Saturday, 27 April 2013

The One That Got Away

I have a long litany of lost loves, women that I really liked but for one reason or another, perhaps because I was too shy, never plucked the courage up to ‘chat them up’ and make a move on them, and so here I am again on my own going down the only road I’ve ever known… well, you might know the story.  Life sometimes seems full of disappointments, inevitable situations that somehow steal our joy or make us feel that we only deserve third best, or somehow we are destined for one unfortunate thing after another.  It seems so many Christians are going through trials and tribulations, and although we all know the mantra and we console ourselves with the fact that Christians will indeed suffer in this fallen and imperfect world, sometimes we get fed up with it all, we get worn out because we see no end in sight of it; then we can do one of two things: we can stick it out and lean on God, or we can drift off into the wilderness looking for something that will take our mind off our troubles. 


One thing I have learnt being a Christian, and that is that we are in for the long haul, not just being a Christian when things are going well but being a Christian all the time, and not just being good and respectful of others when we feel good, but all the time, and not just being nice when we go to church but every day.  I say nice, but that seems too, well, nice; perhaps I mean that we should always be considerate of other people and respect them, in the same way we hope that they are considerate of us and respect us.  Of course, sometimes you might not feel like being nice at all, but we cannot take our moods out on other people for any reason.  Yes it’s hard learning to turn the other cheek, or being pleasant when we don’t feel like it, but it teaches us to face the world and take whatever life throws at us and whatever happens.  I don’t mean that we should always pretend to be jolly and putting a false smile on our faces, but we learn to stay on an even keel as much as possible, rather than reacting badly to everything that might be a setback or a problem.


I noticed with women, when I was in my younger days, that if you really showed any interest in a particular woman, it went down like the plague, and often such a woman couldn’t get away from me quick enough.  On the other hand, if I played it cool, as I tend to do now, not out of vanity or anything like that just that I’m older and more mature I suppose, some women, even the nice ones, became interested.  Problem?  Yes, if I was too keen, they couldn’t get away quick enough, and if I played it cool, then I still never spoke to them!  What a conundrum; why do women act this way?  God alone knows!  I still have many issues around this topic, you know, the whole ‘lurrve’ thing, but I also think that many people do too, both men and women.  Why can we be so cruel to each other?


Why does God allow evil, and why often do unscrupulous people prosper ruthlessly at the expense of other people, and in general people who are nasty and have no conscience get what they want in life, while those more loving and conscientious and considerate often get side-lined and ignored?  I think sometimes that God allows rapacious people to do bad things as a lesson to the rest of us.  Why then would God allow evil?  Surely if He created everything then why does evil even appear?  I suppose there could be a number of answers to this.  If we have free will, quite simply, we can choose to do what we like, and we can choose, in the full knowledge of knowing right from wrong, to do something wrong or we can choose to do something right.  But, in the end, it is our choice.  Is it God then who allows evil to enter the world, or us?  We blame God when a plane falls from the sky, or when a hit-and-run driver kills a kid getting an ice cream, or when something doesn’t go right for us, when if we are honest it had nothing to do with God.  The plane might not have been checked due to cost cutting, the driver might have been drinking and when it is us, well everybody has setbacks in life; all we can do is pray and have faith in God.  The fact is, we can all turn a blind eye to someone else’s troubles, sorrows or suffering, or have little sympathy, until we ourselves suffer, and then of course it’s a different story altogether isn’t it?

Sorrow and suffering seems to follow us all at some time, and no one is free from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Without God, it might not make any sense, in fact it would be like wandering through a desert and going from place to place looking for shelter and water to drink, and finding none.  With God in our lives, even the most meaningless and awful situation can be put into perspective.  Then, we might indeed be going through a desert, but we will find shelter and water.  It isn’t that God is happy to see us suffer, I think that it is just that being human, we will all suffer at some time or other.  The Christian answer to the reality that we all suffer is certainly that we don’t add to anyone’s troubles, but that we should help the other person if we can.  I might add, that we should not add to our own troubles either, or wallow in self-pity either; I have found in life that there is always someone worse off than me.  What God wants for us as believers is perhaps that we stay on an even keel, and we learn to stay physically, emotionally and spiritually sound whatever happens to us in life, good or bad.  Equilibrium.  Balance.  That’s what we need.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Only Normal Eccentric in Town

I am so normal I am eccentric, and I am so eccentric I am normal.  If a person is really eccentric, then they probably think they are normal and everyone else is eccentric.  I am eccentric because I follow the teachings of a man, who is called the Son of God, who was personally present on earth two thousand or so years ago, who could raise the dead and make the blind see, forgive sins, hey this bloke even turned water into wine!!!  My kind of bloke!!!  Yes, that makes me an eccentric; but I think that I am normal.  I think all those people who pretend to be something they are not, or say things they don’t really believe in, or live lives they don’t really want to live, they are the eccentric ones, not me.  Eccentricity and normality then are all just points of view or perspective.  One person’s eccentricity is another person’s normality, and one person’s normality can be another person’s eccentricity.  To the dyed-in-the-wool atheist, belief in God can seem utterly weird, strange, even eccentric, and to the Christian, not believing in a loving Creator can also seem strange, even eccentric.


As a Christian, I have experienced many things in my life that those who are not Christians won’t have done.  Let me make one thing clear; I say I am a Christian because I have a relationship with Jesus and I work on that relationship every day.  In many respects there is nothing remarkable about me, and yet God called in the wilderness, from a background that was not in any way Christian or religious, just ordinary.  But when I say ordinary, we are all ordinary in some ways, and we are all extraordinary in other ways.  When God has spoke to me, not in my head as voices nor popping His head out of the clouds and saying ‘hello’, but through the Bible, or to my heart, or when reading something or even through other people, I knew then He existed; He revealed Himself to me, and I believe simply because I have experienced Him personally in my life, not because I am religious or because a vicar or priest told me what to believe, but because He pushed His way into my life; simple as that!


We are all eccentric to someone, and we can all appear normal to another person; it’s all perspective really.  One person’s weird is someone else’s normal.  And if we are surrounded by people who dress and think and act like us, we are all normal to each other, even if everyone else thinks we’re a bunch of weirdos!  So, it’s all perspective.  Christians were seen as weird in Rome, which was pagan with many gods, a god for this and a god for that, and this eventually helped get them persecuted and even killed in various ways.  Believing in a God of forgiveness, a God who preaches love your enemy, a God who tells you to turn the other cheek; are you weird, or what?!


So, weird or normal depends on your point of view.  I don’t know about you, but I often have abstract thoughts that make sense and don’t make sense at the same time (like Bob Dylan’s lyrics!), but if I tried to explain these thoughts and feelings to someone, I would definitely sound strange and yet I am generally a rational person not really given to flights of fancy; not always anyway.  What I understand from this, is that we human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made, we experience things intellectually and emotionally that we cannot put into words, nor adequately understand or often really make sense of.  There is more to us than meets the eye, a whole lot more.  To the atheist, it’s all blind chance that we are what we are; to the Christian, we are specifically created by God and there is a spiritual dimension to humanity that atheists just cannot believe because they don’t believe in God.  Weird or normal?  You decide.


God appointed a people who would serve Him, worship Him and ultimately be blessed by Him, providing they were obedient to Him.  The Israelites rebelled again and again, so much so you begin to wonder why God picked them in the first place!  Where they weird for continually disobeying God, or was this normal, a rite of passage for all those called by God?  Who can say?  Did they really understand at first at first who was calling them, and why?  I didn’t when I was called, I didn’t really have a clue.  Was I weird not to understand or was I normal?  I wasn’t versed in the Bible and don’t come from a Christian background or family, or any kind of Christian community, so how could I have known?  Weird, or normal?  You decide.

When anything new comes along, to shake up all the old ways and old traditions, some people see it as a threat and others see it as something wonderful.  To some, Christianity was eccentric, to others it was normal.  When Elvis burst onto the scene all those years ago, and Rock and Roll with him, some people no doubt thought the end of the world as they knew it was happening right in front of their eyes, whilst others thought it was the greatest and most exciting thing they’d ever seen.  Some thought Elvis, Rock and Roll and everything it all stood for as aberrant, bizarre and weird, whilst others in no uncertain terms saw it as normal and just a natural expression of the burgeoning youth and teenage culture that was really starting in America at that time.  America, the country that gave the world youth culture and popular culture is also the most religious country in the wealthy Western world; two things that at first glance might appear contradictory and opposites that are at best uneasy with each other.  To those Americans who are not religious, I think they perceive those who are to be a little weird.  To those Americans who are religious, however that is manifested, those who aren’t religious appear weird.  Each certainly thinks they are normal.  But, whose right?  As a Christian I feel that I can like all kinds of music and enjoy popular culture, and still be a Christian who serves the Lord on a daily basis.  I know some Christians think this is weird, and know other Christians think it’s normal.  Weird?  Normal?  I really don’t care.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Another England

It seems to me that all my life I’ve suffered, all the things I’ve wanted, really wanted, have been denied me one way or the other, and that nothing or very little went right.  Is this a family thing, or is it just me?  And if God is a good God, and He certainly has a calling on my life, why haven’t I prospered, why haven’t I been happy, why have I spent many years in the wilderness and far from happiness?  If God is with us, who can be against us?  So Therefore, am I my own worst enemy?


The stories in the Bible, those about humans, (and I suppose most are) are not perfect, they are chaotic, filled with incident, sometimes sad, sometimes bad, sometimes funny.  They reflect us as human beings and our stories.  Nothing is perfect, things often don’t go to plan, but those whom God called and also those who had faith and stayed faithful to God, almost always won through in the end.  Humans are chaotic, even the best of us, and human societies however good and well run they may appear are the product of the human mind and human invention, so are always in some way flawed.


The stories in the Old Testament, the stories of how the Jewish people come into being are to me the most thrilling, enthralling, exciting, interesting, uplifting and wonderful stories ever.  They resonate with so many people and we can certainly identify with them as Christians in our many ventures and our many troubles, trials and tribulations.


With civilisation and the rise of cities and settled urban living came many good things, but also many bad things too.  Hierarchy becomes an inevitable part of civilised living in many ways.  The Fall of Man coincides exactly with the beginning and rise of civilisation.  Does this tell us anything?


The Israelites at the start are a tribal people, an earthy people, not a people given to abstract ideas and concepts; they wanted a warring God on their side, and that’s what they got!  King David wasn’t a high born educated rather genteel holy person, he was a low born shepherd, a warlord who fought his way to become king of Israel.  In many ways he is more like a rough, tough person from a Working class town in Britain or America, not really what we think of as Christians today.  God picked a lowly people, perhaps partly to let us understand that God is always just, when the world at large is usually rampantly unfair and often unjust.  Religion can sometimes be about the important, the worldly, even the wealthy and powerful, whereas most people are not connected, nor wealthy or powerful.  We might think then that God is somehow concerned only with popes and archbishops, king and queens, presidents and people that in worldly terms have power or are seen as important.  Don’t be fooled; God is no more concerned with the great and the good than He is with us.  We, who often have no importance in worldly terms, may just be the people God calls.  I sometimes wonder when Jesus went to the ordinary people, lived among them, in fact was one of them, the poor, the suffering, and largely turned His back on the religious authorities, that part of the reason they murdered Him and wanted Him dead was because of jealousy, that He didn’t go to them or tell them how wonderful they were or how wonderful their religion was.  The very fact that the religious authorities crucified Jesus, the very reason for their religion in the first place, tells you all you need to know about them.


There is another England, away from the tourist places and Shakespeare’s birthplace, far from the dreaming spires of Oxford, seemingly from all that is nice and winsome and gentle, an England that is largely hidden from the world, although occasionally there are glimpses of it now and then when the riots kicked off a few years ago and the careful veneer of a nice jolly England where everyone has a rictus grin on their face, cycles through genteel villages, and all have good jobs, money and live in nice houses gets blown out of the water.  There is poverty here, drugs, social injustice, the rich often exploit the poor, the poor get blamed for all the social ills, and the rich and powerful feel smug because they are far from the sometimes dreadful poverty and council estates many poor people live in.  With the poverty comes the justification, and the barely concealed contempt stoked up against the poor and vulnerable.  This is life for many people in the British Isles.

What if Adam, and don’t forget little Eve, hadn’t eaten of the forbidden fruit, hadn’t got into God’s bad books, and decided to do what they were told; I wonder what the world would look like now if they hadn’t been naughty?  Then each of us may ask how our lives would be if we had been continually obedient.  I can ask this many times, and still don’t get any real answers.  What would human history be like if Adam and Eve had just listened to God, and basically did what they were told?  All of us have suffered because of our first human ancestors basic disobedience.  Incidentally, I have often wondered whether Adam and Eve were white, black, olive skinned or even Asiatic in appearance.  But that’s another story hey, for another time?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sincere Apologies!!!

I get the feeling I've upset people, for one reason or another.  Yes, I am opinionated, but in the end isn't that what blogs are about, our innermost thoughts and feelings?  I don't set out to hurt people, I truly don't, and I apologise if I have done so.  I'm not a fascist or racist, not a Communist either, though I'm pretty much left of centre, and what I am primarily is a Christian, who has lots of questions but few real answers.
What I've always tried to do is create debate, genuine debate, where we don't all have to agree, but where we can agree to be agreeable at least.  One other thing I've always strived to be is honest, ruthlessly honest.  That doesn't mean that everything I write is correct or I am infallible, but it means that my intent is to get to the truth, and not to harm or upset anyone, for any reason.
So, if I have upset or offended anyone, by anything I've written, I apologise unreservedly and say that it was never meant.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

There is a thin line, a balance in life, in virtually everything we do and everything we want to do.  If we get out of balance, we might find that certain unintended consequences follow on.  For example, fast food and ice cream, crisps (potato chips), fish and chips, burgers and fries, donner kebabs and all those takeaway treats taste wonderful, but eat too much of it and your health will decline, and unfortunately your waistline will expand too!  Work too much, enjoy too little, and you will also be out of balance here too.  Too much of anything is probably not good for any human being; so I believe life is all about balance.

I must put myself in this post.  I am a middle aged, but young at heart, aspiring writer who sooner hopefully than later wants to be a published author and of course wants to be earning a living doing what I enjoy doing best, which is writing.  I am absolutely certain that I am not the only blogger who wants to succeed as a writer!  My view is this; as a Christian I believe God wants me to have a decent life, where He will always meet my many needs, needs emotional, physical, financial and most important of all the spiritual need.  Yes, I believe I have a perfect right as someone from a poor and very traditional British Working class background to aspire to bigger and better things, and to work towards my dream of being a published author and successful writer.  What I have understood is this: that God is the perfect source for helping me, and you, to pursue all the things in life we want, whether it’s just to be happier and content, or whether it’s something more in line with a successful career or starting a business, and so on.  God is both the God of the spiritual and the material too.  I have also understood something else too, which can’t be overlooked; we must accept that being a Christian doesn’t mean that God will make us millionaires or billionaires necessarily, even though there is no bad thing in being wealthy.  I now believe that God will take care of it all; if I become rich, then God will have a plan for that, if I just become successful and earn a decent living, then He has a plan for that too.  I have learnt that God will always meet our need, and not necessarily our greed.  But, and I digress, I pray regularly that God will help me to work towards my goals and dream of being a published author.  Equally, we must do our part; a book doesn’t write itself, a boxer doesn’t get fit by sitting in front of the telly drinking beer, and no good thing in life rarely ever comes if we just hope for it without some hard work and aforethought on our part.  You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you just might find you get what you need.  Yahweh says this: Stop your lamenting dry your eyes, for your labour will have a reward, Yahweh declares, and they will return from the enemy's country.  There is hope for your future after all, Yahweh declares, your children will return to their homeland.  (Jeremiah 31:16-17 NJB)


Prosperity Gospel

Some Christians believe that you have to be poor and humble to really be acceptable to God, and perhaps be acceptable to other people too.  Some Christians though believe that God wants every Christian to be wealthy or at least to be praying for prosperity and wealth as part of their daily prayer routine.  In some Western countries both views can be held in certain Christian communities.  What is more attractive, poverty or prosperity?  And, whatever your view, who would rather be poor than rich?  Is there some truth to the idea of a prosperity gospel?  I believe there is, but there is more to God, a whole lot more, than seeing Him as a granter of three wishes.  We also have to be careful that we are not using God, using our professed faith, for our own greed or selfish agendas.  There is a danger that we begin to lose sight of what God wants for us, and what His will is for us, and we become greedy for more when we really don’t need anymore.  No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.  (Matthew 6:24 NJB)  Let us truly know what God’s answer to the prosperity gospel is, and let us be content when He supplies all our needs first, before worrying about what we haven’t got.  Any Christian in dire poverty should in all ways ask God to alleviate that and have faith He will.  Any of us not in dire poverty, and that probably means the majority of us in the West, should first be grateful for every good thing we have already, and then being honest about our dreams and goals.  And remember this; if we take a lot out, we should always look for ways of putting something back.


Love, or Confusion?

I believe that God wants us as Christians, of all varieties and backgrounds, to love each other, to love other people and to love Him, in no particular order I may add.  As a Christian, I think that when we show respect for fellow human beings, be they Christians, or whether they are not Christians, be they our family and friends or even whether they are just strangers we meet on the street or in the supermarket, in the bookie’s or even in the pub, we are loving those people and doing God’s will.  God is love, and we must spread that love any way we can.  I am a fairly big guy from a big, tough city; we are not known for our sentimentality nor are we particularly genteel either.  I am just an ordinary bloke who happens to be a Christian after all.  So, my love for other people comes out in a kind of street way, a joke here, a pat on the back, a friendly way that guys prefer; you may be different.  But I think that when we love, and try to love, other people, it comes back to us, and God is pleased.  We can’t all be highly educated well-spoken vicars and priests, God calls all sorts of people to serve Him, and we can only act sometimes in the manner of the people we are brought up with.  Better imperfect love, than perfect intolerance.  If someone, on the other hand, is becoming a Christian to control other people, to manipulate others in some way, or just to get everyone agreeing that ‘they are right and everyone who disagrees is wrong’, are they really loving their fellow man, and are they really doing God’s will?  For me, this can be what passes for Christianity, but in my humble opinion it is not Christianity at all.  

Popes and archbishops, well-educated vicars and priests may know theology and Christology, they may know all the major events in historical Christianity, and may have spent many years in theological colleges and seminaries, but it still doesn’t mean that they necessarily know God any more than any other common or garden Christian like you and me.  If we are truly called by God, we will be determined to want to be living in the truth, regardless of what someone may say, and we must always be prepared to study the Bible, pray regularly and ask the Holy Spirit to be our guide.  No one ever said we had to lose our common sense when we became Christians.  So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see.  (2 Corinthians 5:17 NJB)