Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God of the snappy and sarky

As you may know, I am trying to read the Bible more this year, so don't be surprised if more of my posts become Bible focused, as I attempt to process the passages I read.

The other day, I was working through parts of Numbers, which isn't known as one of the most exciting books. There was one passage that really stood out for me though, Numbers 14:11-20. The Israelites have been in the wilderness for a while, and keep disobeying God. This time, they are wanting to return to Egypt, believing slavery to be better than trudging through the desert and eating only Manna and quail.

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them?  I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!” (Numbers 14:11-12, NLT)

God is fed up, annoyed and ready to give up on people. He's going to wipe out the Israelites. But then Moses speaks.

“What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?” he asked the Lord. “They know full well the power you displayed in rescuing your people from Egypt. Now if you destroy them, the Egyptians will send a report to the inhabitants of this land, who have already heard that you live among your people. They know, Lord, that you have appeared to your people face to face and that your pillar of cloud hovers over them. They know that you go before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
Now if you slaughter all these people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of your fame will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land he swore to give them, so he killed them in the wilderness.’ “Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’
In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”
 Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested.
(Numbers 14:13-20, NLT)

Moses talks God down, calms his anger. Moses reasons with God! I imagine it as Moses saying 'Now calm down, Lord, that's not going to help. Killing these people will make others doubt your power. And you love us really.'
This is a passage I go to when thinking about God's plan and the effectiveness of prayer. Moses seems to change God's mind and in doing so saves the Israelites. This suggests that God's plans are open to change, if we can present a good, reasoned response to him. And I like this. Ultimately I believe that God has a plan and it is the best for me. But having some room for discussion, for arguing your cause makes God (the Father) a much more approachable, accessible person* for me.

(*Ok, 'person' isn't the right term, but you know what I mean.)

And there is another passage that makes God seem accessible, and that is in Job. After the events and discussions of the first 37 chapters, God suddenly speaks to Job.
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?
 Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.
 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.
 Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
 What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb,

and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’
(Job 38:2-11, NLT)
This continues for the whole of Chapter 38 and 39, in total God asks 53 questions of Job. I always read this section with God's voice dripping with sarcasm. God even says
But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!
(Job 38:21)
BURN! I really like the image of a sarcastic God. I'm quite a sarcastic person, and as we are told we are made in God's image, it helps me to relate to someone so difficult to even begin to imagine. These two passages are when I see God the Father most closely resemble humanity.

Throughout the Bible we see a Loving, Angry, Caring, Sarcastic, Passionate, Poetic God. We see the full range of emotions, and this helps me to remember that God isn't some abstract word, but is someone relatable. Someone who gets angry at me; someone who is passionate about me; someone who ultimately loves me, no matter what?

I'd like to hear from you - please comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.
What passages most help you relate to God?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting Cross over Crosses

Today has been one of those days where I despair at Christianity in the media. Two stories have dominated my (predominately Christian) Twitter feed today. The first is Homosexual relationships, as a well know Evangelical has come out (pun intended) in support monogamous of same-sex relationship. There has been response, counter-response, counter-counter-response, counter-counter-counter... well you get the idea. This has been interesting, but not something I'm going to blog about.

The other story has been about a European Court of Human Rights ruling today that a British Airways employee who was told she couldn't wear her cross was discriminated against. Lots of people have come out in support of this ruling. But to me... well I'm not that fussed.
I don't know the ins-and-outs of the language used, or the reasons behind it. But from what I have read and seen, I struggle to see this as discrimination.

On my first day working for a pizza company, I was asked to take my cross off. Actually, that's not true. I was asked to take my necklace off. The Uniform Policy states that the only jewellery allowed is a single stud earring per ear, a watch and an engagement and/or wedding ring. So I took my cross necklace off, and haven't warn it at work since (except for the odd times I've forgotten to take it off). Did I feel persecuted or discriminated against? Nope. I was being treated the same as all the other staff. And the wearing of a cross isn't central to my faith. I wear a cross out of choice. I like to have it because I hold it in my hand when I pray, or am deep in thought.

I also don't think the wearing of a cross actually shows anything. An awful lot of Christians I know don't wear one, a lot of non-Christians I know do. In a brief Twitter conversation earlier, I said that I think that if you need to wear a cross for people to know you are a Christian, something is wrong. I hope that it isn't my cross that lets people know I'm a Christian.

What this story got me thinking was the passion and vigour in which people celebrated this 'victory' for Christianity. Like this was a major progressive step in social justice.

I wish there was so much passion and vigour from the church shown over other areas of social justice. Let's think of some. Human Trafficking, Oppression, War, Homelessness, Poverty.

In the face of these, the right to wear a small bit of metal around your neck pales into insignificance. (And I'm not saying that Christians are not passionate about these social issues, but that it seems to be a lot less visible in the media.) As Christians, we should be worrying about these big issues, spending our time trying to tackle these, not arguing over uniform policy.

This story - and the stories of the three other Christian cases that were heard by the ECHR but were ruled not to be discrimination - have lead to various people talking about how Christians in Britain face persecution in the face of modern, liberal society. I feel this massively devalues the word. There are Christians around the world that risk arrest, torture and fear for their lives because of their faith. 

We are lucky to live in a society where that isn't the case.

So, come on Christians, lets pull ourselves together, look at the real social injustice of the world, and do something positive to challenge them.

I'd like to hear from you - please comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.
What's your view on the whole Cross issue?
Do you wear a cross? Is so, why?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

We need a Doctor!

As I said in the previous post, blogging more and reading the Bible more are two of my resolutions for 2013. So, for my first post of the new regime, I'm combining the two.

Firstly, I have to admit I'm two days behind my Bible reading already... I blame the two shifts meaning I wasn't home until very late.  But I'll catch up tonight and tomorrow. When I was reading the other day, two sections popped out at me, which are very closely linked.

Mathew 9: 10-13, coming straight after the calling of Matthew, says:
10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT)

A quick aside, I love the use of the word 'scum'. Its usage here reminds me of the (accused) use of 'pleb' by Andrew Mitchell MP, and the Spartacus-esque 'I am a pleb' that followed. From reading around this passage, and the attitudes of the Pharisees portrayed in the Gospels, I am happy to say 'I am Scum!'

The second passage is Proverbs 20: 9:
Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart;
    I am pure and free from sin”? (NLT)

I think these passages highlight something all Christians need to remember. We are all sick people; we all need a doctor. In a bonus track on an album by thebandwithnoname, they talk of this 'disease' as 'psychological sickness' which affects how we think and act and that it is terminal unless we seek treatment. All Christians are human (unless one day, we find aliens who are also Christian but if that happens I'll happily edit this!) and humans sin.  Often we can't help it; we let our emotions take control, we speak out of anger, we let jealously eat away, we think we know what is best for us and ignore God.

And I think it is important to remember this when we view actions, statements, and practices of the Church. The Church is a human construct, a group of flawed people coming together to try and do better. 'Try' being the main word. The church isn't perfect; it makes mistakes, it causes hurt, it doesn't always show the best side of God. And we get judged for that by the media and the public. Maybe we need to be more upfront about our failings. Often 'Holier than Thou' is many people's view of Christians, and when issues of women in leadership and sexuality dominate the religion sections of the news, 'Church' seems totally alien to society.

I love this picture, and I think it is something we need to remember. Sin is Sin is Sin. Is 'sexual immorality' (whatever that means) worse than ignoring those in need? Is acting in Anger worse than acting in Lust? We all sin. None of us can say 'I am pure and free of sin.' None of us can take up Jesus' invitation to pick up a rock to throw at the woman caught with a man who wasn't her husband. I pray for the day when the mainstream view of the Church is one of love and openness, not one of judgement and exclusion (And I'm not saying that Churches aren't open and loving, but it is a common view that they’re not). It pains me that when the Church (and usually the Church of England) is in the media, it is for negative reasons. Very rarely is the great work of the Church and of Christians shown.  There is amazing work going on to support some of the poorest and most vulnerable going on in Christian groups around the world. Let's get that good news out, so that THE Good News (of Jesus Christ) can be given that publicity it deserves.

(Footnote: I have been very heavy on us as sinful beings here, which I make no apologies for. But it is important to remember that those sins don't have to be a burden to us. Through the Doctor of Jesus Christ this can be treated; our slates can be wiped clean. This is the wonderful news that we should be sharing.)

I'd like to hear from you - please comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

How can we get more good news out about what Churches are doing?
Do you struggle with peoples' idea that Christians are 'Holier than Thou?'

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking back, Looking forward

I'm going to add to the mountain on posts about New Year. I'm not one of those people who get hung up with New Year, I don't see it as 'a fresh start', or anything special from yesterday. Years are artificial, it is no different to the changing of a second.

That said, 2012 was a pretty interesting year, one that I'll remember for a long time. Leaving aside the Olympics/Paralympics and the Jubilee, some amazing things happened. I went to Palestine and Israel, something I am going to do again sometime! I got a job and moved to the other end of the country (well, technically another country, kinda) and found out that I can spend more than 9 days at a time with my girlfriend, which is good. I was the best man for two wonderful people, and even managed to make a room full of people laugh with my speech (something I was really worried wouldn't happen). I've made new friends, got back in touch with old ones, and unfortunately lost touch with some.

When I look back over 2012, it gets me excited about the surprises I'll face in 2013. I had no idea that 2012 would bring up what it did, so I can only dream of the opportunities and chance encounters I'll face over the next 12 months. I'll be looking for a new job, probably a new house, and the next adventure. I'm getting a bit of a buzz thinking just about it.

Now, it's Resolution Time! (I have just sung that to 'Hammer Time' in my head... oh dear...)

Last year's resolution was to do the Bible in a Year. Well, according to my Bible App, I managed 15%, and I gave up some time in March. So I have hit the 'recalculate' button and will pick up from where I left off. I am really going to try and stick to it this year.

As well as Bible reading, I am pledging to dedicate 5 minutes a day to prayer time. Prayer is something I struggle with, I often say to people 'I'm praying for you', but rarely to I stop what I am doing, switch off distractions and truly spend time in the presence of God. My prayers are very one way, I hardly ever just sit and listen. I know this is one I'll struggle with, so if anyone has any tips, suggests or resources to help me with this, please let me know. I'm also looking for a good piece of music to have playing while I do this.

Also, I am going to do more with this blog. I am going to blog at least once a week, and am going to set Sundays as my default blogging day, starting this one coming. There will obviously be more OPP Posts, as my job continues to stretch me, and there will be more rambling thoughts when things whirl around my head. But I'm also open to suggestions, if you have ideas for things you'd like me to blog about, feel free to drop me a line. And who knows, I might even get a guest blogger in every so often, so watch this space. I'm also going to try and finish each blog with a little challenge, question or thought-provoker, and it would be great if you could interact with me, so I don't feel like I'm talking to myself when I write these.

My final resolution is to try and get myself into a better daily routine. I find this very difficult, partly due to the ever changing work hours I get, but I know that I waste a lot of time in the morning when I could be doing productive things. So I am going to (try to) be disciplined in being out of bed by 9.30 weekdays, and use the time I do have better than I do at the moment.

I look forward to looking back this time next year. I'll probably blog about how I did, and hopefully I won't have failed all of them. And I'll be able to look back on the adventures of 2013 and same the same grin on my face as I do now, looking back on 2012.

I'd like to hear from you - comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

What was your favourite moment of 2012?
Do you find New Year exciting, scary, or are you not fussed?