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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.

Christianity and Having Fun – Part 2

Correcting Others and the Need to be Right

Even when a person makes the transition from law to grace – they can still be rather dull and serious when it comes to scripture. For some people, grace can become the next Christian fad that they have to master. Some Christians just want to be right all the time and they seem to believe that it is their God-given role in life to correct everybody else who is not “on the same page” as they are. This urge Christians have to correct other Christians, is one of Darin Hufford’s “pet peeves”. Darin often complains on The Free Believers Network podcasts, that he always seems to have people trying to correct him – even when he makes the most trivial statements!

I’ll admit I know what it’s like: I’ve been just like that when it comes to correcting people - and up until quite recently as well. I used to go on the grace Christian forums, trying to correct people and putting my point of view across. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with forums – forums can be a great place to learn and share – but you really need to question your motives for writing what you do. I remember wanting to help other people out, but just as strong – if not stronger, was the desire to be right and for others to acknowledge it. I’ve really cooled-off on the forums now and hardly ever use them nowadays.

Learning to Live Again

What I hear from the The Free Believers Network podcasts quite a lot, is the fact that when you come into the message of grace and out of the institutional church system – it’s as if you have to re-learn to live your life again. You can end-up feeling frustrated, angry and disillusioned at having lost years of your life to the mindless devotion that you had towards all-things church. This was mentioned in a recent podcast episode entitled Trading in Your Principles, 10th July 2010. The hosts compared it with like becoming a toddler again. I can relate to that in a big way: I feel as if I am beginning to re-learn a lot of things.

I remember one of the hosts, Kim Scott, saying during one of the episodes, that she had to literally teach herself not to say “religious” things so often, such as “God, Jesus, church.” I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but we can train ourselves to be unnatural and downright quirky when we obsess about using church-terms.

During another podcast, the hosts laughed about the way in which people in the church have trained themselves to use Hebrew words, such as Hallelujah. I had to laugh at this one! I mean, a word like “Hallelujah” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it? I don’t mean to be disrespectful towards God or the Bible, and I don’t believe that I am, but wouldn’t it be better to just use your own words? Why don’t we, as Christians, just use words that are spontaneous such as, “Alright!” or “Woo Hoo!?”

Christianity and Having Fun – Part 1

If you follow my blog you will no doubt notice that I make mention of The God Journey and The Free Believers Network podcasts. We all go through phases and seasons in life and these also encompass the different things we go through in our Christian journey. For me, I delight in the way that the hosts of these podcast are not so serious and focused on correct doctrine all the time.

I’ve spent a great deal of time being theological, I enjoyed that experience, but now I feel as if I’m winding down that phase of my life. You start studying the original Greek and Hebrew in order to discover the truth – you know that you have become very serious about scripture!

I now prefer to just enjoy the freedom of living in the revelation of God’s love for me; knowing that it’s not about keeping rules and it isn’t even about following principles. I’m actually beginning to experience fun again – that’s right – fun! I love hearing Wayne and Brad on the God journey just talking about their lives, their travels and just having a laugh. I also love hearing Darin, Aimee, Robert and Amy on the Free Believer’s Network podcast just having fun and just being themselves. Sometimes they do “sail close to the wind”, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. They don’t go out of their way to be purposefully rude in order to prove a point: they just act naturally and spontaneously – I really like that! I’m sick and tired of the way that Christians are encouraged to suppress their emotions and try to become someone they are not. Jesus called such people Hypocrites, which means “play actor” in Greek. Uh-oh! I’m getting into the original Greek again!

Christians can be very serious and rather dull people a lot of the time. But it is inevitable that anyone who lives their life by following a set of rules, with the threat of condemnation and curses hanging over their head like a Sword of Damocles, is not going to be much fun to be around. Everything in the church is encompassed or under girded by the threat of punishment. When the threat of punishment is in place, what you do is no longer becomes about being motivated out of love, but out of fear. Darin Hufford of the The Free Believers Network wrote an excellent blog on this subject called The Fear of Sinning.

When life gets this serious for a religious person – it becomes important to get everything absolutely correct when it comes to scripture. It’s as if a believers life and his sense of security and ability to prosper, depends on it. The obsession to determine truth from written text has the effect of getting us away from living according to the heart. We all become little theologians when we disconnect the heart and become obsessive about the letter of the law. I know that revelation can come from scripture: I know that someone can read the Bible, when suddenly, a verse just “leaps out of the page” with new meaning. I understand that and it has happened to me before. But when the only means of knowing the truth available to you, is to be found in your ability to dissect and analyse scripture in minute detail – something is very wrong!

There really is a need to be able to connect with your heart and understand what is right for you. I think one of the reasons why we don’t do this is because Christians can get rather confused and naïve. In this condition, they are more likely to irritate other people and make poor decisions. This fear of making wrong decisions is what drives Christians to refuse to trust their own heart. But in creating a veritable safety-net for confused and naïve Christians using principles – the confusion and fear is somewhat exacerbated. Nothing really takes the place of acceptance – of yourself, life and other people. In that place of acceptance you are free to live your life, knowing you are loved by God; in this place of freedom you are free to make mistakes and then to get up again and just live your life.

How Does the Holy Spirit Lead Us?

In the previous blog entries I have attempted to understand how the Holy Spirit leads us. This brings me to a place in my understanding which seems to differ somewhat from the way in which the institutional church presents it. In this blog entry I will attempt to delve further into this important topic.

The I.C.s Perspective on Being Led

I cannot help but feel that where the church often misses it in this area is that it interweaves truth about the subject with the typical demand for performance. This demand for performance in the form of principles just brings us back to Old Testament rule-keeping. This harkening back to the law is merely an attempt to overcome inner dysfunction with something that the believer should do. I am convinced that a proper perspective on grace should be sufficient to deal with this dysfunction, thereby allowing the believer to be led, guided, motivated and prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Just Go With Peace

A friend of mine on Facebook who is mature in the grace message and whom I respect very much often says that we should just go with peace. This concept gets us away from the typical focus on principles and formulas, providing a simply way of responding the leading of the Holy Spirit. There are indeed many times when the Holy Spirit gives us a profound sense of peace in relation to something and we can just submit to that and act as necessary.

But I find that there are also times when that peace is not in such abundant supply. There have been moments in my life when I have not felt such a sense of peace about something; in fact, I have felt unsure about it and even a tinge of fear. Nevertheless, in such circumstances I have committed to a course of action that has been right for me at that time.

Do It…Afraid

I suppose this supports some of the teaching of people like Joyce Meyer who uses clichés such as, “Do it…afraid”. I’ll admit that I couldn’t stand Joyce’s preaching on this subject because I felt like I was being provoked and intimidated to do some typical church thing that I did not want to do. Susan Jeffers wrote a popular secular self-help book entitled, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. This was meant to inspire shy and apprehensive people into living their dreams – but I wonder to myself if this message really has the intended effect. Perhaps the fear that a person experiences in response to the intention of committing to a certain course of action, means that the person is not meant to do that thing? Fear is the opposite of love. The Bible tells us that he who fears has not been made perfect in love. But even those who have been made perfect in love will experience fear or apprehension at least, in response to a situation that is not in accordance with God’s will for their life. Therefore, there is a healthy application of fear. God shines His light along our path – if we stray from the path and experience darkness – that darkness is not God’s doing. We experience the darkness in our life, the fear, when we stray from God’s will for our life.

I cannot help but feel that there is something amiss about this “do it afraid” approach, because it can cause insecure people to look at their life, compare themselves with other people and then resolve to make themselves all sorts of things that they assume they “must” or “should” be or do. But a lot of these “musts” and “should” arise as a result of the expectations that are imposed upon us by society, particularly our peers. There is the supposed need to be exciting, slim, attractive, and adventurous and extravert. But these imposed social norms are often at odds with our personality and who God created us to be. God created people to be introverts and some to be extraverts, the two work hand-in-hand. Yes, I agree that introversion can be an aspect of a lack of confidence – but there are secure minded people out there who simply keep to a low-key approach when interacting with others.

Get In Tune with Your Own Heart

I think there is a need to depart from the need to perform the typical routines and duties that the institutional church foists upon its members. There is a need to get in tune with your own heart, without the need for spiritual motivators such as Joyce Meyer and church pastors. I love listening to The God Journey podcasts: Wayne Jacobsen often repeats his beliefs that we should just love the people around us and do what is on our hearts to do.

This is a radically different approach to following principles and aligning yourself with the corporate vision of your pastor. Such corporate visions include building sufficient funds to purchase a new building for the youth or getting a hundred more people making a first time commitment to Jesus in the church. Goals such as these sound noble and Biblical, but they are often a million miles away from the individual destiny and purpose that God has planted in each and every one of us.

Sure, we can play our part in the role of the church, but we often miss the fact that we are the church! This earthly vessel we live in and the other people we interact with on a daily basis should be our primary focus. But we often downplay the importance of those little, everyday events and the people we meet: we dismiss as unimportant, when we chat to someone at the bus-stop, hairdressers or whatever – this is where real community, and real-life, is to be found.

Somehow have been persuaded to believe that the vision of a pastor is more important. Oftentimes, the vision of the pastor is nothing more than religious games and a massive ego trip – not all the time, mind you. I think God’s purpose for our lives looks a lot more like normal life than we could ever begin to imagine. I like what Brad Cummings said once on The God Journey podcast: he said something along the lines of miracles being all-well-and-good – but how is that anything more amazing than the wonderful things of life that we often take for granted? By this he was talking about a couple having their first child, or someone meeting a friend they haven’t seen for a while.

“Little Nudges” and Relationships – Part 5

This current, long dry season I am going through in which I’m experience a great deal of solitude, seems to be a period of time in which I am to seek God, confront my issues and become a better person for other people to spend time with. This has led me through the Charismatic movement, complete with signs and wonders, being “slain” in the Spirit and praying for revival. The Charismatic scene ushered in the Word of Faith fad, which led to disappointment. I then went through various stages or seasons of what is now commonly known as “the grace message”.

Throughout these stages and seasons of my walk with God, I have been trying to control my thoughts and actions in one way or another. I believe that during this phase of my life, I am to simply cease from my efforts to be someone I am not, and just rest in the knowledge that I am right with God the way that I am. I have to learn to trust in those subtle nudges of the heart as my guide in life. Just because I read about something that a group of people did in ancient Middle East one time – it does not necessarily mean that I have to re-create that in my own life on a regular basis. I have to learn what is right for me, with or without back-up verses or intense feelings. To a great extent, I have found that life just “does itself”, without the need to stress and agonise over every little decision that you make.

All of the depression I have experienced in my life, I believe, has been the direct result of anxiety; that anxiety has undoubtedly been the result of trying to use principles and formulas in order to attempt to avoid unwanted things happening in my life and to attract those things I do want. Then there is the dreaded guilt, the what-is-wrong-with-me factor, as I try to live my life differently from what I am experiencing. Whatever way you look at it – it all boils down to self-control and fear: this is what dampens those subtle promptings in your spirit and leads to anxiety and depression, which is bad for relationships, of course.

“Little Nudges” and Relationships – Part 4

What I would find would happen with the latest house group that I went to, which was about a year ago, was that sometimes I would go and sometimes I would not. I would sometimes think to myself that I must go that evening – only to find that I just couldn’t do it. Then there would be the times when I didn’t “feel” like going, but I would just find myself putting my shoes on, grabbing the car keys and opening the door: it was instinctive, something that I hardly put any thought or effort into.

I think listening to the The Free Believers Network podcasts killed-off my desire to go to church during the start of the year. I have been going to Hillsong London in recent months because I have been meeting-up with a group of people. For me, the novelty of the professional worship, the lights and the motivating speakers, has worn off. For me, I only attend this church because I want to spend time with the people I meet there – not because I really have to. My motive has changed because the threats and the “shoulds” in connection to church services, are no longer there for me. This situation was mentioned in The Free Believers Network podcast entitled Moving On. So do I attend a church service every Sunday? No, I don’t go every Sunday: sometimes I will intend to go but wind-up doing something else – even if that “something else” is just lying in bed! I don’t stress over going to church, I feel a new-found freedom with it. Again, I just go with my heart when it comes to attending church and I don’t stress too much about it.

I will admit that I have felt rather frustrated to be exposed to so many different people who believe that they need to make a conscious effort to welcome people and to be friendly. It reminds me of what I believe speed dating would be like: meeting a lot of different people, perhaps enjoying their brief company – but finding that the attraction and the unction to spend more time with them is just not present. To be honest, I would much rather maintain just a small circle of friends, people who I feel a real connection with.

It can be a funny thing: you can meet someone with a wonderful, lively and warm personality. You could enjoy the time you spend with that person. Yet, you could be drawn to spend more time with someone else that does not have the same level of kindness, warmth, charisma, intelligence and so forth. Love is never dependant on a person’s prowess or ability – thank God! Love is not a competition, if it was, some people would be left languishing on the sidelines, as the more affable and charismatic people dominate the social scene. Love comes from God and it is the lifeline in relationships. Love is God’s perfection operating through the personality of a person. It is easy to see how love can be mistaken for a person’s personality and their perfection. Love can be accompanied by warm, fuzzy feelings; but oftentimes love operates without those strong, positive feelings.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life, but I found that that depression would often lift when I was with people I loved. During recent years I have found that most people in my life don’t seem to have that effect of lifting my mood. I have been looking to those feelings of love to be a sign that I am with the people who are right for me. Therefore, I just thought that I had to seek out “the one” who would make my life complete, or “special friends”. But I am more inclined to believe that those feelings of love and joy were probably more for the benefit of the people I was with at the time: it can be an unpleasant experience to spend time with someone who is frustrated and miserable. For me, it has been the subtle promptings of my heart, those moments of spontaneity in the moment, which has kept relationships alive.

“Little Nudges” and Relationships – Part 3

What has kept me going to church, more than anything I believe, has been the belief that as a Christian I must have fellowship. Fellowship for Christians is up there with tithing, it is an urban myth as if God Himself will strike you with lightning if you don’t go to church every single Sunday; so you had better enjoy spending time with the other Christians at your church!

What set me free from this stifling obligation was listening to The Free Believers Network podcasts. The hosts of this podcast highlighted the fact that many relationships in the church are actually false. In fact, they found that when they announced that they were leaving the church, their so-called “friends” simply disowned them.

I also have to admit that some great friendships can be forged through the intuitional church. I think that Hillsong London is something of an anomaly in that many of the people there are lively and fun people to hang out with. In fact, they strike me as being just as “normal” and fun as anyone else you are likely to meet. I mean, let’s face it, Christians can be really odd and dull bunch of people. Some people have made great friendships in Hillsong London church and have even found marriage partners through it.

My experience with Hillsong London is that I have made some really great people there, but it has often been a struggle to maintain those relationships; this is because those little nudges have not been there most of the time. I don’t know the specific reasons for that and it has been a common theme in my life for the last ten years or more: it is not just isolated to the church. I don’t know if it was God’s will that I “made more of an effort” or if I did what I was supposed to do. All sorts of thoughts can run through my head in relation to this: why was I like that? Why didn’t I make more of an effort? And so on. But all that I know is that I tried to live according to the inclinations my heart as much as I could. Despite this, it did not prevent me from feeling guilty about relationships in the church and from getting anxious about it as I tried to ascertain the deeper meaning of it all.

What kept most of those relationships going in the church was the religious carry-over of beliefs from previous churches, that I must attend a church building and have fellowship at all costs. I’m dependant on those little nudges to invite people for a coffee, to give them a phone call to see how they’re doing and so on. If those little nudges are not present – there can be no relationship. Perhaps there is something I’m doing wrong which is causing those little nudges to be missing? But if that is the case, no amount of guilt is going to replace them.

“Little Nudges” and Relationships – Part 2

The institutional church has been a difficult place for me, relationship-wise. Yes, I will admit that I have met people in church whom I have liked and enjoyed spending time with. But the real test for me has been in observing those little nudges of the heart: oftentimes that nudge to keep spending time with someone, to give them a call – has not been there. It’s been a rather funny and confusing thing for me: I would sometimes spend time with someone and genuinely enjoy their company. But I would find that I would have to make a conscious effort to keep the relationship going. I never really had to make that conscious effort in the past with close friends – it just seemed to operate almost by itself, instinctually, without me having to “should” on myself. I think what has kept church relationships going, more than anything else, has been the edict from the pulpit that every Christian must have fellowship. In other words, in order to be considered a “proper” Christian, you must go to church every Sunday; and you must attend some of the weekly activities in the church, or affiliated to the church. There seems to be an underlying current of fear driving this edict, so that if you were to fail to comply, you would be punished by God and ostracized by the people in your church.

I likened this situation in church to my friendships when I was younger. When I was a boy I was part of a close-knit group who really loved each other as is expected amongst close friends. As a group, we would sometimes meet other kids and would enjoy spending time with them – but they weren’t really part of our group – we knew it and so did they. So although we liked those people, we wouldn’t see them every week, or make a consistent effort to keep in contact with them. I suppose that’s what defines love and friendship: the “comeback” factor associated with it. When I was going through my nightclubbing phase in my early twenties, we would also meet new people, but again, they were never considered part of our group. I suppose these kinds of close friendships would be considered as cliques in most churches, and therefore, would be discouraged.

“Little Nudges” and Relationships – Part 1

Continuing with the “little nudges” theme – I have noticed how these little nudges of the heart play a role in our lives when it comes to relationships. There have been many occasions when I would tell myself that I would give someone a phone call, only to find that weeks have gone by and I have only managed to put off calling that person and eventually have forgotten all about it. Does that mean that I shouldn’t have called them, or that I should have called them? I don’t know, all I do know is that I cannot effectively control my life by enforcing a “should”, not even under the threat of rejection or even damnation. I can only live according to the subtle nudges of my heart – I cannot go any further than that. If my mind says, “Yes, let’s do it”, but my heart says, “No, stay here a while” – I cannot do much about it.

When I was younger I seemed to have loads of friends. I would say that this was probably one of the greatest blessings in my life. I never seemed to be short of friends: there always seemed to be kids knocking on my door when I was young and when I was in my late teens and early twenties, there was always someone calling me on the phone and inviting me some place.

I noticed with these relationships that I did not need to make much of a conscious effort to maintain a relationship. I found that I would instinctively respond to phone calls and invitations, without thinking much about it. There was nothing incredible about me to warrant such acceptance and attention. A lot of the time, I would be rather melancholy, in fact, my early years were a rollercoaster of emotions! Nevertheless, I had people in my life who were part of my life, people who I valued and people who seemed to value me. The great thing was: I didn’t have to do anything to merit these people’s approval – I just had to be myself. That did not prevent me from trying to be someone I wasn’t sometimes, as most young people often do.

It just makes me wonder how people can be expected to love someone more. You could read a book about relationships and be told that you should give your wife flowers once a month. But if your heart is not in it and you are trying to force yourself to do it – it will feel awkward, it won’t be genuine; it is likely that it won’t be accepted as readily by the recipient as it would be if it was prompted from genuine love.

Ever since my friends began to meet partners and get married – I have felt rather lonely. I have felt as if that heart-felt connection has not been present with most people, like it was with my closest friends when I was younger. The brief times that I have been in love with a member of the opposite sex, have been a stark contrast to the often mild connection that I have had with most people in my life, such as work colleagues.

“Little Nudges” and “Shoulds”

I feel as if I am trying to rediscover what it really means to live from the heart – I believe that this is synonymous with being led by the Holy Spirit. After all, that is where the Holy Spirit dwells: in the heart, or the spirit of man.

In my office recently I have noticed something: I would get a thought in my mind such as, “I would like a bag of crisps” (Americans call them “Potato Chips” or just “Chips”). I would not always voice such intentions in my mind; sometimes I would just have the conscious desire without forming the words in my mind. I noticed that just thinking this thought, together with a mild desire to consume a bag of crisps, was not always enough to get me reaching for the bag of crisps. What I found was that it was only minutes later, perhaps half an hour or so later, that I would find myself instinctively reaching for the bag of crisps. It was most certainly prompted from my subconscious mind, often with hardly a conscious thought or feeling associated with it. In fact, I became aware of the fact that it was almost as if I was watching someone else reaching for the bag of crisps – have you ever experienced anything like that in your own life? Perhaps you have but you have just not paid attention to it.

This simple scenario is an example of the subtle promptings of the heart; this also reminds me that merely holding onto a sentiment, or a “should”, is not always enough for me to actually commit to an associated action. In fact, there have been many times in my life when I have put a “should” on myself, sometimes in response to someone else putting a “should” on me. Most people do not give these things much consideration and it is only when you begin to make an effort to notice these things that you become more consciously aware of them. This is a powerful reminder that principles simply do not work – you cannot expect to hold onto a mere sentiment as a means of changing your life. In order to experience inner-transformation, you need to know who you are in Christ, what He has already done for you and the fact that you now have the divine nature in you right now (even if you don’t “feel” like it’s true.)

I recently listened to The God Journey podcast entitled The Knowable God, dated 18th June 2010. It was great to hear Wayne Jacobsen relate how we can be given principles, like being a better father or better husband. It is even possible to make an effort for a short while to live according to such principles. But without those little nudges from the heart – it is impossible to maintain that new lifestyle. That is why we are so utterly dependant on God when it comes to inner transformation. After all, things like being a better father are dependant on the divine nature, not something that I can do with a conscious effort of the will. The divine nature comes from knowing who I am in Christ and living loved. If I have to really force myself to be a better “whatever” – that is not love. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 11:30, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

It can be rather humbling, and even unsettling at first, to come to the realisation that we are not one hundred percent in control of our lives. But we need not despair at this realisation, but take comfort in the fact that God is in charge of our lives and He does not expect us to live according to a set of principles. We haven’t got what it takes to live the life God wants us to live, apart from fellowship with Him. We need to know that our righteousness is apart from our works – it is by faith and faith alone. Principles are just another way of describing the keeping of rules, just like the Ten Commandments.

The Bible as a “Yardstick”

The “Nanny Culture” in the church with its adoption of principles, naturally leads to the use of the Bible as a “yardstick”: Christians are supposed to check everything they intend to do against the Bible, ensuring that there is a back-up verse that validates it. This concept has been expounded by Darin Hufford of The Free Believers Network in his blog post entitled "Back-up Verse Theology".

The problem with using the Bible to find back-up verses is that people can tend to lose spontaneity as they try to look-up verses of scripture which seem to fit their intended course of action. This could lead people being put off doing something because it is not considered “scriptural” – even though they believe it is right in their heart. What do you do, for instance, if there is no Bible verse that says you should go on holiday to Spain for two weeks? What can also happen, I have noticed, is that Christians can become creative in manipulating Bible verses so that they mean what they want them to mean.

There is also the possibility of being led into excesses as people look to certain scriptures which they are told promise substantial wealth and incredible success by enthusiastic preachers. This leads to people “standing on God’s Word” as they indulge their fantasies about the incredible things that God wants to do in a person’s life. I believe that God has a plan for us; He wants us to do well in life and to prosper. However, I feel that this divine success and prosperity looks a lot more like “normal” life than the hyped-up claims of some preachers. Have you noticed that most of these prosperity preachers come from America – the most prosperous nation on earth?

When the Bible says in Deuteronomy 28:5, “blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl” – I believe that is saying that farmers of modest means in ancient Middle-East, will have more than enough food to eat. How on earth have we taken that verse and made it to mean something along the lines of a salesperson in 21st century America making a million dollars in sales this year? I believe we should read scripture with its original context and target audience in mind.

The Institutional Church and the “Nanny Culture”

It would seem that insecurity, anxiety, apathy and confusion all go hand-in-hand. If a person is insecure and anxious, they will also tend to be confused; they will find it difficult to make decisions and they will lack spontaneity; they will also find it hard to commit to anything for a prolonged period of time – tending to give up with something part way through. Insecure people tend to shy away from taking responsibility wherever possible and are afraid of making a mistake and looking foolish.

Conversely, all of the opposites of these character traits also go hand-in-hand as well. Secure minded people tend to not worry about things; they are spontaneous and can quickly make good decisions without pondering the options for very long. Secure minded people are more likely to commit to something and stay with it throughout its duration. Secure people are more likely to take on responsibility and are not scared of making a mistake.

What I have noticed happening in the church is that both clear-minded, secure individuals are put under the same roof as confused, insecure people. The result is that a “nanny culture” has developed in that the leaders have saw fit to protect the weaker, insecure members of the church by establishing principles for them to follow. It does not seem enough to be told that Christ loves them and that they should rest in the finished work of Christ. No, it would seem that Christian leaders feel the need to identify what is right and what is wrong, what believers should and should not do, if they are to succeed in life and if they are to please God. But what they often fail to emphasise is the fact that believers are already right with God in Christ by faith, apart from their works.

Christians are therefore treated almost like children as they are told, “Don’t go there! Don’t touch that! That’s bad for you!” I honestly find it rather patronising. The insecure people seem to take to this approach, motivated by the want for approval, as they desperately try to adopt the principles into their own life. Insecure people naturally gravitate to a follow-the-leader mentality as they seek the advice of someone who they think has all the answers. But therein lies the problem: people were never created to seek answers from other people all the time and to make decisions based on what someone else thinks is right for them. Of course, we should listen to advice from others at times and we should learn from other people’s wisdom. But there is a balance to be maintained: learning from other people’s wisdom is not a replacement to making decisions for yourself and being led by the Holy Spirit for yourself.

Secure minded people are used to making quick decisions on-the-go – without having to continually seek the advice and approval of a wiser person or a spiritual guru. I think this leaves the more secure minded members of the church wondering what to do with all of these principles they hear being preached every Sunday. You can be given a principle to follow, but then find yourself doing something else. Perhaps that principle was not relevant to your situation? Or perhaps you simply needed to make that decision which will make you less likely to do it again in the future? So I think there is a need to simply make your own choices in life, even if you do make mistakes. We cannot go around trying to make a comprehensive set of principles, with the intention of safe-guarding the more gullible, naïve Christians. Even if you intend to follow a certain principle, there is no guarantee that you will act upon it. If those subtle promptings are simply not there – you will end-up just getting confused and frustrated, as you attempt to try to force yourself to abide by that principle.

The only thing that really seems to under gird principles with power – is some kind of threat. Fear of punishment is typically the most common threat amongst Christians. There is also the desire to gain the approval of God and other people. There is also a sense of guilt and shame if a person does not follow some sort of principle that has been laid down by a spiritual leader.

Christians are told that they are like sheep, basically, the implication here is that Christians are as dumb as sheep. They are also told that they need a shepherd; Jesus is our Shepherd. We are like sheep to God – I have no problem with that. However, a pastor is given the position of shepherd and basically assumes responsibility for telling Christians what they should and should not do. I do believe in the role of pastor, as someone who assumes a basic level of leadership in order to facilitate any kind of Christian gathering. But pastors, ever since the formation of dedicated church buildings, have become our spiritual coaches! Whatever happened to being led by the Holy Spirit?

1 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 "Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."

John 10:1-5

21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.

Isaiah 30:21

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

Romans 8:14

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:18

Knowing it all at Once

Perhaps one of the biggest hindrances to being led by the Holy Spirit, is that we want to know each step, including the eventual outcome, all at once. I have noticed that when I’ve made poor decisions in the past, I have been more insistent on knowing everything all at once: I want to know where I’m going to go, what I’m going to do and with whom. There is a tendency to want to know where our actions today will take us to in five years time. Every decision that we have made in the past, both little and big, have led us to where we are today. So it seems important to make the right decisions in each moment. When we understand that behind each action we take, there is a thought or pattern of thought, we realise the importance of right thinking. James Allen said, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts will take you.”

So what fear does is that it gives us an inclination towards wanting to know everything all at once. By that I mean we want to be able to gaze into the future and understand where a proposed decision will take us. The desire to want to know the future outcome of a decision will naturally lead to bouts of worry as we try to figure things out logically. But this is frustrating and leads to a sense of emptiness and hopelessness. Worry is an attempt to supplant the Holy Spirit, whose role it is to lead us in life. In fact, it is God who lives His life through us by His Spirit.

A lot of the time I find that God gives us just what we need in order to make the next step; in most cases, that is all that we need. I find that the insistence on knowing the next five steps and a detailed description of exactly what is going to happen and when, is simply an expression of fear. The more we trust in God and His ability to guide us and empower us, should give us the confidence to be led step-by-step by Him. We should rest our minds in the fact that if God requires for us to know more than the next step, He will let us know. There is no need for all the drama that many Christians go through as they seek to know the will of God for their lives and seek to understand their destiny. Just live your life one moment at a time – that is where God is and that is where peace is.

A Big Decision to Make

At this moment in time, I have a rather big decision to make in my personal life. It is only really now that this opportunity has presented itself to me. So naturally, I saw fit to investigate further and to make the necessary inquiries to see if I can progress with this idea. This decision has something to do with re-locating and buying a house.

Coincidently, this was the subject being discussed by The Free Believers Network in their podcast entitled Midweek – Deciding in the Wild, 30th June 2010. In this podcast, the hosts discussed the way in which Christians make such a big fuss about making decisions; how Christians search for Bible verses to back-up every decisions they make. There really is a need to Christians to live from the heart and to just “take the plunge” when it comes to taking risks.

A few weeks ago I travelled to a certain place in the hope that this decision I have to make, would become clearer to me – but it did not: I did not feel any clearer about whether I should take this new step in my life, or not. I suppose I was expecting certain positive experiences or a burst of euphoric emotions that would confirm either way what the best course of action would be for me. However, the warm, fuzzy feelings were just not there. Neither did anything happen during my visit that pointed me in the direction that I should go. Seeing that this is quite a big decision to make and given my tendency to make poor decisions in the past and the state of anxiety this has instilled in me, I would have thought that God would have made it His business to let me know in some completely obvious way, what I should do.

In the past, there have been some decisions that I have made which have been accompanied by warm, zesty feelings that seemed to make the decision a complete no-brainer. But then again, there have been times when those warm, “gushy” feelings have not been present: all that has been present is a subtle prompting that has pushed me in that direction. When I come to think of it now, I suppose that the intense feelings of joy have little to do with my making the decisions that I have made: those positive feelings have been a by-product of the subtle promptings, which have led me to make the decisions that were right for me at that time.

Some of these decisions I have made by following subtle promptings have been good, some of them bad. But I notice that even the so-called “bad” decisions that I have made, have sometimes led me towards a more positive experience. So it seems that even so-called “bad” experiences are all part of this experience that we call life. 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). It seems that what interferes with the flow of life and the ability to live life to the full, is all the control, fear, guilt and other pressure we put upon ourselves.

I am at the stage now were I am more inclined to just go along with a decision, even if I don’t know all of the facts. Even if I have made wrong decisions in the past – so what? Making wrong decisions can lead a Christian to believe that he lacks faith, and therefore, should pray more or read more Christian books, including the Bible, of course. But this just leads to excesses and a reluctance to step-out and do what is in your heart, for fear of failure or punishment from God. I think we just need to lighten-up and do what we think is right. It is just the fear and guilt that surrounds our decision making that brings the apathy, fear, confusion and ultimately – wrong decisions. Without that fear we would have the clarity of mind and confidence to live our lives; making both good and not-so-good decisions. But we need to be assured that whatever we do will ultimately bring us to where God wants us to be.

It is tempting to believe that the reason we made wrong choices was because we were disobedient to God because we did not “follow the Word”. But this fear just leads to an obsession with finding verses of scripture to back-up every little decision that you make. I believe that the Bible is important, but only as a means of leading us to Jesus. We are to live our lives from there, rather than trying to replicate the life of one or more of the heroes in the Bible, such as King David. We can learn something from these people and their experiences, but we must really live our own lives. The Book of <insert your name here> is yet to be written!

I am led to wonder if the insistence on the intense warm feelings that we associate with love, is something of a misnomer – something that could be classed as being rather immature. Perhaps God wants us to look beyond such feelings and learn to trust the subtle promptings that He gives us?

Being Led By the Holy Spirit and “Little Nudges”

For a couple of weeks or so I have once again been pondering what it really means to be led by the Holy Spirit.

As always, I like to write down my thoughts when they come to me. But I mulled over this subject for a little while before I committed anything into writing. This was certainly not the first time I had approached this subject of being Spirit led: this is a subject I have returned to again and again. I intend to publish some of my notes on the subject in due course. The term that has been in my heart recently in relation to these thoughts, has been subtle promptings.

Conviction and Compulsion

I remember in the past, perhaps as early as 2005, when the term conviction and compulsion was running through my mind. For me, conviction and compulsion summed-up what it really meant to be led by the Holy Spirit. In fact, I noticed that virtually everything that I did was the result of having a conviction about it in my heart, followed by or accompanied with, a compulsion to do it. I noticed that without conviction and compulsion I could do nothing. But with conviction and compulsion I could do anything. I suppose for me that this brought to life the Words of Jesus in John 15:5, when He said, “For without Me you can do nothing.”

“Little Nudges” and the Knowable God

I listened to the latest The God Journey podcast entitled The Knowable God, dated 18th June 2010. For me, I felt that this incredible podcast episode had two main themes running through it: firstly, there was the admission that a person cannot live by simply trying to follow principles; secondly, Wayne Jacobsen recounted how he had learned to live by the little nudges of the Holy Spirit. Wayne explained the fact that ever since the publication of the extremely popular book, The Shack; he has been inundated with manuscripts for consideration for publication by his company Windblown Media. Wayne described how he had more manuscripts on his plate than he could possibly deal with. So what he would do would be to walk past the manuscripts and say something along the lines of, “Lord, if there is anything here that you would like me to deal with now, please let me know.” Then, he would wait for a little nudge in his spirit that would possibly lead him to a potential publication. Wayne continued to relate how he has learned to extend this means of being led by God, into all areas of his life.

It just struck me how close this was to my own observations of conviction and compulsion and the subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I would say that it is impossible to do most things without these subtle promptings. When I wrote about conviction and compulsion from around 2005 to 2008 – there was hardly any teaching available to me that seemed to agree with this concept. Most Christian teaching seemed to constantly put the onus on the believer to “just do something” or to “be obedient”. So you can imagine how refreshing it was to hear Wayne Jacobsen relate how it is futile to try to follow some sort of principle – without having little nudges in your heart to maintain that behaviour.

It must be taken into consideration that Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, the hosts of The God Journey podcast, has a great deal of experience when it comes to ministry: both of them are ex-pastors who became disillusioned by the traditional church system. I know that Brad is a very well educated man and by his own admission he loves theology. But what Brad was saying in this podcast is that he started wondering to himself, “When do people actually graduate from all of this Christian teaching?”

The Divine Nature | TNB