Saturday, December 29, 2007

God's Will - The 3 Strands of Love

The final verse of Leviticus:

These are the commands the LORD gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites.

Bible. Big book. Lot’s to remember. Hard to get my head around.

For the Jews: Torah and Talmud. Lots of commandments. Lots of history. Lots to understand, lot’s to act upon.

For the Christians: Old and New Testaments. Questions like “Do we still obey the Law?” “If so how much?” Jesus’ words: lot’s to remember, lots to obey, hard to get our head around…

I don't know about you, maybe you're smarter than me, but I find it’s always better to understand something in a nutshell and then build knowledge and detail on that understanding. I always love it when someone boils it down for me.

In fact when I was a child (a long long time ago), my mum tells me that I would ask her hard questions then as she tried to explain, I'd constantly interupt her with the same phrase: "No Mum, I don't want to know that. I just want to know ..." In other words: "Cut to the chase, Ma! Bottom line it for me."

So I'm so there when a teacher of the Law asks Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”. Yes! Bottom line it for us!

Jesus responded:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." [Mark 12-28-30]

In another place, Jesus added “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”. [Matthew 22:40]

So using these words of Christ as a launching point, the commandments that the LORD gave Moses were given to teach Israel how to:

  • Love God


  • Love other humans


  • Love themselves (this is implied in Leviticus 19:18 – love your neighbour as yourself)

Love in popular media is about an endorphin-enriched emotion that makes you do crazy things to gain another person’s endorphin-enriched emotion toward you.

In the Bible, love is about actively seeking the betterment of the other according to God's standards. That not only helps us understand loving God and others but also the love ourselves part: flossing my teeth – although it’s tedious – is essential to taking care of the body God gave me to be caretaker of.

You get the gist.

Getting back to Leviticus, while the book itself is about formalizing laws governing spiritual practice and daily conduct, I sense the deeper message of Leviticus as

Honoring/Worshipping God Involves Appraoching Every Aspect of Our Life with Love.

Approaching God on His terms is obviously respectful (loving toward Him) and is essential to worship, where worship means bringing glory and honor to God.

But treating others fairly is also a part of “worship”. Managing our sexuality is - in part - spiritual and is a part of worship. Respecting others’ property is a part of worship. Taking care of our body is a part of worship. Because failure and flaw in these areas is a turning away from God (anti-worship) and His expectations of mankind.

And a huge part of “holistic” (ie., whole life) worship would be refusing to be drawn into the religious practices of others (Lev 20:2-5), which in our societies might be less about offering our children up to Molech and more about things like gambling – the god of Luck – or using God’s principles without having to go through Him first – as in the whole Law of Attraction movement. This brings us back to the 3-strands of love that Jesus summed up God’s will by:

  • love God (with everything in you),


  • love others (with justice, altruism and grace) and


  • love your own self (maintain your physical, moral and emotional health, and develop what God has entrusted to you)

God is fiercely interested in all of life, not just in getting a little attention occasionally in our church or synagogue gatherings, not just in us getting the sacred or religious compartment of life “right”.

It’s all sacred.

It’s all given as a gift from Him but is expected to be used in honor of Him and to draw us ever closer to Him and to others.

So in the year ahead, the week ahead, the day ahead, which of these 3 strands of love needs the most attention in your life:

  • actively loving God?


  • actively loving someone else (whether friend or foe)?


  • actively caring for your own body soul and mind?

What action do you feel God would require of you in that area? What will you do about that?

***


Don’t forget to go read Yehudi01’s take on this verse at "If You See Mr. Bill, Tell Him I'm Sorry..." and his post about loving God at "Three Small Steps To G-d's Heart..." Always worth the read!


Grace and peace to you today!



Monday, December 17, 2007

Monster Christian?


Werewolves, Zombies and Frankenstein. Which of these, Christian, do you resemble most?


Visit Jeremiah's posts here and here to assess thyself!


Bwa ha hah hah hahhh! [cough, cough...]

Famous Last Words: Exodus

Welcome, readers, both new and old-er. :)

I'm sticking with this project to comment on the last verse of each "book" of the Christian Bible. It was both humbling and energising that my first foray into this drew the attention of a number of Jewish friends, in particular Yehudi01 who has undertaken the same project. I'm looking forward to this as it unfolds; to have a Jewish and a Christian perspective on the same verse ... I dunno, it's just kinda cool!

(In fact, my friend is now miles ahead of me and has posted up to Numbers. I'm trying not to read his posts, until I've at least drafted mine, so I'm only up to his Exodus post ... and it is not only very good reading but highly motivating).

Anyway, let's get into it...

***

So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.
Imagine living like this, the supernatural plainly visible, the actual presence of the Lord manifestly right there in front of you 24/7!! I sometimes skip over the words on the page, but when I stop to place myself in the situation, man! For creatures like us whose primary sense is sight, this would be breathtaking.

As I contemplate it this morning, the verse speaks to me of 3 things: reassurance, culmination and inclusivity.

Reassurance.
While I imagine the cloud and the fire to be terrifying in some ways, in others I imagine it to have been reassuring. Looking at it would make me think "The Lord is with us".

In Psalm 91 and John's Gospel 14:15-17, He promises to remain with us, to be there for us constantly. Whether in dramatic or in non-dramatic ways, whether seen or unseen, His presence is promised.

But we don't have the fire, the cloud today. We don't live in Exodus 40: 38. And in our reality, it can be so easy to doubt, even to fear abandonment.

So I ask you: how do you look for signs of His presence around you? What has He provided you personally by way of reassurance and how can you utilise that to turn your heart and your faith toward Him afresh today?

He is here. He is near.

Culmination.
Now that the Tabernacle had been set up according to His command, the Lord showed that He accepted their obedience and fulfilled His earlier promise to remain with them in Person.

Some preachers tell us that when we obey the revealed Word, the commands, then we will release the storehouses of heaven over our life, releasing healing, being showered with finances and possessions, having doors open before us, etc etc.

And that's one way that He may choose to bless us, with seasons where these things happen. But I don't think the Lord is into transactional relationships: I can't imagine the Most High saying you scratch My back, I'll scratch yours.

It strikes me from this passage, that the main purpose of His instruction and His commands are to prepare the way for Him to act, to fulfill His own will. Whether that action is dwelling near to us, or doing a miracle, or filling our souls with peace, or humbling us for a time, or suddenly turning our heart to forgive another ... those actions are His choice.

That said, obedience culminates in the Lord's action. But again the highlight of this is not so much what He does as it is that we get to know Him! Jesus Himself (John 17) intimated that the goal of life is to know "the only true God". Obedience makes this possible.

Inclusivity.
I picked this word up in my life as a professional trainer/presenter. And I love it.

Everyone in the nation of Israel could see the cloud and the fire. Everyone. It was not for Moses or for priests alone. Everyone from leader to follower, from ol' codger to little baby, both man and woman could see!

The Lord desires that all would be aware of Him, be in awe of Him, draw near to Him.

My position in life does not determine whether or not I can know God; what counts is that I turn my heart to perceive and know Him. Whether He is near or afar is no longer the issue. The issue is: which way am I walking, which way am I facing? I can turn and seek Him, I can turn and know Him, I can turn and 'see' Him.

***

Today, I turn my heart afresh to You, Lord. I believe Your promise to never leave nor forsake me. I see Your hand at work in my life and my family and I thank You for it. I recall what You have asked me to do and to be and once again I turn my strength toward Your instruction and command so that You would do what You will in me and through me.
Amen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Losing My Ordination Papers Means Losing My Soul?!

"Nobody likes to be treated like an idiot in the workplace and senior pastors (many, but obviously not all) seem to be experts in treating people badly."

Got your attention, didn't it? This is just one quote from a good mate of mine Nick, whose post on why ministers are "getting out of ministry" was written in response to this statement by a so-called Pillar of the AOG in Australia, a man who holds himself up as a supreme example to others of success and godliness:

"It is a tragedy that there are so many pastors out there no longer in ministry ... It is because these inactive ministers no longer pay any attention to their relationship with God that they were now not serving."

Apart from the bizarre leap of logic evident in this statement, apart from its offensiveness, it perpetrates a dangerous assumption: favour with God = position and performance in the local attractional church, and the more pentecostal the church, the better.

But I think what makes me saddest of all about a comment like that is that there are people vulnerable enough to believe it, not the least of whom were the hapless Bible College graduates to whom the comment was addressed. Though many of them will be self-defined and spiritual enough to shrug it off, some unfortunately will continue to equate spiritual status (ie., where you fit on God's pyramid) with their position as professional clergy.

I totally respect professional Pastors who are non-full-of-themselves. I just wish they were the ones who had the ear of most Christians, rather than ratbags like the bloke quoted above. [Sigh]

Nick's post is worth the read, I promise. :) Click here to go there.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Famous Last Words: Genesis

I've always been fascinated by people's last words. This fascination is drawing me at the moment to the last verse of books of the Bible. Dare I embark on another project? Ah, what the heck! How about I share what these verses seem to say to me, what I take from them? Hope it's life-giving to someone else out there at some time on your journey.

Let's start at the beginning (or the end of the beginning at least): Genesis 50:26...

"So Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and his body was placed in
a coffin in Egypt."


O-kay. What am I going to do with that?

Well, for starters, I imagine the book of Genesis as a collection of stories, passed down in oral form (before it was eventually written down centuries later), told around the meal table or fireplace.

Imagine the scene: the Hebrews are born into slavery and die early deaths as slaves. The 11 year old boy is slumped on the floor of his hovel, as are his parents. They are bone-weary and depressed. He looks up at his father and asks,
"How did it come to this? Why are we born to this [expletive deleted] life?!"

"Well, son, to understand that, you have to go back to start. In the beginning..."

And over the following months, the stories are told, and then finally the father reaches these last two sentences, the ones about Joseph's death and burial. And here the story ends. And the father says to the son, "And that's how we got to where we are."

What do I take away from that? 3 things (like any good preacher!):
  1. The story's not over yet. I know this from verses 24-5 (the penultimate verses of Genesis). A promise had been made: "God will surely come for you to lead you out of this land of Egypt." If I was the Hebrew boy, I hope I would come to believe that the current situation was not the end, that there was hope, that Joesph's coffin was an unfinished sentence rather than death sentence on the Hebrew people. Whatever unfinished business is in my life, I do believe that my Lord Jesus will finish it. That's his way.
  2. Our lives are part of a bigger picture. Joseph didn't get back to Canaan himself, but made his brothers swear to take his bones back. That means he felt like he'd missed the Return by a few years at most (though we know it was more like a few centuries!). He honestly felt himself a part of the story that had started with Abraham (way way before his own birth) and would be completed after his own death. In the same way, I have received understanding and resources from those who came before me, as well as certain mandate, and I hopefully have sown further seeds of compassion mission mercy and humour with my own sons and others I've been priveleged to mentor... And we need only do our part, not stress over things outside our control!
  3. We believers are stupid to think we exist outside of the culture we live in. Ok, this is a strange one, but I'm referring to the embalming of Joseph's body. This was an Egyptian practise not a Hebrew (nomad) one. This was a practise that (to my knowledge) communicated the expectation of eternal life, and the public's respect of the one embalmed. Joseph had served Egypt well while remaining fully Hebrew in his values and beliefs. He hadn't hidden his worldview or changed his theology to suit the Egyptians, but he hadn't rejected their fashion, their customs, their language, their ways. He had served as a bridge between (on one hand) the belief-system passed onto him by his ancestors and through his dreams from God, and (on the other) the rich culture and amzing people in Egypt. Sometimes we Christians refrain from things in our culture which are basically harmless, thinking that we are communicating God's righteousness because of it, or that we're keeping ourselves unspotted. I'm not talking about The Golden Compass (which I agree is sadly an atheist's stated attempt to destroy belief in Christ amongst children), or about irresponsible sexual practises, or about greed. I'm talking about things like noserings, tattoos, musical tastes, passing a Buddhist temple without vehemently cursing it in tongues, you know what I mean!

Phew. That was actually a meaningful verse to me. I wonder what's at the end of Exodus?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Serendipity

My youngest son had a sick day from school today. I walked into his bedroom to see if he needed anything at one point. He was sitting up in bed and he said matter-of-factly:

"Hi Dad. I'm just praying for a boy from my old school. He left the school and went to hospital because he had diabetes. I asked God that if he was still in hospital, to bless him and make him feel better; if he was home, to help him have a happy life; and if he has died and gone to heaven that God will say hi and give him a hi-five from me."


How cool is that?

Cheques

"The central experience of Christian life is a gift which I cannot see, but which is certainly there, for I draw cheques to any amount on it and find them honoured by God every day." (Leslie Weatherhead)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Arms

If I die tonight, I will be in His arms.

If I live on, I will be His arms.

For what more is there?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Puppet

The Jesus Puppet. Isn't there a Commandment against this? Something about making images...? Maybe I read that wrong...


Thanks to Yvonne for the link to that one.


Let's leave the whole icky-yukky-I-wanna-chucky christian merchandising thing alone for the moment. I believe this toy is sold in order to run puppet shows for kids and if that's the case, it's a great thing, a visual aid in education, awesome.

It's certainly nowhere near the same category as praise panties and camouflaged bibles!

But I can't help it - a picture will always become a metaphor to me ... and when I read the retailer's text "Hand enters through the bottom of the puppet", I instantly had the thought: "just like we'd like to do to God."

Don't we search for ways to control God, to make Him do what we want? Don't we rant and rave in the middle of the night expecting it to force God to back down or come to the party? Don't we look for scriptural loopholes or for a Bible verse that bends God's arm behind His back ["see God! You said it, now you have to do this for me!"]

As compassionate, as kind, as merciful, as gracious as God is - and if Jesus Himself is any indication of God's nature - he ain't no puppet!



Thursday, October 18, 2007

Time

The Lilliputians in "Gulliver's Travels" (remember those little guys?) note that Gulliver's pocket watch is probably a god. This is because (they reason) he rarely did anything without consulting it. He called it his oracle and said it pointed the time for every action of his life.

"Travels" was written over 200 years ago. This was a comment about the then modern preoccupation with time. But has anything changed? Gulliver sure sounds like me.

Is "time" an idol to us? Or an almost-idol? A god that decrees the level of anxiety we feel, whether we are good or bad (did you get everything done today that you planned? You didn't? You naughty human!), what is possible and impossible.

Whatever happened to living in the moment? Or is that irresponsible? What did Jesus mean by "Don't worry about tomorrow"? Was he just talking about focussing on what you can do, not what you can't? Or was this also about time?

"Idols not only enslave their admirers ... they also transform people into replicas of themselves. So people (act) with a repetitive regularity which has no resemblence to the rhythmic life of a living being." (Robert Banks, The Tyranny of Time)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Willing

Occasionally I enjoy the Sunday fellowship of Bay Vineyard church here in Melbourne. The last time I joined them, Pastor John Wall asked the question:
How much of our view of God (or our understanding of God) is second-hand; as in
"you heard it from people like me in rooms like this?"

He followed this up with:
"How much have you discovered for yourself from Scripture and from experience?"

John then helped me to read Matthew chapter 8 with fresh eyes. The story that starts in verse 5 is partly about how this man perceived Jesus (or understood Jesus).

I invite you to skim the story again. As I read it again, I noticed the willingness of Jesus to heal, to help, to rescue from torment. There's no real hoops to jump through first, he doesn't have to wave his hands in the air ("C'mon people, lift God up!"), or pray a magic prayer and say it right, or sit in the front rows (where the good Christians sit).

Neither do we.

The man discovers for himself that when you appeal to God's compassion with a trust in his ability, He's there for ya!

John finished his chat with the point that we "believers" don't usually struggle with whether God can (help), but whether He will.

As you skim that chapter, there's a couple of questions that I find helpful, passed on to me through the writing of Jim Peterson:
  • Who is Jesus? What kind of person is He?
  • What is He asking me to do?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Everlasting Word

Shakespeare's words from Sonnet 6 seem to me like they're about the Bible:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this
And this gives life to thee

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bible


"I continue to find the Bible the most mysterious book - the more insight I gain, the more I realize how much I don't know. It inspires and encourages, and it also frustrates and provokes.

The Bible is a difficult book."


- Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

After Bathsheba 4.2: David Changes his Motivation

"Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba”(2 Samuel 12:24)

So as I was saying in the last post on topic, one of David's major steps in returning to his first love (God) - and to integrity after Bathsheba - involved changing his motivation. In that post I said that one way of understanding MOTIVATION is to think of it as fuel or energy (the impulse to do something) ...

Another way of looking at motivation is as the reasons why we do it in the first place.

Essentially all of us are looking for positive experiences, and all interpret 'positive' differently. I do not enjoy sanding down a dresser but I enjoy computer games. My wife can’t stand computer games but likes to sand down a dresser. If she asks me to spend a Saturday morning sanding and painting when a friend has offered to hook me up in a multiplayer game on one of the computers at his house, which will I be more motivated to commit to? On one level, THE GAME of course!

But then if I look deeper within myself to a level beyond the pleasure of instant gratification, I discover that I actually gain pleasure out of making my wife feel that she is important – and that she is a more valued companion than my friend. I enjoy spending time with her. Therefore if I draw on my motivation at that level, it will induce me to help her with the dresser and postpone the match-up to another day. (I also really hope she doesn’t read this!)

David too looked deeper inside himself, past the “instant” gratification of a sexual encounter and the desire to keep his image of “cool king” intact. What he found was the same kind of compassion for the powerless that God had shown toward him in the past.

Motivated by that deeper value and drive, he returned to living honourably with the intention of pleasing God.

Where in your life can you look to a deeper motivation on which you can draw to refresh your spiritual disciplines and passion? Paul described this change as offering the parts of your body as instruments of righteousness and withdrawing them from serving sin. David seemed to take this thought literally!

David called on his inner (value-driven) motivation to honour God and imitate His character. This caused him to make deliberate choices, which switched on his energy-driven outward motivation, getting the wheels (and the dynamo) turning for him, making it easier to make the next good choice and the next.

A last thought about motivation. Jesus once passed an invalid, a man who had been lame for 38 years. His first words to the man were “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). I don’t believe any of the words of Jesus were trivial, intended just to start a conversation or to keep a conversation going. His reasons for asking this question were deeper than just getting the man’s attention.

The Gospel writer notes that “when Jesus learned that he had been in this condition for a long time”, he posed this question. One of the reasons John notes this I’m sure is to record Jesus’ compassion based on this man’s long-term suffering. The other reason for the question I’m equally sure was that Christ wanted to test this man’s inner motivation.

I sometimes wish the biblical writers had included italics in their writing to help us understand the emphasis of certain phrases. Of course it’s only my opinion, but I’m sure that Jesus asked the question this way: “Do you want to get well?”

Did this man really want to get well or was he a committed victim? Some people seem not to desire “healing” or improvement. That may sound crazy but I’ve heard it expressed by people in helping professions in many ways. Numerous counsellors and Pastors have verbalised their disappointment that many people come to their office to talk, not to change.

One (I think it was John Maxwell) even said it was a liberating day in his ministry when he began to require that people completed “homework” before coming back to see him again. It cleared his appointment book!

Now, why wouldn’t someone want improvement or healing? For our purposes there are probably two reasons that are important to us. One is something called learned helplessness. The other is that he/she doesn’t really want a different kind of life simply because it’s different.

Most people feel some level of anxiety about change. Change their circumstances and they personally will have to adapt, perhaps in a dramatic way. If healed, the lame man in this case would have to take full responsibility for his income, rather than relying on the compassion of others. He would have a responsibility to help others in the ways that he had been helped. He would have to redefine who he was. He would have to learn a new role in society and new ways of conversing with others. Jesus’ question could have been phrased

“Do you want that much change?”

The man’s response was enough for Jesus to see that he had the right kind of motivation – “No one helps me get into the pool and while I’m trying to get myself in there …” The man knew he was responsible for seeing his own needs met. If no one would do it for him, then he would do it himself.

David stepped outside of his own comfort, his own shame even, his own grief, to turn things around, to give love to another and to seek after God.

If you feel distant from God, even if you feel you are a "failure" at Christianity (a crazy idea but widespread nevertheless), I encourage you to tap into those inner values that impel you toward God - move a small way and you will feel like moving further. Get out of your rut, get out of your head, get out of your shame and reach out.

The old folk proverb “God helps those that help themselves” - while not actually in the Bible - illustrates the principle of Phil 2:12-13. When you are actively seeking the things that will bring you health, God then has an open door to be at work in you.

***

Your Turn:

  1. For the next seven days, pick at least one thing each day that you don’t want to do, but which is a good thing to do. Some examples might be washing and drying the dishes when it’s not your turn; vacuuming the Church chapel; carrying out a spontaneous act of kindness toward a non-Christian with no gospel presentation attached; washing your Mum’s car; spending one entire hour in prayer; reading a complete book of the Bible in one sitting (preferably not Psalms!). At the end of the week, look back at what you did and more importantly how you feel (in terms of both motivation and your general disposition).
  2. As you have read this post and the last, what thoughts have occurred to you in terms of choices that will lead you back into friendship with the Holy Spirit? Write these thoughts down. Alternatively, talk them through with your prayer partner or mentor. In regards to this friendship, what can you do to “turn on the tap” today? The next few days? Come up with a very simply (and short) action plan. Over the next few days examine the results of these actions.
  3. What motives for short-term gratification may be steering you into behaviour that alienates God? What deeper inner values can you draw on that will motivate you to pursue a lifestyle that God can fill with His presence?

God’s Turn:

    1. Ask God to show you in a way that only He can how much is for you. Ask His help and partnership in changing your motivation.


*************************************
If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (
Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

James Cameron is not the Antichrist

I have to chuckle. Hopefully it's not an arrogant chuckle; hopefully it's just pure amusement...

Some things just strike me as funny. Funny because they are mildly absurd in a fascinating kind of way. (Much of my own behaviour fits into this "absurd" category too, so it's a good thing I can occasionally laugh at myself too).

This morning it's the whole Jesus Tomb "controversy". There are several things funny about it.

First, even though James Cameron's claims were dismissed by journalists and archeologists as "debatable conjecture" and "trying to connect dots that didn't belong together" (quoted from a Time article on the subject), an Australian TV channel played it a week ago as if it was new, groundbreaking and a danger to the "faith of a billion people".

To which I simply say "meh."

Second, the frantic reaction of some of my fellow Christians who become threatened by this. When the Davinci Code suddenly became the next best thing, I'd already read the book nearly a year earlier, thought "Yeah, good story" and moved on. Suddenly it became the nexus for discussion of "Is the Christian faith true?" and I was having conversations with people on both sides of that one for several months (without me bringing up the issue).

Neither "side" responded positively whenver I said "Dan Brown wrote a novel." (particularly when I repeated it like a good little smartass). To one side, it was more than a novel, it was enlightenment (they're kind of the new Trekkies in a way).

To the other side, it was an affront to God and to Truth, it threatened the stability of "Christendom", it was bad because it encourages people to not believe in Jesus Christ and also to tell Christians we are deluded.

Well, "meh" to all of that. (People already didn't believe in Jesus, felt free to tell us Christians we're idiots and personally if I'm threatened by a novel, I need to take a good hard look at myself!)

When the Davinci Code thing erupted there were churches everywhere scrambling to launch bible study groups examining its claims and refuting them, making money off the back of it by writing Why The Davinci Code is Wrong books, a preaching "topical" sermon series on it. The anxiety was thick on the ground. Watch the same thing happen with the Jesus Tomb...

Fellow believers, here's why I'm not bothered by either Cameron or Brown's claims:
  • If the Jesus Tomb is largely based on finding a family burial plot where the names Mary, Jesus, Jude etc were inscribed, well duh. That's like finding one in Melbourne where the names Peter, John and Jane are inscribed or a Korean grave with the name Kim on it. These were very common names. The name Jesus is the name Joshua. How many Joshuas are still around? And what about the other Jesus Tomb in Kashmir? Which one is the real one, folks?
  • James Cameron is the director of movies that I love such as Aliens and Terminator 2. But he is also responsible for Titanic. In my mind that destroyed his credibility forever! :)
  • Dan Brown stole his ideas from ... ooops, I meant to write: borrowed heavily from the 1980s book Holy Blood, Holy Grail ... which itself was largely based on the invention of the whole Merovingian (love that word) story by 3 French nerds in the 1950s. For more, you could start your reading by clicking here)
  • Neither Brown nor Cameron are the Antichrist. They just know how to sell books and movies.

There's just a few reasons why the serious ansgst over these kind of controversies is truly funny.

Let me return to my chuckling. The 3rd reason for laughing, is that here I am so taken with the whole thing that I too am up on my soapbox... Maybe there's a book in this for me...

Meh...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

War!

The Carnival of War has arrived at Great Circle. Guest writers post articles (by invitation) on my site on the theme "How I Won the War on...".

Go to How the War was Won and click on the titles to get the full articles. There's some quality stuff on a broad range of topics!

See you there!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

After Bathsheba 4.1: David Changes his Motivation


"Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba”(2 Samuel 12:24)


This verse is where the story begins to take a turn for the positive.

Regaining, refreshing and renewing intimacy with God will bring us to a place where the way we treat other people is deeply affected by the values of God's Kingdom and - ultimately - by selfless love. Our motivation is changed, as was King Davo's...

I find it very moving that this "union" (how's that for a Ned Flandersism?) - this "union" which was initially adulterous lustful and selfish now becomes compassionate and comforting.

David’s second recorded encounter with Bathsheba began with the purpose of consoling her: “Then David comforted”. He desired to ease her grief, not his own. This time rather than use Bathsheba’s body to ease his boredom, he used his body to relieve her sense of loneliness and loss. David’s motivation had changed.

When we speak of motivation, we often mean two different things, using the same word for both. One is inner motivation, or the reasons why we do things. The other is the driving force that makes us feel like doing something.If you and I are ever to have that passion for God burning in our belly again and a sense of His presence, something critical must change at our core. It must change at both these levels.

Something must change in the way we do things and it must change in the reasons why we do them.

I might focus today on the the driving force aspect of motivation. It's interesting to me (probably to no one else though!) that King Davo seems to have lost his drive, his energy, his motivation at this point in his life. We can see that at the beginning of 2 Sam 11. He's taking afternoon naps and wandering around rooftops instead of out with his troops battling his nation's enemies. Maybe I'm reading into the text, but it seems to me that David had lost the urge to do "kingly" stuff, and his idleness lead to other less noble motivators kicking in.

Energy, drive, motivating impulses...

“How do I change?” is a question at the core of all rehabilitation, repentance and refocussing. In his own refocussing, David had made a good start by admitting his problem and accepting his responsibility. Often we stay at that point, not taking (or even discerning) the next step. And the reason we stand still is usually that we are waiting for something else to change.

We wait for the urge to pray to arise within us before praying.

We don’t show affection to our spouse because we want to feel that affection first.

We don’t give up drinking to excess because we still feel attracted to it.

We don’t start becoming vulnerable because we don’t feel safe enough yet.

We don’t offer worship to God because we don’t yet have the sense of excitement to drive it.

Unfortunately, the driving-force side of motivation doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t appear out of thin air like an angelic visitation.

The author Louis L’Amour, writing about the motivation to write, said

“The water doesn’t flow until the tap is turned on.”

Motivation comes from action rather than coming before action.

How many times has something like the following happened to you?

You say, “I don’t feel like going to the party but I guess I’d better show my face”. Surprisingly after an hour of socialising you find yourself genuinely enjoying it!

You may have had similar experiences regarding chores, going to work, starting an exercise routine or even getting out of bed in the morning.

Many (many!) years ago I was counselling a young man (whom I’ll call Jason) who had come to me wanting to kick a drug habit. Jason was a pleasant person but not well-presented and certainly lacking in energy. One of the things that emerged from our discussion was the fact that he literally did nothing with his time.

He had no job to get up for and no goals to work toward. He hadn’t even registered for unemployment benefits. Going to bed shortly before dawn, he woke up at 4:00 in the afternoon except on the days he was seeing me.

As I prayed with him, it occurred to me that there was a connection between his difficulties in becoming motivated to change anything in his lifestyle and the actual lack of attempting activity. Feeling this may have been one of those mysterious "words from the Lord", I made a suggestion that he try a new routine for a week. Each day he was to get up at a time which would be normal for someone working office hours. He was to shower and dress as if he were going to work and then go straight to the employment agency or buy a newspaper to search the job ads. Jason was willing to give this a try and chose to change his wake up time to 7 am, a massive change in routine!

Jason missed his next appointment with me and so it was 2 weeks before I saw him again. During that time with only a couple of exceptions he had got up at the new time and had undertaken the kinds of simple activity we had brainstormed. He hadn’t found a job but something else - something remarkable - had happened to him.

When Jason came to the church office window, my wife answered the bell – and literally didn’t recognise him! His posture, expression and presentation had changed dramatically. After he told me how he had changed his routine, I asked him how he felt.

Great!” he said with real enthusiasm (and some surprise).

He went on to tell me that he was more motivated to get things done and that even his relationships were improving because his outlook and moods had changed. The tap had been turned and clean water had flowed...

When I was a teenager, the dynamo - turned by the wheel of my bicycle - would generate power for my headlight. If I stopped my bike, the light would quickly fade as the power source failed. Doing leads to feeling. Action generates enthusiasm. The water doesn't flow until the tap is turned on.

In the story, the child of David and Bathsheba was struck ill. The king's response was to go without food, to lie all night on the "bare ground". He "begged God to spare the child" (12:16). And when the child died, David's heart had been melted, had been turned once more to the needs of other people, had found its urge to love again. "Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba."

More on this soon...


*************************************


If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Holy

And again I return to this truth. I am holy. You, brother, sister, are holy. The tax collector of my Pure post is the beginning point of faith and relationship with Jesus, not our perpetual state of being.

'... the issue is my learning who this person is who God keeps insisting I already am. There is this person who we already are in God's eyes. And we're learning to live like it is true. This is an issue of identity. It is letting what God says about us shape what
we believe about ourselves. This is why a shame has no place whatsoever in the Christian experience. It is simply against all that Jesus is for. When we stumble and fall back into old patterns, we call them what they are: old patterns. Old ways. Old habits of the old person. Something new is happening inside us.

...The point isn't sin management. The point is who we are now. Often communities of believers in the New Testament are identified as "saints". The word saints is a translation of the Greek word hagios, which means "holy or set apart ones". '
(
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis)


The Jesus we follow, who takes us into the Father's presence and brings His love to us, is the Jesus of my post Oops! - He believes in us, has cleansed us, is over our sin, has refreshed the image of God in us, has chosen us and set us apart for great things. Knowing him is the goal of our walk, not sin management (as Rob Bell says).

'Walking toward him is walking away from sin.'
(So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, Jake Colsen)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pure

"Keep yourself pure" (1 Timothy 5:22)


What's Paul telling us? I know what the word PURE means, I looked it up the dictionary, it's easy to grasp. And the greek word for pure is ... pure. So I'm not analysing the word. I'm just wondering what I'm to aim at here.

I used to follow an arrogant belief system. I told myself that as a Christian, I was no longer a sinner. It was unscriptural to think I was. When I heard other Christians say "I'm just a sinner saved by grace", I would think/say "If that's what YOU want to be, fine. But my Bible tells me I can reach a state of sinlessness (I think I got that from the latter parts of 1 John); that I'm a New Creation (Ephesians); that I'm already made perfect because of what Christ did (Hebrews)". And there is truth in each of those things.


But facts are facts. Even at my best, on those days or in those seasons where I feel 'tuned in' to God or self-controlled or motivated - I'M STILL A WEAK SELFISH PETTY MAN WHO THINKS SAYS AND DOES WEAK SELFISH PETTY THINGS!!!!


So what kind of purity is God expecting? How pure is pure, when we've all eaten of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

If we're talking moral and character issues here, and the best I could hope to acheive is 99.9% good and only 0.1% evil, is that enough to call myself pure? Would I drink a glass that's 99.9% rain water and 0.1% raw sewerage?


Or might pure refer to an allignment of the heart? One that 'righteous' actions grow out of? Something that starts in humility perhaps...?


Because I know that wheat AND tares are growing in my soul together, because I know that my best efforts only take me so far, the story Jesus told of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:10-14) gives me hope.


I am the tax collector.

No matter how much I try to move toward the pharisee's "testimony", I often find myself hiding in the shadows, weeping over my condition. "I am so like other men...!"


All I can do is trust Jesus that at the last day, He will save me from my sin. Without that hope, I am lost...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Oops I Did It Again!

If you talk to enough Christians, if you cruise faith-related blogs, you're going to come up against good old fashioned guilt somewhere along the line. The real Woe-Is-Me-I'll-Never-Be-Enough kind of anguish. If we have a conscience, we've all been there. But to keep coming back there? To live there?

How helpful, how "godly", how spiritual is that really? Standing at the train station unaware of what's happening around you, awash in feelings of remorse and self-pity. Is that a "christian" way to respond to personal or moral failure?

How about doing something about your life today, whether that's making amends to someone you wronged or deciding to get up off the "boxing ring canvas" and go another round? That would seem a far better use of the day God is giving you.

But we seem to warm to this particular tactic of our enemy; it feels strangely satisfying to beat ourselves up, to be crushed by despair, to agree that we'll never get better.

I just love the last scene in John’s gospel where JC and Simon Peter are on the beach. And I shared this with a friend of mine on his blog this morning. As I shared, God gave me a new understanding of the passage...

JC: So. You love me more than these guys right?

Pete: You had to bring that up! Of course I do (I’m a bad man, I’m a bad man, I’m a bad man)

JC: Ok, well, then feed my lambs. (Hmm, I don’t think he heard me). Simon. You. Love. Me. True or false?

Pete: C’mon, stop torturing me; you know I do!

JC: Right, so, take care of my sheep. (Sigh! Still not getting it). Simon? Dude! Do you feel a deep affection for me?

Pete: You’re breaking my heart here! Of course I do!

JC: Then that’s what matters. You can get on with your life, stop wallowing in self-pity and feed my sheep. I’m over your sin and I believe in you. This is the way I see your life: when you were young you did what you want. Now you are so committed to me that when you're old you'll be prepared to go where you don't want to, to die an unpleasant death, because of your love. You and me? We're ok. Now that we got that straight, I'll take you back to what I said to you right at the start so that you get going again: Follow me.


Friend, He’s over your sin and He believes in you. Follow Him afresh today.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Authority?

If you've been around some circles of the "church" for a while, you've probably come across this idea that Church Leaders (or the 'Annointed') have authority over you and that you must submit to their teachings and directives.

Check out this study guide for kids which looks good on the surface but actually teaches children to obey any form of leadership no matter what they tell them to do! This is the ultimate in irresponsibility! (And some time I'll blog about the relationship of authority and responsibility).

So does the kid obey when the paedophile schoolteacher says "Come and sit on my lap"? How about when the pastor says "Come out to the front of the church and bow down to me"? (This happened recently in a church local to me). What if a parent and a pastor offer 2 contradictorary orders? How is the kid to discern what to obey and what not to? How do they learn to set boundaries and discern between good and evil with this kind of simplistic and irrational interpretation of scripture?

I asked my 11 year old son last month "If a pastor asked you to come to the front of the church and bow down to him, what would you do?" He replied "Get out of there as quick as I could!" Now that's the kind of smarts we should be encouraging in our kids...

Back to the Authority "Doctrine". My last post started this 'rant' and I'm still inviting you to add your comments to it.

I've listened to this teaching for over a decade now, and I still have problems with it. For starters, I don't remember ever hearing its proponents mention (let alone teach) Jesus' words on the subject of church authority:

"You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of all, and if he wants to be first among you, he must be your slave ..." (Matthew 20:25-27, Phillips translation)


Go ahead and look it up in other translations, it'll only enrich Jesus' meaning. (The NIV says "their high officials exercise authority over them.") It must not be so among you (ie., Christ's disciples and leaders). In fact, to lead means a level of servanthood akin to slavery.

Slaves (or servants for that matter) don't seek their own "honour". They don't demand to have the final say on something. They don't even expect to be thanked. They just do what's required and fade into the background or move on to the next task.

That's Jesus' template for church leaders and missionaries. It's a thankless, inglorious, disempowered job that results in thanks to God, glory to God and empowered disciples.

I've got lots more to say on this topic, but if you're desperate to work through this issue for yourself (and it's one that causes thousands of people a great deal of anxiety), I can recommend the following links:

  • A PASTOR'S AUTHORITY
  • New Testament Leadership (Steve mentions the following "In Hebrews 13:17, believers are encouraged to “obey” church leaders. Interestingly, the Greek behind “obey” is not the regular Greek word for “obey.” Instead, peitho is used, which literally means “to persuade” or “to convince.” Thus, Hebrews 13:17 should be rendered “let yourselves be persuaded by.” ")

Friday, July 20, 2007

How Do We Give Respect When The Leader's Not Respectable?

I'm trying to work something through, folks. Have been for a while. Still have more questions than answers.

In short, I'm not a believer in the Authority "doctrine" (or Submission "doctrine"), a particular feature of pentecostal christianity. But I do believe in leadership.

I'm not a fan of institutional attractional church, I'm more a missional/emerging church kind of guy, but I do believe in structure, gift-based ministry, and many "things" that belong in both styles of church.

Today, I'm struggling specifically with how to respond to leadership that is either

  • "ungodly" (terrible word and I'm sorry for it - I think I mean leaders that distort information to maintain power or the status quo, leaders that intimidate or exercise power over others, leaders that misuse their position in any way) - or
  • misguided (not as "bad" in my view - I'm refering to the basic human tendency toward personal bias - which I certainly suffer from! - but which may show up in an extreme way when a well-meaning leader nevertheless teaches or acts from a non-biblical worldview, attitude or doctrine: e.g. materialistic success; personal insecurity; prejudice; non-grace)

Phew, that was a mouthful. (Even to read!)

So how should we Christians respond to these leaders when they are plainly wrong?

I read Romans 13:1-7 this morning. If you take it on what it actually says, it seems to teach that even Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, George Bush (heh heh) or ArchBishops who don't believe the resurrection of Christ either happened or is relevant to Christianity - all of these people are simply to be obeyed, kowtowed to, not challenged, trusted. And yet, it refers to governing authorities as holding "no terror for those who do right" and agents of "wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Yet they clearly don't have a biblical morality ... or, at the very least, condone things the Christian Bible condemns.

So was Paul naive? Was the Holy Spirit suggesting that a dictator or a corrupt pastor or politician is doing the right thing simply because of their position?

Perhaps I can mount a Nuremberg defense at the final Judgement:

"I let my pastor get away with embezzling money, because I was simply following orders. I burnt witches at the stake, because I was simply following orders. I refused to vote against an unjust government, because they ARE the government and must have been put there by God. I kept tithing to my church, even though the pastor publicly intimidates, criticises and insults people while in a fit of rage, because he has the name Pastor on his office door."

I mean, if God is suggesting this, then I have to go along with it. Because I honor God.

But it just doesn't sit right. And it's not just me either.

As an example in this moment, I just picked up the first commentary on Romans on my shelf, a volume from the 1950s that my Dad has passed on to me. The author's take on this passage of scripture includes the following thoughts:

There is great necessity at this hour to emphasize to all Christians this solemn exhortation of the apostle. Lawlessness - contempt for authority - is upon us like a flood.

He is firm proponent of giving absolute fealty to government and (by implication of his writing) church leadership. He gives some familiar examples of the results of contempt for authority: crime and moral breakdown etc etc, then he makes this interesting point:

Perhaps the most glaring of all instances of last-days lawlessness is the tolerance of Red Communism. (This is the 1950s remember). We do not now speak of Russia; but of the fact that Communistic doctrines (which openly declare war upon all divinely appointed order) are held - even by professing Christians ... all over the world! ... (If you prefer communism) you are really settling in on Lenin's and Stalin's path - which ends in hell!- and makes a land a bloody horror meanwhile.

But, weren't Lenin and Stalin leaders, authorities?

Then why weren't they "Divinely appointed order?" Where is the line at which we can say, "This leader is appointed by God and to be spken well of and submitted to" and "This leader is against God's order or standards and must be condemned"?

And am I as bad as the Archbishop I linked to above, refusing to accept the parts of scripture that disturb me personally?

I really am in limbo on this issue and would value your conversation. I mean, I do have very strong views on it - I could just spout them - but I'm wanting to run them through scripture ... and this is where it's becoming very very worrying... your conversation would help...

I don't even know what question to level at y'all - I guess any and every response will be valued...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gadgets for God...



Following on from the last post about Christian merchandising (shudder), The Molk has kindly alerted us to Ship of Fools (dot com) who have a whole section on Christian Merchandising (shudder) - or Gadgets for God, as they call it.

Here's my favourite 3:


(If only these things were satirical. Then they'd be funny.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

THY-Space: oh ye of little brains & too much disposable income

Christian merchandising. Is there any oxymoron more nauseating?

I regularly read the blog of a writer's agent and publisher (Chip McGregor). Chip represents several Christian authors, which is cool. As their agent, he gets to attend the Christian Book Publishers conference annually where he gets to check out (and laugh at) the latest in Christian novelties.


Read this excerpt and gag, laugh or weep as the Spirit leads :) ...



The whole thing is back to back meetings, talking about books, and if you're a book guy like me, you just love it. But, at the same time, each year I try to find the worst, most bile-inducing piece of religious crud at the show. There are always some doozies.


Last year it was the famous "Armor of God Pajamas," which say "Righteousness" across the chest and feature a "Helmet of Salvation" nightcap and "Peace" footies. They were fun, cute, and completely stoopid. (I also hold a warm spot in my heart for the Gospel Golf Balls, which are just normal golf balls except they have Bible verses printed on them -- that way you don't have to fret over losing a ball on the course, because in the immortal words of the sales woman, "You just chalk it up to helping spread the Good News.") The year before it was the "genuine ash from Sodom and Gomorrah" display, which is sure to teach you never to invite your gay friends over unless you've checked the pressure on your fire extinguisher.


This year had some real weiners -- er, I mean "winners." I liked the "New Life Gummie Caterpillars," which teach young children the joys of salvation as well as getting them addicted to sugar. Speaking of sugar, "Scripture Candy" was back, along with their slogan: "Reaching the World...One Piece at a Time." (Nope. I'm not making that up.) For those of a more natural bent, you could just buy holy honey -- "Bee-lieve Honey" was there. The woman running the booth was extremely, um, sweet. Oh, and somebody came up with the notion of doing a Christian version
of MySpace, only they promised it would be cleaned up ("No Britney Spears," the sales guy told me), and of course they gave it the spiritual name "THY Space." Gag.
But it was footwear department that really captured me this year.


First, there was the "Not Of This World Footwear Company," reminding us of that
great truth: "If you want to witness to the world, have religious symbols imbedded on your shoes" (from the Book of Formica 3:13). The shoes were actually of a nice design -- but do we need inspirational sayings on everything? Can't we just have clothing that doesn't say anything? (Answer: "No. You're obviously an idiot. God expects everything from underwear to shoes to have religious slogans on them. That's why He invented 'Praise Panties.'")


Second, there was the company that invented insoles that also have Scripture verses printed on them. Why? So that we can joke about "walking the way of the Lord?" Of course not! It's so that we can all be "Standing On the Promises"! (It's a hymn! One of those insider Christian jokes we all like so well, and that so endear us to those outside the church who sometimes think we've lost our collective minds.) Right now YOU could be standing on the promises (For example, the promise that "thou shalt never have bunions" -- Hez. 3:13) instead of sitting in the chair like a heathen lout. (You never heard anybody read any verses about "sitting on the statutes" did you? I'll bet not -- praise panties or no.) But when it comes to cheesy religious footwear, the champ has got to be the In-Souls company. (In-Souls! Get it?) For years I've made a joke about the demeaning of CBA. As we've moved away from being an industry focused on creating great books, and toward an organization looking to move things like Thomas Kinkade postcards and Jesus soap-on-a-rope, I've said, "If you can get past the gospel ties and the John 3:16 socks...", and of course I meant it as a gag. Faithful readers have heard me use that line (to appropriate laughter) for the last decade. But it was a joke! A laugher! Nobody would really create John 3:16 socks, right? Wrong, oh ye of faithless footwear. For at this convention, some bright boy stole my idea! No kidding. There they were, in all their glory: John 3:16 socks! Footies that have "John 3:16" on the roll and the words on the body of the sock.


Glory! I have seen the light, and it is footwear!
*****



"And lo, the salesclerk appeared in a bright light, singing praise to Bally and saying,
'Espadrille!', which is Greek for 'Glory' or maybe
'rope-sole-with-canvas-uppers.' And suddenly, the clerk was surrounded by a great cloud of clerks, all carrying Prada and Bruno Magli, though they had pumps
and not the loafers I wanted.


And the store did carry Allen Edmonds.
And they did have it in my size. And it was good. And he placed the shoehorn in my hand and said, "Take. Wear." And I took. And I wore. And it was comfortable. In fact,
they gave me no blisters. A miracle."
--The Kiltie Gospel



Thursday, June 21, 2007

In Whose Image?

This quote I saw today captured my attention and has made me think a lot.


"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." - Anne Lamott

Saturday, June 16, 2007

After Bathsheba 3.1:David Accepts the Consequences (2 Sam 12:14-23)

As you can see when you read this story, David did not run from the suffering of those next few days. Nor did he accuse God of hurting him. He realised that while much of the penalty was spared him (ie., he was not fried on the spot nor did God "cast him away from His presence"), there were consequences that he would just have to wear. God would not be like an overindulgent parent who is constantly rescuing his/her son from the consequences of his poor choices.

The King did what he could to avert the suffering of his child. He fasted, pleading with God. He lay all night on the ground. There was no que sera sera with him. He did what he could do to put a stop to the chain of suffering he had set in motion. Yet when that death came, he accepted it. It wasn’t God being cruel; it was the result of Dave's own actions.

He then took care of Bathsheba rather than marking her as some ugly reminder of his sin and casting her out of his presence.

The gauge of true repentance and responsibility is not in how many litres of tears are wept at the altar. Nor is it to be found in loud declarations: “I’ve changed! This time I really mean it!” For most of us it will be found in accepting some consequences - some that arrive immediately, some which occur over an extended period of time. One of those consequences may just be that it becomes sheer hard work to regain intimacy with God and a passion for His plans.

Is this penance? Sometimes within the guilty mind is a feeling that I should make up for what I have done wrong. God’s Word is very clear on this: we are completely forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death and Christ’s continual intercession for us. I am not talking about penance – paying for forgiveness. It’s a gift. However, forgiveness happens in the realm of a relationship (God forgives me and so is no longer angry with me or distant from me relationally).

But consequences occur in the wider realm of time and space. In other words consequences come regardless of how good or bad a relationship is. For instance, imagine that in a fit of rage I smash my wife’s favourite vase, then seek forgiveness (and she forgives me), and our relationship is restored. I don’t have to pay for that grace; she either gives it or she doesn’t. In this case, she has given it. Nevertheless she is still minus one vase. Her forgiving me doesn’t magically repair the vase. Neither did God’s forgiveness of David change the fact that there was now one woman widowed by his order, pregnant to him, bereaved of a child because of a curse he brought on that child. In the case of my wife and the broken vase, I should take responsibility for my actions and buy her a vase that will take the place of the one I have broken. Do I do that because she demands it? No, I do it because I love her and don’t want to see her paying for my sin. Why should she be out one vase just because I chose to be stupid?

For many of us in recovering from a period of spiritual coldness, there may need to be some restitution involved, particularly where we have wronged another human being. This is far from paying penance. While God will need no repayment for the shabby way I have treated Him, He will nevertheless require that to the best of my ability I undo any damage I have done His reputation or the wellbeing of others. This about orienting our soul, our character, toward God and godliness...

The story of Zacchaeus illustrates this. When the little man understood the second chance he was being given, of his own volition he stood up and cried, “I will give half of my possessions to the poor and repay back anyone I’ve ripped off four times what they lost!” (Lk 19:8). Jesus’ comment was “Today salvation has come to this house” when He saw this dramatic and heartfelt response to grace.

I once heard the following story from the 1950s. A man had fled America for Scotland leaving $10,000 in debts behind him – a considerable sum back then. After a few years he was converted to Christ and fell in love with the things of God. It only took a few weeks before a growing conviction in his heart became too hard to ignore. He could not pursue his walk with Jesus until he dealt with it. The day came when he told his brothers and sisters in the Church, “I must return to America and repay my debts, even if it takes me the rest of my life.” They were shocked and questioned the sanity of such a course of action. Someone made the comment that he was now forgiven and his past sins blotted out. His response was that some of his sins were still quite legible in the records of several human institutions. The right thing for him to do was take responsibility to clean up his own mess, rather than leaving someone else to pay for it.How many of us today would display such an attitude?


Consequences may involve restitution or (like in David’s case) they may simply be natural outcomes of the choices we have made. Those consequences may look like items on the following list:

  • Public confession of our wrongdoing

  • Personally seeking the forgiveness of other human beings we have hurt

  • A long period of hardship where the results of our bad choices actually torment us

  • The expulsion of idols from our life

  • Rebuilding trust with others

  • The breaking of soul ties

  • Hard work in exchanging our corrupt attitudes for better ones

  • Discovering our spiritual disciplines are not easy to come back to and must be worked hard at

  • Reprioritising of our life to make room for those spiritual disciplines, perhaps losing some other treasured pursuit in the process

This list is not exhaustive. And the consequences may be completely different for you. The point is that God will not always bail us out.

According to Hebrews 12, God’s discipline is not punishment – it is training. Do I really want to remain the weak person who allowed the fire to die in the first place? If I stay the same, there is nothing stopping it from happening again! We need God’s discipline – we need consequences – to become stronger, to become “partakers of His holiness” (Heb 12:10).

David has now completed a partial turn of his heart back to God. But another step awaits him. More in the next episode...

Your Turn:

  1. When we lose our first love, we often become hard-hearted and hurt others. Is there any damage you have done while distant from God? What matters are there that you must attend to which will set things right?
  2. It may be that you lost your spiritual passion through being hurt by someone else. Holding on to bitterness has been likened to holding a hot coal in your hand; it only hurts you. Remembering this – and reminding yourself that you have flaws and failings which God is quick to forgive - is there anyone you must forgive to respond honourably to God’s grace?

  3. Things often get worse before they get better. Don’t expect the feeling of elation you may have felt when born again or first filled with the Spirit. God may be stretching you painfully to ensure that you stand the test of time ... and to take you "higher" in the longterm. Make a list of the ways in which current painful circumstances may be doing you some good for that long-term.

God’s Turn

God is one who gives both affection and corrective discipline as He sees fit (Zephaniah 3:17; Revelation 3:19). Make the emotional commitment to open your heart to both (Job 2:10).

*************************************
If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Metaphor of Light

(We) don’t see light; we see what it touches. It is more or less invisible, made from nothing, just purposed and focused energy, infinite in its power (if fired into a vacuum, it will go on forever). How fitting then for God to create an existence, then a metaphor, as if to say, here is something entirely unlike you, outside of time (since light is faster than time), infinite in its power and thrust: here is something you cannot understand. Throughout the remainder of the Bible, God calls Himself light.

- Donald Miller in Through Painted Deserts

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

All This Talk of "Sin"

I guess all this talk of sin, when I read back over it, sounds a little harsh in light of the topic I started talking about: refreshing our relationship with God or recapturing our spiritual passion. You - like me - may have sat through year after year of harsh sermons, demanding people repent from their "hidden sin" (whatever that is), as if the preacher knows exactly goes on in the minds and bedrooms of all his parishioners, as if his church is so full of sinners, there's no one who can hold their head up high.

I feel like I've started to sound like this is the series I'm posting. The difficulty is (& of course I'm interested in your thoughts): how do we talk about our lack of ability to do what's right or even what's healthy without using it, especially when we want to maintain a biblical worldview?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

After Bathsheba 2.2: David Accepts Responsibility

If you have been reading 2 Samuel 12 along with this thread of posts, you may have choked a little on verse 13.

It seems David’s simple “sorry” is a little too effortless to earn the instant pardon it gains. On the face of it, it’s a lame response. It’s not until we read Psalm 51 that we understand the depth of David’s actual grief over the situation.

His was a deep regret, a dam bursting inside him as his remorse spilled out on to the page. He neither could nor would make excuses. He would no longer cover up this sin because essentially David’s values were based on righteousness. He had wandered from those values but he was now coming back to what he was at his core: a man who wanted God and wanted a life that made God happy.

Ed Cole once said, “Maturity begins with the acceptance of responsibility”.

In our society, we have a legal and political system built on the avoidance of responsibility. The employer is negligent but fights the worker’s claim for compensation for work-related injuries. The woman sues the shopping centre when the real reason she tripped over a display stand was because she wasn’t watching where she was going. The politician blames the people in government before her or someone on her staff. The school parents blame the school for not teaching their children self-discipline. The child abuser blames his parents for his sin when he could have sought help to stop him from committing it.

When King David accepted the full responsibility for the situation he had created, he showed us what he was made of. Like a 21st Century man, he could have blamed Bathsheba: “What right did she have to be taking a bath up there at that time of day when anyone could see her?!” He could have blamed his humanity: "What d'you expect? I'm only hunan!" He could have blamed God: “If only God had made me stronger in this area! And if you had warned me, Lord, this wouldn’t have happened! Where was Nathan the Prophet on that day, huh?!”

Instead he admitted, “I have sinned.”

Again in Psalm 51, we see the depth of his heartfelt repentance. He pleads for God’s help even as he determines to make the necessary changes to his lifestyle.

My life has been empty without that sense of being on the right footing with God. Now. Am I prepared to admit my fault? Can I swallow my pride, avoid shifting the blame on to others, refuse to make excuses and admit that the drift from God started with my own decisions and behaviours? It's probably not going to require that I "repent in sackcloth and ashes" :) (And what the heck IS sackcloth anyhow?); it's probably just a matter of saying "Yeah, I messed up. Mea culpa. I take responsibility".

If I can, I'm heading in the right direction.

Once David admits that the situation is a result of his choices and that he is prepared to change, he is ready to move onto the next step...


Your Turn:
  1. Take time to reflect on your situation, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal "sin" and the choices which lead you to this place. Think back to the behaviours and attitudes that lead you away from passion for Him.

  2. Read and "relive" the accounts of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Read Romans 6. Ask yourself: In what ways is the life I’m living not worth the death that Jesus died? Write these matters down.
  3. Ask God for forgiveness where necessary.

  4. Forgive yourself and let any guilt go. It is nailed to the Cross and God will remember it no more. The slate is clean. This is not an excuse for beating yourself up, pilgrim!

God’s Turn:

Spend time meditating on the mercy and kindness of God. Sing to Him. Find Psalms that underline His forgiveness and compassion. Remind yourself that God’s primary motivation is to bring you close to Himself, and so He does not use your past mistakes in a petty way to keep you feeling guilty and in debt to Him. Allow Him to love you again.

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If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

After Bathsheba 2.1: David Accepts Responsibility

“I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sam 12:13)


So we were talking about David coming to his senses after Bathshebagate (someone else's idea, not mine) - and realising (particularly in Ps 51) the profound distance from God he'd travelled. And we were personalising this whole distance-from-God-experience...
To change, we must take responsibility as David did in the quote above. To begin taking responsibility, the first thing we must recognize is the behaviour and attitudes which have done the separating, so that we can change/undo them.

Now, you might say, “Well, he may have sinned but I haven’t! I just feel far from God.”
I'm gonna make a statement here (one I'm happy to discuss rather than invoke as Absolute Truth) : there is no separation from God without sin being involved somewhere.
Some of us are highly aware of the sins that have moved us away from intimacy with God. It may be adultery (the physical adultery of an affair or the ongoing mental adultery of a pornography addiction). It may be actual manslaughter (I personally know 2 men guilty of this) or the murder of others’ reputations through gossip and backstabbing.
It may be habitual lying (which can simply be hiding the truth), or the slow death of your passion through neglecting the health of your relationship with God or compromise.
This last one – compromise - is the most insidious and doesn’t often appear to be what it is. The book of Hebrews actually calls it the sin of “neglect”: “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away from it … how shall we escape (judgement) if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb 2:1, 3 NRSV)
If I neglect my garden, it gets full of weeds. If I neglect my car, it gets run down and may break down. If I neglect my wife, the relationship suffers. So why should it surprise me that if I neglect my soul (and when I neglect God himself, I do neglect the health of my spirit and soul), I will drift, will grow hardhearted and risk losing everything God has offered me
You may not have committed adultery or been caught up in a gambling addiction, so there seems no obvious sin involved in your drifting away. But did you let other things stop you from drawing aside to spend personal regular time-out with God? Did you find another book more interesting than the Bible and never came back to your regular study of the Word? Did your hunger for affluence mean that you spent more time at work and less time meeting the needs of others on God’s behalf? Did seeking to please God in worship become an option rather than an integral part of your week? Did your career or your degree become more important than God’s call on your life to make disciples? Did building up your public image take priority over representing Jesus to your community?
Drawing back from God to pursue other things is a form of sin (Luke 9:62; Heb 10:36-39; 1 John 1:15-16). Believe me, I don't like thought any more than you do, but there it is in scripture.
A dear older sister in the Lord who has lead many to Christ over the decades, once told me that whenever she is leading someone through a sinner’s prayer, she makes them stop and remember their sins. Once they have paused and contemplated their actions and they are truly convicted of their seriousness, only then are they ready to move on to repenting of them. It’s a practise we could learn from personally.
As a first step back toward God, King David freely admits his sin. I'll pick this up in the next post. And wrap this first of David's steps back to God - taking responsibility for his behaviour. As always I'm interested in your thoughts...

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If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunaely, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Saturday, June 2, 2007

After Bathsheba 1.1: David's Returning to Intimacy with God





“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit.” (Ps 51:10-12)

The story of David and Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is a familiar one to most of us. Even so, to get the most out of this, you might want to pause and read it again now. Over the centuries, so many valuable lessons and principles have been drawn from this tale, making it a favourite choice for preachers and teachers, playwrights and poets.


One of the reasons it seems such a popular choice is that it makes David a kind of “everyman” – filled with noble potential, yet handicapped by the flaws of a base nature. The story makes him a more accessible personality to us than does, say, the story of his slaying Goliath with a pebble. I find it difficult to identify with a hero. However, I can easily relate to a man who shoves aside his morality for a moment in order to act out a selfish impulse – and who then finds himself paying dearly for it for years to come.


Through his failure, David came to experience what many of us are experiencing today: a loss of spiritual cohesiveness, a loss of purpose and direction as a servant of Yahweh, a loss of intimacy with God. This king’s slide began with that deadly forerunner to most periods of moral decline and increasing hard-heartedness – compromise.


With that second look across the rooftop at the bathing beauty, he entered the darkest time of his spiritual life – darker than the dry years hiding from Saul, darker than the decades spent awaiting God’s promise of coronation. We can discover this is true by comparing Psalm 51 (coming at the end of the Bathsheba episode) with his writings from those earlier periods such as Psalms 34 and 54. The despair and agony David felt as a result of his slide down the slippery slope of sin far outweigh the suffering of persecution for being loyal to God’s directives. For the simple reason that he was now separated from the very Person to whom he had been able to turn during those other seasons.


In Psalm 51, David is brought face to face with the reality of his situation. For him the fire he felt in his youth has gone out. He is no longer passionate about the Lord. Instead he feels distant from Him and is fearful that this will continue indefinitely, perhaps forever. If you are reading this post, you may feel the same way though you haven't done all the naughty things that David did. You may not have committed murder and adultery, yet the place in which you find yourself may be just as spiritually cold and dry and empty as it was for him.


We can see that the foremost thing in David’s mind was his relationship with God. How so we know that? Look at Ps 51:4,


“Against You and You only have I sinned…”



Now this is where I stop and say "Pardon, David? say what?? What about Uriah? What about Bathsheba? What about the nation that looked up to you? What about the sons whose picture of manhood and kingly conduct is now soiled because of your example? How can you say you have sinned against God alone?"


If David could answer me I’m sure his reply would reflect a single principle that operated in his life: the health of every other aspect of living flows from one’s relationship to God and with God. Perhaps we can only truly obey Jesus’ “second greatest commandment” (love your neighbour) if we obey the first (love the Lord your God)?


Therefore (in his recovery from his "fall"), this man was solely concerned with the person God. He was primarily aware of the offence he had now become to his Lord, the separation he had created between them, the way he had relegated the most important Person in his world to an historical position while he indulged in a fleeting moment of self-pleasure.


How did David regain that intimacy with God as well as his passion for God’s cause? Several years ago, I felt like I discovered four steps in the story, not a formula, but a pattern. Although I may describe them differently here, a study of 2 Samuel 12 essentially reveals four principles that fall into the categories of repentance, restitution, motivation and rightful position. As we read our way through each of the steps he took, it will require you to be open minded and honest with God before you can personally move through any of them yourself. At the end of some of my posts, the teacher and coach in me will assert itself, and there'll be some exercises for you to do to explore these principles in your own life. I would strongly encourage you to take each of these seriously, spending as long as you need in completing them, before moving on to the next chapters. If it takes weeks, so be it! I don’t believe the process was instantaneous for David either.


So, journals out...


Your Turn:



  1. Where do you feel like God has been relegated to an "historical position" in your life?


  2. On an increasing scale of 1-10, how high is your commitment to being open-minded and honest before God? (If your score is lower than 10, what would it take to bring it up to 10?)


  3. How much effort are you prepared to make at this stage?


  4. If you were to write your own request to God (as David did in Ps51:10-12), what would it be?

God’s Turn:


Present your request for help to God.


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If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

When the Fire's Gone...

Imagine the following scene: Cheryl has been given the honour of carrying the Olympic torch for part of its journey around the world prior to the Games. The flame is passed to her and she runs, the crowd cheers, her heart is full of pride that this is her moment. But somehow the flame goes out!

Still she runs, shrugging her shoulders. After all she still has the torch! But now the crowd has stopped cheering and are looking at her perplexed. She holds the torch higher hoping it will renew their cheering but ... nothing.

It is the flame that's important, not the torch. It's so easy to live our life like that: carrying the torch of a Christian identity, but missing the very flame that gives it its meaning and its poignancy.

I dwell a lot on the ups and downs of life, of Kingdom-living, of spirituality and motivation. There's been so many times when it felt like the fire was gone. The fire of God's presence, of my resolve, my spiritual passion, my love for God and for the Mission...

The thought for this stream of posts (Relighting the Fire) stems from an invitation (one issued often in the past 20 years by God's Spirit to Yours Truly): to revive that profound spiritual ardour that has perhaps waned - even died …

It's (I hope) also going to be an invitation to go beyond the passion you used to have for God or the level of intimacy you think you want and to explore the undiscovered territory where Jesus Himself intended to lead you when He first said to you: “Follow me.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Matthew 5:23-26

I was reading this passage (get it out and read it; I'm not typing the whole thing in here!) and felt that God was speaking to the lazy pentecostal in me...

The message was: You don't fix things with God as a way of avoiding fixing it with the human involved.

The new faith is that relationships with people are far more important than religious practise. In fact, they ARE spirituality in many ways. Forget your pious prayers and recommitments, Pete. Go make things right with the one you wounded...

Blahs

The struggle of all disciples of Christ: “God’s in my world (or soul) and so is blah and blah and blah and blah. I wish one of the blah’s weren’t there. Then there would be more room for God and for me to concentrate on Him.”

But the times when I actively invite God Jesus the Spirit into ALL of it, interesting things happen. It coalesces, sometimes changes happen instantly (and sometimes they require a new campaign of metanoia, repentant action), I don’t feel so bad about myself.

Then the wheel turns and I shoulder him out of it again and on it goes.

We compartmentalise things constantly; it’s a human predisposition: maybe if we saw that we can't actually shoulder God out. Once we're His, we're His and He's always loving, always prodding, always challenging, always providing ... maybe we'd get over ourselves and just live with Him...