Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Hope (Page 3 of 5)

How to overcome your addiction (yes, yours)

Hi, my name is Nils and I’m an addict. And so are you.

Most of us don’t have the obvious addictions like drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex. But we all have attachments, certain beliefs about ourselves and the world. Everyone of us is addicted to certain patterns of thinking. If you’re not sure about that, a great book to read about it is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May. 

We live in a society that places way too high a value on feeling good. When that happens, especially at the expense of relationship and connection, addiction thrives and shame eventually sets in. We substitute feeling good about ourselves for feeling good.

In our culture, addictions take many forms. We are addicted to our smart phones, to shopping, to making more money, and it is killing our souls. If you don’t think you are addicted, try stopping for a few weeks and see how you feel.

Research is now showing that there is a definite link between the lack of connection in our society and addiction. As the above TED talk points out, in the United States, the number of people who can say they have close friends to call on in a crisis has been diminishing since the 1950s. The same would be true in Australia, as we are a very similar culture which is enormously influenced by the US.

Johann Hari, in the above talk, also says this:

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Song for Charleston and the world

The recent tragedy in Charleston highlights again the tragedy of mental illness and the darkness that envelops much of people’s lives. The media feeds us with fear and stories of despair, but we rarely hear the stories of hope and goodness in the world.

John Mellencamp wrote this song more than 20 years ago, and it seems more relevant than ever in 2015. I’ve been listening to this song a bit recently. Some of the lyrics have been sticking in my mind, and they are even moreso after the tragedy of Charleston.

In particular, the second half of the second verse strikes me as prophetic to this time in our lives:

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The pitiful weakness of death

I hate death. I just hate it. 

I went to a funeral this morning of a friend who had been sick for quite a few years. I didn’t realise how emotional I would be throughout the service as people reflected on how much they loved this man.

It was also wonderful being back at my old church. It’s an inner-city church with a ministry to people living on the edge of society. It is a church of love in action, and I saw once again in this dear place that love is most seen in the midst of suffering.

As I shed tears at the memories of Alan, I was reminded of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who also wept. For him it was at the death of his friend Lazarus.

What is it about death that makes us so sad? Is it the sense of finality, the knowing that we will not see this person again in this lifetime? And is it a slight doubt – for us who believe in God – that what we believe might not be true and that therefore we will really never see this person again, ever? Or is it the sting of death, that there is simply nothing any of us can ever do about it? The fact is that all of us will die one day, unless Jesus returns in the meantime. And we simply have no control over it.

But the great hope of Christian faith is that death is not the end. The sting of death will finally be defeated one day. In fact it has already been defeated; the war has already been won, it’s just that there are still battles to be fought. As St Paul said famously in his first letter to the Corinthian believers, death has lost its sting. It has been defeated forever.

The hope we have is that one day we will see Alan again. We will see his cheeky face and his chirpy demeanour. His dear wife and daughter will be reunited with him, and the joy will be unspeakable.

In the meantime, we live in this mortal coil, with death as our fate. Make no mistake, death is awful. If it wasn’t, why did even God himself weep when his friend Lazarus died? But let us remember that, on that same day, Jesus demonstrated his power over death, declaring to the grieving Martha that he is the Resurrection and the Life. 

Death did not have the final say that day. Lazarus was raised. And death did not have the final say today. Yes, Alan is no longer with us. For now. There will come a day when we will see him again, when the One who is the same Resurrection and Life will raise him and all who have gone before. And it will be the greatest reunion party there ever was.

 

Non-violence in the face of ISIS?

Once again, Sojourners are one of the very few Christian movements to put forward a credible, intelligent alternative to the violence of Empire in the face of the brutality of ISIS. This article by Micah Bales should be compulsory reading for every Christian wanting to articulate a Christian response to ISIS.

The way of the cross is indeed foolishness to many. As a believer, it is even foolishness to me at times. That just shows how entrenched in the way of the world I am.

Check out some of these quotes from the article above:

  • “When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a death sentence. To become a disciple is to take up the cross, just as Jesus did. Followers of Jesus don’t get to kill our enemies. Followers of Jesus don’t get to conquer terrorists like ISIS with violent force. As followers of the slain lamb, we are conquerors through the blood of Jesus, through our commitment to show love even to those who want to behead us.”
  • “The world needs to know that the people of the cross are the ones who will die saying, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
  • “We are called to be the seed that dies – by beheading, if need be – in order to give birth to a world of beauty and justice that is unthinkable for those who are seen as reasonable and realistic in this blinded age.”
  • “This won’t protect us from the violence of evildoers…But it is the way that leads to life. This is the faith that overcomes the world. It’s a life of trust and joy that rings out like a bell in these times of fear and oppression.”

When we are willing to die for the way of Christ, to be martyrs for the kingdom of non-violence, we show that we would rather die than cooperate with the way of death that Empire tells us is right. That is the foolishness of the cross. We would rather follow a Messiah who gets himself killed than one who overthrows Empire and conquers all.

Yet the irony is that in following the Messiah who gets himself killed, we become those very conquerors. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That is the way of Christ that overcomes the world. In the end it is this way, and not the violent way of Empire, that wins. To quote Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

When it hurts like hell

alone-62253_640“It’s not about what you’re doing but what God is doing in you” – Mark Sayers

Even when it hurts like hell.

Sometimes we go through things in life which are painful beyond anything we’ve ever had to go through before. And sometimes we feel like we’ve just had enough. Recently I posted a very good article about the fallacy of believing that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. A few more thoughts about this come to mind:

  • We sing a song at church sometimes which has the words of Romans 8:28 – all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. That might sound glib, mainly because this verse has been used out of context, and often in an incredibly insensitive way, but it’s a statement of hope. And hope is what we can’t live without.
  • From my devotional book this morning: Leave outcomes up to me. Follow me wherever I lead, without worrying about how it will all turn out.
  • “I know it aches, and your heart it breaks, and you can only take so much. Walk on.” – U2, Walk On
  • Suffer well. Depending on your suffering, the temptation to bitterness and self-pity is always there. You will no doubt feel these at times, and if you do, don’t beat yourself up. But don’t stay in those places. Ask God to teach you to surrender and trust. One day you will be able to use your experience for the good of others.
  • Surround yourself with friends. Reach out to them. It’s not selfish to say you’re struggling. If you’re anything like me, you will tend to feel weak and a burden on others. That is mainly about fear of their rejection. You may also be too proud to ask for help, believing you should be able to handle these things yourself. Don’t be fooled.
  • You will go through a rollercoaster of emotions and you won’t be yourself a lot of the time, possibly for months. Again, depending on the nature of your suffering, your confidence and self-esteem will likely take a battering. That’s ok. Don’t worry about what your friends might think if you’re a bit different around them. You’re still you and they will still love you.

People are there. Rely on them. God is there. Trust in God as much as you are able. Hope is real. Our present sufferings are temporary.

The longest day

Deployed service members reflect on  D-DayToday the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches at Normandy in France. For Hitler’s army it signalled the beginning of the end. Many battles would still be fought and many lives lost. But, for all intents and purposes, the war was over.

The D-Day landings provide a wonderful analogy of the assurance and hope that the resurrection of Jesus provides. NT Wright, who provides this analogy, says that, just as D-Day was the beginning of the end of the war, so the resurrection was the same. Because of the resurrection, the new age of the reign of God had begun. Many battles and persecutions were still to take place, but the result was decided.

Injustice, war and corruption still mark the lives of millions of people the world over. The kingdom of God has not yet fully arrived. The warfare remains, but the war does not. The hope of the world is that love and justice wins in the end. In fact they have already won. And this hope is not a confident optimism. It is a hope based on fact – the fact of the resurrection.

The Letter to the Hebrews also highlights this “now and not yet” situation. The heroes of the faith persevered, even losing their lives, because they knew that better days were ahead.

For all the controversy a few years ago about Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, he is right about at least one thing: love does win; indeed it already has. The result is finalised and no correspondence will be entered into.

Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community in the US tells the wonderful story of a time during the South African apartheid years when Desmond Tutu was speaking at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, and heavily armed security forces were sent to intimidate Tutu and others. As the men with their weapons lined the inside walls of the church, Tutu, in his unique way, welcomed them and urged them to join the winning side. “How do I know we will win?” he asked. “Because I have read to the end of the book (the Bible), and we win.” A little man with huge courage, he knew what it was to have the sure hope of Christ in him.

Things are not as they seem. The world is still a mess; people still die, corruption still gets its way. But it will not stay this way. The wonderful words of Revelation 21:1-5 ring true throughout the universe, the universe whose moral arc bends towards justice, as that great man of peace, Martin Luther King, eloquently stated:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home[a] of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

On this commemoration of what was called the longest day, the day of the new world of transformation of everything is coming, and that will be the longest day of all.

Hope on earth

Joseph and Mary at the wallDriving home tonight listening to the ABC’s Newsradio, I heard about more fighting in South Sudan. In a country that is only two years old, tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives to get away from the conflict.

As I listened, first I felt somewhat numb. More bad news is nothing new, but at Christmas time it just hit me a bit more than it would normally. As I listened to the radio report, I recalled an image that is being spread around on Facebook of Joseph and Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, traveling to Bethlehem, but being blocked by the dividing wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians in that strife-torn land.

We live in such a world of conflict, hatred and self-centredness. Although official statistics say that the amount of conflicts in the world has dropped in recent years, there are still millions of people displaced, starving and being forced to do things against their will. And most of it is because of man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading

Anzac Day and the enduring hope of Christianity

As Jarrod McKenna says, we don’t honour the diggers if we forget the horrors of war. I have generally had mixed feelings about Anzac Day. As I think about it though, I think it’s important to honour the diggers for their incredible bravery. It is an example for us to live lives of courage in a non-violent way, in a way that promotes relationship and love. Simon Smart from the Centre for Public Christianity does this well in this brief comparison of what Anzac Day shares with the Christian message.

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