All posts by Tony

The Impetus For The Exodus

It’s a well-known fact that ‘official’ Church numbers – people attending Christian churches – are on the decline. People are leaving the established churches in droves, and they’re not being replaced.*

It’s easy to see why, at any rate for those who have the eyes to see. It’s all summarised in this excellent piece by John Pavlovitz, a writer whose work I haven’t quoted for quite some time. Let’s put that omission right today, eh?

Over to John:


The Christians Making Atheists

Growing-up in the Church, I was taught that the worst thing one could be was a non-believer; that nothing was as tragic as a doomed soul that condemned itself by rejecting God. The religion of my childhood drew a sharp, clear line between the saved and the damned. All that mattered was making sure someone found themselves on the better side of this line—and the Atheists and Humanists didn’t have a shot.

In light of this supposed truth, the heart of the faith (I was told), was to live in a way that reflected the character and love of Jesus so vividly, so beautifully, that others were compelled to follow after him; that a Christian’s living testimony might be the catalyst for someone’s conversion. The Bible called it “making disciples” and it was the heart of our tradition. As the venerable hymn declared, we Jesus people were to be known by our love.

What a difference a couple of decades make.

Just ask around. People outside the Church will tell you: love is no longer our calling card. It is now condemnation, bigotry, judgment and hypocrisy. In fact, the Christianity prevalent in so much of America right now isn’t just failing to draw others to Christ, it is actively repelling them from him. By operating in a way that is in full opposition to the life and ministry of Jesus—it is understandably producing people fully opposed to the faith that bears his name.

In record numbers, the Conservative American Church is consistently and surely making Atheists—or at the very least it is making former Christians; people who no longer consider organized religion an option because the Jesus they recognize is absent. With its sky-is-falling hand-wringing, its political bed-making, and its constant venom toward diversity, it is giving people no alternative but to conclude, that based on the evidence of people professing to be Godly—that God is of little use. In fact, this God may be toxic.

And that’s the greatest irony of it all; that the very Evangelicals who’ve spent that last 50 years in this country demonizing those who reject Jesus—are now the single most compelling reason for them to do so. They are giving people who suspect that all Christians are self-righteous, hateful hypocrites, all the evidence they need. The Church is confirming the outside world’s most dire suspicions about itself.

These people aren’t stupid. They realize that bigotry, even when it is wrapped in religion or justified by the Bible or spoken from a pulpit is still bigotry. They can smell the putrid stench of phony religion from a mile away—and this version of the Church, frankly reeks of it. People are steering clear in droves, choosing to find meaning and community and something that resembles love outside its gatherings.

With every persecution of the LGBTQ community, with every unprovoked attack on Muslims, with every planet-wrecking decision, with every regressive civil rights move—the flight from Christianity continues. Meanwhile the celebrity preachers and professional Christians publicly beat their breasts about the multitudes walking away from God, oblivious to the fact that they are the impetus for the exodus.

And one day soon, these same religious folks will look around, lamenting the empty buildings and the irrelevance of the Church and a world that has no use for it, and they’ll wonder how this happened. They’ll blame a corrupt culture, or the liberal media, or a rejection of Biblical values, or the devil himself—but it will be none of those things.

No, the reason the Church soon will be teetering on the verge of extinction and irrelevance, will be because those entrusted to perpetuate the love of Jesus in the world, lost the plot so horribly, and gave the world no other option but to look elsewhere for goodness and purpose and truth.

Soon these Evangelicals will ask why so much of America has rejected Jesus, and we will remind them of these days, and assure them that they have not rejected Jesus at all—they just found no evidence of him in their Church or in them.


Here is the link to the original article


*This is not to say that the ‘non-established’ churches (for want of a better description) are on the decline; far from it. Many more Christians are meeting like-minded brothers and sisters online and ‘doing Church’ there instead. I am one of them, although I do go to a weekly house church meeting linked to ‘my’ CofE church that I call my home church.

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Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

Here is an excellent post from Christy Lynne Wood, one of my favourite bloggers and someone whose writing and spirituality is going from strength to strength. Her writing is always refreshing, innovative and showing immense wisdom and perception. If you have not ‘followed’ Christy’s blog yet, may I heartily recommend that you do so. There are insights on there that are absolute gold.

Over to Christy:


Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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The link to the original post is here

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The Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo

Most of my readers will know that I used to be a worship leader in a Charismatic-style church; we’d have ‘open worship’ with, as well as the singing, things like tongues, prophecy and other spiritual gifts. There’d be singing ‘in the Spirit’ too, and it was all most uplifting.

My particular setup was that I had an electronic keyboard/piano: a Roland JV-30, which at the time, and despite having only five octaves (thus limiting my pitch range capability), was pretty much state of the art.

The JV-30 does not have its own internal loudspeakers; it requires external amplification. In this case, and since we were using a public hall for our meetings, the keyboard’s output was piped over to a sound desk at the back, manned by a couple of teenage non-musician lads that we nicknamed (unsurprisingly) the ‘Sound Boys’.

We also had other musicians: three vocalists – myself, Fiona and Cathy; Steve, our bass player; and sometimes an acoustic guitarist. I won’t give any names for the guitarists because there were quite a few of them and we never really knew who we were going to get from one week to the next. And in addition to the keyboard, each of these ‘inputs’ – the microphones for the vocalists, Steve’s bass guitar, and my keyboard, plus any guitarist(s) we had (playing into an electronic pickup clipped to the guitar’s sound hole), also went into the sound desk, each input with its own dedicated channel, to be dominated controlled by the Sound Boys.

The relationship between the musicians and the Sound Boys was somewhat complex, and often pretty fraught*. I usually felt that the Sound Boys had the volume of the piano turned way too far down; this was long before we had any ‘foldback’ (a loudspeaker set up facing the instrumentalist so that they can hear what they are playing) so not only could I not really hear myself playing, but I also had to trust the Sound Boys that the congregation was able to hear what we were playing. They assured us that they could, but I was never fully convinced!

Sometimes they even used to mute my output channel completely, such as during the sermon, or if there were some prayers going on; or if for whatever reason they ‘thought’ (and that’s being generous) that the piano was not needed at that time. It was almost as if they didn’t trust me to handle my instrument correctly, and to not do a huge bloody great big ‘dead body in the bath’ chord in the middle of the notices.

And so it seemed that, despite our best efforts, all that we did as a band was subject to the power-crazed whims of the Sound Boys and their all-powerful sound desk. Whenever you lead public singing, you need to have quite a bit of, well, let’s call it ‘authority’, but I don’t mean it in a domineering kind of way; more a practical way. When you are leading 300-400 people in singing, you need to be heard, so that they can follow your lead. For example, sometimes the congregation’s timing goes a little off so you need to lead them back into time again. To do this, you’d boost your volume to emphasise the timing and allow people to hear what you are doing and to re-synchronise. Or maybe they have drifted off pitch (out of tune), but this is actually quite rare. The problem comes when you can’t lead the music properly because your sound volume is turned wayoooh-doooowwwwn and you don’t have the oomph; thanks a bunch, Sound Boys.

And so, I had to develop a little trick to let me lead properly and thwart the best efforts of the Sound Boys. I called it the ‘Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo’.

Here’s what you do.

Set the keyboard’s volume control to about 30-35%, and do all your sound checks from there. Begin the worship with the same volume setting; the Sound Boys will have set you at a moderate volume for the opening song, and hopefully they will boost you once the congregation join in and the general volume in the hall increases. So far, so good.

But let’s say that after a couple of verses, you realise that the congregation’s timing is drifting (possibly because of the low lead instrument volume – who’d ‘a thunk it?!), so it’s time to ‘assert your authority’ as lead musician and bring it all back together again for them. Your piano isn’t yet loud enough to re-establish the rhythm, so you’re going to need more volume; trouble is that the Sound Boys don’t realise this is what you need to do, and if you gently nudge your volume up, they will correspondingly gently nudge your channel volume down in response, and to show you who’s boss of course. So there’s no net effect on the volume and things get worse for the song being sung.

So, you don’t do it that gentle way. What you do is to whack your volume control slider up into afterburner – say about 90-100% setting…

Afterburners on a Typhoon fighter

…and this allows you to use that increased volume to stabilise the song’s rhythm or whatever it is that’s drifted. Before long, of course, the Sound Boys will have rumbled what you’re up to, and will have reacted to your gross misbehaviour by drastically racking your channel volume fader right back down again. By that time, though, they’re way too late and they’ve proper missed their boat; you have brought things back into line again, in musical terms, like you wanted to do. And that was easy. Just doing my job.

However, at this point, of course, the Sound Boys have solidly put you in your place; your channel volume is a long way down and your keyboard volume is maxed out, although nobody can tell because the net effect on your piano volume as heard by the congregation is unaffected, and no-one’s any the wiser apart from yourself and the Sound Boys, of course. So now you need somehow to recover that reserve power so that you can use it again, possibly soon. And this is the clever bit, and the part that gives the Yo-Yo its name.

While playing, and in a reverse of the actions that the Sound Boys would perform if you boosted your volume gradually, you reduce your keyboard volume equally gradually, say by about 10% per minute. Maybe you could do this after each verse of the song you are playing, especially if you’re varying your song’s dynamics, which disguises what you are doing very nicely. One hopes that the Sound Boys will notice that your volume is getting a bit low, so they will (ideally!) advance your channel volume bit by bit until they can hear you better.

You continue doing this until your keyboard volume slider is back at around 30-35% and then you can use your afterburner again as required. You have now restored your ‘volume reserve’ and it’s available for use once more. Lather, rinse and repeat.

And that’s the the Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo, so called because you move your volume slider up and down like a yo-yo.

Granted, if you are an instrumentalist in a similar position and you’re thinking about using this trick, remember that  your Sound Boys might have read this too, and therefore they will be wise to what you’re up to, but there’s nothing they can really do about it if they want the congregation to hear the piano at all.

Or maybe you’re extremely lucky and have Sound Boys that actually listen to you and provide the service you need. In which case, I envy you.

But it’s still a useful trick to have in your repertoire!


*Sound Boys, if you should read this, don’t worry, I forgave you a long time ago, and this is just humour, ok? 😉

 

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Halloween: An Orthodox Christian Perspective

Well, once again, ’tis the season for Christians to moan about something else that’s  ‘worldly’ and ‘Satanic’ and ‘harmful to children’.

It’s Hallowe’en, of course. And it’s today.

Should Christians get all worked up about Hallowe’en? In fact, should Christians get worked up about anything, instead of resting in the Peace of Christ and doing what they see Father doing? Answer that one for yourself!

What would Jesus do? He told us in John 5:19 – ‘I do what I see the Father doing’. He’d have been at the party for sure. Jesus loves parties, and Him going and enjoying them with ‘sinners’ was one of the main things that the dry, dusty religious legalists of His time had a real problem with. And things haven’t changed to this very day 🙂

For too long have Christians been sticks-in-the-mud about ‘pagan’ festivals that they stay away from – Hallowe’en, Christmas, birthdays, you name it – purportedly because they don’t want to be ‘seen to be’ ‘associated with evil’ (1Thess 5:22)*, or even ‘condoning it’, but actually it’s because they are a set of legalistic killjoys. They don’t want to condone people having fun; because if it’s fun, it must be sinful!

Satan is not an entity who is harmful to Christians; no, instead it’s our defeated foe, whatever form it takes. He that is in [Christians] is greater than he that is in the world (1Jn 4:4). I am not going to Scripture-bomb you with other proof-texts, but the freedom we have in Christ sets us free from the fear of this sort of thing; Christians have nothing to fear at all, and especially from a bit of harmless fun.

Anyway, enough of my prattling on. I read a wonderful article today which describes Hallowe’en from an Orthodox perspective. And when you read the article and see the idea of Hallowe’en being ‘evil’ in its true light, you will realise how far off-beam the Fundie Christian perspective is. This is a simply brilliant article which, although quite long, is really well worth reading. It’s a bit American-slanted, but this is fine for readers of other nationalities since I ubderstand that Hallowe’en is done pretty much the same in most countries that ‘practise’ it.:


One of America’s most beloved and fastest growing holidays is Halloween, and it is also the most demonized. Many of all ages, both young and old, celebrate it with innocence and a smile, yet some also condemn it with fury as an evil and violent day. The majority see Halloween as a fun children’s holiday on which they dress up in costumes and go door to door to get candy, while others view it as a remnant of paganism and a subtle celebration of satanism. Amid this confusion and dichotomy, I will attempt to set the record straight in a short yet concise manner based on the most up-to-date studies, and examine whether or not the Church is called to demonize or sanctify Halloween based on the truth.

After many years of research, observation and participation in this holiday, if I were to give the simplest and most accurate one-sentence summary for the history of Halloween, it would be this:

Halloween originated as a medieval Christian celebration that was part of the Triduum of All Hallows, or Hallowmas (All Hallows Eve, All Hallows Day and All Souls Day lasting from October 31 – November 2), and in the 19th and 20th centuries it acquired Western European and North American cultural traditions that established it as an annual celebration of these societies.

Hence, from this summary we learn of Halloween’s Christian origins and its evolution as an annual cultural celebration. What we don’t learn from this summary is the negative perspective of the holiday, which demonizes it and condemns it as pagan and satanic. The reason for this is that from a Christian perspective, there is no reason to demonize it nor condemn it as a pagan or satanic holiday.

Here’s why.

If we were to trace the origins of Halloween to one specific event in history, it would be when Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated an oratory in the original Saint Peter’s Basilica of Rome in honor of all the Saints on November 1st, which initiated a local Roman custom to celebrate the feast of All Saints on November 1st. Before this time the feast of All Saints, also known as All Hallows, was celebrated throughout the Christian world since the fourth century to mainly commemorate all the Martyrs either in April or May, including Ireland. The Franks then the English were the first to follow Rome in celebrating the feast of All Saints on November 1st, and this became official under Pope Gregory VII in the early ninth century. The word “Halloween” merely refers to October 31st being the day of All Hallows Eve, and later November 2nd also became part of the Triduum with the commemoration of All Souls Day on which prayers and philanthropic acts were done on behalf of the dead, which was also part of established Christian tradition since the early centuries.

This may come as a shock to some who believe the myth that Halloween has its origins or is associated with paganism or satanism. The truth is that Halloween never was and never has been associated with paganism or satanism, though some pagans and satanists may embrace it as part of the melting pot we call America. Instead what we find is that the Church established Hallowmas as original holy days, not to sanctify an old pagan celebration among the Celts as has been popularly and falsely believed, but to celebrate an already well-established feast dedicated to all the Saints.

Up until the 19th century, Halloween in Western Europe and America was a firmly Roman Catholic feast day that acquired and developed various cultural traditions, as all major holidays did at the time and still do. The mythology that Halloween had pagan origins prior to Christian times arose for the first time in the 19th century among Celtic scholars, who had their own personal agendas in falsifying history. They came up with the idea that October 31-November 2 were days when pagan Celtic peoples celebrated a feast of the dead known as Samhain, even though there is no historical record of such a feast among the ancient Celts. How did they come up with this? It was believed at the time that Christian feast days, such as Christmas and Easter, had pagan origins, and that the Church merely Christianized established pagan celebrations to win over converts. The way the Celtic scholars explained the origins for the feast of All Saints, which was popular among the Irish of the 19th century, was by tracing it back to the ancient Celts, without historical precedence. Though these false ideas are still popularly believed today, any honest historian can easily spot the agenda in these falsifications of history, and they have been firmly discredited.

What about the connection with satanism? This first entered the popular American imagination in the 1960’s through urban mythology created by conservative fundamentalist Christians. These fundamentalist Protestants, already opposed to the Roman Catholic feast of All Saints, sought to demonize the holiday by basing their research on 19th century Celtic scholars. Through them Samhain became a pagan god, an alternative name for Satan, and that practices like trick or treating were originally established out of fear to appease dead spirits, which were really demons. They would hysterically say: “Those who oppose Christ are known to organize on Halloween to observe satanic rituals, to cast spells, to oppose churches and families, to perform sacrilegious acts, and to even offer blood sacrifices to Satan.” It didn’t help at the time that through Hollywood, 19th century monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein from Gothic literature were gaining in popularity and they became established costumes for children.

In the late 1960’s Anton LaVey, the founder of existential Satanism and the Church of Satan in San Francisco, took advantage of this urban myth among fundamentalist Christians, whom he most wanted to provoke, and established Halloween as one of the three major holidays of the Church of Satan (along with the Satanist’s own birthday, since LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic and about worship of one’s self, and Walpurgisnacht on April 30, which was also promoted among fundamentalists as a “witch holiday”). This marketing maneuver by Anton LaVey was taken seriously by fundamentalists, who already feared the holiday, and fundamentalists began to take advantage of this new connection by eventually creating what has been called the “Satanic Panic” of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Urban myths about Halloween grew during this time to scare people away from celebrating Halloween, such as making up stories of crazed adults who sought to harm innocent trick or treaters by planting poison or razor blades in children’s candy, and how pumpkins were carved to depict the facial expressions of the damned in hell. This fundamentalist literature, most popularly identified with people like Jack Chick, soon became the established opinion of just about every Christian Church in America, even among Roman Catholics who still celebrate Hallowmas between October 31 and November 2.

Since the days of the so-called Satanic Panic, Christians have generally viewed Halloween as pagan and satanic. What this has done is basically handed over the holiday to take on more of a pagan and satanic character, which it did not generally have prior to this time. This is an unfortunate lesson in what happens when the Church demonizes rather than sanctifies. Christians opened the door to the devil, and the devil has taken every advantage.

Christians can continue to associate Halloween with paganism and satanism if one’s perspective of the holiday is to demonize it in such a way, or if they choose to limit their observations to certain disagreeable elements that certain people may take advantage of on Halloween, but essentially Halloween is not pagan or satanic unless one chooses to make it so. Unfortunately this myth continues to be perpetuated by many leaders of the Church, choosing against the narrow way of researching the truth and transforming our cultural heritage for the easier path of egotistical condemnation which only extends the kingdom of the devil.

As mentioned earlier, many have tried to similarly paganize Christmas and Easter as well, creating a mythology that their origins are pagan and thus anti-christian. At the forefront of such movements are Neo-pagans and Protestant fundamentalists. They not only base this on the supposed origins of the holiday, but make observations of their modern secular celebration as being essentially pagan in nature, which is also largely a false myth. This iconoclastic attitude of fundamentalists creates mythology to provide a basis for the demonization of something that need not be demonized, and they base this on an inapplicable condemnation from Holy Scripture, and some even dare cite the Holy Fathers. In the past this used to be called a “hysteria”, popularly associated with the Inquisition and witch hunts. Some people are not satisfied with the saying of the Apostle Paul, that our enemies are not flesh and blood, but invisible enemies. Moralistic Christians segregate themselves from people or things they choose to associate with evil, instead of embracing all people and transforming rather than condemning. Hysteria dictates that it is easier to demonize something we can see and to fight against that, rather than to fight against our internal temptations and passions and transform ourselves.

While religious holidays in America tend to be personal or family holidays that are embraced at best by a small specific community, Halloween is one of few days open to the entire community, and its secular cultural purpose is meant to show good will among neighbors. The reason for this is because in the early 20th century, Halloween was still very much a Christian holiday, but it also became a day in which the melting pot of cultural traditions gathered to form a national family secular holiday. In the European Late Middle Ages it was a custom at Christmas and on All Souls Day for poor children to go door to door and beg for money and food. In 1605 Guy Fawkes’ abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th led to the creation of Guy Fawkes Day, which became associated with mischief and violence. In mid-19th century New York poor children called “ragamuffins” combined these two traditions and began dressing up in costumes and begging for pennies on Thanksgiving Day. A tradition of vandalism among youthful boys began to spread throughout the country at this time, and with urbanization and poverty on the rise in the early 20th century, communities came to realize they needed to contain the violence and vandalism. It was decided at this time, beginning in the 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s, to make Halloween a secular family celebration of good will.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, as Halloween became a secular celebration, it had little difference with Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. People would gather in the town square and take part in a parade and play various games. Halloween also had some Victorian elements that were popular at the time, such as divination and spiritualism, which almost everyone throughout America, Europe and Russia experimented with at the time throughout the year, even respected Orthodox Christians like Dostoevsky. Slowly also the traditional British ghost story of Christmas Eve told before a fire, the most popular of which was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, slowly transferred to Halloween. The plan seemed to work to change the autumn season from a time of vandalism and violence among youth, to a time of family, fun and games. In the late 1930’s traditions such as trick or treating were established to ensure children would behave by being rewarded by neighbors with treats by dressing up in costumes and showing good behavior, rather than being mischievous tricksters who brought harm to the neighborhood. It was a clever distraction. With the rise in popularity and creativity of Comic Books and Horror Movies, these elements also became part of the costuming of children and adults alike. These elements also helped associate Halloween throughout the rest of the 20th century as a time of the macabre, though much less harmful than it was in the late 19th and early 20th century with the rise of violence and vandalism at that time. Only small elements of such mischievousness has survived in our times.

Based on all this information, what should be the response of the Church today? Do we continue to demonize this holiday by way of influence from fundamentalist Protestants and Neo-pagans, or do we separate the agreeable and disagreeable elements, the honey and the hemlock, and allow it to be as it is? Like every holiday in America, Halloween certainly has many disagreeable elements, but is this enough justification to prevent children from dressing up in a costume and having innocent childish fun? I leave this up to the reader to decide based on an educated opinion of the facts. Just keep in mind the famous saying of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

My personal suggestion is for the Church in America to embrace Halloween as much as is permissible, like any other holiday. There are no rules how to celebrate Halloween, so any disagreeable element can be ruled out. One need not go to a psychic on Halloween or participate in any pagan ceremony. It is not a rule to take on a persona of evil or become over-sexualized, or to vandalize and attend drunken parties to have fun on Halloween. Halloween is about expressing one’s self in whatever way one chooses, and costumes have come to reflect this. Christians, young and old alike, are not compelled to do what they don’t want to do on Halloween if they want to have some participation in it. It is alright for Christians to go trick or treating and give out candy on Halloween, because such practices have no evil element. In fact, I would argue that it entirely falls in line with the Christian attitude of showing neighborly love and hospitality. All Christian homes should turn on their lights and welcome their neighbor’s children on Halloween, and even more so should Christian churches. I’ve often thought that the darkest element of Halloween are those homes and churches that refuse to turn their lights on for trick or treaters. There is no need to hand out icons and have children light candles before icons to sanctify the holiday, because this is not only giving in to an element of fear, but it also can be perceived as rude by non-Orthodox Christians.

What about the macabre element of Halloween today? The macabre element of Halloween, like many apparently disagreeable and dark elements of all holidays, is really just a matter of perspective and attitude. First of all, the macabre is a natural element of the autumn season. Not only are the nights getting longer, but the weather is getting colder and the trees are stripped bare of their leaves. The colors and fragrances of death surround the atmosphere, and all we tend to see are cloudy days with lots of oranges, browns and blacks. Secondly, Gothic fiction arose in the 18th and 19th century based on the stories surrounding medieval architecture and art, as well as old superstitions and tales. Horror stories from that time on have always had an atmospheric element that appeals to one’s artistic sensibilities combined with imaginative fears. For people who enjoy horror stories and movies, this artistic and atmospheric element is realized tangibly at Halloween time not only through costumes, but in popular culture and especially the ever-popular haunted houses. These things are not created merely to scare people, but are more like museums of the macabre imagination based on old tales and fears. If these things are only created to scare without the artistic element, then they usually fail their purpose. Modern Halloween is basically defined by these two natural and fictional elements.

St. Photios the Great, in his Myriobiblion, reviews a fiction story he read, in which he concludes the following regarding fiction stories: “In the story, particularly, as in fabulous fictions of the same kind, there are two considerations most useful to notice. The first is that they show that evildoers, even if they seem to escape a thousand times, always get their punishment; the second, that they show many innocents placed in great danger often saved against all hope.” The fictional stories told around Halloween, the great majority of the time, contain these same elements St. Photios praises in his review. This is most especially evident in old Gothic tales, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even found quite often in modern horror fiction and movies.

To offer a different perspective of horror fiction, below are a few of many quotes by noted creators of horror, the sensational and the macabre, both in literature and film, that show that horror fiction is more about ourselves and our response to negative realities than just creating the element of fear for fear’s sake:

The famous horror director Guillermo del Toro says: “Monsters are living, breathing metaphors.” Horror stories, like most fiction, are usually metaphors for something deeper that teaches us about ourselves, our environment or our situations of either the past, present or future.

Noted horror author Stephen King has famously written: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” He also wrote in his masterful survey of horror, Danse Macabre, that, “Traditional Horror has a morality that would make a Puritan preacher smile.”

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote to a friend something similar about his story that is full of metaphors: “Jekyll is a dreadful thing, I own, but the only thing I feel dreadful about is this damned old business of the war in the members. This time it came out; I hope it will stay in, in future.” The war against innate evil, says Stevenson, is more dreadful than his tale of horror.

George Romero, the director of the highly metaphorical Night of the Living Dead and the creator of the modern Zombie phenomenon, has commented: “I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”

The great silent horror actor Lon Chaney once said of the roles he played: “I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice. The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback of Notre Dame, such as The Phantom of the Opera, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three, etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do.”

Tragedy often gives birth to horror, but it cannot be denied that the most horrible elements are what we carry within ourselves. As Oscar Wilde wrote in his tale The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

G.K. Chesterton defended the sensational novel as his favorite form of fictional tale, and in his essay “Fiction as Food” he wrote: “High or low, good or bad, clever or stupid, a moral story almost always meant a murderous story. For the old Greeks a moral play was one full of madness and slaying. For the great medievals a moral play was one which exhibited the dancing of the devil and the open jaws of hell. For the great Protestant moralists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a moral story meant a story in which a parricide was struck by lightning or a boy was drowned for fishing on a Sunday. For the more rationalistic moralists of the eighteenth century, such as Hogarth, Richardson, and the author of Sandford and Merton, all agreed that shocking calamities could properly be indicated as the result of evil doing; that the more shocking those calamities were the more moral they were. It is only in our exhausted and agnostic age that the idea has been started that if one is moral one must not be melodramatic.”

Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote that to reach the deaf sometimes you have to shout.  Many horror and supernatural tales have the ability to shake us out of our materialistic and naturalistic stupor to help us look deeper within ourselves as well as what is beyond ourselves. The spiritual life revolves around how we respond to temptations and trials of all kinds, and horror and supernatural tales often compel us to think what our response would be in the face of evil, temptation and suffering.

To conclude, Halloween is what we decide to make of it. Our decision is based on how we wish to perceive it and interpret it. This in itself is essentially a celebration of Halloween.

– John Sanidopoulos

*Although actually the Scripture says ‘avoiding all kinds of evil’ – somewhat less useful to the legalism brigade! More on this idea here.
There is also a link on that page (at the bottom) to further links on Hallowe’en. Here it is.
00

‘Sully’

I’ve just finished watching the movie ‘Sully’, starring Tom Hanks as Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the airline pilot who landed his crippled Airbus 320 passenger jet on the Hudson River, New York, on 15th January 2009. (Can’t believe that’s nearly ten years ago!)

After a double engine failure due to multiple birdstrikes, Sully and his First Officer, Jeff Skiles, glided the jet down for a forced water landing, on to the Hudson River, in one piece and, despite several injuries being sustained, there were no fatalities. Of the 150 passengers and five crew aboard, all survived. Fittingly, it was known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’.

Well. What a superb movie.  It tells the story of the flight; what happened, the decisions of the crew, the investigation by the US NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and also a little about the people involved. While the NTSB investigation is not shown in a good light – the members of the investigation panel are more hostile than they were in real life – this only helped, I thought, to highlight just what an amazing job Sully and his team did.

It was technically (i.e. from an aviation point of view) perfect. So often, in movies like this one where aeroplanes are simulated using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), the computer-generated aeroplanes fly nothing like the real thing. For a Pilot, it’s usually very painful to watch. But this was perfect. Also the other technical details were accurate too.

Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger

As my regular readers know, I fly aeroplanes for fun, and I often practice emergency situations, including simulated engine failures. I know how to cope with an engine failure, and I have over twenty years of flying experience to call on. I sincerely hope that, should the same sort of emergency situation happen to me as happened to Sully that day, that I too would manage to pull it off and land safely*. Mind you, not with 155 people on board…

Sully had been flying for twice as long as I have. I love the modest quotation from him that sums up the experience and training aspect of his amazing feat. He said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

I personally think that the movie will also increase passenger confidence. Many people have a fear of flying, and seeing the professionalism of the aircrew on this movie is bound to help. Mind you, the sight of a flock of Canada geese knocking an airliner out of the sky is a bit worrying… Also, they go to great pains to explain that a forced landing is not a ‘crash’, as the media love to call it. It’s not even a ‘ditching’; it’s a forced water landing. One implies lack of choice. The other implies being in complete control. I’ll leave you to guess  which is which.

And there was so much to learn from a Pilot’s perspective. ‘Fly the aeroplane’ is the first rule of flying. Nothing else matters more than that. And the discipline; the calm, measured approach to handling the emergency checklist; the effect and benefit of experience and training; the ‘permission’, almost, that the movie gives to make split-second decisions based on that experience and training; the interaction between, and best use of, the crew of the aircraft; the liaison with ground controllers; the ability to ignore distractions. All excellent stuff, and yet accessible by the general, non-aviating public.

So, if you can see this film on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or whether you need to rent/buy a DVD or borrow one from a friend, definitely watch this movie. I heartily recommend it.

“Just doing my job”, said Sullenberger afterwards.

What a hero.


*A forced landing is one where due to loss or lack of engine power – still under full control, but like it or not, the aeroplane is coming down – and you just have to make sure it gets down in one piece. Look at it this way: well before I went on to flying powered aircraft, my flying career actually began on gliders. These are aeroplanes just like the ones I fly nowadays – but they have no engine. In a glider, then, you have a permanent ‘engine failure’.  When flying gliders, therefore, Every. Single. Landing. is a forced landing. Since I have about 70-80 flights in gliders under my belt, that means that I personally have performed 70-80 real forced landings. They are perfectly safe when you know what you’re doing!

20

What a Day That Will Be!

This entry is part 32 of 32 in the series Fiona

This is the most moving painting I have seen in a long time.

It’s called ‘First Day In Heaven’, by Egyptian artist Kerolos Safwat.

It moves me to tears just looking at it. Something snapped inside of me as I pondered this painting; something deep happened within my spirit.

That’s because this painting reminds me of a vivid picture that God gave me two years ago today: 25th October, 2016, the day my precious wife Fiona began her first day in Heaven. On that day, I saw a vision of her that I can’t describe, it was so simple, and yet so awesome and personal and such that I can’t communicate it, but suffice it to say that it was very similar to this one. And this is why I am using this painting in today’s blog post, marking the second anniversary of Fiona’s passing into that incredible place.

I mean, can you imagine what it must be like to be the lady in that picture? Look at that expression on her face!

It’s saying:

“Yes! It’s all true! Jesus, I love you so much! Thank You, thank You, thank You!”

“Wow, I feel so young again!”

“I’m out of pain! I’m whole! I’m alive!”

“I was so scared of dying…and this is just amazing!”

“I’m home!”

“YESSS!”

This lady can now see – with her own eyes – that everything is ok; everything is fine – in fact, it’s better than fine; better than she’d ever hoped for, better than she could ever imagine (1Cor 2:9-10). No matter what her sufferings in this life, she now has a completely new, whole, functioning, beautiful, heavenly body – and yet she’s still completely herself; more so, in fact, than she’s ever been . She is fully aware that the place she has entered is the most beautiful place she has ever seen: like Earth, like the world she was used to, but the colours are so much more vibrant, the air is sweet and clear, the temperature is just right, there are huge mountains, pastures, lakes and forests the like of which she has never even contemplated in her best imaginings. And, best of all, the Person she loves the most is right there!

The joy that she feels is indescribable. She never knew such joy was possible.  Alongside that joy, the greatest earthly ecstasy was just a dim, flickering glow. To see Jesus face to face, and know that she is now completely safe from danger, pain, horror, suffering, weeping (except maybe tears of joy) – it’s the ultimate healing.

She’s been looking forward to being reunited with her loved ones, and with countless other people from all ages and all civilisations throughout history; friends whom she hasn’t yet met. And now that’s going to happen. And she will be reunited with her beloved pets. Like Jesus, she has the ability to do just about anything she wants to do. She can pass through walls, she can enjoy food and drink, she can feel the warmth of His Presence all the time as a constant glow. She can see the full glory of God, and yet she’s so aware that there is all of eternity stretching out before her so that she can learn more and more of Him and His ways. To gain a full appreciation of an infinite Creator will require an infinite amount of time, and she’s got all the time she needs. Time will never again be a constraint on her life or on her activities.

Then there’s Divine justice. The Judgement, which holds so much fear for so many people, but not for our friend here. Divine judgement; Divine justice, is restorative, not adversarial nor punitive. All wrongs will be made right. Everything that was ever done to her that was unjust, undeserved, painful, heart-wrenching, agonising – all this will be made right and her hurts healed forever, to trouble her never again. God will wipe away every tear from her eyes (Rev 21:4). Everything will be made to be as it should be. All wrongs that she ever did to anyone else will be – has already been! – completely forgiven and forgotten (Is 43:25, Heb 8:12). She will have no more enemies, ever again. All her cares and worries are now in the past, and will stay there forever. No more arguments, no more conflicts, no more fighting, no more anguish, no more pain.

Imagine it. Eternity opens up before you, in its full glory and potential, rich in unlimited possibilities. Wow, wow, wow!

This is the promise that is for everyone. Life in God’s Presence, for ever and ever. Sure, there’s lots of people on the Internet (including myself) who remind us that ‘Jesus’s teaching was for this life, not for any kind of afterlife’. And yes that’s true too, because we don’t want to be ‘so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly use’! But the promise of the afterlife with Jesus is key to the Gospel. It takes away all fear (1Jn 4:18) and Jesus gives us His Spirit to guarantee what is to come (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). Isn’t that awesome? It means that the joy that this lady feels in that painting, is the joy that you and I will also feel.

It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? And if it was something on this earth, something someone was trying to sell us, then yes – it would be too good to be true. But you see the thing is, the Gospel – that God loves us, He’s not mad at us, and He wants us to spend time with Him – is almost too good to be true, except that God is the One who can make good on His promises – to the point that if it isn’t too good to be true, then it’s not the Gospel!

I think that’s a simply mind-blowing concept!

What  a day that will be
When my Jesus I shall see!
And I look upon His face
The One Who saved my by His Grace
And He takes me by the hand
And leads me to the Promised Land
What a day, glorious day, that will be!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)

Please note that Mr. Safwat’s painting has been pirated, copied, even printed and sold by unscrupulous people who had nothing to do with its creation. People have modified it and altered the image to reflect their own agendas. If you want to support the original artist by buying his work, you can visit his Facebook page here.

Granted, it does strongly appear that Mr. Safwat’s painting was itself inspired by a photo by photographer Paige Stewart; a shot of the celebration of two Canadian Rugby players, apparently.

But still the painting, however it was inspired, still moves me to tears because, for me, it captures just what we will feel when we, too, spend our first day in Heaven. The joy of even the greatest Rugby score pales into nothing when compared with that; indeed, all this earth’s joys are but a pale reflection – and yet perfect models – of the joy we will receive when we get there. Kerolos Safwat has taken this photo and recreated it into one of the most moving paintings I have ever seen. That takes real talent!

00

A Sense of Proportion

I find it interesting – and, given my personal belief in the completed work of Christ, somewhat frustrating – that many Christians believe that there are a whole lot of hoops that people need to jump through in order to be ‘saved’.

Jesus said in a few places (Mt 19:14; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:17) that the Gospel is far more easily accepted by ‘little children’, though, which suggests to me that actually the Gospel is very simple. And I also believe that not only is the Gospel simple, but also that religious people have added (and continue to add) layer upon layer of conditions and caveats to that simple Gospel, thus making it virtually unreachable.

Jesus had this to say about people in His day who did things like that:

“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)

This strongly suggests to me that in fact the imposing of religious burdens on people is a far cry from the freedom that Jesus actually came to bring us. In short, He came to bring us Rest:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

– Mt 11:28-30 (Message)

It’s also analogous to a military combat aircraft. Of itself, a modern jet fighter is fast, clean, manoeuvrable and sleek.

But once you start adding missiles, bombs, fuel tanks and other pods and stuff onto the underwing racks, the aeroplane rapidly becomes far heavier, more unwieldy and harder to fly, and its performance is reduced drastically. The aircraft becomes ‘dirty’, to use flying parlance, and it is no longer ‘clean’.

In short, the more you burden it, the harder it becomes to fly. And I do wonder if actually some Christians’ faith actually does ‘fly’ as it should do, to continue the analogy, so burdensome have all these various add-ons and requirements become.

And that’s not at all what Jesus came to give us!

 

In a previous post, I have examined the dire outlook which is the logical conclusion of taking literally the ideas of the ‘narrow way’ and the ‘wide way’, as put forward by Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:23-24. Today, I thought I would try putting some numbers to this concept, and follow that with a little bit of logic (albeit fairly tongue-in-cheek!), to give us some idea of just how crazy this doctrine is, in the light of the fact that Jesus is usually claimed to be a ‘perfect Saviour’. Using this logic, Jesus actually ends up appearing to be nothing of the sort, as we shall see.

Right, let’s get started. There is, we are told, a wide way, and a narrow way (Mt 7:13-14). By definition, the narrow way is less travelled, because Jesus said that ‘few are those who find it’. We can therefore assume that the narrow way is not as broad as the wide way, and that less people travel the narrow way than they do the wide way. What sort of proportion are we talking about here? Well, most Evangelicals would use backward logic and say that since only about 1% of the worlds population have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, and said it ‘properly’ at that, then it’s about 1% on the narrow way, and the other 99% on the wide way. But I am going to be more generous than that today. I want to use the most generous figures I can get away with, and still show how ludicrous the numbers are even in spite of this.

It is estimated that roughly 33% of the world’s population is (nominally) Christian. [1] So I am going to use this figure – one third – at each stage in my argument, which as I said is generous, but hey. So, one third of the world’s population find the narrow path, which we assume is Christianity. Now, each Christian religious group will have their own ideas as to what additional doctrines are ‘essential’ to [what they would call] being a Christian, so let’s add some of these ideas in to the formula. A typical set of required Evangelical beliefs, and the numbers resulting from them, would go something like this:

Of that one third of the world who are nominally Christians, let’s assume that one third of those are in the ‘right’ denominational field. For Evangelicals, that is of course Protestantism as opposed to Roman Catholicism.

Of that number, one third will be in the right Protestant denomination (e.g. Baptist, Pentecostal or whatever) [2]

One third of these will claim that they are following the correct leader or be in the correct congregation.

One third of these will have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’

One third of those will not only have said it, but actually meant it/said it ‘properly’/said the ‘correct form’ of the prayer

Of those people, many people in that congregation are those that ‘God hates’ [3]; only one third are in his ‘good books’.

One third of those people in His good books will be actively keeping the correct laws/Rules as determined by that church; (some will not, and will be closet ‘sinners’ and therefore ‘lost’)

Of those keeping the Rules, only one third will ‘endure unto the End’ (Mt 24:13)

Of those that ‘endure unto the End’, only one third will have confessed every single sin before they die.

Of those few that confess Every. Single. Sin., only one third will have absolutely no fears or doubts when they cross over – these fears and doubts also being a ‘sin’ and therefore sufficient to ‘disqualify’ that person.

Of those that stand before Jesus and say ‘Lord, Lord, did we not [do lots of things for you]’ (Mt 7:22), to only one third will Jesus not say, “Away from Me; I never knew you!” (Mt 7:23) because they didn’t do those things from the correct motivation or whatever.

Only to those remaining after all these tests will Jesus say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into your inheritance’ (Mt 25:23).

And that’s not even including those who have/have not been baptised, those who believe/don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant/infallible Word of God, those who believe/don’t believe in Hell, those who believe/don’t believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true version, those who do or do not feed the hungry, visit those in prison and clothe the naked, those who hate gay people, those who don’t hate Donald Trump, those who vote differently from how God would vote, you get the picture. There are so, so many hoops that Evangelical churches would have you jump through that it’s nigh on impossible to pass all the tests.

Try calculating that even roughly [4] and even only including the factors I have [sort of] quantified above, and you end up with a vanishingly small fraction of people who will ‘qualify’ – because, let’s face it, every Christian has slightly different beliefs and will in no way believe in all of those things, plus the other random hoops that every different group invents for themselves. Therefore, for someone to qualify for Heaven by jumping through Every. Single. One. of those hoops is more or less impossible to attain. And that’s all presuming a Saviour who is apparently capable of ‘keeping [us] from falling’, although given that list of pitfalls that are all supposedly our fault, it doesn’t sound all that hopeful, now does it?

By the way, I should re-emphasise somewhat sarcastically at this point that this is all supposed to be “Good News”.

You’d never have guessed, would you?

Of course, I don’t believe any of this. I’m just emphasising how silly all these ‘requirements’ are. Of course Jesus is an effective Saviour – infinitely more effective, in fact, than these people give Him credit for!

In fact, Jesus is indeed the One Who is ‘…Him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy!’ (Jude 24-25) It’s all based on what He has done, not on what we will do, believe, achieve or assent to. All these hoops to jump through? In reality, God doesn’t care about them because they don’t actually exist. Leave them behind, ignore them and take no notice of those who advocate them.

So, what shall we say then? I think we should reiterate the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28, which I will quote once again for your edification:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Mt 11:28 (Message)

Come to Jesus. That’s where the freedom lies. As I emphasise in many of my blog posts, the Christian life is not about rules and regulations, it’s about freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from care and worry, freedom from human regulations, freedom from the fear of man, judgement and God – freedom, freedom, freedom! If it’s not about freedom, it’s not the Gospel!

So, take heart! Jesus came to free us from the letter of the Law, and in fact nailed it to the Cross in Himself (Col 2:14). We are no longer bound by the Law; we are instead living under Grace (Rom 6:14). In fact, none of the ‘requirements’ listed above apply to any of us. What matters is not rules, requirements and regulations; what matters is the New Creation (Gal 6:15). If you are In Christ, you are a new creation, and there is no going back. If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him (Rom 6:8; 2Tim 2:11) – and that death we died is a one-way deal!

Dead to sin, dead to Law (which is the power of sin) and alive to God in Christ Jesus!

Oh, glory!


[1] 2012 figures, from Wikipedia entry ‘List of Religious Populations

[2] Obviously ‘Our’ denomination is the right one to be ‘in’, and indeed the ‘only’ one to be in. Everyone else is ‘out’! Funny how these things work, isn’t it? 😉

[3] Mark Driscoll: “Some of you: God hates you!” – link to YouTube video

[4] To save you the effort, I have calculated this for you. The proportion of people who would make it to Heaven by fulfilling every one of these criteria simultaneously would be 0.000055% of all people, or one in approximately 1.8 million people. Calculating this even further, this means that of the worlds population of approximately 7.4 billion people, there would only be just over 4,000 people in Heaven. The rest, according to standard Evangelical doctrine, burn forever in the fires of Hell. No wonder I don’t believe in that concept!

40

Itching Ears

Here’s a great piece by Lee O’Hare:


“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

I get so tired of people using this scripture to supposedly confront and rebuke those of us who teach about the love of God and the Christ like nature of the Abba of Jesus as if we are simply making up doctrines to accommodate our wicked and rebellious desires and ungodly passions. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many of us have actually had to be convinced almost against our will and prior deep religious conditioning of the things we now believe and hold on to. Many of us have suffered the loss and ostracization of friends and family members and some have actually lost jobs and ministry positions, been branded as heretics and false teachers and deceivers because of what we now believe and teach.

So, why do we do this? Why do we allow ourselves to be so misunderstood and misrepresented and maligned by those with whom we once walked? It is because we have been convinced by a serious study of scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we have been wrong about how we understood God and His character and nature and that He is in fact so much more loving, compassionate and merciful than anything we had previously been led to believe.

I would suggest that if anybody has “itching ears” it is those whose hearts have not yet been transformed by the love of Jesus and are still holding on to a pagan mythology of a wrathful and retributive God who will punish their enemies to satisfy their own punitive and vengeful nature and desires and NOT those of us who have repented of and renounced such unworthy and slanderous images we had previously projected upon God in our fallen desire to have a god who was just like us in our lust for vengeance and retribution.

Lee O’Hare, shared with his kind permission.

20

Leadership in the Cage

The above picture depicts very nicely what I would like to see Religion become.

An empty cage.

You see, God loves it that people of faith have a hunger for Him, a seeking after meaning, and a desire to be near Him. He blesses their efforts with His Presence.

But Religion can also be a cage. A cage of seeking approval from God, humans, even ourselves, for what we do and what we are. And part of that approval relies on us not ‘rocking the boat’; not causing others to question their faith and so on. In some ways this is good, because not everyone wants to actually move on in their faith into deeper things. For them, the ‘security’ of ‘knowing’ what they want to know is what they want from their faith, and that’s fine.

But at the same time, for those who desire the freedom of the wide open spaces of God’s love (and that includes His full approval), there is the stultifying pressure to conform to others’ expectations. So many of Jesus’s parables and instructions, if you really look at them, were actually concerned with not being worried about what others think of us; but instead to seek God’s approval – or, more accurately, to rest in His already-existing approval of us.

And in the case of Church leadership, this is extremely important. If the Church really does need leaders (something I am not convinced of) then that leadership needs to be forward-looking, and leading their flock further into the things of God, not sitting with their wheels spinning in the mud. So here’s the brilliant Jeff Turner, addressing Church leadership in a simple yet profound piece:


If you’re a pastor, and people fear being hauled into your office for asking the wrong questions, reading the wrong books, or discussing the wrong ideas with the wrong people, I’m afraid you’re no longer operating as a pastor. Instead, you’ve taken on the role of elementary school principal, and have juvenilized those under your care in the process. You’re not there to squelch curiosity, or to tell people what they are to think. You should be the thought leader, and by that I mean the person pushing the boundaries, and calling people into the unknown!

Leaders aren’t leaders if they don’t ask “why?”, and they certainly can’t help people move beyond where they are if they don’t practice the art of questioning and wondering. Pastors: become curious about your faith, your God, and your place in this world again! Don’t leave people stuck in the tarpits of certainty, but help them move forward by becoming a student again!


Excellent.

I can so identify with this. You see, the way I see it is that if you have no questions, then by definition you think you have God all sorted out; all ‘taped’. There is nothing more to learn about God, which by definition means that we know nothing really about Him as He’s infinite; a never-ending fascinating Being Who’s full of surprises and amazing revelations. ‘Pressing in’ will be pointless because you’re not going to learn anything more about Him than your Bible, and your bosses, say you are allowed to.

I call that being in a cage.

Contrast that with the vast, open spaces and deep oceans of God’s freedom, with a never-ending voyage of discovery about His nature and His ways…and that voyage lasts forever…how is living in that former cage ever again going to feel like it’s where you belong?

My blog is about freedom. Use the search bar on my blog pages to find more about the freedom you have – as your birthright – as a believer and as a Child of God.

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Cheap Grace?

I always wonder if people realise what they are saying when they effectively insult the Grace of God, by saying it’s ‘cheap’ – although I appreciate they are mainly criticising people like me who live in Grace, rather than criticising Grace itself.

But whatever their reason, their Bible says that Grace is good, and that it comes from God, Who gives us only good things. Why then is it ‘cheap’? That’s ridiculous! And as for it being a ‘licence to sin‘, well, people manage that easily enough without Grace to help them. No, it’s Grace that teaches us to say ‘No’ so sin, not to give in to it! (Titus 2:11-12)’

In this excellent short piece, Christy Wood gives her take on Grace and how it works in her life:


I’ve heard people complain about the ridiculously extravagant grace of Jesus. They don’t like the way we teach it. They call it “cheap grace.”

It’s more than cheap, it’s free! 😂

“But God still expects you to do the right things,” they say. “You should still do the right things. You can’t tell people that it doesn’t matter what they do.”

I don’t think they realize this, but the emphasis here is on behaviors. And even good behaviors can be sin when our heart motives are wrong. 😬

We are broken people! And we are so often motivated by fear, pride, guilt, etc. Jesus came to set us free at the heart level. He doesn’t need us to fix ourselves. He just wants to shower grace upon us, build a relationship with us, and begin to work on restoring our hearts. 😊

We WILL change when we meet Jesus. That’s a total given. But it won’t be because we are obsessed with a checklist of behaviors.

We will change because Jesus is changing us deep inside. Because the Spirit is at work empowering us, molding us, and remaking us. We will change at a heart level because of His scandalous, extravagant grace. ❤️


Link to the original piece is here.

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