Sunday, November 26, 2006

have a drink? yeah right!

Help me out here. This is a serious question.

"What is one single redeeming feature of alcohol consumption?"

Here is how I see it...
The downsides of alcohol consumption are understated. Just scratch the bad stories in the newspaper and the neighborhood a little. Again and again and again the worst evils in our society have been facilitated by alcohol. If alcohol was not present they would not have happened. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear... it is staggering just how often alcohol abuse is the lubricant for the worst of evils.

The upsides of alcohol consumption are overstated. Just as it is associated with so much that it is evil it is also associated with so much that is shallow. When it is impossible to have a good time with your mates without alcohol there is a problem with imagination. When it is impossible to be funny without alluding to (or drinking) alcohol - and sex - there is a problem with imagination. If alcohol-enabled Happy Hour is as deep as we can reach with relationships then we have a problem.

Now I am not so stupid as to say that alcohol consumption is inherently wrong. Nor am I going to be so silly as to say that a follower of Jesus shouldn't drink alcohol.

But while on the subject of Jesus-following let me remind you that Jesus calls such people to live in the salt:light tension. Mixing-in but also being distinctive. We are in an era of Christian life where people are pigging out on being salt. They mix in well. In fact study after study shows that there is no discernible difference between the life of those who follow Jesus and those who do not. That is a scandal. We live at a time when there is a failure of courage in the lives of Jesus-followers. They prefer to blend rather than stand apart. We have lost sight of what being counter-cultural looks like.

Now I know being counter-cultural can occur in many ways. But for me... Because the downsides of alcohol consumption are left so understated and because the upsides are left so overstated and because we are called to be distinctive and 'to live as children of light', I have made a calculated decision with my own Jesus-following. I won't drink alcohol. I'll stop short of saying others should do the same - but it does surprise me just how few people come to this same conclusion.

Go on - convince me otherwise!

nice chatting


Thursday, November 16, 2006

stones and sponges

I am aware of so many people heading off on mission trips this summer. I could name half a dozen such (ad)ventures in the making...

I have a question. How do these mission trips becoming something more than mere Christian tourism? For me it is all about stones and sponges...

As we throw ourselves into the water of an alien culture do we see ourselves as a stone or as a sponge? Do we wish to get wet or do we wish to get saturated? Then on the return home do we just dry off our experiences as we get on with our lives OR do we struggle with the enduring squeeze on our lives as emotions and goals keep getting wrung out on the way to living a life that will never be the same again?

My view is that stone-experiences are a poor return on the financial investment being made and a waste of time for the host missionaries. It must be sponge-experience - or it must be nothing at all.

So how does sponge happen? Good question! We must linger long enough with people for their lives to seep into us. I suspect it means staying longer in one place and travelling less to different places. It will mean doing something and not just seeing everything. It will mean leaving a bit of us behind and taking a bit of them forward...

Over the long haul I suspect that God's mission on earth is advanced more by a smaller number of sponges than a larger number of stones. I wonder aloud whether that is what we are encouraging today.

nice chatting


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

h and h

It is such an apt image: 'fallen' ... stumbling, grazing, bruising, hurting, slipping.

The 'evangelical' world in the USA has been shocked in this past week by the fall of one of its leaders(Ted Haggard). It is tragic - particularly for his wife and his children. The last time this happened with someone of such profile was probably twenty years ago and a guy called Gordon McDonald. He has written an intriguing reflection on this recent fall ... take some time over it!

As I read McDonald's comments I am reminded again that while the 100% fire-proofing of our lives from a 'falling' incident might be impossible ("but for the grace of God, go I" - as they say), the asymptote of our lives can get pretty close to touching that horizontal axis by pleading with God to graft two qualities into our characters: humility and holiness. It is the prayer worth praying. It is the life worth living.

But for a change of theme, you might also like to consider

nice chatting


Monday, November 06, 2006

pinball panic

The statement has come across my desk again today. Gee - it winds me up!

"Today's generation hears with their eyes and thinks with their emotions."

Then the argument usually goes on to speak of the need for far more visual content in our communication (because people hear with their eyes) and far more story content (because people think with their emotions). Yes. Yes. I understand. I accept the reality in this.

But this analysis still makes me so uncomfortable! Basically it is affirming that sociological trends should drive what we do. "If this is the way this generation is going then we need to adapt to it or else we'll get left behind." And so off we go with that pin-ball panic, grabbing every programme available to stop us becoming irrelevant.

I just do not think that this is the full answer. If this is the way the world is going, then one of our responses must be to teach people to hear with their ears and think with their minds. I do not accept that sociological trends should be running the show. If we keep bending to these trends, one day we will find that we have fallen in. Is that the relevance we want? That's not relevance. That is accommodation. It is irrelevance!

Instead of just bending all the time we need a little backbone. We need to strengthen that backbone with theological truth. Let the truths push the trends around a bit more. I just shudder at the thought of how God and his Jesus might respond to a discipleship that prioritises the eyes over the ears and the emotions over the mind.

nice chatting


Friday, November 03, 2006

cruelty at night

Recently I heard it yet again...
A person in pain. A person stumbling through a 'dark night of the soul'. Things are bleak. And this person is told that their faith is too frail. It is too fragile. 'You need a stronger faith'.

I am not convinced. That is cruel. It is unkind. It is bad advice.

The wonderful thing about following Jesus is that there are times when things get frail - but that is OK. Things are not dependent on our frailty but on God's strength. We may lose our hold of him -but he does not lose his hold of us. That is our hope. In Christian conversation today 'hope' just does not grab enough headlines. During those long 'dark nights' the way forward is not so much about mustering up a stronger faith as it is meditating on a certain hope. That is the key.

As we do so let's be inspired by the way God designs the world.
Into the rhythm of a 24hr period he places the darkness of midnight and the lightness of dawn. Dawn always comes. That is a certain hope. In fact, as Bono expresses it, 'midnight is where the dawn begins'. Into the rhythm of the 365day period he places the cold of winter and the warmth of summer. The warmth always comes. That is a certain hope.

And this is the way God designs our lives as we walk with him. Dawn and warmth always comes. And I do mean 'always' ... but then God follows an eternal planner, rather than an annual one and so he may work more slowly than we'd like. And as God walks with these people so also do we need to walk with them through the dark and the cold until the light and the warmth emerges.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor