Wednesday, 8 July 2009

OTW Hot Potato Questions... and Answers!

Last Sunday we had a Hot Potato Question Night at Off The Wall (our 14-18s group at Belmont) where we had tons of questions from the group and fired them at the leaders. As usual, we didn't get through them all but below you'll find all of them and my own thoughts on each one. I've made all the Bible verses links so they're easy to look up and read. God's words are more trustworthy than mine! I've asked the other leaders to get back to me with their full answers too and I'll add these as they come in!

Keep asking excellent questions!

SUFFERING/STRUGGLING…

In the Bible somewhere it says that if we believe and say, we won’t get any illness. Yet in church they made swine flu a big deal. Why?

The Bible doesn’t say that. Illness is a part of life (because of sin in Eden) and it’s good to ask God to heal (James 5:13-16) and he often does, but we also need to be ready for him to say no and trust that he knows the best way forward in any situation to bring glory to himself. The reason we briefly mentioned swine flu during communion is simply a practical and responsible measure to take in a large crowd sharing a few cups of wine together when there are more than the usual amount of germs flying around. It's not that we don't trust God, it's that we don't want to take unnecessary risks and potentially make people ill. Trusting God doesn't mean we can stop looking out for one another.

If you are suffering should you walk away from it even if people don’t think you should/will be upset if you walk away?
Suffering is never easy to deal with (understatement). The issue of whether or not to persevere in a difficult situation or walk away from it is not always straight forward either. In general, I would say if you’re where God wants you to be and you’re living for him and you’re suffering for it and if it’s unavoidable, then it’s good to persevere (Matthew 5:11-12).

What’s the source of suffering? Where does disease come from and why is it there?
The first source of suffering is sin. It started with the first people God made (Genesis 3) and it affects the whole world. It’s primarily because of this general human problem of sin that we have all sorts of other kinds of suffering. Sometimes the suffering that results is unavoidable because the world is already messed up (such as earthquakes, people being born with disabilities, catching a cold, etc) but more often I think that human suffering correlates directly to human choices and we can’t blame Adam and Eve for everything because we make the same kinds of choices every day that they did in the beginning (Romans 7:24-25). This is why Jesus was sent to die in our place and rescue us and forgive us and give us hope!

SIN/ETHICS/WISDOM…

Do you think abortions are wrong?
Yes I think it’s wrong to prematurely end a human life and the more I find out about the amazing stuff going on biologically at conception (and I’m no expert), the more I’m convinced that we shouldn’t try and stop it after that point. Having said this, I absolutely hate it when people give those who decide to have an abortion a hard time about it without considering their personal circumstance. We need to love people and stand by them through tough times, even if we think they’re making a wrong choice.

Would any sins be considered unforgivable?
Jesus said, ‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ (Matthew 12:32). Jesus died so that anyone could be forgiven for anything (1 Timothy 1:15). I think what Jesus is talking about here is people who reject what God the Holy Spirit is doing. The context in Matthew’s gospel is about people who said Jesus had a demon and that’s how he was able to heal people. They were basically rejecting the Holy Spirit (who is God) and today when people fail to recognise God’s Holy Spirit in Jesus and think of him as anything less than the Son of God, then they’re doing the same thing and will miss out on the forgiveness he offers to everyone.

Could someone who committed suicide go to heaven?
God’s forgiveness doesn’t work in bits. Either we’re forgiven totally or we’re not yet. If we’ve asked forgiveness from God then we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and purified from all sin (1 John 1:9). When a forgiven Christian makes sinful mistakes (and we all do), we don’t lose our forgiveness or our place in heaven but we do need to say sorry and come back to God so we can be changed bit-by-bit to become more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). We don’t need to do this out of guilt or fear but we do it because of our freedom (John 8:36)!

If someone self-harmed and wasn’t sorry for it, could they still go to heaven?
Same as the suicide question. Forgiveness is all or nothing. Self-harm is a complicated struggle though and I would encourage anyone dealing with this (or suicidal thoughts or any struggle that seems like too much to cope with) to find someone who they trust and can help them to take positive steps forward and deal with the root causes. We all need people like this who we can go to when we struggle and it can be a scary thing to do but we sometimes desperately need to make sure we don’t face our struggles alone. Ultimately God is the one we can trust above all others and he is able to help us more than anyone else too. We should cry out to him for help but recognise that often his way of helping seems to be to push us towards other people for practical help too.

Is it bad to take risks even if you’re very determined?
Not entirely sure what this one is getting at. Risks are part of everyday life but when it comes to bigger risks or unnecessary risks, it’s a question of how important the issue is and whether or not God is asking you to take the risk and trust him. By the way, I thoroughly recommend a film called ‘Man on Wire’ – a Channel 4 documentary about a tight rope walker who took ridiculous risks and had a fascinating philosophy of living life on the edge!

Is it ok for Christians to get drunk?
Short answer – ‘no’. Although Jesus’ ‘water into wine’ miracle (John 2:1-12) is a clear message that there’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol socially, it’s not advocating getting drunk or relying on alcohol for a good time. The Bible has strong warnings against being drunk and being dependent on alcohol (Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35, Ephesians 5:18). Why allow a substance that has no sense of right and wrong into your body to the extent where it controls your actions?

Is it wrong to go out with a non-Christian?
Not wrong but I would advise against it. It almost always leads to compromise. Either the Christian gives up their faith or becomes a ‘closet Christian’ (which may as well be the same thing if you read James 2:14-26) or the marriage never grows as deep or as intimate as it should because the couples’ life priorities are so radically different. Sometimes it works the other way and the guy/girl becomes a Christian but this is incredibly rare in my experience and like Mark said on Sunday, it’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with a strong desire to change the other person.

Can you ever be setting the wrong image for Christians by the clothes you wear?
I’m not someone who worries too much about clothes (as you can probably tell). Clothes don’t matter nearly as much as what’s going on inside a person and God cares more about people’s hearts and attitudes than he does about their fashion (1 Samuel 16:7). Having said that, if I know that I’ll be upsetting someone by something as trivial as the way I dress, I need to be the bigger person, get over it and wear something different. I don’t want to cause unnecessary upset, especially if I want to get through to them about more important things. This is why I don’t wear hats in church. Not because it’s wrong but because I know it would upset a small handful of people. If it’s not a big deal to wear it, then it’s not a big deal not to wear it either. People are more important than hats.

GOD/JESUS…

Do you believe Jesus was a virgin?
Yes. There are no reliable accounts that suggest otherwise and he wasn’t here to start a physical family anyway. He was here to bring us life (John 10:10), good news (Luke 4:18-19) and to save us from sin (John 1:29, Romans 3:21-26).

If Jesus died to save us from our sins, does that mean it is our fault and we murdered Jesus?
Physically: no but spiritually: yes. We weren’t physically present when Jesus died so we didn’t kill him but there is a sense in which we’re all responsible for his death because it was only necessary for him to die because we all sin. He was paying the price for all of us (Romans 6:10).

Do you think that something so simple as the beauty of the world can change somebody’s views on God and religion?
Absolutely. The Bible says creation is a big and blatant piece of evidence to convince people of God’s reality and power (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-6).

Do you think God would let you do something big if he didn’t want you to?
God allows us freedom to make our own choices and rarely gets in our way. If he stopped us from making our own minds up about things, he would be less loving because he would be taking away our freedom (Matthew 23:37). It must hurt God deeply to see the mess we get ourselves in so often but it’s precisely because he loves us that he doesn’t interrupt us at every turn where we would cause harm or upset to ourselves and others. Any loving parent knows what this feels like as their children grow older and they have to let them have greater freedom.

If God is all-powerful and greater than the devil, why doesn’t he wipe out the devil?
He has and he will. God has defeated Satan already and that victory can be ours when we put our faith in him and receive forgiveness but we haven’t experienced that victory in full yet either. Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft in their book, ‘Storylines’ compare it to the victory in the Second World War… ‘The decisive battle in the war was on D-Day. The Allies invaded France and pushed the Germans back. They formed a base in German territory into which they could safely pour thousands of troops. Once this foothold had been established the war was effectively over; it was merely a matter of time before Berlin, the German headquarters, was conquered. However, the war did not officially end until VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) some months later. The shocking statistic is that more people died between D-Day and VE Day than had died in the other four years of the war put together!’

PERSONAL…

Have you ever thought that God wasn’t there?
Yes sometimes. It’s natural to have doubts about God, especially in hard times but I can’t deny him completely or forever because he has a habit of faithfully keeping his promises like bringing peace (Philippians 4:6-7) and forgiveness (1 John 1:9), strength and real joy (Psalm 28:7), etc.

What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for someone?
Apart from my marriage proposal to Chrissi where I faked my own kidnapping (!) it’s probably the little mundane things that end up counting for a lot. Like surprising her by hoovering up before she gets home or cleaning the bathroom when she hasn’t asked. Flowers and nice pressies too obviously but you get the idea!

How would you describe your journey with God? What have been the positives/negatives?
HUGE question! That’s basically asking for my life story! Ask me more when you see me but for now… Positives: forgiveness, peace, joy, purpose, love, hope and lots more. Negatives: my selfishness, struggle, enduring pain and loss.

Which Christian hero do you admire and why?
Any OLD youth worker! Youth workers too often burn out or ‘graduate’ on to working with adults but I love it when someone spends their whole life working for and caring about young people. It’s not something you have to grow out of and I never plan to! If you want specific examples: John Allan at Belmont, Nigel Taylor in Torquay and Mike Pilavachi at Soul Survivor. And I hope they won’t hate me for saying they’re ‘old’. I just mean they’ve lasted way longer than youth workers usually do!

FAMILY/FRIENDS…

My friend said she looked for God but he hid from her. How should I react to this?
I’d ask her all about it and listen to what she was thinking and feeling. I’d ask what things make it seem like he’s hiding. I’d say that I don’t think God is hiding but it can sometimes feel like he is. I’d maybe mention that God wants her to know him but only he can show her how real he is and she should not give up asking him to show himself to her (Jeremiah 29:11-14, John 14:22-23, Luke 10:21).

What would you do to try and bring family together if someone is heading down the wrong path in life (other than pray)?
It depends on the situation but I wouldn’t do anything without trying hard to listen and understand everyone involved and what was going on. Sometimes this is difficult, especially if you’re actually in the family itself. No easy answers but I think it could be about being ready to ask for help and support from others. Ephesians 6:1-4.

What would you do if one of your friends was suicidal?
If you know about it because they know you know about it, I would talk to them about it and encourage them to find someone they can trust who can help them (see the ‘self-harm’ question above). I’d spend time listening and trying to understand. Be the best friend you can and stick by them. If you’re worried about it and it’s affecting you, talk to someone for yourself so you’re not alone in it.

How do you cope with the death of a member of your family who wasn’t a Christian?
I find non-Christian funerals one of the saddest and most hopeless occasions ever. I want to comfort people in their sorrow but at the back of my mind I’m still aware that if the person who died didn’t put their faith in Jesus for forgiveness, then they aren’t forgiven and they’ll face the absolutely just and fair consequences from God for all they’ve done against him and ultimately they’ll be separated from him forever (Hebrews 9:27). I try and find comfort in the hope and prayer that they might have cried out to God for forgiveness in their last moments alive.

What advice can I give friends to make them come to church?
Invite them and let them know they’re really welcome (to come and get to know God more and about his good news for them) but if they really don’t want to come, you can’t force them and you don’t want to be a pest about it. Look for small opportunities to remind them about God and invite them to things you think they might appreciate when they come up (Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Peter 3:15-16).

OTHER STUFF…

What is the point of dreams? Do they have anything to do with God?
I’m not an expert and sometimes I think dreams are just random and don’t have any significant meaning. Sometimes it’s just too much cheese the night before! But I do think that sometimes dreams are the brain’s way of processing stuff that’s not getting processed consciously. If you’re suffering with recurring bad dreams, it could be that something needs processing consciously so that it doesn’t need to come out in your dreams. God is interested in every part of us so he cares about our dreams, especially if they’re affecting us majorly (Luke 12:7). And sometimes he gives us a clear dream that is a message from him (Acts 2:17) but I think he says so much to us whilst we’re awake that he doesn’t often need to use dreams. If you think God’s speaking to you in a dream, share it with someone and measure it up to what God already says in the Bible. He won’t contradict himself.

What views do you hold regarding creationism/evolution and what is it based on?
I believe God created everything in the beginning and he’s the only logical explanation for how we get something out of nothing. He’s the only one who could ever be uncreated and truly eternal. Science has nothing to say about this (well sometimes scientists try but they’re not talking science anymore when they do). Even Bill Bryson in his book, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ avoids the issue of origin when he explains about the ‘singularity’ that it all started with… ‘We can’t even ask how long it has been there – whether it had just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it had been there for ever, quietly awaiting the right moment.’ And yet he concludes, ‘And so, from nothing, our universe begins.’ Unscientific and bad logic methinks. Creationism is usually about taking the creation account in Genesis completely literally and I don’t think this is necessarily faithful to the author’s primary intent, which seems to be to show us that God made the world and that he made it good (Genesis 1:1,31). I agree with the scientific theory of micro-evolution (evolution within a species) but I don’t agree with scientific theory of macro evolution (from one species into another). I’m happy for people to educate me on any of this, as I’m not an expert scientist by any stretch of the imagination.

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