Tongue tied

In my last few posts I have been very open about my Christian faith. This has come as a surprise to some. Not because they didn’t know, but because I hardly ever talk about it, if ever at all.

Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:8, tells us not to be ashamed of the Gospel. That’s what I worry that my reticence in sharing my faith verbally comes across as, but it really isn’t. The fact is that I am just really rubbish at it. I mean terrible. I want to talk about Jesus, but when I try I just come out with something which is so weak that it does no justice to Him whatsoever. I stumble over my words, can’t find the right thing to say and sound almost half hearted. I may as well be talking about leather exports from Paraguay and the socio-economic impact of declining cow populations in South America for all the knowledge I show about the subject.

I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, I have a fear of coming across like, well, a weirdo. I mean more of one than I already do. Not that the subject matter is weird to me, it is far from that. It’s more that I don’t feel confident in my ability to strike the right balance between passion and beating people around the head with a Bible until they either submit or run away (metaphorically, not literally. Assault isn’t really my style). I have a real desire to share my faith and what I believe Jesus has done for us, but I am so conscious that many are not too interested, or even hostile to the Gospel, that I am terrified of saying too much or something really stupid and putting people off. This seems to hold my tongue back from managing to say anything at all.

The other reason is that I actually feel more comfortable writing about stuff which I find important or personal than I do talking about it. My post where I mentioned my depression was the first time nearly everyone who knows me had heard about it, because I’m happier communicating in this way, and the same goes with my faith. I can talk easily to people, but usually about trivial stuff, work stuff or other people’s issues rather than my own. This is a really good outlet for me and I’m finding unloading things I find important on this blog to be very therapeutic.

I have a lot of sympathy with Peter. Yes, He was the “rock” who Jesus built His Church on and he preached some wonderful sermons after Jesus’ resurrection as well as writing two wonderful letters which were included in the New Testament, but he was seriously clumsy with his words, especially around Jesus. He was a man with a knack of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but God used what he had, built on it and enabled Peter to shape something amazing.

So I’ll use what I’ve been given. I’m not the writer or public speaker Peter was, but they’re where I’m most comfortable and most eloquent (I think!), so that’s what I’ll do. If God wants me for more He’ll let me know and equip me to do it.

Ordinary life – A sales pitch

How the mighty are fallen. Justin Bieber, one of the biggest selling musical artists of the last few years and the focus of almost hysterical devotion from his millions of “Beliebers” (that is the first and last time I will ever type that word!) Has been arrested and charged with driving under the influence and drag racing. This follows some increasingly erratic and, sometimes, obnoxious behaviour from the teen idol who has always been very public about his Christian faith. He has been incredibly irresponsible, stupid and arrogant. And I feel a bit sorry for him.

Weird, eh?

Maybe not.

Bieber signed his first recording contract at just 13 years of age and has been one of the biggest stars in pop since he was 15. Since his early teens he has been groomed for success, pandered to, told he was amazing and a star by adults who should have known better.

They should have known better because this has all happened before, many times over many decades. Children (and that’s what Bieber was when he started out, a child) have been made ridiculously famous, hyped as a star, a prodigy and given every material thing they could possibly want. Then, with a sad and repetitive inevitability, it all comes crashing down. Too many drink, drugs, money, violence, crime or sex scandals to recount. Too many fallen idols, dreams crushed and young people viewed as washed up has-beens before they’re in their mid 20s. It’s tragic.

You would think that this would put young people off of wanting fame. You’d think that they would look at all those ripped up posters of former teen idols and think that, maybe, that would be a poor life choice. The problem is that many, many kids see becoming famous as an aspiration in itself, regardless of what they are famous for. You just need to see the hoards of people queueing up to audition for Britain’s Got Talent or X Factor, 16 year old singers tearfully telling millionaire pop stars (who are introduced to the audience with almost worshipful reverence) that this is their last chance to escape normal life, to realise that fame is desirable to many.

We are selling a view of life to our young people which says that bright lights, stardom and appearing on the front page of celebrity magazines is the most desirable target for them to aim at. There is a view that normal life is something to be escaped from, that there is no value in it, that it is suffocating and imprisoning in a way which only fame and fortune can help you escape from it. Ordinary is seen as boring at best and soul destroying at worst. That we will only have any worth if we obtain celebrity status, even if we are only famous for being famous. This is the “dream” that Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes and scores of others have bought into, lived, loved and been trampled all over by.

Fame and celebrity are drugs which chew people up and spit them out. If I’d been given riches beyond my wildest dreams and had hundreds of sycophants surrounding me when I was 16, I think I may have succumbed to further temptations when the initial high started to wear off. I may also have believed everything I was being told about how great I was and started acting like I was better than all those around me. Some people may be strong enough in their teens to cope with all of that, but many aren’t and it’s irresponsible, bordering on abuse, to put them in that position.

Ordinary, everyday life can still be extraordinary. Jesus told us “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10 GNT). God has used so many ordinary people for extraordinary things; shepherds, carpenters, fishermen, slaves and many more. Jesus lets us live life in all its fullness. All of the efforts people put into filling the voids in their lives with materialistic things like celebrity, money, alcohol, drugs, sex, cars and other empty things are pointless and just leave us wanting more. They destroy us inside. It is only through Jesus that we can finally live life in the way we have been designed to live it. He sets us free, rather than binding us to destructive influences.

If we stopped reading the magazine’s and papers which sell celebrity as better than us, if we stopped watching the programmes which depict ordinary life as not worth living, if we reduced our demand for them then the supply would shrink. We may just start to break the self destructive cycle we are getting our kids into and start to show them that normal life is well worth living. It can be wonderful, exciting, unpredictable, fun and, with Jesus, full. An ordinary life worth living in an extraordinary way.

Encouragement

On Sunday I ran a session with the youth group in my Church around Acts 9:19-31. In it, the newly converted Saul (soon to become Paul, author of a large bulk of the New Testament) starts preaching the Gospel. Many of the believers are terrified of him because he had previously persecuted Christians and was present at the killing of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

The session looked at how many of us, if not all of us, have at least occasional feelings of not being good enough. Of worthlessness. Of being no use to anybody, let alone any use to God. All of the kids in my group admitted that they felt that way about themselves occasionally and sometimes felt it about others.

The irony of this is my own frame of mind. For a while now, although it’s only recently been diagnosed, I have had depression. Thankfully it’s not severe to the extent of some people I know. I manage to get out of bed in the mornings, go to work, do my job, look after my family, go to Church, run the youth group and do all the things I need to day to day. However, my emotions are rarely above flat and very often hit horrible lows. I feel worthless, not good enough, no use to man or God, and feel that other people have that view of me too.

The thing is, Saul was good enough, despite his past. Despite what fears other believers held about him. Despite the feelings of despair he had about himself at times. God decided that even Saul/Paul was good enough to bring His good news to an almost global audience and establish Christianity throughout the Roman world. He is viewed as a man who shaped the faith in a way which is second only to Jesus. Not bad for a guy whose main intent on the road to Damascus was to kill Christians and destroy the faith in its infancy.

Saul didn’t do it alone though. He had an encourager. Literally, as it happens, as the name Barnabas means “he who encourages”. Barnabas stood up for Saul at a time when others wanted nothing to do with him. He convinced the others, and Saul himself, that he deserved a chance. His conversion was genuine. He is worth taking the same risk on that God himself did.

We all need a Barnabas. I have mine. I have an incredibly supportive family, for a start. That’s only part of the story, though. In the last few weeks it has been as though people are going out of the way to boost my self confidence and self esteem. I’ve had loads of people letting me know how much better I look recently (I’ve lost 3 1/2 stones in the last year). I’ve had so many positive remarks about things I’ve done in Church. My last blog post really struck a chord both in the way I wrote it and what I wrote. It feels almost as if people are being prompted in some way to improve my self esteem. Most don’t know about the depression, but I believe they are being prompted. I feel that God is telling me that, while I may not feel it to myself, I am worth it to Him. I am His child and He loves me unconditionally, like I love my own kids, but in a more amazing way. He loves me enough to have sent His son to die for me.

I still feel low and flat. I’m taking the right medication to help. I also know that the feelings of worthlessness are depression lying to me. I am not good enough for God, but I’m good enough for Him at the same time. We all are. And that helps.

A modern interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46

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Then, the King said,

“I was hungry and you told me that it was my own fault for being lazy and believing that I was entitled to help from hard working families and that I’d probably spent all of my money on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs anyway.

I was thirsty and you assumed that I was desperate for gin or vodka, rather than water.

I was naked and you said that I would have more chance of a job if I took more care of my personal appearance, even though I wore all I could afford.

I was poor and you told me I was a scrounger who just wanted to sponge off the state and put stories about me on the tv and newspapers, despite knowing nothing about my circumstances.

I was sick and you denied me any help, told me to go back to work and assumed I was faking illness in order to scrounge.

I was in prison and you demanded that the key was thrown away and that I was kept away from all respectable, law-abiding members of society because I was a bad person who could never change.

I was a stranger and you ran, scared of me, told me to go home, that your country was full and that I was only there to steal your money, possessions and jobs.

For I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me”