Heaven a hard time with the afterlife?

For the kittens- It’s Masturbation Month.

It is that time of the year again. When the sun starts to come out of hiding. When the flowers start to bloom. When we dust off the bbq and when…ahem we are supposed to masturbate?!

Mmm. Wow. Sorry folks. I don’t know how that got in there.

But yes! May is the official national masturbation month. The time set aside for everyone to join in the mass debate (see what I did there).

If you know a bit of my story then you know that porn and masturbation are things that I have had struggles with and things that I still to some degree struggle with today. Porn and masturbation are still very much taboo subjects in the church. Some people don’t like to talk about such things. Which is fine I guess, unless of course you are finding it difficult to quit when you really want to, and when the only way to actually beat it is to be open about your struggles. When you’re falling deeper and deeper into an addiction you thought would never get you and now you find yourself hating yourself, hating God and ending up wondering who the person staring back at you in the mirror is.

Then, of course, it isn’t so good to not talk about such things.

So this May, instead of promoting masturbation I want to encourage you to give it up. Give it up for one month, if that sounds too much try a week, a day even. Just stop spanking your monkey long enough to see how it changes how you feel about yourself. But of course there needs to be good reasons to quit and below I have come up with 3 excellent reasons why you should give masturbation the heave ho this May.

1/ It is a well known fact that every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. Kitten’s are cute and the thought alone of a poor kitten dying because of you, should be enough of a motivation to stop. Masturbation is making kittens extinct. I certainly don’t want that blood on my hands.

2/ No, masturbating won’t make you go blind or make hairs grow on your palms. But it will encourage you to lust. It will mean you start to objectify women in your head. It will mean that you won’t have a healthy respect for your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse. Give me hairy palms any day.

3/ Masturbation isn’t usually done in isolation. Usually there are triggers such as porn. So even if you do masturbate without any, how can I put this, help, eventually you will need porn. And that will eventually lead to finding yourself looking at porn more and more, which could lead to addiction, which will lead to despair, low self esteem, an unrealistic view of sex, stronger porn, even lower self esteem, isolation from others, and more porn. I could go on. Needless to say it’s a vicious circle.

So there you have it. Happy (Non)Masturbation month of May everyone. Who is willing to take up the challenge?

And remember, if for nothing else. Do it for the kittens.

Rally To Restore Unity: A Blogging call for Christian Unity

The Church has many problems right now. How do we react to Osama‘s death, do we believe in Hell or not, sex scandals and how do we get Pastor Ed Young to stop making those videos? Perhaps the most troubling issue in the Christian Church today.

And as much as those issues are important maybe an underlying issue with resolving those is how we deal with each other. Namely how do we disagree with each other?

This week Rachel Held Evans, an author and blogger is holding  the ‘Rally to Restore Unity’.  A week long blog event where bloggers write about how Christians can get back some unity with each other. To be honest it’s a pretty big and daunting task but one I think is worthwhile and critical. So I’m glad she had the vision to do this. (Check out her page and the hundreds of amazing signs and blogs for the rally. It’s pretty exciting and inspiring).

But the truth is it won’t be successful unless we all have the same vision.

And to do that we all need to stop and look at ourselves instead of looking at the people we disagree with.

One thing that people outside looking into the Christian circus find hard to fathom is why we fight with each other so much. I mean all families fight with each other at some point but is it even possible to disagree with each other and still like each other?

So first up, before I come across all judgemental let me say this. The person I know that finds it harder to disagree with people kindly and with respect the most, is myself.

I like to think I have ideas about God that are so new and fresh and then when I hear someone speak truth about God that is traditional and been around for a while, I think, ‘How old fashioned of them! They don’t really know God at all. I bet they are the kind of person that trashed the religion episode of Glee! They are so blind.’

And I shut my ears to them.

And when big names in the Christian world come along and write books about God that say things that are maybe taking a different perspective than other big Christian names, I side with the former and think how judgemental the latter is.

Which makes me…you guessed it. Judgemental.

No wonder we have so many problems when our actions and thoughts are in direct opposition to who we say we are.

I think God’s love and this community that we have called the Church is so big and so expansive that it allows us to be different. It even allows us to have different opinions than each other on what Christianity represents and how it should be.

Jesus got this.

He spent his whole ministry and life with his followers dealing with this. So many times they had the wrong idea. Many times they thought Jesus was going to come and break down the Roman Empire and give them their just desserts. But he didn’t. Well at least not in the way they thought he would.

Many times the Pharisees were outraged when Jesus hung out with sinners and the all time lowest of the world, but time and time again Jesus turned the tables (sometimes literally) on the way the Pharisee’s saw the world.

A Whiter Shade of Black

It’s easy to judge the Pharisees. But even the disciples didn’t understand Jesus much of the time. They tried to stop children from approaching Jesus for Pete’s sake. Time and time again they were way off.

Which to me shows that we all can get it so wrong. We all can get it so backward. And if we get to a place where we realise that, then maybe we will be less likely to judge each other.

And that’s cool. It’s easy when we are just wrong.

But what about when it’s not so black and white?

Well I think it works the same way.

I think we need to still come to a place where we know that only Jesus hit the bullseye every time. When that happens we can disagree with each other but not have to attack each other. We are free to say ‘I’m not sure what you are saying is true’, and not then turn around and say ‘You are dangerous and I want nothing more to do with you’. Or we can hear people disagreeing with us and can then say ‘Let me hear what you think. Your opinion is important to me.’

No matter how much we might disagree with it.

When did we get to a place where disagreeing with someone and respecting them and being open and kind became mutually exclusive?

So does that mean we just have to agree with each other all the time?

No.

And if you don’t agree with me?

That’s cool.

P.S. This whole thing is about looking beyond ourselves and remembering that even within our disagreements and differences, there are some things that we all need to agree on. Like justice and clean water. That is why you should take the time to donate to head over to the Rally to Restore Unity Charity:Water page and allow more people the chance to drink clean water..And if you don’t. I will still love you. But I’ll love you a little more if you do.

Quick! Stop the Duke!

It may not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey but it’s hard to not notice that today is the Royal wedding.

The day when everyone will be glued to their sofas and watching Young Willy and Katie tie the knot? Otherwise we would have got up and done something else.

Right?

Well maybe, but for some of us we will be working or washing our hair (what! are you washing  each hair individually that you can’t spare an hour?) or doing anything, and I mean anything else.

But if you have nothing planned for the day but want to avoid it like you would want to avoid…well the Royal wedding for example, then here is some friendly advice to help you get through the day.

1/  A bit drastic perhaps, but to avoid all the tension and the stress of the Royal Wedding; why not plan to get married yourself on the same day, and replace all the Wedding jitters with your very own SAS rescue style stress and nervousness. On the other hand, for people who don’t want to go to your wedding then the pre prepared ’awh sorry I’ve got another wedding that day already’ excuse for not attending is just perfect.  Although, when your mother uses that excuse….

2/  Act like your awkward friend from school who always turned up at birthday parties a day late and start to throw a street party on Saturday morning. Or at least pretend to, so when your neighbour gingerly informs you that the wedding was yesterday, you can quickly pack up and at the very least got to seem to your friends that you made the effort, but without the expense and the actual caring.

3/ Do throw a street party, get your friends to dress up as the wedding party and invite your creepy Uncle Barry* to play the part of the Duke of Edinburgh. This will give the party the realistic feel and tension that the Royal Wedding will inevitably have with old crazy talk Phil there.  Who will he offend? What will he do next? Who’s going to keep him away from the Bride’s mother? These are all questions and problems you will need to deal with.  Even let him make a speech if you are really brave. It will probably not be up to the standard of Harry and his Nazi cross dressing tom foolery tales, but it’s the best you can do at such short notice.

4/ Take advantage of the vacant streets, beat the queues, because there are none and head to Oxford Street for some shopping .

5/ Take advantage of the vacant banks, beat the queues and rob a bank.**

6/  Host an alternative party and play a game where each of you has to out offend each other with racist and culturally ignorant remarks called “Whose Duke of Edinburgh line is it anyway?”

So there you have it. This isn’t an exhaustive list of ideas of course, but I hope that it has at least got you started for the big day. I will of course be watching the extended highlights with all the goals and sending offs,  later that night hosted by Colin Murray. And I wait in excited anticipation for the Royal celebrity episode of Wife Swap this Christmas, where Kate travels to Qatar giving her the chance to experience a different lifestyle, one where she will be required to do the job of twenty seven wives.

But I do honestly hope that Willy and Katie have a memorable day and an amazing life together.

See. I do care.

*Uncle Barry is a fictional character. Any resemblance to anyone’s real creepy Uncle Barry is purely coincidental.
** Of course it would be much easier and less time consuming with the whole prison thing later, if you just use your card.

Getting in the ring with Jesus on Easter

This Easter I will be celebrating Jesus by not getting up at 5am to go to a dawn service. Jesus loved sleep and I see no better way than showing my gratitude for his love by catching some zzz’s. (No wait, that was Jesus wept.) All of course before waking and having a breakfast feast of honey nut loops sprinkled with Cadbury’s mini eggs.

You think I am joking!

And I am.

But today is the day that we spend celebrating Jesus coming back to life and  offering all of us a chance to partake in a new life in him.

The chance to be part of his Kingdom and to love God and love others right here and now. The chance to have our sins forgiven and to start anew.

But is that really the point of Easter?

Well yeah I think so. But is it the only point?

Just like getting a ridiculously bad stomach ache and putting on near a stone of pure Malteaster bunnies in one day is just a part of the Easter experience; so securing our free pass to Heaven is not the whole story.

There is more. A lot more.

Sometimes we talk of God’s amazing, unconditional, never ending love for us in a way that actually makes it smaller than it really is. We limit it. We make it about having our sins forgiven or about the reason we get a shot at getting into Heaven.

But isn’t there more to it than that? I mean that’s a pretty great reason for it. None of us deserve grace but yet we still get it. But I think the good news is so good because most of the time we haven’t begun to scratch the surface with Jesus.

We make the gospel sound a bit like eating pizza the day after the night before. It’s still really really amazing, but when it’s served to you freshly made in a restaurant in Chicago, it’s out of this world.

That excites me.

Jesus, not just pizza.

Say what you mean, why don’t you

I had a hard time this week with a few things. Some of my own making, some of just my own negativity and some just life’s circumstances. And I wanted to yell at God. I’d had enough and I wanted him to stop being so quiet. I’d had enough of feeling like crap when it came to him. I was frustrated and I was pissed off at God.

I’d had enough and he was doing nothing about it.

Which is why what we remember this weekend is such good news.

For me this Easter it is good news because I can be angry in front of God. I can tell him exactly how I feel.

Sometimes we overprotect God. Like he can’t handle it. A lot of the time we’re not encouraged to talk about our doubts. As if God would try and change the subject if we came to him and said ‘Why?‘ or ‘I just don’t get it’. Sometimes we aren’t allowed to ask questions. We’re told to pray more or just have more faith. But doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is part of it.

So when we have doubts or anger towards God and we hide them, we aren’t being real. We’re acting like some things would get in the way of Jesus loving us.

But Jesus death and resurrection set us free from that.

It allows us to be real with the creator of the Universe.

This week I needed to remember that when Jesus died, he tore apart the separation that exists between him and us. When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple, the one that divided God from direct contact with his people, was torn in two.

This means now we don’t have to hide from God. This means now we can be open and spill our guts. Even if that means venting out to him. This means that our relationship with him is real and honest.

No more barriers.

And maybe this Easter the good news that some of us need to hear is simply that God can handle it. When Jesus told us to come to him with everything in prayer this is what he meant. That we are free to worship him and thank him just as much as the times when we want to yell at him out of anger or frustration.

We suppress our anger at situations or our doubts about life; when in fact a lot of the times that people in the Bible became close to God was when they were upset or angry or confused with God.

In the blue corner…

Have you ever fought with God? And I don’t mean the ‘we fell out because he bad talked me behind my back’ type of fought. I mean actually physically fought with God? One person trying to beat up another type of fought? No? I thought not.

But Jacob did. Jacob spent a whole night doing just that with God.

And you can’t fight someone if they are far away or distant. They are close and right in your face and it is actually a very intimate thing.

Could it be that the time we are closest to God is when we are fighting him? When we are pushing and pulling against him.
When we are angry with life and yelling out to God.

And how often do we find ourselves in situations like that?

When what we thought was God leading us into a job or opportunity, turns out to be a dead end. When the illness that had left our body comes back stronger than before. When the girl we thought was going to make us happy for the rest of our lives turns around and says ‘see ya’.

These situations make us angry and upset and confused. And they often should. Because if they don’t then we are numb to life.

Does Jesus death and resurrection accomplish more than a ride out of here?

I hope so.

I hope it means that God cares about where I am. That he doesn’t just want me to show up and sing worship songs to him. Because let’s be honest a lot of the time we don’t feel like singing. Sometimes we want to cry. Sometimes we want to scream. Sometimes we want to yell. Just read the Psalms if you don’t believe me.

And that’s ok.

Because I’d rather wrestle with God than eat cold pizza any day.

Happy Easter to that.

When Rob Bell went too far(sighted)

Like many of you I have been very concerned with some of what we have been witnessing in the media, and seeing in interviews and television shows regarding Rob Bell.

I am a huge Rob Bell fan and his books have inspired me to think and live out what it means to be a Christian more than any other writer ever. But since his latest book Love Wins was released I have noticed an alarming change. Where once I knew that Rob would be coming from a place that I could trust what he says, recent events have caused me to consider that there may be another side to him that I am not so comfortable with.

He has a huge following and has done a lot of good, that can not be denied; but very subtly I have seen a shift in him. It is one that is extremely dangerous and will undoubtedly worry many of us throughout the world of Christianity.

Perhaps John Piper was onto something.

I first noticed this alarming shift when I watched a video of him answering questions about Love Wins in Nashville on his recent tour to promote the book. My initial concerns were then intensified when I saw a picture of him signing copies of Love Wins at a bookstore. My biggest fear was then shown to be sadly true as I watched and listened to another interview that was broadcast online.

Friends, I am afraid to declare that Rob Bell seems to be abandoning some of Christianity’s great theological roots.

Bonheoffer will be turning in his grave.

Because it seems that Rob Bell is giving up his trademark glasses!

I know. I know. This is truly shocking. But the evidence is undeniable. For years he has inadvertently encouraged pastors to buy thick rimmed glasses to be more hip with their congregations, only now to seemingly turn against everything he has believed in.

He has even been a great influence in my own glass wear choices over the last few years. I wouldn’t have bought my first pair of Ray Bans if it wasn’t for him.

Sure there are pastors like John Piper who come from a long background of pretty conservative thinnly rimmed spectacle theologians. And while there has been some discussion over whether you can still remain part of the reformed tradition while wearing the more emergent thick stylish glasses, the two traditions have been able to co exist, somewhat peacefully.

However, it seems now that Bell has really lost the plot by refusing to wear glasses at all.

Reports on whether he has gone for contacts or laser surgery are still unconfirmed.

I just wanted to warn you all but I am at least glad that there is now a conversation taking place about pastors and spectacles, that was much needed.

However I can not ignore the blatant disregard Rob Bell has for all of us now in the glasses wearing Christian community.

See ya, Rob Bell.

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?