When Human Suffering Becomes a Spectator Sport

I wasn’t brought up a Seventh-day Adventist, nor a Christian of any denomination. As I grew up, I gained a yearning for church and at first attended the local Anglican down the road (when I was eight); then a Pentecostal church before my dad and I were invited to an SDA congregation. I knew this was the path for me: it was the only church that had consistent Biblical doctrine and I learnt a lot from it. There were many things I found strange about the church at first: the women didn’t wear jewellery or trousers; no one stood during song service; there weren’t any crosses or ornaments around the sanctuary. Doctrinally, there were many things different–and it was the first time I had joined a millenarian movement.

Of course, as an Adventist I look forward to the Second Coming and all that, but I’ve found that as the years go on, I’m left feeling greatly disappointed with the overall tone of church members regarding the ‘signs of the times’. We all know that the world has gone crazy: war after war; unprecedented murder; child abuse in every dark corner; women getting abused; gangs everywhere, coldness and bitterness and sadness and anger at every turn. But at what point of one’s Spiritual Walk do such phenomena become yet another ‘sign’ to cross-out on a Revelation checklist? In general, whenever something terrible happens in the world to make it into the papers, it’s all the biggest news at church the following week–not because everyone wants to set up a donation pool or a campaign to help, but because everyone’s excited about the Good Lord giving us all signs towards the end. They treat these events as if it’s all part of an action film.

There are people suffering out there. Children are getting killed and maimed in Syria; women in Afghanistan are self-immolating to get away from their abusive lives; Female Genital Mutilation is still a major problem in many countries all over the world; people in the UK–a developed country–are dying in this recent cold snap because they have no money to pay the heating bill, all due to monetary corruption and selfish governments; entire families were wiped out during the Japan earthquake; the earthquake in Haiti and the 2004 Tsunami. And all people can say is ‘these are signs of the times’??

Where is your heart? Has Christ not had any impact on your life that these events don’t cause you to cry out and try to do something to help them?

I’m reminded of a well-known text that pretty much all Sign Watchers recite whenever these things come on the television, as their way of warning their friends (who are totally on their way to H.E.L.L. by the way–shhhh!) just how close Jesus is:

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Matthew 24:12

Have we as a church become so desensitised to human suffering that we no longer have any feelings of compassion towards our fellow humans? Our eyes glued to the televisions screens, verging on voyeuristic as we watch childless mothers wail to the cameras…

Here’s another one that I thought about this week, one that had a whole new meaning for me whilst pondering this subject (which also happens to be the number one text people use to signal the End):

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

–2 Timothy 3:1-5

Such people who spend all their time sensationalising human suffering all for the sake of preparing for the Great Return are certainly only ‘lovers of their own selves’. They’ve completely missed the point of what Christ did whilst he was on this earth. These people are in danger of salivating at all the signs so much that they never get right with God and miss the opportunity to actually make it to Heaven. Being aware of the signs is all well and good, but so long as you don’t get a bad attitude whilst doing it.

I had a long chat with two of my closest friends the other day and we realised just what a sorry state we’re in, as a church.

  • The members of the Salvation Army are known world-wide for aiding the suffering and those in-need.
  • The Red Cross was formed by Christians of other denominations.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are known for their evangelism and missionary work.
  • Pentecostals are known for their fiery conviction; their willingness to pray for anyone and their unwavering belief in the power of prayer.

What are Adventists known for? That we used to be people of the Book.

Sad, sad, sad!

It’s my earnest prayer that I use my life to help others. I don’t witness or door-knock or share my faith because it’s ‘my duty’, but because there are people out their hurting and they need to hear peace and hope and comfort! The majority of the world is sitting on the train tracks with a freight train headed right towards them, and I have the means to divert that train. Even if they reject God, at least I can say that I did all I could for them. We need to have the love for humanity that Christ did, that deep love that allowed him to hang on the Cross whilst being spat and jeered at, knowing all along that he was dying for those exact people.

We can’t treat the world like cardboard pieces, as if other people’s lives mean nothing, and then wonder why they don’t want to come to our church.

‘Feed my sheep’ says the Lord.

When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.

I Died Eight Years Ago

I died on October the Tenth, 2004.
It was the day I went to church.

I went because I was sick
because that’s what you’re supposed to do;
but it’s discouraging to see a hospital
with dead bodies the ground.

I saw walls stained with blood
and the dry bones of pastors past;
blanketed in a film of dust
to compensate for their lack of love

Patients wailing in this hospital.
Crying, muttering and screaming—
screams to wake the daemons from their pits;
screams to make the devil laugh with glee.

I was grasped with dirt-stained hands;
cakes of blood in the nails
veins that protruded from gaunt arms like bloated rivers
polluted with lies and bile from the Beast Himself

They led me through dark pastures
dragged me under tumultuous waters
My soul was beaten and battered and the Valley of Death became my home
The macabre my mother.
Evil was ever-present and I was tortured
with rods and spikes.
My tears were enough to fill ten thousand cups
and they ranneth over like streams down my legs
‘Till I stood in a pool of distress and decay.

So here I am, in a casket
made from the hopes and dreams of many
Encased in burnt earth
with the scales of snakes making prints on my skin.

I’m dead in the ground
but I like it here. We all like being dead, don’t we?
If not, why are Christians so reluctant to change?

Sometimes, though, I ask myself:
“Who is there to revive me?”

Who will revive my diseased and desperate soul?

(The theme of the day will be ‘Revive’, so I was asked to write a poem about revival. A bit macabre, though!)

(EDIT: So I performed the poem at church this evening and it went down better than I expected. As I was reading, I started to feel really worried because I hadn’t actually realised how dark it sounded haha. But people thought it was a deep message which was nice. I got some constructive criticism: read slower. I have a habit of reading things really quickly; my tongue has a mind of its own, sometimes! But yeah, feeling happy after tonight). 

Just a plug for a great group of people…

Check out this group on Youtube. They’re called The PreachingPlace777. They’re just a bunch of ordinary guys from churches all around London, spreading the gospel and sharing sermons and testimonies. The testimonies are the most inspiring; makes you realise how powerful God can be.

Yesterday evening they planned an evangelistic event at Westfields, Shepherd’s Bush. Quite a few of us went there, handing out fliers for the church; singing, preaching and sharing testimonies. It was fun to take part, but it made the whole thing worth it when I came home and heard that a few people had requested Bible studies.

This is the promo video for the event last night, ‘I Will Preach for Jesus’.

Two unbelievable testimonies:

Dean Cullinane

Andrew Fuller

Go on, take a look! You’ll definitely be blessed.

I’ve Never Sinned in My Life

I just wanted you to know
that she was a harlot
was, is and will forever be
because I wasn’t her only one.

Yep, I ‘ve heard a lot about her antics,
how she wears tight skirts in church
and blush on her cheeks
and eyeliner, perfect
like an Egyptian
so that she stands out
like a star amongst the pews

So it wasn’t my fault that I took her
because she had forced my hands
to touch her in that way
with her base, blatant seduction
a modern day Delilah
transforming Church into Sodom and Gomorrah

Just remember this:
It was her sin. Not mine.
Pray that she begs God for forgiveness
and understand her place as a woman:
silent, subjective, humble
and pure. Let her stay in the back
whilst the men discuss her habits
in business meeting.

So next time you see me on the pulpit
giving my sermon,
feel sorry for me
because I was tricked into playing her game.
Remember that I am an upstanding man
and that I give double my tithes
and I help clean the church
and I wear the best suit in the house.

When you see me take my seat
next to my wife and my children,
remember
that I’ve never sinned in my life.