Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Ah grow up: some jumbled thoughts on Christian maturity

"Grow up instead of just getting bigger." "Act your age & not your shoe size."

I'm sure we can all remember similar words spoken to us at some stage in our past or present. These rebukes are sometimes justified & sometimes incorrect, but are often delivered in some form of condescending or self-righteous manner.

Put those negative connotations aside for one moment & consider the loving God whose desire for each of His children is that they move from childish to mature faith in Him, lived out in a godly lifestyle.

Ephesians 4 is a super passage which I encourage you to think about as it's highlights the role of the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) in helping us all to make this transition from infantile ways to service, unity & maturity in Christ (v12-13).

The passage suggest various ways in which we can do this, so that we are no longer tossed around in the wind by any sort of teaching that comes our way, but rather learn to speak the truth in love & "in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (v15).

So if Christian maturity is the goal for us all, what does this look like? Below are a few thoughts... thrown together.

Childish Faith: "Good Christians don't have pain or disappointment."
Mature Adult Faith: "God uses our pain & disappointment to make us better Christians."

Childish Faith: "God wants to make us happy."
Mature Adult Faith: "God wants to make us holy (into the image of Jesus)"

Childish Faith: "Faith will help us explain what God is doing (things always work out)"
Mature Adult Faith: "Faith helps us to stand under God's sovereignty even when we have no idea what God is doing."

Childish Faith: "The closer to God we get, the more perfect we become."
Mature Adult Faith: "The closer we get to God, the more aware we become of our sinfulness."

Childish Faith: "Mature Christians have all the answers"
Mature Adult Faith: "Mature Christians can wrestle honestly with tough questions because they trust that God has the answers."

Childish Faith: "We go to church because our friends are there, we have great leaders & we get something out of it."
Mature Adult Faith: "We go to church because we belong to the body of Christ."

Attitudes of spiritual maturity are developed as God's people move out of the comfortable bubble of the church programme and live out their faith through the challenging (and often monotonous) experiences of daily life in the real world.

When we reach maturity we no longer depend on bells & whistles or a certain of worship music or other people to motivate us to live out our faith. Rather than having a reactive faith (always putting the responsibility for our spiritual growth on someone else shoulders) we become proactive (taking prayerful action to ensure that we are living as God intends).

Sometimes we mistakenly believe that growing up in our faith will make us perfect. I found a great quote in my Bible reading notes to counter that false belief.

"Maturity is not the place where we stop growing because all our problems are solved - it is the place where we have learned to grow more freely. To be perfect is to be without fault. To be mature is to have the ability and willingness to deal with the faults that remain. The Church will never be made up of perfect people; but it can be a body built up of those who are mature." Encounter with God (a Scripture Union resource)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Christian Maturity

I found this interesting little section in my Bible reading notes this morning...

"...maturity is not the place where we stop growing because all our problems are solved - it is the place where we have learned to grow more freely.

To be perfect is to be without fault. To be mature is to have the ability and willingness to deal with the faults that remain. The Church will never be made up of perfect people: but it can be a body built up of those who are mature." Encounter with God (Scripture Union)

This thought was derived from this powerful passage in Ephesians. The role of church leadership is "... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Ephesians 4:12-16 (emphasis added)

So according to this passage - how mature are you? And how mature is your church?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Demolished Walls

I'm just about old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall & the media frenzy which it sparked.
How exciting to see the celebrations in Germany yesterday as this historic event of two decades ago was remembered. Not only did it lead Germany to reunify, but it marked the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War's end. The symbolic act was to reflect how the then Communist governments of Eastern Europe fell one after another.

Mr Obama gave a great speech, but I'll pull him up on this one phrase...
"There could be no clearer rebuke of tyranny. There could be no stronger affirmation of freedom," he said of the wall's tearing down.
My minister reminded me last week that there is in fact another demolished wall which greater symbolises the rebuke of tyranny & is a much stronger affirmation of freedom. You can read about it below...

Ephesians 2:13-22 (The Message)

Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.

The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Jedward - what's the big deal?

I don't really follow the X-Factor. In fact, I'm not a huge fan of any brand of reality television, but when you're married, sometimes you have to endure such programmes in order to earn precious Match of the Day viewing time.

However, something surrounding the show has pricked my interest this year. Two Irish wannabe twins from Lucan, John & Edward (already re branded Jedward), have been creating quite a storm that ITV must be loving & Simon Cowell is "hamming up" for further publicity.

They're not that interesting in themselves (fairly average, if a little cocksure, 17 year old boys of privileged upbringing), but what has been intriguing is how has been the public have reacted. Every time I log onto FaceBook, I'm faced by a long list of status updates (from people like you), not informing me of what you've been up too, but rather how much people seem to dislike the twins.

Why are people so negative towards them? Why are people displaying hatred towards these two characters who Simon Cowell branded as "vile little creatures"? Why have 400 FB groups been set up calling for them to be axed by the show?

The boys are full of energy, they jump around, are entertaining and you have to hand it to them, they do put all they have into their routine. We all know that they are not the best singers in the competition, in fact lets not make any bones about it, they are downright awful. In addition, their dancing leaves much to be desired and whilst they have irritating tendencies, it's no more than your average adolescent male.

It's not their fault that they still remain in the competition, evidently a significant number of the population deem them worthy of investing their mobile phone credit in.

It is also surprising how many people complain about their status in the competition, but aren't prepared to do anything about it. Typical of our British armchair nation, we are a people who talk much & do little about stuff that doesn't matter anyway. How many FB status updates this week will comment on Somali pirates, the number of British soldiers injured/killed in Iraq or the growing rates of unemployment?

Instead of complaining about the X-Factor, vote for who you like and then suck it up if they go out - it's just a competition and a fairly monotonous one at that. As for me I won't be wasting my money on a vote, but neither do I care who wins because I'll have forgotten their name by the following morning.

Now I'm off for some Chico time...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Youth Ministry Failure

Every so often in ministry I'm overwhelmed by a sense of failure.

A deep sense that I'm failing the young people within my care & that I'm lost, not knowing what to do about it. These feelings are often irrational, but yet very real; I'll wrestle with them through insomnia-ridden nights & try to discern that still, small voice of Jesus which simply whispers, "trust me. It'll be ok."

Tonight, I can across a piece of Scripture that has helped me to grapple with some of the situations that I'm currently facing. It's Paul's words to the Corinthian church, an encouragement to persevere through the feelings of inadequacy or failure.
I include it hear in case you're in that place too; perhaps it may speak to you also?

"Don't put it off; don't frustrate God's work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing. Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . .

in hard times, tough times, bad times;

when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed;

working hard, working late, working without eating;

with pure heart, clear head, steady hand;

in gentleness, holiness, and honest love;

when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing His power;

when we're doing our best setting things right;

when we're praised, and when we're blamed;

slandered, and honored;

true to our word, though distrusted;

ignored by the world, but recognized by God;

terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead;

beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die;

immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy;

living on handouts, yet enriching many;

having nothing, having it all."

2 Corinthians 6 (from The Message)

Monday, 17 August 2009

Doubt is not the enemy

“Everybody thinks they are right; which means that when they die a lot of people are going to find out that they were wrong.” John Ortberg

Perhaps the major reason why we are so intimidated to discuss our doubts with others is the fear that they are true. Of course there’s the stern-faced, judgmentalism that shallow, thinking individuals harbour, but I believe that the greater anxiety emerges from the faulty conviction that verbalising our questions will confirm them as reality.

From one doubter to another, hear this… doubt is not the enemy. Nor is it the opposite of faith. The opposite of faith is pride & unbelief.

Can’t see the difference? Well let me try to help. In the Bible, unbelief is a sinful decision to turn away from God and reject Jesus as Lord of our lives. On the other hand, someone who doubts may remain open to God and long to believe wholeheartedly, but for whatever reason finds that hard to do. Check out Psalm 10 & 13 as examples.

Unbelief is a refusal to trust. It is not uncertainty of the intellect, but a settled decision of the will.

Doubt is a good servant, but a poor master. Doubt is not sinful, but it is serious. If it isn’t addressed properly it can lead further down the road to unbelief and away from Christ. So whatever your doubt today, don’t keep it locked up inside to gnaw away at your faith. Talk to God about it – He understands, look at how he treated Thomas. Talk to someone you trust - get help and reassurance. In doing so you’ll find liberation from the burdens of guilt & shame.

And to all who are experiencing a torrid time spiritually. Can I encourage you to think back to times when you were so very certain of God’s presence & love for you? “Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.”

(Book recommendation John Ortberg’s “Faith & Doubt”)

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

What kind of belief really matters?

“Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish in the mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself.” Madeleine L’Engle

Here’s an annoying question, which I dare you to take a minute & ponder the answer too: “What do you really believe and what do you only think you’re supposed to believe?”

Ortberg highlights three different kinds of convictions or beliefs to help us understand why two people professing to the same faith can be so very, very different. Here we go…

Public convictions
These are the ideas that I want other people to think I believe, even though I really don’t believe them. Their purpose is to create an impression rather than portray the truth; they are the staple diet of politicians.

Because of my job there are statements that I think I should believe or that I get rewarded for pretending I believe. So I teach that “it is better to give than receive”, but my wallet is not always convinced. I encourage others to “not judge, lest you be judged”, yet my mouth doesn’t always take up this message.

Private convictions
These are convictions that I sincerely think I believe, but they turn out to be fickle. They seem real at the time, but when circumstances shift they are revealed to be hollow.

The night before Jesus was murdered, Peter made a bold statement, “Even if all fall away, I will not… Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” I’m sure he believed what he said; but when faced with the reality of suffering the day after, these beliefs turned out to be shallow.

Core convictions
These are what we really do believe & are revealed by our daily actions. For example, I really believe that if I touch a hot oven I will get burned. I really believe that if I exercise I will lose weight. I will really believe that if I sit on this computer chair, it won’t buckle underneath me.

And I guess faith is coming to believe with my whole body what I say I believe in my mind. Actions are the best indicator of my true beliefs; not my mouth. One of the reasons I find Jesus attractive is the consistency between what He said, what He thought & what He did. I want to be like that.

So let’s return to that annoying question that most of you couldn’t be bothered or where too scared to pause and ponder, “What do you really believe and what do you only think you’re supposed to believe?”

(Adapted from John Ortberg’s book “Faith & Doubt”)

Monday, 10 August 2009

What the Bible has to say to doubters?

“Faith is a free surrender & a joyous wager on the unseen, unknown, untested goodness of God.” Martin Luther

The Bible has much to say about faith & doubt; certainly much more than we dare to admit from our pulpits & in our coffee shops.

The short letter by Jude includes a few gems; not least in encouraging us to “be merciful with those who doubt” (v22).

I love the guy in Mark 9, desperate for Jesus to heal His demon-possessed child. This guy’s iffy faith & wavering request has given me words to voice some of my most despairing prayers; “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

I too believe & doubt; hope & fear; pray & waver; ask & worry; so it is reassuring to see Jesus respond with grace & mercy & power in healing the child.

And whilst I like to fantasize that having a powerful mystical encounter with God would settle all of my doubts once & for all, I know from personal experience & Biblical example that this simply is untrue. Take the Israelites for example… 10 plagues, delivery from the Egyptians, safe passage through the Red Sea, an enormous pillar of cloud/fire in front of your eyes day in & day out, food falling from the sky every single day… and still a refusal to trust in God’s provision & protection.

And let’s not forget my personal favourite - sceptical Thomas who refuses to believe his friends’ testimony to the risen Jesus; believing that they were either lying or bonkers… “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT.” (John 20:25).

Scepticism can keep us from blessing & trapped in two minds, but it is not the most destructive form of doubt. Thomas really did want to know the truth which put him a cut above the close-minded cynic or the rebel who refuses to believe no matter what evidence is presented.

As a natural sceptic, I delight in Jesus’ patience with Thomas, but if we want the deepest blessings that Christ has to offer listen to his concluding remarks in that incident… “So you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” (John 20:29)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Faith & Doubt

“Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out onto it.” Nicholas Wolterstorff

Let’s blow a commonly held myth out of the water.

I used to believe that you fell into one of two camps: you either doubted or had faith that there was a supreme, eternal being called God. I couldn’t comprehend how faith could exist in the presence of doubt. Surely the two were opposites. This is of course ok, until you try to live & think out your beliefs in the real world.

As Ortberg states, “many believers tend to think doubters are given over to meaninglessness, moral confusion and despair. Whilst many doubters assume believers are non-thinking, dogmatic, judgmental moralisers. But the reality is, we all have believing & doubting inside us. For we all have the same contradictory information to work with.”

Faith & doubt.

Religious people are often unwilling to sit quietly & wrestle with doubt. This is when bad things happen. Glib responses are given, bad answers are offered & enormous pain is added when ordinary people are convinced that God has not delivered because their faith was not strong enough.

Yet we must doubt. Because we want truth; we must sometimes doubt. We don’t want to be just one of those suckers who falls for every carnival sideshow delusion that comes along.

Faith & doubt.

When my first son Jacob was born this year I found myself staring at him in amazement. I was simply incapable of believing that he was an accident; just a ball of cells resulting from an evolutionary fluke. I can’t hold him without being grateful to Someone greater than I.

And whilst the birth of every infant whispers of a loving God, I am only too aware that the death of every newborn calls His existence into question.

Faith & doubt.

Still not convinced? Take 5mins & read through Psalm 22 & 23; both attributed to David. The often quoted Psalm 23 is confident of God’s promise, protection & peace; whilst the preceding Psalm 22 contrasts glaringly & opens with the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Faith & doubt.

But in addition to believing & doubting there is choosing; I must decide which road to follow. I must place my bet somewhere.

The term “leap of faith” is overused & greatly misunderstood. It does not mean choosing to believe an impossible thing for no good reason; it is not an embrace of fantasy in which we ignore all evidence. The leap means to make a total commitment to an action in the midst of uncertainty (similar to marriage or having a child); where one must commit in spite of doubts & fears.

Faith, doubt & choice. My choice. Your choice.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Chronic Doubter

I wrestle with doubts.

I spend most of my days studying and thinking and reading and teaching about God. And I have doubts.

Most people who have a faith that is more than an inch deep struggle with some form of doubt; although for some reason we like to keep them locked behind smiles & a smattering of those confident, positive verses found in Scripture.
I guess you wrestle with doubts too. Here are some that I have struggled with this year:
  • Does God really exist?
  • If so, why is He so silent to my most desperate prayers?
  • I know the theory behind His love for me, but do I really believe it deep down?
  • Is He really using me in ministry or am I just kidding myself?

And so for a chronic doubter, I’ve been liberated through reading some of the thoughts of John Ortberg on this subject. His latest book, “Faith & Doubt” is a must for all of us who long to live with certainty in the midst of unanswerable & often painful questions.

I’m going to integrate some of his ideas into my mental framework over the next week. Please join me on the journey & add your own thoughts.

“Doubt can motivate us to study & learn. It can purify false beliefs that have crept into our faith. It can humble our arrogance. It can give us patience & compassion with other doubters. It can remind us of how much truth matters.” John Ortberg

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Man with No Name

I know the name of his dog.

I know that he has two children - a boy & girl.

I know that she is 5 & he is 8.

I know he comes from Dublin.

I know that he used to play representative football before sustaining a knee injury.

I know where he lives.

I know that he supports Liverpool, thinks that their defenders are rubbish & isn't feeling optimistic about keeping Alonso & Mascherano.

I know that he thinks Michael Owen is a good buy for United.

I know that he thinks our park is going downhill & that the council are shocking for not maintaining a better standard of playground.

I know that he likes meeting Alfie cause he gives his dog a good work out.

I know quite a bit about this guy...

...But I don't have a fiddlers what his name is.

We've chatted maybe 10 times now & it's too late, never mind embarrassing to ask. What a funny relational dynamic, where you can know so much & yet so little.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Worst Kept Secret to Contentment

“I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

Go into any faith mission book shop and you’re guaranteed to find this verse emblazoned upon pencils, notepads and (strangely enough) stress balls. If you’ve been having a tough time recently, it may be one of those key verses that friends fire around via a text with promises to pray for your circumstances. There’s even a good chance that this verse may be highlighted in your Bible.

Recently I’ve been trying to work out what the heck it actually means!?!? It appears towards the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians…

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength."

For too long I have surgically detached this verse from its context. For ages I thought it implied that God would grant me some superhuman abilities to accomplish anything I could imagine or want to make me happy & life easy (regardless of whether these plans were in line with His interests).

Now I see it more as Paul’s (badly kept) secret to contentment. That whether we find ourselves with a bulging wallet or struggling to pay our mortgages, contentment can be found in depending on Christ. It’s probably harder to rely on Christ when life is going well, when we’ve become seduced by the illusion of the self-earned success & security, and perhaps the last year has made us more aware of how fragile our life & resources can be.

And let’s be in no doubt about it. Theoretical Christianity is always much easier than living out the reality. In Northern Ireland we specialize in scrutinizing other people’s life circumstances, sorting their problems without removing planks from our own eyes and “putting the world to rights.”

But when life crumbles around us – when we fail the exam, lose the job, experience a broken relationship, develop a debilitating illness – may we all learn the secret to contentment. That whilst we may not be able to change the circumstances we are in, we can look to Jesus – our beacon of hope – and rest safely in the knowledge that, whatever we have & wherever we are, we can make it through anything as we trust in the One who makes us who we are.

May God give you contentment today.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Dirt on Dinger’s Bible Reading

I didn’t read my Bible all of last week.

I was on holiday, had all the time in the world, but was lazy & reading God’s Word felt like too much hard work; so I just read novels & ate ice-cream instead.

I totally believe that “everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching & helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. {And that} the Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But the truth is that in the 12 years in which I’ve been a Christian I’ve found the Bible enthralling, boring, puzzling, annoying, relevant, irrelevant, depressing and invaluable.

I missed reading it. I missed engaging with Him. I felt a little starved of spiritual nourishment & since returning from the Costa del Portstewart I’ve enjoyed a little series on Abraham – reminding me to trust in the hidden God, about the fulfilment of His promise to Abraham through Jesus & the importance of practicing hospitality.

So if for whatever reason you haven’t read the Bible in a while, why not hit the “turn off” button on the computer & spend some time with Father God who loves to speak to, teach, help, correct, show & train His kids.

Enjoy :-)

Friday, 5 June 2009

African Proverb

If you want to go fast... go alone.

If you want to go far... go together.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Does Britain Have Talent?

I'm guilty.

I am one of the 13 million people who must hold their hands up and plead guilty to tuning into BGT over the last few weeks.

Whilst I have really enjoyed the dance routines of Flawless & Diversity and a positive, anti-knife crime message from Liverpudlian children, these have been the shining lights in a pile of tosh this week.

Don't agree with me? Well I present to you Darth Jackson... some annoying guy swinging from a rope in a straight jacket... a repulsive, overweight male drag queen miming to a backing track... a shambolic wannabe rapper... and borderline jailbait teenagers prancing around in their under crackers.

And is it just me or has Susan Boyle (who genuinely has talent) morphed from an authentic, shy & retiring spinster into a bit of a show off.

So my question to you is this... does Britain have talent or is it the freakish parade of the dull, the desperate and deluded that attracts the viewers? Is it the fabulous entertainment that draws us in or is it the gratitude that you have more self-awareness than an operatic, flower arranger?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


I stop in the middle of reading a book that a friend kindly bought for me.
Here's an interesting, and in my opinion true, paragraph.
Chew it over a few times before swallowing, like a perfectly cooked steak...

"Entering into that freedom, which is Christ's own gift, requires that we be liberated from the wrong idea of God.

We must destroy the idol of God as a big, powerful person, usually thought of as male, who bosses us around and tells us what we must do if He is to like us.

We must get rid of the God who opposes our freedom, and keeps us trapped in infantile submission.

So many people's lives have been crucified by worship of this alien idol. We must discover the God who is the source of freedom bubbling up in the very core of our being, and granting us existence in every moment."

Timothy Radcliffe OP, "What is the point of being a Christian?"

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Why doesn't God answer my prayers?

#7: We need to persevere

“For our struggle is not against flesh & blood, but against the ruler, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world & against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:11-12

Ephesians 6 is a cracker wee Bible passage. It is often used in sermons on spiritual attack, but interestingly has more to say about spiritual resistance & standing firm.

Living a Christian life is no ice-cream topped adventure - it is a bloody & difficult fight with far too many casualties - and we must realise that some of our prayers go unanswered because there are spiritual forces of evil resisting them. This alone should be a wake up call to persevere, to not give up and keep our eyes heavenwards, while our knees are firmly rooted to the floor.

Yet sometimes it is God Himself who resists our prayers & it is to Him that we must continue in prayer. He opposes our prayers for very different reasons to the Evil One. Instead of the instant gratification of miracles on our every finger click, He calls us to persevere in prayer to deepen our character & nurture our faith.

In Luke chapter 18 Jesus teaches His disciples about persistence in prayer & not throwing in the towel too early. He tells the story of a determined widow’s unremitting demands for justice in the face of an obstinate, crooked judge. But even the unjust judge is eventually forced to give in to her constant nagging; so how much more will a loving Heavenly Father reward His children who earnestly persevere in prayer through faith & dogged determination.

Whether your prayers are being resisted by mysterious spiritual forces, by stubborn people or even by God Himself, just don’t give up.

I finish this series with a prayer that Greig records in “God on mute.” I hope you have enjoyed this series or found it at least slightly stimulating & helpful. Thanks for journeying with me.

Help me to stand

Lord, help me to stand today.
Temptations & trials abound.

When life hurts, I get confused, dishonest, suspicious & critical.
I put on the belt of truth.

When life hurts, mu relationships suffer – especially my relationship with You.
I put on the breastplate of righteousness.

When life hurts, I either get really lazy or I make myself really busy.
I put on the shoes of the Gospel.

When life hurts, I let down my guard & leave myself exposed.
I take up the shield of faith.

When life hurts, my thinking gets negative & I question everything.
I put on the helmet of salvation.

When life hurts I’m a coward.
I take hold of the sword of the Word.

Lord, it doesn’t feel very ‘finished’ down here.
I don’t feel very ‘finished.’
See me kneeling.
Help me stand.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Why doesn't God answer my prayers?

#6: God gives us choices

I don’t really understand why the Almighty God who created our wondrous rolling spheres, holds the keys of time in His hands & creates beauty with the gentlest whisper, continually chooses to limit His own power. It’s hard to grasp why a supreme being would decide to refrain from asserting His dominion unilaterally, and instead respect the laws of nature & the choices of His creatures.

Greig suggests that we “see this willingness to relinquish control ultimately expressed in Jesus. Here is the omnipotent God becoming an incontinent baby.” This indignity was further compounded by a cruel death at the hands of the very humans to whom He breathed new life. I have come to realise that we cannot really fathom the dynamics of unanswered prayers unless we grasp God’s determination to respect the free will of humanity.

I have just become the proud father of a little bundle of joy & poop called Jacob. Already I’m a besotted daddy bore & experiencing a new wave of emotions which accompany “paternal love.” But fast forward 15 years and this little bundle is an adolescent; in transition en route to adulthood. At this stage I will still have some measure of control over Him. For example, I could demand that he declares his love & devotion to me before I relinquish pocket money & transport him to see his peers.

But “enforced love” is an oxymoron. The deepest fatherly satisfaction arises when a son freely chooses to display affection to his dad. And so it us with our Heavenly Daddy who receives the upmost delight when we voluntarily submit to His will & love, but in order to achieve this God leaves open the dangerous possibility that we might disobey Him.

And so if our unanswered prayers revolve around the Holy Spirit enforcing someone to do something – even if we have that individual’s best interests at heart – we must realise that our God gives all of us freedom to make choices, whether these are positive or negative. And while He may use our prayers to draw near to others & knock on the door of their hearts, He is unlikely to break down the entrance & force His way in.
"To use the analogy of a restaurant, prayer helps to present people with the menu, and perhaps it can even make them hungry. Yet because prayer is not a control mechanism, it cannot force the food into their mouths. Frustratingly, it's up to them to order & eat. Only then will they 'taste & see that the Lord is good' (Psalm 34:8)." by Pete Greig.

(Thoughts developed from Pete Greig’s “God on mute”)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

#5: God wants to draw you into a deeper relationship with Himself

God the Father’s deepest desire for our lives is that we would experience a fulfilling relationship with Him. Jesus came to allow us the opportunity to live this life in all its fullness & the Spirit helps us to understand this more completely as He transforms our hearts & minds.

We’re all attracted to “fast food” prayer. The type of asking that demands an immediate answer that may satisfy in that instant, but leaves a deeper thirst unquenched. But sometimes by holding back fast track blessings, God entices us to remain longer in His presence. Sometimes He considers our questioning & our wondering as more important than the relatively simple act of supplying us with an answer.

I’m not denying that this can be frustrating. But a delayed answer causes us to pray harder, search our souls more diligently and listen attentively to even the slightest whiff of a response from heaven. This is most evident in the lives of those Christians with the most intimate & energetic relationships with the Lord, who have more often than not wrestled & suffered through the silence of unanswered prayer.

I am not suggesting that God is sadistic, in fact the opposite. Sometimes He will deny us something so that He will draw us to the great Someone. And as we submit to this grand design (that is to love Him for who He is, not for the stuff He gives us), we find that either our requests change with an enhanced knowledge of His desires or that they are simply answered.

“The outer need kindles the inner and we find that the complete answer to prayer is the Answerer.” P.T. Forsythe

(Thoughts developed from Pete Greig’s “God on mute”)

Friday, 17 April 2009

Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

#4: God has got something better planned

“Sorry, but you have been unsuccessful.” “We don’t want you.” “The other applicants are better than you.” “You don’t have what it takes.”

You can just about accept rejection for the first or second job you apply for, but you get pretty fed up as the count slips past ten, and by the time refusal number fifteen came along I was fairly pissed off. Eighteen years of education, working my yo-yo’s off for a decent degree & pouring £s into further education to be rejected on an almost daily basis from the job you want to do is not pleasant.

My prayers changed from pleasantly asking God for a job, to desperately pleading for one, to getting angry with Him for His silence & the prospect of a lifetime’s service for the Golden Arches.

But after months of application forms, polished interview techniques, rejection letters & “failed” prayer requests, God fired me a curve ball of a career move into youth ministry. I went kicking & screaming and can only be grateful that He’d already employed the “swallowed-by-a-big-fish-method” of attention grabbing before.

Yet 6 years after this messy & irritating period in my life, I see that God did not want me to be a human resource manager. In fact, I don’t want to be & am delighted that I am not called to play this role. Those unanswered prayers which seemed like a curse have become the very platform upon which I have discovered joy in myself, my God & my work. I love (at least most of the time) the opportunity to play a small & hopefully positive role in the development of teenagers & young adults.

Sometimes I have to admit that God is smarter than me, that He really does know what is best for our lives & that He is bigger than both my understanding & desires.

Sometimes I have to remember & believe God’s Word when He says, “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Or plumb the depths of a promise such as, “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around, but by His Spirit deeply & gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Some prayers are not answered because God is good & smarter than us.

“We shall come one day to a heaven where we shall gratefully know that God’s great refusals were sometimes the true answers to our truest prayers.” P.T. Forsythe in The Soul of Prayer

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Why doesn't God answer my prayers?

#3: Life’s tough

Please don’t hear this as an uncompassionate explanation. I’d be very slow to use this in response to a complex & difficult pastoral situation, but our expectations have a huge bearing on how we respond to unanswered prayer.

Contrary to the beliefs of my youth group, I wasn’t alive in the 19th Century, but from my limited grasp of history it appears that people used to expect life to be difficult, demanding & problem-filled. Today we presume life is wrapped in cotton-wool, that the silver spoon should always be close at hand, and whilst we would endure some small mishaps along the way, we generally feel hard done by when life doesn’t pan out the way we want.

When tough times come we can feel as if God has robbed us of our deserved happiness. And despite advances in technology & medical treatment we must remember that it’s normal to have problems, get sick, have financial difficulties & wrestle with fractured relationships. Jesus promises His disciples that “You will have trouble” (John 16:33), but nobody sticks that on the car bumper or the banner at the front of church.

God’s goal for your life is not to make you happy. It is to make you holy. Life is tough, but surely that should make us all the more grateful for the abundant daily blessings of our Lord & prevent us from blaming Him for what is simply the reality of existence in a messed up planet. As Christians our ultimate hope is not set in a succession of deliveries from human affliction, but a deepening relationship with the eternal God of this Universe.

Peter was aware of it this, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). And Paul was braver than I could ever dare to be when he prayed, “to know Christ & the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in death” (Philippians 3:10).

Pete Greig summarises this better than I ever could, “Perhaps we should accept what older people and poorer people and many of those with disabilities already know: Things are probably going to be very difficult today & just as hard tomorrow. Maybe by adjusting our expectations we can reduce the sense of disappointment, isolation & unfairness riding on the back of unanswered prayer... when such times come, we should feel a little less outrage & a lot more hope because Jesus, who went through similar struggles, predicted that we would have them & promised to be with us in the midst of them.”

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

#2: They contradict the laws of nature

“A miracle is a violation of the normal laws of nature by some supernatural entity of unknown outside force.”

By definition miracles must be rare, a lot less common than we want them to be and much more extraordinary than many preachers lead us to believe. Even throughout thousands of years of history recorded in Scripture, “common” miracles are largely confined to four short periods (the period of the Exodus, the time of the prophets Elijah & Elisha, the ministry of Jesus & the time of the apostles).

I don’t like this. I wish miracles were more common, that every prayer for healing enabled sight, hearing or cured disease; that every prayer for job security avoided the redundancy package; and that every prayer for wayward Prodigals brought them back into the arms of Jesus.

But this is not the way the Lord has designed our world to function. Instead “God has intricately established certain governing principles (laws of nature) that make life work, and they do so most of the time with almost infinite complexity & exquisite harmony.” (Pete Greig)

There are times when I have found this immensely painful & frustrating, but consider for a moment if it wasn’t true. What would it be like to live in a world where we could regularly expect God to perform miracles in our lives? A world in which…
...Whenever I slip God grabs me?
…Whenever germs invade my body, God intervenes directly to ward off disease?
…I may grow old, but never die?
…When I hurt someone’s feelings, God makes them feel better?
…The fire suddenly gets cold when the young child reaches for it?
…People who have wasted their money for years get a windfall because they earnestly prayed for a way to send their children to university?
…When I pray for a hurricane not to strike my house, it turns aside & strikes yours instead?

This sort of world terrifies me. It is not a utopian existence, but a place of chaos & complete unpredictability.

Can God do miracles? Of course. Does He still intervene miraculously in this world? Yes, although not as often as we’d like. But we must realise that some prayers are not answered because they would be detrimental to ourselves, other people or the world in which we live.

In one sense this is actually quite liberating. It means we can ignore the bogus “faith healers” and good intentioned, but ill-advising friends who convince us that the miracle doesn’t arrive because our faith is too weak or that we aren’t praying often or confidently enough.

I honestly believe that God heals people today (even though I’ve never met someone who has been “miraculously” cured), so please don’t hear this as a discouragement to ask for healing. Bring your requests to God & He will meet your true needs, even if He does not give you exactly what you want. But please don’t be bound by the false expectations laid upon us by the devious or ill-informed. Miracles by definition are rare.

(Thoughts developed from Pete Greig’s “God on mute”)

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

#1: Some prayers are contradictory

I sat in pain today watching my football club (Newcastle United) play agonisingly badly against Stoke City. I am not an idiot; I realise my team will not conquer the Premier League in my lifetime, but the thought of their impending relegation is immensely frustrating.

At one stage, I remembered that our Lord is both sovereign & gracious, and in my desperation sent up a prayer for a much needed victory. As I did, the camera homed in on a Stoke supporter with hands clasped & eyes averted heavenward, clearly seeking God to deliver 3 vital points to his own team.

A trivial example perhaps, but faced with these two requests, how does the Lord react? Or what about the bride praying for sunshine on her wedding day, while the local farmer is on his knees desperately interceding for rain? What about the two unemployed people applying for the same job, in dire need of revenue for their family?

Whose prayers does God answer on such occasions? The most holy? The most desperate? The neediest? He who has pray-est the most?

While I believe that God is sympathetic to our daily needs, He rarely intervenes in the natural course of events. If He did, according to Greig, prayer would stop “being a powerful submission to the sovereign wisdom of God, and God Himself starts to look like a cosmic version of one of those bright, flashing pinball machines, frenetically flicking around train timetables, weather fronts, football scores & world markets at the behest of His creatures.”

Whilst it would suit me very nicely to control the world through prayer (especially when it comes to the fortunes of my football team or the outcomes of our youth ministry), it would probably not suit millions of others.

BUT (and it’s a bigger butt than that weird dancing girl on “Britain’s’ Got Talent”), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother praying to God about the small things in our lives. Why?

1. It’s a privilege to be heard by God when we tell Him what’s troubling us (even if everyone else thinks it’s silly or unimportant). Conversation, especially about trivial things, marks any healthy relationship.

2. God sometimes surprises us by answering our little prayers in a supernatural way. Normally when that “little” prayer has major implications unseen to us.

3. Involving God in the tiny things in our lives opens our eyes to the hidden blessings that He lathers on us each day. People who only ask for BIG things, are only grateful when BIG prayers are answered & as a result live less grateful lives.

So keep praying on all occasions for all things great & small, but realise that if your request for sun, a free parking space or a sporting victory aren’t answered, it might be because someone else's prayer runs contrary to yours & their need is greater.

(Thoughts developed from Pete Greig’s “God on mute”)

Friday, 10 April 2009

Is God deaf?

Frustrating, confusing, painful. Unanswered prayer can deepen or destroy an individual’s faith depending on the foundations on which that faith has been built.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty fed up with the neatly packaged & often patronising answers often offered to the complex & difficult issues that surround God’s silence in our time of desperation. So it is with great joy that I am enjoying a book that wrestles with this subject in an honest way, born out of painful, firsthand experience.

I highly recommend “God on mute” by Pete Greig & in this blog series I’ll seek to combine some of his thoughts with my own in an attempt to stimulate discussion on the issue of unanswered prayer. But perhaps today of all days it is appropriate to reflect on one of Jesus’ unanswered prayers.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The lack of an immediate answer in the moment of our Lord’s greatest need may be chilling & challenging to the rose-tinted, flat-pack version of faith we are often sold in the church, but it also demonstrates that explanations to our suffering may not come at the time when we feel it is needed the most.

We will never suffer like Christ suffered on the cross, but we all have “Good Friday” times in our lives categorised by pain, disappointment, confusion or spiritual starvation that cause many of us to think & the bravest to ask, “God , are You deaf?”

I hope you find the next blog series helpful. As ever I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Thoughts developed from Pete Greig’s “God on mute”)

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Musings of a cream crackered youth worker...

It's official. Two sleepless nights with a new born baby is actually more demanding than a sleepless youth weekend away. For one thing I don't have to change poopy nappies on weekends away. And let me assure those unexperienced in 4am nappy changes... you will never eat chicken korma again.

So as I sit match sticks in my eyes & brain still thinking it's last Friday afternoon, I came across this interesting little article that compares a church that is "performance based" & a church that is "grace based". I found it uncomfortable reading. I'd love to know your thoughts.

Which type of church (faith community) do you belong to......

A) Community of Performance
People talk about grace, but communicate legalism.
Unbelievers can't imagine themselves as Christians.
Drive away broken people.
The world is seen as threatening and 'other.'
Conversion is superficial—people are called to respectable behavior.
People are secretly hurting.
People see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion.
The gospel is for unbelievers.

B) Community of Grace
People can see grace in action.
Unbelievers feel like they can belong.
Attract broken people.
People are loved as fellow sinners in need of grace.
Conversion is radical—people are called to transformed affections.
People are open about their problems.
People see faith and repentance as daily activities.
The gospel is for both unbelievers and believers.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Grabbed by the knackers...

Sometimes a piece of Scripture grabs you by the knackers & gets your attention.

So it was as I read through Amos 5 yesterday. I'll let God speak for Himself through His Word, but needless to say this prophetic warning to Israel over 2700 years ago could be just as applicable to many parts of the Western Church today...

Amos 5 (from the Message)

18-20 "Woe to all of you who want God's Judgment Day! Why would you want to see God, want him to come? When God comes, it will be bad news before it's good news, the worst of times, not the best of times. Here's what it's like: A man runs from a lion right into the jaws of a bear. A woman goes home after a hard day's work and is raped by a neighbor. At God's coming we face hard reality, not fantasy— a black cloud with no silver lining."

21-24 "I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want."

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Jacob Thomas Bell

Baby Bell has arrived.

6 weeks earlier than expected; small ay 3lb 7 ounces, but fearfully & wonderfully made.

Praise God for His goodness.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Musings from a hospital ward

I’ve always found hospitals interesting, and at times intimidating places.

I worked in one for five years & came to the conclusion that they are temples of contemplation. They cause you to slow down, to evaluate life and can tempt even the most obstinate atheist to pray. Life begins & ends here, good & bad news exist side by side, and the wide range of human emotions is on full display.

I’ve spent some time in a hospital this week. My wife is being monitored as some concerns have been raised over the development of our unborn child. The staff are pleasant, the resources fantastic (especially considering the dire conditions highlighted by Comic Relief yesterday), but uncertainty hangs in the air.

So many questions, too few answers, doubt lingering like a bad smell.

When faced with uncertainty the human default is to panic, to fear and to worry. And as Christians the first reaction is normally (& naturally) just that, but the second veneer is one of a faith-filled response.

Hebrews 11 gives a helpful insight into what faith is - “being sure of what we hope for & certain of what we don’t see” – and lists a number of ancestors who lived this out authentically.

I guess one of the out workings of faith is trusting God when the future is unclear & uncertain… in the real world… when employment, health or relationships don’t give easy answers. So it is my hope that as I live out my life in the hospital this season, the Lord will cement a life-long lesson in trusting Him.

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own.Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He's the one who will keep you on track.Don't assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil!”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (The Message)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Racist jokes... It's only words

Not for the first time some members of my youth group ruffled my feathers last night.

The context was a discussion on reconciliation & peace-making in NI; not just between Protestants & Catholics, but amongst all divisions in society. A couple of young people were adamant that it was ok to make "sectarian" or "Black/racist" jokes with Catholic friends and those different from races as long as they aren't offended.

Various questions were raised such as "does making any joke about Black people make you a racist or is our world too politically correct?" and "why can't I call my Catholics friends a F***ian, if it is made in jest?"

I addressed & challenged our youth to think about these attitudes raising questions such as "do you think Jesus would tell this joke?" and "would Jesus make any comments if He overhead you delivering this joke or laugh along with you?" I urged great caution & prayerful reflection in all these situations.

Interestingly, there were mixed reactions, great passion & heated debate at this point. One youth asked more probing follow up questions, worried that what she had perceived as "ok banter" may have been causing offence or dishonouring God. Another reacted very aggressively claiming that by potentially labelling him as a racist I had committed the worse crime.

By no means I am suggesting that my youth are out-and-out racists, seeking to offend or dominate people from different backgrounds. However, the questions raised in my mind are:

  • Do these "jokes" imply a superiority over another group? (a significance part of sectarianism & racism)

  • What makes a sectarian/racist "joke" funny?

  • Does familiarity with these "jokes" (even in the context of friendship & banter) open the door for other people to use these in a more sinister manner?

  • And how does this impact on our witness to the God who is inclusive & all-loving?

I'd be keen to hear your views. Especially as to whether I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill or raising a common concern.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The worst question to ask a youth worker

You’re not long in the church serving in full time youth work before someone asks you the inevitable question. Perhaps you see it coming & brace yourself.

“After this are you going to train for the ministry?” or “When are you going to become a minister?”

I can put up with the crap pay, lack of career progression & future employment uncertainties. I can even endure sleepless nights & teenagers who smell like death, but in such situations keeping a tight reign on my tongue is quite a challenge. Every effort is made to prevent myself slapping the unsuspecting bystander round the head & screaming, “I am doing ministry you nincompoop!”

Often the question is delivered with good intentions - perhaps someone in the congregation has noticed a positive quality in you - but the implications behind the question are frustrating and can pierce the soul.

“When are you going to get a real job?”
“When will you stop all this child’s play and minister properly?”
“I’ve noticed you’re not bad at what you do, would you like to be promoted & work with some meaningful people known as ‘adults’?”

I guess deep down it’s not just the devaluing of self & position & role that places the bee in my bonnet. I think it’s more the unstated implication that young people are second class citizens & if you are any good at working with them you should respond to the “higher” calling of ministering to adults.

But I hold the views expressed in a recent youth work article. When asked to describe what part of Christ’s body they thought the youth represented, they said, “The reproductive organs! The bit we like to ignore and perhaps feel slightly ashamed & uncomfortable about, but without which the body cannot reproduce.”

Perhaps I’ll share that the next time someone suggests that I’d look great in a dog collar!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Church the new cinematic experience?

We call it a worship service, but a more accurate description of what most of us do today is something like a "spiritual show."

Too many of us equate churchgoing with going to the movies. It's a performance & our role is to give it a thumbs up or an 'our survey says "uh-uh."' We can treat our worship service like our favourite TV programme; as long as it's entertaining & the characters & the story captures us, we'll stay tuned in. But if it loses it's edge, we'll channel hop to another show.

"Lord, please remind us that in our church service, You are the audience, not us."

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Welcome to church

"Good morning ladies & gentlemen and welcome to our (Presbyterian) church service. If you're new this morning you may not be familiar with how things work, so here's some rules to get you started.

1. Under no circumstances raise your arms during the worship. Not even to scratch your head. When the Spirit is at work in us, He moves us to put our hands firmly in our pockets.

2. Unless you arrived with someone always leave a space between the person next to you - best to leave two if you can't remember the person's name - anything else is an invasion of privacy.

3. At the end of the service make for the exit at break neck speed. Do not make eye contact with the minister or youth worker, or else you'll find yourself doing a reading or leading the creche next week.

4. Never volunteer your gifts in service. Any real Christian leader will know what you can & cannot do by looking at you.

5. Remember to use the prayer slot to catch up on some sleep or reviewing the fun you had at the party last night.

6. Never open the pew Bible. They look much better covered in dust in front of you.

Thank you and enjoy your morning."

Monday, 26 January 2009

Does my bum look big in this?

Is there a more terrifying question that a woman could pose to her husband?

Here's what Terry Wogan has to offer on the subject...

"Forty years of marriage has prepared me for such a question. There is only one answer 'No', delivered a la de Gaulle - resoundingly, positively, without a scintilla of doubt.

Anything else - an aversion of the eyes, a flicker of the lids, a moistening on the lips or, worst of all, a nanosecond's hesitation before replying - can only end in an inquisition to rival Torquemada at his best, inevitably ending with an exasperated, 'I don't know why I bother!', a brisk turn of the heel, and the slamming of several doors." (from Mustn't Grumble)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Taking Action – a Practical Response to Porn

With all addictions, we need God’s strength to empower & change us. It’s about giving our best, taking each day at a time & being prepared to pick ourselves up when we fall. Here’s some advice from someone who’s struggled with porn:

Talk to God first: you’ll probably not want to do this, but the best first step is to confess what you’ve done, admit you have a problem & never feel too guilty to approach your loving & gracious Heavenly Father. Ask Him to heal your heart & mind from images that have polluted it.

Get accountable: admitting your problem to someone else is the most vital & dangerous step, but you simply cannot fight this battle on your own. Be brave. Tell your friend, wife/husband, pastor. They probably struggle with it too. Pray it through together.

Clean it up: now that your thinking is clear, here are some practical steps to avoid porn:
Cancel or lock out TV channels that cause you to struggle
Don’t go channel hopping after 9pm
Place your computer in a public place like the living room
Don’t log on late at night – when you’re tired, you’re more vulnerable
Get someone to check your internet history (don’t delete it for two weeks)

By recognising this issue & bringing it into the light, we can commit together to the long & difficult journey towards healing and freedom from the bonds of lust & pornography addiction.

For more information & help check out

(Ideas in these blogs were adapted from YouthWork Magazine)

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Problem with Porn

Pornography always has a negative impact.

It destroys marriages: even when it remains undiscovered. It warps expectations of healthy sexual activity away from a loving, equal & biblical ideal, and into line with the ethics of hardcore sex. It lowers sexual value & leads to dissatisfaction. When the problem is discovered the other partner may feel jealous, repulsed, angry and rejected.

It is linked to human trafficking: there is a significant & very worryingly relationship between porn, prostitution & human trafficking. Many UK prostitutes are trafficked women, forced into slavery by gangs, and many of whom are filmed. Not only is watching porn potentially fuelling human trafficking, but pornographic exposure also increases the likelihood that a person will visit a prostitute.

It often leads to violence: most internet porn involves the physical degradation, and sometimes outright humiliation of a subject, in most cases female. There are also significant links between hardcore pornography & sexual violence, and its prevalence sustains a culture in which rape and sexual violence are normalised & legitimated.

It is addictive: because it never satisfies. Instead it inflames desire – like leading a starving person past a bakery – and always promotes the desire for more, more, more.

Porn is far from harmless. It is destructive, corrosive & unjust. It numbs us, sexually & spiritually, and induces massive strangling guilt. Its problem is not that it emphasises sexuality too much, but that it does not emphasise it enough (Richard Foster). It eliminates the relationship & in so doing restrains sexuality to the genitals & makes sex trivial.

So tomorrow we’ll consider how to tackle the issue…

(Ideas in these blogs were adapted from YouthWork Magazine)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Porn – the church’s dirty little secret?

Addiction: “being physically or psychologically dependent on something.”

Pornography has been around for a long time, but with the rise of the internet the porn industry is now booming. When I was a teenager you had to buy a top-row magazine in a shiny packet, now you click onto Google.

Its estimated annual income is £1billion in the UK and £30billion globally. It’s been traditionally labelled as a male problem, but 1 in 3 visitors to porn sites are female. According to a recent Christian survey, 50% of men & 20% of women – all Christian – admitted to an “addiction” to Internet-based pornography. Another survey revealed that 37% of pastors found this addiction to be a daily struggle.

Despite its prolific nature the church is largely silent on this issue. Why is the church so bad at talking about healthy sexuality? Why is sexual sin viewed as a bigger issue than other sins? Is it because church leaders & members aren’t living out a healthy sexuality themselves? Certainly if we were talking about a drug or alcohol addiction of this extent, the church would be mobilising fast to put it’s house in order.

I’ve struggled with it. I bet most of you reading this have too. My struggle started when I was 13 & strangely enough my fascination with naked women did not disappear when I became a Christian at 16.

I want to take the next 2 blogs to highlight the dangers of pornography, how it is destroying people’s lives, marriages & ministries, and consider how we might begin to address the problem.

(Ideas in these blogs were adapted from YouthWork Magazine)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Stories I wish weren't in the Bible...

Ananias & Sapphira – killed for telling a lie

Ok this story really reaps havoc with my brain; more uncomfortable than suffering haemorrhoids on a mountain bike.

In chapter 4 of Acts we’ve had a fantastic picture painted of the radical, counter-cultural revolution that is the early church. New believers are sharing common ideals, testifying to Christ’s resurrection in a powerful way & making costly financial sacrifices to meet the needs of the poor. One guy Joseph is hailed as such a fine example that he earns the nickname “Son of Encouragement” for the rest of the book.

Suddenly the romance & righteousness of the early church is given an immediate kick out the window as God strikes down dead Ananias & Sapphira for telling some lies. Seemingly motivated by their ego rather than the needs of the poor, they wanted the credit & prestige of sacrificial generosity without the inconvenience.

I don’t like this story because I like to practice “impression management” (I’m so drawn to the concept that I even learned the fancy term to describe it). I like people thinking I’m good, kind, generous, admirable, bla bla bla, because it massages my self-esteem & covers a variety of public errors.

Through this story God screams “I hate hypocrisy” and exposes any defence of “the little white lie.” Like the early church its’ telling sometimes grips me with fear, but also deepens my understanding of just how gracious & patient my Holy Heavenly Father is.

I guess I should remember this the next time I’m describing the goal I scored in football or my contribution to the ministry team.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Stories I wish weren’t in the Bible

Sometimes you come across a story in the Bible that hits you right between the eyes. As we read & think through the Scriptures we discover passages that confuse us, make us feel uncomfortable & ones that we skim over, stroking an editing pen through in our minds, never to revisit.

In this next blog series I’m going to reveal several of the stories that I wrestle with. If I’m honest these are the stories that I wish weren’t in there at all because it would make my life easier and my faith less complicated & easier to package. But God’s Word is God’s Word, and what He has spoken He expects us to listen & react too, so here goes…

The Rich Man & Lazarus – Luke 16:19-31

Jesus doesn’t talk a lot about hell, but neither is He silent on it. Luke Ch.15 spells out three illustrations of priceless things that are lost – coins, sheep, sons – and our Father God breaking sweat as He searches high & low to bring those precious belongings back to Him.

But in this story Jesus exposes the reality of the afterlife & two possible destinations – God’s exhilarating presence (heaven) or God’s devastating judgment (hell).

Most people aren’t too bothered about hell. I guess this is mainly because it’s been depicted in a frivolous manner by various cartoon programmes (e.g. Robot Hell -,

but Jesus’ image is more disconcerting than the widely held “party with the devil, booze, gambling & lap dancers” representation.

He uses the words “agony” & “torment.” The rich man’s distress & powerlessness are evident. The huge un-crossable chasm between the two destinations is apparent.

Why my discomfort? I’ve been a victim of the “turn or burn” church culture – at 11years old, I remember someone in Belfast city shouting that I “was destined for hell” – so I think I’ve back-lashed against the ungracious & uncaring presentation of biblical truth and overdosed on other aspects of God – such as His love, forgiveness & friendship.

I’m not comfortable with the concept of hell, but to deny its existence is to make light of the One I choose to follow. So rather than etch out this story, I hope that its discomfort will further motivate me to get out there & spread the Good News of Jesus, always remembering that the Good News is only good when we get the whole picture of what we’re being saved from.

One final thought. Remembering that Jesus is en route to the cross, check out His use of irony in (v31).