Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Lessons from Literature Part 3 – Notes on a Brazilian Prison called Humaita

For context, you can read Lessons from Literature Part 1 here:

Taken from ‘How Not to Pray’ by Jeff Lucas, Chapter 8, Page 122. 


"Charles Colson tells of visiting a prison in the city of Sao Jose dos Campos, one that was turned over by two Christians twenty years ago:

They called it Humaita, and their plan was to run it on Christian Principals. The prison had only two full-time staff; the rest of the work is done by inmates. Every prisoner is assigned another inmate to whom he is accountable. In addition, every prisoner is assigned a volunteer family from the outside that works with him during his term and after his release. Every prisoner joins a chapel programme, or else takes a course in character formation.

When I visited Humaita, I found the inmates smiling – particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates, and let me in. Wherever I walked I saw men at peace. I saw clean living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated with biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs. Humaita has an astonishing record. Its recidivism rate is 4 percent compared to 75 percent in the rest of Brazil and the United States. How is all this possible?

I saw the answer when my guide escorted me to the notorious punishment cell used for torture. Today, he told me, that block only houses a single inmate. As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key into the lock, he paused and asked, ‘are you sure you want to go in?’
‘Of course,’ I replied impatiently. ‘I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.’ Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates- the prisoner Jesus hanging on the cross.
‘He’s doing time for all the rest of us,’ my guide said softly."

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Learning about God

They say you “learn something new every day” and although I’m not sure how accurate that statement is, I know that there is enough facts in the world that we each could learn something completely different every day of our lives and there would still be billions of other pieces of info floating around that we don’t know. There are always new facts; the planet’s not going to run out!

While thinking about this, my thoughts turned to God… God is so much more infinite and abundant than even the seemingly endless supply of facts.
He is everywhere and everything he created tells us something about his character. He wants to teach us and we want to learn (I hope!). So, with all that factored in, we should be learning new things about God all the time, and yet most of us don’t (or don’t appear to).
At the very, very, very least we should be able to learn 1 new thing per day about our creator.
Therefore, I challenge you (and myself) to seek out more about God daily. Keeping a record (in a diary or online) can also be really helpful.

A recent example of this, for me, was the realisation that God doesn’t think (see previous blog post). 

Divine Thought

Now, I know this will sound odd but… the other day, as I was half talking to myself- half praying, I realized something:

God doesn’t think.

Why would he need to? He knows everything already!
We humans put a lot of emphasis on thought. Thinking is good and to be encouraged. Often linked to intelligence – the more you think, the smarter you are - and yet here, in relation to God, the opposite is true.
He is of such infinite intelligence that thought is simply not required.
It just struck me as kinda cool so I wanted to share :)


EDIT: After reading over this again I just realised how hilarious this is. My revelation completely refutes the “I think therefore IAM” theory. (If you don’t understand the joke, go ask a philosophy student who is also a Christian) 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

If we are the body… We must Go!


The world is full of hurting, broken people. Damaged, despairing people and very little is being done to help them. I encourage you to read this heartbreaking article. It tells us of a great need that even the biggest humanitarian charities are failing to meet. My question is: Where is the church?! What are we Christians going to do about this?!

“But if we are the body, why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body, why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way!
Jesus paid much too high a price, for us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

Jesus is the way!”

“We must go - live to feed the hungry
Stand beside the broken
We must go
Stepping forward - keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go!

Friday, 7 October 2011

I’m trying to teach myself to do things that are good/right, even if I do not want to do them. I never thought I’d say this but, dude, I wish my parents had disciplined me more. Doing it myself, at this age, is not easy (or fun!)

This is something major for me. *braces self* 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Grace for Grey Areas

We human’s cannot live without God’s grace – literally. We need it for everything, the very least being existence in itself. But, I think, God ESPECIALLY intended it for life’s grey areas. Because God understands that life isn’t simple.
To approach life as completely clear cut, black and white is to have your vision more tainted than anyone who can see the grey areas in almost every situation and decision. But, of course, it’s not all grey – I’m not trying to say there are no black and white issues at all, just that not all issues are black and white.

God knows us. Let’s face it, if there’s anyone who’s going to comprehend the complexity of humanity it’s gonna be Him. He knows life’s not easy. Jesus is so much more than an empathetic bystander – he experienced difficulties on our level. God doesn’t expect us to cope with life perfectly, so don’t expect that of yourself.

Sometimes being a Christian makes decisions harder instead of easier. We have the regular pressures of life plus the daily fight to glorify God.
Ideally we should be able to take an issue, look it up in our Bibles and know definitively what God’s opinion on the matter is and therefore know EXACTLY what we should do. This, of course, is what we CAN do with some things but on other things the Bible really isn’t too specific. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising God’s word, if it’s not specific on something then the chances are that God intended some ambiguity for a good reason - God knows best and he chose each word very carefully to say exactly what he wanted to get across. We’re not supposed to know or understand everything.

Now, this acceptance that there are indeed grey areas doesn’t mean we can justify our sinful actions by saying “Oh, well, I don’t think it’s sinful. It’s really a grey area” – as I said, there still are some black and white areas. If you knowingly and purposefully commit sin, God isn’t going to be interested in your excuses. On the other hand, if you have searched your heart, searched scripture and prayed both by yourself and with others over a situation and still can’t chose a path, I believe God will honour your sincerity and his Grace will cover whichever decision you make.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Not Enough Faith for Testing

I subscribe to the ‘Word for Today’ and this morning I was 20 days behind. So I tried to catch up and read 20 days’ worth of booklet in one sitting. And I’m not proud of this, but this happens regularly and the reason I’m telling you this is to make a point (and hopefully, to make you think)…

So the first section I turned to talks about those seasons in life where you’re really seeking God but, no matter what you do, you can’t find his presence. Of course he hasn’t left you (for he promised he wouldn’t - Deuteronomy 31 verse 6/Hebrews 13 verse 5) this is just a trust exercise you make you spiritually stronger. It’s perfectly normal and it in no way means that you’ve done something wrong and God’s given up on you.

That was the point of the segment, to reassure Christians currently experiencing this season and to confirm that God is still with them. Except, this message wasn’t really relevant to me, not in that way at least. You see, I’ve never really had a time in my life where I’ve chased God and got no response - any time I feel distant from God it’s because I am distant, because I’ve distanced myself and am not seeking or chasing after him.
It’s really sad to admit, and I do know better.
The thing is, if you’re REALLY seeking God and getting nothing it’s a good thing (in a sense – as long as you’re not seeking him in the wrong place). It means your faith is strong enough for God to give you this faith exercise. Because, God only gives us challenges we can actually do (1st Corinthians 10:13). The fact that I’ve never had that challenge means I’m not ready, that I haven’t got enough faith yet to deal with such a challenge.
And that, in itself, challenges me to grow my faith enough to face the greater challenges God has put in place to grow me further again.

To put it another way: I feel challenged to seek God more, to become more faithful so that God can give me greater challenges and grow me more, spiritually.
But I must bear in mind that it’s not really about me and my growth, it’s about God and Him being glorified through my growth. It’s like a Glory Cycle and if you don’t know what that is, it’s explained [HERE].

Please let me know if that made sense to anyone other than myself :)



P.S. I’m aware of God’s great timing in the fact that He spoke to me about the distance between Him and I being self-imposed, at a time when I had neglected to read his word for 20 days.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Things I Learnt at Spring Harvest

Last year at Spring Harvest the theme was all about becoming a man or woman of God, so grounded in faith that you’ll instinctively know God’s will and do it automatically in everyday life but especially in crisis situations were an instant action is required and there’s no time to go searching for a Bible or a Pastor/Preacher to advise you.
I think this was and is a great theme although I haven’t really got round to sharing it properly until now; maybe I didn’t feel the need as I heard it so many times during my two weeks that I almost took it for granted but anyways, it’s a great philosophy to live your life by so I thought I’d dedicate a little bit of this post to it now – better late than never, eh?

This Year at Springy they started a new series of talks and get-togethers for the often over-looked 18 to 30 age group. They had seminars during the day but I only made it to a couple of the evening events as I was busy with various other activities.

Two of the main things I learnt this year, about both God and myself, struck me during these evening sessions. The first was on my first day which was actually the second day of week 2 because I arrived late.

I’d been so caught up with all the practical difficulties of actually getting to Skegness and paying for the trip etc. that I’d managed to lose sight of why I was there in the first place. [Note to Self: IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD. Duh!]

Realistically we humans forget him all the time but it still baffles me as to how that’s even possible. I mean, he’s God. GOD! He’s everywhere; in every good thing in this world and more. This planet has its creator’s signature written all over it and yet we’re oblivious most of the time. Never has the phrase “can’t see the wood for the trees” been so apt… We ignore and sometimes even doubt the creator because we’re so busy enjoying or destroying the creation. Ironic really!

Anyway, back to the main point… the meeting had just started, one of the leaders went to pray and in that instant some tiny piece inside me just clicked – fell into place. I can only describe it as a blanket of calm falling around me.

As soon as I forgot about all the trivialities and turned my mind towards God I could just feel his presence so clearly. Needless to say, it was amazing!

I thought to myself “why aren’t God encounters always this easy?” but I already knew the answer. I knew it’s because I get so caught up that I rarely do take a moment out of the chaos and devote it to Him. It’s always the moments of boredom and/or loneliness that I think of him and trying to pray with that mind-set often leads no-where because I want to experience God for my own selfish reasons instead of spending time with Him just because I want to spend time with Him.
My point is, “wow” God encounters are simple to achieve but our motives should be right.

Just STOP – Be still and KNOW he is God. Phenomenal how such a simple truth can be so difficult to put into practice!

A couple of days later, at another evening session, we were asked to write on a piece of paper what we were scared of most. The idea was to rip up the piece of paper as a symbolic act of handing it over to God instead of letting it rule us anymore.

BUT…

I just sat there. Staring at the paper and couldn’t think of a thing to write.

I’ve often considered my life and I came to the conclusion some time ago that many, if not all, of my actions are ruled by fear. Mostly these fears are illogical phobias (as if there’s any other type) but for the task I wanted to put my finger, metaphorically speaking, on something tangible. I tried to think of a common link between all the fears to see if there was something deep in me that could help me make sense of why I always scared of something. I wanted to see if there was a root cause.

I know we weren’t supposed to think about it that much but I found it all very interesting and, ultimately, helpful. After about 20 minutes I came to the conclusion that I’m scared of things I never realised I was scared of and I’m not really scared of the things I thought I was.

My brain went through a process a little like this: “I’m scared of X because it causes Y and I’m actually more scared of Y. But I’m scared of Y because of Z and so Z is the root fear and therefore it’s the thing I need to deal with and not X. If I deal with Z then X and Y will deal with themselves”.

That probably didn’t make much sense to anyone except for me but, alas, it’s what I learnt. What did you learn?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Anyway

I was struggling a couple of months back. I had people thinking the worst of me when, in my mind at least, I wasn’t doing any wrong. It was getting to me so much that the devil used it as an opportunity to tempt me. I was tempted to do what these people were saying I’d done. I was thinking ‘well if I’m being judged for it I might as well do it’ but in the middle of this, the poem below came to mind. I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d read it and I couldn’t find it at the time but the meaning behind it stayed with me and kept me from giving in to temptation. I got through the situation and came across the poem the other day so I thought I’d share – for I believe it’s a message worth sharing; worth adhering to too.

Anyway, by Mother Teresa:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hope

Tonight at church the sermon was on the topic of hope. The speaker (whose name I can’t remember) was saying that hope, faith and love are all linked and important yet, while around 100% of church goers had heard a sermon on faith, around 75% had heard a sermon on love but only 5 to 10 percent had heard a sermon on hope. Where there is an incorrect understanding of hope, faith and love can suffer so these statistics are a little concerning.

The biblical definition of hope is different to the secular definition in that our hope is certain. Our hope is in God and because of God’s character we know we can trust in what he says even though his promises can take years to come true.

Hope, in both secular and biblical definitions, refers to the future i.e. you don’t hope for something that has already happened or is happening now. As a Christian we are hoping for Jesus’ return (among other things). We don’t know when it will be but we know it will happen and should be looking forward to it in the same way that a bride looks forward to her wedding day when she’ll see her groom in all his splendour.

Too many Christians (and I would have included myself in this until recently) are not looking forward to Jesus’ return. I was thinking about it from entirely the wrong point of view, focusing on how difficult the end times will be instead of focusing on the big picture – I should have been focusing on the fact that Christ will be glorified, all sin and earthly suffering will finally end and justice will prevail.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Note to Self: Less Thought, More Trust

I think, I think, I think – Too often I’m consumed with my own opinion; I’m not sure where I got this sense of self importance! When it comes to things of God, I’ve found, that it doesn’t always matter how you feel – it matters what you know. The fact that you feel like God has abandoned you is irrelevant for we are told in his word that he will never leave us.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Far from a Godly Attitude

I sometimes get prayer requests via an International Christian group on Facebook and they often come in different languages. I received one such email today and based on the subject heading it appeared to be foreign; I opened it just to get it out of my inbox & breathed a sigh of relief when it was indeed in a different language.

If it’s not in English I can’t read it and if I can’t read it then it’s not my responsibility to pray, I thought. What a horrible attitude!
I’m actually ashamed to admit that I thought about prayer in such away. As if it’s some laborious chore and trying to weasel out of it was almost understandable.
Needless to say, I want/need to change this attitude but as always, I can’t do it alone.

God, keep moulding me and let your attitudes become mine. Without you I’m all wrong!