“Where’s your god now?”

Jul 302014

“Come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved immediately!”

There are some preachers and evangelists who give exactly that message. If you give your life to Jesus, health and wealth will quickly follow. You’ll face no more hardship and everything will go well with your life. There are some. But not many. Very few people deliberately and consciously promote this as the Christian message.

A strange question

But there’s a question I hear reasonably often, and it’s this: “Where’s your god now?” The sentiment is summed up hilarious in the following picture:

where's god

Clearly this is just a joke (though jokes tend to contain a grain of truth), but people ask the same thing seriously. I was with a non-Christian recently who shared the sad news that a Christian she knows has been diagnosed with cancer. She then pointedly said, “He’s a godly man, so where’s his God now?”

Behind statements like these, there seems to be an assumption that if a Christian has given their lives to God then He’ll sort everything out for them, fix all their problems, keep them safe, protect them from all harm. Why is it people believe that’s what Christianity is about, when it simply isn’t?

I’ve also heard and read the same question coming from Christians when things are hard. “Why is this happening to me? Where’s God gone?” I have deep sympathy for people who ask that (I have), but it is—I think—based on a wrong view of God.

A simple answer

The truth is God never promises to fix everything in our lives. There will be a time when all pain and difficulty will be put right and everything will be restored. But until that day comes, we live in a broken world. Does God heal? Yes. Does God intervene for His people? Yes. Does God answer prayer? Yes. He does these things, but He doesn’t always and He has never promised to.

wheres god crossSo where is God when His people suffer?

God is right there with them, standing alongside them.
God is on the cross, suffering for them, knowing their pain and Himself feeling a divine absence.
God is in them by His Spirit, giving strength and hope and peace—even joy.

The answer to the question “Where is God now?” is never “He’s gone away, absent.” The answer is always that He is right there, at the moment of deepest pain. I often don’t feel that, but I know it is true. Even though I don’t fully understand it. I believe it because God has said promised it and God can’t lie.

So why the question?

If the basis of the question is a wrong view of God, a view that very few people actually promote, why is it the question gets asked at all? Where has this wrong idea come from?

I honestly don’t know. I have a few ideas, but I don’t know. It could be that deep down we do believe God is better when things are going well and that He’s worse when they aren’t. At times do we believe we’ve entered into a transaction with God where we’ll be devoted as long as He looks after us? It could be we don’t believe that, but we far more readily say ‘God is so good!’ when something has gone well for us than when it hasn’t. It could be that in popular culture God is depicted in exactly that way, someone who will sort things out for you if you’re faithful to Him. Maybe the world can’t imagine why you’d want to follow any other sort of God—what’s in it for you?

I honestly don’t know. If you think you do, I’d love to hear.

But I’ll end with this. If the world has this opinion that people follow Jesus mostly because they think He’ll protect them—if that’s what people really believe—then it presents us with an amazing opportunity to put them straight.

I follow Jesus for far more exciting reasons than that.

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100 posts on. Back to limping.

Jul 192014

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 18.23.25

This is my 100th post on this blog. I’m quite pleased with that, and I felt I should mark it in some way. While working out what that might be, I reflected a little on what the purpose of the blog is.

The point hasn’t been to build up a regular readership.
The point hasn’t been to get more followers on Twitter.
The point hasn’t been to win an award.
The point hasn’t been to interact with celebrities about what I’m writing.

I don’t think any of those things is bad (in fact each—in their one way—has been a good thing), but they are not the reasons I started this blog a year and a half ago. And they aren’t why I’m keeping going with it.

I want to be a limper

The reason is still that I want to have a holy limp.

If you only started reading this blog recently, you probably won’t have read the first post I wrote, all about what I mean by limping. Basically, I mean having a faith where I’m happy to be uncomfortable. Where what God thinks is more important than what I think. Where I’m willing to submit to Him instead of stridently following myself.

A lot of the world today tells us that if it makes sense for us then it’s right. If something doesn’t work for us, we need to ditch it and find something that works better, that we prefer.

That’s fine if we’re talking about a hair-cut or a pair of shoes. It’s not when we’re talking about beliefs. It’s not when we’re talking about the way we live our lives.

I’m wrong. God never is. I do wrong. God never does.

If I follow everything I want, believe everything I want, then I’ll do a lot wrong, believe a lot wrong. It’d be a lot more comfortable, but a lot less good. All in all, I’d rather limp into truth than stride into falsehood and sin. This blog is one way I try to keep myself honest.

The lure of striding

This isn’t easy. The arrogant, self-important approach to life is very appealing, and is constantly tugging at me, trying to pull me back, tell me I don’t have to limp and I can stride because I’m right, I’m righteous.

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 18.24.58It’s a danger when I preach, stood with people listening to what I say. Do I subtly or subliminally start to think it’s my place to decide what’s right and dispense it to others?

It’s a danger being a leader, with people who follow. Do I sometimes think too highly of myself? If I’m the one who—or more often part of a team who—sets vision and leads people in it, do I sometimes think I’m more important?

It’ll be a danger for me as I hopefully begin theological study later this year. Do I think that because I’ve read books and written essays I have a handle on the truth? Do I become unteachable? Do I become strident in my views?

That’s just for me. If I’m honest—at times—the answer to each of those questions is ‘yes’. Striding is easy, attractive, compelling. Striding makes you feel good. Limping doesn’t.

How to limp

Like I said, I can’t say I’ve mastered this. But I have a few questions to keep asking myself. As I embark on this new season in my life (and as I continue with my 101st, 102nd, 103rd posts on this blog), these are some checks. You might find them helpful too.

Do you believe things you find hard because you believe they’re true anyway?

Are there things you do that aren’t natural to you because you think they’re the right thing?

How often do you sincerely challenge your own beliefs?

How do you react when others challenge your beliefs?

When was the last time you changed your mind because you realised you were wrong?

And as I wrote 99 posts ago “the test should be this: If I’ve managed, I will be limping”

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Who’s your favourite blogger?

Jul 142014

Well, apart from me, obviously… 😉Award

You may remember that back in November I won an award for this blog. I was named ‘Young Christian Blogger of the Year’ by Premier Christian Media’s division at their annual awards and conference day, #CNMAC13. You may not remember, but I promise you it happened.

But that was last year. This year there will be another conference, #CNMAC14, which I’ll hopefully be going to. Why mention this? Two reasons.

Maybe you should go!

Sadly I was unable to go to the full day conference last year, but I heard very good things about it, and will almost certainly be there for the full day this year. It’s on Saturday 1st November.

I believe very strongly that embracing new media and digital media for Christ and for the church is of vital importance for our mission, discipleship and ministry. So I can think of few more beneficial ways to spend a day than exploring this with people who really do know what they’re talking about.

There will be vital input about how the digital revolution can be harnessed by individual Christians and local churches, as well as practical seminars about use of social media in evangelism, personal spirituality, society, mission and discipleship. There is even the opportunity for one-to-one chats with good people who can try to help you out more specifically.

If this is starting to sound like an advert, that’s because it sort of is! I really believe this stuff is important, and this event could be of huge help as we try to take it more seriously.

This year’s theme is ‘Transformers’. 

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 19.14.01

Maybe you could nominate someone

The window is now open for you to nominate someone for an award if you think they are a positive Christian influence in the digital world. The awards is by no means the most important part of the day, but it is good to recognise goodness where it exists.

I can’t say how much of an impact on me and on my blogging getting nominated meant to me. Even had I not won, it was an incredible affirmation of what I was doing, and a huge encouragement to keep on going and even step it up a notch. For a lot of you who read my blog, you read others’ blogs too. Whose do you really appreciate? Who has encouraged you, challenged you or blessed you with what they do.

Maybe this list of categories will help spark your thoughts:

You could make someone this happy! (I'm not good at smiles...)

You could make someone this happy! (I’m not good at smiles…)

Blogging section:

  • Blogger of the Year
  • Young Blogger of the Year
  • Multi-author Blog of the Year
  • Up-and-coming Award
  • Most Inspiring Leadership Blog

Website section:

  • Best Christian Organisation Website
  • Best New or Redesigned Website
  • Most Engaging Large Church Website
  • Most Engaging Small Church Website
  • Accessibility Award

New media section:

  • Innovative Use of New Media In Outreach
  • App of the Year
  • Most Creative Use of Social Media
  • Tweeter of the Year
  • People’s Choice Award
  • International Award

If a Christian, church or Christian organisation has blessed you with their online work, why not take a couple of minutes out of your day to and bless them back with a nomination?

So, I ask again: who’s your favourite blogger?

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The latest “Atheists are wrong” video, and why I didn’t share it on Facebook.

Jul 112014

You may have seen a video doing the rounds recently on Facebook. You may even have shared it around yourself. If you did, this post is not designed to make you feel bad, but to ask some questions about how useful they are. I’m not sure videos like this are particularly useful. Sometimes they can do more harm than good.

In case you haven’t seen the video. It’s called “Kalam Cosmological Argument”, but it’s been doing the rounds as part of a blog post called . Here is a link:

Not a knock-down argument

The video is undeniably very well made. It is stimulating and interesting to watch, and sums up what are pretty complex scientific and philosophical ideas in ways that are engaging and understandable. Like most people, I haven’t studied philosophy or science to a high level, but I was able to follow along pretty easily.

That’s kind of good. But it’s also kind of bad.

The truth is, these are deeply complex arguments and ideas. People with big brains have been developing and interacting with these ideas for hundreds of years. Importantly, all through history people who can grasp these complexities far better than I can have remained divided on the issue.

checkmateThis is not the ‘checkmate’ argument which it is presented as in the video.

In fact there are some pretty good counter-arguments. You don’t have to look far to find them. Here’s an article I found which gives a fairly solid critique of the ‘cosmological argument’ which the video provides. In essence, it says this: If, as the cosmological argument states, everything that exists must have a beginning and a cause, saying ‘the universe must have a cause so there must be a god’ isn’t enough because by the same logic this ‘god’ must have a beginning and a cause.

Of course a Christian would say God has no beginning, but that’s moving away from science and philosophy toward faith statements. If we’re going to do that – if the basis of what we believe is ultimately faith, not purely reason – then why use a video like this at all?

More likely to get people’s backs up?

In fact, far from convincing someone there is a God, I think this is more likely to annoy and get non-Christians’ backs up. Imagine watching a video like this from the point of view of an atheist whose Christian friend put it on Facebook.

Maybe they watch it and think ‘Wow! That’s pretty compelling stuff. Seems pretty plausible. Maybe I have been wrong all this time.’ Chances are one of the first things they do (since they’re clearly not averse to internet-based research) is a Google search to see if it’s as compelling as they thought. Very quickly all fears are allayed as they find some robust defences. What impression are they left with? Isn’t it likely to be this: ‘Hmmm, that Christian video was a very one-sided and simplistic presentation. In fact it was a little manipulative.’

Or maybe they’ve already come across this sort of argument before, and know the counter-arguments. Might they be excused for thinking their friend should have looked into it a little more before sharing? That if their friend is going to present this as an argument for their faith they should also be able to defend it against criticism? And if their friend were unable to do so – having willingly used this video as a defence of faith – mightn’t our atheist doubt the strength of their friend’s reasons for their faith?

Is there a better way?

I wonder if videos like this are a good place to start a conversation, but only if we are ourselves able to debate at that level. I know that at present I am not, and I’d prefer not to unwittingly present something as ‘checkmate’ unless it is.

Should I share?

I think there’s a better way, but it’s also harder. Let’s be honest. It’s really easy to see a video (or a blog post, song, meme, whatever), think ‘that’s quite good’, and just hit share or retweet without actually engaging with the content at any deeper level. What if we only ever linked people to things that we were able to discuss it properly? It’d probably mean we’d share a little less and engage with things a little more. But we might see it having a better effect.

I’m convinced that the internet can be a brilliant way of engaging with others about our faith, but we need to be ready, equipped and able to given a solid answer, a good defence. Absolutely we can use others’ stuff, but never blindly.

God is huge. Faith is complicated. Neither can be reduced to catchy soundbites. Videos and blog posts can only ever be the start of a discussion, and if we aren’t ready to follow through then my advice – and I may be wrong – not to share them at all.

Am I crazy?

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Why Christians should expect big things

Jul 062014

“Be brave, and be expectant.”

This is what one of the dads at our church said to his youngest daughter as she went off for her induction day at secondary school. She starts in September, and it’s a big move.

“Be brave, and be expectant.”

That first part about bravery, you sort of expect from a dad – the second bit is perhaps a little bit less common. He didn’t want his daughter just to go through the motions of school and hope to come out the other end in one piece. She should go in with an attitude of expectancy. Go for it! Expect big things! This can be amazing!

10 points if you can work out why I used this picture.

10 points if you can work out why I used this picture.

Dreaming dreams

For the first time since I was living at home with my parents, I know where I’ll be for the foreseeable future. Mel and I are staying in the village where we live for at least the next 6-7 years as I become a pastor at our church. That’s exciting and refreshing for us. But I want to be brave, and be expectant.

I’ve made a list (I like lists). It’s a list of 35 things I want to achieve or do in that time before we potentially move – 25 things in my personal life and 10 things in my ‘ministry’ life. (I thought about posting the list up here, but since some of the things on it depend on others allowing or asking me to do things, I didn’t want to accidentally put pressure on anyone.) When I read through the list, I am pretty excited. A bit daunted, but excited.

Some of it is pretty mundane, but some of it is certainly not. But I’m expecting and hoping for it anyway.

“Be brave, and be expectant.”

I want to expect big things. I want to dream big dreams and then run after them. I don’t want to settle.

God is able!

But this isn’t just some fanciful idea of mine. This isn’t about me blowing my own horn and saying “This is what I want to do, and I can do all of it because I’m so awesome!”

I preached a couple of weeks ago on the closing words from Jude’s letter in the New Testament (). He says this:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25)

Jude was writing to a bunch of Christians in difficulty. The difficulty was that there were a number of false teachers in their midst who were going to lead them astray if they weren’t careful. For a fledgling Christian community without easy access to the reliability of the Apostles, this was very dangerous. They could end up completely off the rails.

Jude gives advice about how to protect themselves, but ultimately he ends reminding them that God is able to keep them from stumbling. God is able. He can do it, so trust Him.

“Be brave, and be expectant.”

This is about false teachers, but it’s true for anything. God is able. All through the Bible, we see God’s people proclaiming that their God is able to bring victory, to protect, to change things, to break through in history. And all through the Bible, we see that God is able and that God does do those things. God is able.

Because God can, we do

And because we have a God who is able to – in Paul’s words – “do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), we are given license to expect great things. He can do them, and we should look to Him to do so.

Walking on water“Be brave, and be expectant.”

And more than just expecting God to do big things, we should expect and seek Him to use us for them. Not because we are able, but because He is and He’s made very clear that He wants to work through His people. Peter walked on water not because He could, but because Jesus could, and yet Peter was the one that actually did it.

Of course when he started to focus on the wind and waves and realise he couldn’t do this, he started to drown. We have to keep fixed on Jesus, but Jesus calls us to do big things. Because He can do big things.

God is able. Because He is, we can do stuff. And we should seek and expect some of that stuff to be important, significant and big.

Ultimately, if God can do more than all we ask or imagine, let’s ask for more. And let’s imagine more.

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Christians: let’s stop pretending

Jul 022014

This past weekend I was part of the leadership team for the youth track of a Christian mission festival called GOfest. I’ve blogged about it before. One of the major thrusts of what we did was try to help young people discover the part God has created them for in His mission and purposes for the world.

One thing the New Testament is pretty clear on is this. All Christians have gifts, and we should use them.

Spiritual gifts

Gifts in action!

I get very excited when I see people discovering their gifts and using them. There is such potential to be released!

At last year’s GOfest, one of our young people (she was 16) discovered gifts of mercy and a passion to see justice for those who are oppressed. Since then, she’s started a youth justice movement that runs campaigns and gets petitions signed around areas of injustice in the world. (Check out the group on Twitter, . She’s also hopefully going to write something on here for me, too!)

That is exciting! We didn’t tell them to start a group because we thought it would be a good idea. One person discovered gifts and passions, and from that she led into something amazing! I am so excited to see what God is doing and will do through that act of obedience and commitment to serve.

When we take our gifts and use them, big things can happen! But there are two things we really need to avoid if we want to see that happen, two traps we Christians can easily fall into.

Pretending we have gifts we don’t

The first danger is this: pretending we’re gifted in areas we aren’t. Lots of effort can get poured into trying to do things that God has never called us to do because we feel we ought or because we don’t want to look bad in front of others who are good at it.

Of course sometimes it isn’t a conscious thing. Sometimes we suffer from this very ‘nice’ idea that everyone should get a go at everything. Let’s create a rota and make sure everyone gets a fair shot at it all. Otherwise it wouldn’t be fair, right? But the product of that is this: most of the time, most people don’t do what God has gifted them to do. What a waste!

Yes, we have to explore some gifts to see if we might have them. Yes, we can grow in our gifts so if our first go isn’t amazing it doesn’t mean we never consider it again. And yes, just because I don’t have the gift of, say, evangelism it doesn’t mean I should never seek to share my faith (the same goes with the gift of giving!). There are times to ‘branch out’.

But our norm, our centre, our focus should be pursuing full throttle the gifts that God has really given us. If the whole church were truly released to discover and walk in the gifting God had given, what potential!

Pretending we don’t have gifts we do

Then there’s the opposite. Isn’t it really a little arrogant to say “I have the gift of ______, so let me use it.” When people do that, isn’t it likely to make others feel worse? Shouldn’t we be humble about our gifts? We shouldn’t put ourselves forward so much – that’s just pride, right?

I have to confess, this is something I have struggled with myself. It may be a thoroughly British thing. We Brits like to be modest.

But hiding or keeping quiet about our gifts isn’t modesty at all. At best it’s false modesty, but at worst it’s pride.

False modesty

How is it really pride? Well, the only reason we’d ever feel that talking about our gifts was arrogant is if – deep down – we believe they’re a result of our own ability. But they’re not. They’re gifts. It isn’t arrogant to tell someone about a gift you’ve been given. It doesn’t glorify you – it glorifies the Giver!

If someone is a leader, let them know that, say that, and be that. Let them lead you. If someone is a prophet, value the insight and words God has given them. Listen to them. If someone is a servant, don’t demean their gift by telling them to let someone else sweep the floor this time. Let them serve you. Of course thank all these people. Honour them publicly and privately.

It’s taken me quite a while, but I am now quite comfortable telling people what gifts I believe God has given me. I’m done pretending.

What about you?

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