Category Archives: god

Stop the world: resting easy.

sleeping-commuter-1I’m at the end of a week of holiday. I had big plans – a bunch of studying to catch up on; a load of “life admin” to do; commitments to people; and all those things I said last month I’d sort out tomorrow.  

But d’you know what? Cramming every minute of every day full of places to go, things to do and people to see is – for me at least – miles from being the answer. It makes me buzz, sure, but it also does a great job of slowly draining the life out of me.

At the start of this week I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for anything, God included. So instead I’ve done nothing. No studying. No life admin. No work. I actually can’t remember the last time I did so little – really. Maybe not for 10 years.

A small part of me wonders if this is lazy, and starts the guilt routine, but I’m resolved to fight it. Stopping is biblical. Once again the big black book I thought had nothing to say to my life has practical import. It reminds me I need to stop sometimes – it’s how I was made.  Nature has in-built patterns of rest and growth in the seasons themselves. More directly, God thinks rest is so important that he made doing it one of the “Big 10” .

Jesus rested too. Sure, he worked and he travelled, he partied and he taught, but he also took time out to be alone, to get some peace and to be quiet with God. He had some advice on the subject: 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”. – Matthew 11:28-30

I tried it out this week. I can report that it’s been great. I have not been struck down by a thunderbolt for temporarily abandoning my work ethic. I have had time to watch how Jesus does things; to reflect on living with God rather than for him; to spend time on whatever has happened to cross my mind. Has it been a waste? I don’t think so.

I could tell you the details, but probably that should stay between me and God. Instead I’ll just say this: give it a try. Take some real, extended down time.  In our busy world, with our busy lives, simply doing that might be the hardest part.  But  let yourself stop, and listen out for God in the quiet. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Bill Maher v Jesus Christ: Religulous #2

090401billmaherandjesusWell, I did it. After my earlier post I bought an enormous bar of chocolate and settled into a big, comfy  cinema seat to watch Bill Maher take on Jesus Christ.

I have to tell you I was disappointed.  

I’ll say this for Maher – he is a funny guy. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh – a lot. But despite setting himself up as honestly investigating God, a major strategy Maher employs is to ask people hard questions, to expect eloquent one line replies, to laugh at their absence, and to intersperse them with footage of material deliberately intended to undermine and ridicule them.

Predictably, he focuses on easy pickings, examining the controversial edges rather than the core foundations of faith. Creationism, homosexuality, and Islamic fundamentalism are come under scrutiny in favour, for example, of asking people about the basis and values of their faith. We come away knowing the ways in which it’s possible to ridicule religions but without the balance of counter-arguments.

So first and foremost, sadly, Religulous is a rant. That said, it’s also thought provoking. 

First, I was struck how frighteningly easy it is for christians to be way out of touch with people who don’t believe the same things they do, and to be unable to relate to them.

Second, I was reminded sharply religion can be ugly, has a great deal to answer for, and that  as a church we face a huge challenge in disentangling our mistreatment of God and His people from the truth of His message.  We have a lot of work to do to re-introduce our society to who Jesus is and his cultural relevance. 

Third, I the film was a reminder that what a person of faith says and does is watched, and it’s judged, and will be viewed through filter of: “this is what God stands for”. Scary. How we choose to present ourselves and our faith –  whether we’re thoughtful, balanced and equipped to discuss intelligently and honestly with other, matters.

Fourth, as I blogged previously, even without the help of satire, it’s easy to see how faith can seem to be crazy. We need to recognise that. However, the fact is that people continue to want to investigate Christianity. We also need a space where people can really consider life’s big questions and make their own informed decisions. Gordon Brown (reportedly) recently said he intended to do just that  attending an Alpha course. It was on April 1st (shame – I thought it might be for real – my innocence made me giggle when it was pointed out to me!) Whatever, having skirted the edges, maybe Maher should consider it. 

Dear God… honest prayers, faith & doubt

I found a new website about prayer today. The link to it is at the bottom of the post.  I’m not sure what I make of it yet. It’s full of harsh, stark, beautiful prayers from all sorts of people in all sorts of places facing all sorts of challenges. It’s profound, but profoundly what? Reassuring? Disturbing? Maybe both, I think.

It intrigues me that a website about prayer should overtly distance itself (as this one does) from any connection with anything faith-based, because its posts are from real people with real needs, addressing God. They don’t seem believe they’re screaming into a void, or why bother to address an Almighty? I’m reassured by this site that we all search – whether we recognise it or not –  for something more to life than the emptiness of now. The very utterance of these prayers suggests that something deep inside us knows there is something more. That somewhere inside each of these people there’s a mustard seed of a faith. Prayer helps, somehow. I guess the question, the mystery, is why.

I’m disturbed about the places we look to for help, though. At the end of the day we all make choices about faith. John Ortberg puts it like this:

“…making the right choices about faith — like making good choices for life in general — does not seem to rest primarily on IQ. Smart  people mess up as easily as the rest of us. 

“Three men are in a plane: a pilot, a Boy Scout, and the world’s smartest man. The engine fails, the plane is going down, and there are only two parachutes. The smart man grabs one. “I’m sorry about this,” he says, “but I’m the smartest man in the world; I have a responsibility to the planet,” and he jumps out of the plane. The pilot turns to the Boy Scout and speaks of how he has lived a long, full life and how the Boy Scout has his whole life in front of him. He tells the Boy Scout to take the last parachute and live. “Relax, Captain,” the Boy Scout says. “The world’s smartest man just jumped out of the plane with my backpack.” 

“Our world is full of smart  people jumping out of planes with backpacks. One of the paradoxes of faith and doubt is that it is the ultimate intellectual challenge, yet simple and uneducated  people may live with great wisdom and PhDs may choose folly. One thing is for sure: sooner or later the plane is going down. 

“We all are on the same plane. Smart guys and Boys Scouts alike: everybody has to jump. Everybody has to choose a parachute. No one will know who chose wisely until after they jump.”   (Faith & Doubt, Zondervan, 2008).

I choose to put my hope in the promise of Jesus. That hope seems absent from some of the posts on Dear God. The harder question, therefore, that this site raises for me is about different concepts of God. It makes me ask whether one concept of God is the same as another. In the bottom of my heart I want the answer to be yes, but I don’t think it is. 

I’m humbled by the honesty of the Dear God posts, though. That people are searching, really searching for answers to life’s big questions. And I believe that the truth is there to be found if we search in honesty and humility. 

Today I stopped again to reflect on Jesus’ claims. Are the narratives of his life and death just pieces of random social and political history shrouded in myth over 2000 years? Was he just a generally good guy who got up the authorities’ noses, or is there more to it than that? Who, really, was this self-professed God-man who claimed victory over evil; promised forgiveness; loved the unloveable; taught the drop outs; healed the broken; washed the dung-plastered feet of his own followers; and who offers these things to you too? What does it evoke in you to hear that he was hated and hunted, that he allowed himself to be convicted, publicly humiliated, beaten and slowly killed? And that 3 days later his tomb was empty and his followers met him again.   We each have to decide which way to jump.

http://www.dear-god.net