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April, 2012


Get your inheritance


Callings can be daunting, regardless of how difficult or easy they seem to fulfil.

Fear has a role to play: a feeling of not being capable of doing what seems to be expected of us. A feeling of unworthiness or inadequacy can also stop us in our tracks. At the root of these two lies, fundamentally, a misconception that we have to do it alone. Seen like that, the seeming humility turns into pride; and it is the same pride that leads us to stall, to refuse the callings.

In reluctantly answering our callings, we miss out, because we take on an attitude of spiritual procrastination – and end up not receiving the prize because we do not claim it. The same goes for our gifts – we often shy away from putting them to use and from reaping the rewards from God.

“How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Joshua 18:3, ESV)

Of course, our inheritance is more than simply the specific gifts we may have. As Christians, we enjoy the freedom from the shackles of sin and the peace of God. But our inheritance also includes these spiritual gifts, and we need to take possession of them.

What are your gifts? Which spiritual lands have been given you as an inheritance? And how are you working that fertile ground?

Opening the can of worms


Worm drawing by Maija, re-used under CC license

After 20 posts, this blog is finally taking shape. But the header I gave it, “About predestination and smaller matters” remains an empty promise.

Or does it? Predestination is one of those things that are so central to a worldview that it tints most of the things I say. The very fact that I’m writing this blog as a way to, hopefully, impact some people’s lives, betrays in itself some of my views on the topic. I’m sure there is a link with predestination in every post that I made*.

But there is a reason why I never tackled it openly, and, at the risk of disappointing some of my readers, why I won’t here either. The opposition between predestination and free will is just that: an opposition. Yes, it matters for our understanding of prayer, of salvation and of many other important and relevant issues – but in and of itself, it is a quarrel of the mind.

It is divisive and brings nothing to the table. Worse, it detracts from the issues that are relevant and can be used deliberately to not address issues which are not of the mind. 2 Timothy 3:7 talks of people “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

Predestination is not the only debate to fall into the trap of grabbing the mind but not the soul. Six-day creationism, same-sex marriage – it can go from the distant past to the practically relevant. I have had a tendency to always grapple with “deep” or controversial issues which bear little relation with anything but my intellect, simply because I enjoy debate. So in a way, this blog is also written to me, as a reminder that, sometimes, the can of worms is best left closed.

I need to qualify this. There are times when the deep questions come to the surface, itching at you. To me, that’s how the fascination with predestination came about – after wondering whether something I had prayed for had set in motion a sequence of painful events, and after wondering how my prayer was fitting with God’s plans or not. Then, my soul and my heart were searching for answers about that big issue. But later, both my soul and my heart’s longings had been satisfied, though my intellect was still given free rein. That’s when it became unhealthy.

So don’t shove big issues under the carpet because they are big, divisive issues. Just make sure that it’s not just your mind that motivates you to seek those answers.

* In fact, to celebrate going past 1,000 views, and in a shameless attempt to get you to read past posts, here’s a competition to win a book. Email me links to predestination you find in this blog; the prize for the most tenuous/hilarious link is Rowan William’s Silence and Honey Cakes, which is a really amazing read! (Competition ends 30th April)

What does it mean… presence?

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It is easy to talk about God’s presence. I’ve heard it said many times that “the presence of God” or of the Holy Spirit was with us.

Until I heard a sermon about a month ago, though, I only took it at face value: God is in this place, He is ordaining what is being done, He is inspiring us. All three do hark back to God’s presence, yes, but in a way which does not do justice to the importance of God’s presence.

Photo credit: Mauro Cateb, under CC license.

As I’m starting to write this, though, I realise it is impossible to describe it theoretically, or with words. For, in fact, God’s presence depends on us – on our own response. Old Testament occurences of the word “presence” usually come hand in hand with our response. Talking of “God’s presence” as a mere indication of His physical, geographical location, independently of us, would be tantamount to saying that sometimes, He isn’t there.

So in order to write about God’s presence, I need to talk about how I feel it. To me, it is a deeply rooted knowledge that He is with me – that I can pray and He will listen. It does not always mean receiving divine inspiration or ordination; it is not always supernatural. But it is like having a housemate in the house, next door, with the knowledge that if I want a cup of tea, he’ll be there to have one with me; with the knowledge that if something is wrong with me, he will look after me. Ultimately, God’s presence is here whenever I turn to Him and remind myself that He loves me.

That’s important:

  • because God’s presence is everywhere, everywhen. A couple of years ago, as I went through a rough patch, I wanted to be left alone. I fled from God’s presence, in a way. But even during those few lonely months, I knew God was just a stone’s throw away.
  • but its benefits depend on us and our response. Even though God knows our every thoughts, we can still shy away from His presence. Knowing that makes it easier to tune to it.
  • because expectations of the supernatural to always happen in “God’s presence” makes us miss much of God’s presence.
  • because it puts God’s love right back at the centre of prayer, which is the pure expression of God’s love.
  • because it helps us understand Jesus’s plight when He cries out to God “why have you forsaken me?”

How do you feel God’s presence?

What other expressions have a deeper meaning than meets the eye?

A few thoughts about Lent

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Lent is just over. This period is associated with disciplines, generally giving up something like chocolate, caffeine, facebook…

My Lenten observances started off as in-jokes, generally involving France. This year, though, I couldn’t think of anything humorous to give up, so tried on a more “serious” Lenten discipline.

And over the course of this year’s Lent, I picked up a few things:

1. Lent is about yourself.
There are probably some heresy points in that statement, but I believe that when you embark on a Lenten discipline, it is not for the glory of God. It is about self-denial, or self-imposed discipline – in short, about yourself.
Some disciplines, like taking on a more intensive prayer routine, can be beneficial to your faith; but a simple discipline is, in its own right, not related to God: by being more disciplined, you are not made more acceptable in His sight.

What this means, practically, is that you can fail. Nibble on the odd bit of chocolate, make the odd innuendo, etc. But that failing to observe your discipline should not lead you to question your acceptance by God, or make you feel more unworthy. Nor should your success make you feel worthier.
So why do churches encourage Lent?

2. It is a great way to uncover and break free of addictions

When I’m addicted to something, I tend to pretend I’m in control and the addiction does not exist.
Giving up, say, innuendo for Lent, and realising how hard it is to change that behaviour highlights areas where, sometimes, sin has a hold over you*.

But I have found this Lent that it became easier to observe the discipline the further I went into Lent.
For that reason, I would encourage anyone observing a Lenten discipline they find difficult to keep up with to also keep it on Sundays.

3. It does make you look forward to Easter!

Probably not in the right way, though ;)

4. Finally, Lent is not just about giving stuff up.

Giving up being French for Lent may seem ridiculous. Okay, it is ridiculous. But the way it worked was, we had a Lentmug, where we’d put 20p at every failure to observe the disciplines we had taken on. The money would then go towards a charity.
Lent is about giving as much as it is about self-denial. What you give up sometimes leads to savings; and those savings can then be given.
That’s the spirit behind some initiatives like The Lent Experiment, where rather than giving stuff up, you are given every day two acts of kindness to choose from. I’ve tried to do it a few times, but always end up discouraged because I failed to look it up every day or just didn’t get around to it.
What have you learned this Lent?

* I call it sin because it has a hold over you. We should no longer be slaves to any of our passions (see Col 3:5)