Lone Rangers to Power Rangers…thinking about spiritual gifts.

It’s common today, especially within charismatic churches, to point out how young children instinctively view themselves as superheroes or princesses in their playacting and that Jesus commanded us to be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s an excellent point here that we’re made for adventure. The Christian life is far more than living under a rule book, it’s being empowered by the Spirit living in us to be on adventure with Jesus. Afterall, Holy Spirit doesn’t only produce in us character (Galatians 5 fruits of the Spirit…which is a miracle in itself!), but works in us gifts (1 Cor. 13; Romans 12) and calls us into ministries (Ephesians 4). Praise the Lord!

But here’s a question when we’re thinking about things like Spiritual Gifts….what kind of superheroes are we?

http://therecruitinglab.com/the-lone-ranger-the-rainmaker-or-the-firm-owner-which-business-model-is-right-for-you Sometimes we can act like a Lone Ranger. We live in a society where the individual is king; increasingly we’re wanting products that are customized and personalized for us; we’re wanting to find our ‘dream job’, to only do what fits ‘the real me’…and so we’re first seeking to understand and establish who ‘I am’ before we begin to even think about how we engage with others. There’s something crucial about knowing our identity in Jesus, but things become squiffy if we think finding this identity means focusing on me over and against (or simply without reference to) any other people. Spiritual Gifts become about finding my gift, my place, my ministry…it’s good to know all of these things, but not if this is where we’ll find our identity or if this means we will only serve or relate to churches or ministries where I fit

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/06/fantastic-four-original-movies-vaguely-defendedSo it seems common sense to try for something more like the Fantastic Four. We know afterall that there are things we can’t do on our own, that we are called to be part of a team, that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts when we all work together. Excellent and true, and definitely there is some resonance here with St Paul’s image of the Body of Christ – we’re all one body and individually members of it…we need each other…but I think Paul’s getting at far more than the need for team work… What is so supernatural about that anyway? You don’t need the Holy Spirit to tell you it’s good to be part of a team…
http://movieweb.com/power-rangers-movie-art-zords/

Maybe the superheroes God is forming are more like Power Rangers…remember them? Certainly these awesome foursome had individual gifts and talents, and they did pretty well beating off individual little baddies. But there came a point in every episode where the enemy would suddenly be super-sized to immense proportions and at that stage it wasn’t even enough just to work together…at that stage “it’s morphing time”….they had to actually merge together to become a superhero far larger than they could ever be on their own. They weren’t a group of individuals coordinating efforts…they became a super-sized individual with different parts…one body, many members.

I believe this is an (undoubtedly limited!) analogy for thinking right about the church. We can so emphasize individual salvation, calling, ministry, gifting that the church becomes a voluntary collection of individuals we make important by emphasizing that life is simply better together…

http://movieweb.com/power-rangers-movie-art-zords/…but the truth is far more radical, far more awesome than that. The church is the Body of Christ, made of many members to be sure, but one body united to Christ our head. No member is complete on our own just as no hand is complete without the arm, shoulder, etc, etc…We are one body only together. Reading through 1 Cor 13, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and many other passage dealing with the body of Christ, I can’t get away from realizing that God deals with the body first and individuals as members of it. In other words, when the Spirit gives gifts He gives them to the body and does so by giving them to individuals… This subtly but significantly shifts our focus. The question isn’t: what gifts have you given me God? It becomes: what gifts are you giving this body and how do you want to use me within it? Suddenly we don’t get jealous when someone has a gift I don’t have or get defensive trying to establish ‘my place’…rather we celebrate that we have this gift and we are firm in our call to this community, this body.

We begin to ask: what are you calling us to as a body…? We discover the adventure is far bigger than we thought…the enemy’s we can fight are far larger than we dreamed…

There’s so much more to say on this and please do say it by leaving a comment below. But at the very least I hope I’ve given you here a thought to ponder – when you think of church membership, of spiritual gifts, of ministry…what superhero are you? We’re saved to be part of a something so much bigger than ourselves… ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ bringing light into darkness, life into dead places…as we celebrate this Christmas let’s remember He’s among us still through His body the church. What an adventure to be part of!

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The Real Divide?

I read a brief summary this week of journalists reporting of the debate in France as to whether abandoned churches should be turned into mosques.  The idea was raised by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris and quickly shouted down by ‘Islamophobes’ according to one paper.  I think it’s a really interesting question as to how church buildings should be used in the sad situation that their congregation has depleted.  It raises a host of questions about the sanctity of space and the relationship between the spiritual and physical locations. But that’s not what struck me about this story.  It wasn’t so much the issue at hand, but how it was reported that make me sit up straight.

According to the featured journalists, the issue is a practical one: the church is declining, church buildings are empty, whilst Islam is growing and Muslims need somewhere to pray.  This seems a purely reasonable solution, and indeed it may be.  But here’s the final line of the summary:

Wouldn’t they [right-winger opponents of the idea] rather see churches serve a religious purpose, than be turned into shops and markets? A bit of “pragmatism” would be a fine thing.

What’s your reaction to that?

I’d genuinely like to know!  For me one thing stands out above anything else: the phrasing of the question shows where this journalist sees the real divide – not between Christianity and Islam, but between Religious and Commercial.  In this phrasing of the issue Christianity and Islam are not two different conceptions of the world, reality, and the meaning of life, but are rather two residents of the compartment of public life known as ‘Religious.’  They’re not claims to truth, but life-style choices or community groups.  To me this is a natural piece of logic from a secular standpoint.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not having a go at the journalist; this is not a judgement, it’s an observation.  It’s similar to the visitor to our church recently who described themselves as a ‘mongrel’ and said (in an friendly, not critical way) that all religions should be mongrel.  The assumption being that they all serve the same God so should just share from one another.  It’s a naturally secular view, one that’s incredibly common in our pluralist society.  In fact, perhaps the majority of people I meet as a church leader who are not yet Christian have an interest in God or the spiritual but don’t want to be, nor see the need to be, tied down to one specific religion.  Afterall, aren’t all religions part of the same category just like Superdrug, John Lewis, and Tesco are all part of the category called ‘Commerce’?  Can’t we just be pragmatic about this?

Yet if Christian beliefs about the existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the creation of everything and the reality of sin; the salvation of Jesus through his death, resurrection and ascension; the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth right now; and the surety of Jesus coming back; are all true then these are claims that radically shape the nature of reality.  Christians don’t have a different hobby, we live in a different world.  The question for us is this: have we lost our confidence that what we believe may actually be true and do we live like it is?

The real divide is not between Religion and Commerce, but what world we think we live in.  What do you think?

What are you living for?

Everything has changed…at least that’s what it feels like.  In the last two months I’ve moved house, changed jobs, and had my first child.  And the crazy thing is, I never planned any of it…

Since I can remember I felt a sense of call to church ministry that was gradually combined with a passion for theological education.  Three times I applied for a PhD, three times I asked God to close the door if it wasn’t right, and three times the door slammed shut.  Then, just over a year ago, when I’d parked that idea for twenty years from now, God brought it up again.  This time the door flew open with an offer of housing and income for a full year.

Then the fun started.

We knew that come June 2015 my income would stop, housing would stop, and, as we found out in comical timing, we’d also be expecting our first child.  What do you do in those moments?  It’s not easy.  We had no way to work it out on our own: no savings for a house deposit, no clear way to find income without leaving the very place and work we felt called to be in.  What do you do?

Be faithful.  Falteringly, with a great deal of trepidation, and in need of a great deal of encouragement from trusted friends, we decided to keep going in the direction we felt God leading, not knowing the whole path but taking the next step we did know.

He is so faithful.  To cut a long story short, over the last year we had a house deposit provided from totally unexpected quarters, a job offer come in that covered exactly the shortfall in our income after mortgage payments and fitted perfectly with all God had been speaking for this next season.  We had unexpected extensions of payment, anonymous gifts, and a small army of people coming to make our new house a home just in time for our first baby to arrive.

He is so kind, so creative, so beautiful in the way He works.  Woven into the mix of answers to the headline prayers are the intricate connections that have His fingerprints all over.  Like the person we bought our house from just happened to be a member of a mother and toddlers group run by a local church.  The first prayer she allowed someone to pray for her was for her house to be sold…and that week we put our offer in.  God answered our prayer by using us to answer someone else’s…how good is that?

Why I am telling you this?  He’s the same God for you as for me.

I’m not the only one with stories like these – they’re everywhere!  I didn’t do everything right – far from it!  I’m not yet at the end – there’s so much more to go!  You don’t have to be perfect, just open.  You don’t have to know the whole story, just the next step.  It won’t always be easy, but He is always good.

You’re made for a purpose.  Maybe you know what it is but you’re standing back, perhaps just on the brink, not yet taking that step.  Maybe you’ve stepped off and you’re wondering where you’re going to end up.  Maybe you’ve never stopped to ask if you’re where God wants you to be.  This story is for you.  My prayer is that it can be the nudge to get you moving, the encouragement to keep you going, and the pause to get you listening.

If you’ve got a similar story of God’s faithfulness when you stepped out…share the love in the comments below!

Commuting with God – Redeeming time on the tube

Here’s one of the biggest challenges facing Christians today: we cannot grow in God without investing time, but time is exactly what we feel we don’t have!

If this really is about relationship rather than religion, then things like reading the Bible, prayer, worship, listening to God are not just tick-box activities that we ‘should do;’ rather they are like gazing into our lover’s eyes and spending quality time together.  This shift in mindset takes away some of the legalistic pressure, but in a different way it makes such time even more important.  Time with God is as important to our Christian walk as time with my wife is important to my marriage…but where do we find the time?

Find the time.  It can feel like a hunt in the dark or looking for a needle in a haystack.  When we’re surrounded by the busyness of life with work, family, home, admin, chores, friends, hobbies, church…where do you find any more minutes in the day let alone hours?!  One of the big changes for us came in moving to London commuter belt and suddenly finding that my wife’s journey to work jumped from 15 minutes to 1 hour each way…add 2 hours of travel into an already squeezed schedule and ‘time with God’ becomes a pipe dream!  (And we don’t even have kids yet!)

So what can we do?  As someone who genuinely wants to grow in relationship with God, but also feels the pressure of competing responsibilities…what can we do?

Shift.  A mind-set shift is helpful here.  ‘Finding time’ often starts from the assumption that we don’t have enough of this scarce commodity.  I want to suggest to you that there is always enough time to do what God has for us to do…and what He has for us to do is all we need.  The challenge is that we don’t start with a blank slate, we start with time already allocated, 24 hours a day, to a host of different things.  Yet this is where the Christian life always begins: when we first met Jesus we weren’t a blank slate; the difference Jesus made wasn’t giving us something to do, but was redeeming who we already were.  We don’t need to ‘find time’ as if it doesn’t exist already – we already have it.  Rather we need to let Jesus come in and ‘redeem the time we already have’.

What does that mean?

It means asking ourselves how we take every moment of the day and invite Jesus into it, to make every minute time spent with God.  When we wake up: praise God for a new day before we get out of bed; as we shower talk to God about anything in life we want washed off; making breakfast thank Jesus for all His provision and pray for the things we need; if we’re making breakfast for others or school lunches, talk to God about the needs of others or the people we’re preparing food for; as we walk through the door at work take a moment to tell God we’re working for Him today so come and fill every task; and on and on we go….!

It means more than that.  It means also asking ourselves: ‘Are there any times of the day that can be given wholly over to God?’  A prime target for this is TUBE TIME…

…Here is a thought we may not have noticed: if you commute to work/school then everyday you have a set amount of time where you can do nothing else but travel.  If you’re on the tube then you have a set amount of time with no phone signal, being uncontactable, where you can’t be expected to do anything for anyone else…all you can do is sit there (or stand with your face in someone’s arm pit…I know!)…and spend time with God….

….Here are 3 simple tools that can help you do that:

Pray As You Go:

This is an amazing resource specifically designed for people to use as they travel.  There is a daily mp3 podcast that lasts about 12 minutes.  It has reflective music, a Bible reading, some questions to think about, then the reading again, finishing with some directions for prayer.  I have found this an incredibly helpful tool for bringing me into a place of peace and focus on God.

Pocket Common Prayer:

God bless the Church of England!  You can download an app to your phone/tablet that brings up automatically the liturgy for Morning, Evening and/or Night Prayer.  I have been loving this recently!  You have right in front of you a series of prayers, readings from Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament, followed by some more prayers.  There are even martyrs or saints for particular days that you can look up and read about on Wiki if you like.  Takes about 30 minutes and I have found a really valuable way of regular Bible reading interspersed with Prayer.

YouVersion Bible:

Another app that in one sense simply gives you the Bible on your phone…but also comes with a whole series of reading plans from 2 weeks to a whole year.  There are plans for focusing on particular topics or for reading through all/chunks of the Bible.  It pops up with the reading for the day and ticks them off.  And if you get behind you can simply reset the reading to continue from today.

All 3 of these are simple ways to sit on the tube (or bus or…for the first one…car or walking…), turn on your phone, and be with Jesus.  If you take a few moments before you start just to close your eyes and become aware of God’s presence and ask Him to speak to you…then you can find the tube becomes your chapel, not your chain.

“It may be…” – Pursuing Dreams That Cost

“It may be…”

3 amazing little words that reveal the heart of following Jesus.  They are spoken by Caleb in Joshua 14:12.  At 85 years old he is ready to attack the hill country and fight giants who scared the Israelites away 40 years before….why?  Because he saw the Lord, caught the vision, heard the promise, and “it may be that the Lord will be with me.”

Kris Vallotton writes about vision and mission.  Mission is why we do something, but vision is what it looks like.  Mission requires vision to ever become a reality.  Everything that has ever been made has first been ‘seen’ in someone’s imagination.  You can convince people of the need to build an orphanage, but without blueprints nothing will ever happen.  It is vision, actually seeing it before it’s real, that causes us to discipline our actions, go through pain, and persevere to see a vision realised.

Caleb was one of the spies Moses sent into the promised land.  He saw the fruitful land and could imagine, could see, the Israelites living in it.  The other spies with him saw the giants and themselves as small.  Lack of vision and lack of confidence in God left a whole generation wandering the wilderness for the rest of their lives.  But vision and trust led Caleb into the land even 40 years on.

What vision do you carry?  What are you living for?

The reality is that we will always face resistance and opposition whenever we pursue a call or a dream from God.  Any dream worth living for must be bigger than us, too much for us to do alone…it requires cost.

Right now I’m making some life decisions to follow a path that is not a natural progression from what I’m doing and may prove costly for me and my wife, both financially and emotionally.  This next step is not the end-goal, but a means to that end, a door to open the way for a dream that is growing in my heart.  Yet I’ve begun to meet resistance, to need to count the cost, and a big part of me is crying out, “Are you sure God?”

What I find so encouraging about Caleb is this: he didn’t know for sure.  Even ready to ride into enemy territory at 85 years old he didn’t know for sure that God would do it.  “It may be…” was enough for him.  After 40 years of wilderness wandering and literally seeing a generation die around him, he knew the truth Kris Vallotton wrote:

If your memories are greater than your dreams then you are already dying.

We don’t always know how it ends, but I would rather step out and risk it all for a dream from God than play it safe just in case I’m wrong.

I’m not saying be foolish and throw everything away on a whim.  We check out and test dreams with others, we bring them before the Lord in prayer, we walk humble, open and teachable, but we don’t hold back in fear.  Proverbs 3:5-6 promises us that, when we ‘acknowledge the Lord in all our ways’ – when we keep our hearts open to Him and desire Him above anything else – then He will ‘make our paths straight’ – He will actually bring us to the right place even if we’re making wrong decisions.  Too often we can hang back from paying the cost to pursue the dreams God has put inside of us, because we’re waiting for enough proof to convince us to cast off our fear.  Proof doesn’t remove fear – love does.  It is when we catch sight of the perfect love of God, that He is always for us whether we get everything right or not, then we cast off fear and have courage to pursue our dreams whether we’re totally sure or not.

I cannot say I know 100% that the choices I’m making are right, but to the best of my ability they are.  The dream that’s stirring inside of me is big enough to pay the cost.  My God is big enough to make my paths straight.  I trust God’s ability to correct my mistakes more than my ability to mess up God’s plans.  So I choose to keep my heart open to Him, to pursue this dream and say, “It may be…that the Lord is with me.”

Center Stage – Finding Hope Through Disappointment

“I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future.”       (Jeremiah 29:11)

This is an incredibly encouraging verse oft-quoted in times of prayer…and rightly so!  Yet sometimes we so easily forget the context that we miss the challenge.  Missing that challenge can easily lead to disappointment.

These words come in the middle of a letter from God to His people written by the prophet Jeremiah.  They come in the middle of letter full of things the Israelites never expected to hear.  Things they didn’t want to hear.

These were God’s people.  They knew their history: chosen out of every other nation to be God’s, rescued through miraculous events from slavery in Egypt, promised and receiving a land that would be theirs forever.

Yet they also thought they understood their present: having compromised their faith wanting to be like everyone else rather than set apart for God, they were now reaping the consequences of their actions…they were now exiled by a godless nation.

So what would you expect to hear? Surely a call to repent, to stop compromise, to set yourself apart from every other nation, which must be followed by a swift victory and return to the promised land…

…that’s not what God said!  Instead Jeremiah writes: “Settle down!  Build houses and plant vineyards…you are going to be here for 70 years!  Let your children get married and rooted down…and seek the prosperity of this people for you will prosper when they do…”

Can you imagine how they felt?  “But God….you made this promise…we know we messed up, you told us exactly how…but this doesn’t make sense!  How can you want us to stay with the people you told us to leave…?!  We don’t understand!”

Have you ever faced this kind of situation?  “I don’t understand what you’re saying God!  I thought you promised one thing and now another thing is happening…  I thought I knew what this would look like and now you seem to be saying something totally different…!  What’s going on?!”

Take a closer look at the promise God makes….

“I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…”

 Too easily we hear the promise for good plans and miss the person who’s plans they are.  We hear a promise and envisage in our mind exactly what it should look like and how….we run after the promise itself and forget the one who spoke the word….when things don’t work out like we expected we struggle to understand why.  When it all seemed so clear, how could it get so confusing?

http://www.bubblews.com/assets/images/news/782225612_1365763920.jpgWe hear a word.  Make an appointment in our mind for what should happen when.  Then when it works out differently…we are dis-appointed.

 Who’s plans are we counting on?

Real hope is found, not in the wishful thinking that a particular situation takes place, but in placing all our trust in the God of Hope – in the One who makes all things work for the good of His people – in the One who has good plans for us and walks with us into them.

Why did God call the Israelites to bless Babylon?  To bless an enemy nation synonymous with immorality?

He was giving them an invitation.

An invitation to remember who they were as they remembered who He was.  God’s plan saw further than theirs.  Their focus was on their present and material place, on their circumstances and actions.  God’s focus was on who they were made to be.  God promised to make them a great nation to be a blessing and a light to every nation.  They were made to be a conduit of His love to every people on earth!  His focus was global not national, was eternal not immediate, was on who they were not what they did.

The walk of the Christian life comes with incredible promise: we are seated with Christ in victory; the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is inside of us; we are Sons and Daughters of the King of Kings; we are empowered and called to heal the sick, raise the dead, to be salt and light that changes nations.  Yet we step into these promises through an incredible challenge…do we trust God enough to enter into his plans rather than demanding that he enter ours?

 Imagine your life as a play in a theatre.  For many of us we are center stage.  Everything revolves around us.  For some, God has no place.  For others, He has a bit part – an extra in the background – He’s there but makes no difference.  Perhaps for others God is like a director shouting instructions so we either succeed or fail.  For still others He may even be a supporting actor, a co-star, essential to the show but mainly to make us look good.

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Yet the Christian life is so much more!  Becoming a Christian is like having the roof lifted off our little theatre and looking up to see a far greater stage.  A stage that stretches throughout time and eternity, that covers every nation, that has right in the center God Almighty Himself.  We are called as Christians to become part of God’s story, of His great drama of salvation.  He lifts us up and places us in something far greater than we could ever imagine.  A story with a future, a promise, a hope!

If we want to enter, we cannot be the center…

…if we demand God enter our plans we will be disappointed.  Yet every disappointment is an invitation to look up, give up having to control, and bring ourselves to God completely.  He is faithful, He is good – will we walk with Him?

From Conflict to Celebration – What a Difference God Makes

If you are a member of the human race then you will experience difficulty.  You will experience suffering, sickness, loss and heart ache.  There will be nights so dark that even the stars seem to stop shining.  And these difficulties will include conflict with other people: neighbours, colleagues, friends, family, strangers – whoever it is, conflict will come.

How do we respond?

In the last couple of posts I’ve talked about dealing with anxiety and finding contentment, about finding peace in our personal life.  How do we find this peace when other people are involved?  How do we respond when the issue isn’t impersonal circumstances but aggressive persons?

Kathryn Kuhlman, in a television address in the ’70s, turns to 2 Kings 6 and the story of Elisha.  The Syrian King, an enemy of Elisha and his nation of Israel, sends an entire army to capture Elisha.  This army surround the town Elisha and his servant are in with horses and chariots – the heavy artillery of the day.  There is no way out.  Many of us will know situations that feel like this.  Unfairly, perhaps even due to our obedience of God, we find ourselves confronted by adversaries who have overwhelming force.  Maybe at work, in the community, in school or at home, there are people coming against us who have power we cannot tackle – they are simply stronger than us.  How do we respond?

Elisha’s servant responds with fear.  It’s natural.  We can see only two ways to get out of a mess like this.  Either we escape or we win.  Our fear can lead to withdrawal (I have to get away!), aggression (You’re going down!) or despair (There’s no way out!).  However our fear expresses itself each of these responses leads to a breakdown of relationship.  We’ve been there, done that, or at least seen it before at different degrees of severity.  Even winning the contest leaves a hollow feel, especially when the one we beat is a loved one or friend.

Yet Elisha finds a different way to respond.  If you skip to the end of the story we find the Syrian army celebrating a feast with their enemies the Israelites and we read that there was a lasting reconciliation – “the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.”

What makes the difference?  Here are a few thoughts…

Elisha sees differently

If you hear only one thing from this message, hear this: The presence of God is not a theory, it is a fact.

These are the words of Kathryn Kuhlman.  These words are true.  These words change everything.

Elisha prays for God to open his servant’s eyes.  When he does the servant sees that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” When we know that God is present we become free to act differently.  Often we feel in conflict situations like we are forced to react defensively or aggressively by the circumstances or people – ‘they made me do it’.  Yet the reality is that when our Father God is present we are ‘more than conquerors’ through his love – we are safe and secure enough to choose for ourselves how we want to react.

How do we choose how to react?  We either let the circumstances shape us or we let God do it.  Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  What is the will of the Father?  It is to see peace, reconciliation, unity come.  The picture of heaven is the picture of a feast as every people from every tribe and tongue celebrate together.  A picture not dissimilar to the end of this story…so what does Elisha’s reactions look like?

Elisha first reacts with prayer

As with choosing not to be anxious, choosing not to be the victim does not come from a denial of the challenge or conflict.  Rather it comes from giving the conflict to God.  Elisha prays that God would make the enemy army blind.  In other words, he prays that God would step in so they could not do what they are planning to do.  Rather than taking the matter into his own hands, Elisha places it in God’s.

Elisha walks with his enemies

As God begins to move, Elisha has an opportunity to escape.  He could run from the conflict.  There is a way out.  Yet he decides to walk with his enemies, leading them to the very place where reconciliation needs to happen – to the capital of Israel.  Now, please note that God has already moved to remove the immediate danger from Elisha.  I’m not saying here that we should remain in a situation where we are actively being hurt – like an abusive relationship.  If God provides a way out then step out of the abuse, out of the place or hurt.  The question is: what is our heart when our enemies have been weakened?  Elisha doesn’t leave them in weakness, but walks them to a place of greater reconciliation.  Are we willing to  maintain relationship in whatever way God guides as he leads us to?

Elisha chooses to bless not beat

Elisha finds himself with this captured enemy army under his power.  He is now in the place of influence and here we see his heart shine through.  Rather than beating them, he chooses to bless.  Not only that, but he draws others to join that blessing.  Elisha calls the King of Israel to feast their one time enemies.   In this place of blessing rather than beating, Elisha now draws others into reconciliation.  Having chosen to walk the way of peace rather than fear, he finds himself with an opportunity to bring peace in the wider community.

When we recognise the presence of God in conflicts we recognise an opportunity to respond differently.  Rather than defending ourselves we can live for Him.  Our actions can be shaped not by fear, but by love.  First we hand over the problem to God in prayer.  When he moves we have a choice to cut contact, maintain relationship – to reconcile in our own part to our enemies and continue to walk with them.  As we walk with them an opportunity may come to draw others into reconciliation depending on whether we are willing to choose to bless rather than beat.

How will we respond?

Simple Minds – 3 Thoughts on Finding Contentment

Contentment.  It seems such a straightforward term and yet something always out of reach. How do we find contentment?  Once we find it, how do we keep it?

At the risk of stopping you reading right now, I have to admit, I don’t know!  This is something I am learning at the moment.  It is something I struggle with.  I am naturally emotional – I feel things strongly – left to my own devices I can oscillate between being the life and soul to quietly withdrawn.  Yet I work with someone who I have begun to recognise as one of the most contented men I know.  He is not naive, foolish or idealist, yet he is never far away from joy no matter what the situation.  He is also pursuing simplicity in his lifestyle.  The two are not unrelated.

Simplicity births contentment.  

Simplicity can take many forms.  I’ve written previously about how my wife and I put great value on living beautifully.  We want to live in a way that isn’t always pushed to the limit in time, finances, capacity and head space.  We don’t always manage.  In fact, recently I’ve really struggled.  I’m a church leader.  That means my life is full of people, situations and events that call for urgent attention right now, as well as a need for ‘stepping back’ big picture thinking, prayer and strategy.  Recently I’ve taken on an extra larger area of ministry.  Things have been busy.  There’s been a lot to do and a lot to think about.  I’ve got stressed.

I won’t be the only one.  Having a busy life full of many different things, all seemingly urgent, all needing attention, is not a unique experience.

How do we find simplicity amidst the multitude of urgency?

I have 3 thoughts I want to share; 3 things that came as I prayed through this very question this morning.  They’re personal words into my situation, but I think they may be helpful for many others too.  For me, the place I need simplicity most is in my mind.  Some circumstances I can change, many I can’t, but I can affect how I see my life.  I want to see it through the perspective of the presence of my Father God every single moment.  I want Him to shape my view.  How does that happen?

1. Recognise the season you’re living in.

We live in a ‘now’ culture where everything is available all the time: knowledge is immediately available through Google or Wiki; fruit and veg line our shelves all year round; I can get what I want when I want it.  Our social and personal approach to life has become dislocated from the rhythm of the world we live in.  Nature still operates in seasons except where we seek to interfere.  God still operates in seasons too, and we can’t change that one!

Praying this morning I believe God was saying the season is Autumn for me, but I’m trying to live in Spring.  This is a season where some things die and move over to make space for new growth; it is a slower season; a transition season.  Yet I want Spring.  I’m acting like if I work hard enough and well enough I can see new growth and life springing up all over.  I can see this.  As a church we’re in a place of transition, a place of re-organising and preparing for growth.  Yet I can put myself under pressure to see that growth right now.  I needed to hear God say: slow down, it’s ok, this is the season – enjoy it!

Do you know the season your in?  One of growth, preparation, transition, training, rest, beginning, finishing, persevering – what season are you in?  Let yourself live in it.

2. Clear the airwaves.

Last post we looked at Philippians 4 and Paul’s guidance in how to live without anxiety.  He ended by calling us to focus on what is good, noble, excellent and praiseworthy.  To watch what we watch.

My mind is cluttered.  I read about 6 books at a time.  I get input from books, computers, music or phones at every conceivable opportunity of the day – even the bathroom is not exempt! My issue isn’t that I fill my mind with bad stuff it’s just that I fill my mind over and over again.  It never stops.  I have no space to gaze.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (Psalm 16:8)

I need to give my mind room to simply rest on God.  For me that means putting books down, turning the radio off, making space.

3. Do the basics well.

Some of you may well do this last one naturally anyway, but it’s confession time for me.  One of my biggest causes of stress is that I feel I’m continually on catch up.  It’s often because I am.  I carve out space for the big important looking things and miss out time to properly sort out my calendar and diary – to get the basics of life done well.

Do you know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it or do you, like me, quite enjoy the adrenaline of the hectic….until it all gets too much?  I say this to myself, but you may want to say it to yourselves too: “Make space for the basics now, you’ll appreciate it later!”

So there we go.  I’m on a journey and these 3 things are my directions for today.  Enjoy the season, make space to gaze, and do the basics well.  If you have any other suggestions, experiences or advice, why not share the wealth by making a comment using the link below.

Dealing with Anxiety

“It is possible to live an anxiety free lifestyle”.

What do you think?

We’ll respond differently, probably depending on our own experience.  Some incredulous, some ashamed, some angry that it could even be suggested, some indifferent because anxiety’s not such a big deal anyway.

It was Pete Carter, a church leader of great wisdom and integrity, who I heard say it, but he wasn’t the first.  In fact, Jesus said ‘Do not worry about your life’ and the Apostle Paul wrote ‘Do not be anxious about anything’.  Neither of them meant it as a mere suggestion, nor as an unreachable command.  It’s an invitation.

“Anxiety will come knocking at your door, it’s your choice whether to let it in.”

Another quote from Pete, but echoed in Paul.  In Philippians 4:4-11 the Apostle gives us some clear practical advice, and he really meant it…

1. Rejoice in the Lord always!

Worship, gratitude, praise.  It’s always our starting point.  Why?  Because as we react with worship we remember that God is near.  Bottom line, the reason we can live without anxiety is because God is our Father and He’s always present.  When Jesus said not to worry about life, He also described how Father God provides for birds and grass so how much more will He provide for us?  Whatever circumstances come, make worship a first reaction – because ‘The Lord is near’.

2. Do not be anxious…but present your requests to God.

This is not some kind of ‘grin and bear it’ denial of reality.  Anxiety comes on the back of circumstances – of challenges and perceived needs.  Jesus meant it when he said “In this world you will have trouble”….but he meant the next part too, “take heart because I have overcome the world”.  Don’t deny challenges, turn them into requests.  Bring them to Father God who can actually do something about it.

3. Leave it with Him.

Here’s the biggest challenge.  Often we worship and/or pray but then we keep on wondering, thinking, trying to work out what God is going to do.  We don’t let go.  The promise is that as we hand over our anxiety in the form of requests, God will hand over His ‘peace that passes understanding’.  Here’s the problem – to have peace that is beyond understanding we have to give up being able to understand (that’s not a me original – I heard it first from Bill Johnson – but it’s so true).  The problem is, I go through the motions of recognising God is present and handing it over to Him, but then I keep acting like it must be all down to me.  Essentially I want God to bless me as I deal with the problem, I don’t actually hand the problem over for Him to deal with.

It’s simple, but it’s hard.  It hits a bottom line issue: can we fully trust God?

Often we keep hold of the issue because we’re not sure God will sort it out.  Maybe we’ve tried handing it over before and the results haven’t been what we expected.  The truth is we cannot trust God to do exactly what we want Him to, but we can trust Him to do what is good, to be near, to bring peace.  God is good all the time, He’s outrageously good – but sometimes the way He works doesn’t make sense until we see the end of the line…and we may not always get to see it this side of eternity.

How do we learn to trust?

4. Watch what you watch.

Paul exhorts us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.  Too often we fill ourselves with stories of bad things going on, of challenges and issues facing people, of how stories turn out bad.  The news reports what is going wrong in the world.  When we chat to people it’ll be negative more often than positive.  To speak too positively makes us sound over optimistic or ‘unreal’.  To ‘be real’ almost literally means to ‘be negative’ – see what can go wrong.  No wonder we struggle to trust God – we struggle even to remember what He’s really like.

Rejoice always.  Focus on what is good, right, true and noble.  Why?  Because then we’re always aware of the presence of God, of His goodness, of the fact we can trust Him.  We start to recognise the way He is moving so that we see the number of times He works in seemingly impossible situations to bring about good.  We see the way He transforms one situation in an instant and walks faithfully giving strength over long periods of time through others, yet always with never failing goodness.

Bottom line is this: God will not always do what we want, but God will always be with us and He will always be good.  We cannot avoid challenges, trials and loss, but we can keep anxiety out.  Recognise the presence of God and His goodness.  Choose to rejoice, to request, and to let go.  Then do what He says to do.

 

Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 6

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegIf the primary way of being ready for Jesus is to be known by Him, what does that mean for all the commands to work for the Kingdom, to do good things for God?

All of these flow from relationship.  They are not hurdles to jump through before God will love us.  They are an overflow of being loved, a natural response to knowing who God really is.  This is what we see in the second story from Matthew 25 – the story of the talents.

Again, in order to teach his disciples how to be ready for His return, Jesus told them a story about a master and three servants.  The master went away, but before he did he gave one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents, and another 1 talent.  A talent was a large sum of money and the master asked them to look after this for Him until He returned.

http://jeramiesweet.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Buried-Talents.jpgNow, the first two servants both invested their money and put it to use, and doubled it.  The servant with only one talent hid his in the ground.  When the master returned he called his servants to account.  The first two he was incredibly pleased with.  He said to them ‘Well done good and faithful servant!’ and he gave them 10 cities and 4 cities to look after in return.  The last servant told him that he hid the money and did nothing with it because he knew that his master was a harsh man who ‘reaped where he did not sow’.  The master was angry and threw this servant out giving his talent to the servant who had 10.

What is this all about?

At first glance it can seem that the master really is harsh.  He didn’t give equal amounts to the servants and he gave them different rewards, not to mention throwing the one who had the least out!

Yet a closer look, and understanding the parable of the bridesmaids before, tells us the real issue.  The excuse of the final servant points us to the critical issue the master was looking for.  The value of the servants’ actions wasn’t in how much money they made, but on whether they reflected a right understanding of who He was.  Did His servants know Him?

The servant who hid everything did so because he saw his master as harsh, unjust, not to be trusted.  His one desire was to not upset him.  He took no risks thinking that any mistake would earn punishment, as if that is all the master was interested in.

Truth be told we can often view God like that.  He is the headmaster and waiting for the second coming is like sitting outside his office not knowing when we’ll be called in.  If only we can keep our noses clean and our socks pulled up then we’ll be alright.  If I can think good thoughts and be a nice person without messing up too much, then I’ll be fine.  We completely miss His true character and in doing so we miss who we were really made to be.

Yet the truth is so much better.  Those other servants understood who their master was.  He was a Giver of good gifts, generous, willing to trust, and possessing abundant resources.  If he could spare that kind of money for them to deal with as they pleased, how much more must he have had?

For them to take such great risks of investing everything the master had given them, holding nothing back, they must have known something about his character.  They must have had confidence that, no matter what mistakes they made or how much they lost, He would still love them, trust them, and be able to provide for them.  Knowing this, they gave everything they had.

Our God is not a harsh master looking for a reason to punish us.  He is a bridegroom who loves us and is coming to marry us, to bring us into a feast, to bring us into unbroken relationship with Him.  He calls us ‘good and faithful’.  That is all He longs for from us: that we would recognise His goodness, abundance and love enough to entrust all of ourselves to Him.  Like those talents, everything we have, our very lives, are gifts from Him.  He has more than enough, His heart is to reward our simple faithfulness extravagantly (a city for every talent!), all He wants to see is: do we know Him?  If we do, then we’ll live like it.

Our life right now is often one of chronos.  We’re called to work and to wait.  We get glimpses of encounters with God and seeing Him move.  Every time we do it reminds us of who He is, of His character, His goodness, His love.  It prepares us, excites us, reminds us to be ready for when He finally comes again.  We get ready by keeping our lamps filled with oil.  Even our chronos – our work time – is spent in relationship with Him through the Spirit – our work is to keep connected to Him – to be with Him every moment.  When we know Him we see the gifts He’s given us and we’ll throw our whole selves into living for Him.  In that place we’ll live the lives He’s made us for – lives of working and waiting yes, but also lives of abundance, of expectation, of seeing Him move, of knowing Him.

Take heart my friends.  We’re not called to achieve for God but to be faithful to Him; not to earn His love, but to receive it and live from that place of relationship. 

The ultimate kairos moment is coming: our lover is coming back – our we ready? Do we know Him?