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The Lure of Full Time Ministry

I'm just reflecting on something that used to be so alluring to me in the past: the desire to get into full-time ministry.

When I first became a "proper" Christian in the late nineties, there was always this feeling that the Senior Pastor had all the answers - because he seemed so wise, popular and even performed miracles. The idea was that life for most Christians really sucked: like we were these innocent little lambs in this harsh world that seemed to difficult and disappointing for us. There was always this sense that the only way for you to find satisfaction as a Christian, because you were ever-so spiritual, was to become a pastor.

I remember listening, or reading, wide-eyed at these beguiling stories of ministers getting their needs met in some spectacular fashion. The favourite seemed to be a minister having some "need", which was always full-time ministry related (such as a new youth ministry building), praying about it, then someone in the congregation giving them an envelope with the exact amount in it. It seemed to me that as soon as a Christian got his act together and was no longer a moron - God would immediately whisk him or her away from their mundane 9-to-5 existence - into an exciting life in the service of God (as if anything else is not serving God).

I suppose my desire to get into ministry grew more intense when I started attending a popular mega-church in 2005. There was something captivating about that charismatic speaker bounding on stage, that I wanted to re-create in my own life. They could command the crowd's devotion and obedience: they could tell the crowd when to laugh, sing, sit-up, sit-down or even turn to your neighbour and say...whatever. It's great that I can now watch the Northpoint - Sunday's Coming - Movie Trailer and laugh at what I used to take so seriously.

It's only now after years of frustration that I can now see the futility of it all. I can see how flawed that whole system is. It's only after hearing the Into the Wild and The God Journey podcasts that I'm finally awake to what was really happening. Wayne Jacobsen especially has been really expressing in recent podcasts, just how silly it all is as well as revealing the wrong motives and desire for attention that is behind it all. As I have now begun to take an honest look at my own desires, I can see that I craved approval, attention, position, power and wealth.

Another good MP3 series on this subject is "Safe Harbor Conference 2008" on Bertie Brits' website I was amazed at the honesty of Allen Speegle in this message as he related his own insecurities and wrong motives for becoming a minister and how grace has changed all of that.

A Commonsense Hope and the Need for Balance – Part 2

We do not need to think about God all the time, pray to Him, ask Him permission to do certain things and the like - it makes people really quite weird. In the Institutional Church, believers have trained themselves to inject Biblical statements and catchphrases into every other sentence. I recall listening to a Free Believers Network podcast in which one of the hosts, Kim Scott, who said that she literally had to wean herself off saying words like, “God, Jesus and church”, every other sentence. That might sound heretical to some people, but it is common-sense and practical. We can honour God, whilst at the same time, not being over-spiritual to the point of appearing fake and weird.

I listened to the The Free Believers Network podcast today entitled Spiritual Veal – 8th October 2010. In this podcast, Darin and Aimee discussed the way in which Christians often wait for God to do things in their lives, often in supernatural ways, instead of just doing something for themselves. I think there really is a need to just get on with life like any other normal person, making decisions as necessary without complicating things by introducing layers of religious performance. Christians become rather weird when they impose all sorts of religious, seemingly Biblical concepts on their lives. Life becomes complicated when almost every single decision that you make must first be validated against the Bible, prayed about and discussed with a prominent member of the church you attend.

Charismatic preachers have given us the impression that a life in Christ will always be exciting, prosperous and full of miracles - but I don't get that impression at all. Surely, miracles by definition are rare? Revivals in the past, such as the Azusa Street Revival are often held-up as a standard to which all Christians are to attain through diligent spiritual practice. But I wonder to myself if such revivals are simply one-off experiences that occur from time-to-time, rather than something which is to be ushered in through our own efforts and experienced on a daily basis? All I know is that when I was praying for revival at Kensington Temple during the late nineties, it was really quite weird, obsessive and oppressive. Furthermore, nothing substantial and lasting happened.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get the impression that God is desperately trying to move in the lives of Christians in order to make them perform miracles so they can stand out in the crowd. I don’t find many parents disappointed with their children because they aren’t prodigies, such as a maths genius or a music maestro. Most parents love their children even when they come out with naïve statements that make no sense, make mistakes or fall on the floor and hurt themselves. Neither do I find children who are devastated at performing a simple school play rather than appearing in a professional Hollywood production. I’m not opposed to miracles, they have their place, but I’m not going to get obsessive about them like I was encouraged to do in the past.

There really is a need to accept yourself as you are other people as they are and the circumstances of your life as they are. There is a great deal of peace and joy, even prosperity to an extent, to be found in contentment.

A Commonsense Hope and the Need for Balance – Part 1

A recent Free Believers Network podcast episode entitled Getting God to Perform – 5th October 2010, very much summed-up where I feel I am right now from a spiritual perspective. This podcast also relates how charismatic Christians have been fed a diet of incredible stories of how God moved in powerful ways in the past. All of this has the effect of prompting us to hold on to specific expectations of how God is going to move powerfully in our own lives, typically through some sort of miraculous manifestation.

People who put their hope in something incredible happening in their life reminds me of naïve teenage girls who dream of becoming pop stars. The X-Factor has become very popular now: what makes the X-Factor hugely popular is not just the truly talented people who appear on the show – it is also the people who believe they can sing, but couldn’t sing to save their life. I think one of the most extravagant examples of this is that of two teenage girls who called themselves “Ablisa” – you can see the video on You Tube: X Factor 2010 - Girl Gets Punched Onstage (Full Ablisa Audition). What got these two started on this track was probably the two just singing to pop songs in their bedrooms. It amazes me that these two unpleasant and untalented teenage girls actually believed that they had what it takes to become professional singers.

When you put your hope for a happy and fulfilling life in what you do and what you have – you somehow become deluded into thinking you have what it takes to make something incredible to happen, and for Christians, that God will back you all the way.

We need to build a foundation of knowing that God accepts us as we are, is not mad at us, will never leave us, cares for us and lives within us. From that moment on, I believe, we need to just get on with our lives like any other normal person. One of the reasons why I really enjoy listening to The God Journey podcasts is that the focus is very simple and narrow: it is all about living in the love of God. I also enjoy listening to the The Free Believers Network podcasts – what makes these podcasts so refreshing is not so much the sense of anti-I.C. (Institutional Church) sentiment, but rather, their focus on living simply, knowing that you are loved by God, accepting yourself as you are and loving others. If during your pursuit of living in the love of God eventually leads you to leave your church, then so be it.

The idea of just embracing everyday life and getting on with your life just like any other normal person, might seem dishonouring to God at first, but I believe it is the most realistic way to live. As soon as we entertain the idea of the existence of God – we get caught-up in all kind of religious cobwebs. It can take a lot of time and effort to sift through all the religious chaff, until finally, we are left with the wheat. When we get to that place we might find that a life in Christ looks a lot different to what we were told it would look like; it might actually look a lot more like normal, everyday life than we once thought it would. This might seem disappointing to some people, but everyday life sparkles with a wonderful, joyous glow when we allow the light of God’s love to flood the darkness of our souls.

Abandon the God Idea?

I recently read a post on the Free Believers Network forum entitled, Abandon the God Idea. In this post, the woman related how she had grew up as a Christian, with the idea that God would be like a perfect father to her. But as time went by, she realised that this was more of an ideal rather than a true experience. She then left the church, wondering what to do about the whole concept of God as a Father – should she let go of her God ideas? Should she even let go of the belief in a God altogether?

I kind of get what this person is feeling here. I don't think it is the concept of a God who created the universe that we should consider letting go of - it's all the religious junk that comes with it. It's when we over-spiritualise things that we get into bother. It's when we pray for God's protection when we go on holiday and get other people to pray that our luggage won't go missing and so on.

We talk about God as if He was separate to ourselves, instead of being one with us. This was discussed in a recent podcast by the Free Believers Network entitled, The Oneness Revelation – 2nd October 2010. The ramifications of the separation mentality are huge: instead of just making spontaneous decisions, we are supposed to check the Bible to see if there is a verse that validates our decision; we have to pray about every little single thing we want to do, discuss things with a pastor or elder in the church and so on.

I think to a great extent we need to get on with our lives without having God in our mind all the time. There is a need to get on with our lives without worrying if we will get caught-up in some kind of sin. We should not go out with the intention of sinning, but be mindful that all we can do is our best – if we end-up making a mistake or succumbing to temptation in one way or another – so be it. God loves us the way we are and when we try to earn his acceptance of us through something that we do for Him – we end-up missing the whole purpose of righteousness by faith.

I believe that a life in Christ really should look a lot more like everyday life than what the church has led us to believe – that is something that disappoints and frustrates some Christians. When someone has lived a disappointing and frustrating life, they can tend to hold-on to thoughts of a better life as a means of coping. But the adherence to fantasies is not real hope: hope is an expectation of good and the Bible tells us that it is an aspect of love, just as kindness and patience is. When Christians put their hope in something amazing happening in their life, they experience the anxiety of trying to control their life. This inevitably results in disappointment when the thing they were hoping for does not materialize.

We should not feel the need to abandon the belief that God exists. But we should strive to attain a balance: honouring God where appropriate, whilst giving ourselves credit when we achieve something good; seeing God as living within us, whilst having the sense of freedom to make decisions for ourselves.

I’m Not a Serious Christian – Part 3

Big Laughing In order to experience the love of God for yourself, it’s not about the accumulation of spiritual knowledge or “serving God” by performing benevolent acts in the institution church. When a Christian believes that they have to get serious about serving God in the church, in order to be blessed and favoured by Him, they open themselves up to a whole lot of religious abuse. One of the main things that cause Christians to become so serious is the threat of punishment. When Christianity becomes all about avoiding hell or living right, they tend to become frightened people and critical and oppressive towards others - the grace message sets people free from such oppression.

You cannot qualify yourself as being a “loving person”, simply by making yourself do some of those things which someone associates with the character of a “loving person”. I believe that experiencing grace and love is much, much simpler than that. A loving personality comes from within, it is natural and is not something that you earnestly strive to prove or exercise through good works. You know when you are around someone who has a genuine heart of love: their body language exudes it and you can even feel it in your spirit.

I listened to the latest The God Journey podcast episode today: It’s the Living Loved That’s Important 25th September 2010. Wayne and Brad related a lot of things along the same lines as what I have written above, in relation to the wrong motives that Christians have. I like the way that Wayne Jacobsen openly relates his experiences with desiring to establish a ministry empire from the flesh, together with how empty and unfulfilling all of that is. You can tell when someone is not living loved and are using the love of God as another spiritual “concept”, when they earnestly strive to get other people to agree with them on forums and other such platforms. When you live loved, you don’t have to prove it to other people – you live it. People who live loved don’t have to defend themselves or feel the need to argue their case – they can just walk away with the other person still holding onto their contrary beliefs.

The more you are in the flesh, not knowing the love of God, or treating the love of God as another spiritual concept that you have to master and teach others – the more serious you are bound to be. The more you live in the love of God, the less you feel you need to master spiritual concepts; and the more free you are to live life freely – and to not be so freaking serious about it!

Photo: Big Laughing courtesy of Tommy Wong.

I’m Not a Serious Christian – Part 2

Laughing on the Bus

I look back on my life and realise just how much time I wasted trying to become an “expert” in spiritual knowledge. I could have learned to speak another language or I could have read some really good secular novels with the time I spent studying. We often assume that people will be more influenced by us and will delight in us, as Christians, if we know as much as possible about Christianity – that is not the case in my experience. I find that it is often the people who hardly have any spiritual knowledge, who seem to excel in this “living loved” lifestyle. To be honest, I don’t think people in the world are impressed with serious looking Christians who spout off a load of spiritual concepts. Such Christians tend to be rather proud and highly opinionated – which is a huge turn-off for anybody. People tend to be more attracted to those who humble themselves, not abase themselves, but people who don’t assume to have all the answers: people who put others first and accept other people as they are.

I find that the Christians at Hillsong London tend to get the balance right when it comes to having fun and not being too serious. Studying Theology is not at the top of the list for these Christians, neither is the need to prove they are right and everybody else is wrong. The most important things for these Christians tend to be making people feel welcome, socialising and having fun. I used to think that they went overboard with having fun and being sociable – but now I realise that they have it right. If you are a “serious” Christian, you too would probably arrive at the same conclusion that I used to arrive at. But what does bother me about the Hillsong crowd is that they are hooked on excitement, moreover, anticipation.

There’s always something going on at Hillsong London church that gets these people excitedly anticipating something: a new worship CD is coming out next month, or a charismatic speaker is visiting next week or there is a charity football match on tomorrow or the annual conference is coming up in a few months. I suppose it has to be exciting to get people interested enough to keep on coming, otherwise, it would get rather boring. But it does bother me somewhat that a Christian can get serious about a certain speaker or concept, just because they are exciting. I’ve noticed that the Hillsong crowd will get just as excited about hearing someone like Joyce Meyer, than they will about grace preacher Joseph Prince. Nowadays, I tend to not get so bothered about such things: if a Christian is humble, laid-back, fun and good to get on with – that’s just fine in my book.

I don’t think that there is anything “right” or “wrong” about Hillsong, as such. In fact, I’d say it’s my favourite church at the moment, although I don’t attend as much as I used to. I think it is just like any other church experience in that it’s a phase that you go through and hopefully enjoy and learn from, to some extent. Those who move on from Hillsong usually do so because of their circumstances, such as their visa expiring. There are those people who leave because they get ticked-off about something. Whatever the case, I think it is fine to experience something for a season and then to move on at the right time.

Photo: Laughing on the Bus courtesy of Peter Smithy.

I’m Not a Serious Christian – Part 1

Laughing I recently noticed the unusual title of a rather popular blog which I follow: the blog is called Voice of Grace and the title of this particular blog entry was I’m Not a Serious Christian. In this curious blog entry I read something that I really resonated with: how exhausting it was to be a serious Christian.

Coincidently, I listened to my favourite Christian podcast a couple of days ago: The Free Believers Network, entitled Laughter Therapy 21st September 2010. This podcast emphasised the importance of having fun and how serious institutional Christianity can make a person. It seems that the pursuit of religion and theology above relationship with God and other people, inevitably leads to overindulgence in analysing things and absolute seriousness about so many things. It’s like Christians have trained themselves to no longer be fun and to adopt a serious persona. I suppose they do this because they don’t want to be seen as being flippant, especially when it comes to spiritual things. I like this quote from the introduction to this podcast episode, “We’ve lost our sense of humour because we’ve been pickled in a jar of seriousness our entire lives.” I also like something that Darin Hufford said in this podcast, something he has said before, “Christians believe that a good marriage should be 95 percent seriousness and 5 percent fun – but it should actually be the other way around.”

I became very serious in my pursuit of truth as a Christian. I began to look down on those things that were deemed “ungodly” and criticized those people who did not “honour God”. It all blew up in my face when, after pursuing spiritual concepts, principles and formulas for several years – I realised that my life was not changed for the better. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to map spiritual concepts to my life as a means of making my life more prosperous, happy and attractive to others – but it has not worked.

I believe that motives play a huge role in whether the pursuit of spiritual knowledge really yields any tangible benefits. In his book, Mastering Your Emotions, Pastor Colin Dye says that the basic human wants are security, significance and self-worth; we try to satisfy these wants through the pursuit of people, power and possessions. I will admit that although I convinced myself that my motives were pure, they really were tainted with security, significance and self-worth. We are all motivated by these core human needs – every single one of us; although, some experience them more than others and we all express them in various different ways.

The pursuit of a ministry empire, were you seek establish yourself as a “font of all knowledge”, is obviously an enticing trap for many people. I will admit that I wanted to become an “expert” in my new-found theology: the grace message. But when grace or “living loved” becomes something that you study with a means of teaching others who are seeking fulfilment in life – we inevitably miss it. It really is shocking just how far a person can travel down that road of studying about love and grace – without actually experiencing it.

Photo: Laughing courtesy of Anthony Kelly.

Blessing and Favour Through Obedience – Part 5

If Christians make a connection between obedience and blessings, there will often be a tendency to believe that they are not obedient enough because the blessings just don’t seem to be there. This approach can lead to obsessive rule-keeping and adherence to all sorts of principles – principles being a subtle form of rule-keeping.

The conclusion that I have come to on the subject of being guided by God, is that peace of mind is the most important thing. Peace and faith always go together – you cannot have one without the other. When you trust in God there is a peace about it. It is when a person’s mind is in turmoil, wracked with anxiety that they fail to hear from God and typically go off and do their own thing – just like Moses when he struck the rock with his staff; just like the twelve spies who spied out the promises land and gave a negative report.

I cannot help but feel that being exposed to all of these extravagant stories which are attributed to scripture can have a detrimental effect on Christians, especially if they are insecure and prone to worry. When it comes to being provided for materially, I think nothing beats not worrying.

31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Matthew 6:31-33

I believe that “kingdom of God and His righteousness” has to include peace. In fact, Romans 14:17 tells us exactly what it is: the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. How can you have the kingdom of God in you if you are not happy and you are always worrying about things?

I have always struggled with the “standard” preaching in church on taking action. The conclusion I have now come to is that life just does itself and things just tend to happen. We have both a conscious mind and a subconscious mind: it is the subconscious mind which forms our habits and it is the subconscious mind which leads us to do things spontaneously, often without hardly thinking about it. Why are Christians so pre-occupied with rules and principles, when a lot of the time they are not consciously aware of them most of the time and they often end-up doing something different anyway?

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Philippians 2:13. I think that other versions of the Bible really help to bring out the meaning of this verse:

13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13 NKJV

13 For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants.

Philippians 2:13 TLB

13 For it is God who is the cause of your desires and of your acts, for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13 BBE

13 For it is God Himself whose power creates within you the desire to do His gracious will and also brings about the accomplishment of the desire.

Philippians 2:13 WNT

If it is God working in us to give us the desire to do what He wants and to actually perform it – why are we trying to anxiously control our own lives through rules and principles? Surely, a peaceful mind which trusts in God is the most conducive way in which to surrender to God and obey Him as He moves freely in our lives by the Holy Spirit? I suppose that Joel Osteen’s teaching on obedience leading to blessing is a move towards the concepts I’m trying to convey here – but the way he and other well-renowned Bible teachers go about it, leaves me feeling that they are not going about it the right way.

I would again like to re-iterate the need to find hope through the assurance of what Christ has already done for us; not finding hope through being give elaborate, unrealistic anecdotes and testimonies. It is about finding peace of mind through the assurance that we are right with God, through Christ by faith, not by our own works. It is not our obedience through our behaviour which attracts blessing and favour per se, it has a lot more to do with establishing peace of mind.

Blessing and Favour Through Obedience – Part 4

I cannot help but feel that the life that God has for most Christians to live, looks a lot more like everyday life than the jacked-up, far-fetched, unrealistic life that Christians have been led to believe. Everyday life can appear to be too mundane or even too difficult for some believers.

I think it helps if you can close your eyes for a moment and think about a time when you felt really happy. This might be difficult for some people to do, if they have lived a disappointing and difficult life. But I believe that almost everyone has some happy memories in their mind, especially when they were a child. Perhaps you can think of a time when you were a child and something nice happened, like it was Christmas and you received a nice gift; or perhaps it was just a time when you were surrounded by people you really love. Now, imagine living in that kind of happiness everyday. In reality, I believe that there will be times when we feel rather sad, or angry or afraid. But I do believe that when Romans 6:4 says we shall walk in newness of life – I believe it is hinting at a new-found freshness to our lives in which we can enjoy unconditional love and happiness.

When our lives seem to be normal, without all the amazing, way-out things we were told would happen – we can be tempted to believe that there is sin in our lives, we’re not praying enough, we need more faith or we need to give more money to the church we attend. I think it helps to aim towards being happy – right where you are now. If you can be happy and at peace right now, anything else that God does in your life from here is a bonus; also, a peaceful mind is more aligned with faith, which is trust in God, than an anxious mind.

I believe that God will meet our needs, but not necessarily our wants; also, I believe that the way in which God does meet our needs might not be in the typical, sledgehammer-to-crack-a-walnut fashion that we so often see in the Old Testament. So if you’re expecting a burning bush, a talking donkey or a coin in a fish’s mouth – you might want to think again.

Another thing that bothers me about the typical obedience-leading-to-blessings message is that the guidance is always unnatural and other-worldly. Yes, I agree that God can lead Christians through supernatural means – I’m not against that. But I am also inclined to believe that being led by the Holy Spirit is not very far off from just going with your own instinct, your gut-feeling. Therefore, there is a tendency to believe that it is you living your own life, unless you are distinctly aware of anything that resembles God speaking to you in some way. This tendency can lead people to become disconnected with their own heart, as they fight with their own instincts. Little do they realise that their own heart is that place in which the Holy Spirit takes up residence and leads us in all areas of our lives.

I have seen many Christians adopt an attitude whereby they don’t even trust themselves: they think they are too sinful for God to communicate with them. These insecure Christians often seek the counsel of other, wiser Christians. There is often a pursuit of Words of Knowledge and spiritual advice from such people.

If what God tells us to do is not way-out and amazing, as we have been led to believe, we can assume that God is not pleased with us, that He has chosen not to “use” us for His great purposes. I personally believe that God’s great divine purpose is worked out in our everyday lives, often in ways that we don’t expect. We are often too focused on the weird and wonderful, in order to notice the beauty and wonder that is going on in everyday life around us.

Blessing and Favour Through Obedience – Part 3

I suppose it is the excitement of challenges from the pulpit that make it all so enticing, leading us to eagerly buy the next book that gets published by that author or to download the latest podcast. There is the excitement of being chosen by God for an incredible task – together with the promise of an amazing prize – but if only we will obey Him. I suppose this gives us the motivation to listen to challenges and pep-talks from our favourite spiritual coaches: because we will then be more inclined to obey God when He calls us to our next grand spiritual assignment.

Considering that a lot of Christians are, let’s face it, neurotic and prone to fantasy – I don’t believe that these kinds of challenges to do the impossible, empowered by God, is such a good idea. For goodness sake, a lot of Christians struggle to get along with the things of everyday life – never mind becoming the next Noah or the next Moses!

Christians have hidden behind the excuse of pointing at, and identifying with, seemingly weak people in the Bible who were superly-anointed. The will point towards Gideon who said, “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.“ (Judges 6:15). We can also feel inspired by King David who was just a shepherd boy when he defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. John the Baptist can make us feel comfortable in the fact that we was a social outcast, but was greatly favoured of God and “used” by Him.

All of these inspiring Biblical stories are wonderful and they have their place when it comes to our everyday lives. It is true that God can take a weak person and do incredible things in his or her life. Apostle Paul wrote about God’s encouraging words to him in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

I feel that we cannot look to our weakness and struggle in life as a sign that God has some way-out, spectacular, world-changing divine assignment for us here on earth. This might seem to be a major disappointment for some, but it is the truth. Neither can we look upon an unappealing personality as being evidence that we, just like John the Baptist, have been chosen to do great things for God. Christians often say that they are not of this world; I get what they mean in that they want to separate themselves from the selfishness and unpleasantness that we see in this world. But at the same time, we must not look to this as a cliché which excuses a holier-than-thou attitude or as a validation for an unappealing personality.

I know what it’s like when you feel upset, hurt, bitter, down-trodden and desperate. But the path to hope is to be found in Jesus, not in what we do for Him and not in clinging desperately to extravagant ideals. The inspiring stories that we hear preached in church a lot of the time do not give us hope – they just stir-up the unrealistic expectations that desperate Christians have. The inevitable result of this is always going to be disappointment, as they realise it is just not going to happen.

Blessing and Favour Through Obedience – Part 2

It is not just the motivation-to-works concept that bothers me about the obedience-blessing approach. What also bothers me about this whole thing is the way in which Christian teaching on the whole has tended to veer towards over-spiritualizing things and blowing things out of proportion. I feel that tendency towards sensationalism is found to a great extent in modern teaching on obedience. To illustrate what I’m getting at here, read the following article quoted below:

Did you know that when God spoke to Noah about building the ark, it had never even rained before? Can you imagine that? Noah knew people were going to make fun of him or call him crazy. I’m sure he had every opportunity to talk himself out of it. He could have come up with plenty of excuses. But Noah didn’t do that. He recognized that God had asked him to do a difficult thing, and he chose obedience. Noah didn’t run from the challenge; he chose to believe God. Noah’s obedience is what opened the door for God to supernaturally empower him to fulfill his destiny. Now he is one of the great heroes of faith.

If you will decide to do the difficult things God is telling you to do—even when it looks impossible—if you’ll choose to be obedient, then God will do more than you could ask or think. He’ll take you places that you’ve never dreamed of. He’ll bring up out of you gifts and talents that you never even knew you had. He’ll empower you to fulfill your destiny, and who knows, you may become the next hero of faith.

From Today's Word with Joel Osteen - June 8, 2009 [Devotional]

The above text is rather typical for popular, modern-day Bible teachers. Be honest, can you really say that you have not heard this kind of thing a hundred times before? The truth is that we love the thought of rising to such a challenge. It is exciting to put yourself in the place of one of the Old Testament heroes such as Noah, Joseph, Joshua, Caleb, Moses, Ruth or Esther.

There is always the feeling of excitement when you contemplate the thought that:

  • God has some incredible, world-changing and impossibly difficult challenge set before you.
  • These incredible challenges will always come to you packaged in some kind of supernatural, other-worldly means of guidance: a vision or an audible voice.
  • There will be some sort of struggle on the inside as you battle with your own doubts and self-confidence – as if it is always going to be something that is not in your heart already; something that is not natural for you to do.

This epic struggle is seen throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The Psalms depict many situations in which David struggles with his conscience and labours long and hard with his devotion to God. Then there is the classic tale of the Prophet Jonah who was told to go to a certain place and prophesy by the Lord; he disobeyed and was swallowed-up by a whale!

Blessing and Favour Through Obedience – Part 1

I did some searching on the Internet today, not looking for anything in particular, and stumbled across an article By Michael S. Horton of White Horse Inn, which is a Christian radio station. It would seem that Michael S. Horton is staunchly set against the modern prosperity gospel that so many Christian are engrossed in. Horton seems to be opposed to the teachings of people such as Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes and so on.

Michael Horton seems to reserve most of his criticism for Joel Osteen, Senior Pastor of Lakewood – America’s biggest church. Joel Osteen is also the author of several best selling books, which are written with a view to bringing out the potential in people. Michael Horton has written a critique of Joel Osteen’s latest book, in which he pretty much goes about debunking Osteen’s entire approach to Christianity: Become a Better You: Reflections on Joel Osteen's Latest Book

I think the main thing that Horton seems to pick-up on when it comes to Joel Osteen’s beliefs, is that obedience attracts the blessings and favour of God, and therefore, the more obedient we are, the more blessed we shall be. This approach caught my attention as it reminded me of the teachings of various other popular Bible teachers, such as Joyce Meyer and John Bevere. There seems to be an element of truth in this approach, for sure; but I cannot help but feel that there is something amiss about it: I think what bothers me about the obedience-blessing connection is that it puts the onus on the believer to perform, to keep rules, with the promise of spectacular blessings. Now that I am inclined towards the grace message as preached by the likes of Joseph Prince, I tend now to look to Jesus finished work as the source of my blessing and favour – rather than looking to what I can do for God.

Another revealing article on Joel Osteen is: Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study.

In order to convey a sense of Joel Osteen’s beliefs in this area, I came across this brief description of a Joel Osteen Video Podcast entitled #473 - The Commanded Blessing:

The Creator of the universe has put a commanded blessing on you. Deuteronomy 28 says that when you live a life that honors God and obey His Word, blessings are commanded to chase you down and overtake you. His commanded blessing will cause you to rise out of lack into abundance, out of barely getting by into overflow where supernatural increase is experienced. His commanded blessing on your life will cause you to prosper in spite of your circumstances because when you walk in obedience, wherever you go, the blessing goes.

Aren’t we blessed now because we believe in Jesus who has redeemed us from the curse of the law?

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.“

Galatians 3:13-14

I do believe that a blessing is available to us according to Deuteronomy 28, but I don’t believe that the blessing is conditional upon our efforts – that is an Old Testament approach that brings us into a works mentality.

The Predicted Collapse of Evangelical Christianity – Part 2


Picture Lisbon/Lisboa/Lissabon Ruins of Igreja do Carmo courtesy of Bert K.

On her Facebook site, Anne Rice wrote this comment on Wednesday:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Five minutes later she added this:

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminst. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanist. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

When Christianity moves away from the Gospel and towards politics and opinion – it becomes something else entirely. It seems that the church is totally at odds with the outside world which it is meant to serve. It seems that there is something of a culture war that has been going on for a while and looks to be coming to a head very shortly. Many are predicting the collapse of evangelical Christianity as we know it – for these very reasons. The staunch viewpoints of the church on homosexuality, abortion and the like, place it at loggerheads with reality. This is what seems to have led Anne Rice to shun the religion which she once embraced. You may also wish to read this article entitled the coming evangelical collapse and The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism. For more information about evangelical Christianity – check out the following link.

Whatever happened to Christ crucified redemption and knowing the Father's love for you? Why can't we just stick with that? Christianity does have a fellowship aspect to it, but it is also something that is intimate: a one-to-one with our Maker, our Father who is in Heaven. There seems to be a stigma attached to Christianity that many find they cannot shake. There seems to be a need for believers to prove their beliefs, otherwise, they might feel as if the outside world will blame them for following a pointless, ritualistic religion. We should not get caught in the trap of feeling the need to prove what we believe and to justify ourselves. This is nothing more than low self-esteem, shame and guilt. We should never feel the need to force our beliefs on others. We should definitely not stick our noses into politics and the like in the name of serving God, unless we a called to do so and our vocation is in the political arena. Discover what it means to be loved by God for yourself and just allow God to take things naturally from there.

The Predicted Collapse of Evangelical Christianity – Part 1

ruined Irish church

I was browsing the internet today and stumbled upon an article about author Anne Rice who declared that she was through with Christianity.

Someone else posted a link to a different article on Facebook about this subject, entitled Club of Christians sometimes feels too big. This stirred-up something that has been in my heart for a while now, so I thought I’d say something about it here and include some links for your perusal.

It was no surprise to me when Anne Rice stated her reasons for wanting nothing more to do with Christianity. When Christianity becomes merged with politics and opinions, it becomes a toxic mix that totally puts people off and it can become a vehicle for pride and bigotry. It does not matter how justified you feel you are in stating your opinions, it does not matter how scriptural you believe you are; the fact is that when you believe that you are right and everybody else is wrong – it simply annoys everybody around you.

I think the number one reason that so many people dislike Christians, especially evangelical Christians, is that they are so fixated on getting other people to believe the same things they do. Yes, of course, we want other people to accept Jesus – but not in a manner that is forceful and potentially annoying. For too long Christians have been told from the pulpit that it is up to them to win souls for Christ and that they are lazy and uncaring if they don’t. But this can cause Christians to become intrusive and even cocky in their approach to sharing their faith with others. I know that it is important to spread the good news of the Gospel – but it puts people off when Christians become, quite frankly, rude and obtrusive.

Christianity should be something that is amazing, something that speaks for itself. If the Holy Spirit is within us, we can trust in Him to reveal Christ to other people through us. I know this sounds like a cop-out: an excuse to avoid having to potentially embarrass ourselves by sharing our beliefs. But it is not if we truly believe that it is God who lives His life in us and through us.

We should be able to simply relax and allow things to take their course naturally – including witnessing to others. We must trust in those subtle promptings in our heart when sharing something as important as the Gospel because some people might not be ready for it or might be put off if we are too hasty to relate our testimony to them.

Many Christians believe that it is our lifestyle that attracts others to know Christ. But this has been taken in the church to mean that Christians must aim towards living a squeaky-clean lifestyle that is rather unrealistic. I have personally found that people in the world couldn’t give two hoots about how clean a Christian’s life is.

There are many Christians who believe that they must prove themselves and their beliefs to a sceptical world, through achievements. This inevitably leads to the pursuit of the miraculous. I know what I’m talking about here, not because I believe that I “have all the answers”, but because I’ve been through all of this myself. I know what it is like to feel utterly disappointed with your life, to have a low self-esteem and to earnestly desire the approval of others. For such people, the allure of the miraculous is very enticing. In evangelical circles, or perhaps I should say charismatic circles, there is a constant barrage of testimonies about how God moved in an awesome, supernatural manner in someone’s life. Quite naturally, there is a tendency to want to replicate such things in your own life. But is this pursuit of the miraculous realistic and is it necessary? Whilst I believe that the miraculous has its place in Christendom, particularly in ministry, I believe that the life of the average Christian is meant to be lived without a smattering of incredible, supernatural occurrences. Welcome to everyday life people!

Picture Ruined Irish Church courtesy of Qole Pejorian.

Community in T.V. and Films – Part 2

If I had a choice about what time and place I would like to live in – I think 1950s America would feature near the top of my list. Films like Hitchcock’s Vertigo give us a glimpse into a society where all the men wore suits with hats; the lady’s wore elegant dresses with long gloves – nothing saucy and revealing like you see the women wearing nowadays. I think there was something pleasant about the 1950s – a sense of coming together and re-building, just after the war. The women seemed to mostly stay at home and look after the kids – unlike today were most of the women have full time jobs. To top it all off – there would have been more of a sense of community during those days than we see today, I believe.

Returning back to more recent times, we now take a peak into Cajun society with films like Southern Comfort and The Big Easy. Southern Comfort is the story of a group of National Guardsmen on training in the swamps of Louisiana. They get into a spot of trouble with the local Cajun society and it goes from there. Although this film is rather violent, there is a scene towards the end of the movie in which two of the National Guardsmen get a ride into the village centre on the back of a truck with a pig. There is then a celebration when the people gather together in the village from the neighbouring areas. They sing, dance, play music, eat, drink and party! What a wonderful view of community life!

The Big Easy is a great film starring Dennis Quaid as a cop whose wayward methods have caught the attention of the internal affairs department. There is a scene in which the Cajun community get together at a big house, play music, dance, eat and party! I think that a person could really build a good, organic church in such a community. Unfortunately, such a community seems so far removed from what I see in modern-day, Lonely London.

I wonder if Christians are attempting to adapt home-church models to a society which has experienced catastrophic community decline. If this is the case – I don’t think it will work. But I believe that a look at how community has broken down over the years, and people have become more isolated and “me” focused, shows us why organic church models might not be working as well as we would hope. I know that pondering ideals won’t do anything to make the situation better. But I think this journey into Hollywood and the Big Screen might shed some light on the matter.

Organic Christian communities do exist and some of them are wonderful. There are even mega-churches like Hillsong London that seem to work – but they are not for everyone. The institutional church can be something of a false environment, undergirded by a religious edict that states you must go to church every week – because a Bible verse says you should.

I like what I hear on The God Journey podcasts which emphasise just loving those people around you and allow relationships for form naturally. This is better than frantically looking for other believers who get this message of grace like you do, shunning law-minded Christians, and crying, “I need fellowship.”

I’m not sure we can hope to create a sense of community where that sense of community has broken down. I think we all just need to start from where we are – loving those people around us – not trying to force some sort of model or method into place. Then, we just see what God will do in our midst.

Community in T.V. and Films – Part 1

I love the way in which a T.V. series or a film can provide an “eye” into a time gone by. T.V. and films can allow us to be a “fly-on-the-wall” as we see for ourselves what that particular group of people might have been like and how they would have interacted.

So if I was to be asked what I believe Christian community might have been like in the book of Acts or how it should look like today – I think I would answer with a T.V. series or a film.

I think some of the historical films really give us a picture of what it would have been like to live in a small village or to be part of a clan or tribe. I believe that the feeling of being part of a clan in medieval Scotland is well portrayed in films such as Braveheart and Highlander. These Scottish clans would have been very close-knit and would have worked together as a community. I believe that this would have been conducive to a wonderful Christian community.

More up-to-date than this, I would look at community life in a small village in France in 1960: the film Chocolat is not a perfect example of community as the people are religious and rather reserved. But I mention it here because it’s a lovely film, the village is beautiful and unspoiled and all the people know each other.

The film Witness provides us with an insight into the life of an Amish community. The Amish are a small, traditional group of Christians who live in close-knit communities with hardly any contact with people outside of their group. There are obviously advantages and disadvantages with this way of life. I have not experienced this style of community living myself, but I cannot help but feel impressed with the Amish. There is so much that the Amish don’t have to deal with in our modern lifestyle – such as crime, isolation and over-exposure to media.

Next, we look at America during the depression in the 1930s. The film Stand By Me is something of a favourite for me when it comes to films. I just love the friendship portrayed by the young actors in this movie. You also get a sense of the strong community that they live in.

The Majestic is a heart-warming film in which Jim Carrey surprisingly does a great job in playing a serious role rather than his typical funny characters. The characters and the sense of community in The Majestic are truly warm and wonderful. Everybody seems to know everybody else and their friendliness is amazing. There are some scenes in this movie that will make you feel like crying and wishing you lived in that community. Now that is the kind of place in which you could form a wonderful Christian community!

How could we mention depression days North America and community in the same breath and not mention The Waltons? This long-running T.V. series reminds us of the big families that they had back then and how families have shrunk in size today. The classic end scene seems to take ages as all the family members wish each other good night! The Walton family enjoyed living in a close-knit community in the mountains. We saw that not only did they know the name of the shopkeeper, Ike; we also got to experience the ups and downs in this man’s life. We also get a preview into the lives of the other people on the mountain, such as Dr. Matthew Vance and Rev. Matthew Fordwick.

If we stay in the same country and wind the clock back a bit – we come to American Frontier land and the classic Little House on the Prairie. Just like the Walton’s – the Ingle family shared a great sense of community that I think we find it hard to imagine ever existed. I honestly feel as if I would exchange my modern urban existence with Charles Ingle when I see lush green fields, rolling hills and a proper sense of Christian community.

What Does Real Community Look Like? – Part 2

Community Breakdown and “Lonely London

I believe emphatically that one of the reasons why we try to contrive Christian gatherings through church models (house church or regular church), is because we have lost the sense of community that we once had. I believe we are living in a time that has seen an unprecedented rise in loneliness. You only have to look on the internet to be able to see reports on the subject and statistics to back it up. For instance, this article by the government shows that the proportion of people living alone doubled since 1971.

I live near London and it can be a very lonely experience. No-one talks to each other on the tube train or walking down the street and neighbours keep themselves to themselves. This article entitled Lonely of London You are Not Alone, claims that London is the most lonely city in the U.K. It also claims that 30 percent of Londoners admit that they feel isolated. This is rather different to some towns and villages in the U.K. – especially the more rural areas. This article by the Guardian newspaper entitled Lonely in London, but neighbourly in north-east, suggests that lonely Londoners should move to the North East where they believe it is more friendly.

The Silver Jubilee

One event which I believe demonstrates a community spirit in England was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. I would have been five years old when we all got together and had a street party. It is one of my earliest memories when the road was blocked off and we sat together at tables joined together and celebrated with neighbours over food. I was pleasantly surprised to read on the internet that this great event in British history led to various things being named after it: many towns have a Jubilee road and even the Jubilee Line on the London Underground is named after it.

Many things have changed in this country since the Silver Jubilee. I have never quite experienced the same community spirit amongst neighbours as I did when I was growing up as a kid. I remember when my parents would deliver bundles of Christmas cards to some of the neighbours in our street that they knew and talked to. The local shops were not just a place to buy your daily necessities: they were a place to have a chat with the local shopkeeper who you knew by name. Supermarket domination has destroyed that vital aspect of the local community that we once had. Local businesses have been unable to compete with the unfair tactics employed by these retail giants.

I believe that what really provides a startling contrast with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and modern society has been the apathy shown by the British towards the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. I believe that this article entitled All Quiet on Jubilee Road gives some insight into this contrast and the breakdown of the sense of community in Britain.

The Mega-Church

I have tried to sum-up my feelings about the mega-church Hillsong London in past blog entries. I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about this church. There are some things about it that I really like: I do like the fact that is does seem to provide a place were Christians can meet together. It is not oppressive and religious and the people are rather cool to hang out with – in stark contrast to the average charismatic church. Some people are able to maintain some really good friendships at this church – some even get married! But I can’t help but feel that it can be rather false sometimes. You can come to a place like Hillsong London carrying religious baggage with you from your previous church; if you do, then you are likely to struggle because you might be forcing yourself to spend time with people who aren’t really your friends – with the belief that you “must have fellowship”.

Why Religion and Rules Do not Work

I now believe that were the religious system breaks down is because it tries to replace love with rules, rituals, guidelines, principles and formulas. Attending a church building once every Sunday becomes just another obligation that the believer must fulfil. We insist that we must have “fellowship”, and therefore, church attendance becomes another rule that we must obey in order to fulfil this requirement.

There is a place for guidelines, formulas and the like. For instance, if I went into business making wine – I would need to study the subject from people with lots of experience in the field. Just as there are laws in nature and science – there are also “laws” when it comes to making wine: how to source the finest ingredients, caring for the grapes, how long the wine takes to ferment, how it should be stored and so forth.

But we try to take the same formula and principle concept and apply it to everyday life – relationships and the like. Another way of looking at it is this: you cannot use principles and formulas to replace or enhance the fruit of the spirit. You cannot replace the development of patience or the administration of kindness, through adherence to a set of principles.

What Does Real Community Look Like? – Part 1

One of the topics which often arise in discussions between grace believing Christians, is that of community: this inevitably leads to the subject of the institutional church and its relevance in modern-day Christianity.

The Grace Message and Christian Community

At last, as Christians are set free from the constraints of organised religion imposed upon them by the institutional church – they are left with a new-found sense of freedom; there is also a sense of re-discovering things for yourself: what is right for you, what is real and what really works; the relevant of prayer and how much you should read the Bible. Christians have been basically “spoon-fed” from the pulpit for so long that when they finally start questioning that system or finally come out of it altogether - they are left feeling clearer on some things but rather confused with others. I would say that the whole concept of Christian community certainly falls into this bracket.

At one time, going to church on a Sunday was a rule that no “proper” Christian dare question. But through the emerging grace message, that religious edict has finally been questioned. We are left wondering what Christian community really looks like and how we can incorporate it into our lives. For some, the existing church model, although not perfect, is more than adequate for their fellowship needs. For others, the church as they know it is simply not good enough

There is an emphasis on organic relationships now when it comes to how we do church. I think Frank Viola’s book, Re-imagining Church, has helped people understand the difference between contrived and organic relationships amongst believers when it comes to “church”.

I believe that all relationships should be allowed to begin, develop, change and end without the intervention of rules and guidelines. Christians are no exception to this rule and church should not be a way of trying to force something which should be natural and spontaneous.

The God Journey

If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you will know doubt be aware that one of my favourite podcasts at the moment is The God Journey. This podcast takes a light-hearted, yet honest look at the way we Christians do church; it also addresses the whole subject of Christian community and emphasises “living loved”. On a recent God Journey podcast, one of the hosts, Wayne Jacobsen, recounted his recent visit to England. Wayne talked about a large family in England who enjoyed a wonderful, close-knit Christian community. Wayne admitted something along the lines of the fact that what this family had is what he would personally like for himself (in terms of Christian community).

I love what Wayne said at one point during the podcast: he said something along the lines of this: as soon as we try to add something to our Christian fellowship, or we try too hard to keep what we already have – we are already exerting too much control.

Learning from Life’s Lessons

Getting Religious…In a Good Way

It is quite possible to become “religious” about certain things. There are certain things that I will do or not do, because of my own convictions and because in most cases, I have learned what works for me. For instance, if I am getting a train, I will get their at least ten minutes early so that I don’t have to rush and in case there is a big queue for the ticket kiosk. I did not reach this conviction through someone else giving me a principle; or because the Bible told me to do it under the threat of ex-communication from God. I reached this conviction after experiencing a lot of stress because I had to run to catch the train or because I missed the train because of a long queue to buy a ticket.

I could go on with many little examples of principles and habits that I stick to, because I have learned them through experience. I will keep a small umbrella in my desk at work and carry one with me in my bag – in case I get caught in a shower. I will also keep a larger umbrella at home and one at work, in case of a heavy downpour. I don’t keep umbrellas with me because the Bible said I ought to!

A child learns not to put his hand on a hot stove when he does the very thing his mother told him not to do. Sometimes it is necessary to make mistakes in life so that we can learn not to do them again. I can see how the church wants to protect the congregation from making mistakes in life. But I think God allows us to make mistakes, even harsh mistakes, in order to strengthen and shape our character in one way or another.

The Trials of Life

It is not necessary for everyone to go through all of the typical trials that we fear in life, such as serious illness or divorce. But there is not a lot we can do to avoid such things happening to us. Such efforts to avoid the worst that life throws at us, simply leads to heightened stress levels. I think the best thing we can do is to rest in the assurance of God’s grace for us in Christ and just not get stressed about things.

The concept of God allowing us to go through trials in order to teach us something is a rather debatable one. South African Grace Preacher Bertie Brits says that God does not put us through trials in order to teach us something. Bertie often uses the analogy of him driving into the hot desert in an air-conditioned car; then he tricks his wife into stepping out of the car, before locking the doors. Then when his wife is banging on the doors and screaming to let her in – he tells her that he is teaching her something. I can understand the perspective of this analogy and how it relates to some of the experiences we go through in life.

Nevertheless, bad things do happen to people, believers and non-believers alike. The Bible says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). I’m inclined to believe that something good can come from something bad. There are vital lessons to be learned from some of the harshest experiences that we go through in life, such as divorce. But I think the things we learn from these harsh experiences are more subconscious than conscious: by that I mean our character may be improved in some way, but we may not be consciously aware how and why.

Why Principles Don’t Work

I think the reason why principles don’t work is that they are detached from a revelation of the heart. I find that God hardly ever gives a person a cold, hard religious edict and expects them to comply. Such commands are focused at the head and not the heart. It is only when a command is backed-up by a threat or a promise, such as wealth, that it becomes effective to an extent. Although such threats and promises might appeal for a short while, they lack love and as such, they lack the patience needed to see those commands and principles through to completion.

We read in the Old Testament how God would often speak to people audibly in the Old Testament and expect them to comply. One such example is that of Jonah who was told to travel to a certain place, but he refused, went somewhere else and was swallowed by a whale. People might wonder nowadays why God does not lead people by an audible voice like He did back then. I believe the reason could be the fact that God leads by the heart now and no longer dishes-out rules that people are not prepared to respond to simply and lovingly.

In the Gospels we read about Jesus giving people such cold, harsh commands. One such example is in Mark 10:17-23 when the rich ruler asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus could have told him to believe in Him – that it is New Testament grace answer. Instead, He responded with the Old Testament law answer:

21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"

Mark 10:21-23

There are many Christians who cry out to God asking Him what they should do next. It’s a bit like a jilted husband desperately asking his estranged wife, “Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it!” or the classic, “I can change – just give me another chance!” Just being told to do something or agreeing with a command or principle, won’t change your behaviour and it won’t change your life.

As New Testament believers in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit living in us; we have the divine nature and now we are to live spontaneously and naturally as the Spirit leads. God gives us both the desire to do His will and the ability.

13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13

13 For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants.

Philippians 2:13 TLB

13 For it is God who is the cause of your desires and of your acts, for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13 BBE

The Essence of Scripture

When I was very serious about finding scriptural truth, I often missed the essence of scripture. This subject was discussed by The Free Believers Network in the episode The Essence Revelation 12th May 2010. It is better to understand the essence of the Gospel, to know it in your heart, rather than have a load of Biblical facts swimming around inside your head, which have no accord in your heart.

In a recent podcast episode, Darin Hufford presented an analogy of the way in which we become so focused on individual words of scripture, but lose the essence of what it is telling us. He likened it to a person who reads a personal letter, over and over again, until it loses its original meaning. It’s almost like becoming a handwriting expert and examining every little dot above the “i” and so forth.

Outside of the institutional church setting, you no longer have a spiritual coach barking out orders at you. Now you are in a situation whereby you have the freedom to learn what is right and wrong for yourself. Sometimes it is not a case of determining what is right or wrong in a way that applies to everyone: it is more about what is right for you in this moment in time.

Discover the Essence for Yourself

It is important to discover for yourself the spirit or essence behind scripture. Darin Hufford related in a recent podcast episode, the way in which we abstain from doing something, and tell others to do likewise, just because the Bible seems to say so. Now, this would have sounded sacrilegious to me a few years ago – but it makes a great deal of sense to me now. We say something like, “You should not fornicate!” Then when someone asks, “Why” – we just reply, “Because the Bible says so.” Find out what the Bible means to you personally. Discover the essence and spirit behind a verse of scripture. Learn about the context of a verse – you might find that the verse was written to non-believers or just to the Jews, for instance. I’m not condoning fornication or anything else that the Bible says we should not do, but I do believe there is a need to discover what is right and wrong for you.

I remember Joseph Prince providing an analogy of a man who tells his wife that he only has eyes for her; he will never get intimate with any other woman…because the Bible says so. It would be a lot more flattering for the woman if the man told her that he would not spend time with another woman – because he loves her. You see, love engages the heart. But when you are coldly following rules and principles from the Bible, under the threat of punishment and in fear, you become like a robot that has disconnected himself from the heart and is merely living from the head.

Hillsong London, Grace, Principles and Having Fun – Part 4

No Pain No Gain

Now I have come to see an important factor in the development and maturity of a Christian: the realisation that principles and formulas don’t work. It is sad that most members of Hillsong London have not yet reached that level of maturity. But I look back on my life and the lives of others and see that this revelation takes time and effort; not only that – it hurts as well. It seems as if the only way we can reach that place whereby we are convinced that principles don’t work – is to go through the religious experience facilitated by the institutional church system. This life phase can take years of time and effort to work through. It seems as if there is no “express option” available when it comes to learning this valuable life lesson – but I think with the recent explosion in grace teaching – it might change. The pain of this journey towards grace was discussed in the by The Free Believers Network in the episodes, No Pain No Gain, 27th January 2010 and, No Pain No Gain - Part 2, 30th January 2010.

Grace, Scripture and Moving On

I think there does need to be a healthy interest in knowing this grace message scripturally: this can be achieved by listening to the messages of well-known grace preachers such as Joseph Prince, Bertie Brits, Andrew Wommack and Paul White. But I think the interest in scripture does die-down somewhat when you finally get the message. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I think you reach the point whereby you feel you are saturated with this message – especially when grace is actually a short message, without all the principles we have been used to. Again, I think having a keen interest in grace from a scriptural standpoint; can be another phase that people go through. If this interest does wane after being fervent for a while – I think that’s okay.

This subject was discussed by The Free Believers Network in the episode, podcast Moving On, 10th April 2010. In this podcast, the hosts discussed the way in which many Free Believers take time out from “the conversation”; when they come back for a brief time, they are more mature and solid people in terms of character.

I remember meeting quite a few people on Facebook who were just getting into the message of grace like I was. As I continued to engage with these people, I continued to network with other grace believers. I hardly hear anything from that original crowd now: it’s as if they have moved on in their life. Some of these people used to engage in discussions a lot and used to post-up quotes, blogs and links – but now they hardly engage in such activities. These people have done what they needed to do and are now living from that place of rest in the finished work of the cross. These people don’t feel the need to post-up verses of scripture on Facebook every day. I have also found that I don’t engage with other believers on Facebook half as much as I used to. You go through phases and seasons in life and you move onto new things.

The message of grace, whether it be scriptural-based (such as Joseph Prince) or essence-based (such as The Free Believers Network), should be something we finally come to understand and live from. There should not be the need to continuously listen to grace teaching or to rant and rave about how “the institution” hurt you. You should just be able to move on and live your life with a new-found sense of security in the assurance that God loves you.

Hillsong London, Grace, Principles and Having Fun – Part 3

The Power of Unison

What really caught my attention in one or more Free Believers Network podcasts is the realisation that there is something powerful about a group of people being united together through the same cause. People at a rock concert are united in their passion for the particular artist or artists who are performing at that venue. Similarly, Christians at a mega-church are united in the belief in Christ. This can be a very good thing – I don’t doubt that at all. But I just wonder to what extent Christians “get in the flesh” when it comes to uniting together under one cause. I wonder to myself if a similar effect to the mega-church could be achieved if an environmental awareness group organised meetings every Sunday in a major city; they could play rock songs with lyrics based on saving dolphins and other such topical things. I wonder if the same kind of people who go to mega-churches would attend such gatherings if they were available!

I think what set me free from all the church emotionalism at Hillsong was listening to The Free Believers Network podcasts since the start of this year. One podcast in particular that caused me to see things in a different light was podcast The Lust of Sensationalism, 14th April 2010. This podcast episode reflected on the way that mega-churches in particular made use of the right kind of music, lighting and pulpit message to stimulate and influence the congregation. Another good podcast on the subject of sensationalism in the church is The God Journey, Preachertainers and Pew Fodder, 2nd April 2010.

Music, the Anointing and Sensationalism

The most recent Free Believers Network podcast episode is Nothing Wasted, 14th July 2010. In this podcast episode, ex-worship leaders Mike Myers and Stacey Robbins recounted their experiences and how they have been put off contemporary Christian music because of what they see as the manipulation behind it. The hosts discussed the way in which music in the church is used to influence mood, which is often seen as “the anointing”. They believe that this so-called “anointing” in nothing more than emotionalism.

Contemporary Christian music has played a major part in the increasing influence of Hillsong church – both in Australia and in the U.K. I’m not entirely sure if that is such a good thing or bad thing. I personally love the way in which Hillsong “broke-the-mould” when it came to Contemporary Christian music. Hillsong have made Christian music indistinguishable from modern-day pop songs. I remember listening to Matt Le Blanc’s Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate and thinking it was good at the time. Now I cringe at the very thought of such “cheesy” worship songs! But I see the music at Hillsong and other such mega-churches, as being a major part of the stimulation and sensationalism.

When I see the promotional videos for the major conferences hosted by Hillsong, I just roll my eyes a lot of the time. I see all the people all excited and waving their arms about. Then the camera shifts the charismatic “communicator” who bounds enthusiastically onto the stage; then comes the stimulating cliché, such as, “God doesn’t want to do something difficult in your life – He wants to do something impossible!” Then the crowd cheers, both on the video and in the auditorium in which I’m seated.

Hillsong London, Grace, Principles and Having Fun – Part 2

The Lure of Principles

There is something about the teaching of principles that gets people excited. There is something compelling about being given a challenge in relation to a Biblical principal. Just like the Jews with their Ten Commandments, Christians often adopt the attitude of wanting someone to tell them what to do. It seems so easy to be able to follow a set of rules or principles. But it is only when you attempt to do these things that you discover that you don’t have what it takes.

The Transition from Law to Grace

I think every grace Christian goes through a transition period from law to grace. During that transition period you are likely to attend church and make excuses as to why you do so. You will convince yourself and others that you need the fellowship of other Christians via the church; you might tell people that God has called you to be the voice of grace to your religious church. But there comes a time when you just can no longer mix the two and you make a clean break. This is often signified by a decision to leave your church – but not always and there is no “law” about that. I remember some of my grace friends on Facebook making similar excuses and announcements. I recall in my own life, not so long ago, when I made this clear-cut transition from law to grace: I stopped downloading Joyce Meyer’s podcasts and I made the decision to get rid of most of my Christian books.

Mega-Church Sensationalism

I do wish that there would have been some people in Hillsong that I could have shared this journey with. I would describe most of these people as “grace-oriented” and I would not say they were religious at all. But I think what prevents the Hillsong crowd from embracing the grace message with gusto – is because they are more interested in “fellowship” (in other words, social networking) and they just get swept away with the excitement in the church – the “razzle-dazzle” as I sometimes call it.

In fact, I wonder to what extent the people at Hillsong are Christians because they believe in Jesus. I think there are a lot of people in the church who said a sinner’s prayer under the threat of hellfire and damnation. I think nowadays there are probably an equal number of people in the church, especially mega-churches, because they were promised wealth and power. I wonder how many people go to Hillsong church because of all the sensationalism. Darin Hufford wrote a blog about these kinds of things, called Speaking Shoat. This is just observation and speculation by the way – I’ve no idea about solid facts and statistics when it comes to all of this. I’m not even going to touch on that delicate subject of how many people in church are actually saved. But I mention these things here because it really does make me wonder.

Hillsong London, Grace, Principles and Having Fun – Part 1

One of the things I’m beginning to learn again is how to just be myself and to have fun. I used to believe that having fun was not as important as understanding every single word written in the Bible. I had my misgivings about Christians at Hillsong London because I believed that they were too focused on socialising (or having fellowship, as they called it); I also didn’t like the way that the Hillsong crowd weren’t as excited about Word studies as I was. A lot of the focus in the Sunday sermons at this church seemed to be on being relational. I used to think to myself, “What about Jesus and what about the Gospel?” These people just seemed to be very sociable people anyway, so when they were told “be relational” – they took to it like a fish to water!

But now I have come to realise that these Hillsong Christians really do seem to have the balance right: they have a sermon on a Sunday, they get together in people’s homes during the week to discuss the Sunday message in what are known as Connect Groups. But all of these activities are about the most important thing: people. It is vitally important to get together and relate to one another. And of course, these Christians know how to have fun!

Jesus used to relate to people in a personal way. Jesus would have His many disciples, and then He would have His close-knit group of twelve whom He would break bread with. It is important to have fun and this is something that the Hillsong crowd take to heart. When it comes to sharing the Gospel with others – they are really not going to be interested unless the people are fun to be around. Non-believers are more likely to get saved in a relaxed, social setting than listening to a nerdy street-preacher barking out a hellfire-and-damnation message.

What about Grace?

But I still have my reservations about Hillsong London. When I was making the transition from law to grace, I would have liked to have people from church who were going through the same thing: people who I could share findings with and encourage one another. Fortunately, I was able to find the fellowship I needed with other grace Christians from all around the world on the internet through the social networking sight Facebook. When I joined Facebook I thought it was just a way of keeping in contact with old friends and work colleagues. I had no idea that God would turn Facebook into a means of connecting with other like-minded believers all over the world.

The message and doctrinal focus of Hillsong London did switch towards grace when the well-known grace preacher Joseph Prince visited the church in 2006. You can read all about this in Joseph Prince’s wiki-page. Nevertheless, I found that the Hillsong crowd would get just as excited about principles as they did the grace message. It seemed to me that these people saw grace as just another message – instead of it being the message. Joseph Prince would often state that grace is not just another message – it is the Gospel. We tend to compartmentalise the pulpit message into different categories: prosperity, servanthood, grace and so on; but the Gospel is just one message.

The Divine Nature | TNB