The Refugee Crisis and Us.

The plan is not to make this blog long and tenuous. I don’t want to force feed an opinion down throats that don’t like the taste of what I’m typing. You may already hold tight to the opinion I have on this subject and for that I merely endeavour to add but one more voice to your discussion.

There is a great quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that has shaped a lot of my thinking in recent years, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”. We are all called to act on behalf of the broken and the poor. Sometimes I’ve turned my television over when the pictures of the malnourished child with the swollen belly appears on my screen because my heart can’t handle it. I am responsible, daily, of ignoring so much of what God has called me to act upon. Yet here I sit at my computer screen typing words that don’t feed or nourish the mother, father and child aching to escape the tyranny of a brutal regime. I am ashamed, yet most of what I do is nothing.

Should I feel guilty for being born into a system that has not scoured my body with punishing chemical toxins because I disagreed with their modus operandI? Is it wrong that I sit at my desk with a belly filled of food? Compared to the millions of displaced refugees, I guess it might be. My heart has a feeling as though a cartoon Acme ton weight was attached to it, it is swinging somewhere between my chest and my gut. It’s a dark feeling and I can’t shift it. Millions of human beings are being ignored, oppressed, and left for dead all because their government has rejected them as human beings. It makes me angry and numb. Yet here I am a keyboard activist.

Its time to stand wake up. We need to act, as Christians, as human beings, as souls headed in the same direction. I don’t see borders, I see land that was never truly mine to own. You can lay claim to your flag, but I doubt the little Syrian boy washed ashore only a few weeks ago really cared less. This may seem as though I am guilt-tripping everyone reading this into accepting refugees. If that works then I think by now I’m ok with it. 

There was a time I would have been furious to let people feed off my taxes who didn’t deserve it but now my heart has turned a full one hundred and eighty degrees.  To the sons, daughters, mothers and fathers of any war ravaged nation, come eat with me and my family. You deserve to eat at my table if I am allowed to eat at my fathers. You are no less worthy than me because all you carry are memories and a pair of shoes in a well worn suitcase. 

We are a virtuous nation, we can handle it. If we don’t have love then we have nothing - if thats true then I have everything and I have everything to give. 

We bleed the same blood, we begin and end this world the same - I will be your hands and I choose to be your feet.

If you wish to contribute to the biggest refugee crisis since world war 2 then please consider donating to Save the Children below or by donating items of food and clothing to one of the various drop off locations. We need to act now.

http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/about-us/emergencies/child-refugee-crisis-appeal

For further reading on the crisis check out:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-26116868

BEWARE THE CAPS (NOW THE END BEGINS)

Nowtheendbegins.com- The name of the website should blare out like a warning sign to all that once you enter, the news stories you will encounter may have been crafted by a man in his makeshift shed bunker. A man awaiting the trumpets of the Lord as he sits next to an exhaustive supply of beans and tinned meat. The URL is a strong indicator as to the  preposterous material that lurks within. If you’re not reading an article on the Illuminati then you may be reading an article on how wireless payment is one step closer to the one world currency (don’t get me started on the strange coverage of the republican and democrat election candidates).

Mudslingin'

I had another blog planned, however what has been happening in the Christian church this past few weeks has me so upset, confused and frustrated that I needed to talk about it. If you haven’t closed the page by now because you were/are a follower of this Christian news site then I imagine you are willing to be part of the dialogue with regard to Christians shooting their own down in spectacular fashion. As my good friend told me this past week, ‘we Christians love a good mudslingin’. As sad as that statement was to digest, its true. From destroying the individuals in our local congregation to the chipping away at Christians in the media spotlight we can be brutal and draw blood when we feel their opinions or actions have gone against Gods commands.

BEWARE THE CAPS LOCK

A couple of Sundays ago Geoffrey Grider from Nowtheendbegins published an article titled ‘HILLSONG NYC CHURCH HAS AN ‘ENGAGED; OPENLY HOMOSEXUAL COUPLE LEADING THE CHOIR’. Thanks to the caps lock used in the title we were immediately given the indication that this was serious and the reader should be stunned into reading the rest of the article asap. As I don’t grace this website with my time, I was made aware of the article as it made its way through my Facebook timeline, again, and again and again. I couldn’t escape the disgust people were displaying on their profiles as they shared this article written by a contributing writer from this self proclaiming end of days website.

Valuing and respecting my friends (of whom are/were big Hillsong fans) opinions I went searching through the published article to see how much of the article could be referred to as pure unfiltered fact. Without going line by line into the whole article, I immediately found pieces of information based on personal opinion rather than built upon clear truth. Geoffrey Grider speculated what had been happening within a church he already quite clearly disliked and seems to hold a personal vendetta against (as picture evidence is provided from a previous article making clear Hillsong are involved with the Illuminati).

One body with one breath

It is of no benefit to me to stick up for a church that I don’t attend. Yet here I am writing on account of my disgust at another Christians explosive and destructive attitude. These past few weeks I witnessed the ugly side of the community I call myself a part of, and it made me ill. ‘Don’t you see, this massively influential church has done something wrong in my opinion and so must rectify itself or face the conseuqences’. I listened to this opinion over and over and could not take much more. There are a few issues I believe need addressed and I really hope a friendly dialogue filled with common sense will follow.

1.       Most of us probably don’t go to Hillsong New York or haven’t been- if you have then you may have a good balanced opinion on the story.

2.       You are reading opinion as fact, go searching for yourself – Pastor Brian Houston took his time to listen, and inform himself (as a leader should) and then   addressed the situation. 

3.       You may hold the right opinion, then again you may not – stop living with a bigoted view that prevents you from listening to the other side.

4.       This church is a part of you, we are one body and when one part is attacked then we act and work out how to heal. There may be many different ways to heal the body, but we are to care for it during and after the healing process.

5.       For the love of all things good in this beautiful world stop sharing content from a website that spews such vile hatred towards different members in our society. Jesus sat down and probably laughed, joked, wept and loved those who the religious leaders thought were irrelevant and destructive to the Christian community. 

6.       Don’t jump to conclusions without listening to both sides.

My conclusion on this article is that it was merely click bait to get Christians to react and come together with a mob attitude. Attitudes toward the LGBTQ community are changing dramatically, and honestly my opinions on the subject change every day. What will never change Is my love for people. Those people who feel suicidal and lonely because they don’t fit into society need a church to stand by them and love them unconditionally. They need support from broken people who have been saved by a beautiful saviour.

Truth is a person

We must talk to individuals who are part of the group. These are souls we get to love and care for. I absolutely understand a lot of us are still trying to figure out how the church should respond in this changing society. We do not get to say we have this all completely figured out, truth is we don’t. If someone believes their opinions of the bible are solid and unwavering then I regret to inform them that they are deluded.

Lets keep talking about these subjects and stop believing everything we read because if you have ever realised one thing from the internet its that not everything we read, view or listen to is true. I don’t know Geoffrey Griders’ heart and why he chose to attempt to destroy the name of a church, he may have done this out of love to which I would respond with the story of Peter cutting off the Roman guards ear as they arrested Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a fan of this violent outpouring of ‘love' (healing the Roman guards ear and leaving with them peacefully).  

Lets not go about chopping of ears. Instead use our loving words to speak words of peace into the ears of those we think are in the wrong, you would be amazed at the outcome.

Mike 

The Church Atticus built

**DON’T WORRY THERE ARE NO SPOILERS**

 I have finally finished reading the much anticipated follow up/prequel/sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and it was great. Not being a fantastic reviewer of books, I will leave the critical analysis to the professionals. I understand, the majority of people may disagree with my verdict of the book.  Some say it should never have been released. ‘How dare they force an elderly woman to release a book she never wanted to see the light of day’. Well, one reason could be Ms Lee’s lawyer seen a few extra dollars in their future, or it may been because the author genuinely thought it was the right time to release the book.  That it had always been her intention. 

There aren’t too many revelations in the book but there was one major one. It was strange and unsurprising witnessing the reaction of people discovering (prior to the release of the book) that their all American hero and moral compass Atticus Finch was actually quite the racist. People were understandably gutted that someone they were convinced was perfect in every way might just be a little too different than their sugar coated fantasies of him. To be honest, I was one of these people.

Pre-ordering the book I didn’t want to know of any hearsay regarding Atticus or Scout. However, a few days before I received the long awaited new book, my wife drops the news that she read an article on the internet alluding to the horrible fact Atticus was racist. ‘Woah, that’s a bit of a far fetched call to make Sara’.  I had found myself defending a ficitious character whom I had spent all my years looking up to and quoting. ‘This is obviously clickbait, its not true and I’ll let you know as soon as I read it’, I assured Sara. Right up until the final page I was convinced there would be some good explanation and some resolve to this whole mess. But it was true, and I was left heartbroken.

After picking my jaw from the floor (which took a few days), I was left with a feeling that was all too common within my gut this past year. The sinking feeling of being severly let down by someone who should have never had the ability or power to rock my world to its very foundations. I gave too much of myself to people who would ultimately fail me and themselves. It was both our fault.

 Nostalgia – Its not what it used to be.  

 There are a huge amount of passages from Go Set a Watchman that I could talk about in relation to the church. However I want to focus on one issue, the idolisation of Atticus Finch. Saying Atticus Finch was an idol almost seems a little too conservative sounding. Anyone that knows an ounce about me will realise my language is nowhere near that of a Free Presbyterian minister. If you’re still with me, then just look at how the world reacted when they found out Atticus was a racist. They were understandably outraged. Racism is disgusting, and it has taken centre stage on our news channels almost every night. Who would have guessed the issue of racism was still so horrifically prevalent. As a Caucasian male I will never understand how terrible it must be, but if any human being regardless of race, colour or religion is facing predjudice of any kind then I will lend my voice to their cause. The release date of Go set a watchman seems almost strangely perfect.

 It has been reported this book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird but Harper Lee’s publishers thought it was best she wrote a friendlier, easier to digest story.  Thus, giving us the child’s (Scout) perspective on racial injustice. We believed Atticus was sticking up for the outcasts of society regardless of colour and we loved him for it. He protected his family, his community and those who no-one else would bat an eyelid to. I loved it, he was the man I wanted to be. Yet after reading this new book, I can’t help but see his motives shine clearer in a different light, and its worrying.

 ALL MEN FAIL

 This will come as a huge surprise to many but all men and women were created equally flawed. We all come short, the Pastor, your Mum, your Dad and even your Granny. It’s a fact we float past sometimes when we see people who look like they are having a good run at being decent human beings. 'My Pastor has seen x number of people saved under his ministry, he has been such a blessing to this community over the years'. We treat the Pastor or people in leadership with so much respect that it becomes clear who they are and who we are. They are the elect, and we are the subjects. They must have heard things from God to place them where they are, so if they say we have to do something then we must follow their leadership with no questions asked, otherwise we could be disobeying God. 

This is so wrong.  Whilst they may hear from God, we hear the same voice of God speak to us. They are men and women who have character flaws just like you and me. They don’t live on an island with their own set of special moral standards. They have failed, and they will continue to fail, just like me and you.  Therefore we need to stop being so shocked and disgusted when they do.

I raise this issue as I once held a set of ideals against Atticus and believed he lived by them indefinitely. If there were anyone in the world I could look up to, it would be him. I had set myself up for heartbreak.

Blanket Pastor

In Northern Ireland, its difficult to drive a few hundred metres without passing a church of some denomination. If you visit one of these churches on a Sunday morning you will probably find the average church to be half full on good days and abandoned on the sunny ones. Within one mile of my home you can visit one of four different churches each within throwing distance of one another, all of which have been in existence for decades. I was taught about the bible and grew as a Christian in one of these churches for twenty years. If I were to guess, I reckon I could count on one hand how many times I attended a service in one of the ‘other’ churches. This was completely my fault, but really, I had no reason for most of my childhood to visit another church. My church was all I knew and if you went to another church then I would have honestly felt strange talking about my faith with you. After all, if you graced the doors of another church you might just fall into their trap. Who knows what you might end up believing. 

My goodness was I naive. 

As I grew in my faith I came to understand that Northern Ireland, for all its religious flaws, was not alone with regard to massive church division. This seems obvious now but as a kid with no internet and growing up in one church, it was a revelation. I can only explain these divisions within the global church as a consequence of the fall. The church should not look like this, it was never intended to be so divided, yet it is - and its falling apart. 

There are a million reasons why these denominations continue to exist. One being that people are people and everyone has different tastes when it comes to how they want to be fed.  I may focus on different reasons in the coming weeks but for now I only want to focus on one that keeps rearing its head. Churches and their response to massive cultural issues that involve individual human beings.

The reason for choosing the term ‘individuals’ is because we are all created in the image of God in a unique and specific way. Even identical twins have their own characteristics and qualities setting both apart. We were formed in our mother’s womb to bring glory to God in our own special, individual way. We are complicated, colorful, beautiful and full of so much potential. Yet too often are we bound by viewing the world through the lenses of other Christians. This can be enlightening, but it can also be incredibly restrictive with regard to our own personal walk with God. You were brought to life by God. He gave you a unique brain and an individual heart to go searching for him. With all respect to men and women who have studied the bible and prayed more than I ever will, I had to stop relying on what they told me and go discover Jesus for myself. If I kept relying solely on their commentaries, then people might have a good argument when they accused me of being brainwashed.

The journey of developing a personal relationship with Jesus can be a scary one, it is here you begin to find out who you really are. It is in this place we rely on the words of God spoken directly to us rather than through the filter of another Christian on their own journey to discovering God.

Regardless of how you view the millennial generation, you must admit they/we have seen society change for better and worse in ways that were unimaginable only decades before when the baby boomer generation came of age. Its possible to arrive at the conclusion that right now, more than ever before, we are all seeking for honesty within the church, and we are seeking for an open dialogue on every issue that tugs at our inner most being. We want to live in a world dominated by freedom and love not the bondage from which our forefathers handed down to us. If traditions harbor hate then I dont want them. I did not become a christian at the age of four because I was going to be sent to hell. Rather I became a christian because I saw a person who loved me enough to die for me. Its crazy to think that at four years of age I was capable of understanding that love cancelled out my fear, regardless of how petty and minor it would have been back then. I certainly wouldn’t have considered myself the sharpest knife as a child either. Yet God was good enough to meet me where I was at, even back then.

Over the past few years I have witnessed an alarming number of pastors (certainly not all) are increasingly attempting to whip up congregations into an almost mob like frenzy  by throwing out Christian buzzwords and hot topics. They hurl blanket statements on issues that should be dealt with in a far more thoughtful and loving way. Instead they spew out whatever is on their ‘heart’ at that particular time and expect the congregation to fall in line with it. I call these blanket pastors, and they crack me up. They see the bible giving clear yes/no answers to massive issues and look at people as a group of sinners instead of seeing them as individual complicated souls. As I have indicated in previous posts, there are absolutely yes/no answers to questions but there are also topics that I find that are beyond my tiny brain to comprehend or solve.

We should not be bound by the words of these blanket pastors. We should be free by the words of a personal Savior who can search the deepest parts of our twisted hearts. There are countless pastors and preachers bidding to speak on the behalf of all christians and I really dislike it. Increasingly I find they do not represent me at all and I find myself in the place where I want to love them because Jesus told me to, but I find it far too difficult.  Take the extreme case of Westboro Baptist. They claim to be Christians, however they are making the most horrendous blanket statements on behalf of the ‘true Christian church’. How on earth do I muster up even the slightest ounce of love towards them? 

Christian or not, i’m told to love them, and its really, really hard.

I absolutely have opinions on these ever growing issues within and outside of the church, but blasting your spin on the absolute, so called definitive answer from the pulpit and immediately canceling people out is not the job of the leader. If the issues had simple answers then we would have finished discussing them centuries ago. However they are not. We need to stop beginning conversations with condemnation and start with love. We do not need your flailing arms as you try to muster up some ‘AMEN, HALLELUJAHS!’, we need calm, measured and rational thought. 

Some folk would call me wrong in thinking this way, that im too focused on that grace doctrine’ (I still cant  believe this is an issue in todays church). No worries, I value your opinion and I love you. Others may agree on some of these points and see some truth in what I have raised. Its not the first time someone has brought the issue of ‘blanket pastors’ to light as an area of concern, all I want to do is add another voice to the conversation. 

If you find both our thoughts on this are not completely dissimilar, then send me a mail. Keep asking yourself, am I in a church that fosters genuine love? Am I surrounded by leadership who care about making disciples to send out to the edges of our own world and beyond? Am I following a leadership model that looks upon the issues more than they do the person? We must learn to generate conversations with individuals and meet them where they are at. This was the way Jesus liked to do it, so it doesn’t seem like a bad place to start.

I almost gave up on church because of blanket pastors. Then I came to understand they are the exception not the norm. 

We are a generation seeking for justice, truth, love, mercy, grace and hope.

Begin with Jesus and I promise you’ll start to find it.

My Notebook Heart

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is that I should always carry a notebook and a pen. There’s always a fear the black roller ball will dispose of itself in my jean pocket, but a quick check every ten minutes should see I get by without any major ink-cedents (sorry, not sorry). I reckon I have approximately 5 notebooks kicking about. There is usually at least one notebook in every room of my house due to the messy way I go about recording my sporadic thoughts. None of them are filled with thought provoking words of wisdom that I believe a generation must read. They are also all horrendously organised. At one point each book was assigned a different heading (one for lyrics, one for sermon notes) but it all got too jumbled too quick and I gave up. 

 There are lyrics, sermon notes, song titles, shower thoughts and just general nonsense. You should believe me when I say, Included on every page is a high amount of cringe inducing material that I care for no-one to read. The information contained would be heartbreakingly awkward for any who dare open and attempt to read the coffee stained, chocolate covered pages.

As the type of person who forgets to clear the pew in church of my personal items every Sunday or the type of idiot who leaves their wallet in work almost every day, I can be prone to leaving my notebook lying about for all the world to fall upon. My notebooks contain thoughts concerning the deepest caverns of my head and my heart, therefore its not something I really wish anyone to pick up and start browsing for fear of pure embarrassment.

Forgetting where I leave everything and anything is part and parcel of my daily routine. I know this is because every minute of every day my mind is awash with a cacophony of ridiculous thoughts. The barage of thoughts never seem to let up. Theres an endless to-ing and fro-ing between my head and my which heart builds up to a dizzying crescendo every day. When the cymbals crash and my mind dances itself into a daze I get to the moment when I would really care for my mind to become a blank canvas, as it was at the beginning of the day. This is why you will find my phone in the pew, or my brand new spectacles lying on the floor of your car almost every single time you kindly give my lazy backside a lift. Its not because I don’t care for these items, it’s because my thoughts are relentlessly overtaking one another bidding for pole position.

 Documenting these thoughts is to me like trying to untangle a pair of my cheap earphones. Every single time when it comes to having to converse with people, I roll them up nice and neat, put them into my pocket in the most logical way and convince myself the wires will not get damaged or tangled in transit. As I reach for fiddly wires in my jean or coat pocket to resume my musical distraction, they are, for some strange reason in an un-holy mess. Whilst I know I’m being unnecessarily dramatic, I find it to be absolutely infuriating. Once I've huffed and puffed I begin the de-tangulation process, even though I know its going to happen again and again until I do something solid about the re-occurring ‘problem’. Writing is my de-tangulation process. When I put pen to paper, most of the time I have no idea why the words I catapult onto the page even matter. I have no idea when or if I will ever return to contemplate their meaning. The process begins a conversation between me and God and we can end up talking for a while. There is a fresh feeling that soothes my mind as though my brain is being drained of every drop of thought within it when I let go of the words weighing me down. It resets my brain, leaving me with a small window where I can catch a much needed mental breath. However before too long my thoughts are tangled once again and so too must I begin the process of unravelling my messy wires. I have finally realised that to de-tangle my thoughts there are many steps I need to be willing to take. These steps include God/people and medication, leaving me hopeful yet petrified.

 There are a million and one articles that perfectly capture the discussion topic ‘How Christians  should deal with mental health issues’. The articles articulate the subject matter in a way that I  never could. Therefore I will choose to let them come to their own conclusions and kindly allow them to debate their own methods of managing the various mental health issues. My only aim of this blog is to add one more voice to the conversation. I want to put a face to the statistics that I am now included in. The triggers for my depression may be completely different to yours. The inward and outward manifestations may be similar or different to your own - but that’s O.K we can still help each other out by keeping the discussion open and genuinely loving each other as we are. I don’t get what you’re going through, and if you’re anything like me then you don’t get it 100% either. I'm a nobody but I want to try and remove just some of the stigma attached to a subject the Christian community has brushed over too often. Christians can be well meaning by saying, ‘well if you give it to God then he’ll sort you out, he is the source of all joy right?’ but this can be discouarging. Yes he really is, but please understand the difference between joy and happiness. Joy is embedded in the soul, happiness is a fleeting human emotion that disappears as soon as you have enjoyed the feeling.You may be different from me, but personally, I know I have a joy deep, deep down, engraved in my heart and my very bones. There are days when I just don’t feel happy. I’ve felt so guilty and ashamed, almost as though I were sinning. In the attempt of artificially whipping up some happiness it has left me feeling worse than before. Now I’ve learned not to search for the fleeting feeling of happiness, rather, I grip for dear life onto the person who is constant joy, peace, love and rest, Jesus. 

 Right now I’m at the point where I'm honestly too afraid to talk about my depression at a deeper level. What I do know is God remains and I in him. Only God knows why sometimes I feel so lost. Only he knows why i wake up most days feeling like a sledgehammer is bound to my chest. 

It took me months before I bottled up the nerve to go and talk to my doctor. Seeing me how I was, was breaking my wife’s heart. Sara was waking up every day not knowing the version of Michael she was going to be encountering, the positive up beat one or the apathetic, tired and self defeating one. Surely this could have all waited until we were a few years married at least I thought.  Truly Sara has been amazing, as cliched as it is, she really is a gift from God and a gift that I will never fully deserve. Treasure the people closest to you, they were placed there for reasons you may never know until years down the road. 

I really didn’t feel worthy of talking to the doctor,  I believed there were others much worse off than I was therefore it should be my priority to suck it up and deal with it alone. As simple as it sounds I am me and you are you. I talked about this in my comparison blog last week. I explained that we are dangerously self destructive when we begin comparing ourselves to others. To begin the process of healing I needed to take some ownership of what my next step was going to be and stop comparing myself to others. That next step was standing outside the doctors offices on a freezing Monday morning waiting for open surgery to begin letting the queue of fifty people in (I cant emphasise enough how truly bitter it was). I really didn’t want to be there but I knew I needed to be 

 Life doesn’t tend to take a step one, step two, step three path. Rather its like step ten happens then off to step three, and back to step two. It really is a fun and exhausting mess most of the time. A good part of our lives is taken up trying to figure out why certain things happen and figuring out why they happen at a particular moment. It can be really, really difficuly, and it may never ease until our final breath. There may not be an immediate solution but there are tools and people God has placed in your life to help you through. When you cant make sense of any of it then hold onto the one constant in this world, Jesus. He is unshakeable and unfailing. The foundation of my faith is built upon Jesus love, nothing else. When all else crumbles and blows to dust around me this one truth can never be removed. He is the hope upon which my life is built. 

Sometimes my thoughts feel like a punch to the gut, when they do I try to overtake them with the knowledge of Gods promises for my life. My natural human emotions tell me I’m not good enough but through Jesus blood, God sees Christ in me and finds me more than worthy to eat and drink at his table. 

I’ll keep writing in my notebook, it’s one of the places I like to converse with God. We like to talk a lot, and no topic is off limits. You should try it.

 If you are experiencing a ounce of what I’m walking through right now, then go talk to a friend and go talk to a doctor. You are eternally loved and God is not ashamed of you.

 Mike

FoldingLights

The Source (Inform yourself)

Christians are a strange bunch. We accept or reject topics because we have been told to do so by leadership, friends, family or colleagues. Some of us, myself included, find ourselves looking at the world through the ideals and views of another person. The well of an individuals knowledge only runs so deep leaving our thirst for knowledge unquenched. I am convinced a majority of the topics we are instructed to accept or reject are born from the lips of a man or woman who truly care for our spiritual well-being. However, how many times do we actually question why? How many times do we go straight to the source material before believing what we hear is true?

The pastor, preacher and teacher have all come to personal spiritual conclusions via their own paths. Many Christians paths to spiritual revelation will begin with a personal encounter with Jesus. Then, they choose their own interpretation of how the scriptures read.  This individual interpretation leads us to choose which denomination might suit our understanding best. Every preacher and pastor will have their own opinions shaped through a large amount of factors. What we as a congregation receive is the conclusion of their opinions. Whatever denomination you call home will determine whether or not you feel they came to the right conclusion or the wrong one. But thats your opinion.

Like a game of spiritual Chinese whispers, it really depends on the individuals ability to listen well so that they develop a conclusion to what has just been said to them. The 'whispers' can take the shape of other preachers, books, journals or music, making it difficult to arrive at any clear cut answers. Too many times ‘facts’ have been based on a ‘he said/she said’ basis only for us to conclude they were incorrect after the damage has already been done. If you live in Northern Ireland then you will definitely know this to be true. Its pretty obvious and sad to say that 'If you are not telling the truth then you're in the business of peddling lies'.

 We are a consumerist society resembling Audrey II, the plant in ‘Little shop of Horrors’. We demand our pastors or church leadership to ‘feed us’ at our beck and call then complain and lash out when we're starving. Leaning back on a painful pew or in a comfy well cushioned chair, we expect the leadership to  provide a programme that suits our needs. From the opening songs to the closing message, we only have a couple of hours each week to spare. Thus making it super important everything is enjoyable and well planned out. The worship team must be turned up enough for me hear, but please don't pump it up enough that  it rattles my rib cage. The prayers should be adequate in length, whatever you do Pastor please refrain from preaching the sermon in the prayer. Finally the preacher should have the right amount of anecdotes, humour and seriousness rolled into a comfortable twenty minute slot.  Also, as a side-note, make sure the appeal doesn't roll on through lunchtime, we can talk about the application round the dinner table.

This is absolutely not an attack on Pastors or leadership, rather this is a call to all of us as believers to go find out why we believe what we believe. We need to take ownership of our faith.  Ultimately it is not up to your pastor how you walk with God the other 166 hours of the week, it’s up to you.  

Always, always go straight to the source material when you have been given information that is proclaimed as fact (This is goes for your world outside of church too). Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, read your bible,  listen to podcasts with Christians and non Christians, discuss issues with people from various denominations, read the local/international news every day, and speak to your own pastor or leadership. You should never develop a fear of questioning leadership, and they should never fear you asking. When we ask questions we grow, but please know this does not give us any authority to be rude or arrogant in our approach. Be gracious and open hearted.

Answers appear in many forms. You may never have specific questions answered this side of eternity but don’t give up. Keep searching higher, keep delving deeper, keep talking to God and stay close to those God has introduced into your life. Keep discussing and questioning those gut wrenching issues that keep you tossing and turning and sweating and weeping at night. You may be on the verge of some simple yet beautiful revelation.

In an age of personality cults, both inside and outside of the church we need to be so careful. It has become ridiculous just how much the western church elevates individuals past the point of no return. We are all human, and we are all nowhere near perfection. This is why Jesus died that bloody death.  Too often I meet loving, kind, generous brothers and sisters attending churches because of a particular charismatic and charming leader. This delivery of the message overtakes the content of the message and this is shamefully wrong. Never assume the information fed to you is always 100% correct just because it sounds 'legit' from the mouth of a 'good' person you've known for awhile. Another mistake is to always assume your first conclusion to subject matter is the correct one. If we want God to truly show himself then we must be prepared to let him mould our hearts to look like his. When you can try to always check the source material for yourself, then you can start developing your opinion from all the information you have collected.

There are black and white issues in the bible that require no questioning, murder for example is clearly wrong... but I must admit in a book with 66 books there are some issues that look more grey than black and white. There are some verses, chapters, characters and stories in the bible I may never understand. Thats OK. This will not suppress my belief in how I need Jesus as my redeemer, it just pushes me to become further informed. I love learning about the person I love. I will choose to never base my opinion solely through the lens of someone else’s opinion.

You are you, that much is obvious. Go form your own opinions, start from the beginning – Truth is a person, Truth is Jesus, that’s  always where you’re going to find it. Jesus is the source from which all good and perfect things flow.

If you are following a crowd then at least find out why you have consciously or sub-consciously grouped yourself with them. Make informed decisions, and don’t judge a Christian who you believe has come to the wrong understanding. As a child of God you’re better than that. Love them and walk with them.  If you really care about your faith then invest some time in unpacking why you are who you say you are.

Please, please stay informed, do not hold onto gossip or hearsay. Goodness knows we do not need more mis-informed Christians latching onto a hate centred gospel. Jesus is the truest source of all knowledge if we start from there we end up in an ocean of love, grace, justice and mercy.  As I have said before - To begin drawing from the well of knowledge created by man, we eventually run out of information, we grow tired, despondent, and longing for more. To draw from the source of the well, Jesus, we will struggle to thirst again. 

 Go to the source - be informed.

Mike 

FoldingLights

Comparisons

Comparisons are odious – Years ago, as the main Christmas present, my parents very kindly bought myself and my little brother our first electric guitar. It was a fascinating machine of black and white brilliance. The make and model escape my memory but it was possibly one of the coolest presents we had ever been given. My mum and dad had noticed that my brother and I were getting super interested in music and thought it would be a great idea to further our interest by giving us the ways and means to create our own.

 This was great, until two hours into Christmas morning when I had no idea what a whammy bar was and accidentally tightened it too much until it broke. Not a great start, but over the next few days I would persevere and teach myself at least one song as soon as possible. I was very awkwardly and robotically strumming along to ‘Love me do’ by the Beatles when my little brother walked into the kitchen and asked for a ‘go’. Almost immediately he began playing the song right away. To this day Dan is an incredible guitarist and has only evolved in his playing – everything about it made sense to him, and you could tell.

 I compared myself to my brother for years believing I would never be intelligent enough to learn how to play. So I didn’t.  Frustrated and embarrassed I never attempted to play the guitar again for at least ten years.  

 Not all comparisons are negative, some can be complimentary and edifying. However, in most cases, I have found comparisons to be mentally and spiritually destructive to our character and those around us.

 Below are three ways I have personally found comparisons to have entered my life and proved unhelpful. It is my hope that these could be warning signs for you.

 1.Comparing yourself against others

Before David became the warrior king of Israel, he was an ordinary shepherd boy. Compared to his brothers he wasn’t much of anything. When Samuel approached Jesse to speak to his sons regarding a future ‘king vacancy’ it never dawned on either to include David in the lineup of candidates. Of course why would it, he didn’t have much of a track record with stately affairs or even look like a man who could govern a nation. Unfortunately they were looking at Davids current skills and future potential through their eyes, not Gods. As you’ll probably know David was chosen and he became a King, warrior, loyal friend, musician and poet.  He became Israel’s greatest king, yet if it were up to others he may have continued tending to the needs of sheep until his final breath. Trusting opinions of those comparing us against other people can be detrimental to our walk with God and can play havoc with our self esteem. They will never know you like God does. God knew exactly who David could be from the shape of his heart, and guess what, he was right.

 2.Comparing yourself against yourself

Peter had locked eyes on Jesus, his feet skimming the surface of the ocean. The intricate and delicately crafted droplets formed by God provided a pathway to his master. Suddenly, he was wakened from this perfect moment because he focused on the wind and not Jesus. Peter locked in on the natural elements of this world even though Jesus was using the supernatural to take deeper out of his comfort zone. Immediately he sank into the water just as a person attempting to walk across any liquid surface would do. From that moment Peter was no longer bound by what he could do, instead he was now free to experience what God could do in and through him. Too often we compare ourselves to what we should be able to do, and unsurprisingly its limited. I believe its time Christians fully embraced the resurrection power living inside them in the form of the Holy Spirit. We are limited, however the Holy Spirit living inside us is not. Through God we are so much more than we could ever imagine. When we compare ourselves to our past, or by how/where we should be in the future life becomes messy. We are not defined by who we were or where we are going, we are defined by the God living inside us.  Through Jesus living inside us we become sons and daughters of the king vindicated by the blood he shed on the cross. As a Christian you are not doing this life on your own. Look yourself in the mirror and know Jesus regretted nothing when he bled alone for you.

 3. Comparing ourselves to Jesus

OK so this one isn’t as obvious as the others - any normal, sane thinking Christian would never compare themselves to Jesus. Please do not read me wrong on this, we should always reflect Jesus and we must show Jesus to everyone we meet. We do this through reflecting the unfailing love given so lavishly to us onto everyone we have the pleasure of meeting. Whilst we should always aim to be LIKE Jesus, the truth is we will never be like Jesus as long as we live in a sin filled world. We fall so horrendously short it took the death of a perfect sinless Jesus to fill the void between us and God. We can fall into the trap of self-flagellation and guilt ourselves into thinking we are nothing compared to Jesus, because every day we fall short of who he was and is. The truth is, this is going to continue until we meet with Jesus in Heaven. Does this give us license to never try and be like Jesus? Of course it doesn’t because if we truly love Jesus then we would never want to see him hurting over our sinful mistakes. I have found myself so often witnessing my prayer life suffer because I felt so unworthy to be talking to God. It snowballs, days turn into weeks and weeks to months as I remain silent because I am bound by my guilt. This is my fault, I compared myself to the person I should became my own judge and jury, leaving myself unworthy in the sight of a perfect Jesus. Jesus took on all our past, present and future shame yet he still considers us worthy. Stop comparing yourself to Jesus, you’ll never make it, instead try to be like him in everything you do and don’t hit the self destruct button when you inevitably fail.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again.

The comparisons can be flattering but more often than not they become destructive. I am not the worship leader next to me, I am not the blogger with the most articulate views on the world of comparison, however I am the best me there could ever be and I know what’s on my heart. God looked at my heart and has deemed it unique. Celebrate the success of others and count yourself a worthy individual.

If others don’t see it know that God does.

 Aim for the stars, hit the moon.

Mike/FoldingLights

-DOUBT-

Some nicknames stick, and some thankfully fade into the ether along with the people who created them. Having the last name ‘Ball’ has attracted many a comment, some hilarious and most un-original. I can totally understand, if I knew someone with a ridiculous last name I wouldn’t have the self control to hold myself back from throwing some jokes around. 

Thankfully, most of the nicknames thrown around didn’t stick with me for long. I say thankfully because they usually revolved around the male anatomy or the lack thereof. 

The first name that pops into my head regarding someone in history who got lumbered with an unfair nickname is ‘Doubting Thomas’. Regardless of spending the majority of his life believing and ministering about Jesus, he would forever be remembered as the disciple who doubted Jesus return from the grave. It’s pretty amazing how a couple of days in your life can determine a nickname that you are forever associated with.

If one of your best friends who you gave your whole life to follow, told you they were going to die and rise again would you have believed it? The conservative Christian within me shouts an undoubted yes. However, if I were brutally honest I don’t know where my thoughts would have landed. For Thomas and the other believers it must have been the loneliest time. Persecution of Christians got a whole lot worse and everything they believed was being seriously questioned.  I just couldn’t imagine what conversation would be going on between my head and my heart if I were in the upper room with the other believers.

 Its said that two things are certain in this life, death and taxes (Daniel Defoe).  The arrival of both are never pleasant.  Death is supposed to be final, death is followed by a full stop not a comma. This I imagine is some of what went through the mind of Thomas. Naturally he would have been devastated, I’m sure he thought he would never see his friend and Saviour ever again. He was an amateur when it came to experiencing a resurrection.

 This is why I believe Thomas got labelled with an unfair nickname.  For one short period in his life he doubted and because he was human people branded him forever. When I read Thomas’ story, I’m always overwhelmed by just how stunningly loving Jesus reacts to Thomas’ moment of doubt. Jesus instructs Thomas to ‘put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it to my side. Stop doubting and believe’ (John 20:27). Jesus meets the doubt and becomes vulnerable to help. Thomas said he wouldn’t believe until saw the nail marks and put his hand on Jesus side. I don’t believe Jesus was angry when he met Thomas, rather I believe he was grateful for his honesty. The reason I believe this is because it was setting Jesus up to bless the majority of people who would never see Jesus in the flesh. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 If I’m totally honest there are many days I doubt. I see so much happening in the world and doubt any good can come of it. Some days my heart groans aching for a tangible existence of my creator. The constant to-ing and fro-ing can play havoc on my heart and head. It can prove exhausting. Its taken me a while to be OK living within the tension of belief and doubt. Until recently I had felt guilty for questioning certain areas of my faith, I was afraid how people might label me if they found out.

 To daily question a subject is to show how much you care about it.

 To try and find meaning within the micro and macro of this earth is to care.

 To have a broken heart when you see suffering is what we get when we ask for the fathers heart.

I wrestle everyday with doubt, and the doubt causes me to act.  I want the permanent transition from a clouded head to a crystal clear brain, so I can move on to thinking about other things. I read my bible , I pray, I talk to friends, I read others opinions, and sometimes I don’t feel the scars of Jesus. Sometimes I need the tangible to prove to me I’m on the right line of thinking. Jesus said blessed are those who don’t see me, so how can I put my hands on his scars?  Thinking slightly abstractly I can feel the scars of Jesus when I see the goodness of God in this world. The tangible evidence of Jesus are the tears of joy I witness when seeing the oppressed freed, the ocean swell, the new born baby, and the smell of bacon in the morning. I could be kidding on the last one but I’m not its amazing.

Its OK to doubt, but don’t knock yourself over with fear and dread to the point where you become stationary. You could be the answer to relieving someones doubt in Jesus. Go breathe, live in love and grow in peace when you begin to feel Jesus in the everyday that people have unfairly labelled ‘mundane’.

Mike

Foldinglights

A New Normal

In my latter years of attending Monkstown School, I decided I wasn’t enough of a loser. I purchased a sweet dark brown leather satchel and began the process of growing my hair past my ears. It would take the short Easter break to complete the transition from loser Michael, to super cool punk rock Michael. I was excited. Easter break had ended; I was now left tightly clutching my new, very fashionable, and very handy new bag. Deep inside I knew there was a small possibility the folk in my class might find the change challenging to accept. 

Reality hit as soon as I returned to school at 8:45am in form class. The inventive verbal mud kids can create to sling at you should be applauded.  Truth is it made me feel completely worthless. Having no escape from the rest of the day’s abuse, I quickly came to the conclusion that the kids just weren’t used to seeing guys look like I did that day. 

The easiest solution to the whole hair/satchel debacle would have been to go home. Throw the bag in the bin. Steal some money from my folks for a haircut at Ernie’s barbers, but that wasn’t me.  I was far more comfortable receiving the strange looks and the horrible insults, than exchanging who I was to look ‘normal’. There was a small part of me that clung to the hope of a new normal. That someday it would all click and things that once looked different would be normal, when they were once thought obscure.

So much of the Christian life is spent consciously and even subconsciously putting down fellow believers. Whether it’s putting down their appearance, or arguing over the definition of one word. Including me in this, we sometimes think we know best. The truth is, none of us have or will ever have God figured out. 

I want to celebrate differences of opinion.  I want to look at someone dressed completely different to myself and thank God for them. Thank God, for all the colourful personalities our creator placed on the planet.  If it were up to us this planet would be so dull. 

Who are we to say we have the finite word on certain issues, we don’t. We have fallible opinions on an infallible God. Truth is not the book, it is the person of Jesus Christ and we get to enter into a relationship with truth. 

As human beings we get it wrong, and by getting it wrong we end up eventually resolving and correcting our mistakes. There will always be issues we can’t resolve – until we get there let’s not put ourselves on pedestals only to find they were made of sand. Whilst were on this journey of discovery let’s all remember to Love God and Love one another. 

I want to be part of a generation where ‘normal’ can’t be used to define a person or their faith in Christ. 

I want a new normal.

I still have ridiculous hair and my fashion sense is terrible, but that’s Ok I feel like me.

{Create}

I still remember what the first Art lesson consisted of in Monkstown Community School. We were given one A2 art folder that we had to carefully and precisely write our names and school year upon. We were armed with rulers, pencils, sharpeners and pens to make our decisions permanent. 'You have one go at this', the art teacher repeatedly declared. If we messed this up then we had to live with our mistakes for the rest of Year 8. A2 folders did not come cheap so a second go was out of the question.

Coming from a primary school of thirteen people I was the only pupil in my year. Whatever I did was always going to be the best in the year, it was great. This all changed when I moved to Monkstown, there were now thirty other kids and ALL were better than me. It was as though they were given a heads up before class on how write in this incredibly professional manner .

I messed up. I used ink instead of pencil to plan, my ruler slipped out of place. Half my name was squeezed onto the left side of the folder while 'Ball' was stretched out to overcompensate for the botch job I did with 'Michael'. My first day in Art went horribly, horribly wrong.

It didn't get much better from then. My apples looked like pears, and my self portraits looked like I was attempting to draw melted candles with human features. I was an abstract artist, but not in any positive stretch of the imagination.

My whole point in telling you this story is that up until Year 11 in art, I honestly thought I wasn't a creative person. I wanted so much to express how I felt about certain issues but couldn't connect the images in my brain with my hands. It did not help that the teacher told me I was terrible and my average mark was 4/10. 

My idea on creativity was based around one person telling me what I could not do, rather than what I could. 

My art teacher represents so many people in life, they see our limits rather than our potential. They see us performing terribly in one area of life but don't recognise this is not what defines us. 

Before Jesus ascended to be with his Father, he assured the disciples he would never leave them by sending his Holy Spirit (check out John 14) to live inside them.  Jesus said in John 14v20 "On that day you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me and that I am in you".

If we truly believe this, then through the Holy Spirit living in us, the creator of the universe is always within us. If we have the original creator of everything living inside us then we should never stop creating.

You could be a painter, poet, sales assistant, cleaner or a nursery worker - still your purpose is always to create. We were born to create worship for God. We are all unique and express our creativity in a million different ways. It doesn't start and end with a paintbrush or a guitar. 

Don't be discouraged if you've realised your terrible at one thing, go try something else that will give God all the glory. If your terrible at that, then try again...you get the picture.  Hopefully, the picture is clearer than my attempt at drawing my granny.

Mike

Don't exist.Live.