Believing stories

It’s hot, and the three men are tired. Two of them are men, anyway. The third is much younger, yet he has seen a harder time than many would in their lifetime. He has just finished telling his story. The others are incredulous. Surely this tale cannot be real.

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[Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that this post follows this one from a few days ago. I’ve been thinking about stories and their significance recently, and some of those reflections are making their way into blog posts. These first two are a tad more abstract. The next one, maybe two, will hopefully bring it back to the real world. Basically the point of the first post was that stories are powerful and have real impact on those who engage with them. Stories are an essential tool of making sense of information. Because of this, it helps us make sense of events, history, and our own experiences and identity. The power of stories can be anything from the enthralling tales in Tolkien’s fantasy to didactic myths and fables to singing a story in song. Even a simple metaphor with descriptive language could be seen as use of story to illuminate a more abstract idea (“Reaching new heights like a bird in a spaceship”). Now you’re up to speed – read on!]

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Yours Truly: MYC Musing #4

If you’ve been in the loop these last few days, I probably won’t be the first to tell you that Sydney has a new Anglican Archbishop. Dr Glenn Davies has been elected to serve the church (and the city) coming off the back of Peter Jensen’s 12 years. Predictably, he’s been getting the call-up of the media. Tonight, that meant appearing on ABC’s opinion show “The Drum”. Alongside expected discussion of his view of headship in marriage and church (which he handled graciously and clearly despite the usual scepticism), asylum seeker policy came up.

[A quick note: I know a lot of people are angered by the current policies and approaches regarding asylum seekers. This is also true for myself. This post doesn’t go into that, but I would recommend  the piece written by Julian Burnside in SMH (HERE)].

As he did in an interview a couple of days ago, Glenn Davies offered a different perspective. He didn’t outline policy specifics or make practical suggestions, but merely appealed for humane and compassionate treatment of asylum seekers, rather than debasement.

As he explained it, not only do we ship people around to various insufficient solutions, but we deny them a vital aspect of their humanity: work, opportunity for expression, creativity. People have very little, if anything to do. There is no meaningful occupation, no purpose.

This caused me to think back to Kamal’s first talk on MYC.  I’m going to walk through a few ideas that he talked about. Continue reading

Tolerance – MYC Musing #3

Lawrence Krauss is one of the biggest-name atheists out there, up with Dawkins and Hitchens. He’s of that school of thought branded “New Atheism”, which sets up science and faith against one another, and casts religious belief as both objectively and morally wrong.

In my opinion, there are a lot of holes, inconsistencies and problems with New Atheism. And there may be a post coming along those lines  – the initial draft of this blog turned much more in that direction than intended. If you want to look a little bit into the insufficiency of the New Atheism, look for books, debates etc by John Lennox.

Krauss is in Australia for several discussions about faith and science with William Lane Craig, who is out to be involved with the Your God mission. A quick plug: Lane Craig is speaking at Macquarie Uni on Monday (1pm, Drysdale Room), and several times at other campuses around Sydney. Google will help you out. See if you can get along to one of them.

Anyhow, we were talking at MYC about tolerance and love. Something that Krauss has said came to mind. He said that teaching creationism is child abuse, The episode of QandA with Krauss and Dickson featured some discussion around this point.

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Philippians 4: Meta.

Earlier this year, I was reflecting on Philippians. I never got around to chapter 4 as my mind was occupied with more pressing issues in my walk with God. So here we are. I’m finishing off with 2 more posts; this one about chapter 4, and one to wrap it up. Straight in.

There’s so much in this chapter! Conflict in the church, the nature of prayer, the attitude we have towards giving and service, living in poverty and abundance, the affection of Paul for his fellow workers in the gospel. And so much more. Have a dig for yourself – that’ll do you more good than reading my thoughts. Seriously, go read it. Then you can come back and read the rest of this. Go.

You’re back? Sweet.

I’ve written this previously, but I think it’s sometimes really tough to come to grips with what the bible says about worry and joy. Here in Philippians 4, it is just as enigmatic as Matthew 6, 1 Peter and so on. Don’t worry. Don’t stress about suffering. Just rejoice. Chatting to a sister in Christ earlier in the year, we were chatting about how hard this is. We worry about stuff, and then we read that we shouldn’t. These passages ought to be an inspiration, a reminder of God’s glory, and an encouragement to cast it all on Him. But instead we come away more worried; worried about the fact that we worry. It feels dumb, but we just can’t help it. We can’t get out of the loop of meta-worry. We worry. But Paul here is clear.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, ESV)

And as worrying as that can be to the worriers out there, this passage is great because it tells us where to start. Rather than anxiety, pray, humble yourself. It is not a command to just stop worrying. It is a call to come to God. Perhaps it related to bringing our burdens (Matthew 11) – Here Paul says in everything, bring your requests to God. Bring them with humility. And he will give peace. The answer to worry is not going to be easy, but it will be found not in stopping yourself from worrying, but in coming to God. He cares. That is big.

Worry? Meta-worry? Bring it before God. He will give you his peace in Christ.

So that’s awesome.

But it’s what follows directly after this that gets me thinking msot.

We talk all the time about how our actions don’t save us. Christianity is about relationship, not religion. But we’re also on about how the bible is the authority, and we do what it says. Here, there is a command. A rule. You could say it’s just advice; you would be right, in a sense. It is advice. The advice that God gives his people, authoritatively. It is helpful, true, and we are told to do it. So it’s advice with a bit of bite to it.

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seenin me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.(Philippians 4:8-9, ESV)

It’s the end of the content of the letter. There’s more remarks, and they are still awesomely helpful. Yet they are more personal finishing thoughts and comments to the Philippians. Here is, one might say, the end result of all Paul has said. Given all that we have seen of Christ, given the inspiration and focus that gives us, given our salvation and relationship with God, do this. I think it is important for us to recall that this instruction does not stand alone from what comes before. It must be loaded with significance if it is the continuation of the response Paul outlines in chapter 3. If it follows on from joyful, prayerful remembrance of God. If it comes out of the humility and exaltation of Christ. If it flows from a desire to be with God, and a compulsion to serve.

If we read this as merely a charge to think good thoughts, it seems weak. Because of the glory of God, because of Christ’s sacrifice, because of what awaits you, because God cares, think about nice stuff. Think about happiness, and baby bunnies, and waterfalls, and good music? It has far more weight than that. So is it a command to think about good people, to dwell on virtue, to study purity, to think about what it means to work hard and to love others. Absolutely. We still rob it of it’s true significance, however, if we don’t allow it to go all the way..

This is flat out one of my favourite passages in the bible, and it is basically the passage I return to in order to govern myself in terms of self-control, deciding what is helpful for me, aligning my conscience with scripture, and letting God call the shots. Why? This is not just a command to think good things about good stuff. I think it is a command to be more “meta”. Meta-good. What is the most honourable, the most true, the most just and lovely, the most commendable? What is excellent and praiseworthy?

Jesus.

This passage is not merely a guide to how we ought to think (though it is that too), but a reminder to dwell on the character of God. We don’t think about good things just because they are good things. We think about good things because they are God things. God and goodness are synonymous. Think about the character of God: meta-good. This will inform your thoughts about what else is commendable, what is good, what is true. In God we find out ultimate guide for what is excellent and praiseworthy. The character of God shapes out whole ethical framework.

There is freedom in Christ. This does actually mean freedom. I am sometimes saddened, however, when people use this freedom to judge others. Some Christians get frustrated with others for changing the channel during sex scenes on tv, or who don’t watch violent movies. They think that they have missed the point of freedom and grace, and that they don’t need to shun the world. True. But consider this; how might watching, reading, listening to, or talking about those things affect the way you think?

I am not saying you should change the channel, or you should change your behaviour. I am saying, though, that often we go soft on dwelling on the most commendable, just and lovely things. How are we really dwelling on God when we are watching the ads in late-night movies? How are the justice of God and the paradigm of justice we have from that filling your mind as you chuck in a few bucks at the pokies?

When in year 11 and 12, I made sure that every day when I went to the train station, I walked on the side of the station shop that meant I couldn’t see the magazine covers covered in what was basically soft porn. In order to make sure I was thinking about what was commendable and praiseworthy, I had to not let myself look at the sexualised magazine shots.

Friends, perhaps there are things you need to consider as well. Are there things that fill your mind with thoughts contrary to God’s character? Paul’s instruction here, pushed to its full extent, is a call to dwell on God’s character, and think about Him. It is also a call to fill our minds with concepts that align with that; to think about justice and beauty, and how these are informed by God himself.

It is a call to fill our minds with good things that correspond with who God is. Don’t let your heads be filled with junk. Don’t laugh at the Christian who doesn’t watch sex scenes, or who won’t go to nightclubs with you, or who you think should just lighten up a bit.

They might be thinking on God.

There’s no rules here, only grace from an awesome God. Dwell on his character. If things fill your mind with things that do not line up with God’s character and call, think about how you should deal with them. I’ve found it easier to play it safe, don’t kid yourself.

Think on God.

 

 

 

Video: What’s so bad about porn? by Dave Miers/Youthworks

If you’re under 15 years old, check with your folks before watching this; it’s recommended for mature audiences.

I really appreciate the plain, blunt approach that Dave and Youthworks are taking here. Porn isn’t harmless fun, and it conditions the way we view sex. It is built on lust, which Jesus says is just adultery in our hearts. As Dave raised, guys are meant to view girls as women with God’s image; respect them as sisters.

Youthworks has uploaded a couple of similar videos on Vimeo, answering questions youth have about sex. Check them out here.

EDIT: I came across this video on Dave’s blog. I’d recommend that you have a look: Dave Miers Dot Com.

Tolerance

“Sometimes you get a secular kind of culture taking over where what they’re really promoting is not genuine religious freedom and encouragement for everybody to speak out and share their religious views, but really a desire for a banishment of religious talk from public life. That’s really not genuine religious freedom. That’s a kind of secular dogmatism.” – Ron Sider

I think he’s right; often what we call religious freedom could be classed us such, but may better be dubbed religious indifference. I think that we ought to support and encourage religious dialogue. Too often religion is treated as something private and isolate.

Apologies

You may have seen all the buzz about Alan Jones recently. Mr Jones is known for his shock-jock style, and is undeniably opinionated. He was addressing a Young Liberals meeting, when he said that the Prime Minister’s father died of shame for the PM’s lies.

Currently there’s huge fallout over it; some people think it’s been blown up, some say it’s typical of Alan Jones. Some are blaming Tony Abbott. Some are saying Abbott has no need to apologise for statements he didn’t make. The political parties are at each other’s necks in the usual way; accusing one another of disrespect and hatemongering in ironically vitriolic tone. Alan Jones made an apology, but many people have picked it up as an apology merely to his advertisers and sponsors.

I’m not going to comment on that. What I’ve been thinking about is what does it mean to be sincere in apology? I think the biblical model is pretty clear; it’s never about lip service. Whether it’s to do with sexual immorality, love, jsutice or theology, we are to respond with out whole lives. Words are not enough. Actions are not enough. A so-called conviction of the heart that isn’t accompanied by action is deceptive and false. Just as this is true of our salvation and response, so it is true for our apology.

I’ve been reading Ezra and Nehemiah. The thing that always strikes me about these books is the prayerfulness of the leaders and the way they don’t shy away from their own track record. In a culture in which respect to the fathers and pride in ancestry were  huge, Ezra and Nehemiah are happy to concede that their ancestors have been proud and presumptuous. They also recognise that they themselves are guilty. They truly grieve for their sin, and turn back to God. They commit to serving him once more, and they give time to hearing his word and understanding what he says. They align their lives and priorities as he demands.

This ought to inform us – and rebuke us – about our apologies and repentance both to God and to other people. When we apologise, it cannot be merely words, or going through the motions. It must be legitimate. Do we actually grieve for our actions and their consequences for the other party? Do we acknowledge, with no excuses, our own failings and guilt in the matter? Do we commit to repairing the relationship and serving them to show that we value a restored relationship?

I think often my apologies have been out of duty rather than out of genuine grief at my causing pain. I think we need to ask God to put it on our hearts to love. One cannot be sincere in apology if they do not care for the one they have hurt. It is far too easy to slip into apathy.

I was also challenged by how it works the other way around; Nehemiah turns back to God humbly, grieving for his sin and that of the nation. He has confidence, however, that God will forgive. God’s track record and character reveal that genuine repentance will always be received with mercy and grace on God’s part.

I wonder if someone would be able to come to me with confidence of their forgiveness. If there was a rift, would someone be able to apologise and know that I would be joyful rather than judgemental. I’m blessed with good relationships and not too many tough situations, but I’m not sure that were such a scenario to arise, others would feel confident of acceptance. We can repent and turn to God, confident that all will be forgiven, and God will love us. We also ought to be eager to love those who come to us.