Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I think we'd agree that the stories told to us in the gospels about what Jesus did for us are kinda important.

But it's in Acts when things really get interesting for the followers of Jesus. This is where we see the effects of what Jesus did in action. This is where we see transformation.

They went from arguments 'among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest' (Luke 9:46) to everyone 'together and.... everything in common' (Acts 2:44).

And what would make Peter, of 'denying three times' infamy, become a bold witness? "When they saw the courage of Peter and John...they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13)

This seems impossible. If you've ever tried to change something about yourself, or tried to change someone else, you'll know how impossible it is. People just don't change radically, overnight. Their fears, weaknesses, insecurities and bad habits just don't disappear like that.

But the disciples and the subsequent followers of Jesus changed radically. And not just for a few days. Not just a few of them. And even in the face of opposition and persecution. They changed so radically that they disrupted 'the whole world'. (Acts 17:6)

What makes this possible?

What the book of Acts is trying to show us, is that the only answer is the Holy Spirit.

Peter spoke "filled with the Holy Spirit". (Acts 4:8) He was transformed.

And the thousands who witnessed the acts and transformations of the apostles - they weren't won over by convincing arguments - they were also transformed by the power of what they saw and heard and witnessed.

Too often we think of being a Christian as a moral standard that we have to project, to make sure everyone sees how good we are, to make sure we aren't letting Jesus down. So we try to be like him. We try and try and try. And yet we are still dogged by those bad behaviours, those bad habits, that anger, that fear, that weakness. And so we get discouraged because it seems impossible, and we are sick of failing over and over again.

But that's the point. It is impossible. Without the Holy Spirit.

Even those who had seen Jesus risen from the dead and ascended into the clouds didn't do much until the Holy Spirit came. They had seen Jesus more physically and tangibly than we have, and yet they waited.

Even Jesus didn't expect them to act on their own. "...wait for the gift my Father promised...For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5) " will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:7-8)

It's a gift. A gift that comes with power and authority from God, and transformation.

The thing about a gift is, inherent in the meaning of the word, you can't earn it or work for it. It's not payment, it's a gift. You just have to receive it.

That is the way our lives are transformed. That is the way we become bold witnesses to the ends of the earth. Not through our own efforts to be good or say and do the right thing - but by the power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in us. A gift.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Project 3:11 - Month One

It's like an addiction. The belief that we - that I - need to shop to live.

It sounds ridiculous when you put it that way - buying clothes is not a physical necessity like drinking water or breathing. But if we truly don't believe that we need to buy things to get through, then why would it be a big deal to ask most people to stop?

In response to my announcement of this year long project, most of the reactions have been positive, acknowledging that we probably all do have too much stuff, and applauding my 'bravery'. But why does it need to be a brave thing to not buy clothes? That's the question that is playing on my mind. If we aren't addicted, then why can't we stop?

Addiction - dependence on a substance, thing or activity. dedication to, obsession with, infatuation with,passion for, mania for, enslavement to..... 

And so, in this first month, I'm treating it like it is an addiction. As a semblance of an analogy, if I was an alcoholic I wouldn't be going in to bars right now, or reading the alcohol catalogues, or even drinking virgin versions of my favourite drinks.

 So that means a few things:

- avoiding clothes shops - seems an obvious one.
- unsubscribing from website mailing lists - some days I can find my inbox filled with colourful newsletters reminding me how much I need the stuff they're selling, and look at the bargains! What a deal... So that unsubscribe button is becoming my best friend.
- not reading magazines (which are mostly just glossy books of advertisements)
- not shopping for other things, even if they aren't clothes, shoes or accessories, at least for the first month. Even though it is just one category of things I have committed to for this year, shopping for other things like home wears is just one step removed.

Those are 'Month One' goals - get out of my float down the shopping river, and start to dry off. And while I do that, I'll assess my reactions to being out of the flow. Will it be a relief to not be wet, or will I feel like a fish out of water?

What am I going for here, though? Am I looking for a revolution, where we all become some kind of hippies and consumerist, capitalist society as we know it is torn down? I think people have tried that sort of thing before, and it never really goes well....

And I know little about economics, but I do get that if we all decided to just suddenly stop shopping, the western world we live in would collapse and there would be mayhem. It would be a cruel thing to do to the many people who currently rely on spending for their income and livelihood - which is almost everyone at some point down the line. I certainly don't think any solution to the problems of third world countries lies in turning the whole world into one.

And so completely and permanently removing myself from the ways of the world I live in is not the way to go. I might feel better about myself, but really that does nothing for anyone else. Consequently, I don't plan to never go near a shop again, never look at an ad, or live in fear of magazines.

Somewhere in there is a realistic approach - a way to change our attitudes, perhaps, a way to get us to live consciously and purposefully, with more than ourselves in mind.

I recently read a quote from Gwen Stefani:

“My closest is a work of art. But it needs to be cleared out again. There’s a whole wall of shoes – a shameful amount. But I design them and I do wear them. And I put them up for sale at charity auctions.”

I admire the creativity in design. She does wear them, and she sells them for charity. But even she uses the word 'shameful'.

What do you think of her justification? Is it enough? Is it admirable? Is it shameful? Is it ok? Is it only ok because it's the best we can hope for from someone with her life? 

Do you think you are addicted to buying things - or could you 'stop any time' ;)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Absenteeism from a blog over the 'silly season' is not unusual, I suspect. My end/beginning over the last couple of months has involved a considerable amount of upheaval, and sitting down to write has seemed an insurmountable task.

But even when I don't write, my mind is always on the blog - everything I see, I tend to write blog posts in my head, many of which never get put down on 'paper'.

Like this sign in a shop window I saw before Christmas that nearly made me cry...

There's a whole post in that somewhere. What have we become?

And that is a perfect example of what I'm trying to explore this year in Project 3:11 - going a year without buying clothes. This officially started on the 1st of January, but ever since I decided to do it I haven't wanted to buy anything anyway. It's more than just an arbitrary challenge. But that's plenty more posts in itself.

So what will 2012 bring? 2011 went by incredibly fast - so many people seem to be saying the same thing, and I think there is something in that. A God thing. Though I don't know what it means, but things have been leading up to this time. It may not be the end of the world like some think the Mayan's were telling us!, but I think there are big things coming this year. I was going to say 'beginning this year', but the things that God is doing started long before now.

When you look back over where you've got to, it can be amazing to see the line of things that have fallen in to place, the path that was being laid out without you even realising it was all connected.

Like my decision to write this blog, coming long before I even considered I had anything worthwhile to write about has been a part of my journey to studying theology and biblical studies this year. Through writing a blog I have to come to read many more, and discover questions I didn't even know I had. Far fewer answers, though, which is always the way.

Sometimes things need to be deconstructed to be built back up. Like reading blogs like Rachel Held Evans', listening to and reading John Smith, listening to the Unbelievable podcast, beginning my study of the New Testament and discovering how little I really know about the collection of books I call scripture.

Some people criticise studying and questioning, because it is arrogant to think we can know everything and have the right to question everything. In some ways, with some motives, I agree. But the more I question, the more I realise how little I know. And sometimes breaking everything down can strip away the layers of tradition and religion and ideas that have padded out, or sometimes obscured, the truth. But of course the truth needs to take it's place - stripping back to leave holes and abstraction and a misconceived notion of freedom is not the aim.

I tried that once. I didn't like what I thought I was meant to believe, so I chucked it all out and replaced it with 'searching'.

The thing about Jesus, is in the midst of all the questions, doubts, fears and confusion that could possibly come our way, he is the Rock. This time that's what I want to get to. Not to chuck away the things that make me uncomfortable, but to get through the surface layers - all the things we have applied to Christianity that have formed a veneer that we often fail to get past - and get to Jesus, the rock.

So 2012 - a year of stripping back, a year of getting to the heart of things, a year of working out what really matters. One thing about time seeming to go so fast, is that you realise you don't really have a lot of it. And when there isn't a lot of time, why waste it on the things that don't really matter.