Tag Archives: Religion

Worship: A Life’s Work


In our Church family we recently completed seven weeks working through John van de Laar’s book, The Hour That Changes Everything.  In it he calls us to understand and enjoy worship as the heart and centre of our lives.  It is profound, yet it is simply written, and easy to read.  He centres on William Temple’s definition of worship:

“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

The main part of the book comprises seven chapters, five of which expound on the quote: “Becoming Holy”, “Becoming True”, “Becoming Beautiful”, “Becoming Loving” and “Becoming Purposeful”.  There are three appendices.  The first contains fifty daily readings for personal use during the seven weeks (yes, for the mathematicians among you, the last week has eight readings).  The second contains notes for small groups on each of the seven chapters, and the third section contains readings and guidelines for Sunday worship.

Van de Laar continually reminds us that worship is not something we do for an hour on Sunday, but it is the whole of our lives.  The hour we spend together with the rest of God’s family, focussing our minds and sharpening the sword, is indeed the hour that changes everything, or it is nothing at all.

I received the following in an email this week, and it profoundly makes the same point.  It was written by David Barnett, who I am told is a missionary in Cambodia.  The interview he refers to is also the focus of a 2007 Christianity Today article.

Barnett heard about an interview between broadcaster Roy Firestone (ESPN’s Close-Up) and Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, a seven-foot-tall, 255-pound specimen of pure muscle and athleticism.  He was one of the best big men in the history of the National Basketball Association, who led his team to back-to-back championships and was named an All-Star 10 times. 

He was also known as the hardest working big man in the NBA. Roy Firestone asked him, “Why do you work so hard? Your teammates tell me that every time you step onto the hard wood, you give it 110 percent. They tell me you practice spin moves and fade-away jump shots by the hour. They tell me you run wind sprints until you can’t anymore, relentlessly pushing yourself. They tell me that even in a scrimmage, you go for every rebound and every loose ball like you are in the finals of the NBA.  Why? You don’t have anything to prove. You have made it to the top. Why not just take it easy?”

Hakeem said, “Roy, I do not count what I do on the basketball court as work. Every time I step onto that court, I am not playing for me, but for Him. You see, the reason I work so hard is because basketball is not work…it is worship. It is my way of thanking God for His goodness to me.”

Hakeem Olajuwon is a Muslim, not a Christian. Yet God has given him an insight into life-as-worship that challenges us all.

When David Barnett heard about Hakeem’s response, he thought:

“What if I treated my job, not as work, but as worship?  What could I accomplish?
What if I treated my marriage, not as an obligation, but as worship?
What if I treated my parenthood, not as an activity, but as worship?
What if I treated my friendships, not merely as relationships, but as worship?
What if I treated my hobbies, not only as fun things to do, but as worship?
What if I treated community service, not just as a good thing to do to help others, but as worship?
What if I even drove my car, not merely as a way to get from here to there, but as worship?
What if I treated everything I do, everyone I meet, everything I say, as though it is an act of worship?

“How would that transform my life? What could I accomplish in my life? Who would I be able to touch and reach and attract to Christ?”

What about you and me?  What difference would it make if, with David Barnett, we decided to approach the whole of our lives as worship, as a means of giving God thanks and praise?  Even driving my car? 

Have you any experiences of life-as-worship to share with us?

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Messy Faith


Messy FaithIt was rather an ironic purchase from the book table of a Christian retreat: an Emmaus walk. It was ironic because this was a Men’s Walk (the men and women do separate walks). Many of the leaders and participants had been involved in Angus Buchan’s Mighty Man conference, so there were numerous books on being a “Mighty Man”: head-of-the-house stuff.

I have a little bit of a problem, not with the work being done, but with some of the understand­ing that sometimes comes out of it. I think that we men spend too much time worrying about our manhood, and about what to do in order to be head of the house, and too little time focused on how to love our wives, whereas love, for God, friends, enemies, and our wives, is the key demand of scripture.

Well, amongst these Mighty Men books, which challenge us mighty men to confident faith, was this little gem called Messy Faith. And, even more scandalous, it’s written by … a woman!

Introduction
In Messy Faith, AJ Gregory paints an extremely messy picture of her own very real faith struggle. But this isn’t her story; it’s about all of us. She writes in her introduction, “It’s about your journey with God. It’s about trying to reconcile your pains, your doubts, your questions, your imperfections, your vices, and your lapses with faith in an invisible God.”

Messy Faith,” she says, “addresses the muddled adventure that working out our faith in God can sometimes look like. It is being sure and unsure, whole and broken, warring, losing and winning. It is being right and being wrong and having no clue, but believing anyway. And it is trusting in God for perfecting the final product—our flawed, human selves.”

Confident Faith
It is an important subject. In the church, and especially from the pulpit, what we say and how we say it often suggests that being a Christian means being sure of everything all the time; it’s as if becoming a Christian involves being bad one day and perfectly good the next, with no flaws. We often give the impression (not intentionally) that we never have doubts. I think part of the problem is that we don’t know how to speak of doubts and failures. We are, after all, speaking about God, and about the hope in which we live. We don’t want to sound as if Christianity itself is in doubt, as if we don’t know what we believe or why.

And the doubts we have are not the only reality of our lives; there are often times when we are absolutely sure in whom we believe and we know, without any doubt, that God loves us and he loves the world he has made. We want to proclaim that too.

Proclaiming Good News
But we need to remember that we are called to proclaim the Gospel. And the Gospel, the good news, is that God meets us right in the middle of the mess that is our lives. He doesn’t wait for us to sort out the mess, he meets us right there. And when he meets us, and this is a scandalous thing to say and to believe, when he meets us he has no expectations of us, except that we should receive his deep love for us and learn to love him in return.

We struggle with this, especially in our preaching. We worry that if we don’t use the pulpit to teach people how Christians ought to live they won’t know. But our preaching then becomes law (full of ought’s) instead of grace, and we tend to come across as doubt-free, failure-proof, unwavering servants of God. And people outside of and ordinary Christians inside the church fear they will never be acceptable to God, never meet his high standards, and they drift further away from God and from God’s family.

Authentic Faith
Messy Faith reminds us that our daily struggle with authentic faith is real. Subjects include imperfection, judging others, brokenness, addiction, Is God enough? and Is God going to take care of me?

Gregory begins each chapter by looking at the reality of her own brokenness and messy life, or that of someone close to her. She challenges our trite responses and judgemental attitudes by taking us to scripture and revealing more and more of God’s love for us: for us, not as we might become, but as we are.

Faith and Doubt
She doesn’t bring us answers. She brings us face to face with the reality of our questions and the uncertainty of our doubts. But she does more. She helps us understand that it’s OK to ask the questions; God wants us to wrestle with them, not to ignore them or imagine that God hates our asking them. In the chapter, “Is God going to take care of me?” Gregory writes, “I wanted to believe that God would take care of me. For me, what this meant was that I would one day be free from a painful addiction and the thick residue of its emotional, mental and physical side effects…. In essence, my theme prayer was, ‘I believe, Lord. I believe sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I know you’re going to take care of me. Or at least I believe more than I don’t believe. At least for today.’ My faith wasn’t absolute by any stretch.” She goes on to say:

“I came to the point where I had to stop relying on stuff, on people, on religion, and on cute inspirational phrases to provide me with interim comfort…. I had to believe in God, in his goodness, in his power, and in his love. I had to trust and hope, even and especially in the presence of my mess, acknowledging the not-so-perfect in my life but believing anyway that he would somehow make things beautiful.”

And then: “I don’t know the formula for believing in times of doubt except to do it and pray that God, through his Spirit, will give us the faith to keep believing however much we can at that moment, because the Bible teaches us that even faith is a gift from him.”

And some words that should be part of the reality that informs our preaching:

“Is God going to take care of me…? If you can’t reply with a resounding yes just yet, you can simply allow the faith and doubt that’s clamouring for your attention to clasp hands and walk down the path together. Answer the question honestly: ‘My God, my God, I honestly don’t know if you’ll take care of me. I think you will. No, I hope you will. I’m going to believe you will. Somehow. Lord, I do believe. But help me overcome my unbelief.’ ”

The Pools of Tears
Gregory brings us face to face with the messiness of our faith. She challenges us to be honest with ourselves and with God (if no one else) about our own struggles and doubts and to recognise the real struggles and needs of people around us. In his book, Signposts to Spirituality, Trevor Hudson quotes Gordon Cosby who said, “Never forget, each time you stand up to preach each person in your congregation is sitting next to a pool of tears.” Gregory shows us those tears and helps us take seriously the questions people are asking deep in their souls: Will God take care of me? Is God enough?

It’s good to remember that we don’t, in fact, have the answers to those questions. And that trying to answer them (which we simply can’t do for someone else) is not our job. Proclaiming the Gospel means taking those (and other) questions seriously, encouraging people to ask them, and walking with them as they struggle to find the answers and struggle with their messy faith.

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Power, Love and Harry Potter


Shhh!  Don’t Tell.  I’ve been reading Harry Potter

I have just finished reading the Harry Potter stories again.  Now I’m ready for the movies of the last book.  Oh dear, that’s a confession that’s going to get me into trouble, but there you go.  Some Christians do get rather worked up about these things.

I was impressed again with JK Rowling’s writing.  I like her style, her use of words, her humour.  She seems to know young people very well and effectively describes their fears and their progress through life.  The magical world she created is also quite extraordinary.  It’s not on the majestic scale of JRR Tolkien but it’s believable and it draws one in.  There are one or two things one might quibble with or want to know more about but, like good science fiction writers, she gives you enough to enjoy and lightly skims over the bits that should not be examined too closely. It is truly a magical world.  Owls deliver post; witches and wizards really do fly on brooms; and they even have a Quidditch world cup—a game played on brooms.

The great theme that runs throughout the series of course is that of good versus evil and, specifically, in the form of power versus love.  There are instruments and positions of power; if any of them are sought for themselves alone, for the good of the holder alone, they will corrupt.  The old adage, ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is explored throughout the series.

We fear weakness.  We want to be strong or to be around those who are strong. 

Of course the real baddy in the books, Lord Voldermort, has completely corrupted his soul in his pursuit of power.  He has no interest in anyone around him, well not in their friendship, only in their service—their complete subjection to himself.

The good guy, the tireless warrior on the side of good, the headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is only too aware of his weakness.  He knows that, given half a chance, he would be no different from Voldermort.  Power appeals to him and he knows how easy it is to succumb to its allure; as a result he avoids positions (like the Minister of Magic) where the temptation would be too great, and he remains a teacher.

There is an interesting cameo from Dumbledore’s youth that is touched on in the last of the seven books but not explored.  Dumbledore was tempted by a power-hungry fellow student and in plotting to conquer the world they convince themselves that their pursuit of power is “for the greater good”.  The idea that “one man should die for the sake of the people” is of course something with which Christians are familiar.  And the idea that the end justifies the means has been quoted to justify a host of horrors throughout history.  

What appeals to me about Harry Potter himself (yet frustrates the adult in me no end) is that he is no super hero.  Some things are so obvious to my adult view but I know that when I was Harry’s age (the books cover the seven years from Harry’s twelfth to his eighteenth year) I was even less socially adept than Harry and way behind him in political and social awareness.

Harry’s greatest strength is that he cares about people around him.  He may hate with a bitter hatred those he sees ranged on the side of evil, but he will not kill them or leave them to die—even when their death would have been caused by their own attempts to destroy him.

The key to the defeat of Voldermort by Harry (and Harry’s own protection) is the love of Harry’s mother who died trying to save Harry life when he was one year old.  The same theme returns at the end when Harry himself is prepared to die to try to save the lives of his friends.  His action creates the force that finally destroys the evil Lord Voldemort.  Once again we have the idea that one person should die for the good of all.  The key difference is that men and women of power use the idea of the ‘greater good’ to cause others (never themselves) to suffer ‘all in a good cause’.  For Harry, and for the Christian who follows Jesus’ call to take up his or her cross and follow Jesus, death for the sake of others is a choice.  And it is the choice itself that brings life.

[For an interesting interview with JK Rowling about some of these themes, of which I was not aware when I wrote this post, see here] – added 23 Nov. 2010

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