Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A world without God?

I was a visiting speaker at the Shrewsbury Sixth Form College Christian Union today, and spoke on the topic "a world without God?" When I was given that title I struggled to think how I could approach it. I mean, without God, there wouldn't even be a world. Trying to describe the difference between a world with and without God is a bit like describing the difference between a tennis ball and a game of tennis. So this is basically how I approached it...

We started by looking at some things in the world have value, like pizza, a duck, the Bible, an iPhone, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other stuff like that. I asked the group to trade so that they would end up with a set of items that would be worth the most in a world where God didn't exist. They ended up with a collection of useful stuff (like food and technology) and a pile of unwanted artifacts (church, a WWJD wristband etc). 

My point was that this is how a lot of people (Christian and not Christian) see the influence of God on people's lives, i.e: 

A Christian's Life = A Life Just Like Anyone Else's + Some Extra 'God Stuff'

Christians might try to persuade their friends that the 'God stuff' is really life-enhancing. They might quote John 10:10 - "I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" and claim that the '+ God' equation results in a more fulfilled life. 

We read Colossians 5:15-18:
"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy."

and then John 3:16-18:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 

My conclusion from these two passages was that God is not a premium package life-enhancing supplement that we bolt on to our ordinary lives. He is a life-giver, who holds the universe together and saves those who would otherwise perish. 

Then I posed the question: "What are you most looking forward to about the new heaven and earth?"

We talked about it and then read Revelation 21:3-4:
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”"

And John 17:1-3:
"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  

The best thing about the new heaven and earth is that God is there. What is eternal life? It's knowing God, and His son Jesus Christ. 

A world with God is a world of hope, freedom, joy, healing, peace, love and grace, but the best thing is God Himself. It's the kingdom of heaven.

A world without God is a world of conterfeits - vain hope, 'freedom' that actually ties you up in sin, happiness that doesn't last and a constant striving for love and acceptance, but the worst thing is that God isn't there. It's hell. And people will end up in a world without God because it's what they chose. 

People who are lost don't need to hear about a god who enhances their life - they get enough of that from L'Oreal, Bang & Olufsen and a kerspillion others. They need to hear about the God who is like Jesus; who loves, saves, heals, forgives, accepts and raises the dead.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A blog post about Jesus

This was going to be a blog post about Mark Driscoll, but I was going to link to a post on his blog that concludes,
"The best thing is to not waste time blogging, twittering, and talking about me. I was not born of a virgin, have not lived without sin, and am not going to judge the living and the dead. Jesus is all that matters."

How can anyone link to that in a post and not collapse under the weight of irony? So I decided to blog about Jesus instead. But then I found it hard to think exactly what to say about Jesus - there are so many things I could say! So let me say something that, if you read this blog, you have probably assumed, despite the fact that I have never expressed it.

I love Jesus.

I think Jesus is the best thing in the universe. I believe that if someone could live a hundred lifetimes and experience everything the world has to offer that they would not find anything that comes close to Jesus. If everything in my life were to be taken away, destroyed or lost I would still be utterly fulfilled as long as I still had Jesus.

Without Jesus I would be a mess. Without Him I would be a totally selfish person. I would live to please myself, all my efforts would culminate in a great big worthless hideous tribute to the person of Andy Lowe, which God would despise and then rightly destroy. I would have no hope.

Jesus has lifted me out of the wretched dark stink of slavery and loneliness and reversed the whole situation. Because of Jesus life is not a misery nor a pantomime but a real opportunity to run into the arms of my loving father God and be embraced as His son. Every day. Every day.

Love and forgiveness that never ends. My slate wiped clean, and my heart healed.

Jesus did not demand that I become a religious person and tie me up in a world of pews, stiff shirts and dull dirges. He set me free. And I love Him when I'm cleaning my teeth, when I'm driving to work, when I eat a sandwich or hug my wife I love Jesus and nothing will stop me from loving Him because He loves me.

However many long words and clever things get said about Jesus, the thing I constantly struggle to get to grips with, the thing I will always come back to is that He cares about me. And I will have all eternity to ponder that, and get to know Him better.


Friday, 20 January 2012

Praying or rubbing a lamp?

At some point everyone must have thought about the genie-in-the-lamp scenario, and decided what, given three wishes (and having restrictions on wishing for more wishes, bringing people back from the dead and making people fall in love) they would wish for. 

Would it be a new car/house/tropical island?
an eternal supply of chocolate?
or just oceans of money?
Given the chance to ask for anything, what would you go for? 
Well, Jesus said "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it."
What are we to do with this? Can it really be true? What about the time I asked God to give me the spiritual gift of being able to fly (true story) and it never happened? 
Of course we need to look at this verse in context. The slight problem is that "looking at this verse in context" often becomes a euphemism for "find some evidence to suggest that this particular part of the Bible isn't really true, or at least, it doesn't mean anything like what it seems to." 
It can be too easy to strip this promise of all its faith-increasing power by mitigating it with conditions like "as long as you ask for something which is within God's will, with the right motivation, with enough faith and you persevere for at least a week." You don't find that in the verse, but neither is Jesus suggesting that He is a magical genie waiting to fulfil our every desire.  
This passage will probably always confound those people whose top three wishes are for combinations of money, success, pleasure, prestige or power. It won't make sense because it seems like an amazing offer that Jesus consistently fails to come through on. 
For those people, however, whose greatest desire is for the kingdom of heaven to come on earth, to see people saved, healed and set free, this promise is one of the most encouraging in the whole Bible, and should be one of the biggest motivators to prayer. Because it's true.  

Friday, 13 January 2012

How to not get your iPad stolen

Thanks to outstanding technological innovation our lives become so much easier.

Like Tom, the IT consultant from Hove, you could take your iPad to Tesco and use it to remind you what you need to buy.

Then, when the iPad is stolen from your trolley, you can use iCloud's automatic mobile photo-streaming (which you will have set up previously) to see pictures that the thief has taken of his woolly-hatted friend and forward those images to the police.

Yet, with access to technology like this, many people can still be seen walking around the supermarket with shopping lists written, by hand, on paper.

What hope is there for society?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Getting going

It's nice to have a break.

While I haven't been blogging this last month, I have been...

- Feasting on delicious festive food served up at the in-laws. 

- Enjoying some well-chosen Christmas presents, like the Yes Minister Miscellany, Muppets Socks, A Stephane Grappelli vinyl record, cheese and Bohnanza.

- Dressing up in 1920's garb.

- Reading Leviticus.

- Attending the annual Youth for Christ Conference (which I normally devote a whole post to, maybe I'll do that at some point).

- Playing the translucent blue recorder the Open University sent.

- Not making new year's resolutions.

- Thinking.

One thing I've been thinking about is this:
As we move forward, if we want God to use us more and see more changes in our lives or in the world around us, then we'll have to let ourselves become more dissatisfied, more grieved and hurt, more burdened and troubled by those things that need to be changed.

We like to quote James 4:8a, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" without necessarily following onto "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you."

I hope that this year will bring lots of blessing, but I mainly hope to get closer to God's heart, and that might mean that this year brings more mourning and weeping.