Saturday, 1 April 2017

Worship First

The people start to return back from exile. They assemble in Jerusalem and see the ruins, as captured in Ezra chapter 3. On coming together the first thing they do is sacrifice offerings, bringing their worship to God - picking up again a God ordained sense of celebration.

This is done without the foundation of the temple yet being (re-)laid. In other words, their first instinct is to worship. Temple in ruins - no matter. Barely one stone standing square on another - give to God in any case. Exposed to the outdoor weather - still worship anyway.

These returners had it correct: worship first no matter the circumstances. With the semblance of an altar they were able to bring their offering and open their hearts to God. You see we don't need super-smooth finished buildings to worship, nor dare I say the latest whizz-bang equipment. Just a realisation that God is God, we are not, and He is to be worshipped! That will do, that gets us started.

Whatever is set in our minds to do, be it great or small ... worship first. Do it regardless of the circumstances around you.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Witness to Freedom

Recently someone asked me the classic 'How much should I give?' question, pondering the just as classic 'ten percent tithe' approach. I think there is a simple answer:

Make it your habit to give generously, even extravagantly, as the Spirit liberates you.

If you are sitting there calculating, then you probably haven't found a liberty in the Spirit that is surely possible to discover. People seem to think that it is a percentage of their income, yet many of us in the West enjoy an excess so why not give generously from that excess and live off just what you need? For some with ample means that may translate to keeping 10% and giving 90! Again it is not the percentages that are the point, but your Spirit-enabled ability to image God's generosity in your own life.

Proverbs chapter 3 verse 28 tells you to give to your neighbour straight away rather than delay, so a further principle is to give promptly as soon as you have the money at your disposal. So if, for example, you are made redundant and receive a lump sum - then given generously from that as soon as you have received it and allow yourself to trust God for your own ongoing means.

Adopting this simplicity witnesses to the freedom that comes in becoming a follower of Jesus. You are not taking up adherence to rules, percentages or the like, but discovering the enabling liberty that God always intended. Your attitudes to these things, and the habits you adopt to work them out in practice, will be directly linked to this freedom.

It surprised me afresh that when Noah dis-embarked from the boat the first thing he did was worship through animal sacrifice. He did not calculate or hoard - for if he had then surely he would have kept the animals 'just in case'. No - he worshipped and freely gave them up, trusting in God for the outcome in the long term.

Find the same ability to 'give up' in worship, and witness to freedom!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Snares and the risk of Ministry Trophies

Gideon does pretty well in his story in Judges. The Lord reveals to him his commissioning, which he takes on. When the Midianites up the ante, Gideon does some discerning to be sure and then goes off to do battle. He allows his army to be whittled down, understanding that it is God's strength that will win through rather the raw military might.

Co-operating with the Spirit's lead he goes into battle and wins victory, and then goes on to mop up a few others. Blood and gore aside, Gideon is the victor that the people now look to as their leader. Gideon refuses this again understanding that the people should be a theocracy, ruled by God, rather than having any human king. All good for Gideon!

There is just one flaw though. Gideon asks for a wee share of the plunder. In itself surely not a big deal - they all took some plunder and that was okay right? Yet Gideon turns his gold into an ephod which became a religious symbol and object of worship. We are told the people worshipped it and it became a snare to Gideon and his family (Judges 8:27).

Now Gideon lived long and prosperous, but the ephod thing was unhealthy for him and all the people. How easy is it for us to inadvertently collect ministry trophies, which might become a snare to us? We don't need to say that we can never celebrate victory or success, but we must recognise that the line between God given success and something that actually replaces God in our worship is so very thin.

If in doubt, don't cast an ephod!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The saddest verse in the Bible?

We all have our favourite verses in the Bible. I bet you could quote yours straight away. But do we stop to think what hits us as the saddest verse? Each year, when in Exodus, I can't help lamenting when I get to Exodus 20 verse 19.

Moses has his first mountaintop experiences and the people are called to gather to share in it, at least in part. Back in chapter 19 they were to prepare and then approach to a certain limit, keeping a respectful distance because God was going to come down among them. It was a quite a deal, with thunder, lightning and trembling!

Moses gets to enter, the rest stay back. Later Aaron is called up too. We then get the ten commandments spelt out, before returning to the thunder and lightning scenes (at 20:18). The people are now trembling with fear. Sensibly they stay at a distance, but then they say to Moses 'Speak to us yourself ... do not let God speak to us or we will die'.

How sad is that? The caution is sensible, a sense of 'holy' fear is appropriate, but to be so fearful that you shrink back from having God speak to you seems to me to be a great sadness. I am convinced it is not what God wanted, even with the limitations of the unholy approaching a holy God.

Surely God wants to call us out and speak with us direct, as in the Genesis garden scene (even after the fall) and so many times since. For the whole people to be a prophetic nation, wouldn't it be better for them all to learn to listen to His voice and go with His directives?

To be a prophetic people today in contemporary society, we too must rise above the wrong kind of fear and be pleased to hear His voice directly, knowing and declaring His voice ... and encouraging others that they too can be included in the same privilege.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Embracing OIKOS

There can be something special when families come together. Very special. Perhaps you had that experience at Christmas with relatives? It can also be an experience we can nurture and benefit from as churches. It can also be both a base and place for mission.

The Greek word 'oikos' basically means house, home or household. It crops up in the New Testament a few times, sometimes literally meaning a house or family. Most likely a household would not be the "couple + 2.4 kids" we have today, but a larger unit with a granny, perhaps an uncle or two and possibly even others!

In 1 Corinthians we see how Christians like Paul may have started to re-use the word as some kind of unit of church. In chapter 16 Aquila & Priscilla have a church in their house (using the 'oikos' word). In chapter 1 some 'from Chloe' are mentioned. Whilst the word 'oikos' is not used here, some read the Greek text as shorthand and translate it as "Chloe's household", which might not be her biological family but rather people in her church unit.

Presumably young and old met, ate, worshipped and learnt together. As in any good extended family, young and old can not only learn together but learn from each other. Since God calls us into radical community, and Jesus talked about 'little ones such as these', it is not hard to see how these family principles should usefully translate across.

An extended family (oikos) unit also has a greater resilience - the diversity and range of people can pull together to overcome the suffering of an individual amongst its number. And with radical discipleship taken on by its members it will look outwards, being a base for mission. Different members may be involved in different mission initiatives, or the whole family may adopt & own a project together. Their support and base learning can be provided by the household unit, fuelling them for their mission.

And of course such community will be counter-cultural and attractive in its own right, making the extended family (oikos) unit not only a base for mission, or potentially also a place for mission - as others are invited & attracted in, taking their first steps towards and with Jesus.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Belt Up

Get a sturdy belt, fasten it around your waist, walk out in confidence. The belt keeps your clothes together, things in place, enabling you to stand fast.

Paul advised wearing the 'belt of truth' (Ephesians 6) - the sure knowledge of God and Lordship of Jesus to hold it all together as you stand and go out. Get centred on Him and then add the rest of the armor around you.

The promised Anointed One himself was to go out with righteousness as his belt (Isaiah 11), together with faithfulness as a sash. Truth and Right naturally associate - you cannot have right living without being based on the truth, and you cannot be properly fastened in the truth without then desiring to live right.

Yet Jeremiah is told to buy a linen belt (chapter 13). He was to wear it - around the waist as normal. Yet then he was to take it off, to hide it away. Later it was to be dug up again, where it would be discovered to be ruined, useless, not fit for purpose.

For Jeremiah and his audience this was to be a picture: Even a whole people can metaphorically belt up - be usefully and purposefully bound together with the truth of God. Properly belted up the people collectively would be able to stand tall and confident, secure in Him. This would be a positive example, a people to be like, a nation whose ways are those for others to aspire to. The spin-off of such example would lead others to God, bring praise and honour to Him.

Yet if those people abandon their fastening to the truth of God, if they let it drop and even hide it away ... then ruin naturally follows. The people will prove to not be fit for purpose, of no use.

Time to belt up ...

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Willing from the Outset

A desperate man, his life blighted, nowhere else to turn, one option left ... to beg before the man Jesus as he passes his way. This is the scene in Luke 5:12 - 13. The man famously asks 'If you are willing ...', and Jesus (just as famously) replies 'I am willing ...'.

But lets dig deeper. Why was Jesus willing? Was it the passion of the man, the emotion of his request? Were the appropriate heart-strings pulled in this, the right moment?

I believe not. I think it is because Jesus was about His Father's business (John 5:19), and He knew His Father was willing. Yet not just willing for this man in this moment ... but willing from the outset. This was his mission, to show, to declare, to act on God's willingness to heal and restore.

There may be times when our hurt translates into emotions bubbling over, so that we are passionately calling, even begging, for the outcome that we need. That is to be human. But we do not need to contrive such emotions, we do not need to work them up ... as if somehow they might tip a celestial balance and turn on the tap of willingness on the part of God.

No, that is not necessary, because God is willing ... and has been from the outset.