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Spiritual Gifts and Words of Knowledge

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Romans 12:6-8
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. The "spiritual gifts" are an important part of the life of any group of people seeking to live with the life of God amongst them (a church). The spiritual gifts are mentioned in the new testament three times (Romans 12 above and twice in 1 Corinthians 12). The danger is that we can treat these lists of the different ways that God is expressed through people as a definitive list of how we can express God. I've known many people feel like they couldn't be used by God because they didn't naturally seem to have any of "the gifts" - and they had been taught that as a Christian they …

Spiritual Power

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Let me tell you a secret. To be fair, it's not really a secret, more one of those "hidden in plain sight" type secrets. Spiritual power is the same thing as psychological power. It's good spiritual power if it's turned to love, which in depth and substance requires the putting away of self (selfishness) that the Christian spiritual practise teaches (the purest love is sacrificial love - it has no hidden motive, no guile, no agenda but gives of itself just because it can). God is love, so any depth in God and any knowledge of God requires a commensurate depth and strength of love. However, any strength of capacity to love is merely the same strength of mind and character found in any strong minded person. Whether that strength is turned to love, or ambition, or anything else is a choice of the heart.

So the path to greater spiritual power, to a greater capacity for love, is a stronger mind and character. Great love requires great depth and great depth requires gr…

Culture and Art

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Culture is not art, music, poetry, or dramatic works. Culture is humanity, who we are and the expression of who we are (expression and being inextricably entwined in the ancient tussle of being and doing). Culture is the unspoken rules of society, the way we think, the consensual reality we live in that shapes us and is shaped by us.

Art, in all its forms, is the symptom of a healthy culture. A culture containing beauty, that values beauty, will produce beauty. The internet, including social media, in all its glorious mess and wonderful awfulness, is the subconscious of humanity out on display for all to see. Parts are deeply moving, and parts are awful beyond belief. And most of it is trash. But that's who we are.

The church of Jesus, the kingdom of God, has a culture - and that culture is the place where Jesus is king and the only rule is the law of love. Our art, the symptom of a healthy church, is healed and transformed lives. People are our works of art, and whether we produ…

Biblical Truth and Doctrine

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The big problem with Christianity as it is typically presented, particularly "Chicago Statement" style Christianity, is that you can't believe something just because you're told to (or even because you want to).

I'm not saying you shouldn't (but you shouldn't), I'm saying you can't. You only really believe things (heart knowledge versus head knowledge to use Christian terminology) you work out and discover for yourself. Look at how a child learns, their whole existence is centred around understanding and making sense of the world. You can't teach them directly you can only help them learn.

If you believe something because you want to believe it, because you're told to believe it, then you have to twist your mind into a funny place - ignoring (and pushing aside) the normal learning process and setting your mind on something that's actually external to who you really are. That's not how you learn, how something becomes …

Tainted Love?

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A Christian understanding of homosexuality is a topic I've shied away from, although I obliquely address it in The Liberal Agenda, because it can be so divisive. That it is a divisive and difficult topic makes me deeply sad. A refusal to face a topic because it is difficult could reasonably be called cowardice, so here we are.

People love to know the rules don't they. It's a fact of human nature that we want to be told what we're allowed to do and what we're not allowed to do. This is "the law" and the old testament of the bible is largely the story of humanity understanding God's nature and how to be right with God through a very detailed set of rules.

In Jesus' time there was a group of religious people who particularly loved the rules. Read Matthew 23 for some of the choice things Jesus had to say to these men, the Pharisees:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s fa…

Soul Healing: Becoming Whole

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Soul healing means becoming reconciled to who you are, finding peace with yourself. And it's something we all need, in more or less obvious ways perhaps, but none of us are completed works and there are unplumbed depths in everyone waiting to be set free.

We're all big people, deep people, at least in potential. Think of all the people you know and the friendships that come alive as soon as you're with that person, all the books you've read, music you've listened to, films you've watched and places you've been to. Think of all the things you can do, your skills and abilities, there are many of them. You're incredibly complex, all of this and more is within you, but how much of that can you recall consciously at the moment; how much of all that's inside you do you use at any one time. There's a great deal to be released in all of, a tremendous capacity to love that we have only just scratched the surface of.

One way that a particular need for s…

The Fire, The River and a Sword

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Several years ago I decided that I wasn't going to be a Christian and sing flowery songs of worship about having rivers of living water flowing out of my soul if I didn't actually experience it. If I give my life to this faith, if I'm going to believe that it's true, then I'm going to prove it true in my life. What I sing of, what I declare, what I say I believe, I will experience and understand.

A big part of my journey over recent years has been meditating. I meditate for an hour a day. It's an exercise of the soul to develop focus and cultivate mental strength. Along with these qualities I've found it bringing enormous healing to my soul, a topic I have waiting in the wings to write about. As well as meditating for an hour a day I pray for two to three hours a day. This wasn't something I intended to do, it just sort of grew out of exercising and using the time to reach out to God with body, soul and spirit. Trying to push everything within me to re…

The Varieties of Religious Experience: The Religious Outlook

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I recently started reading The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James. It's one of the classic books in the study of the mystical and I've only just begun reading it. In this book William James is mostly concerned with the individual mystical experience and my main interest is the corporate experience of God, but despite the moderately archaic language I'm enjoying it so far.

In the early part of the book William James attempts to tease out the difference between the religious outlook on life and a purely moral or "stoic" outlook on life. Here is his conclusion:
For when all is said and done, we are in the end absolutely dependent on the universe; and into sacrifices and surrenders of some sort, deliberately looked at and accepted, we are drawn and pressed as into our only permanent positions of repose. Now in those states of mind which fall short of religion, the surrender is submitted to as an imposition of necessity, and th…

An Evolutionary Spirituality: A Personal God?

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In Seeing Angels  I looked at how the spiritual powers, angels and demons, are related to our life. In a discussion about this blog entry on facebook a friend asked a very reasonable question:
While I certainly wouldn't disagree with your musings on human nature, I find it difficult to understand why the forces that unify us have to be personified. Surely biblical descriptions of demons and angels are just as easily understood as metaphor?

You know I respect your beliefs (and have family members who share them), so I'm not trying to be argumentative here. Just putting another side of the case. This question is ostensibly about the nature of God and spiritual powers (the forces that unifies us), but this question is separable from enquiring about our own nature. In replying I outlined my view of an "evolutionary spirituality". This is an understanding that we're not separate from the forces that created us. The theory of evolution lays out how life, and therefore s…

Seeing Angels

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The central thesis of Christianity, viewed from a particular perspective, is that all humanity is connected. That God, the spirit of perfect love utterly pure and without guile, can be in all of us and that through oneness with this love we can all be joined. The metaphor for the church of Jesus is one body, one new person. Through Jesus we are unified in love and have the same spirit, one mind and heart. The mystery of this is that though we are joined, we do not lose our individuality. In fact as we become more joined with Christwe become more ourselves, more who we were intended to be.

The test of the reality of this is how much our lives are shared, in spirit and truth not just in theory. The substance of the kingdom of God is shared lives, and this is how we become one body - our lives and hearts are mingled and life moves freely amongst us. A people alive in God and God alive amongst us.
Romans 12:4-5
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the s…

The Love of a Good Woman

Years ago, when I was small and not nearly so foolish as I am now, I was loved by a very beautiful woman. In fact I was loved by many beautiful women, my mother being one of course, but this isn't who I'm thinking of now.

This lady, Gwen Bradbrook, is the mother of ten children and was a second mother to me. Thinking back across the years I remember her love, so real and such a forming influence on my life. When our families were together it was like we were one family, and her love is a big part of why I associate church as a place for family and a place of love.

I'm afraid to say that remembering all that, and wondering that this love was still so real a part of me, almost made me cry. And then it made me laugh, because she was (and still is I assume) a very mischievous woman.

So thank you Gwen, for all you were to me and to others. And thanks to all women who love. Your love builds something so real and precious. Thank you.

The Bible: The Good Parts

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I'll start by saying what most "bible believing" Christians dare not say: the bible is a highly problematic book. As a historical record of the (gradual) revelation of the nature of God to humanity it paints a pretty unflattering view of God at times - seen through the eyes of a fallen humanity. Yet I've found no better way into experiencing (in glorious intensity) and understanding life than the words and person of Christ. Quite a contradiction at times.

The bible was greatly redeemed in my eyes by reading "A Matter of Integrity"  by Steve Chalke. I recommend it to everyone. Seen as the ongoing revelation of God to humanity, a revealing that didn't just stop 2000 years ago by the way, the bible again became something sacred and beautiful to me.

Despite being a "difficult" book, the nature of God and the way to the kingdom are hidden (or revealed - as you please) within the bible.

Below are some of my favourite passages (there are many more t…

There's a lot of pain

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My Mum recently sent me a link to an article:
Why Does God Allow Terrible Things to Happen? It's a very emotional article, worth reading, on an emotional topic. Terrible, awful, horrific things happen in this world of ours. Even if you don't have personal tragedies you don't need to spend more than a minute or  two browsing a newspaper to find more than your fill of pain and tragedy. Stephen Fry publicly expressed what many people feel, calling a hypothetical God an "evil, capricious, monstrous maniac":
Stephen Fry on God So how can a loving God allow such evil? I don't know, and according to everything I've ever seen anyone who thinks they do know is deluding themselves or lying. It's a fair question, perhaps the ultimate question.

Something I find helpful when I think about this is a song by Godfrey Birtill, Outrageous Grace:
There's a lot of pain but a lot more healing
There's a lot of trouble but a lot more peace
There's a lot of hate bu…

Crossing the Soul Gap: a Rational Faith

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We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. ... By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. ... From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes. -- Aldous HuxleyNo man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. -- John Donne In I was brought up I describe my Christian up-bringing and my journey back to faith via Cambridge university, atheism, Buddhism, homelessness and Christian community. In Pursuing Faith this came full circle with me having to reconcile my faith to how I saw the world and spirituality without faith. This article is a further exploration of how I am pursuing a genuine and deeper spirituality.

My faith is a rational pursuit. It has to be. A genuine faith has to en…