Friday, 22 November 2013

Zero Affirming People

One of the malaises that seems to be in our culture, and even in our churches, is a general lack of pro-active encouragement. It is possible for someone to serve whole-heartedly week in and week out with barely a sole giving the simplest thankyou for their effort. A minister might get thanked for their contribution, but many others may receive next to nothing.

I'm not sure if it is just part of this malaise or whether it is a deeper issue for certain characters, but I have also learnt that there are some who just never seem to offer any affirmation. Its not that they are impolite, they just don't take the opportunity to highlight the good that another person has done, or encourage them in some way. I'll call them 'Zero Affirming People', or 'ZAPs' for short.

Don't get me wrong. They may be nice people. Easy to get along with, active and whole-hearted in their own service. Yet they simply just don't go out of their way to affirm people - even when an opportunity is presented to them square on 'nothing' is the 'obvious something' that is forthcoming.

Paul demonstrates a different model. Note how many of his letters start by talking about giving thanks for the recipients. For the Thessalonians it is a repeated mantra (at least 3 times across the two letters). Paul seems to go out of his way to affirm people - praising God for them and letting them know that he is praising God for them.

To affirm is a godly thing to do. It is surely a required leadership characteristic too. For this reason I must conclude that ZAPs will not make good leaders.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Its God's Job to Establish the Leaders

Joshua's appearance in the exodus story seems to be as a tag-along-youth. Sticking with Moses he got to go up the mountain (Exodus 24), experiencing the presence of God. Even at that young age he became a key military leader, and was in the initial spy unit.

Decades later God instructs Moses to commission him for leadership beyond Moses' own time (Numbers 27). He gets plenty of encouragement to 'be strong and courageous', to take the Israelites forward into the promised land.

Yet God has an even greater thing in store - in Joshua 3:7 the Lords says he will begin to 'exalt' Joshua in the eyes of the people. This will truly confirm him as the successor to Moses (which would have been a hard act to follow!).

The commissioning and the establishment thus come from God. Its the job of the other leaders and the people in general to recognise that and affirm it.

So lets keep an eye out for those who are having a go at getting involved, and who are seeking with us God's presence. In time, God will affirm, establish, and show who He has invested with the 'spirit of leadership' (Numbers 27:18). Our job is to then go with that. From there it will be further works of God that confirms the thinking, enabling everyone to see and be confident in what God is doing through the emergent leader.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Church Isn't For You

This blog about marriage is going viral on Facebook at the moment. Its a great read, and makes an excellent point: marriage is about the person you married. Rather than self, marriage is an expression of giving oneself for another.

Talking about this today a wise colleague pointed out that the same concept should apply to church: Church isn't for you!

His thinking in a nutshell is that rather than joining a church for what you can get (the worship, the teaching, the fellowship with like-minded others etc.), it is about the person you are effectively marrying (i.e. Jesus) and his purposes.

Since Jesus' purposes are about the whole of humanity (in fact the whole of creation), that is going to mean you join the church for an outward focus: going out to the lost one rather than the ninety-nine etc. etc. Yes, the truth is church really isn't for you!

And as with the original marriage blog post there is the same paradox. As we spend ourselves for Jesus and his purposes the more we receive. Sure, there will be those times when we are net receivers. Certainly in those pre-wedding days of unbelief where your local church reaches out to you, which also extend into that early period of new faith and nurture.

Yet as you grow to love Jesus and his church you should transition to a new understanding of the body of believers around you: the church isn't for you!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Go on, read the whole thing

A good thing about the shorter epistles like Philippians is that you can read the whole letter in one go, since it doesn't take too long - even with the dense language of Paul.

Go on, give it a try. It will take like less than 20 minutes!

Pause while you read the letter ...

Now having read the whole thing rather than just a chunk or chapter, what is it really about?

The theme of unity and being 'like Christ-minded' runs through the whole letter - put your own interests in 2nd place, following Christ's example. There is also a clever inter-weaving of thanksgiving/rejoicing - with Christ as the focus rejoicing becomes the order of the day.

Now see the progression of 'therefores' and/or 'so thens'. Where do they ultimately lead?

Answer is 4:2, to pleading with Euodia and Syntyche to also be 'like Christ-minded' (same Greek words as 2:2, by the way). The unity affects the gospel work (the mission), and is the key issue. Though the letter is written to the city church, it builds to the unity of these two co-workers. Presumably their disagreement was affecting the whole church, and the mission of the church.

We can conclude that these women were prominent and important to the church and the gospel work. In other words they were leaders. Important enough for Paul to carefully write a letter with their relationship clearly in mind.

That puts Euodia and Syntyche effectively on a par with Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

Paul had various co-workers in the gospel work - they were both male and female. I would imagine that the church today would be the same ... if we take the trouble to read the whole deal, of course.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Non Segment Marketing

Advertisers are quite savvy at tuning their marketing to a specific audience. Aiming for a particular segment, they set their pitch accordingly in order to have greater effectiveness.

Although not really marketing, a number of Christians take a segmented approach to church related activities - seeing some parts of church life as 'for the Christians', and others as 'for those not in the church'. Curiously in the gospels there are several occasions where Jesus seems to take a broader or more fuzzy approach, where it is not really clear exactly who he is talking to (or aiming to talk to).

Look at and read forward from Luke 12:1. He began to speak first to his disciples, yet the large crowd was around. Where does the speech switch from speaking to the few devoted followers to the many? Just when you think you might have the answer verse 22 seems to reset things again.

Could it be that he worked with the smaller group but allowed others to listen in, being at peace with the fuzziness this implied? More of a non-segmented approach?

Now elsewhere Jesus clearly took his closest followers off, effectively on retreat, for special time just with them. As Christians we need that. But we should ask the question as to whether there are some activities that we do together which could in fact accommodate some by-standers, maybe at least those who we see as enquiring or searching with respect to the Christian faith.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Kenosis is the name of the game

In our Western culture Christian leadership runs the risk of being confused with the celebrity culture. Church size, ministry reach, and a host of other similar metrics usually make up a leader's bio when they are introduced to the conference platform or the like.

Ironically technology, despite its positives and fantastic utility, can contribute to this in a way that Paul (way ahead of his time) mocked in the beginning of 1 Corinthians (see 1:12). Which well known Christian leaders do you 'follow' on the blogosphere or via Twitter?

This one? Oh please ...

Paul's principle was the opposite. His metrics were the extent of his apparent failure plus generally being kicked around and despised: see 1:28f, 4:9-13 and 2 Cor 11:23f for examples of this recurring theme through the Corinthian message thread.

Paul's principle was that of Jesus Christ: 'kenosis', or self-emptying in English. Laying down that which you might normally or naturally grasp to, even to the point of being totally laid bare ... with only God who might raise you up again (Philippians 2:6-8).

Ask yourself: when was the the last time you heard a leader introduced as someone who has been radically humiliated or laid low in their pursuit of Christ and His service?

Yet that is the qualification of Christian leadership. Kenosis is the name of the game.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

For God's Sake Share Something

It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that as Christians in the UK we have effectively 'de-skilled' ourselves in terms of sharing God-related anecdotes with each other. They don't have to be mega events or wow-factor stories, just the simplest of observation would suffice. Sadly there seems to be a reluctance even to share with fellow believers - if we can't share with our brothers and sisters in Christ then what are our chances with those who don't believe?

Hebrews 3:13 exhorts us to encourage one another daily. Psalm 105:2 suggests the same, along with other verses that can be found in either testament.

Even today's secular field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) recognises the value of the regular practice of being grateful, suggesting taking time once a week to list even the smallest of things to be thankful for. The Bible writers were ahead of the times ...

But we need not assume we just have to tap into the power of positive thinking. If your week has been a disaster be honest and share that too: bring it before God just like the psalmists did (and the prophets, e.g. Jeremiah 20:14 !). Such honesty can also be good for mission too - our unbelieving friends need to know that our faith doesn't equate to plastic smiles but rather believes through struggle and the hard realities of life.

So go on, break the habit of 21st Century UK Christians and share the thankfulness for an event, something you have seen, or something you have heard. Go public!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Consumerism Consumes People

In the West we are now heavily programmed to consume. Whether it is food, clothing, or now electronic gadgets (laptops, tablets, phones) our way of life has lulled us into munching through these day upon day.

The problems with such consumption are many, but two to focus on here are the fact that it leads to 'de-humanising' of us all, and the process leads to consuming people. Unfair trade is now understood for many commodity food items, and is becoming understood regarding clothing. This article about working conditions in electronics manufacture sheds light on our supply of gadgets. Note some of the language used, such as 'human battery-farming system'.

In such a world people are no longer gifts to each other in relationship, but are objects of consumption - just like the gadgets themselves. All this is a far cry from the gospel, which celebrates the possibility of relationship for all humanity.

And that relationship has a solid basis - it is in the very nature of God. See how Peter recalls the majesty of Jesus, referring to the words heard from heaven: "This is my Son, whom I love" (2 Peter 1:17, recalling the transfiguration). The Father delights in the Son.

This is the model - for us to delight in each other.

Even if we were to achieve only a fraction of that kind of delight, it would not allow us to so blatantly consume our fellow human beings.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Long Range Prophecy

As you read the Old Testament a good practice is to keep an eye out for clues that link up with the New, or for concepts/thoughts/commands that New Testament writers (or commonly Jesus himself) then pick up on. It keeps you on your toes, and shows you that there is a trajectory, a greater deal going on all the time.

One such example is Jacob's blessing to his children, who will form the twelve tribal heads of Israel. Genesis 49 has this discourse, and much of it appears pretty random.

Yet look at the deal for Judah (verses 8-13). Out of Judah will be a ruler, extending across the family and outwards to nations. The whole 'lion of Judah' thing is here, coupled with an everlasting reign (v10).

And more! A sense of an ultimate one - King of the nations.

All sounds glorious ... yet washing garments in wine, robes in blood of grapes. Symbolic language here, but with hindsight we can see the connection: his own blood, then to be recalled through communion wine ... new wine of the Kingdom of God.

Jacob is giving a long range prophecy - pointing to King David, David's line, even to an ultimate King who's sanctification involves an extraordinary event and ritual.

Long range prophecy at its best!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Mission will mean getting upset

This week I have done the Live Below the Line challenge: £1 per person per day for food & drink for 5 days.  I did it partly for my own education, partly because I challenged my congregation to do it, but mostly to identify in some small way with the over 1 billion people who do not have the choice in the matter.

The day after, my system getting back to normal, I watched this film about the IF campaign - also on the subject of world hunger. At the end I found myself emotionally fatigued and crying. Not just because of the issue of world hunger, but also because of the broken people I had directly worked with and prayed for in the week.

That is the risk of identifying with people, and getting in amongst them (being incarnational, to use the technical jargon): we will get upset. God's mission cannot be done in a safe detached bubble - it gets alongside, it exposes, it shares the anguish.

Jesus did no less: Philippians 2:6f Jesus came among us, got alongside, exposed himself to the risks, shared the anguish (Jesus wept, longed for Jerusalem etc.). Mission will mean getting upset.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Mums are important too

Its easy to read the Old Testament as purely patriarchal: its about the blokes, who perform most of the action, and take just about all the key roles. I've even heard people cite the female leaders as 'unexplained exceptions' to an otherwise male-only rule.

Yes, there is lots of 'son of X', 'father of Y' kind of language throughout. The genealogies are basically male-lineage based - though look carefully and various women are mentioned even in these listings.

Read 2 Chronicles. From Rehoboam onwards just about each king has his mother's name specifically mentioned - in most cases part of the introductory formula used to usher in the next part of the story.

In other words the mums are important too. Yes Jewish reckoning goes by the male line, but for the dynasty of king David the female lineage must also be factored in.

God created male and female. Paul recognised the inter-dependence (see 1 Cor 11:11-12). The Old Testament bears this out.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Effort is in the Waiting

Most of us know the story of the fall of Jericho (Joshua 6). The marching round for 7 days, and 7 times on the seventh day. Then a big shout, loads of noise, and the walls come down. The city is destroyed, victory is won, the obstacle of Jericho is removed.

A great military victory.

But where was the real effort put in? In the attack, in rushing in to destroy?

None of these: instead it went in to the quiet waiting (relatively - a few trumpets at the head of the procession) and marching around in circles. First for 6 days, and then on the seventh day (when anticipation must have been at bursting point) another 6 times of just plain and simple round and round walks.

Few of us want to do this waiting business - it feels like we are just going round in circles, not achieving anything. For us it takes effort!

Yet the effort is worth it. After waiting patiently on God the time to make a noise and to head towards your goal does come. God prepares the way, crumbling away the blocks that stood in the way, and His purposes can be achieved. Yes at that moment physical effort will be put in (no doubt fighting with swords etc.) ... but the real effort was in waiting on God in the first place.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Intrinsic Power of Proclaimed Worship

These two posts (one and two) urge us to view our whole lives as worship - through what we do, who we are, and how we perceive things. Such a life goes in tandem with direct 'proclaiming' worship, be that in speaking out words or in song.

2 Chronicles 20 is a wonderful example of this. Faced with dire trouble the people collectively seek God in v4-13 (as an aside, note the 'all-age' nature of this in v13!). An encouraging prophecy is given (always good!) v15-17.

This leads to a specific act of worship: all the people using their bodies (a falling on the ground thing - can we reserved Brits learn anything from this?). Some loud voice stuff is thrown in too for good measure.

And then the next morning the army goes out to fight. As well as some 'Ra-Ra encouraging word from leader' type stuff the king makes one other strategic move: he gets people to sing God's praises as they make their journey (v21).

Look what happens as they sing (i.e. the direct 'proclaiming' kind of worship) - v22f. The enemy is self-defeated before the Israelites even get there!

There is intrinsic power in proclaimed worship: when people deliberately and purposefully speak/sing out God's praises, direct from their contrite worshipping hearts. Let us not forget that.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Let's Not Be Age-ist

In the ups and downs of successive kings of Judah Asa very much looks like one of the good guys. He reforms things, gets an encouraging prophecy (see 2 Chronicles 15) and seems to get on with the job.

It seems only right doesn't it - as he progresses in age, gaining maturity and wisdom, surely he can command due respect from the people. Getting the nation's corporate faith back on track is good reason for everyone to honour his decisions and follow his leading.

He has done good, he is older and wiser => he must always be respected.

Yet in his later years, when he was getting on a bit, he seems to lose the plot. In obtaining the aid of the king of Aram he seems to forget that the Lord is his help.

One guy stands against him in this (see 16:7). How hard it must have been to criticise, or even be seen to be criticising. Everything, even everyone else around would probably have just gone with the age+past-track-record predicate.

But let's not be age-ist. Everyone of us is capable of getting it wrong, of veering from proper commitment to God's ways. Age and accrued wisdom do not insulate us from this possibility. An old person can mess up, a young person can be genuinely inspired by the Spirit.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Trust God for Resources Whenever and Wherever Needed

Through 1 Chronicles chapters 11 to 20 David and his warriors win many military victories. Each time God goes with them and gives them the victory they need. There is never any question of resources - whatever the odds, God sees them through. Note also how on the whole such campaigns are defensive, with the fights largely provoked by the neighbouring enemy kings.

Yet in chapter 21 David does a foolish thing, and commands a count be taken to assess the size of his army. What is David doing? Maybe he now wants to switch to a more offensive mode, and checks his resources for the task? One way or the other he shows a lack of trust in God for ongoing provision. Rather than experiencing God's provision month on month where and when he needs it, he now prefers to do his own resource management.

From this episode you get the 3 days of plague, but God has mercy bring a halt at the threshing floor of Araunah (v15). This becomes the location of the altar and eventually the temple to which the whole of Israel will be drawn to worship and meet with God (22:1).

So the meeting place with God has its roots in David's lack of trust in God's provision - his sin. Wonderful though the temple became, and extraordinary as a focal point for meeting God, the fact is its location was born out of a man of God who failed to appreciate that God could be trusted for the right resources whenever and wherever they would be needed.

From that point on people might travel miles to try and meet with God, forgetting that out in the heat of battle God can be there to meet the needs that present themselves.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Leadership and Authority

What is your view of leadership and authority?

Now compare it to the Biblical view - especially that found in Jesus and the rest of the New Testament?

Now try and square typical 'roles' in church life and leadership (as you have previously understood them) with your latest thinking ...

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Why does God allow the hiccup?

Ezra starts magnificently. God is in the restoration business, and is able to do it through Cyrus - a foreign king. Even better that king acknowledges God for himself. Its a great moment.

The rebuilding work gets started, the people seek God by re-starting the sacrifices. There is a long way to go until the temple is rebuilt, but things are definitely looking up.

So why, in chapter 4, are things brought to a halt by opposition? Why can't God over-rule the subsequent kings and ensure things keep going (as indeed seems to happen eventually when king Darius comes to power)? Why does God allow the hiccup?

The text gives us no answers. Presumably God has His reasons.

Sometimes things seem to get stalled, or have spanners inserted in the works, for no obvious reason. Not much more can be said.

Monday, 29 April 2013

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

In the middle of Matthew's gospel a few things seem to get repeated. One of them is Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' - it crops up in both chapters 9 and 12.On both occasions Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees - they have not learnt, not understood. They have missed the point Big Time.

Sacrifices, by definition, should cost us. Yet it is possible to do sacrifices in a detached way. Somehow compartmentalised, off in a corner of our lives. Also they can become the focus, the main thing, some kind of 'conscience resolver' instead of paying attention to what God is really saying. Yes sacrifices might technically cost us, but in reality could be worthless.

Instead God desires from us mercy, just as He is merciful. Mercy is bigger than sacrifice because it cannot be detached - it has to get alongside and face the world as it really is. It will include sacrifice, but cannot be confined to the corner.

We can make rules, regulations, systems of thought that (theoretically) protect and keep us in the right - but that is not the way of God! No, God reaches out into the mess of the world for the possibility that some may be helped and saved. That is mercy, that is sacrifice on steroids. That is the way of Jesus, that is to be our way too.

So let us learn what it means ...

Friday, 19 April 2013

Pressing Into the Wind

Yesterday was windy. I mean really windy. Walking down by the river you had to physically struggle just to move forwards, because the wind against you was so strong.

When it comes to global poverty and injustice we are spiritually in a very similar scenario. The wind represents oppressive forces that make forward progress a definite struggle. Yet struggle we must - summoning our resources and concentrating them to ensure we can step the next foot in front of the other, combating the wind every step of the way.

Campaigns like Enough Food IF draw our attention and remind us of the global-political dimension. Yet of course each of us must contribute our own personal response, seeking to change the winds so that political will can get on board with what needs to be done.

It seems to me to be no accident that in Isaiah chapters 58 & 59, which talk of social justice issues so prominently, that the foundation verse of spiritual armour appears in 59:17 (cf the classic Ephesians 6 passage). For sure combating global poverty and injustice is a spiritual issue, which requires spiritual armour in order to be able to make a proper stand and push forward.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Look for God even in the insult!

It doesn't all go well for King David. His own son rebels against him, causing him to get out of town in a hurry. To add insult to injury, some nutter comes out to pelt David and his men with stones and curses (see 2 Samuel 16:5f).

Of course David has his bodyguard, who figure that a single blow with their sword will sort out this mouse-with-megaphone kind of opposition. Yet David will not let that happen. Curiously in v10 David figures that God might even be 'in' the cursing.

Now none of us like insults, and I'm sure it was most unpleasant for David. Yet we can learn from David's response: that somehow even in the insult, even in the unwarranted attack, God could possibly be at work.  Secondly David would rather quietly keep on his path and trust God for vindication (v12). David knows he cannot take anything for granted, but must rely on God at his every step.

So as leaders let us keep an ear open to what our opponents are saying. If we think we are on the right path, then let us humbly stick to it without feeling we must strike back, since if we are still in line with God's anointing we can trust that he will eventually vindicate our stance.

By not striking back David left the way open for Shimei to repent: see 19:18f. The onlookers can't cope, but David can offer grace. His stance has won through, he is vindicated, relationships are restored.

Friday, 5 April 2013

We Need Each Other

It doesn't take Saul long to get himself into trouble. 1 Samuel 13 sees his kingship curtailed, a far cry compared to the commissioning of chapter 10.

You might wonder what was such a big deal, especially with the understanding of 'priesthood of all believers' that we have today. Yet the 'all believers' concept does not equate to setting yourself up as a 'one man band', taking all authority and responsibility onto your own shoulders. Saul wanted to seek God - that's good. Yet that easily became perverted into thinking 'if I perform such n such a ritual, then surely will be well'. It wasn't - he put himself above the companion-discernment that Samuel would give, and asserted himself into a 'I can do it all' kind of position.

The plain fact is this: no matter how much responsibility we are given, how much we are lifted into an exalted leadership position, we still need the gifting, spirituality, and counsel of other people. This will keep us grounded, and help avoid our own self-exaltation beyond that which is appropriate.

We need each other.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Big things at stake

This week, being Easter week, we focus on the cross. We contemplate afresh what it means for each of us individually. In many places silence will be kept, and words will be shared to help us think it through once again, and allow the reality of it to rend our hearts anew.

As we do this as individuals, let us not lose sight of the bigger picture. The point of going to the cross was not just about redeeming a (hopefully growing) collection of individuals plucked out of humanity through all time, but it had a much much greater perspective.

To call it 'global' does not do justice. Yes global in the sense of being available to everyone everywhere, but more accurately it is 'cosmic', affecting every thing everywhere - including things unseen. The cross and resurrection has a political dimension, affecting power in all its forms: explicit and behind the scenes stuff.

Paul sums it up in Col 2:15. Having talked about redemption for believers in v14, he leaps straight into the cosmic. Authorities and powers are disarmed, a public spectacle. This is the achievement of the cross. Far bigger, far more wide ranging, far more effective than we probably can ever contemplate. But a reality nevertheless - one that as Christians we are to get used to, and get on board with.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Jesus, will you make your mind up please? II

In my last post we saw how Jesus seemed to fluctuate between going out wide looking for those far off, and narrowing, suggesting only those prepared for the hardship will be able to stick it out. One might be forgiven for asking whether Jesus could make his mind up, and choose one or the other.

Yet the two go together - especially for those commissioned for his service. Thats because going out is going to cost, and the cost will run deep. It will require a generous spirit (hence the shrewd manager parable), and working counter to the prevailing culture. This will not be an easy ride, and one that you cannot just take for granted.

Its certainly leaves no room for thinking 'well I've got the (traditional) badge, so I'm in', as the listening Pharisees may have assumed. Hence the conundrum that Jesus will seek the lost far & wide, while others who thought they were 'in' anyway may well need to think again.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Jesus, will you make your mind up please?

Sometimes the ongoing sequence of what Jesus says to those around him can be just plain confusing. Take Luke chapters 13 to 16 for example. From 13:18 Jesus talks about the growth of the Kingdom, introduced by the previous example of healing a crippled woman. Yet in v22 he starts going on about a 'narrow' door, obstructing 'many'.

A little later in chapter 14 the scope widens again: a dinner party gives Jesus the setting to explain the concept of inviting widely, bringing in all kinds of people. In turn this leads to the parable of the great banquet, repeating the concept.

Sounds good doesn't it, but then in v25 when large crowds have accumulated Jesus then seems to actively put them off. The cost will be high - implication being don't bother if you are not up for it. We are back into a narrowing phase.

But then again, come chapter 15 it is all going out to find the lost and those far from God with the trio of lost sheep/coin/son. Hasn't Jesus just done another u-turn?

Then in chapter 16 the pendulum swings yet again, with the shrewd manager plus additional teachings suggesting that it is not a simple free-for-all.

So Jesus, which is it? Go out far and long with a wide open invite, or narrow the field?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Not Taking the Human Route

Abraham and Sarah, both convinced they are past it, can't see how God can fulfil His promise that they would have a son through which a great nation will be built and blessing to many will come. They are on board with the promises sure enough, but can't see how it might work out at ground level.

So Sarah suggests a plan B (Genesis 16), and Abraham obliges. It produces a son sure enough, but it wasn't what God had in mind. Anxst and upset follows, yet note how God still brings blessing through this thoroughly human effort - God graciously accommodates to our works.

In Genesis 17 God repeats the covenant deal, and re-iterates the promise that Abraham would have a son by Sarah through which the full blessing would come. But Abraham still doesn't get it! Spiritually it remains a great promise, but as per verse 18 on ground level Abraham would still take the human route.

And that's often the problem for many of us. Many of us can get on board with the spiritual stuff, but in practice we still make human contingency plans. The full blessing of God, however, comes through His provision alone given supernaturally against normal odds. Our plans and efforts by comparison don't even come close.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Simply not a Commodity II

In my last post I remarked on Job's insight that wisdom is only found in God. As Job 28 makes clear, you can't buy it or simply search for it - it is not a commodity.

Whilst this is an important concept for our own walk with God, it has mission implications too. It reminds us that our primary task is leading people to God - and that is not a commodity that can simply be bought or sold. Just as in Acts 8:18-24 a guy Simon got it so wrong in thinking that the imparting of the Spirit could be purchased, we can easily get it wrong too.

The subtlety is that as witnesses/evangelists/ministers we run the danger of getting it wrong the other way round: i.e. not that we think we can 'buy it', but somehow behave as if it is 'for sale' in some way. Not necessarily by demanding/expecting money, but perhaps by implied loyalty to us or our work, or in any number of other behind the scenes ways (quite possibly un-intentionally).

Yet to lead someone to God, to enable them to find the wisdom that Job talks of, is to ultimately set them free - free of any shackles or ties that humanity-in-its-sinfulness might inadvertently subject people to. Yes, totally free - captive to none except the love of God through Christ.

So whatever method you use, whatever you expect of people as you lead them towards God's grace, do a double-take and make doubly sure that you really are not trying to trade in some commodity or other.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Simply not a commodity I

'Everyone can be bought', so they say. Certainly our society gives the impression that anything and everything can be purchased. Wealth and accumulation then becomes the norm, the never-satisfied goal of people at all levels of society.

Yet in the Bible the lament of a person who found himself sitting despairingly with next-to-nothing conveys some incredible faith and insight: words that swim against the tide of our relentless consumerism. Job in chapter 28, despite his conditions, despite the woe he keenly feels, still declares a truth that eludes many many others:

There is something that is simply not a commodity. Something that you cannot mine from the ground, extract from the surroundings, search for, refine, or obtain with any natural process. Nor can you buy it, no matter how rich you are or how well connected, or whatever merchants you can trade with - it will remain beyond your reach.

He talks of 'wisdom'. Some deny its existence - generally those who have a one-way ticket to the 'wrong place'! Indeed it is elusive. You can't simply look around or search high and low to find it.

The deal is that only God can lead you to it. Somehow our need for it is inextricably linked with creation itself - but you only find it in the creator, not the created.

Wisdom ... is found in God. End of.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Dig deeper wells

How deep do we go for our spiritual resources? When all seems arid and dry, are we left panting & despairing, or do we know deeper sources that can nourish us and enable us to continue?

A shallow spirituality will be thrown off course or simply give up easily by whatever difficultly turns up. Lets be clear - things to throw us will come: wobblies, issues, problems, maybe even downright confrontation. The point is how we deal with them, and that relates to the quality & depth of our spiritual plumbing system.

I was struck by Job. By chapter 16 things are really looking down, which given the circumstances is no surprise. Yet in the midst of the gloom Job still maintains a hope that surpasses those who have tried to come alongside him. In 17:10-16 he exhibits a deep conviction that hope can be maintained in God.

The 'comforters' paint negative images (e.g. chapter 15), with them all pointers start to point south. But for Job, resurrection is possible (14:14), along with redemption and forgiveness (14:16-17).

Our hope most not be just for the grave, but beyond it. As we increase our work, as we find ourselves doing more in mission, I believe we must learn to dig deeper wells to tap the depth of resources that we are going to need.

Its time to dig deeper wells.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Which Mountain?

Hebrews 12:18 - 24 makes a big contrast between two mountains. On the one hand there is the mountain on the desert journey. Access was restricted, only Moses could climb. The people, being unholy, had to keep their distance; there was fire, darkness and other pyro-technic effects to re-enforce the point.

The other mountain is God dwelling with people, already figuratively described in the prophets - the place where people could come to meet with God. It is accessible, it is a place of celebration, it is where God is with the people. Note that God is still described as 'Judge of all', and so presumably still requires holiness. Through Jesus bringing the new covenant holiness is now possible. Sacrifice and sprinkled blood feature on both mountains, but are in completely different leagues.

The author it is quite clear: as believers in Jesus we live in the times of the second mountain, where God can be approached. Whereas at the first people asked to keep their distance, in the second believers can now come up.

The question is: in the way that we relate our faith to other people (be it verbally, through our actions, or the way we live) which mountain do we portray? Number one, with its boundaries, trembling and fear, or number two, with its joy, acceptance and living presence?