Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life sucks and then you die...

2009 hasn't started in the best way I could have imagined. In December, I was notified that because of the economic climate, I'd have to work 4 days less a month (3 days in December), and would be paid less. 4 days/month is about 1/5th of my salary, which is a relatively sizeable chunk.

Being Christmas, I overspent a bit (my fault, I know), but I had a few days overtime that was being paid out, and I was under the impression it'd come through first week in Jan (2 days, meaning I'd only be 1 day short on pay). I have a part-time job that usually pays by the 8th (10th the latest) each month, and that goes to pay the run of bills that come off during the second half of the month..

As things go, there was a misunderstanding and the leave pay didn't go off. My payment never went off for part time either (I was told it's gone off today - the 13th - and it takes a good 4-5 days to come through). On top of this, I've had a few other prospective jobs coming through, but none of the quotes I've sent out have been accepted yet.

As a result, I'm sitting half way through the month absolutely broke, relying on my overspent credit card and feeling incredibly drained and stressed.

I recently got a new album, and decided to listen to it. The one song is just scripture read over some music, talking about Jesus sending people away because he never knew them, even though they did amazing things in his name. I wanted to read it more, so popped onto Bible Gateway and searched around, and arrived at the sermon on the mount.

I started reading from Matthew 5, and came across Matthew 5:25 where Jesus says "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink..." and although I'm still stressed, it hit home.

I've been feeling the Holy Spirit nudge my spirit with the simple words: "Trust Me".

It came out in a talk I had with a friend the other day, and while I've been thinking about the state of things - I've kept feeling God nudge my spirit, and I've realised I haven't been trusting Him. Some of it's because this new relationship thing is so sensitive, I didn't want to do the laundry-list thing.. but as a result, I think I haven't done any asking, and have been going about trying to do things on my own steam.. which isn't exactly helpful :)

I'm learning to lay this down. It's a biggie, and it's hard, but I'm learning.

The first steps are always stumbles..


Thursday, January 8, 2009

life out of the box of the religious club [should read: living life loved & loving]

Over the past few months I've met (mostly online) more and more people who are increasingly frustrated with the religion of christianity, and it's religious pressures, and have looked to find God 'outside' of the encumbering that we have felt within traditional 'church-life'.

Something that I've picked up on is that we 'outsiders' tend to have a lingo of our own. We often speak of 'out-of-the-box christians' or the 'church' as a 'club'. I think much of this is because many of us feel free now, after feeling so 'boxed-in' for so many years. We've come to find something that looks real and true, and the knee-jerk is that we feel what we were in isn't real or true.

Much of the time, we have been hurt in some way or another, often because we didn't feel like we fit in, or because as we began to feel disatisfied and ask questions, others didn't treat us with grace, but with hostility and judgement. Most of the time we leave on the one hand feeling wrongly done by, and on the other hand reveling in the freedom we've found 'on the other side'.

I think there is something in all this that we're missing. The people still 'inside'. For those of us who have been in 'church' for a long time, we often have close friends and family firmly entrenched in that way of living out christianity. It's what they've been taught and it's the definition of church that makes the most sense to them (usually).

And when we leave I think they can feel rejected. All of a sudden, this thing that they hold dear is being questioned and prodded like the Spanish Inquisition. Which is often exactly how we feel upon leaving too. And our talk of 'out of the box' or 'sunday club' doesn't help.

Wayne and Brad have mentioned something similar over the past few weeks in the podcast, and I think we need to be aware of this:

Often people in the thing feel more rejected and hurt by us leaving than anything else. Although I believe this is something Dad will complete, I think it's important for us to be aware of what we say and how we say it. I know my heart isn't to hurt the people still in 'church'. Because I believe that this 'way' carries less religion and more freedom, I do feel that people would be better off without it, but I don't want this to hurt them, I want it to heal them. I think I carry some anger towards the structure and religion that has enslaved me all these years, and as I fight out against that, people still 'in the prison' feel the effect of my attack on the prison structure... (go with the metaphor for now - it's how I felt about it, not saying it is that way)

So, as I've become more aware of this, I've become more aware of what I say and how I say it. I spent most of the evening of the last day of 2008 in discussion with friends of mine on how we should be listening to God lead us, and not necessarily just busying ourselves with what we think is right.

I think it's an important discussion, and some of the points that were raised we great. The problem is that 1, it really drained me (I suppose talking for 2-odd hours will do that) and 2, I felt like my friends thought I'd lost it a little, and was being a little too liberal.

What I hope for is that some of what I said at least encourages them to think about what and why they believe what they do, but I'm becoming more aware of not getting into these convo's because I can :) it's not wise to simply argue everything because someone believes slightly differently to me (ok on some areas, it's not 'slight').

Unfortunately my actions, although wanting to prove my heart right, often gets in the way of that. I always come back to - it's about our relationship with God. Nothing else really matters, and nothing else will matter unless it's fruit of that relationship. Now, this is largely what was the topic of contention, but, for me, the truth of that is paramount. Because of that, I get into arguments, but the thing is, I think with some people discussions are helpful, but if it's just a rally of words, no one gets anywhere, especially not nearer to a loving Father.

The truth is - if everything IS about relationship with God, and nothing matters unless it's defined by that relationship, then it isn't the words of that thought that matter, it's the reality of it. So arguing why I'm right when I say this can possibly be very unhelpful in getting this truth to sink in, even though the truth is being said (I think this has larger implications other than this topic) - often there's a better way.

I think it's the way of love. As much as I long for my friends, family and others to accept me. To give me the space to believe what I do and to trust that if I'm seeking God, I'll be ok - so to should I extend that to people not on the same page as me. (I appologise for the 'should' godjourney fans :) )

If we simply love others - I know that comes from what God does in us - and I think me writing this is because the Holy Spirit is working on this in me - then, hopefully, by them experiencing the love we have for them, they will be more open to understanding the love Dad has for them, and their walls and boundaries will start falling down - because of what God is doing, not me.

Words are good, but as Paul says, the tongue can be vicious. Let us then watch what we say to our brothers, and not lash out at them, especially if they are still stuck in the religion. I know it's hard when we're fresh out of the system. There's a lot of hurt, pain and rejection that God is dealing with in our own lives, and it's a difficult place to have grace for others as well (especially for those who have hurt us). But let us pray for the grace to at least have our words and actions tempered by love. That we may be angry at the system, but will see our brother and sisters who may still go to 'church' as our brothers and sisters. Not as the enemy, or less than us. They, as much as we, are in desperate need of our saviour. We were all made for this relationship with Him, and I'm sure they are longing for it as much as you are - and besides, if it's all about the relationship, what does it matter if people are in (or out) of this box called 'church'.

Let's learn to love and live loved by Love incarnate.

Friday, October 31, 2008

of church and the body of believers (an introductional diatribe)

Edit, on rereading this post, I realised some of my tone was particularly unhelpful and negative towards my friends who may hold a different view to mine on church, but who I still hold dear and value very much as compadres. As such, I've tried to remove all negative connetation to their view, and rather post positively why I hold to what I do. I apologise if the unedited version caused any hurt - please let me know if it did.

Godbless, Cam

So, I've been engaging in an interesting conversation on facebook, via notes and comments, regarding church.

This matter of church has been something I've been thinking on and pondering for a while. It seems to be an accepted notion to champion the "institutional thing" as the real thing and right off anything that doesn't prescribe to that structure. A few months ago, I also held to this view - this structural thing has been so entrenched in our mindset that we can't seem to look past it in any way or form.

One of my first posts were going to deal with this topic, but I felt God impress on me that it wasn't the right time. I'm hoping now is better - possibly, I've rounded my thoughts out a bit, and aren't as fiery as I used to be... [hopefully even better after this edit] :)

I've had numerous conversations about these things, and the thing that interests me is the intensity with which people seem to hold to their views - you would think I was challenging the validity of Christ (which sometimes I think might go down easier than dismantling 'church').

What strikes me as worrying is the understanding that the biblical description of church is closely paralleled by the church in its current form. Passages like that in Hebrews, where the writer says 'do not forsake the gathering of the saints' or 1 Cor 12:21-25ish (I think) where Paul speaks on the giftings God has given to the church, as well as all the elders-and-deacon scriptures are often quoted and used to argue that because those things are present in the current church structure it must be right, and because they can't see how those things could be present in something that might depart from this preconception, they have no space for calling it church.

I think what's happening is they are taking the institutional thing (what we have now), comparing it with the bits and pieces in the bible and because the names are the same and the terminology is the same (most probably because the one evolved from the other, or because the translators of our english bibles, used words common to our church terminology so we'd be able to draw parallels, it is presumed that everything is as it should be.

I have a few issues with this way of reasoning. Just because you call someone a teacher or leader or prophet, doesn't make them such. Also, in the biblical context, these are spoken of as gifts, ie things that God has given to build the body. It isn't vocations.

I firmly believe that God wants to have a real relationship with every human on this planet. He doesn't want to have a middle man. He doesn't need the priest anymore - in fact, we are all called priests. So, why do we still look to that man that stands at the front of our building every sunday for the answers?

If we believe God authored the original, why are we so scared to follow His lead in possibly realigning us with His original words, but rather we hold on with everything we have to our interpretation of scripture through the lenses of upholding what we have today.

I fear that this structure has been created and packed full of all the 'right' terminology - we have meetings (which ticks the gathering together box) and we call people elders and deacons (to tick that scriptural box), we champion the leaders and teachers, shepherds apostles and prophets, and name it when we see it, so we can tick that box. We have teaching and sing songs in our meetings, so that means we've ticked the teaching and worship boxes. We use rhetoric and manipulation to equate serving others to serving the church. We have people placed on pedastals as pastors and apostles, so that we look more like the 'early church', we encourage people to read your bible in quiet times, and to pray. And so we think we've ticked most of the boxes, we're getting it right. We're doing the stuff just as it says it in the scriptures.

But do we ever stop and ask ourselves 'why'? What is the purpose for all these things. And just because we call it something, does it mean we're really doing it? And just because it's all in this nice little prepackaged box doesn't mean these things aren't all freely available without the package or joining contract (as life outside the box of organised religion)?

I'd like to propose that we start looking to Father and begin to trust that He will bring us into 'church' as we focus on Him. That He is the main thing and that everything else will fall into place as we focus on Him, and allow Him to lead. That maybe then we won't need to make the meeting into a religion, because it will be happening naturally. That we won't need to define elders or place people on pulpits as intermediaries between us and God, but rather those further along the journey will serve as fathers guiding those a little further 'behind'. That the focus of these fathers will be, as Jesus did, to point others to the one Father. Maybe in that context, we will find things like missions, and love and community happening naturally and without force. and people with the gifting to prophecy, or interpret tongues or be apostolic or teach will do these as their giftings flow and as God leads them - not because their paycheck depends on it.

I think we need to ask ourselves - are we building and keeping this institution alive because it defines us too much, or do we have the freedom to let go of it and follow God as He leads us into where He is taking us (if where He is taking us is somewhere different to 'church as we know it').

All this said, I don't know that this is the road for everyone. There are many, if not most, that are content within the institution, and the grace of God is such that He meets us where we're at. If that means He has to put up with religiosity to get to us, I'm pretty sure He will do it, and does do it. I just feel that there is a better way. A way that proactively faces towards God, and follows where He leads, not where someone else says He might be based on their understanding of a book written 2000 years ago. He is alive and speaking to us today. Don't get me wrong, the bible is fantastic and true. But I am hesitant to believe 100% someone who's monthly salary is dependent on keeping the institution afloat to be totally objective with their understanding on the biblical perspective of the institutional church of today - I'd rather ask Dad what's up and take it from there..

I know some of you might feel I've taken a baseball bat to the piƱata that is the church, and this doesn't cover all my thoughts or feelings on this at all. I hope that, at least, it may serve as a starting point for discussion, and hopefully, might raise up some interesting questions or thoughts on it all.

What are your thoughts on what I've said? I'm eager to hear them - let's thrash it out in the comments!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another myth bites the dust...

Ever since I first listened to Wayne Jacobsen's Transition Series back in Feb/Mar this year a few things have happened. Firstly, my whole life changed. My understanding of God changed. My thoughts on the religious structure changed. And for the first time in my journey as a Christian, what I understood of God in my heart gelled with the description of Father that Wayne was detailing.

But it wasn't all farts and roses. There were a few things that, although I was elated if they were true, I wasn't sure Wayne debunked the original presupositions 100%. This is ok, because he was mostly focussing on detailing a better understanding of what the gospel is, and why we should be happy about it, and not on giving reasons to debunk the previous presupostitions.

One of the main issues that I've had a bit of a hard time with was the concept that the cross was a cure not a punishment. Although it was one of the most freeing things to hear, I'd always had a niggling feeling that there is something somewhere in the Bible that specifically talks of the cross as a punishment... because my spirit sat so right with the cure concept, I felt that if I was wrong, God would show me, and I'd rather believe something this freeing than hang onto the constrictive 'punishment' theory. It's been at the back of my mind ever since, slighty worrying me, but never really taking precedence, because I didn't have an answer on it.

Just a few months ago, I was having a chat with a woman in the congregation I'd left, who had always seemed to have a great understanding of God's love and grace, and seemed to express it in the way she lived. Her daughter and I are friends, and she'd mentioned how she's read the Shack and had been in contact with Wayne, so in talking to her mom, I told her how freeing I'd found Wayne's recalling the cross as a cure, and not as a punishment. Her reaction really suprised me. She kind of blurted that the cross as punishment is a biblical idea, and walked away.

If it did anything, it brought back the worry that this punishment thing is a solid biblically-based bit of dogma. As I liked the cure idea so much, I still didn't do much about it.. (woops) but recently on reading through the blogs in my rss reader, I came across a blog by one of my fellow bloggers, Rick Gibson, regarding "A 'Punishing God'?". Today I read his follow up to that post, which more directly discusses the problem of punishment vs cure in the context of the reason Jesus died.

I found it so helpful that I though I'd ping-back on the articles so whoever reads here can read it too.

One of the things that really helped was this: Rick says that there's only one verse in the bible that refers to punishment in the context of the cross. That verse is Isaiah 53:5 (in the NIV), and this is what he has to say about it:
In all of scripture there is only one verse that comes close to calling the cross 'God's punishment'. And that is Isaiah 53:5, yet even this verse uses a Hebrew word that is distinct from the word used for punishment. This word, muwcar, means chastening, correction, or instruction. This of course differs greatly from punishing someone for a criminal act. So you still have to bring your own presuppositions about 'punishment' to the text in order to read it that way (which, unfortunately, the NIV translators did). Excerpt from the article A 'Punishing God'? - Thoughts on the Cross and Forgiveness, Rick Gibson
This has been such a revelation and relief to me. I still want to make sure that it is the only 'punishment' scripture, but it's awesome to see (as I noted in another post) how God seems eager to settle my worries and point me to truth, be it with a soft assurance, an unspoken word or thought in my mind or someone's blog article.

It's a good feeling to know Dad is as excited on seeing me grow to know Him better as I am (read: immeasurably more than I could ever be)!

It may be a race, but that doesn’t mean it's a competition.

I have this recurring thought and it has haunted me for many years now. It is the worry that “I’m not where I ‘should’ be in my relationship with God”. Today, as it hit me again, I felt someone (read: Holy Spirit) point out that although this may sound like a valid relational question, as much as it may be disguised as one, it is actually a religious law-dripping question whose only fruit is condemnation.

I started thinking about why I feel this way and again something reminded me that oddly enough (or not so) this thought would come in the voice of one of the elders I had the most contact with in the religious establishment I recently left – and the same elder that felt it was his duty (and I’m sure he felt it was the right thing to help me) to express to me how badly he thought I was doing, and how I’d been wasting time the last few years messing around on figuring out who I am (it was prophesied that God wanted to work on my identity) instead of being more involved in ‘the life of the church’. The problem (in his eyes) was I wasn’t really going to ‘church’ or attending the weekly prayer or home-cell meetings regularly enough. Also, I was haphazard in most things church-lifey and made enough religious faux pas (and some very blatant ‘sins’) to warrant his dissatisfaction with me. And I do understand where he was coming from. From a religious ‘legal’ viewpoint, he had full right to be concerned and unhappy with my track record. But the thing is - we’re no longer living in condemnation and he’s judgment meant he was blind to what God was busy doing in my life. I am sure that if he had taken the time to be more involved in my life and actually dialogue with me instead of making conclusions from the sidelines (what might have helped is if he’d seen me as a fellow God-seeker, and not some mindless sheep that he needed to lead), he might have seen things as I’d been seeing them - differently. From my side, the past 3-4 years have been active God years. Most of them have been incredibly hard, out-in-the-desert type years - I’ve felt dry and hurt and far from God, I’ve felt confused, lost and alone, I’ve been wounded and rejected and sidelined - but I’ve always known He was there and I’ve always had the sense that He’s been doing a work in me. Truth is I have seen God grow me immensely in the last few years (so much so that I’d rather do the detail in another post someday), and it has resulted in me being closer to Him than I’ve ever been. One of the biggest things that has happened is that I have come from a place of over-reliance on the pastor and church leadership being ‘god’s voice’ and mediator between God and me to Dad cutting out the middleman (through some rather painful circumstances) and leading me to relying on Dad to guide me, and learning what it’s like to hear Him speak and learning to let Him be who He’s longed to be to me.

I’ve really come far over these years and stepping out of the religious box has only been some of that journey – outwardly, I think it’s been a big part – but it’s only been a small result of what Dad has been busy doing on the inside. That said, I know there is still so much more Dad is doing and going to do in me, and some of that is what I started the post about, the ‘not good enough’ complex Dad revealed to me today. As I thought about it, what hit me was that even though I’ve ‘left the building’ (out about 6 months now, although it’s been coming for a lot longer) I am still struggling to shake the religious dust off my feet. To some degree or another, I still feel like I’m caught in the religious rat-race of comparison and competition and ranking and gauging. I still subconsciously rank myself with those religious goggles, even if it’s just against some made-up ‘perfect’ ideal. And the whole thing stinks.

As I’ve been pondering on why I still struggle with this, I’ve realized that just because we’re “out of the religious setting” doesn’t mean we’re automatically out of the religious mindset. I suppose this ties in with Wayne’s remarks on how people who have ‘left the religious box’, wanting to start a ‘new improved’ house church thing often slip into the same religion just in different packing.

For me, this has shone a light on the slimy, squalid ‘how Christian are you’ mindset that is so prevalent in the religious environments I’ve been involved in. Shockingly, it’s so deeply set that it’s taken 20+ years for me to realize that it’s not actually a right and godly thing to yearn for, but that it’s actually a hellish mechanism that draws us away from God. It’s a lie draped in truth. It’s a snare that ensnares too many of God’s children. Sadly, today really is the first day I’ve realized that this mindset is actually wrong.

This whole thing strikes me as typical older brother behaviour, don’t you think? To constantly compare ourselves with the brothers and sisters around us, or even worse, against an imagined ‘perfect persona’ ideal is so typical of the older brother. Doesn’t this just show how ancient and entrenched in our religious dogma this mindset is!

For too long I have been beating myself up over ‘not being where I *should* be’ in my relationship with God. Funny thing is, I’ve never bothered to ask Dad if I’m where He wants me to be! (Sadly, just writing this welled up a sense that “I’m obviously not where He wants me to be, how could I ever be…” – oh how deeply entrenched this religious mindset lies!)

Thankfully, God is bringing me to this realization – it is one that I logically know, but it often gets drowned out by the religion-lies: He has me where he wants me. I’m at exactly the right place now that He wants me to be. I have realized (as obvious as it sounds) that it takes focusing on Him to change me, not on striving toward some unachievable, vague ‘perfect man’ ideal. That is just the law packaged in its oldest form. Where the law cries out: “Strive! Perform! Compete!”, I hear Dad whisper: “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you peace.” This grace-talk, this freedom-speak – it is revolutionary and so counter-cultural. It was 2000 years ago, and it still is today.

Where religion seeks to constantly bring us back to the law and condemnation, Dad seeks to take us into His freedom, into His life of abundant grace. This is the place of peace and joy. Isn’t this a scandalous gospel!

Tonight my heart’s cry is this: “God, please save me from my religious pride, and let me learn to rest in You”.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm a dad!!

Today, at 4:06am, I became a dad. Emi Jessicah Olivier was born a healthy 3.1Kg! I still can't believe it! :) it's been (what feels like) a long week, with a 2 false labours and then a very long induction, but she made it and she looks more beautiful than I imagined! I'm still all 'WOW!'.

But now I need some shuteye.. been up for +24hrs.. so starting to feel it.. still can't believe it's true!!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

So God made us in His image...

I've been thinking about this on and off for the last few months. It is actually something that has been on my mind since my previous to last post, which I wrote almost 3 months ago now I think (apologies for the long delay.. I've been incredibly busy - got 2 jobs all of a sudden, trying to get ready for the baby and all).

What's struck me is this: If we really are made in God's image, then conversely - how much of God do we humans reflect. Stated another way - By looking at mankind, how much can we say is a direct reflection of God?

I haven't done much study into this, and maybe some of what I'm saying will be 'duh' statements for some of you, but I really believe that 'made in the image of God' has little to do with surmising that God has 2 arms and 2 legs. It needs to have a whole lot more to do with our character, our relational attributes and our spiritual being.

What's really been interesting me though is that if we believe that God is the creator of all things, then the relational dynamics that we experience as human beings have to have their starting place in Him.

On a slightly different topic, I've been fast coming to the conclusion that everything we experience has it's place on a sliding scale between fully God and fully not God. What I mean by this, is that where love has God as it's purest origin, hate, or the lack of love (or 'love' only for selfish means - which by definition isn't love..) would be on the opposite scale - as sans God.

So, that said, I've come to understand that all our relational dynamics are either from or sans God, or somewhere in between. This, if we tie it into the original statement leads me to this:

If the concept of relationship comes from God. And if we, as humans are made in His image, then what can we deduce to be aspects that we might find in God's relational makeup and as part of His temperament?

We know that God is love. However, we (ok, I) find it hard to see God laughing, or having a good time. I still do - and it's something that Dad's working on. But I think as I thought of the things that make me, and us, as humans happy and satisfied, I started to think - it must be the parts of God in me.

As humans, the closer and more intimate and stable a relationship we have in our fellows, the happier and more content our souls are. Surely, if that is what are wired to feel happiness about, then, how much more wouldn't that be what God is longing to offer us, and what brings Him joy?

If we enjoy laughter, and happiness and real emotions, how much more does God enjoy those things? or at the least, enjoy it in us?

If, as parents, we are filled with pride when our child takes their first step or says 'mommy' or 'daddy' for the first time, how much MORE does God revel in the smallest thing that draws us to Him?

And on. I know there has been much talk of 'making God in our image' and that it's a negative thing. To some degree, I agree. But, surely we can look at how we are made. The good things at our core, and make some deductions that it would reflect the God who made us?

I know, to some degree, this should be something that 'goes without saying'. It should be the accepted norm. But I don't think it is.

When we think about it, we could come to this conclusion. If I had to ask the most 'angry-God' christian if God is love, their answer would most probably be yes. Mostly because it says so in the Bible. But that wouldn't mean that it was a reality in their lives. And I think for many Christians it isn't a reality. It has become a concept. Something 'out there', away from any real-life proof. We'll say we believe it, but if we had to think about it, we most probably don't. We read Jesus' parable about a father not giving his child a rock if he asks for bread, but we behave with God in a way as if we expect Him to give us the rock (all puns of Jesus being 'the Rock on which we stand' aside).

What I'm saying, is that I'm beginning to see God as 'human' in perfection (and eternity more than that) - but I mean it in that because He is God, He loves, He is patient, He rejoices over us, He is Kind, He gives all and expects nothing in return, He gathers us up as a hen with her chicks. He is the perfection of a loving Father, a caring husband. He offers us the perfection of intimacy and whole relationships. Everything good that our hearts long for is found in Him.

Yet we believe Him to be cruel, and just only so much as to have an excuse to punish us. We believe Him to be hard and cold. We believe Him to be distant and far-off. To give us rocks and snakes when we ask for bread. To treat us as exactly our sins deserve. How wrong we are!

These few months I've been realising how much we reflect (often incredibly poorly) our creator - and (shockingly) that the Bible actually speaks of our God in the same way.

I am once again in awe of Dad, as He reveals more of himself to me. I am also saddened as I repeatedly realise how much of Him I have so wrong. So skewed. So totally opposite to who He really is.

My hearts cry is that He will continue to change my heart to start understanding and seeing Him as He really is, and through that changing, that I will be changed to be more and more like Him!

Our first bundle of joy is almost here

So, my wife and I have been expecting our first child, and she was due on Thursday. So she's about 2 days over now, and we're getting tired of waiting! But we're very excited all the same. We've had a few 'she's coming, oh, wait she's not' moments, the last one early friday morning where we ended up in the hospital, only to be sent home again because all the signs stopped.

We've had a nice relaxed day and a half so far with little to no indications that she'd like to enter this world (her lateness makes it seem like she's taking after her dad in that regard).. but it's such a honour(read: Crazy scary and awesomely joyous) to think that I'll be responsible for this little person. To shape her and mould her into a well-adjusted woman one day. I'm very grateful that Dad's been taking us on this journey (well that I've realised that I'm on the journey..) - because I can't wait to share it with her!

We've decided to name her 'Emi'. It means 'smile' in Japanese (well that's what the baby book said.. ). I know that she's going to be a joy to us. We just wish she'd hurry up and arrive already..

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

wow, I've been sick lately. haven't been up for doing much at all. I'm hoping I can feel up to writing a decent entry soon enough. It's been pretty quiet around here the last little while.. where is everyone!? :)

ok, I'll write soon again, hopefully. Good news - my good buddy Tim and his wife, Suze is due home in October! yay!

...and we just hit 7weeks till the baby arrives! wow.. this is going so fast! soon I'm gonna be a bonefide daddy! It's a pretty scary thought.. haha

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The more I read of this guy, the more I love what he writes...

So, a few of the blogs I've been frequenting has been mentioning Jacques Ellul. In a previous post (near the bottom), I included a quote from an excerpt of a larger article.

I found this quote on a blog where the writer has been reviewing the books he's reading and this was a quick review of one of Jacques' books - The presence of the kingdom. As part of his review he had included a few quotes from the book. This is one that I just love:

“we have lost the meaning of true action, which is the testimony of a profound life, action which comes from the heart, which is the product of faith, and not of a myth, or of propaganda, or of mammon! what matters is to live, and not to act. in this world, this is a revolutionary attitude, for the world only desires (utilitarian) action, and has no desire for life at all. we cannot exaggerate the significance of the fact of being spiritually alive. we must cease to believe that life depends only on vitamins, hormones, and physical culture. we must get rid of the idea of ‘the sound mind in the sound body,’ which is only another way of getting rid of ‘life’ for the sake of ‘action’. that men should be alive, instead of being obsessed with action: it is at this point that means can be put in the right place. but to do this evidently means a complete break with all the tendencies of contemporary thought.” (p. 92) Ref: the presence of the kingdom: jacques ellul

On a different note, I've been actively asking Dad, whenever I read the bible, to show me what He wanted to say with it, and to remove my religious mindset. And I've been finding such new life in the scriptures! I've always loved reading (well over the last 5-10 years) and the bible has been a source of much thought and wrestling - especially the NT letters - they are full of explaining this Life. What I have been finding, is every passage that I've read so far that speaks of stuff we should 'do' always clarifies it by saying it's something the Holy Spirit does in us. I know I've written about this already, so I don't want to go on too long with it, but it's been really interesting. One verse that I think sums up where I am at the moment in my understanding of Dad is this: Romans 2v4 (in the NLT). How powerful is that verse!? God's kindness is meant to turn us from sin. Not the law! Paul actually goes on to say this: Romans 3v19-26, especially verse 20: For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

It's a strange feeling finding the basis for my beliefs in scripture, this plainly described - I've found that as I've started to see things from a different perspective, it's sat so right with my spirit, but I've almost been scared to read the Bible to back it up - not because I think the Bible is wrong, but because of the way I've been reading it in the past - I'm scared I'm going to read it with my religious glasses. I have continued to read and study - more so, actually, than in recent months, and it's been exciting, because I was almost expecting myself to be proved wrong - like I was just deluding myself and that my preconceptions of this life (and the seeming prevalent thought) was correct, and this 'new' revelation was way off. So finding scripture that puts things as plain as day has been uplifting and joyous! It's also a little depressing, because I'm left wondering how we've missed it as badly as we have for so long..

One thing's for sure, I'm loving this new revelation and what Dad is doing - He is SO faithful!

I was at Friends on father's day (this last Sunday) and the guy speaking quoted out of Romans 8. I carried on reading, and came to Romans 8:32, which traditionally has been of much encouragement, but as I read it, it threw me - in a bad way.

My thought process in the recent months regarding what Jesus' death was all about has moved away from (the more traditional understanding of) God sending Jesus as someone to take the brunt of His wrath (because God had to beat on someone) towards this: that out of love and in love, Jesus laid down His life so that we could be rescued from our Sin. An extension of this thought, is that God did not send Jesus, or command that He go, but that it was a mutual decision in love for their creation.

This revelation has been a big building block in my recent understanding of things and so the verse really sucked for me, because by Paul was saying that "it was great that God sent Jesus to die, and what more would He do for us", I was reading - "if He did not spare His only Son, what chance do we have that God would spare us" - which isn't too encouraging at all.

So, being a little distressed, I asked Dad to reveal what He was really saying - if there was another way of understanding the verse. And as I was sitting there, I felt it drop in my spirit: Because God loved us so much, He did not STOP Jesus from laying down His life. His overwhelming love for His Son, Jesus, did not cause Him to stop Jesus from dying, but because of Their love for us, He allowed Jesus to be the sacrifice that was needed to conquer Sin.

I was overwhelmed. I really couldn't see it any other way than "God sending Jesus to die", and here Dad dropped in my spirit an explanation that not only proved my preconceptions wrong, but brought life and encouragement back into that verse. It restored and boosted my faith!

It's amazing - every verse that I've come across that seems to be legalistic or have religious overtones - as I've asked God to reveal to me what He wants to say in it, I've been finding meanings that are contrary to what I had previously understood, and has brought life to my understanding of the bible, and is a joy to know that Dad does speak, and is as eager for this transformation into Him as I had hoped He was (actually He is unequivocally more so!).

Today's a day of good news!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Christian Marketing: Selling God with Hellfire and Altar Calls

*I think I might need to preface this with a comment I've started to realise about myself... As a generalisation, I seem to take what I'm wrestling with or thoughts I have and come across quite strong and sometimes negatively in the first few paragraphs. I've found, that I usually tend to explain exactly where I'm coming from, or at least (hopefully) ground the things I'm saying in grace, in the latter half of my post/diatribe. So please try read the first few paragraphs in light of the last few - ie - what I write as a whole, and not as 2 separate thoughts. Usually the first part is in the context of the second.

If you do feel I'm coming across too strongly or painting too broadly with something, feel free to address it, and I'll try better explain where I'm coming from...


I've been thinking on a strange thought lately - well a little strange to me - in that it sits somewhat contradicting my general status-quo. It's this: Are we doing people any favours when we advertise getting 'saved' as an escape from hell? The same question for the nice little altar-calls that modern Christianity is so famous for. How helpful are they really? I don't have a real answer to this - it's just something I've been pondering on - and to be honest, Dad can use anything to draw men to Him. But on the other hand I feel that firstly the whole 'escape the fire of hell' story falls so supremely far short of knowing God that it's like selling a Rolex watch only as 'something that can tell you the time'. As true as this may (or may not) be - that is never really the reason one would by a Rolex. In a similar way, accepting the gift of salvation has precious little to do with escaping hell and everything to do with learning to live in relationship with a loving God and Father.

My exception with the altar-call is a little harder to explain, although, again, I think where it doesn't sit right is that it often tends to fall short of what's really on offer. We seem to try and 'sell it' as a means to get people to 'join the club', like the more converts we get in, the bigger our 'souls commission' will be, like some elaborate pyramid marketing scheme. I suppose the simple fact that people are making a verbal commitment to accept the gift God is giving them is a at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it often just seems like a 'show of hands' and nothing much more. I think I've just experienced an increasing irritation with the seemingly 'pre-packaged' way we 'sell-off' this 'Christianity' thing to non-believers and the 'backslidden'. It feels so contrived, stale and life-less.

I'm not saying that no-one who's responded to the altar call has ever experienced God, I just think the whole process falls so far short of the type of thing that's on offer, although, unsurprisingly, it seems quite at home with the rather cold, stoic status of the religious club.

I rarely see someone being invited into a relationship with Abba, and I think from where I stand at the moment, if that's not what's being offered, then what's the point?

If you're a semi-regular reader of my blog, you'd know that semi-recently I've come to a place where my view of God and this whole thing we call Christianity has been seriously shaken up and turned upside down. In some ways it has been scary, but it's been life changing and exciting. I feel like for years (the last 10-15 years at least) my experience of God has almost been like looking at the back of a television. Every now and then, I might experience somthing, or get a slightly different view of God, but it's always been obscured and often plain wrong. I've felt in my gut there's something more to it. I've heard some of what's going on, but I've never had the right picture, until recently. Now it feels like someone's taken my hand and shown me that the 'TV' has another side to it- the intended side - where there's movement and excitement and I can see and hear clearer, and it all makes so much more sense.

I think that's why I'm so caught up on relationship with God. For me, I feel like I've been told that I should be happy with 'the back of the TV' - with a lacklustre Christian experience - or at least with the notion that my Christian experience is directly proportional to the amount of striving I put in. The lacklustre part was specifically because I wasn't 'trying hard enough' or wasn't 'doing the stuff'. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's been caught up in thinking the back of the TV is what it's all about, and we're missing out on SO MUCH MORE!

That's why I'm hesitant to try and get someone saved just for the sake of it, or even to 'save them from hell'. I'm starting to feel that I'd almost not get someone to 'say the prayer' unless they get (even on a small level) what's available to them, what they can look forward to, and hopefully they've seen the evidence of that Life lived out in my own life, and the life of others. I really don't want to sell them short. All too often we live life as if we are still slaves. As if we're just servants of an oppressive taskmaster, when this 'taskmaster' is more interested in being Father to us. He has robed us, put the ring of honour on our fingers and invited us into His house as sons and daughters!

And I want everyone to realise this. I want everyone to experience this boundless grace. This unwarranted mercy, this love from this Loving Father. It's still early days for me. I still have so much to learn and so far to travel, but for the first time in my life I feel like I'm really starting to 'run this race with my eyes on the prize' - and strangely enough, it's not tiring at all. It's nothing like the draining striving I've been used to - that rather unsurprisingly got me nowhere.

I think I've said this often enough already - but it's all about Him. What we do, say and how we live is all relative to our level of understanding of the perfect love that He has for us.

Ask Him to show you how. Ask Him to guide you. It may not happen immediately. It will most probably take time and it will, almost definitely, not be plain sailing or an easy ride. It's not the kind of thing you can plan ahead for, unless we're planning to be surprised.

He is faithful and He understands that we are not. He doesn't have any misconceptions or preconceptions about us. He knows us through and through. What we do or say or think doesn't surprise Him. His grace covers our weakness, and gives us the strength to stand. Let us keep our eyes on Him, our prize, as we live within His loving embrace.

a bit of news...

We had a friend from the States staying with us these past few days. She left tonight, and I think we're both (my wife and I) really going to miss her. I really feel God brought her into our lives, and she both enriched it, and did our dishes - often. I hope we've been as much of a blessing to her.

Also, I thought I'd mention that Underoath is coming to South Africa in September!! Look here or on the official underoath website. The tickets cost R200 (if you buy them before August) and are available through Computicket.

I really can't wait! September is going to be such an AWESOME month! We're having our first baby in the beginning of the month, and then Underoath to finish it off (they're playing the 23rd September in Cape Town, I think)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Where is the Love? old post revised

I had wanted to post this a while ago – around the end of May – and actually had it posted up for a little while, but then took it down because I felt it needed revising..

I've managed to go through it, and I think there's still some stuff in it that I want to say, so here it is:

A few things happened leading up to the original post that left me wondering: why is it that we who call ourselves "Christians" find it so hard to love others?

I had initially meant in the way Jesus loved others, but realized that I'm not even aiming that high. It seems that we, the Christians, the "Christ followers" often struggle to love others. And never mind our enemies. We struggle to love even those who claim to be one of us, a part of the church. We struggle to love the world that Jesus gave His life for (the 'lost') – the world that every one of us was a part of at one point or another.

True, there are times when we really step up to the plate (like the relief that has been given to the Xenaphobia refugees), but then again there are times when we drop the ball badly it seems we're pro actively encouraging hate and division.

So, the question I'm asking today is this: Why do we struggle to love others like Jesus did?

As I'm reviewing this post, I have the distinct sense that I need to tread lightly. It isn't my heart to stomp around like a self-righteous fool pointing fingers at "all the other" Christians, without a thought as to my actions. To be honest, I don't want to point fingers at all. However, I do think we have a problem with this. As Christians, Jesus left us with 2 simple instructions - actually one in the end: love your neighbor as you love yourself (I presume that Jesus took Loving God with our heart mind and strength as a given).

The problem is, I've recently experienced, and had an unsaved friend of mine experience, some people - active members in their congregation - behaving in a manner that was pretty devoid of love. This experience has really saddened me, because of the effect it has had on my friend. I don't wish to judge the others concerned, as any of us can behave in an unloving manner at any time, it some times just seems that it is our distractions, and poor understanding of Father that brings out the worst in us.

1 John 4:19 says in the NLT translation: "We love Him, because He loved us first." I think it may be somewhat safe to presume that the measure of our understanding of God's love for us, is directly proportionate to the level of love that we will be able to express to God and to others in return. So when we, as Christians, drop the ball on loving others, then quite possibly, it's because we've dropped the ball when it comes to understanding the love that the Father has for us.

What really gets to me, though, is that often the people in the world are doing a better job of loving others than we are. In some way, this might tie in to what Jesus said when He spoke about loving our enemies – and said something like: Don't be impressed if you love your friends and family – even the heathens do that. Unfortunately, it seems we find ourselves on the other side - with Jesus almost saying, look at the 'heathens' - even they love their friends and families - you guys need to get past that and further - don't think that you're doing great when you love the people that are easy to love. How often do we even get that bit wrong!?

I strongly feel that we need to have a revelation of the Father's heart and love for His children. And it's something I think God is eager to give us. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to complete the work that He started in us. We need to seek real relationship with a Father that loves us more than we can fathom. We need to learn to live in His peace that passes understanding. And in that place, the loving will come naturally. It will be as natural as "loving because He loved us first".

It won't be a religious act or something that we force or put on. It will be something natural. An obvious extension of where we find ourselves nestled in Dad's love. It is something that God does in us, as we allow Him to do it. He changes us from the inside out. I'd like to propose that it's not so much about gritting our teeth and doing the thing - it's about learning to rest in God's grace, and letting God do 'the thing' and more in you.

As I've read through the original post, I've realized how pretty darn bummed I was by what had happened (the situation mentioned a few paragraphs up).

I have been watching Dad slowly reveal himself to one of His children (this friend of ours) that doesn't quite understand what a real relationship with Him is all about. Most Christians most probably wouldn't call her a Christian. I don't know that she would either. She seems to be really struggling to give up what she thinks God requires of her to 'become a Christian'. Not that I think God is asking her to change her life on her own, because she really can't do that without Him doing it in her anyway. So I've been watching this process, as she comes nearer to God and then seems to fade away as she wrestles with her own preconceptions and misconceptions, and also I suppose a lot of it is that she simply likes the 'unsaved life' too much.

However, recently she came into contact with some Christian people, and the way they treated her, I fear, has hurt her and possibly pushed her further away from God again. Not that God can't use this for good. Or that she is now 'forever lost' and there is no hope. I think I've just seen this kind of thing so often. We often mean good - but seem to have blinkers on to people's hurts and longings, and just bulldoze through them for our own benefit (and often feel like we've done a good thing after)...

It's this kind of behavior that really saddens me. How have we gone so wrong? How have we managed to move our belief structures so far from a real living relationship with the I Am, to some stale, dead, actions-treadmill?
When did we give up love for duty?
When did we trade our hearts for the self-righteousness of activities?
When did we leave behind the only thing Jesus asked us to do, to serve the system?
What has happened to this body, this church? What have we done to Jesus' bride?
Why does it all remind me so much of the picture we get of the religious rulers in Jesus' day - thinking they were doing 'right' in the eyes of God, but yet they were so very far off the mark?

Today I am sad to call myself a "Christian".
A follower of Jesus? Yes.
A beloved son of the I Am? Yes.
But the stigma, even in my own eyes, when I think about "Christians" is so tarnished that, sadly, it repulses me.

I'm not saying that I'm more righteous or better than the people I've spoken about. I'm not talking about works at all. I think what I'm trying to say is this: we, as followers of Christ, need to refocus on God. It seems we've allowed so much to clutter our lives, and I'm not really referring to the dreaded 'worldy' stuff. I'm talking about the religion clubs. All the activities that are so very good at numbing us to anything real. We've been sold a bad replica, and many of us have bought it hook-line-and-sinker.

We need to look at ourselves again. We need to take stock of where we find ourselves. Is this thing we call Christianity really what Jesus modeled or called us to?

Is the thing we do on Sunday really going to get us where we want to go? We are sold it like that. We're sold the idea that if we just go to the meetings we'll be ok. We're sold the idea that if we do everything the leadership tells us, we'll be ok. We're so caught up in 'not getting it wrong' that we don't ever question whether we're ever getting it right.

We substitute relationship for meetings; love for accountability; submission for lording it over and hearing Dad speak to us for what someone wrote in the vision and values.

We created the Sunday morning meeting. It typically ranges (in Charismatic/Pentecostal circles) from 1 1/2 to 2hrs. It has a little bit of worship - maybe 1 song intro, then the announcements. 2-3 songs 'worship' then a good 40-50min preach. Then it's maybe have some coffee with those who stick around, and that's it for some of us till the next week.

I'm not sure when it was, but someone realised that if all we have is a Sunday meeting, we start getting dry around the middle of the week.. (I actually
heard a leader in a congregation I used to frequent say "you can't have a relationship with God, without going to Wednesday Life Groups") - I think it might be better to say - you can't score the necessary points with this congregation without the wednesday night thing. Besides, large 'corporate' meetings lack something of the relational.

So we introduced 'The Bible Study', the Church In The House, the Cell Group or Life Group - aimed at giving a more personal environment to hopefully build fellowship - which doesn't sound to bad - and wouldn't be too bad if that's really what it achieved. I'm not sure it's much more than a semi-random group of people thrown together and then structured it roughly on a sunday morning - a worship cd maybe playing in the background, then the announcements, some 'worship' songs and the leader gets to say speach (although sometimes the rest of the group - ie the loudest person (usually the 2IC) gets to say something), then it's prayer time where we all pray our own agendas and then maybe a few people stay for coffee, and some relationship time happens.

But, we realised that 2 meetings a week still wasn't enough. Maybe it's because it wasn't enough to 'carry us through' or it was that there wasn't enough 'activities' driving our subliminal works-based theology - but we figured we needed another meeting.

Enter the prayer meeting. Now some congregations aim it at the die-hards and make it for 6:30 in the morning.. although it seems most congregations in my area have opted for a more reasonable time of post 6pm in the evening. Strange thing is, maybe it's because prayer meetings have traditionally been such a hard-sell, but, in my old congregation, there was a definite subliminal current that if you aren't at the tuesday prayer meeting, you're not really part of the core "super righteous Christians" group. You might be doing the sunday morning and the wednesday group thing.. but tuesday prayer is really where it's at… (not to mention the post-prayer meeting leadership training time for everyone "because we're all leaders").

I think I need to clarify what I'm saying here by mentioning - I'm comparing this 'being at the meetings' drive against the prevalent lack of encouragement for people to have real active relationships with God. So I'm not saying that meetings in and of themselves are bad things. I'm not saying that prayer or 'corporate' prayer is a bad thing, I'm saying that I don't agree with the fact that all to often, 'being at the meetings' is the focus point and walking with people in their journey with God is ignored.

We seem so preoccupied with the things we should do. We keep on heaping up the activities. Heaping up the 'shoulds'. Hoping, I presume, that one day we'll find the optimum amount of things that we should do to have a fruitful walk with God. But I think we realise that isn't going to happen, so instead of looking at what we're doing and asking: "is this really where God wants us?", we change the goal posts. We change the requirements about learning to walk with and know Abba, to "how many meetings were you at this week?". What we've effectively done, is thrown out the baby, looked at the bathwater, and said "I'm sure there's a baby in here somewhere, so let's just call the bathwater the baby - that way it'll feel like we're winning".

But I think somewhere inside we know it's not enough. It will never be enough. We can try doing stuff until we roll over dead, and we still won't be doing enough, because it isn't about the "doing" at all. It's kind of like trying to make a cake, but doing so in the garage and only using wood and screws for ingredients. You're never ever going to get there. You'll make something that might look like a cake. If you're really good, it might even smell a bit like a cake, but it will never ever BE a cake.

Dad is calling us - and has been calling us - to a full vibrant life of relationship. A life where we rely on Him. Where we find who we are in Him and by what He is doing in us. It's a life full of surprises and excitement and joy and Life. It's about Him abiding IN us and.. here's the shocker.. us IN HIM (Them)! We are called to a life lived in joyous relationship with Abba, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That is our destiny. That is what we are called and encouraged on to. It's not some dry desert-life of duties, activities and 'shoulds'. It is so very very much more than that.

I wish I could explain this better, and I hope if you're reading this it doesn't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Meetings work for some people. They are often helpful in giving a regular place for people to go and get into fellowship with fellow Jesus-followers. However, when the meetings start becoming the reason for having the meetings, then we're treading on dangerous ground.

My hope is that if you find yourself disagreeing with much of what I'm alluding to, by 'bashing the meetings' that you will hear my heart, and start thinking about the reason we have these meetings, and if they really are accomplishing what we want them to.

I'd encourage you to take stock of your relationship with God, and if it's really where you hope it to be. God is holding out the best gift any human being could wish for. He is opening up His heart, and offering us to abide with Him, in Him. We are called to the fullness of this relationship. It is our destiny.

Let God draw you into a deeper relationship with Him, which doesn't rely on meetings to get you through the week, it relies on Him. Where you don't go to 'your leaders' for direction on every turn, but you go to Him, and learn to hear His voice for yourself. I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to people for advice or get a well grounded opinion, but I strongly believe that it should be only that - an opinion or wise words - the guidance and direction should come from Dad. Jesus said - my sheep know my voice - so if we really are His sheep - let's learn to hear Him when He speaks.

Again, I say, God is holding out to you the offer of real relationship. Relationship like nothing you've ever experienced - and I mean that in a good way. It isn't non-existant relationship, but rather perfect relationship. Deeper than any other relationship you've ever experienced. I'd like to offer some resources that have helped me to begin to comprehend what Dad really has for us, and what I have in Him. I've already done a post about some of the stuff,

here, although I'd like to also make a mention of Baxter's blog and Perichoresis (especially this), oh, and I've just started reading some stuff by Jaques Ellul which I have been finding very insightful.

oh yes - and The Shack. That book has had a profound impact on my view of Dad and how much He loves me and wants to be active in my life.

Sadly, I honestly think we so often miss what Dad planned for us when we look at things through our religious eyes. So often, when we read the Bible we read condemnation and 'things we need to do' and then gloss over the numerous places of God promising to do it in us, or Jesus saying 'It's finished' or the fact that 'there is now NO MORE CONDEMNATION'!! Something inside us thinks- that can't really be true? God can't seriously love me that much? He can't seriously expect nothing from me.

I'd like to say - that view diminishes who God is. God, Himself, says He is something different; yet we don't trust Him enough to believe that - we rather prefer the sinful control that religion gives us. Relationship is not about controlling. Love is not about controlling. It's all about submitting. In love God submits to us. And we, in love submit to Him. That's what it's about.

I will leave you with this on brief extract on belief systems as opposed to faith by Jacques Ellul :

Belief relates to things, to realities, to behaviors that are raised to the status of an ultimate value that it worthy dying for. Belief transforms next-to-last human realities into ultimate, absolute, foundational realities. It turns everything that belongs to the order of the Promise, of God Word, of the Kingdom into epiphenomena, into sweet pious words, ways of making life easier, and a process of self-justification. Faith runs totally counter to this. To begin with, faith acknowledges the Ultimate in all its irrefragable truth, and so it depreciates and attaches little importance to whatever offers itself as a substitute for that Ultimate. It is not a matter of looking to some external ultimate reality; the Kingdom of heaven is (at present) in you or among you. As of now it is you who constitute it. Faith is the demand that we must incarnate the Kingdom of God now in this world and this age.

Jacques Ellul (read the rest here)

Your brother in Abba,


The problem of a loving god

So, a friend of my brother in law wrote a comment on my previous entry, "Does God's command to Love Him, by it's very existance, render it an impossibility?", and he has a question/dilemma that I'd like to look at in more depth.

I'll repost the important stuff from his comment here to make life a little easier:
...I've really been struggling with this question lately, maybe even to a further extreme than your blog deals with it. Here's my problem:

I feel like I do have a choice whether or not to love and follow God. However, it's a pretty crummy choice. What sort of love would it be if I told my wife "you can love me or not love me, it's your choice. I want you to choose to love me so I know your love is real and we can have a good life together. If you choose not to love me, that will hurt me but ultimately it is your decision. By the way, if you choose not to love me, I'm going to cast you into a lake of fire where you can burn forever." That's where I'm really hung up... I feel like that is the choice God has given us. How can there be any true love of God when the alternative to loving him is eternal damnation? What sort of loving being offers his creation a choice like that?
Anyway... that's what I've really been struggling with. I appreciate your blog and look forward to more posts, and if you have any input about my comment I would definitely welcome it.

Ethan Cornelius
[emphasis mine]

Ok, so to address this properly, I think it's best to start at the beginning with the preconceptions that make up where I feel you're coming from:

1. First off, I think I'll try tackle the eternal damnation thing, just because it's something I've been thinking about. I know this is a little left-field, but a good friend of mine that I trust as a strong theologian once said something about hell as we understand it isn't actually a Biblical thing. Now, unfortunately, I don't have any real references - although it is something I'm planning to follow up with him on - and I'll share what I learn and the resources I get when I get them - but I thought I'd get that in here - maybe Hell and eternal damnation isn't really what we think it is.

Following on from that thought, a very close friend of mine just posted an interesting post here [check out my comment as well, as I don't feel like repeating it here] talking about a very interesting thought where Jesus says something like "the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, or the children of God" - his comment (referencing Shane Claiborne) was that gates don't do much attacking.. so possibly - it's the Church [God's people] that will be attacking the Gates of Hell and -possibly- rescuing those deceived by the deceiver.

Take a look at the post, he does a better, more in depth, job of explaining it - and I've commented on this a bit better there too, but I think it's a very interesting and alternate view on the whole God sending people to hell thing.

Something else that I've been thinking on is this: Why do we always presume that it's God (and by that I mean God-the-Father) that will do all the judging? We seem to see God as this harsh and horrible being, and Jesus, as our advocate trying to stave off His wrath over us, and we are all hoping that when it comes to judgement day, that Jesus will hopefully be able to stave off God's wrath on those that have said the little prayer...

Where do we get this from!? The Bible specifically says on a few occasions that Jesus is the one that will be judging, not God the Father - so if we should be fearing anyone - then I suppose, it should be Jesus. But He died for us - and actually, I believe that by Him being fully God, God died for us - including the Father and the Spirit. In some plane of reality, the Godhead laid themselves down to save their creation. As an aside from this aside, 1 John 4:18 plainly states that if we fear, it is for fear of punishment - and this fear shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. Earlier in the verse, John says - perfect love drives out all fear - so as our understanding of God's perfect love for us grows, so our fear should dissipate.

So, I hope I've placed some doubt as to whether there is such a thing as hell in the sense of a place of eternal damnation where people will be 'dying forever' in hellish pain and suffering.

I know I haven't done a good job of explaining it away, but if you are happy to take my word on it for now (I will supply the alternate arguments or references when I get them), there's a chance that Hell isn't actually an eternal place, as we often think it to be.

2. I think some of the problem with your question, is a warped perspective of God. I like what Marc said in his comment, although, I look at the whole "wages of sin" thing a little differently. I'm not so sure that it is "God being just" that brings about the "wages of sin being death". I think the "wages of sin" term is better understood in the same sense as the wages of cancer is death. What I'm meaning is that I think what it is saying is that the logical [and only] outcome of being entrapped in Sin is Death. And we chose that, by rejecting God's request/command in the garden. It wasn't something God placed us in, it's something that we ourselves moved into. Albeit, God could possibly have never placed the tree there in the first place, but then where would our free choice be - and how could we ever really choose Him. I think in His wisdom, He allowed us to make that choice so that we could make the choice to choose Him again - as I fully believe God is all about relationship.

I think that a better picture is this: We were stuck, naked and starving, feeding the pigs of a foreign slavemaster, and God paid the price for us, and offered us a place in His house as sons and daughters, embracing us in our stench and squallor, and in that place, He is offering us a Life of relationship and habitation in Him, and I believe that the gospels are full of these pictures of God as a lavishly loving Father - in the true sense of the word. What I mean by this is that He isn't loving in some arbitrary alternate manner that we don't really understand. He is loving in a 1 Cor 13 kind of way. He is loving in the sense that we know in our hearts a loving person should be. But He is also infinitely wise, and does what is the best for us, and so I think sometimes it is possible, in our finite, foolish wisdom, to misconstrue what God is doing as something that might seem unfair or unloving. Like a father that forbids his child from consuming a 2kg tub of ice cream, for instance - or stops a toddler from touching a hot stove - the child doesn't get why he can't get his own way, and may in some ways feel that his father is being unfair, yet even our wisdom knows that the father is in the right and that what he is doing is out of love for his child.

I was listening to Wayne Jacobsen's Tranformation series [link and more resources I've found helpful here], and he does such a great job of describing the cross as a cure and not punishment. That Jesus laid down His life for us as a reflection of His words: "the greatest thing a friend can do for another is lay down his life" [paraphrased] - so it was clearly as an extension of relationship. It was as if God saw a cancer in mankind that was destroying us, and yet none of us could withstand the Chemo (God's wrath) that would kill it . The only person that could withstand it long enough to destroy the cancer, was God incarnate, and so Jesus came to earth and took that Sin upon Him, effectively defeating the cancer that plagued mankind, and thus giving us Life again, and reuniting us with the Father.

This is just a side thought and something that just came to me, but if the wages of Sin is Death, and that Death is not just the 'falling asleep' kind of death (as Jesus put it) then, could it be that it is a Death that is the antithesis of Life?

So if Life in the bearer of it is eternal, then could Death in the bearer mean temporary life? Could it be that God created mankind as eternal beings when He breathed Life into us, but Sin brought Death upon us, which removed the eternal Life and replaced it with temporary life. Seeing as God is an eternal being, it would be impossible for us in Death to ever have eternal Life with Him. And so the act of reuniting man to God wasn't so much appeasing God's disdain and blood-lust, but rather, by gaining victory over death, Jesus enabled mankind to be eternal beings once more - and thereby we are able to live in the relationship that He offers us?

I don't know if I've really managed to answer your question, or given you an alternate perspective, but I think when our view of god is as you have in your question, we will always end up with a god that is neither very nice nor particularly loving. We end up with somewhat of an abusive god, dolling out nice things when we think we're doing well, but always dangling the "I'll douse you in fuel and set you on fire if you step out of line" threat above our heads.

And that is why I think we need to take an alternate view of God. To step to one side as it were and start re-aligning our view of God with what He says of himself, both Biblically and through the Spirit in our hearts.

Ethan - I hope this helps - I'm keen to hear your thoughts on this as we walk towards a better understanding of Dad..

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cam, in real life

So, I watched Dan in real life last night. And besides being a touching and valuable comment on family and relationships, I thought the last line of the film really touched something about the way we should see life as God-followers as opposed to the traditional world-driven religious 'Christian' view.. (haha wow that's a laden sentence)..

I don't want to give too much of the film or its ending away, but this fits within the premise of the story - Dan is a column writer for a column called "Dan in real life" and the film ends off with him dictating his latest entry, and saying how he wants to talk about plans - and more specifically what he calls life plans.. and he says a few things, but then says something more or less like this.. ..yay - i looked and actually found the quote! (here). The quote is: "Instead of telling our young people to plan ahead, we should tell them to plan to be surprised."

Isn't that such a flip on the head of our usual drive!? Because for so many of us, it's all about the plan! About your 5-year plan, about what you're going to do with your life, even about what God's plan for your life is (how that question has plagued me!!). We badger matriculants about their plans. About what they're doing with their lives and about what we think they should be doing - yet how many of our lives have ever 'gone to plan'!? What is it about this western world that makes us so pre-occupied with eradicating all risk - and as a result - so much of the joy and excitement of life!? The best advice my religious leaders could give me was completing the 'blue print' - which was really just a slightly more descriptive 5 year plan. I never actually got round to doing it - and boy did I feel that I just wasn't where I should or could be - because I never did the stuff. And this isn't just about the younger people.

I suppose, I should preface this by saying - I don't think it's wrong to decide what to study, or what job to take. I'm not advocating sitting on our proverbial behinds and doing nothing.

BUT. How about planning to be surprised!? How about it? How about planning to live in the unforced rhythms of God's grace. How about planning to do THAT!? Why would my leaders point me to some blank piece of paper for me to decide, when there is a living God waiting to light my path?

I think so many of us just have a bad attitude. We despise surprises. it's uncomfortable. But what if we changed our attitude. What if we embraced surprise. What if.. we rather planned to be surprised?

If we were honest with ourselves - how many of the plans we had for us that have been brought to fruition have really left us feeling happy and fulfilled? And how many of the plans we've had have really ever been brought to fruition?

Life isn't something we can plan. It's not something that we can map out and predetermine. The shame is that when we do approach it like that we more often than not get bogged down in our confined religious views, dogma and mindsets, and miss out on the life of surprise and fullness that Dad has for us (for I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord..).

I'm so much more amped on a real life relationship with my Abba-Dad, learning to live in His plans, to hear His heartbeat, and to rest in what He has laid out for me.

He has this wonderful gift for all of us. Why do we so often sell ourselves short of this? We take the "salvation" - but to what end? To return to living life on our terms!? We are like the Israelites on being saved from Egypt who continuously wanted to return. And then when they had the chance to enter the 'land of milk and honey' chose the desert because it felt 'safer'.

Are we really THAT blind? God didn't save us for the desert people. He saved us for the 'milk and honey' of real close relationship with HIM! Yet we pass it off for the dry, bland desert-life of religion where food or drink that nourishes is always hard to find. Is God with us in the desert? YES - but that isn't where He longs for us to be!! And I am so scared that if we aren't careful - many of us will die (and have died) in that place.

We need to be that people that embraces what God has for us. What He has saved us for - a life FULL of relationship with Papa, Jesus and Sarayu (you will need to read The Shack to get that reference...).

What a full and joyous life this is going to be! This journey that beckons us all!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

so, I was going to write a bunch on my thoughts on church...

...and I have many. I was really eager to get it all written down and hopefully draw some discussion out of it, but I felt Dad was saying that now is not the right time.. so I'll wait on it.

The truth is, what the church is or isn't is not what I'm passionate about and maybe discussing it now would withdraw from the fact that I'm falling more and more in love with HIM. What I'm most passionate about, is having a real and deeper relationship with Abba-Dad.

I'm experiencing such a great sense of freedom and acceptance in God. It's still early days, but I've really found a peace and joy in the first few steps I've taken in having real relationship with Abba. And it's just getting better and better.

To be honest, it's all about relationship with DAD. It's not really about anything else. The rest will come. It will follow, but until we get this right, we're chasing after our dirty rags. Actually, what I meant to say.. is until we let DAD get this right in us, we'll just be chasing after our dirty rags.

This God journey is something that Dad takes us on. It's something that He starts and it's something that He brings to completion in Him. And so, if something I'm writing here draws your heart to HIM, then I'm achieving what my heart for this is. I strongly believe Dad is with each of us as we are all on this journey at different stages, and so if I can help facilitate that journey, then wow! that's what it's about!

What I've realised is - without Him IN my life, without DAD as an ongoing reality, without my life being truly and openly intertwined with His, anything I do, really is dirty rags. It really is a waste of time.

That doesn't mean I have to rush into this, going as fast as I can to get to the goal. Well maybe it does. But when that goal is a deeper relationship with DAD, that HE Himself is growing in my life through my availability to him - then the 'going as fast as I can' is only to get me to a place of being open and able to rest in Him and what He is doing at this time.

So, as I understand it as this: If Dad hasn't called me to something, the reason for being involved is fruitless. That is so incredibly freeing! By extension - if Dad has called me to something - as much as I can within where I am on this journey - I will be there!
What I mean by this - is I'm sure there will be times when I get this wrong - where I might miss something that Dad has called me to, or get involved in something that Dad hasn't called me to - but the truth is - Dad has the grace for that! The joy of being on the receiving end of a perfect expression of a Corinthians 13 love relationship, there is all the freedom within that to mess up, and ironically enough - it's that freedom to mess up totally that gives us the strength to carry on towards this goal of full relationship with Him - it's God's love that compels us -when we are weak - then we are strong.

to end with a cliche.. it's not about doing. it's about being.
it's about living this life connected to God and trusting Him to do the rest. He is faithful to complete what he has started in us.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'm redefining "church" as...

...the interconnectedness of people who are related to God.

I just love that thought!
Why are we so stuck in church as that thing some of us do on sundays?

Maybe - just maybe - we should let God define who and what His people are, for a change...

Some resources I've been drinking deeply of

In the light of my new found life in Dad, I thought I'd post some of the websites and resources that I've found enlightening and that has really helped me shake off the shackles that have kept me in a controlling religious mindset for so long.

The thoughts and ideas expressed in these pages and audio downloads have had a revolutionary effect on my heart and thoughts about God, and has ultimately helped me realise there is a better way.

Please take some time to dive into the following. Much of it is audio download, and as such, can be heavy on us who don't have unlimited bandwidth. I have a lot of this downloaded already or from friends, so if you are in South Africa, and need me to write you a cd or dvd, please let me know (it is all freely available).

Ok, without much more ado, here are those links:
The God Journey:
Better yet - their Archive page:
The God Journey is a more-or-less weekly podcast by Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, and is an ever-expanding conversation about life and thinking outside the box of what we've always known (in regards religion and relationship with God)

It's a website with a lot of resources about living in a fresh understanding of God. Also by wayne jacobsen, and has a bunch of resources. The good place to start is here - it's a seminar that explains and lays out this revolutionary way of thinking. It's a free download. There's 8 sessions at about 20Mb each, but is well worth the bandwidth! I have a copy of the full seminar if anyone wants it.

It was this seminar that has really turned my life around - I strongly recommend this to anyone and everyone!

The Shack
This is an amazing book. It is available in South Africa - I presume at most of the current Christian bookshops.

The website has more information, as well as a few bits and pieces that you can read to get an idea of the story.

I'm in the process of reading this, and it really is profound.

Jake Colsen
Jake Colsen is actually 2 authors (Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman), who wrote an internet-based book (which has now been printed) - and is available as a free pdf download on this page or download it directly here.

As much as I can remember, that's it for now - but there really is so much there. Let me know if you have any thoughts - positive or negative.

One other thing - most of these websites have blogs and forums too - so it's worth looking through that for more resources and ideas and people's responses to these things..

That's it for now!

Does God's command to Love Him, by it's very existance, render it an impossibility?

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine, and some of what we discussed was Jesus' summing up the commandments in "Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul and mind and your neighbour as yourself" and His follow up command with "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you". Both paraphrased, and sorry for no reference.

But we got talking about this, and I said in part that I don't believe that it's possible to command someone to love you. The very notion of (true) love, is that it happens without command or expectations. And if we were to think of any relationship where one person commands the other to love them, it would be a very unhealthy relationship indeed.

That was more or less the gist of what I said, but my friend didn't say too much about it then. This morning though, I received an email with his thoughts on this topic. I will post them below and then after that, I'll give my reply - which is rather long and deviates a little but I think in the end gives a very good starting point for where I find myself at the moment in my understanding of God and how I (we) relate to Him, and in some ways - what I believe His ideal plan for humanity is.

Again - Comments are more than encouraged, as this is something that is very fresh to me, and I am very eager to discuss and work through these issues with whoever wishes to discuss them...

I was thinking about the question, can you command somebody to love you?

I had these thoughts:

1. Yes, because God already has issued a command to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind and strength

2. Yes, because Jesus said, a new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you

3. There must be a reason that God /Jesus issues such commands: possibly ...............................

a. To communicate the boundaries within which God designed us to live full lives

b. To provoke us to think about it so deeply that we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of gaps in our hearts or minds or capacity to make wise choices

c. To allow the Holy Spirit to draw us to the Father (The Word of God is living and active ..........)

Thee are probably other reasons but I end up with the conclusion that God has commanded (that does not set a precedent for people to command other people) that we love Him, therefore I take note of that which limits my love and make wise choices to break through those limits into John 10:10’s life in abundance.

There are some started thoughts not a theological thesis, but they challenge me.

This was my reply...

In response to your thoughts.. I'm not sure that I agree 100%. I'm hesitant to argue something that doesn't have necessarily have a well defined answer.. but I do believe that this particular point is of paramount importance to our understanding of who God is and how we relate to him. In some ways, I think this might just be an issue of semantics, but I also feel there is a lot more to it than just words.

I hear what you are saying, however I'm hesitant to believe that God would ever command someone to love him (in the sense of a commandment or rule).

I still feel that a commandment to love in itself negates the ability to love and rather it lends itself towards a very unhealthy and manipulative relationship. None of which I believe is God's heart.

Right through the biblical history of mankind, I see God's heart is for a people who love Him. He made Adam and Eve for relationship. When that broke down, he chose for himself a people. When they rejected him, and chose Moses and then later the kings as mediators, you can sense God's pain in that rejection. Then He sent himself to earth and confined Himself to the constraints of our humanity and made the greatest sacrifice possible to restore that relationship. I am extremely hesitant to presume that in this utmost of expressions of love, God would then command us to love Him?

The way I see it - is that the command to love was a figure of speech - I see it as Jesus saying - in the old covenant, these are the hundreds of laws I expected you to follow - but in this new covenant, all I want is your love - I don't expect anything more.

I don't know the specific scriptures, but I believe there are sufficient supporting scriptures for this. I think it was Paul who spoke about us loving him because he first loved us. I don't think that's an intangible idea that calls us to love this God because he loves us, I think that it is our growing understanding of how much He really loves us that enables us to love Him. There are many places in the gospels and I think the letters that speaks about things we 'should' do, but then goes on to say that we can't achieve it without God's intervention..

So I think that even if God has 'commanded' us to love him it's a command that we can't complete without Him doing it in us.

I'm fast realising that unless we are specifically doing something that God has called us to, we're labouring in vain.

I still don' see how it is possible to love someone as Jesus loved us - or His disciples - without Him doing the work within us.

I don't see that God relates to us (when on a father/friend/brother/bridegroom level) that is anything but way more than we can think or conceive of the 'perfect' manner of relationship that we could have with another human. Jesus often says 'how much more' in the context of human relationships and how God interacts with us. He lived out God's love for mankind, and it was through that relationship that the humans around him were drawn to know and love him.

I cannot conceive that God would really command anyone to love Him and actually mean it as a command (in the way we understand it - something that we have to do to achieve acceptance or acknowledgement). If this was His goal, then he could easily have created a bunch of beings that loved him as a default setting - in some ways that would have been better than creating beings who have the freedom not to love him in the semblance of choice, and then command them to love him.

Is it good to love God? YES! Is it what we were created to do? YES! Is it something that God longs for with everything in him? YES, I believe so.

But I struggle to see how love can be real and untainted when it is a command or action that we are required to do.

Regarding your possible reasons for these commands:
a. I don't think that we can live full lives outside of God's love. But I also don't think we can live full lives when we see loving God as a command we have to strive to live up to. I think that knowing and loving God is something we are called to, and something that we were made for - and that it is a real and tangible relationship which is defined in knowing Him.

b. I think it's the other way round. I believe that it is the Holy Spirit that will quicken things in our hearts that will point us more and more towards God. And through this process of truly understanding His love for us, we will grow in our love and understanding of Him.

c. Again, I think that it's the Holy Spirit drawing us to the Father that enables us to love Him, not actioning the command to love him that enables the Holy Spirit to draw us. I really struggle to see love as something we are forced or required to do. As much as love is an action - it is so much more than that! Love presumes relationship, and no healthy loving relationship is defined by rules or regulations or actions that should or shouldn't be accomplished. A truly healthy relationship is surely defined by untainted boundless love for each person in the relationship. It is for the longing for the betterment of the other person. It is in all it's glory Corinthians 13. And that is how God sees and behaves towards us. And it is the revelation of that which empowers us to behave in a reciprocal manner with God and with those around us.

I believe it was God in Jesus and Jesus' understanding of God's love for Him that enabled Him to love us as much as He did.
God never commanded Jesus to love Him, it was a natural process, not a contrived one.

I hope I'm making sense. And sorry if I sound passionate. It is something that is very close to my heart, and something that I long for everyone else to have a similar revelation of.

I think there's more to this than what I've said. There's also much more to my thought process in getting to this place. Where I am at the moment - is I'm slowly experiencing more and more of God's love for me, and a lot of my previous preconceptions are falling away. There has been so much that was in my spirit that I couldn't bring together with my previous world view, but all of a sudden, it's as if the veil has fallen and I'm seeing things clearer. I'm starting to see God once more as the author and finisher of my faith. I'm better understanding the promise that Jesus will continue the work He started in me, and that I (grow to) love Him, as (I comprehend how much) He loves me.

I've realised it's not about works or actions or things. That it's not about doing so much as it is about being. That I shouldn't busy myself with things I think (or have been told by others) to do to be a better christian - as even my best works are as dirty rags - but rather as I am drawn closer to God and as my relationship with Him grows closer, I will end up doing what I see my Father do.

I don't have all the answers, but I'm not too worried. I have sufficient to see the next few steps ahead, and I firmly believe my Dad is there with me to guide me along the way. This is a journey and it's not something I'm destined to get right first time every time. I think for the longest time I've been caught up in 'doing stuff' - or feeling condemned when I wasn't 'doing stuff', but in it all I never knew Jesus. I have been so scared of that verse where Jesus says to people who confessed that they did all these things in His name - that he never KNEW them. It's this and a growing realisation that relationship is not only possible, it's my destiny, that has helped me start to let go of the things that hinder, and run hard for the prize.

When the prize is the deepest relationship with Jesus/Dad/Spirit that I can have, running the race, and keeping my eyes on that prize only get's easier and easier the closer I get.

I know I've digressed a little - but this has been good for me to write :) - I'm at a place at the moment where I have very little nailed down, the paint is still fresh, and although I feel I have the revelation in my heart, the words in my head are still taking a while to form - and writing it out like this has been very helpful to me! :) I hope it helps you understand in part where I am at and gives some context for the way I am beginning to understand how the love commandment and everything else fits together...

That was where I ended off.. I know this is a mighty chunk of words, but I really look forward to any comments or thoughts you might have on this...