Fears in Freshers week

I have just spent the week helping the CU run events in freshers week. It made me think back to my freshers week and how glad I am that I am not a fresher anymore. I really hate that new feeling you have, where you are driving up to the Uni and all you are thinking about is whether you are going to like this experience, whether anyone will like you or will you like anyone. What happens if it’s a disaster and you end up with no friends? That was probably my biggest fear. Even though looking back now it seemed rather a silly fear! The other thing you think about is who you are and who you are going to be. In that first week you could be anyone you wanted to be, you could make up a mask of a new identity and no one would know that’s not the real you. (Even though they may eventually find out). Those are the two biggest fears I had when arriving at Uni – Will I make any friends and Who am I going to be and will anyone like me?

I guess those two fears are all about how I relate to people and how they relate back to me. I was on the edge of Christianity, ready to leave God behind and pursue the University Experience. I had only become a Christian a few months back and those first few months were like a storm ready to swallow me up and I had enough of this God. So who was I going to be? A Christian? A social butterfly that never has an empty glass? A hermit striving for good grades? I think I tried all of those things in freshers week – I went to parties, stayed up till 4am, drank a bit too much and then confessed I was a Christian but I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I made friends with people who knew how to party well and I hung out with them. I hang out with the computer scientists that could programme anything in seconds (where I would stare blankly at the screen and tried to figure out what all those brackets meant)… The fear of not having any friends subsided, I could make friends with people that wasnt the issue anymore. But this identity thing and the constant question of Who am I? was bothering me. It wasn’t until I was taken to the CU meeting that I met some Christians who loved Jesus and I heard the Gospel that the penny dropped. I was looking for my identity in the wrong places and it was making me miserable. Over the weeks I understood the Gospel more and what it meant to be a Christian and I saw that my identity is in Christ. Which gives a sigh of relief. It also gave me such great freedom to still hang out with  my mates that liked to party hard and those that like to sit in front of the PC creating programmes for NASA… (maybe not NASA?)… But soon my fears of friendship and identity soon faded and I found my place. There were times I forgot my identity, but at some point I was reminded who I was and that I was loved.

All these freshers I see are probably thinking and doing the same. They have fears and expectations and are striving to fit in and find their identity. I hope at some point they meet a Christian and hear about Jesus, so that like me they may find their identity can be in Christ whom gives great freedom to us. For the CU that’s what this week was about – sharing Jesus with Freshers who are lost, confused and sure of themselves. Do pray with us that these freshers meet Jesus.

A New Name Review

I finally got my hands on Emma Scrivener’s new book – “A new name – Grace and Healing for anorexia”. This is such a good book that I read it in a day and just found myself very moved and challenged by Emma’s story. When you pick up this book you may thinking that it isn’t for you because you don’t have anorexia, but as my friend Emily wrote on her blog – “So why read A New Name? Because we are all sick, and we are all sinners. And Jesus is the one who has come, like light into a dark, cold place, to bring life and freedom by giving us Himself.”

This is a story that all of us could read and on different levels identify with whats going on. I think Emma is a fantastic writer, her words grip you on every page and she carries you along her story that can make you laugh or move you to tears. She is honest and open and that’s what I like about it, she connects with the audience and isn’t afraid to paint the real picture of anorexia and the real picture of having idols.

The part that captured me most was when Emma met Jesus and saw the Lion and the Lamb. As I read her experience it seemed truly breath-taking. It reminded me of who Jesus really is – a husband sacrificing himself for us and inviting us  to be with his Father who has his arms wide open for us. Emma found her identity in Christ. This is a wonderfully testimony to read and she is honest in saying it’s not all over, she isn’t riding off into the sunset with a Happy Ever After Flag…she is still fighting and from her blog she is not hiding her battles but she is reminding us who she is in Christ.

This is why all Christians and non christians should read it. We are all broken and all running after idols that never satisfy us. Emma is really honest about this, yet often we aren’t. Often I am not – I want to hide away my sin and idols. But what Emma has taught me is that my identity isn’t in them but in Christ and those idols don’t own me because I am free in Christ, therefore I don’t need to hide or prove myself to anyone and neither do you. She shows us that there is always hope and that Jesus will never leave us.

Buy this book. Read her blog. Encourage her and be encouraged that Jesus loves you and your identity is in him.

The Hunger Games, Identity and Saviour

I haven’t long finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, which some people have loved and some people have not enjoyed at all. I rather liked it though, it has a gripping story and some great characters that you connect with.

The themes of the story are quite typical ones of power, hope, love and sacrifice. But the setting is rather gruesome with children having to fight to the death in an arena for the pleasure of the rich and wealthy.

There are also so many resemblances between the capital and the west and between the districts and the third world countries. There are questions about identity and what makes us who we are.

My friend wrote a brilliant post on the Hunger Games which was a response to a chap at the Gospel Colition website. 

Emily writes:

“I think she [Collins] accurately captures the uncertainty and lack of conviction that people really have  (particularly in our teens!) and takes the reader on a journey with Katniss as she struggles to reconcile the warring convictions she has- giving all she has to look after her little sister, the desire to live, her inclination to both trust and doubt others around her, choosing to let someone live or to let them die…”

Emily is right, with Katniss we are taken on a journey as she tries to figure out who she is, where her identity lies and how she is going to survive. Where as Peeta knows who he is and knows that he doesn’t want the capitol to change him. I think Peeta is the true hero of this story, he is the rock – sturdy for Katniss and never forgetting who he is even when the Capitol distorts his memories he still fights to cling to his identity.

You might think at first the saviour of this story is Katniss as she sacrifices herself for her sister, yet as she goes into the arena she quickly reverts to saving herself and loses herself in the trauma of the events. But Peeta is the one that remains pure, he never kills intentionally in the first book and his objective is to save Katniss, he never forgets his identity. In the second book you realise that everyone else in the area thinks the same thing as they acknowledge that Peeta isn’t one of them and that really he shouldn’t even be there. He seems an unlikely saviour figure, but as I mentioned above he is the rock for Katniss that keeps her going until the end. Its his deep love for her that enables him to forget himself and save her on multiple occasions.

Like most human saviours he makes mistakes, he gets distorted and doesn’t live up to the saviour title all the time. But as my friend Emily ends her blog post she reminds us that there is a better saviour:

“there’s only one person who ever lived who can give us a true definition of a self-sacrificing hero; one who sees the world as it truly is and offers answers to the questions that we barely even manage to ask… A hero who is like a devoted friend who lays down his life for others, or a good shepherd who lays down his life for sheep who are oblivious to their peril. Many of us never recognise him for who he is.  If you’re curious, why not find out more about him here.”

Forgetting your first love

This is a re-post from around this time last year:

Some days are such a battle where you just compare yourself to everyone. You look across that room and its so easy to feel worthless, its so easy to be in a situation where you feel like you can’t handle it and you wish you were like someone else.Its really easy to get lost in your own thoughts about how you should be, to get lost in your own self righteousness – in the sense that you feel that people ought to tell you “well done”. You continue along that road waiting for someone to give you approval and you live for it. How it satisfies your heart for about two seconds as you hear your name in a sentence of approval. Your heart lives for it.

My heart lives for it. I live a life of wanting approval from everyone. Believe me I want to be the best staff worker not because of Jesus, but because people think I am. I want people to think I am creative,intelligent, an amazing evangelist, theologian and apologist oh and also sociable and the best friend they have ever had. I want their approval and I will strive to get it until I am exhausted and crying. Believe me this will only end in tears and a broken heart. It will end in a breaking point where I am so worried about what people think of me and if they think I am doing a good job, that I only fix my eyes on this and my insides begin to rot, my heart becomes hard and my first love is no longer Jesus but myself and approval. I will become a very sick person.

You know what needs to be done? I have discovered two things:

1. Repent – if this is you…repent and believe. I need to pour my heart out before God and say I’m sorry and ask him to soften that hard heart…

2. Remind yourself of the Gospel and your status– Oh we have a sweet sweet Gospel. And this is because of our sweet Jesus and how beautiful He is. Everything is about Him and we need to come back to our wonderful Jesus. Pray for our hearts to yearn for Him and love Him because He is worthy and He is love. And do you know what? Your status is in Christ and this is not trashing your character, but its bringing you into the best relationship you will ever have and you will be adopted as a son or daughter. God “lavishes” his Grace upon us (Ephesians 1:7-8). This isn’t a sprinkle its a lavishing, its plentiful and its right there in your relationship with Christ. So come back to Him because He gives you a beautiful status that is never changing and your approval continues to be in Him and continues to be by Him. Come back to Christ as your first love and be reminded of the glorious riches of His Grace…this speaks straight to my heart, I need to come back to Christ and have Him as my first love.

How much better it is to truly know who you are in Christ and to love Him with your whole heart. No longer are you fighting for other people to tell you what you are worth, but Christ gives you your worth. Its wonderful to be a Christian, its wonderful to know Jesus and to be loved by Him and no longer needing approval from anyone.

There is a God, but which one?

I mentioned in my other post that if there is no God then we are at a loss with our self-worth and identity. But then when you add God to the picture we may be thinking that this doesn’t work either –

God is silent and that I cannot possibly deny – everything in me calls for God and that I cannot forget… -– Jean-Paul Sartre

Either God is silent or he is a tyrant. A mean-spirited man in the clouds that rains wrath and cancer on people.

Or possibly a God that takes away our freedom, causes his followers to kill people and restricts our fun. And you look at religion and in some cases this can be true. I don’t want to worship or follow a silent, angry, tyrant god…And so Sartre may call out to God, but if he is silent how can we expect any answer?

Therefore how you view god is really important, Christian or not. When people start to say they don’t believe in a god that is… and then list lots of things, I wonder how many of those we can say match up to the god we believe in. Peter Mead writes:

In recent weeks I have had numerous conversations with people about this “which God?” subject. It has implications in how we evangelize those of different faiths.  It has implications in how we interact in our churches.  It really does make a difference which God we are speaking about.  Is it right to feel positive about a vague montheism involving a God defined in His substance apart from the Trinity?

A god that is not trinity cannot solve the problem of our self-worth and identity because the only identity he can give you is a slave and that adds nothing different to what the world is doing. And therefore we can turn around and say I don’t like this god and do not want this god. But the god I want is the god that will give me worth, a secure identity, call me a son or daughter and place me in his care.

Are we not craving for this? Douglas Coupland says:

Now – here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

I am telling you that you wont find this is in any other god than the trinity. Why is this? Because within the wonderful dance of the trinity we have the Father loving and caring for his Son through the Spirit and we have the Son loving and obeying the Father through the Spirit. This then is reflected to us, as we are hidden and caught up in the Son, the Father calls us Sons and Brides of the Son. He lavishes his grace and calls us a treasured people. We are not slaves but sons and we are not prostitutes or widows but we are brides. And thus through Jesus we begin to regain our identity, our ability to love, give, be kind because the Father loves us first, gave to us first and has been kind/gracious to us most of all.

If there is no God

There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Did you see this campaign on the buses?

John Lennon says –

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

But what are the implications? Are there any consequences to these statements for society or our lives? Is society a better place without God? Can we even enjoy our lives without God?

Pete Lowman in his book – East of Eden, uncovers some of the implications that are truly disturbing when you take God out of the picture.

“Thus our `post-God’ culture is marked by the pressures – and wrecks – of the battle to create our own identity and self-worth.”

Well lets start with imagining there is a God what does that mean for us? Lowman says:

“We can look at ourselves in the mirror and know that, with all our follies and weaknesses, we are each, already, a unique masterpiece, from the greatest craftsman in the universe.  Just as every drawing by Picasso has tremendous value because Picasso made it, so we as God’s unique creations have unimaginable, intrinsic worth.  Further, each child of God now has a unique gifting from the Spirit, indispensable and irreplaceable (1 Cor 12:7,21-26).  Believers in God have excellent reasons to believe also in their own value. “

If there is a God then we have worth, identity, made in his image, created for love and all good things on the earth to enjoy and ultimately to enjoy God himself.

But if there is no God. Then where do we get our worth from? L’Oreal? Friendships? Fashion? Food? Sex? Our jobs?

Sure, for a while that might work out – we get promoted, we get married, we have best friends amazing hair and fashion…But what happens when we get old? Or our marriage changes and breaks down? Or our boyfriend/girlfriend dumps us or we get  fired. Where is our worth then but fleeting away with all of the things we put our hope in. Its gone. And suddenly we are feeling depressed and worthless.

Pete Lowman writes: “having lost sight of the Creator God who loves us, we become forced into a destructive struggle to create our own self-worth.  It’s not an ‘inevitable’ crisis; it’s directly and logically linked to our loss of God.”

This just doesn’t affect our identity, but a loss of God affects our purpose, ethics and love for each other.

Lowman writes again:

“What is worth doing?  What am I living for?  I have the privilege maybe of getting a qualification, getting a job, working for money for food to have energy to go back to work again, to earn money for more food to go on working… around the circle for 50 years; then what remains goes into a box, and the box into the ground.  If we believed in God, we could believe in a Father with a plan that makes our direction in life – our calling, or `vocation’ – significant.  But if there is no such purpose?”

Why are we even here?

Our whole society (especially in the west) is striving for some self-worth and identity. But it is lost without God and it is incomplete and unsatisfactory without him. Are we just a piece of meat?

All kinds of materialism lead one to treat every man including oneself as an object’, suggested the French existentialist thinker Sartre; ‘that is, as a set of predetermined reactions, in no way different from the patterns of qualities or phenomena which constitute a table or a chair or a stone’.

And perhaps you look at the idea of God and you say “no thank you… he isn’t what I want”… and you are right but you are only right if you are looking at the wrong god. In the next post I am going to look at what the wrong god looks like and why we don’t want him and why it doesn’t solve our problem with identity and self-worth.