1 Peter 3: 15-16 – “In your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.”
Let’s be under no illusion: F.P. actually ended for me no less than two months ago. But there are still some of you a tad confused as to what it’s all been about, so I feel I owe a little closure (if one could call it that) to this tiny season in my life.
Although F.P. has technically been a year of me working voluntarily for the church, I stress the vagueness of it because this isn’t something I see as a simple ‘open and shut’ case. This has been what the life of any typical Christian should look like – granted without the general working week of any typical Christian, but that’s what the church office has been good for. Yes, there is more to church than what happens in the three hour slot on a Sunday morning, just as there is so much more to the life of a Christian than what happens on that one ‘holy’ day of the week (which, for all its supposed holiness, still appears an afterthought in the lives of many believers who won’t think twice about skipping it in favour of recovering from their overindulgence of the night before).
F.P. is an internship year run by New Frontiers, an evangelical Christian family of churches. It involves working in the church office while attending monthly training sessions away from your ‘base’ (my base has been in Portsmouth; training in Bristol. This varies depending on which part of the country you’re in, i.e. south west, central, north). The idea is to train up people in the Christian faith while they learn on the job by getting their hands dirty in their local church. It doesn’t work perfectly for some; others drift through without really getting the point. For me, it really has meant growing in my faith, and most of you will have seen that indirectly if you’ve been doing the devoted thing of reading all of my blog posts this year (…don’t worry, I forgive you).
Yes, I have had a plan for the pattern I wanted them to take. Here’s a recap of the posts that have been a part of this ‘plan’ so far:
A Word to the Wise; warning against putting too much emphasis on having ‘knowledge’. Knowledge is a gift that should be used properly, to advance God’s kingdom, if you have it. If you don’t, that can be more of a blessing than you may think.
Moral Instinct; argument for God’s existence from the point of view of our ‘morals’. I made sure to emphasise what I believe to be the difference between ‘morals’ and ‘conscience’. Conscience only speaks to tell us when we have done, or will do, something wrong. Morals on the other hand, are the very scale on which we can judge that rightness or wrongness. Conscience may be a device of morals, used to remind you that you didn’t follow them in that instance, but the two are not one and the same. If conscience is like the law, morals are more akin to grace.
In the Beginning; Creation! Not arguing for or against the method that God used, but talking about how it glorifies Him, whatever way He did it, which could be any way, because He is God! In focusing on the method, we miss the true glory of creation: its story, from start to finish.
Old Times; looking at the problems people have with the God of the Old Testament, and arguing that it’s still as relevant to our theology today as it has been previously.
One; arguing that the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, is all about One subject/ person, and that is Jesus!
The Prideful Problem; covering the original sin, the one that sprouts all others from Genesis to the modern day. It is pride, which I argue makes us worse even than the sinful actions we have done, or will do, and it’s only Jesus’ blood that can break us free of it – our very own prideful nature, in direct opposition to Christ’s humble nature as man.
Time before Time after Time again; looking at whether God’s omniscience is compatible with our ‘idea’ of free will. A key point is that God created (or, if you prefer, continually creates) time for us, and He himself is outside of it – this really is the simplest way of answering the question.
The pattern is, of course, not yet complete. What, you thought it would end with my F.P. year? Not at all, I have other subjects I wish to cover before the end of the year, including the juicy topics of marriage, salvation and/ or pre-destination, the creative nature we inherit from God, and finally, our ‘mission’ (we only really call it that to make it sound dramatic – but the overall point is somewhat more serious).
These posts were topics on which we were not necessarily taught directly, but which I have thought more about as a result of the analytical skills placed on me from my university past and, simply, my renewed appreciation of C. S. Lewis. Not that I’m in his drooling fan club or anything, but the writing style of C. S. Lewis – as I’m sure those of you who’ve also read Mere Christianity and Miracles (to name two of around seven or eight theological ‘classics’) will have noticed – has been a great influence on my own version of theological arguing this year.
So no, the past year hasn’t all just been praying, singing and standing in the middle of Portsmouth’s Commercial road telling people they’re going to hell, while I try and avoid getting a ‘real’ job and actually doing something with my life. I can tell you now, it hasn’t been that at all, but I will concede there were prayers and some (bad) singing nonetheless.
There has also been a distinct lack of money in my life this year (not that this is any change from my previous three years as a student). This ultimately has been more of a blessing than some great challenge I’ve had to bear through. It’s helped give me a different perspective on the relationship between money and work.
Around me, I see a world with many problems, that isn’t helped by people (Christian and non-Christian) who work only for money and see no other reason for it. Already I can hear the frustrations of those who would retort that money is a necessity, it’s what makes the world go round; my friends I don’t need reminding of that. I am very aware of our situation in reality. But this response is only proving the point I am getting at. Do you see how you’ve already jumped to its defence?
The general world’s attitude towards hard work, that it primarily creates wealth rather than personal satisfaction and self-confidence, has resulted in portions of society that are willing to do whatever it takes to get one (the wealth) without the other (work). Alternatively we have people who work extremely hard and are good at what they do, but see the only purpose of their talents in gaining masses of wealth from it.
We also have people stuck in jobs they don’t get any satisfaction from because their sole purpose is to bring home a pay check; they dream of winning the lottery and retiring early, associating that with comfort and security. They aspire to more than the working class environment in which they’ve been placed, for no other reason than being able to accumulate more wealth and have a more comfortable life as a result.
You’ll make your own moral judgments on where these attitudes rank in terms of what you feel is acceptable, but the main problem with them is that they leave little room for God as sovereign in your life. When Jesus claimed it was hard for a rich man to get into Heaven, all of them fall into the category about which He was talking. The key here is not how much money you actually have, but your attitude towards it. I would daresay speculating and dreaming about being rich in earthly possessions or physical assets makes you no better than those who are the subject of your aspirations: if anything, your envy gives you a further burden.
There are many ‘rich’ people who see the riches for what they are: an insignificant extra, in some cases even a burden they’d rather do without. Some feel blessed by God to have such riches and use it to bless others (see Rick Warren as a fine example, who now lives on 10% of what he earns and gives the other 90% away, reversing the ‘10% tithing’ rule many Christians use as a fallback). Others feel blessed by God to have riches and… well, keep it all for themselves anyway, because God wants them to be healthy and ‘happy’. The less I say about that right now, the better.
We are sometimes guilty of looking at such cases and thinking we would use the money in better ways; of looking at celebrities who suffer from depression and wondering how that’s possible – if they’re financially secure then what do they have to be depressed about? But you see, this attitude is exactly what Jesus would warn you against. Even when we see the evidence every day that money alone doesn’t make us happy, we still aim for it, we refuse to believe that those with earthly riches could ever really be unhappy. This problem is not with money at all. The problem is within our own hearts. The false place and authority we’ve assigned to money when it never pretended to earn such a status is the problem that Jesus warns his followers about. The message is perhaps even more relevant now than it was then.
There is a further point that God created us to work (Genesis 2: 15 states that Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it”), which can appear contradictory to what I’ve been saying if you solely associate work with money. Work is what gives us satisfaction, fulfilment and ultimately, purpose. Aha! you may reply, but isn’t Jesus supposed to fill these roles for us? Yes, but if you think the Christian life involves no work on your part then you’re probably a little confused about the saviour you follow. These things are intertwined with Christ, which means your work (whatever it may be) is intertwined with Christ. So often we mistakenly think of issues like this to be a choice of one or the other, but finding satisfaction in your work does not mean you consider it your saviour over Jesus. It merely means you are human.
The biggest danger of unemployment is not a loss of income (as frightening as this can be), but that someone can lose sight of this sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. As a writer, I know deep down that the satisfaction I get from it has nothing to do with the potential reward of money I could be getting: a part of me wonders if this will still be the case if and when anyone sees my writing worthy of payment.
As a person, I have also found (my current unemployed status makes it awfully apparent) that when I’m not working I have trouble sleeping and motivating myself to do simple things like spending time with other people. Note that these things have nothing to do with money. Granted, I’m not claiming that everyone will show these symptoms – some will always appear perfectly happy to sit back and be unemployed long term if they find they can ‘get away with it’. But this sprouts again from a flawed attitude towards money and work. Money becomes their goal rather than the work that produces it. They then feel it acceptable, with what little they have, to look at those who have more through eyes of bitterness and resentment – these attributes become their riches, and they grow them in abundance. I’m not immune from it either: none of us are.
Look at me! I’ve started writing too much already. This was supposed to be a simple sign-off to one season and start of another. I had no intention of getting deep. But perhaps this in itself is the best way of showing what F.P. has done to me. I wouldn’t say it gave me this style of thinking – but it certainly made it a bit more sensible. We all remember when I wasn’t this sensible, after all.
Coming soon on Standard 10…
First, there was an encounter with a yeti in the mountains.
Then, the alien virus that threatened humanity.
Followed by a deadly confrontation with a not so deadly adversary and the final twist; all of it brought about by a mischievous figure masquerading as a goblin in the attic, looking to deceptively gain access to another dimension. What became of him after this incident, no-one knew.
The next chapter in the tale had been a long time coming. But then again, that was kind of the point. Graeme understood that now, as he stood on the outskirts of a murky jungle, knowing danger lurked in its depths. He knew not where he was, nor how he had arrived at this point – it was not important for him to know the details. All that he did know was the dread; a great threat awaited him. He knew this as he stood before the sign above an entrance to the jungle. One word was sprawled across it, and the word told him exactly what kind of place this was. It was somewhere spoke of only in legend. And it was a place he had not wished to visit personally. Sighing, Graeme made his way towards the entrance, pausing to take one last look above. Whatever comes of this will not be good, he thought, nothing in here even knows the meaning of good. The word, as if to welcome his arrival, or perhaps simply to beckon him into the darkness, momentarily lit itself up in bright neon colours quite uncharacteristic of its inhabitants. Only for a second or two, but that was enough to finally confirm what Graeme had already known. This was the place. He had feared it; now he would teach it to fear him. The lights went out, leaving him in darkness once again, but with the added image of a word seared across his retina. A word that spoke of an environment with which he was about to become intensely more familiar: