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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.

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