things jesus didn’t say #6 | handle

9 05 2014

“I won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds Jesus-y. How many times have I found myself saying it, to encourage somebody who is struggling, whilst at the same time thinking that sometimes he really does give us more than we can handle. 

thingsjesusdidntsay6handle

Stephen, stoned. Peter, crucified upside-down. Those are just the early ones. You just have to go on the Open Doors website to see the fate of Christians across the world today. Does that mean they did not or are not following God’s will? If he doesn’t give us more than we can manage, surely they must be? I look at my own life, and the decisions that we believe God has called us to make that have nearly broken us. If following Jesus is reduced to a positive lifestyle choice, it is not a good one. 

It’s too easy a cliche to bring out that God won’t give us more than we can handle. The key verse usually (mis)quoted is 1 Corinthians 10.13, 

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.

This verse is about temptation, not suffering. Suffering is here in Romans 5.3-5

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 

Sometimes God gives us more than we can handle. That is a hard truth. So if your church tells you that he doesn’t, and that he will always give you the resources to carry out his calling; and that if he doesn’t then you must have misheard him… it’s not that simple. We don’t believe in a God who leaves us in the lurch. But we do believe in a God who will lead his followers to their death. Is that the same thing?

It is certainly a challenge to the temptation of the middle-class Christianity that says following Jesus will enhance your life and make everything go swimmingly. That is a danger especially at the charismatic end, and it is up to us to be aware of it. Sometimes we are called to plain old hard graft which prayer ministry will not ‘solve'; sometimes following Jesus will break us, or take us very near. 

I think that’s why it’s called taking up a cross.  

Can we handle that? 





if peshawar was here

24 09 2013

The attacks on Christians around the world are a conundrum for our news reporters who need people to fit easily into stereotypes. We can have angry Pakistani muslims (men), or grieving Pakistani muslims (women), but Pakistani Christians talking about forgiveness? Sorry, there are Christians in Pakistan? They don’t look very Christian…

We can have Syrian muslims fighting the bad Syrian government forces, but Syrian Christians fighting for Assad against “the West”? For their own safety? What about Syrian churches being sacked? As one Syrian Christian said, in a BBC report that did include them: “We gave you St Paul, and you give us bombs?” They gave us Paul? Surely he was a white European? They don’t look very Christian…

And then there’s Egypt, another confusing melting-pot of Muslims and Christians who have co-existed for centuries quite happily, and are now being drawn against each other as Islamists attack churches and Christian communities. Why? In all 3 situations, a lot of it is because the indigenous Christians, despite being indigenous and not westerners, are considered guilty-by-association with the West, namely America. 

aftermath of the attacks in Peshawar

How does that make us feel? Does it and should it affect our policies? Now, I realise we shouldn’t just care about minority groups under attack because  they are Christians and ‘we’ are Christians. But we do feel an affinity with others who share our faith in Jesus, and it should bother us. The media find it hard, I think, because stories about Muslims are about an ‘other’ therefore there is less overt bias (except there is), but stories about Christians are about an ‘us’, no matter how secular we think our country is.

So to avoid looking sympathetic, or even interested, in the crazees who still ‘do’ religion in our country, they ignore it; and to avoid challenging their own stereotypes about what Christians look like (white, sensible, dull), they brush over the different ones (Pakistani, Syrian, Egyptian). Which is crazy, as the latter 2 having had Christians longer than our country has existed.

It got me thinking what difference it would make if these things were happening here. More than 80 people were killed – in church, by 2 suicide bombers – in the Peshawar attack in Pakistan That is more than double our entire congregation. What would we do if the church up the road had been decimated by a suicide bombing? Would it make a difference to us? Would it suddenly make going to church an act of political rebellion, or an impossibility? How would it affect you?

 

This isn’t meant to trivialise it, but to make us think. Christians around the world suffer terribly, sometimes because of the action – or inaction – of us and our governments. Makes you think, doesn’t it. 

FOr more information about persecution of Christians across the world, see Open Doors UK





Jesus, Salman Taseer and The EastEnders Principle

5 01 2011

What links Jesus, EastEnders and the assassination of Salman Taseer? Death and bloody revenge, of course. In EastEnders, the common link that binds unlikely people together in loyalty is ‘family’. Family unity, though always stretched, becomes stronger during persecution. If you attack my family, then we will attack you. It is the classic revenge cycle. Let’s call it The EastEnders Principle.

The assassination of Salman Taseer also follows The EastEnders Principle, only this time it is much more deadly. And it is not about family unity, but religious unity. You insult my religious community, and I will attack you. Mr Taseer spoke up for a Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, a woman from the only Christian household in their village accused of blasphemy – insulting the Prophet Muhammed – and sentenced to death. He spoke up for her, and has paid with his life.

Religion often seems to follow The EastEnders Principle. Religion seems to be concerned with preserving and protecting dogma, beliefs, reputation. Extremist Islam certainly does. Insulting the Prophet Muhammed or the Qu’ran cause such grievous insult that the only response is angry revenge. It is within this sort of ‘justice’ environment that ‘an eye for an eye’ seemed so radical to the Israelites, as it limited angry revenge to a like for like system instead of limitless mob justice.

Jesus shows us a completely different way of responding to grievous insult. He was mocked, beaten and murdered, responding with calm, peaceful words of forgiveness. When his friend Peter tried to respond violently at his arrest, he rebuked him and healed the wounded soldier. After being raised to life Jesus didn’t seek out his betrayers or his executers to teach them a lesson.  Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus wouldn’t allow us to justify anger as a religious principle because he said that harbouring angry thoughts is tantamount to murder, as harbouring lustful thoughts is tantamount to adultery.

So when people insult Jesus or the Bible, our response is not to follow The EastEnders Principle and seek revenge. Some Christians want to. Some Christians think we should tackle extremist Islam with equal violence, for fear of being ‘taken over’ and ‘defeated’. And when you are the only Christian in the village, when you are surrounded by extremist Muslims, it must feel like a war. But we do not support extremist Christian responses that include violence, because followers of Jesus follow Jesus, and he wasn’t violent. I do not say that lightly however, because I do not know what it is like to be in that position.

I believe we are called to take a stand, but a peaceful stand. Following Jesus’ example in the face of humiliation and persecution, we stand; and when we have done that, we still stand, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6). Our only offensive weapon? The sword of the Holy Spirit. And praying always.

Insulting Jesus cannot defeat him; it cannot wound him any more than he was; and nothing can hold him in the tomb. Jesus was and is raised to life. So we do not need to be afraid. We do not need to seek revenge. We need only to love in the face of hurt and hate.

We can only do that when we are filled with his life-soaked, resurrection love.

Which doesn‘t happen very often in EastEnders. As a principle.

…………………….


We can support Christians who suffer like Asia Bibi through organisations like Open Doors, not in a partisan us vs. them way but peacefully challenging injustices to the Christian minorities around the world. We can support Christians working for people of all religions in challenging environments like Iraq, Israel & Palestine through organisations like BibleLands.






suffering fouls gladly

1 10 2010

When the most interesting statistic in a football match  is “fouls suffered” you know things are bad. That was my experience watching Valencia vs Man U on Wednesday. And Utrecht vs Liverpool on Thursday come to think of it. A waste of 90 minutes? Arguable! Intending to switch my brain off, I was bored so I began to think. Isn’t that an interesting thing to count. And interesting language. Are fouls suffered? Or received, experienced, taken?

there he goes again

Players have different attitudes to suffering fouls. For some, the slightest touch is enough to bring them diving majestically to the floor sporting toddler-style tantrums. Think Drogba. Or it brings an angry retaliation. Think Rooney.  Other players are built of stronger stuff and suffer fouls more gladly. You get knocked down, and you get up again. You are, after all, playing a contact sport. Think John Terry (on a good day!). How they respond to those fouls will often define them as players.

Following Jesus brings up some similar issues, for leaders yes, but for everyone else too. We know we will be fouled, sometimes badly, sometimes innocuously. It is how we respond to those fouls that define us as followers of Jesus.

There’s much biblical precedent for expecting to be fouled, on purpose or not. Prophets, preachers and ordinary people are repeatedly ignored, mocked, confused, disheartened; and more seriously beaten, imprisoned, executed. So the odd (or frequent) argument, hurtful comment, draining conversation, thoughtless remark, conflicting vision, broken window, verbal abuse or black dog of lingering depression are to be expected. Anticipated. But, I hasten to add, not yearned for to earn “bruise badges” to show how tough or effective we are, nor milked to gain attention or sympathy we feel we deserve.

Sometimes we will need to take time out and rest. Sometimes get straight back up and run it off. Sometimes we will have the wind knocked out of us. Sometimes we will be tempted to make more of it than we need to – for a rest, for some attention, because we’re irritable, or because there’s been so many small fouls we’ve ignored that we’re darn well gonna milk this one.

Maybe we could follow the lead of the Psalmists, whose God led them through the valley of the shadow of death towards green pastures. Fouls come, knocks come, bruises come. But by the grace of God we can carry on, learning, parrying, sometimes weeping and sometimes not seeing a way through but always hoping there is one. Because how we suffer the fouls will define us.

And if we really need to be things put in perspective, watch this:








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