This blog about Mandela isn’t really about Mandela

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With the passing of Nelson Mandela it really is an end of an era. He is the face of anti-Apartheid. A fighter for freedom and democracy against the evil of government-enforced racism. He was also deemed a communist and terrorist at various times throughout the years. His efforts that lead to his incarceration in 1962 were proceeded by advocating for violent protest. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He spent 27 years in prison for “conspiracy to overthrow the state”. After an international campaign lobby he was released. He was South Africa’s first black President in it’s first fully representative democratic election (ie. everyone had the right to vote). He worked tirelessly to end Apartheid, which was politically enforced racial segregation. He was the recipient of many awards for his efforts including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. I think he was a good bloke.

Now it might be a bit of a stretch, but try and put yourself in his shoes between 1962 and 1990 while he was in prison. How would you feel about it? I’d be thinking that it was unfair, unjust, no voice, misunderstood, hurt… angry. Then when he became President in 1994 and abolished Apartheid, would it be time for revenge?

Mandela did something that has been my personal favourite thing about him when he came to power. He created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). To help heal South Africa the TRC were able to provide amnesty to perpetrators of human rights abuse as long as they told the truth. Victims were also able to tell their story. These hearings were not without criticism, but what a way to help a country heal from hurt and bitterness. Answering evil with good, not more evil.

Such a paradigm shift from the usual “good guy gets his revenge” action movies I’ve seen. Is justice only concerned with punishment, or is truth and healing more important? All of us are part of a family, community, society, nation. How we live affects those around us.

Another good bloke called Paul wrote a letter to some Christians a couple of thousand years ago saying “… Overcome evil with good”. No easy task I’ll grant you. It requires setting aside how you feel in favour for something better. Something that is pure gold. Something that has the ability to change the world.

The Supernatural (#1)

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So with Christianity there’s usually a big elephant sitting in the corner of the room. I can talk about faith, hope, love and “Do unto others” etc. But many might shy away from the… weirder side of the faith: the supernatural. In this case the elephant isn’t sitting so much as hovering about juggling fire while whistling Beethoven’s 9th upside-down (Google images let me down on that one)

We got water turning into wine, people walking on water, dead raised to life, demons cast out of people, healings left, right and centre, prophecy, special knowledge… all in all pretty strange stuff, right. One of the very first steps to becoming a Christian is accepting a bloke died on a cross and was alive 3 days later! So yeah… there’s that.

Remember the scene in the second Matrix movie where Neo meets with the oracle on the park bench right before 50 agent Smith’s crash the party? She starts talking about all the weird stuff you hear about like ghosts, angels, vampires, aliens, etc., are programs who have stopped working as intended and decided to hide in the matrix. A grand explanation for all the weird stuff you hear about in the world around us.

Well Christianity, being an all-encompassing world-view, has an explanation as well. Strange lights in the sky, alien abduction, things that go bump in the night, witchcraft and magic. There’s just too much evidence in this wide world around us to dismiss it so easily as the delusions of charlatans, crackpots and the mentally ill.

We see the dark side of these things as ‘demonic activity’. Now when you see those two words all sorts of images and ideas are conjured up in our minds, heavily affected by movies and popular culture. Christianity holds that the story of the Universe (or the meaning of life) is God reconciling Man to himself. And Satan hates both God and Man. His pride wants to destroy that relationship. If he keeps you blissfully unaware of Jesus then his job is done. Ghosts, aliens, magic, etc. serve to confuse people about the nature of reality, rather than clear things up, or show a “new” kind of truth. There is a spiritual realm that our natural eyes cannot usually see.

There is much more to say on this topic. The supernatural isn’t only the realm of evil things. There’s also angels and God’s Holy Spirit doing some pretty amazing things. Things that are still happening today. The point of this blog is to at least try and make you aware that, as the bard says, “There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There is power out there, outside of Jesus that power can be dangerous, and even enticing to some. With Jesus, however, not only is there no fear of these things, there is also power to make them flee.

I’ve seen people healed in front of my eyes, I’ve seen people know things about my life and others that they could not have possibly known. There’s so much more to this life. Jesus is still doing some amazing things in our midst. Do you have eyes to see?

Cruelty & Change

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At the risk of sound incredibly naïve, I have to say, I just don’t understand cruelty. I know the pat answers that bullies need to “lord it over” someone to feel some sort of superiority in their own misery. But real violent cruelty we see on the news, where a kid, or an elderly person is bashed in some senseless way just leaves me scratching my head. I can’t fathom how people can do it and not feel like they’re stripping their own humanity out with a knife.

And what then do we do? How do we fix this problem? What is the answer? Our society pays a police force to … “police” our laws. We then try the alleged offender and, in most cases, incarcerate them. Seems a bit like putting a bunch of band-aids on a gushing wound.

How do you change a culture? How do you change a society where this sort of thing is on the rise? These questions have serious far-reaching implications for the world we live in, and the people we do life with. Lets look at early childhood upbringing. Do we stop parents from giving kids a smack when they’re naughty, or encourage them to do it more? Is either answer really all that effective in the long run?

The problem is not education. The problem is not poverty. The problem is not race. The problem is the breakdown of moral values in American life, and the criminal justice system cannot respond.” – Chuck Colson.

Please excuse the American-centric quote. Chuck got quite a lot of applause after that statement. It’s kind of a no-brainer really. If you have a moral society you have fewer laws broken. Less cruelty.

However morality these days is viewed as all relative. People still seem to admire people that live out their beliefs with passion and integrity, but stop short at claiming morality as anything but subjective. The whole “what’s true and good for you isn’t what’s true and good for me” thing. And this “relative morality” is defended so emphatically that it seems to have single-handedly driven “Politically Correctness” as a whole.

With an election now right around the corner it’s more important than ever to think long and hard about who we are putting in charge of our law-making. Like it or not, politicians make changes that effect us directly. But they cannot make a moral society. All they can do is make more band-aids to cover the gushing wound.

We are society. We have to start with ourselves.

So here’s the part where I force my morality down your throat… right? Come on, “Love your neighbour” isn’t that draconian is it? Might not be easy but it’s got to be worth it. Together we can do it. I challenge you (and myself) to do something good for a stranger. Here’s some inspiration.

 

 

The Black Dog

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So this week was tough. Dangerously tough. I was diagnosed with depression a few years ago. I got a few stories about things I’ve learned over the last few years with regards to it. But right now, I just wanted to say this week was hard. You see depression can be a fatal illness. So when I say “hard”… I ain’t kidding.

There’s been many times over the last few years that I’ve had suicidal thoughts. It’s one of the main characteristics of the illness. There’s no two ways about it, it sucks. It feels bad enough having to deal with the thought, but then you get even more distressed that you thought about it at all. Especially since I don’t want to do it. I just want to get better. It’s a really helpless and scary feeling. It’s quite difficult to react in a positive way. In your head you know it’s just emotion, but it feels impossible to get into a different head-space when you’re in the middle of it.

I’ve had to learn to be patient because I know from experience that the feeling and thought will pass. Where it used to be an everyday thing back when this little adventure started, it’s way less frequent now, thank God.

Paradoxically, having depression has taught me to separate myself from my emotions. I know what I believe, I got my Jesus, I know I’ve been given a future and a hope, and I will walk in it. So I don’t have to be a slave to my emotions. I am not just my emotions! Pity we humans typically have to learn things the hard way, right.

One of the most surprising things I’ve found is how many people suffer from this. I guarantee you that somebody you know has depression. I’m not talking about a one-off thing either. I mean they got the medication, they regularly see the psychiatrist and the psychologist. They’ve had major treatment and had to move through it. It manifests itself in different ways in different people. For me it’s more anxiety, like a cold feeling in your chest when you watch a scary movie. Frustrating. Depression has got to be a modern epidemic. There’s just too many people struggling with it.

A friend of mine challenged me today to answer “facts” with “truth” (thanks E-R). The fact is I have an illness and occasionally feel dangerously anxious and depressed. The truth is I am seated in heavenly places. The truth is through Jesus I am healed, whole, and walking in a glorious future. That is the hope Jesus offers. It ain’t just about some far off future where I can go to Heaven some day. It’s a relationship that comforts me when I’m anxious and flat-out saves my life when it’s worse. He talks to me. As I walk this walk I get better at recognising His voice. He encourages me. He lifts me up when I’m down. He goes before me into the unknown. He’s always had my back.

For those who have depression I wanted to say a two main things in this blog. First and foremost, Jesus will help you. He loves you and wants to help, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. Secondly, I want to help you. I know how much I need people around me that understand and care. Contrary to what you might think there are people out there that love you and want to see you do well. Ask some questions in the comments. Ask for prayer, or advice or… whatever. I started writing this blog for you. You do not have to do life on your own.

Nietzsche

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Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher whose thinking remains compelling to this day. Anyone familiar with his writings might find it a tad surprising a Christian like myself would find any value in his work. He was overtly anti-Christianity. I am by no means an expert on the guy, but there are a few of his writings that interest me.

He’s the the guy that said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (actual quote), and “God is dead.” He is arguably the father of Nihilism. As Nietzsche proposes, if we move past the idea of God, then nothing has any inherent importance and lacks meaning and purpose. Nietzsche goes further and says that if mankind can recover and master this crisis, we would inevitably become stronger/better.

Obviously at some point my views and Nietzsche’s differ markedly, but he was absolutely clear and merciless in showing that there can be no inherent meaning to life or objective truth outside of the existence of a Creator god. Morality is then completely arbitrary and based on the whims of man and those with the strength to seize it. Whereas it is often said “history is written by the victor”, Nietzsche may well say that “good and evil is written by the victor”.

Good” as a concept then becomes meaningless in a general sense. And so does “evil”. As a Christian I find the idea dangerous and frightening. Nietzsche would shake his head and urge me to move past this and chase my own personal happiness with strength. He would urge me to call that happiness “good”.

The words “good”, “evil”, “strength”, and “happiness” have specific definitions to both Nietzsche and myself. The definitions are borne straight out of our respective worldviews and can have completely opposite meanings to each other. Our different worldviews directly effect the people around us.

Take the word “strength”, for example. Is it stronger to chase your own happiness or to willingly prefer someone else’s happiness over your own? Is it “strength” when you get angry and do something about not getting what you think you are entitled to? Or is it strength to be patient? Is it strength to rebel, or be obedient? Are you stronger when you cheat, or do the right thing? Is it strength to be offended, or forgive?

The “Overman” or “Super-man” is an idea presented by Nietzsche. He saw it as the next step for man. You become the superman when you move past morality and become value-creators yourself. With the new Man of Steel movie out now it’s interesting to see the huge difference between the Superman on the big screen and that of Nietzsche’s version. The Man of Steel is a true hero, doing what he can to help at great personal risk. I wonder if Lex Luthor is a fan of Nietzsche and thought he himself was a superman?

Nietzsche seemed to admire Jesus strength as a kind of superman because he seemed to establish his own moral evaluations. But that’s pretty much the only thing he liked about Jesus. I admire Jesus strength because he endured great suffering for a people still cut off from his kingdom. Jesus thought we were worth it. He knew his father gave us inherent objective value. Sometimes I don’t even recognise my own worth. Then I remember what the Son did because the Father thought I was worth it.

Faith: A Definition

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It is sometimes quite fortunate that the Bible wasn’t written in English. The Greek of the New Testament was much more exact. Where we might use words like “love” or “faith”, ancient Greek had multiple words for each. There are big differences between the way you love your spouse, kids, BBQ steak, lollies, a TV show. You have to pay close attention to the context to glean the meaning.

Faith” as Christians define it is much more akin to our modern word “trust”. And as we all know, trust is usually earned before it is given. I often see people write about the difference between “faith” and “reason”, as if there is a logical dichotomy. More often than not it’s titled “Faith Vs Reason”, like it’s some sort of competition.

My faith (or trust, or belief) is based on evidence. It’s based on someone I find trust-worthy. My faith is reason-able. It’s just we all differ on what we call “evidence”. As stated in my first blog, faith is the first step in the reasoning process. You don’t have one without the other.

Our faith is based on who we trust, our life experience, true stories, answered prayer, a living dynamic relationship. When I have doubts, they are very specific. More to do with my future rather than whether God exists. I may as well be saying my mother doesn’t exist. We know each other and talk all the time.

I was almost going to write this week on the historicity of Jesus. He was an actual guy who lived in Judea a couple of thousand years ago. There are numerous non-biblical proofs of it. Although why people discount the first four books of the new testament as proof is beyond me. But the evidence is easy to find. No serious historian discounts that he existed. However every few years someone trots out the same tired old arguments as if they’ve discovered some shocking truth that he was made up. Wishful thinking perhaps?

We are left with a remarkably unchanged record of his life and teachings. And what he said and did, by all accounts, was amazing. Taken as a whole we are left with only three choices: he was crazy, a liar, or he’s God incarnate. What seems reasonable to you based on the evidence? You begin to see how your faith will inform your answer.

So… have you checked the evidence lately?

Evil

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The “problem of evil”, as it is known, is a discussion as old as thought itself. Well-travelled ground to be sure, but perhaps everyone isn’t up to speed. So here goes. Christians believe the following:

  1. God exists

  2. God is all-good

  3. God is all-powerful

  4. Evil exists

Okay. How on earth do we make sense of this? Is this proof Christians are the complete nutters many think we are? Proof we are all way under the average 100 IQ mark? Most people can only believe three of these at once.

Atheism is the denial of proposition one. Pantheism is the denial of proposition two. Modern naturalism and ancient polytheism is the denial of proposition three. Idealism denies proposition four. They claim evil is an illusion of unenlightened human consciousness. A bold claim to the average Joe. Biblical theism affirms all four by being specific in defining “evil”, “good”, and “all-powerful”.

So… evil. There are two broad types of evil. Sin and suffering. Neither originate with God. He created a universe and a people and called it “good”. The evil of sin entered this creation through us. Which, in turn, also cursed the universe, bringing about suffering. I know… another bold claim. Everything we know as bad in this world was once good. It’s just been corrupted. Even Satan was once an angel. If you were created to be evil, how can you be called a sinner? We were all created to be good.

What does all this mean? It means that blaming God for the state of the world is just passing the buck. Taking responsibility for our own actions is not popular. You don’t need to change if it isn’t your fault… right? I’m talking to myself here as well.

A friend of mine recently did a blog about “love”. He said that love is a choice. It cannot exist outside of a will to choose it. Unfortunately this also means a choice could be made in the other direction. We can all choose to hate, be indifferent, to do the wrong thing… in short, to sin. The mechanism by which evil exists is the same by which love exists – our choice. You can’t have one without the other. They are not two opposing “forces” warring for supremacy out there in the world. This battlefield is in our mind.

I’m aware all this begs the question – surely God knew what would happen when he created it all? This can sometimes be where our human reasoning can fail us. Logic only takes us so far (see my 1st blog for an illustration). Personally I believe the relationship between the Father and us through Jesus is the “why” of Creation. He is called the “Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world”. For this reason love HAS to be preserved. Therefore our will to choose, our human nature needs to be preserved.

The only question left to ask is – is love worth it? Do we have the right to answer that question?