Tim Keller has challenged me this morning with the final chapter of his book, Counterfeit Gods. He asserts that all of us have idols, and the task of being a Christian is to continually plunge new depths in you heart to uncover those idols. Idols, once uprooted quickly grow back. One of the questions he suggests to help discern those idols are these: What do you end up thinking or daydreaming about when there are no other constraints on your thoughts? When there isn’t a pressing problem or issue, what occupied your mind and gives you internal comfort? These can most likely point to your idols.
Why do we fail to love of keep promises or live unselfishly?… the specific answer in any actual circumstance is that there is something you feel you must have to be happy, something that is more important to your hear that God himself. We should no like unless we first had made something – human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage – more important and valuable to our hearts that the grace and favor of God. The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.
I started praying again [after about 5 years] and reading the Bible again, and six weeks later I told God that if he was real I wanted him to be a part of my life. Two days later the chaplain came into the club and said he was doing a Bible study and I went. I began to understand Jesus and realised that being a Christian isn’t about having a boring life but about living life and living it abundantly, as Jesus said. I had sudden peace come over me and I can’t explain the joy and freedom I felt.
I have always had a horrendous temper and everyone thought I would end up in prison when I was younger. But that aggression went instantly – it had to have been God.”
I would probably say that’s my Bible. It’s important to me because I’m very religious. I believe that you have to pray, as well as work hard, in order to get what you want in life. When I was growing up, I prayed every morning and night – and I still do that today.
Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea forward, speaking to Match magazine (30/01/12)
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Many of these are about taking risks or taking action. Risks to go against the expectations of others or the prevailing thinking of society, and an action which is a conscious choice – yes – even the choice to be happier.
Some risks are simply about taking control and making a step towards a new reality or a potential goal, yet it can still be daunting to take that step. For example, someone might have been dreaming of following a certain career, but has to retrain in order for that to happen. It is very easy to put off that phone-call – what if they reject you? What if it is too expensive? Because these things are unknown they involve moving from a place of safety to one of uncertainty. Even though the potential rewards might be greater, it can seem like a daunting course of action. Usually, in hindsight the regret is “Why didn’t I do that sooner?”
Some risks are about quality of life. For example the regret above “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings” is simply about speaking the truth to others. Again the potential drawbacks, such as a rejection, can have a big effect. But people usually don’t regret saying what they feel. (If it’s bad news, however, people can regret how you say it!)
Others risks are simply for a thrill or a bit of fun. For example, I’ve been wanting to learn to snowboard ever since I saw the Snowboard-Cross event in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Yes, that’s a long time ago. Yet I never quite got around to it. I nearly did one Christmas in New England, but alas, that year, the snow came late and we had to go home before it came. Well I’m finally getting round to it at the indoor snow-dome near us. Nothing to lose but the possibility of a few bruises.
So when is a risk worth taking? In no particular order, this is what came to mind.
1. Does it fit into your life plan or help you towards where you want to go? If it doesn’t, the risk probably isn’t worth taking (unless it’s only a small side track). It may simply be a waste of time and energy. In this case, best to go back to basics and rethink what you really want and work towards that. (This can apply to relationships as well as job/career risks. Why waste time with a guy or girl who doesn’t treat you right or who doesn’t want to commit if you do? Might be best to cut your losses and hold out for someone whom you can plan a future with.)
If you don’t have a life plan it is worth finding out whom God has made you to by examining your passions, gifts and hopes. Finding a direction is usually a combination of these things.
2. Is it sensible? What do my trusted friends and family say? Sometimes the biggest sticking point in making a decision is wondering whether that decision is the right one. Talking about it to others and praying about it can help you work towards a solution. Some actions are obviously sensible but just require the discipline of a lifestyle change to get them sorted.
3. What are the potential consequences if the risk doesn’t pay off? Can I live with them if it doesn’t work?
For me, bungee jumping is a risk to far. The potential gain (a quick thrill) is not worth the potential risk (serious injury, death) if it doesn’t work. But if the risk is something more practical, like applying for a job in another part of the country, then assuming you want the job and don’t mind moving, it is probably worth the cost of a stamp to apply.
4. What is the likelihood of the risk failing? If the odds are too long and the cost is too high it might be worth holding back. If the likelihood of failure is high but the consequences of failure are minimal, it is probably worth the punt. Where there is a tricky middle ground, we need to go back to question 2.
5. Is is legal? Generally, what is illegal is not worth risking. There may be exceptions under regimes where human rights are not respected or religious freedom permitted
6. What are the consequences for others? Will they be hurt or impacted by the risk? There might be hardships for your family if you go ahead with something new. This will need to be taken into account. A few years on a lower salary might be worth it for long-term rewards, or if it means that you have more time to spend with them. Likewise, if a decision is going to take you away from them for large periods of time, however attractive or lucrative it might seem, it may not be worth it as their non-material quality of life may suffer from your absence. The impact of others needs to be carefully weighed up.
The Bible is full of examples of people who have taken great risks in order to serve God. In each case, they became aware of a call from God to do something particular. I would say that they discovered who God made them to be. It didn’t usually lead to a physically or materially better life – often they suffered hardship, imprisonment, they were chased out-of-town or persecuted because they went against the expectations of others. Yet in each case, they found their God-given selves and with that a peace and security to make the decisions they have to make. I’m sure they would do it again.
A few years ago I wrote a short comment about a news article from the time and entitled the post ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with?’. Since writing it, it has become one of my most read posts. For some time, I’ve been meaning to flesh it out a little, and while the toddler is asleep it seems like a good opportunity…
We are lured into thinking that we will find a soul mate, another half, or someone to complete us. The movie Jerry Maguire brought is the phrase ‘You complete me’ which is a nice sentiment but it is untrue. This idea that a partner should bring us the ultimate in self-fulfillment comes from self-first consumer culture that we live in. We are used to self-help books, we are brought up to be fiercely independent, and we are used to doing things and buying things that fulfil us.
Yet when we apply this thinking to marriage, dating and partners we are on dangerous ground. The thinking is that love should not be hard, it should come naturally if you are truly soul-mates.
Tim Keller’s response is
“Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?
When one flawed human being relies on another flawed human being to complete him or her, it is never going to be completely straight forward. We are all less than perfect in different ways and we are never going to find a perfect partner to fill in the gaps of our own deficiencies.
The Bible talks about marriage as being, one flesh. The married couple are a single unit, but this is a unity that has to be worked at in relationship with God.
Nowhere in the Bible is love seen as a self-completing thing. It is always spoken about in relation to others – God, marriage partner, family, church and society. Love is not self-serving but others-centric. Love is a verb. The grand list of loving characteristics of 1 Cor 13 (written to a church, not a couple) are all acts of the will which involve putting the other before yourself – love is patient, kind, not self seeking etc. They point towards the character of God, who supremely demonstrated this love in Jesus. As we choose to love, and are given the power to do so by God, we identify with God’s character.
So, what do you do if you are attracted to someone?
You will then need to decide what to do with that attraction. Attraction doesn’t need to lead to love.
Attraction, I believe, can’t be helped. We are attracted to all kinds of different people. Some may simply be people who happen to be nice to look at. For others it is an aspect of their character that appeals to us. Often we are attracted by characteristics that we don’t have, or that we’d like to get better at.
Before acting on this attraction, it is always worth asking whether this person would be a good match for me. Are they a nice person, fun to be around, interesting? Do they have some of the same values that you have, such as attitudes to money, family, faith? These are all things that would help any potential relationship go more smoothly. In these cases, the attraction can be helpful and we may decide to pursue it.
Sometimes, pursuing the attraction is not a good idea. What if the person is unavailable to you such as they are married already? For example, if a married man is attracted to another woman (this itself is not a crime) but he must choose what to do with that attraction. He may want to put in boundaries to remove or reduce the temptation, for the benefit of his marriage. He may avoid that woman and make sure he is never alone with her. Or if he has to meet her and part of his job or something, he could always meet in a public place. He could also confide and be accountable to someone else. There are many ways to reduce the temptation that would inevitably destroy his marriage, and avoid the attraction turning into something else. Each little step is a choice. It is worth asking the opinion of those who are close to you, and who know you the best.
There may be other reasons why the person is not available to you – for example, parental pressure or culture or distance. These situations can be emotionally painful. I remember falling for a person of another faith. In hindsight, it was absolutely right for s not to get together, but it was hard at the time. Is the barrier a good or necessary one? Your family may disagree for good reasons, or not. You will need to discern this. You may need to walk away and consciously choose not to pursue the attraction any further.
But it is always crucial to remember that the other person in a relationship is not there to complete or fulfil the other. Each is there to learn to love one-another in ways that they could not have imagined at the outset of the relationship.
The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.
We never marry the right person. Love is a verb. Love is a choice
Rick Warren is the author of the book, The Purpose Drive Life, which has sold over 25 million copies in the US alone and many more worldwide and which has been translated into over 50 languages. Here, he speaks to the TED conference about wealth, fame and happiness:
Our book group is discussing Douglas Coupland’s Generation A tonight (which I have reviewed). I just found this question and answer session about it. Some weird questions but he does give us an insight into how his brain works and what was behind the book. Some of what he says about story remind me of what Donald Miller wrote in ‘A million miles in a thousand years‘ about our lives needing to be story. Perhaps this is what Coupland thinks we have lost.
I’ve been thinking a lot, as have most of us, about the scenes we witnessed last week. As I sat eating dinner looking out window of the cottage we were staying in Worcestershire, over 10 miles of unspoilt countryside of the Severn Valley, I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between what we were experiencing on our family holiday and the violence in our major cities. A lot has been written on underlying causes, and I have sent off a letter to politicians giving my views on it too (which I’m not going to publish here).
However, I would recommend reading this, an open letter to David Cameron, and watching this, delivered six weeks ago before the riots. The problems aren’t new. They’ve been around for a long while but have only just been noticed.
We’re told in the Bible to love our enemies, and that even though everything else will pass away, love will last forever. This is not love in the romantic sense, but in the sense that we value, respect, and honour everyone around us, regardless of whether they are like us or they agree with us.
I have now read two of Donald Miller’s books in the last couple of months, first being lent A Million Miles in a Thousand Years whilst on holiday, and then at home picking up Blue Like Jazz which has been on our shelf for a while. He is full of deep thoughts and brutally honest critiques of himself which inspire him to do something about changing. He seems to learn from every situation he is in and whomever he is around.
But here’s the thing I’ve most noticed. Everyone he talks about in the book, he writes about them as beautiful, amazing people. It makes me want to meet the people he’s met as they seem like the most interesting, wonderful people in the world. In the third-to-last chapter, you find out how he manages to do that.
He talks about the metaphors that are used regarding certain subjects. For example, when we think about cancer, we use words like battling cancer, overcoming cancer, fighting cancer. They are all war metaphors which raise the level of fear about the disease. Cancer is something to be fought.
What about love. Often with love and relationships we use economic terms. We invest in people. We value people. We give our time to people we love. Some relationships become bankrupt. These metaphors are economic because we think about love as conditional. We only show love to people if we think they are worth it or our love will be valued. We struggle to truly give something for nothing, to receive something for nothing, and therefore to love unconditionally. Yet grace is unconditional, and God’s love for us is unconditional. It is not an economic contract.
Jesus’ said love your enemies. Why should we do that? With the economic metaphor of love, there is no point. But because we are loved, and they are loved, we should love. We are able to see Jesus in them and the barriers are broken down. So, I guess, Donald has been able to see a little bit of Jesus in everyone he meets. Even when he doesn’t like them, he loves them, and then he finds he likes them.
There was a guy that was really getting up his nose, annoying him and Donald got all defensive and judgemental, trying to change the other person. After he’d worked all this stuff out, here’s what happened.
After I repented… I didn’t have to discipline anybody, I didn’t have to judge anybody, I could treat every body as though they were my best friend, as though they were rock starts of famous poets, as though they were amazing, and to me they became amazing, especially my new friend. I love him. After I decided to let go to judging him, I discovered he was very funny. I mean, really, hilarious. I kept telling him how funny he was. And he was smart. Quite brilliant, really. I couldn’t believe that I had never see it before. I felt as though I had lost an enemy and gained a brother.
The people Donald meets aren’t any more or less extraordinary than the people you or I meet. They are equally as loved by God as you or I, and equally as unique and special.
I heard the news that she was found dead this morning. I didn’t know her that well or for that long. She showed up at my church one sunday evening with a friend, sitting in the back row almost hiding in the hood from her hoodie. I said hello to her and her friend, chatted to her and she said that it was he first time in church for ages. She wanted to know more. I invited her along to the Christianity Explored course that was going to begin in a few weeks. She came.
That was no ordinary Christianity Explored course. She was full of questions and surprises, eager to know what God is about and what the Bible said. In the course of it we heard about her life. It was a mess. How she had been thrown out of her home at a young age and stopped going to school. She shacked up with a man much older than her who seemed to demonstrate an abusive type of control over this teenage girl. He had some issues and she was registered as his carer. When he took his own life, she wondered from shelter to shelter getting only inadequate care from social services. She started taking drugs, developed mental health problems, got many physical ailments including Epilepsy and regularly drank to much. She was often in trouble with the other women at her shelters and with the police. On more than one occasion she had tried to commit suicide and on another Sunday after church we had to take her to the emergency psychiatrist for fears she would try again.
Yet in that Christianity Explored course she surprised us. Not just with may questions, but with stories of how God had spoken to her in certain situations and with her knowledge of strange bits of the Bible that she had never read and that even I couldn’t quite place (yet we looked them up, her verses were there). Added to this were the challenges of a seizure during one session, and another when she turend up high.
At the end of the course she couldn’t quite get herself to commit to Jesus. There was something holding her back. This is where I bow out as I moved on to another town, but my co-leader continued to meet and pray with her and began to read the Bible. Just before Christmas, her life still a mess, she committed her life to Christ. From then she always had her Bible with her and read it with gusto, eager to hear what God was saying. Let’s get this straight, she was still on drugs, still epileptic and still in an unsuitable relationship, but something had changed.
On Easter Day she was due to get baptised. She didn’t turn up and no-one had heard from her. Yesterday she was found in her flat dead at the age of 20 – whether from her seizures, from an overdose or something else – I don’t know.
So how will God define her? Is this just the death of a druggie? Or of someone with serious health problems? The death of a mental health patient? The death of a messed up girl?
This was the death of a child of God. A daughter of his own.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. (Rom 8:14)
And through her faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be certain of her place within God’s people, transformed from her short, broken earthly existence to a glorious new perfect eternal and un damagable reality.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (Rom 8:18-24)