Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Spot the Difference

I was reading a friend-of-a-friend's blog the other day. The person was thinking stuff along the lines of, "Why are we told that we are nothing without God? Why are people who don't have God - nothing? Even when they do amazing things? ... 'The difference is that the Christian people have God. But I say to that - that's the only difference, and it doesn't seem to be much.'"

It made me feel uncomfortable.
Because sometimes I feel that way too.

I thought - I've met God in life-changing ways, and most of the time there mightn't be much to distinguish me from the next person.

In the end, it comes down to the biggie question - why am I a Christian? Because if I wasn't a Christian I would probably still be a nice man. I would probably still smile lots, love my wife, give money to charity, recycle, appreciate walks on the beach. I might want to give up holidays - or even my career - to build houses or work in needy parts of the world. What marks me, a Christian, as different from the other people in this world that we share?

I think the difference is not in what I do, but in who I am - and in whom I am.

I am a Christian because it makes sense. I am a Christian because somehow my brain can handle the thought of the Creator of the Universe being intimately interested in me, even likes me - despite the fact that I drive a car with only me in it, I get grumpy with my closest friends and family, my nature is to think me first, and I want broadband more than to support a child in Africa. I am a Christian because Jesus makes the best role-model anyone could ever have. I am a Christian because love is deeper and older than any magic, and God is love. I am a Christian because I have a soul that will live long after my dying body has decayed and is no more. I am a Christian because in my weakness Holy Spirit uses me to do extraordinary things. I am a Christian because the west coast of Ireland is too beautiful to be an accident. I am a Christian because God, who is pure, looks at me through Jesus-tinted spectacles. I am a Christian because a relationship with God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit - completes me. I am a Christian because, when all is said and done, it's not about me: it's all about God.

This is not a creed - we don't all have to have the same reasons. But if the difference is only in what we do, there mightn't be very much of a difference.

Having said all of that, I'm going to 'do a James' - faith without deeds is dead. Christians should be different, we should stand out as being the best examples of what it is to be human. I want to put my money, time, energy where my mouth is! Anyone want to join in (and keep me accountable!)?

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Goblet of Fire

Went to see Harry Potter IV... It must have been hard working out how to put such a big book into a few hours, but the bits they missed out were pretty much anything that relieved a tense situation. To be honest, it kind of felt like I was watching The Empire Strikes Back - quite dark and heavy!

Now that's not to say that HP4 isn't a good movie - it's done very well, deals with a range of strong emotions. The visual landscape around Hogwarts is spectacular and I was totally immersed in their world for the whole time. There are God-insights for those who want to spot them, values and situations that reflect both our fallen world and the incredible power of love and loyalty.

But do you know what? I was more moved by a trailer than the whole HP4 film.

And do you know why? It was Aslan's roar.

I am so looking forward to The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe!

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Studiously avoiding study

I handed in my first assignment on Friday. In fact, I think I was overly productive last week (wrote an assignment, read a book, wrote a book review, scrawled a sample essay question), which is probably why I'm finding it so hard to get down to doing anything much this week.

On the other hand, I've managed to clear a lot of my e-mail inbox, buy an mp3 player on ebay (first experience, very glad it worked out ok!), research 'cheap' broadband (because we seem to be spending as much on dialup charges anyway) and make sure my diary is up to date.

But, as always, Greek class looms and after five weeks I'm still having difficulty remembering the vocab from the first week. Oh dear.

I also have a nagging feeling that I had something important to share on this blog but I just can't remember what it is. I will enlighten you another time perhaps!

Thursday, 3 November 2005

3.8 Days Later

So I have a few minutes to spare before coffee-and-scones-time in the College... Maybe now is the time to reflect on my Autumn Soul experience! Warning - long post!

The first question people keep asking is, 'was it weird to not be on stage?'. And the honest answer is, "Yes!" - could it be anything else? Kathryn and I were in the Autumn Soul Band from Year 1, setting up on two stage blocks in Wesley Centenary's Epworth Hall with 173 people present. We were there when in year 2 on the Friday afternoon last-minute bookings meant we had to move everything into the main church building. We were on stage in Bangor Leisure Centre for Sunday morning worships over several years, and then in the choir pit of Hamilton Road Presbyterian. Over the past five years our band became known as 'Soul Purpose' as the membership became more established, forming a twelve-piece group with drums, bass, keys, guitars, flute/whistles, violin, sax, trumpet and vocalists. We saw God do great things in worship over the ten years, not because we were good but because He is.

So was it weird to not be on stage? Yes.

But was it bad to not be on stage? No!

For one thing, the Autumn Soul Band is now every bit as good musically as we are, they are humble, they pray hard and they long to see people going deeper in worship. They're great! For another, I had the joy of free worship last weekend - I could lift my hands, I could sing harmonies, I could sit with the young people from our circuit. Here's another reason - Autumn Soul is an event that places emphasis on young people participating in worship, whether it's drama, dance, art, testimony, prayers - or music. At 20 I led a worship band where everyone else was still in their teens: it was time for that to happen again.

So that's the stage thing out of the way.

What about the actual weekend, I hear you ask? I was a member of the prayer ministry team. To some people reading this you'll be going, "ah yes, the prayer ministry team". Others might be going, "the prayer what?". So I'll tell you what we did...

Friday afternoon - arrive early (4pm) for a prayer walk: we walked to all the churches in Bangor being used for accommodation and seminars, praying over them and the people that would be using them.

Before celebrations (there were meetings on the evenings and mornings of the weekend) - we gathered up to 90 minutes before the meeting, to pray for the people that would be coming into the building to worship and in particular for the people who would be onstage: band, speaker, dramatists, dancers, the techies etc. If those people were in the room we would lay hands on them and pray for the Holy Spirit to anoint them with power and inspiration for their task.

During seminars - we were available to pray with the speakers before the session and with anyone who had been affected by the topic afterwards: I missed this bit because I was involved in a seminar at the same time.

During celebrations - we sat throughout the church building, praying that God would clear barriers from people's minds as they worshipped and listened, that he would quench distractions and meet with the young people and their leaders in a powerful way. That the people would allow Him to do a deep work in their lives, transforming them through the renewing of their minds.

At the end of meetings - as Andy (this year's speaker - see HERE) invited people to respond, we were available to pray with people about specific things and, on Saturday night, to anoint them with oil (making a sign of the cross on the forehead while praying for them to be filled with the Spirit's power to serve God as He leads). These were special times. In one instance, as I was praying for a person I became overwhelmed with God's love for that person - I was speechless as I tried to communicate just how much God loves them.

A question that I'm pondering at the moment:

HOW MANY OF OUR CHURCHES ARE MISSING OUT on the affirmation, encouragement and strength that comes from the vulnerable act of Christians asking for, and offering, prayer? How many Christians persevere in their faith using their own strength, forgetting that God's people are a people, and that we're not meant to attempt anything without Holy Spirit's whispered guidance, loving comfort and enabling power?

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Autumn Soul at prayer

Autumn Soul at prayer on the Saturday evening. I'll write more about my experiences of the weekend soon.
Another great photo from Ross & Kathryn!