Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Finding Peace in the In-Between (Part II)


On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment…
Luke 23:56

The day after the terror of ‘Good’ Friday, all we are told about the disciples is that they rested. But clearly their rest was far from peaceful. The truth is that Saturday, the day when it seems all has failed and God is absent, is the only pathway to Sunday. But how can we find peace in the midst of the questions?

It is here that the Christian faith differs from all relaxation techniques and methods of peace-finding. As Tim Keller points out, the standard mantra is that one finds peace in the midst of turmoil by thinking less, by escaping to your happy place and getting your mind off the troubling questions. Relaxation spas all over the world are filled with little Buddhas precisely because his system holds that suffering is but another illusion. But Christianity says that in order to find peace on Saturday, the disciples of Jesus shouldn’t have forced themselves to think less, they should have been intent on thinking more about what they believed.

On Saturday a Christian finds peace by fixing his whole mind on two unchanging truths: God’s promises and God’s character.

For the disciples to have peace they needed to think on the promises of God’s word, and especially what the Word in the flesh, Jesus, had told them. Not only had the prophets predicted everything about Jesus, but he himself had predicted what was going to happen. They knew he had prophesied that he would be raised on the third day. He had said it over and over again. This wasn’t something they could have missed. They certainly knew, because Matthew tells us even the Pharisees knew full well about this prophecy. It was mentioned at Jesus’ trial. This is why they put the guards at the tomb, because everyone knew about the prophecy. They just didn’t think it would actually happen. The disciples needed to remember Jesus’ words to them, even though the words didn’t seem to make sense at the time.

The first source of peace on Saturday comes through the promises of God spoken to us corporately through his Word and personally by his Spirit. I need to remember who God says I am, the promises he has made, his prophetic word. This is what God has said to us. We also have God’s written word with promises addressed to us, and we have God’s Spirit speaking to us personally.

On Saturday, we must fix our attention on who God is.

Secondly, not only are promises enough to sustain us, but if we would only think clearly about the truth of who God is we will have a tremendous resource for inner peace. Think about who God is: the all-powerful creator of heaven and earth, he holds time in his hands, he knows the beginning from the end, he is the same yesterday, today and forever, he knew you from your mother’s womb. God is all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing, and says he not only loves but is love. When you add these truths together, along with God’s promises that he works “all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to him purposes”, what possible reason could there be to fear?

On your Saturday, think more about what you believe. Lack of peace doesn’t come from thinking too much, it comes from not thinking enough about the truth.

But once we know these things, we have to actively trust him. This is faith: trusting God’s promises on the basis of who He is and what He has done. Faith is trusting God, not just blindly, for no reason, but on the basis of his character, proven by his actions. What he has done proves to us who he is–that what he has said is worth trusting. Absolute confidence is the only logical response. Not just the best response, but the only response which makes sense. This is what Jesus had and the disciples needed. Jesus knew the word and what needed to happen, then the promises strengthened him for the moment and allowed him to trust his father even when felt most abandoned.

On Saturday we must turn to the truth that will sustain us. We can trust God’s promises because of who he is, and who he is has been proven by what he has done for us.

Apologetics, Culture, Reflection, Theology

The Problem With ‘Using’ the Arts


The problem with treating the arts as a means to another end is that when that end is achieved the arts suddenly lose their value. Lewis Hyde showed this in The Gift by highlighting the decline of arts funding in America after the Cold War. During the propaganda war, the arts had been supported as a bastion of Western freedoms. This is the period when the National Endowment for the Arts was founded, when the CIA worked behind the scenes to exhibit American artists abroad. But when the West ‘won’, an era of unselfconscious market triumphalism was ushered in and the arts quickly began to seem superfluous. They had served their purpose.

Evangelical Christians, in the majority of cases that I have experienced, tend to justify the arts only as a means to an end. Most commonly this means the only respectable argument for investment in the arts is that it will lead to increased church attendance or greater relevance to contemporary society or engagement with the youth. I have been party to this too and I understand the tension.
These are certainly worthy and worthwhile goals. Of course we want more people to know God and reach every generation and culture effectively. But as Christians, treating the arts merely as a means to evangelism, or relevance, or engagement, assumes that art has no inherent and enduring value to be cultivated beyond these goals. The Bible, however, shows quite clearly that this is an impoverished logic, for artistic creativity will long outlast these temporal ends.

In the new Heavens and Earth, there will be no need for evangelists, neither will there be disparity between the people of God and their surroundings, nor will there be rifts between generations. All will see him, all will know him and all will worship him in solidarity. But one aspect of human existence that will continue to grow perpetually, eternally, for the people of God, is our reflection of his nature. We are being formed into the images of Christ, the image of God. We will reflect his glory by reflecting his nature, character and activity. We are to be made like him–not exhaustively, but truly.

Genesis 1:1 reveals God as the Creator, the great Artist wielding his brush out of the overflow of Trinitarian love. We thus meet him in scripture as Creator before he is Saviour, Father and Judge. Can we afford to neglect this aspect of our God, or of ourselves, his image-bearers?

There will come a time when evangelism will have served its purpose, but the gift of creativity will endure. When the cause of winning people of Christ has been fulfilled, we will continue to create in collaboration with our Creator God. While no one will then need to be convinced, the glory of the gospel will continue to be proclaimed in ever more wonderful and imaginative ways.

Evangelism, in one way then, is a means to creating more artists.

I’m not arguing merely to exalt the arts out of self-indulgence or special pleading, but to honour the Gift Giver by enjoying his precious gift. A gift used merely as a transaction, to gain a measured reciprocal response, leaves the realm of the gift and enters the market of commodities. But to use the gift as a gift, to consume it for the joy of it’s being a gift, transforms us with gratitude and compels us to pass the gift along because we know it is not our possession. And what could bring the giver more satisfaction and glory than to see his gift wholeheartedly enjoyed, like the contentment of a loving husband revelling in his bride’s disinterested pleasure?

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

What Life Should Feel Like


Perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced is the sense of joy that comes from being who I truly am. It’s that feeling of knowing that you are not wearing a mask, that your guard is down and you are free to exist as the person you were made to be.

Our deepest relationships should bring that feeling out in us. Whether it is in friendship, marriage or family, there is a joy that comes in feeling that you can be yourself. It’s a sense of being completely vulnerable and yet loved and appreciated.

There is a freedom that only comes through this being fully exposed and in the light. All pretence fades away, all fear is banished, and the joy of truly being known emerges.

Its such a pure feeling, untainted by tension, hurt or anxiety. Those are the times when I’ve most truly felt alive. Alive not just in the vague sense of existence but in a glowing spark of joy in my deepest soul.

I’ve felt it in my relationship with God, a sense of nearness to Him that ignites inspiration, creativity and happiness. A sense that I can stand confidently as His son and be secure in my identity. It creates a flow of songs, words, and closeness to those around me. In those moments I know that I am somehow connected to a longing wedged in the core of my heart and that this is the way life is meant to feel. Like a favourite song, it seems to hit all the right notes.

We are supposed to feel that aliveness in every waking moment. But why don’t we? But why do I not live in this joy perpetually?

In a million little ways I continually betray that knowledge of the way things should be. I break my agreement with life and with my creator by momentarily chasing after transient feelings or objects. My hearts knows I’m missing the point and yet I compromise again and again. I trade the joy of purity in living for God’s truth and beauty for fleeting pleasures and fading glory.

That betrayal destroys the purity of life. I turn my back on what I know is the standard, on what I know is really real, and as I do it, that flame of inspiration begins to die. That incredible light that penetrates my being and allows me to be fully known and loved is gradually darkened. That spark that made me feel alive is dulled into a drudgery of mere existence.

It takes the courage to confess my shortcomings for that light to come back in. It is an honesty that takes away the mask and reveals my true face, that no longer hides behind a false image and allows itself to be known in the terrible light of truth. I walk in purity to the extent that I allow myself to be known for who I am inside.

I want to live and walk in that soul-piercing light. I’ve caught glimpses of what life should feel like and I know that purity is essential to achieving it. The joy of being fully exposed before God is so quickly disrupted and tainted by my betrayal. It’s so easy to let the darkness creep in and drown out the light. As it does, so does the feeling that what the darkness hides should stay hidden. The more that is hidden, the less we are truly known and the less of that spark of life we can feel.

I pray that our masks might be broken and we would allow ourselves to step into that all-penetrating light. The greater the amount of darkness we have allowed to intrude and separate us from the way life should be, the more difficult and frightening this may feel. But we can never know the true freedom of being ourselves and being connected with the way things were meant to be if we will not be exposed.

We were made to know and truly be known by our creator. If we do not feel that pure joy and sense of life then we are missing the point of existence.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The End of Desire


This is a potentially life-changing truth: You desire God. You desire him more than any other thing, even when the desire you consciously feel is directed at something which he hates and forbids. We think we don’t desire God and that what we really desire is happiness in the things around us, because God is known for being the divine kill-joy. But the opposite is true underneath it all.

There is a clue to this within our desires themselves. We want the things we love to last forever. This is especially true of the thing that we want above all: love. Beyond money, success or power we feel incomplete without true, meaningful relationships with people who know us truly and yet truly accept us, value us and seek our good. But in each and every case, the good things we love come to an end. We want them to last. The reason we keep chasing after them is that they don’t. Nothing ever does. Nothing finite ever could.

Our constant pangs, then, are displaced longings for what we really want. We can’t really just want money and sex and control because when we get them, no matter how much, we still want more. Loving relationships offer us a glimpse of what we are truly here for, but even these must end. The party comes to a close and is tidied up. The night must draw its curtains and eventually we must say farewell to those we love. But what if we could reach the place, the person, where that fullness never ran dry? Where all of our deepest longings met their true and unending object. A love which knew no limits either of depth or time.

As experience testifies, and logic demands, this is not, and indeed could not, be found on this earth. It cannot be found either among material objects or finite beings, both of which are inherently limited. Instead,
deep down, our restless search for some bottomless joy can only be satisfied in an infinite relational being. And not any infinite being, but a being infinitely good and greater than all other goods. That good is God and can only ever truly be God. Therefore his greatest gift could only ever be the gift of himself, the only good thing which never comes to an end.

He is the end of our desire. To realise this is to be liberated once and for all from the endless goose-chase. To realise that our sense of alienation, of feeling like we’re on the outside looking in on the way life is supposed to feel, is really just a sign pointing to our true home, frees us from wasting our lives pursuing things that don’t satisfy, in order to focus on the only One who truly can. To deny this is to condemn oneself to an existence of constant desire without hope of satisfaction, a desert world where we constantly thirst, unwittingly seeking for the very One we say does not exist.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

Learning From the Master

Chariots of Fire4 (Large)-12732

Do you think Jesus knows anything about the life you actually lead? Or do his teachings seem nice and beautiful, but distant and unrealistic when it comes to your daily existence?

In other words is Jesus a really nice guy, but a bit naive when it comes down to it?

You can only learn from someone as long as you think they know more than you do. As soon as you think you know better you immediately stop listening. Have you ever gotten to the stage with someone who was training you where you realised, “I actually know more than this person,” or, “I’m actually smarter than this person”? Whether it’s true or not, rather than learning, you begin to patronise them and, if not simply annoyed at the waste of your time, pity their ignorance as well.

The teachings of Jesus are universally acknowledged to be among history’s highest moral ideals. But are they only that: ideals? Unattainable perfectionisms? Pretty words which hold little to no value in the tough reality of life?

Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive the same person 490 times at minimum? Doesn’t he know the world out here? That kind of weak, pushover mentality will get you no where.

Now, maybe you’ve never thought that. But this is only one way to disconnect Jesus’ words from having actual, real-life significance. Christians don’t tend to be that flippant. But there are plenty more ways to effectively invalidate the Master’s words.

For instance, maybe you believe his teachings are good, but that they are simply impossible to carry out. Isn’t this proven by experience? I mean, have you ever seriously tried, even for a single day, to live out his principles? And so we come to the conclusion that we are not able to obey, or at most that we can only obey in some vague, spiritual manner. We think we have tried and it hasn’t worked.

But have we tried it the correct way? What if Chesterton is right, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but rather it has been found difficult and left untried. What if we are completely misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ teachings and how we are supposed to go about obeying them?

Imagine Jesus’ words were not simply commands to obey in the moment of the situation, but descriptions of a certain kind of life, a kind of character in which turning the other cheek, or loving one’s enemies is the most natural response.

Let’s take a real life example. Suppose I commanded you to run a four-minute mile. Suppose you are morally required to do it. So, taking the command seriously you go to the track and you try your absolute best. You give it everything you have. But you don’t make the cut. Not by far. Does that prove that my command was impossible? Or might it suggest your method was slightly off?

The ability to run a four-minute mile does not only come from the direct effort of the athlete in the moment, but from an entire life dedicated to training for that moment. The athlete has engaged in the right practices and lifestyle so that when the moment comes they can actually do what they want to do. In fact, when this kind of lifestyle is pursued at length, it becomes just as unnatural to run in any other way as it once was to run in the right way.

Of course, this analogy is very incomplete. There are many of us who could never run a four-minute mile, no matter how hard we trained. But could we learn to be the kind of people who obey Jesus naturally, simply because that’s the kind of person we are? Should we expect to be able to simply obey him when the moment arises, when our life disciplines have not prepared us for this?

God wants to bring us to the place where we obey him naturally because it’s part of who we are.

This can only come through instilling the character of Jesus in us so that we unthinkingly act in the same way he did. The central question therefore goes from “What Would Jesus Do?” to “What would lead me to being the kind of person Jesus was?”

He really is smart you know.

Think of what it’s like in the teacher’s shoes? Have you ever been in the position of trying to teach someone who thinks they already know everything? They say they know, yet you see what they do and immediately realise how mistaken their self-conception is. You, as the teacher, know in an instant how far the reality is from the imagination or pretension. You know that they need to go through a process of shaping in their skills and character before they will be able to complete the task correctly.

Have you ever seen this happen? It’s embarrassing. Everyone can see. The charade is pointless. It’s paper thin. I wonder if this is how we look much of the time, in our ignorance and pride, to our loving Master.

The only answer is to let go and learn to do the things he did which made him the person he was.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Person You Want to Be


What God cares about is not exactly our actions. What he cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality–the kind of creatures he intended us to be.
C.S Lewis

When I call someone to be a Christian, what am I calling them to? To be like me? I hope not, even if God has done great things for me. To adopt a Christian lifestyle? This is not attractive to most people because they think it means the end of their fun. Of course, it will mean the end of some things they currently do, think and feel for pleasure. But part of the process of learning the depths of what we’re meant for is learning that those things are actually faint replicas of what they promise to be. The child plays with the toy cars and will not let them go only because she cannot imagine the joys of driving a real car and the places it can take her. 

Instead of this, what if we point to Jesus? The call and the end of being a disciple of Jesus is to become like him. To reflect his image, to bear his character. To become the kind of person that he is. Cut from the same cloth and sculpted from the same marble. To be called as a Christian is to become a new kind of person. The Christian life is then learning to live your life as He would if he were in your shoes. 

Is Jesus a good person? If you could, would you like to be a person like him? Free from addiction, worry, anxiety, vice, hatred, violence, envy, greed. Free to love, bless other people, enjoy the world and the people in it, heal the sick, comfort the sad, seek justice, be merciful, be kind and gentle. Free to be and live the way you were always meant to be. This is wellbeing. 

You can be. Come to him and he will help you. Learn from him. He will make you his child, and as you live as his disciple following him, you will be put on a path to becoming exactly like him. Your character will be completely changed. Your thoughts, actions and feelings will be transformed so that you naturally do the kinds of things he did. For you will gradually become the kind of person he was. This is the aim and goal of your existence.

Apologetics, Hip Hop, Music

Wish It Were True E.P

“Make good men wish it were true; then show them that it is”
Blaise Pascal, Pensées

We seem to go through life never fully satisfied with what this world has to offer. Things, achievements, power, sex–they all leave us wanting more in the end. The closest we get to satisfaction, and the thing which we really want above all else, is in true and loving relationships with other people. Those moments when we feel that connection, that sense of being truly known and yet truly loved, give us a sense of what life should feel like. And yet, even those things eventually come to an end. Again, we are left with the desire for more.

So is this desire just an evolutionary mistake? Is everything that we hope about life and the universe–that there are such things as love, justice, meaning and truth–really just an illusion? Or do those deep desires point us to a reality outside of ourselves, a personality beyond this universe?

Everything within us says that those feelings are not meaningless and that they do have an end. Wouldn’t it be strange if we felt thirst in a world with no water? Wouldn’t it be strange if I had within me an insatiable desire for relationship, if there were no infinite, all-loving being I was created to relate to?

We wish that it were true. But what if, instead of merely wishing, we actually came into contact with that being? What if he entered our reality and initiated a relationship with us? In this short project, Neuma wrestles with these questions and argues that not only can we wish, but we can know that it is true. We can meet Him. And once we do, our entire view of the world will is transformed.

Apologetics, Theology

“Your Sins Are Forgiven”


Sometimes it seems crazy that Jesus would forgive someone else’s sins. It has often been pointed out that this only makes sense if he were God, since who has the right to do that? This is true. Yet, you might wonder why all sins are against God, when he is not the one that has been hurt by the words or actions committed.

But when you think about the nature of reality it makes perfect sense for all sins to ultimately be against God though they are also against others. Imagine you are at a large dinner with the people you generally know and do business with in life, but you also have a special guest, a king or president or honorable figure who sits near enough to hear your conversation and see whatever you might do.

Now imagine you verbally disrespect another guest, or break out into a fight with them, or steal some of their food, or ogle their wife. Your crime would certainly be against that person, but you would also be offending the honour of your esteemed guest. In fact the shock and reproach of doing those things in their presence would be much more than if they had not been there. It makes the real offence, the deepest most ugly offence, against them, not even against the person to whom it was consciously directed, even though their hurt remains. You have really, with your actions, proclaimed that the King’s presence demands no better behaviour from you. In other words, you don’t care what he thinks. Ultimately, you have tarnished his name and reputation and made him a mockery. To be forgiven, you would require not only the forgiveness of the particular person, but also of your guest. The more esteemed, the worse the offence.

This situation is easy to get our heads around. And yet this is a description of the reality that we live in. God is present and near us at every moment. The nature of the universe is wrapped up in the Trinity, the perfect, eternal community of love. When we violate that nature, we offend not only human persons, but the divine person. We are ultimately transgressing, not just some abstract law, but the law of his character from which the moral law comes.

Now Jesus’ words are seen in a new light. They are both astounding, as he is claiming to be the very fabric of that moral law, and compassionate, as he would be willing to excuse our rebellion in his presence.