret, though, I'm still the same tempestuous child, slowly gaining a little more self-control over myself, but never enough. I often think to myself "I don't want to [sin] ever again, never!" But it doesn't seem to be enough. I do it anyway.

Romans 7:14-25
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

flexibility and tolerance

Romans 14
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11It is written:
" 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
'every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.' " 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

I've been thinking about why Paul is important, recently. I was talking to another Christian recently who doesn't like Paul, thinks he was judgmental and didn't deal well with other people and that perhaps a lot of his teachings aren't necessary.

I was surprised because I really like Paul, as a 'character'. He comes across so vividly despite the fact that the books he wrote are almost two thousand years old. I recognise that he may have been a 'difficult' person to be around, in some ways, but I think that is absolutely necessary. The Church needs to hold itself to incredibly high standards and one of his most important roles was to keep the earliest churches solid; straight and true; out of the grip of false teachings and rejecting corruption.

On the other hand, I think he was incredibly necessary for the early Church in his approach to tolerance. Bearing with each other. I think Jesus created the Church and gave its most important instructions, like this: 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.' I think Paul showed the people he wrote to what this love might look like. What this love was not. I think Paul helped to address the inevitable misunderstandings of Jesus' teachings that arose throughout a Church that still did not have a written gospel. I hesitate to say that he made Jesus' teachings practical, but I sort of mean that, without saying that Jesus' teaching wasn't practical!!

And I think the fourteenth chapter of Romans is a masterpiece of Paul's (and, of course, the Holy Spirit's). Somehow, it asks so much of each member of the church - put others first, don't put any stumbling block in their way, OR judge them for doing a 'disputable' thing that you may think would be wrong. To love one another and always to work for peace amongst the believers. But it also gives a remarkable freedom to each Christian, to judge from your own conscience what is best, to use the wits God gives you. I LOVE it. If I were dictator of the world, I would insist that every church building had this passage inscribed indelibly on their wall.

However, I think the passage makes it clear that even disputable matters do matter (no pun intended). I think it is implied very carefully as well that this teaching applies to disputable matters. So, this passage doesn't make all the doctrines of the Church a matter of personal choice.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Christianity gets maligned for entirely false reasons. One vivid illustration of this is when a geologist like Plimer can write a thoroughly credible book, on how Christians are guilty of 'telling lies for God'. It is a sad situation when Christians become such easy pickings for unbelievers, when unbelievers can be counted on as being more reliable for communicating the truth of God in science than Christian believers. All this is nothing short of a tragedy for the Christian cause. ... We all agree that Christian Apologetics in defence of Christianity to the unbeliever is a good thing. But I cannot so support Creationism, it is neither Christianity or God's truth. It is not defensible on either a scientific or a biblical basis.

This is an excerpt from my uncle's new book, An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science. Hooray! You can buy it here. Whether you agree or disagree with him I think it would be a good read. I can't understand half of it, not being a scientist, but that which I can understand is very very interesting.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

when the Church lets us down

So, Anne Rice has attracted some recent publicity for leaving the church she was re-converted to. It seems pretty plain, however, that she is by no means rejecting Christ, but she is rejecting the Church and organised religion.

A reporter from the San Francisco Apologetics Examiner asked her this:

"Do you disagree that if you haven’t left Christ, you haven’t left the church, because the church consists of all those who believe in Him? Would you agree you still belong to ‘that’ church (those who believe in Christ)?"

Ms Rice replied:

"Possibly I still belong to the Body of Christ. I don't know anymore what that is. I just know I cannot mislead people into believing that I support organized religion. In Jesus' name, I cannot be complicit with many of the things organized religion does."

I know how Ms Rice feels, being ashamed of the members of the religion, or the institutional body, one identifies oneself with. And I know a lot of Protestants would immediately pounce on the Roman Catholic Church as the culprit here, but Protestants are just as guilty of corruption and evil as the Catholics have been, although this has sometimes been in different ways.

At this point, however, I do not think that the answer is to leave the Church and to call myself a Christian no longer. I know plenty of people disillusioned with organised religion who continue to meet with fellow Christians in home groups, and I think this is an option that works for them. I also find it difficult to ignore all the benefits of organised religion. The charities, the mass movement that can be possible through an organised body of believers. Besides, in the end, to renounce the title "Christian" is to renounce the reality that you are, literally, "Christ's one", and how on earth can you continue in faith in Christ without belonging to him in that sense? Yes, the term has been tainted for many people, but all the more reason to reclaim it.

How to do so, though?

The first place to start is in ourselves. Overquoted but nevertheless valid: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

The second place: We must take a stand against evil infiltrating the Church. We must be intolerant of anything that shames the name of Christ.

However: it is a reality that we must come to accept - perfection is not available to sinful human beings and the Church is always going to disappoint in some way. We have to admit that we shame the name of Christ and we cannot blame everything on the worst sinners within the Church. In some ways we must celebrate the Church as the only place to which lost sinners can turn. I am thinking of a song by Switchfoot, called 'The Beautiful Letdown'.

We are a beautiful letdown,
Painfully uncool.
The Church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools.
Oh what a beautiful letdown,
Are we salt in the wound?

And I continue to think that abandoning it will not help. Those who see the darkness that tries to encroach on the Church must stay, because they are the ones who will fight it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I've had enough of hearing people talk about "born-again Christians" with derision or sarcasm.

Let's reclaim the title - let's be people whose lives are so astoundingly turned around for the better that the expression fits us so well that it becomes a compliment, or an expression of a reality, clearly visible.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

how do you sleep at night?

Recently I've heard a lot of Christians pondering over how non-Christians can possibly live without God. Surely the hopelessness of a godless life would drive anyone to despair. It's a sort of valid question, but it has always annoyed me a little, and I wasn't sure why.

Until yesterday. Now it annoys me a lot, and I know why.

Yesterday, someone told me a question that a non-Christian asked them. "Believing what you do - heaven, hell - how do you sleep at night? Knowing that millions and millions of people are lost to the pits of hell without Christ in their lives, how do you sleep?"

It was like a little light going click! in my head. And I think it's a much better question for us to ask.

Yes, I do think life is more difficult on a personal level without a belief in God. However, a belief in God that entails a belief that the people around me are destined for hell if they don't turn to God before they die is even more difficult. It's much more difficult to live as if we believe it. It should drive us, we should be filled with a passion to tell more and more people every day, for if we seriously believe that without God they are doomed:


Sunday, May 30, 2010


This is just a quick note to express the awesomeness of this Sunday just been.

1) At church there were five baptisms. HAPPY STUFF.

2) My flatmate's family have been really involved in the life of a young woman (a non-Christian) with terminal cancer who has a little boy aged 18 months. She is their cousin's ex-partner, so the links are technically tenuous, but they've been fantastic witnesses to her, and have been caring for the little boy whenever his mother has been unable to, and are now legal guardians to him. My flatmate's mother has also been hanging out with her and reading to her from the Bible. She is determined to live, but last weekend, things were getting really bad and it looked like death was inevitable.

So we had a prayer meeting at our flat. We prayed that she would come to faith and that she would be healed. Since then, the things that went badly wrong over that weekend have ceased, and then last night, we found out that she has asked Jesus into her life.

It is such an encouraging reminder that prayer is answered, and all I can say is "Praise God." So happy right now!

Friday, April 16, 2010

the reasons I believe: transforming love

Reason #1: Looking at the world and being disappointed.
Reason #2: Creation.
Reason #3: The cross.

Reason #4: The transforming love of God.

I listened to a sermon at my church a few weeks ago and was struck by one sentence which I jotted down immediately.

The Christian has experienced God's love and has been transformed by it.

This feels like an appropriate reason to follow Reason #3, the cross of Christ, an event and a symbol of God's great, self-sacrificial love for us. As Romans 5:7-8 says, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

But it doesn't stop with the cross as an event. The power of the cross is the power of a love so great that it is tangible to me, a 23-year-old in 2010, and it has been tangible to me throughout my life. The love of a God I can turn to again and again, a God who forgives me again and again, who continues to bless me despite all my failings; a God who saw me running away, fought for me, and ran to greet me with open arms as I stumbled back towards him; a God whose love has been so immediately present, so real, so comforting, in all the most horrible moments of my life.

It's not something I can quantify because it is so all-encompassing and it's so personal. I cannot prove to you the depth of God's love. A frail example would be like trying to prove that my mother loved me - unmeasurable by the fact that she fed me, clothed me, looked after me when I was sick, although that is all part of it.

However, it is something that I have seen in other people's lives, and the proof is in the transformation. I've seen proud, strong, angry people brought to their knees by God's love; men who used to drink and fight and hit their wives, lives transformed, stand before a congregation every week and declare "God is so good"; people whose actions led them to be rejected by society come in humility and shame before a God who forgave them. I've seen this in people I know, and I've seen it in me, and there is no explanation for it that does not take into account a force outside of these people, a God who loves them.

Friday, April 09, 2010


A break in the faith series for a prayer request: I need guidance.

I've come back to the same spot I was five years ago, and moved on from. Considering a career working for Wycliffe Bible Translators, which is an organisation I've always been very interested in.

When I was in my first year of university, I was taking Linguistics, and considered making it my major, so that I could train as a linguist and work for Wycliffe. In the end, I decided not to, or just drifted away from that idea - and now, I'm wondering if I was wrong. Wycliffe has appeared again on the horizon, and this time, I want to do what God wants me to do, if I got it wrong last time.

I suspect that it won't be possible for me to work for them for a couple of years. Wycliffe is a "faith mission", which means it doesn't pay wages, but it helps its workers get support from various churches and individuals. I have a student loan which is not huge but not tiny either, and I think I should probably pay that off before I do anything that requires church support.

Which means I need to think also about what I should spend my time on during the next couple of years, if I spend them with the aim of eventually working for Wycliffe. Besides paying off my loan, do I also train for certain jobs that are particularly useful for Wycliffe. Do I train further in linguistics? Teaching? Translation? Biblical training?

So - I need prayer, that God would guide me onto the path he wants for me, and (probably more crucially) that I would listen.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

the reasons I believe: the cross

Reason #1: Looking at the world and being disappointed.
Reason #2: Creation.

Reason #3: The cross.

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross… In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolises divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world’ as ours.

I almost don't want to write any more, after this quote (from John Stott's The Cross of Christ). It is, for me, one of the most meaningful and wonderful things ever written that isn't included in the Bible. Because it captures what for me is IT, the essential kernel of Christianity that has me hooked.

I am so often confused, so often bewildered, by life; so often unsure of my own ability to understand; so often horrified by what is happening in the world and what has happened in the world. I don't know why I believe. I doubt. I object. I am overcome by fear of the largeness of it all and by the sting of death. I worry that God cannot possibly love so disappointing a creature as I and that my sin is too large for it to be forgiven.

And then I look to the cross. It answers all my questions.

The God who could crush me like a beetle loved me and "humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" That is no frail love. It is more powerful than my sin and is enough to save me.

When I have moments of terror - I don't want to die! - I am suddenly hit with the memory that Jesus was terrified too. He went through everything I go through and more. He did not want to die, yet he did it, for me, and I cannot ignore such love.

Love so amazing, so divine - demands my soul, my life, my all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

the reasons I believe: creation

Reason #1: Looking at the world and being disappointed.

Reason #2: Creation.

In a sense the debate about evolution vs. creation is, for me, supremely irrelevant, and completely fails to address the substantial problem of existence: origins. (Add to that that I'm just not all that interested in science.) Regardless of the age of the earth, of the adaptation and evolution of human kind, of my personal interpretation of the book of Genesis, evolution cannot explain the philosophical problem of the spark of existence.

How is it that something is here at all? Our knowledge of the "Big Bang" alone makes it very clear that something hasn't always been here, and I don't think belief in a designer is all that far-fetched when you consider the other options.

And then there is the astonishing, amazing unlikelihood of the universe. To provide you with a cliche, standing at the top of a mountain and surveying everything around me is something that, for me, minimises the possibility of chance by rather a lot. Seeing something of the order that governs even the smallest organisms. Watching a child grow. Wondering how such beauty could simply evolve of its own volition. Viewing by chance the raw power of nature and our own defencelessness. It's strange, given that my other reason to believe so far is a rejection of the reality of the (social) world as it is. The (natural) world, as it is, is so wonderful that I do not think it is possible without a Creator.

All this makes the following Bible verses really resonate with me:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. Psalm 139: 13-14

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20

For these reasons, if I ever tried to be an atheist I would be a very bad one. I cannot get out of my head the sense that there is something too amazing here to be a fluke.


So far, I am aware that my reasons to believe lead only to belief in a God, identity unknown. The reasons I specifically chose to follow Christ will come soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

the reasons I believe: looking at the world and being disappointed

No. 1 reason to believe in my series on faith: Looking at the world and being disappointed.

I cannot get over a feeling, when I look around me, that something has gone terribly wrong. I study history, and the history I study is only of the last eighty years or so, and yet there is so much evidence of human evil that it would be enough to persuade me.

Here's what this says to me. SIN MATTERS. I know it's an unfashionable word, but it seems to me to sum up a reality - that human beings know that the Good is preferable, but for some reason the Bad remains a fundamental part of our reality. We can't get it out of our system. I certainly can't get it out of mine. I am part of the problem, and I'm never going to be able to solve it. The evil we commit is not excusable. And the evil we commit may be "small", because most of us have been lucky enough to be placed in contexts in which our actions affect few other people, but it is nonetheless evil.

I could, having come to this conclusion, live miserably and guiltily, try hard to do good, but wallow in guilt whenever I, inevitably, stuff up. I could stop caring, and just live for myself, taking, taking and taking, and making myself the centre of the universe.

Instead, I've found a God who gives hope in the midst of this disappointing, crazy world. He offers forgiveness for sin, because he took human evil seriously enough to send his Son to take the punishment we deserve so fully. He gives me strength to fight my natural selfishness, and he gives me assurance that when I stuff up, he'll take the blame off my shoulders. He gives me encouragement just to keep swimming, as Dorie in Finding Nemo says, struggling along hand-in-hand with the Creator who made this world and who one day will restore it.

Friday, March 19, 2010


And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:19

Lately on this blog my posts have been rather "negative", in the sense that they've been arguing against something (in the last two cases, atheism or, more accurately, atheists). I want to change this. And I've been thinking a lot lately about the reasons I believe, and what it is that I believe in.

And this is just it, really - faith. There are so many implications about our views on faith displayed in the way we Christians do things that I'm not sure are always right. We are ashamed of doubts. Or we slam other denominations for not believing exactly the same doctrine as ourselves. We hold up actions above faith; we hold up faith above actions.

And I look at the two verses displayed above - seemingly contradictory to someone without faith, perhaps - and try to take in both messages, messages which are like two hands joining.

So I'm going to start a little blog series about faith. Not an all-encompassing diatribe covering all time and all space. Just on how faith works itself out in my head, in my life, in my confusion, in my moments of clarity. I will say no more now, but I will leave you with the verse that has been running through my head for weeks now:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Sunday, January 24, 2010

atheist buses

The atheist bus campaign in the UK, supported by people like Richard Dawkins, above, has been publicised all over the world, and is appearing elsewhere - apparently my own country now has a few of the same.

"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

To me, this is just another example of how people like Dawkins do not have a CLUE as to my motivations as a Christian/religious person.

I am not worried. I LOVE my life. I am a very happy person.

I didn't lie in bed last night worrying that God will smite me because I told a lie yesterday, which, for some reason, is an image that a lot of non-believers seem to have of Christians.

I didn't lie in bed last night clenching my fists, squeezing my eyes shut, thinking "Must. Rid. My. Mind. Of. Sinful. Desires." or "Must Make Myself Want Things I Don't Want."

I lay in bed, relaxed, thinking, "Thank you, God, for making life so amazing. Thank you for giving me so many good things."

If the atheist bus campaign is aimed at "converting" people from religion - which the message seems to imply - I think it is a waste of money, and it is one of the least convincing messages for atheism that I have ever heard.