The Joy of faithfully being pissed off.

Being raised in church in Northern Ireland is a fairly unique experience that sometimes feels like a million miles away from the ideas around faith that I hold now.
The Bible belt of the UK, Northern Ireland has always had religion running through public life. I once heard a statistic that sounds just likely enough to be true, that it’s believable  but still insane enough to still be dubious about. That there are more Christians in a 50 miles radius from Belfast per capita than anywhere in the world.
How true this is I’m not entirely sure but it’s believable enough that I couldn’t say it was ridiculous altogether.
Either way, religion permeates everything. Politics, schooling, laws. You name it, religion probably has a part to play.
There does however seem to be a shift occurring in the public life in Northern Ireland where religion is concerned.

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How to Noah you are a true Christian.

Inspired by my friend Craig Gross’s blog about Noah I have decided it would be really helpful if we had some way of telling who is really a Christian and who isn’t based on your opinion of the movie “Noah” and also the newly released “God’s not Dead.”

As many people have pointed out on blog posts, comments and Facebook statuses, ones opinions on these movies are critical in telling whether you are a true Christian or not. So throw away your books on predestination and election, don’t waste your time loving your neighbor. Those are all just facades to the true indicator of your faith; my fool proof, only slightly heretical, certified by no one in particular and snappily named,

“Are you really a Christian, really? Because I saw your Facebook status about seeing Noah and now I think I might have to turn all John Piper on your ass and bid you farewell” true Christian quiz.

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Nuts magazine closing: How the Church should respond.

On Monday, Nuts, the lads magazine announced that they were considering bringing their publication to a close and ceasing operations. I read a few tweets celebrating this fact and I’m going to admit it will be better for there to be one less magazine on display in shops which depicts women as just objects for men to masturbate over. Because let’s be honest nobody buys these magazines for the in-depth and insightful movie reviews.

But will it really make much of a difference?      nutsmagazine_logo_0

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When you find yourself stuck in a pattern of behavior that is clearly damaging to yourself and possibly others it is difficult to get out of.

There are self help books and speakers galore who can help you find peace in just 5 days or freedom in an hour. Some of these may even be very helpful. But talk to someone who has tried and failed to give up smoking or is stuck in a porn addiction that is shattering their self esteem, you will see a person who knows that it takes a lot more than a few days to change behviour.

I heard Saju Mathews from IJM give a talk a few weeks ago about how our identity can produce change. If we see ourselves as children of God then we won’t want to stay where we are, rather we will work at becoming free. We don’t need to continue where we are because that’s not really where we are. We are not slaves any more. Let’s live like it.

Which for a long time I have really loved despite it not really working for me. Why do I continue doing that which is killing me when I know I am free? Is it because I am wrong about Jesus? Or because I use grace as a reason to keep on sinning, as Paul suggests?

Or is it because I don’t really believe I am forgiven?

Take porn.

When you are stuck in an addiction like that and you are constantly battling to be pure but returning again and again into the arms of your computer, it can be very difficult to forgive yourself. No matter how much you know God loves you and has forgiven you.

But am I really forgiven? How does that work? Is it an abstract idea that is true but in reality doesn’t really have any impact on how I live?

When God is not present and when you don’t experience Him, forgiveness can seem like a nice idea but ultimately redundant.

But I believe in it wholeheartedly and I believe it works.

But for forgiveness to change you then I need to see obvious tangible workings of it. Sometimes God just doesn’t provide that.

At least not in the way I think.

Like a lot of things in life we can’t experience God unless we see it, or touch it. We need our senses to make it real for us. Hope or a nice feeling isn’t good enough.

So what is more tangible than other people?

To ensure forgiveness actually changes us we need other people.

Which means that we need to confess to other people.

Bonhoeffer, got it right when he wrote,

Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, an an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as we are, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God–whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word (Life Together, 112-13, emphasis added).

Confession is scary because we don’t want people to see us as we really are. It is also scary because perhaps we don’t really want to change.

We should be comfortable telling others our deepest darkest secrets because they are as bad as us. In this case, going to God is the safe option. Should we confess to God? Yes. But if we want to feel the full effect of God’s forgiveness we need to confess to others too.

Then we can experience His forgiveness in a tangible way through the prayers and love of others. Confessing to others is not an instead of God option. It is the way that forgiveness from God works within us.

So we experience God’s grace through our friend who prays for us and walks through every step of recovery with us.

We feel hope from God through the people who have been where we are and have come through the other end.

And we feel joy in God even when we don’t feel joyous, as we sit and listen to our friends telling us how God is working in their lives right now.

It seems like so much of how God works in our lives it requires other, broken, imperfect, porn watching people to be how he speaks to and changes us.

If that’s not grace I don’t know what is.