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Why I’m not a Christian.

I’m not a Christian because

of what I believe about gay marriage, what I believe about predestination and election, whether I believe in evolution, whether I think Adam and Eve actually lived, I hate most worship music, what I believe about the end of the world, I said a Sinners prayer, I believe or don’t believe in an eternal pit of fire when you die, whether I identify as a Evangelical or not, what denomination I belong to, the average number of times I witness to someone a week, I smoke, I drink, I read the ESV, I go to 20 Christian conferences a year, I can’t stop looking at porn, I have a degree in theology, I think Rob Bell brings God to life for me, I think he’s a false teacher or I know the Christian lingo.

I’m a Christian because I believe that Jesus is up to something on Earth right now, today in the midst of all the beauty and ugliness. At work to bring Peace and Grace and love and fullness of life to everyone.

And I want you and I to be a part of that together.

I’m a Christian because of this, not that.

Why the DUP are today’s Pharisee’s.

The recent banning of the Reduced Shakespeare Play of the Abridged version of the Bible is more than just about censorship. It is more than just about a political party exerting control over the arts and much more to do with fear.

The fear of some Fundamental Evangelical Christians that their rights as Christians are being torn apart. The fear of their version of Christianity being slowly eroded which would leave them in a position of vulnerability. The fear that Christianity will come tumbling down because of a play.

There is no danger of that happening though, even if the play had gone ahead. Thousands of years of Christianity with a history not altogether honorable or righteous has still not caused it to end or for God to die.

It’s a fear that is not really justified but will probably still remain.

This weeks actions of some Fundamental Christians in the DUP has shown that Northern Ireland has now got it’s own version of the Pharisees that Jesus lived among, right on its very doorstep. Just like the Pharisees the DUP acts on fear and as we all know acting out of fear can cause a great deal of damage and pain.

There are several ways in which the DUP are the new Pharisees.

When Jesus arrived on the scene the Pharisees had a nice system of religion going and when Jesus came and spread a message almost contradicting everything they stood for they became fearful that He would bring down their whole system that had worked for thousands of years. In similar fashion when someone comes along, in this case a play about the Bible that seems to poke fun at your ideas of religion then you are going to want to protect your religion and stop those views being expressed.

There is a fear that runs through the DUP and much Protestantism in NI that still views Sinn Fein as the enemy. Like the Pharisees having to deal with the Roman Empire, The DUP live in constant fear that Sinn Fein will eventually take over. This fear permeates into everything else in their lives including religion or at least their version of religion.

Religion has been used ever since day one to control and exert on pressure on people to fall in line.

However, Jesus didn’t come to set up a new political party or system. In fact he came to quash fear and to bring freedom from worry. From the fear of being overridden by our enemies. The DUP seem to overlook this important aspect of Jesus’ mission and in doing so are more like their enemies (or at least how they used to be) than they think. The power that Jesus came to install in his followers was one where commonly understood weaknesses such as grace, vulnerability and compassion were the real strengths. The fear that ran through the Pharisees is the same fear that runs through fundamentalism today.

But fundamentalism also fears difference. A play that speaks truth in a way that is foreign to the DUP’s version of Christianity brings fear. A fear of the unknown. For the Pharisees unless everyone fit neatly into their idea of religion and God then they were wrong. The same is true for the DUP counsellors involved in the objection to the play.

It is this idea of faith and Christianity that is damaging because to the DUP unless you disagree with same sex marriage, believe in a literal 6 days creation account, believe in a real physical Hell or feel the need to protect everyone from a harmless and inoffensive play, then you are not a real Christian.

You are on the outside and everything outside is deemed a threat. Legalism takes the place of Grace.

But real faith is much bigger than that and the Church is a beautiful blend and make up of every type of people. Rather than seeing this as a threat as the DUP does it is actually the church’s strength. Which is more appealing? A God that needs you to fit into tight theological square holes which is impossible if you are a circle or a God that is prepared to let everyone in? Everyone despite their past, present or future.

It’s as a friend remarked to me, it’s not so much that anyone who disagrees with fundamentalistic ideas has a little view of God but rather they view a little God. A God that is so insecure that He needs us to stand up for him. A God that is so out of control that if other opinions are entertained then the world will fall apart.

But I have a bigger view of God. A view that includes everyone regardless of anything. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to believing that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God including sexuality or even belief in God. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to believing that great strength is shown in dying to ourselves and serving others; others often who don’t agree or think like us. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to understanding Jesus death and resurrection as a new way of seeing the world, where weakness is the new strength.

A new world where when Jesus was about to be led away to be crucified; instead of applauding one of his disciples for attacking one of his captors, actually rebuked him and brought healing to His enemy.

This is the strength that fundamentalists either don’t see or ignore. One where even Jesus Himself knew that he didn’t need to defend Himself.

For too long in Northern Ireland, the archaic views of the DUP have been allowed to dictate this view of Christianity and to let the fear that has controlled the country for so long flourish. For too long church leaders have failed to counter these ideas of God that are neither loving or gracious? Where were the church leaders this week to speak up for the play? To dispel the idea that Christianity is about fear.

Or are we all controlled by fear one way or the other?

 

Fear (Fearing the right thing)

Fear consumes so many of us. It kills all the things that we could do that are good. And we want to defeat fear and we want to push through it. But we don’t know how. Most of the time we give up. We end it right there. We stop practicing and we try something else.

But guess what?

Sooner or later fear will kill that too.

If we let it.

The alternative is to not let fear win and stop it dead in it’s tracks. But how?

The answer is simple.

Stop worrying what people will think.

Let’s face it we’re not really frightened of singing a solo in front of a concert hall full of people. We love music. We’re not really afraid of getting up and speaking to a room full of eyes looking back at you expectantly. We love expressing ideas and sharing them. We’re not really afraid of riding a rollercoaster. It’s going to be fun and we know it.

What we are really afraid of is the end. The reaction. We are afraid of people not liking what we wrote or said or played.

Like all artists we are afraid of dying.

Our fear is misdirected. It shouldn’t be in the act of the thing we are excited about. The fear is of the judgement afterwards.

“He was too long.” “She sang off key a little”. “I disagree completely with what she wrote”. “He doesn’t know what he is talking about”. “I could do better than that”.

That’s what we’re really afraid of. Sure some things no matter how much we feel we were made to do them are scary sometimes. That’s natural.

It’s just that the reactions above aren’t real. They aren’t what people are saying. They are what we think people are saying.

You can’t control what everyone thinks. All you can do is pursue your gifts, your passions and those things that persuade you to get up in the morning.

Fear won’t always disappear. We need it to keep growing. This isn’t a contradiction though. It’s a rally cry to realize that fear doesn’t have the hold over us that we think it does because in the end we can’t worry about or control what people will think because people will think what they like.

The real question is, are others opinions a good enough reason to give up?

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Sunday Bloody Sunday

Living in Northern Ireland has its perks. Like everyone seems to know each other. It also has its down sides. Like everyone seems to know each other.

But if it is churches you are looking for you have come to the right place. You can’t swing a belt made of Bibles (a Bible Belt if you will) without hitting a church. Not that I encourage the throwing of Bibles at Churches of course.

But do we have too many? Or do we actually have too few? Do we feel welcome in Churches? Would we be comfortable bringing our friends? Or is that the wrong question? Should the question be, are we living our lives as a Church that naturally includes our friends?

If you are looking for a Church that is pretty traditional and conservative you can take your pick. If you are looking for a church that is a really lively, charismatic and sing the brand new Hillsong music every week then you can take your pick too. It would seem that there is a type of church in Northern Ireland that can suit anyone and everyone.

But is that really the case?

Or is it just that there are plenty of churches that cater for…other Christians?

We love to talk about inviting our friends to church. We love to pimp up our church as fresh, new and relevant. We love to think we are different.

But are we?

Would any of your friends who don’t believe in God be comfortable going to your church with people raising their hands to God?

Sometimes church is just a place for Christians to come and catch up, sing and listen to someone talk for a bit. There is nothing wrong with that and there is no denying that church services can be very powerful. That in moments of worship or teaching or communion etc. we can experience God in a fresh, unique way that connects us with him and with the people around us. It can be amazing. Most of us though have gone to church our whole lives and are comfortable to some degree with that sort of thing. A lot more of us aren’t.

Making church livelier or hip seems to be the obvious answer when we are looking at new ways to get people interested in our church. We talk about relevancy as if old hymns have become outdated. As if our church forefathers were old fogies who never smiled and thought clapping was of the devil. We introduce drums and lights to attract people. Again nothing wrong with those things.

But that’s not the issue to getting people interested in coming in our church. In fact getting people into our church isn’t even the issue. The issue is how do we introduce people to Jesus through how we do church.

Maybe the questions should be

What if we went to church everyday?

What I mean is, what if everyday we lived our lives in a community with other Christians and together we lived in community with people who aren’t Christians?

What if church meant everyone? What if church was not a service but a way of life? Where everyone is in. What if we are in church when

we go to work.
we go to a gig.
we go to the pub.
we go to the gym.
we are walking down my street.
We invite our friend around for dinner because they have been working 60 hours this week.
We buy groceries for our neighbours who are struggling this month to make rent.

That’s a church I can see myself being a part of. One where we don’t just worship God by singing David Crowder songs but by living with and for others.

But let’s be honest that’s hard.

And maybe that’s why we haven’t been very good at it.

I sometimes think what it would be like if there was no church on a Sunday. What if the culture of getting up on a Sunday morning never existed? Maybe it would force us out of our pews and actually live like Christ in our everyday lives and maybe by doing that we would see Jesus released out into the world.

Obviously we can and should do both. But sometimes I think we get caught up in Sunday mornings so much so that we forget about the other days of the week.

Is our Jesus bigger than a Sunday for an hour or two?

Are we holding Jesus back?

Is that how you would see Church? How would you do church differently? Would church still be church if the focus wasn’t on a Sunday service?

God hates everything

A couple of days ago I was thrilled to see that Louis Theroux had made another tv show with the Phelps family, for the BBC. If you don’t know who they are, imagine the Waltons, and then imagine the exact opposite.

You’re kind of close now.

They’re famous as the ‘church’ from Topeka, Kansas who essentially claim to be the only ones on earth who truly know God. They picket the funerals of soldiers. They hate everything that isn’t them. Everything and everyone else is wrong.

But where they are really at home is when they get to wave around their ‘God hates…..’ plackards.

We hear a lot about God’s love for all of his creation. Cool. But what about the things that God hates. I for one am glad that they can enlighten us.

But sadly for every ‘God hates Sweden’ (no, I’m not kidding. They obviously haven’t tried Ikeas meatballs), there have been hundreds of ideas that haven’t reached the sign making stage.

But today I can exclusively reveal some of the ones that didn’t make it past the cutting board.

1. God hates pigeons

Sure, God made puppies and bunnies and butterflies but he won’t take ownership of the pigeon. That one is truly of the devil. Sorry but it’s true. And if you’re still using pigeons to send messages maybe you need to get on twitter. Just sayin.

2. God hates the letter ‘q’

There is no need for it when we have the letters ‘k’ and ‘w’. Words like quick can easily be transformed into kwick. Or quantifiable can now be kwantifiable. Plus it would make all of our lives a heck of a lot easier when playing scrabble. It’s also a fact that the letter Q is not found anywhere in the Bible. Mmm I think. So let’s join God and kwit using the letter Q.

3. God hates ‘baby on board car stickers’**

There you are happily driving along the street doing 100 and steering using your tongue, while you try and think of a good word using the letter q as you play scrabble on your iphone; when you notice the sticker on the car in front of you. Thank goodness for that sticker because I just felt like driving recklessly today. Stickers save lives.

4. God hates ‘not being able to find the start of the sellotape’

Enough said.

There are plenty of other things that God hates like racism, poverty, human trafficking and Aids. But it’s not good to focus too much on those things when we need to worry about people out there who have different opinions than you.

It is worthwhile though I think to remember now and again that God hates a lot of things.

Just don’t kwote me on that.

* at least 73.6% of this post was sarcastic in its tone.
** thanks Brittany

Calling All Peacemakers. Lent blog party Day 7

There aren’t many things harder than realising you are wrong. That you screwed up. That you were a jerk. That you aren’t everything you thought you were.

Well actually there is. Admitting that to someone else. Specifically the person you wronged.

Today’s lent calendar task was one that was a potential banana skin for me on this lent journey but one that I knew that if I wanted to get anything out of this, I needed to do.

So I set about writing a letter to a friend from school that I had been a complete and utter jerk of the highest proportions to. Someone who I would have considered a best friend at one point. And someone who I rejected and made feel like crap. This isn’t the place to go into details but know that I really was a jerk.

And saying sorry is a risky thing to do. Because you don’t know how the other person will react. Will they accept it, will they have moved on and not care anymore or will they be angry that you even have the audacity to think you can fix the situation?

All things that I have considered. Of course reconcilliation at some level is our desired outcome but what if it doesn’t happen that way. What if we do get burned? Does it matter? Is just making a move the important thing? Or for closure, does it require both parties to come together?

My mind says I did the thing that was important. I made a move. My heart however tells me that isn’t enough.

To be honest at this moment I just don’t know. Peacemaking is a tricky business which makes me glad that there are people far better than me who work daily in places and in sitautions where reconcilliation is a tricky business.

What about you? Have you ever said sorry and not got the response you desired? Or did it all end in a happy ending?