Identity, forgiveness and Peace (Ourselves and themuns)

We want to be perfect now? Why? Because we want to be able to experience God fully now in these moments, because we want to be used by God somehow?

Or because it sucks to be you right now? Because today you are acutely aware of who you are not and how far you are from who you want to be? And it feels horrible.

Grace is difficult to offer other people sometimes. But not nearly as hard as it is to offer ourselves. We constantly point to our sin rather than to the freedom that is already ours. You wouldn’t even imagine doing this to someone else (or maybe you would) but yet it’s so easy to beat ourselves up.

Why is this? Why do we choose to live this way? Continue reading

What the World Vision debate was really about.

The saying that “A week is a long time in Politics” can now be surpassed with “two days is a long time in Evangelicalism.” Two days ago, you could not be gay and work for World Vision, yesterday you could and now today you can’t again.

Much of the discussion centered around the children that would possibly lose out if people decided to remove their support for World Vision. Both Fundamental Evangelicals and Progressive Christians feared that donors would pull out from support because of the initial decision and that it seemed, was where any agreement ended.

Continue reading

Oversimplifying sin. Or why sin is not what you think.

A couple of days I wrote a blog that kind of went crazy. In it I questioned the manner that John Piper spoke about porn in a sermon.

Needless to say I got a lot of flack from some people. Yet I also received a lot of comments from people who had been hurt by similar styles of talking about sin in Church. I didn’t write it for John Piper fans. I wrote it for those very people whose voice has been lost because the church has piled on more and more shame.

Reading and responding to the comments it became quickly apparent that this had become something bigger than just about a view of porn addiction. Continue reading

The problem with “God’s ways are not our ways”

All of us at some point or another have questioned our faith. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry your time will come. Things happen to us that seem so unfair and beyond any reason, that we question how something like this could happen. How could God allow us to suffer in this way? In what way could this possibly be any good for anyone?

It’s not just limited to our very human experiences where we question God. It can be in theological beliefs that seem to contradict everything that we believe about God. We can’t get our head around predestination because how could a loving God willingly create some people knowing fully that they will end up in Hell? How could a God create a place like Hell in the first place? How can some people even start to suggest that someone like Hitler may get the chance to repent for all the horrible things he committed, so that even Hitler could end up in Heaven?

I’ve touched on a few but there are a thousand more different doubts that can manifest in our minds.

When faced with these questions and when we are honest enough to admit to others that we are struggling with some aspects of our faith, often we will bring these to someone we think will have some sort of answer. Many times, the best answer is to not have an answer. To allow someone the freedom to have questions and have that be alright. Yet, an answer that is regularly given, has become our default position for such questions.

It is this.

“God’s ways are not our ways”

This is a great answer because in one quick response we have given an answer that is intended to clear up everything and leave the person satisfied. If there are some things that we can’t understand about God and the ways things are (or at least perceived to be) then we can stop questioning. We can never understand. We will always have questions and we should just accept it and get on with things.

Except, this response and ones like it only leave us frustrated and with more questions that answers.

When someone we love is tragically taken from us, I wonder how comforting it is to know that God has some plan we can’t see.

If the idea of your friends going to Hell because there is nothing they can do to change it because God has already decided, doesn’t sit well with you; I wonder how we can continue to spread God’s love, when it seems so pointless.

As a human I am well aware of my frailties and I have experienced the love of God, even amidst suffering, (some self inflicted, some not) many, many times. There have been thousands of moments where I have just not “got it” only to see God reveal something magical and beautiful that only He could have seen coming.

So I understand that there are things that we will never understand but God’s love and Grace is big enough for us to still have questions, doubts and anger towards God. A reply like “God’s ways are not our ways” is only helpful to the person posed the question as it allows them off the hook from engaging with the person in their pain, in their sense of injustice. In their doubt.

We can wipe our hands clean, without actually entering into dialogue or sitting with someone who is dealing with a new world framed by tragedy.

It is actually in those times if we were just to allow ourselves to be with the person and accept their questions and doubts, that God can actually reveal Himself.

Even Jesus before He was killed had questions about why He needed to suffer. He, just like us, “didn’t get it”. He actually asked God if there could be another way other than what was planned. Yet, even in that place of despair and anguish, He was obedient.

Perhaps this is why we give such glib answers when confronted with others pain. If Jesus was obedient then we should just accept what happens to us too. Yet, the very real fears that Jesus held aren’t something we can just ignore. They are actually the way that we can bring our doubts to God honestly without fear of being rejected. We may not understand why this is happening, but we can understand at least in a purely theoretical way if not practically at first, that Jesus “gets it”.

After all, He had the same questions as we do. So we can be confident that our doubts are legitimate. Our pain is real and it is recognized. Telling someone that this is just the way things are, leaves us further from God.

But on the cross Jesus, grew closer to God. He understood that in some strange way, this pain was not unseen. So too, we can approach God knowing our pain is seen and known. And it is not glib to God.

The point of this post is not to give you answers in the pain you are deeply hurting by right now. I can’t and I may never be able to.

What I and we all can do hopefully though, is allow each other the love to deeply feel those pains. To be fully human. To not fob each other off with answers that simply exist to cause more hurt.

Much of this type of discussion is built around ideas of justice. When things happen to us that don’t seem fair we question how God can be just. Yet the very same people that tell us that God’s ways of justice are not the same as ours, will become defensive when we suggest that everyone may have a chance to be redeemed. Our views of justice tell us that people who do wrong need to be punished. That God can’t face sin and He needs to reject everything that causes sin. But what if God’s view is that those people need to be loved more than anything. Yes, that may mean that they are prevented from acting in evil ways again, but it does not mean we reject them fully.

Take predestination which I previously mentioned. The basic idea that God has ordained that only certain people, the “elect”, will be saved and everyone else will spend eternity in Hell. There are other slight variations on this but at the core is this belief. Yet, how does this idea of God fit into all the accounts of God and Jesus where They show incredible love for people.

At this point, the answer of “God’s ways…” answers it for us. We can ignore all the logical problems that predestination causes because we can’t know. Perhaps, we can’t but is there a chance that the way we have thought about this could be wrong? God is God but He was also fully human which means to ignore the very real human problems we have with such ideas, is to ignore some of the character of God.

Maybe, it is actually to these traditional points of view of predestination or God’s eternal justice, where we need to say “God’s ways are not our ways”.

We have it all figured out on who is in and who is out.

But maybe,

“God’s ways are not our ways”

We experience pain, we experience things that don’t make sense. Yet the point of Isaiah 55 is not that we should just suck it up, but that there is peace even in the pain. Often, we can’t see around it but God is offering us peace. Not just on the other side of suffering or doubt (if there is in fact ever another side sometimes) but in the middle of it.

If you are someone that thinks that those answers that leave us cold, are not the end, then this is good news. It’s good news because you have seen who God is. You are seeing God as Jesus, who understood doubt and pain more than anyone.

You are invited to open yourself to those questions. It will be painful and difficult. Occassionally, it will not make sense. Yet you will not be alone. You will be understood. God’s love is far bigger and wider than certain beliefs we hold onto. It is more welcoming and full of grace than we give God credit for.

Which is great news for everyone,

Because God’s ways are not our ways.

Suffering and Sin. Why I Believe In An Unconditionally Loving God.

The way that the world works means that most of us don’t get anything for free. We go to work and we receive payment. We have to go to the gym to get fitter. We study for an exam and pass the test.
There is an effort required for each of those things. Work hard and you get your rewards.

This is the American dream. Continue reading

What defines you? Celebrity and Identity.

Unless you have been off social media for the last few days you will know that the famous and talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died after what seems like a drug overdose. I call him famous and talented because he was both. Famous because he has appeared in some of the best movies of the last twenty years and talented because even in the movies that weren’t so great he made them worth watching.

Famous and talented yes…but so much more too.

Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger and now Philip Seymour Hoffman. Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. All artists in their own right who have left behind a body of work bursting with genius and who we are only left to imagine the art they would have continued to make.

Often when we lay to rest a celebrity especially one who has made an impact for their talent most of the tweets or Facebook posts and blogs will mourn the loss of a talent that was cut off far too soon. We’ll talk about the movies they made or the albums they created; we’ll talk about the seminal performances that made people sit up and question how art is created.

Then we’ll talk about the reason they died. The drug overdose, the heart attack, the suicide. Experts will be brought in to explain why celebrities become addicted, how they weren’t able to handle their fame, how addiction is a disease that is rife in Holywood.

All true perhaps.

But what if Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t an actor? What if he had a regular job and wasn’t well known? What if he mopped floors for a living? We wouldn’t know about his death and he would be just another sad statistic. Except his family would have known. His partner and kids would have known. When celebrities die we tend to emphasize the loss they will be to their art, to the acting world or to the music business or wherever.

Is that how we place value on each other? How much talent we have in our particular section of the world we find ourselves in, but nothing more? How many oscars or grammys we’ve won? How highly critics think of us? Is there more to us than what we achieve? Is being a good parent or spouse any less important than accolades and plaudits?

What truly defines us?

Let’s celebrate the talent that Philip Seymour Hoffman undoubtedly had but let’s mourn the loss of human life to an ugly and spiteful disease more. Philip Seymour Hoffman was much more than a truly great actor; he was a human. In some ways we have robbed him that of that by only talking of him in terms of what he achieved as an artist. His life would have been equally as precious if none of us had ever heard of him.

I don’t know what led Philip Seymour Hoffman to overdose but I do know that addiction can often arise from a place where we aren’t content or we search because we struggle with who we are at the deepest levels. Which is not an actor, or a singer or a doctor, teacher, lawyer, athlete, cleaner, writer.

But a person.

We’re all so much more than anything we do or how well we do it. Our lives are important because we are alive. Our lives are precious because there are people who love us for simply being who we are. I know that the kids of friends wouldn’t care what their father or mother did as long as they are there to pick them up when they fall. I could do anything else than I do now and I know my wife would still love me.

You might call this grace. I call it being at peace.

And unless we start holding our celebrities up for being humans first and foremost we’ll all be tweeting about someone else sooner or later.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not at peace with that.