When losing your religion means losing your fingers and toes. (Or why your faith hasn’t healed you).

Elisha and Naaman

There’s a great story in the Old Testament about an army commander named Naaman. Naaman was  the top dog in the army of a place called Aram.

Oh and Naaman had leprosy. A virus that I was told about so much as a kid in Sunday School I was terrified of my body parts falling off.

The writer of the book tells us that some of Arams’ people had gone and trafficked a young Israelite girl to serve Naaman’s wife.

Now this young girl knew about a prophet back in Israel called Elisha who could heal and she suggested that Naaman head on over there and have this guy heal him of his leprosy.

So off Naaman went and met the King of Israel who upon hearing Naaman’s request got in quite the tizzy because how the heck was he going to be able to heal this guy of his leprosy?! Plus he was probably afraid of repercussion if he couldn’t come through.

Thankfully Elisha turns up and tells the King that he is overreacting and that he will indeed help Naaman. So what does he do? Lay his hands on him and pray a wordy, dramatic prayer to God bringing down light from Heaven and watch as Naaman’s skin is restored? Recite some magic spell, making humming noises and laying his hands on his body?

Or rather, tell him to bathe not once, not twice, but seven times in the river Jordan?

Now I don’t know if this story actually happened. But to spend too much time worrying about that is to miss a more important point that the writer could be trying to tell us.

To understand what that is, it is helpful to think about another story of miraculous healing found in the book of John. In this story Jesus heals a man who has been blind from birth by spitting on the ground, making some mud from the saliva that he just spat up and then putting it on this blind guy’s eyes.

Nice.

Then he instructs the man to do something that you might have seen coming. He tells him to go and wash in a pool. He went, did that and John says he “came home seeing”.

I wonder if this blind guy knew of the story of Naaman?

But people who saw this once blind man, question whether this is actually the same blind man they’ve seen every day begging. There is something about this guy that looks completely different. Then there is Naaman. Imagine, if you were a part of his army or his wife or one of his friends and he returns home with brand new skin?

You wouldn’t recognize him would you? It would kind of look like him but not really. You literally wouldn’t believe your eyes.

Two stories about healing involving water and two stories about healing that seemingly led to a transformation that rendered the person unrecognizable.

But what is more extraordinary is the manner that both men were healed. Grossness is heavily involved. One man is asked to bathe his virus ridden body in a river that many relied on for life. The other had spitty mud applied to his face. These are manners of healing that are the exact opposite of what you’d expect. How on earth would someone else’s spit mixed with mud, not do anything but damage already damaged eyes.

Even if said spit belongs to the Son of God?!

Regardless, if any of us found ourselves in similar situations and someone told us to carry out instructions including bathing in rivers or applying spit/mud concoctions to our eyes we would resist. It’s just so far fetched that we’d think someone was taking the piss.

In fact I’m surprised piss wasn’t involved somehow.

But here’s the thing. It worked. These men were healed. At least in the case of Naaman (who could see what was going on) after his initial hesitancy, he did what he was told and he was healed. Perhaps he was so desperate that he would travel a long distance on the word of some young girl and perhaps his leprosy was so bad that what extra harm could bathing in the River Jordan do, right?

Or, maybe it was the words of his servants who reasoned with him, suggesting that if Elisha had asked him to take some grand, over the top action he would have done it without even thinking. Yet, how much simpler is bathing a few times in a river?

Now, we could read this as a really strange story from thousands of years ago that may just have been rumor and legend, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some really important truth for us to think about.

So now we’ve thought a little about mud and spit and our fingers and toes falling off; it makes complete sense for us to think about porn addiction.

Still with me? Good, because here is why addiction and Naaman are so important.

When we talk about the things that affect the church the most, porn is usually not very high on that list. But that’s simply because we don’t talk about it very much and the vast numbers of Christians who compulsively view porn every day definitely don’t talk about it. Men and women. I mean lots and lots and lots of men and women.

So it goes under the radar. Then if we do talk about it this is the typical approach to dealing with it.

Download some accountability software. Commit to reading your Bible more. Remember that Jesus loves you unconditionally. Pray harder. Worship louder. Go for a run. Call a buddy. Have a plan.

Or we write articles about why porn is bad and how it damages your marriage or how your marriage is going to end. Or we talk about how it aids the human trafficking industry and think about what it would be like if it was your sister or your daughter in those pictures you’re wanking over every evening?

I know we do this because I’ve written plenty of those exact articles over the years. I’ve tried all those tactics a million times.

And here’s the kicker. They don’t really work. Men and women in the church continue to struggle with addictions and anxiety and fear and pain for their whole life. Hanging on tightly to their Christian beliefs that they simply need to do more of the same old things.

Our faith has failed us.

The way we have dealt with healing in the church from things like porn addiction, usually just create a different type of prison and simply use shame to pressure us into staying away from it. Shame may be a powerful force but it simply distracts us from facing the real pain we’re experiencing.

It give us control. But it doesn’t give us freedom.

When Naaman was asked to bathe his infected body 7 times in a river, of course he thought it was insane

But it worked.

If we were in the crowd as we watched a rogue Jewish Rabbi spit on the ground, mix it with the dirt to create a spit/mud concoction and apply it to a blind man’s eyes; of course we would have considered this Rabbi a mad man.

But it worked.

For the church today, all the different tools that we use to defeat porn addiction are treated in the same manner that Naaman expected himself to be healed. Naaman thought he knew how it worked. We think we know how it works. We know how this is supposed to happen. We know the rules.

But what if the rules just haven’t been working?

What if all the filters in the world and all the accountability software and all the cold showers are ultimately of no help?

For a Christian industry based on those things, that’s frightening. We’re invested in them because we need control, but do we really want freedom? What if our journey towards freedom required something radical from us. Something that seems so outside the Christian box that we’ve put healing into, that it ends up becoming our version of bathing in the River Jordan.

But it works.

Last year I led over 300 men through small groups run using My Pilgrimage. My friends Seth and David wrote a book and workbook based on their own experience in Alaska where they describe their healing and transformation which was unlike anything I had ever heard of before.

I started applying the experiences and tools they had to my own life and underwent my own radical transformation.

But the thing is, it wasn’t necessarily a “Christian” experience of healing. God was in it, the Holy Spirit was involved but most of us in the church would be very hesitant and weary to engage with it. Which is what I found in the groups. And is probably exactly why it was so powerful.

Some men, were so desperate for healing that they were willing to lay down some of their beliefs and try something radical. When they did, they discovered something better than simply not looking at porn anymore.

Others, just couldn’t do it. They didn’t want the shame anymore but they turned up expecting and hoping to be told to just do the same old things again. Some questioned the theology of the program and some turned up to a group once, then left frustrated that things didn’t magically just change.

This was very interesting to me because it seems that we’re very hesitant of things that are different. We can see the evidence of healing in someone’s life but still not want to engage with it because we’re afraid we’re selling our souls to the devil.

What do we do with those stories of healing that don’t make sense?

What if someone experiences something we desire but it doesn’t fit into our Christian or Spiritual paradigm?

We shouldn’t underestimate the lengths we’ll go to to stop our pain being exposed.

We in the church, tend to treat our pain as something that we can simply heal by thinking better. This is why we rely so heavily on software or by memorizing Bible verses or anything that makes us think better for a moment. We tell ourselves that Jesus loves us unconditionally.

But when this has no effect, then what?

The problem though, isn’t that Jesus doesn’t love us unconditionally. But rather, that part of us doesn’t truly believe that He does. So we sing louder on a Sunday morning, trying to convince ourselves of something that part of us can’t fully accept.

We treat sobriety as something that will be our Salvation, rather than allow it be the result of Salvation. (Tweet this)

We’re not trying to convince God that we accept His Love, we’re trying to convince ourselves.

And if at the deepest level, we don’t truly believe that, no amount of sobriety will help.

In the Jewish Scriptures belief isn’t an academic endeavor; it’s a practical one. For the Jewish people, belief required actions. Faith and belief is the foundation of which proof or evidence or the fruits of the spirit arise, not vice versa.

Doubt then, in the ancient Scriptures is not a dangerous threat to our connection with God, but ultimately the source of our connection to the Divine.

But when doubt is pushed further and further down, because we’re afraid that what we’re doing isn’t working, it becomes a silent killer.

So back to Naaman and the blind guy.

These stories primarily show and encourage us to look outside what we think is the right way to do things and be open to stories and ways of healing that on the face of it, may look strange. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time and are struggling with anxiety, pain or addiction. You’ve tried all the right things but still aren’t free.

You tell yourself that this is your cross to bear but I wonder if you truly believe that or are trying to convince yourself that you’re alright.

When we hold tightly to our Christian cliches and ways of healing and they don’t work, we should learn to loosen our grip and allow ourselves to pick up something new and fresh. Then we will experience healing in ways that we have never dreamed of.

And if you’re lucky, you won’t even need to rub spit in your eyes.

Why Christians Don’t Need To Be Afraid of Marriage Equality

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Before we think about why Christians shouldn’t be afraid of marriage equality, I think it’s important to take a little time to think around an argument that is often brought up for why only Heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry.

Won’t someone just think of the kids?

You’ve probably heard the argument that the best or ideal situation for bringing up kids is with a Father and Mother.

Namely that marriage is for having kids and that it is only possible with a birth father and a mother. But what if you can’t or just don’t want kids? Should a heterosexual couple in this position not be permitted to marry?

And even in marriages where the couple remain together; what if one of the parents is physically or emotionally abusive to their spouse and their children?

Are kids better off even in those situations?

Some marriages break up and it’s no ones fault. It’s just life and the parents can live amicably and still provide all the care that their kids require. Sometimes, it’s better for kids that parents do separate  if the marriage is beyond repair and staying together causes more damage to the kids than if they separated.

Or the family where the parents desperately want a child but are unable to, so decide to adopt a baby that they will love unconditionally for their whole lives. If a gay couple are able and willing to love and bring up a baby, is that not more ideal than the baby being brought up unwanted.

And with adoptions increasingly becoming more open (i.e. the birth mother is remains a part of the child’s life) a gay couple could adopt and the birth mother could still have a place in the child’s life.

Or of course, there are single parent families that have wonderful support from family, friends and their community even if one of the parents is absent for various reasons.

When we limit the idea of marriage to simply whether it can or does produce kids, we have an extremely narrow and depressing view of marriage. Marriage, when healthy can be a beautiful and wonderful thing. If kids are part of that, it is an amazing and joyful gift. But marriages do not have to succeed or fail because of them.

And in case you’re wondering, I would be making the same argument regardless of whether I was for or against SSM.

Nevertheless, even if we all agreed that marriage wasn’t simply about having kids, (it’s just not that good of an argument) it doesn’t mean that we’d still all agree that everyone should be allowed to marry.

For the Bible Tells Me So….

So what about the big question. That it is a sin to be gay and therefore definitely wrong for a gay couple to marry.

Often, the loudest opponents to SSM will come from the church. I’m not going to get into the Biblical arguments for our against SSM here as I want to sleep at some point this evening and honestly, many far cleverer scholars have written more convincing articulations for both sides than I ever could.

But gay marriage has often been resisted due to religious law based on what the Bible says and it’s for this reason that I believe Christians don’t need to be afraid of SSM.

Sound weird? Let’s think about it like this.

As well as SSM, we love to talk about how Christian rights are being destroyed in the West. Something, that is a bit ridiculous if you take into account the real persecutions that are being faced everyday by Christians in other parts of the world. Changing the colors of Starbucks cups or wishing someone Happy Holidays, a persecution does not make.

Another way that we talk about how the freedom of Christians are being eroded, is by describing the “rise in Islam” in the West. Something that we’ve been told to expect for a while now but somehow mysteriously has failed to materialize.

A thought experiment could be helpful here. Imagine that tomorrow it was made Law that everyone had to follow Sharia Law and that Islam was to be imposed on everyone, regardless of your gender, age, religious background or sexuality. You can take out Islam and insert any religious or belief system here if you like. I picked Islam since it’s the one we seem to be most terrified of.

I’d imagine that most Christians would have a bit of a problem with this. If you are a Christian why should you be required to follow religious rules that you don’t agree with? If you’re an atheist who at the very least doubts that god exists at all, why should you be forced to follow religious laws that you believe to be fairy tales?

There would be a pretty big uproar. But not because there is anything inherently evil about Islam or any other particular belief system, but rather it would be removing religious freedom for everyone. It would be essentially forcing religious beliefs and laws on people who have their own religious beliefs.

Which is the ironic part of our argument against SSM as Christians. When we shut down SSM we are seeking to impose our religious beliefs on people who don’t hold onto those same religious beliefs. The same thing we are (irrationally so) fearful of happening to us with Islam or even with the “Gay Agenda”. Another myth dreamt up to create fear and panic. And we’re not even just talking about Muslims Vs Christians Vs Atheists Vs ______, since there are many Christians who are both gay and who are heterosexual and believe that SSM is not a sin.

It comes down to this. The main issue with the Biblical argument against SSM is that when we insist that marriage is saved exclusively for heterosexual couples, we are in essence proposing that our religious law should be forced on everyone.

As Christians, we can’t expect others to follow religious rules they may not agree with, if we are also not prepared to follow others’ religious laws.

Religious freedom is not simply in regards to our freedom to worship and believe a certain theology; it is also the freedom to not be required to worship a certain god or behave in a way that impinges on those beliefs.

And this is the crux of why Christians should not be afraid of SSM. Nobody is forcing heterosexual Christians or Muslims or Jedi Knights or whatever you believe or don’t believe, to start marrying those of the same sex.

Nor are the Christian heterosexual marriages that already exist or will do in the future, in any danger.

You don’t even have to agree with with the idea that Same Sex Marriage is not a sin. In fact, this way you are still entitled to believe so if you wish.

But we shouldn’t be able to tell others what to believe and how that should affect their life if we aren’t prepared to do exactly the same.

And if all this doesn’t make any sense, there is of course one more thing that anyone opposed to SSM can still do to avoid being affected by it.

Just don’t marry someone of the same sex.

Rob Bell’s new book about the Bible: A review. Or, don’t worry, you’re not a Heretic if you like this book.

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I know that right off the bat, I’ll have lost some of you. Even reading the name Rob Bell can cause a mild panic in many and if you are that person, I suggest you stop reading now because this short review of Rob’s new book is only going to get more positive.

Rob’s ability to convey deep Biblical truths in ways that seem to be radical and actually relevant has always been one of his greatest gifts.

His writing style.

irritates.

many.

people. Continue reading

Christians And Our Eternal Subconscious Fear of Hell (and why it matters)

Having been born and brought up in a Western, pretty traditional church experience in Northern Ireland (the Bible Belt of the UK) I know the extreme importance of being born again. As a kid, going to Christian Summer camps or being part of Christian organizations, hearing messages and going to Church every Sunday, was ultimately geared up to one thing. Continue reading

Crucifying god this Easter.

It’s Easter and if you’re not already stuffed on chocolate I suggest you stop reading and get to it. What other time in the year will you be able to indulge, guilt free.

It’s an interesting idea isn’t it? At Christmas and Halloween we know we’re going to eat a lot of candy but it’s not until after when we hit the scales and the self disgust kicks in. But at Easter, a time when we are supposed to remember the ridiculous, non sensical gift of Grace, we give ourselves permission to indulge.  Continue reading

A short reflection on the Christian Holiday you’ve never heard of.

It is now my favorite date on the Christian calendar yet I had never heard of it two years ago. Of course I’d heard the story of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and his disciples, the night where he predicted his own betrayal, only to be met with confusion and sleepy pals. But I had never really listened.

Maundy Thursday is new to me.

Easter is the time we celebrate Jesus resurrection but seldom do we take the time to focus on the dark part of Easter. And it is dark. We want to skip ahead to Sunday, but by doing so we miss out on something truly significant.

It makes sense that we want to pass this over. It’s not comfortable. You won’t find many churches hosting a Maundy Thursday service but it is a wonderfully solemn and deep experience.

I am writing this having just returned from one. The “Service of Shadows” (if there is ever a better name for a Church service I am yet to here it) leads us through six readings from the Gospels reflecting on the night where Jesus was betrayed and his eventual crucifixtion. The Shadow of Betrayal, The Shadow of Agony, of Arrest, of Denial, of Trial and of Suffering. Each reading accompanied with the extinguishing of a candle, slowly leading us further into darkness. Maundy Thursday

This is no coincidence.

There is no celebration here. There is no risen Christ. There is no awe or excitement. No victory. No defeated sin. No anxious rushing back to tell the others who you just bumped into.

It’s hard to see Jesus as a normal person but as much as He was God, He was a real Human being. On the night when He needed them most his friends fell asleep on Him. His frustration and anger can be felt. As much as Jesus was prepared to die, He wanted desperately to avoid what was coming.

We’re meant to see Jesus as fully human because it allows us to see ourselves as fully human. Maundy Thursday encourages us that there is something in the darkness that can be a gift. We don’t need to avoid it. We avoid it because we don’t want to face up to pain or suffering. That makes sense and that makes us human. It makes us Christlike.

But the message here is that whatever you are experiencing is alright. It doesn’t make you less human, it makes you fully human and ironically fully alive.

But today it is a distant Hope. We need to learn that it’s ok to feel this way. I don’t have good news for you but I do have this. We’re not alone. You’re not alone. We’re with you. This pain is what is going to make you stronger but that is for another day.

Resurrection will come. Freedom will come.

Soon, but not yet.