“The immensity of this way of life…”

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“I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Ephesians 1 MSG)

There’s something very large-scale about being a Christian.

In his early book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell described discussions with people who would pour scorn on Christians for being small-scale, and closed-minded:

“Think about some of the words that are used in these kinds of discussions, one of the most common being the phrase “open-minded.” Often the person with spiritual convictions is seen as close-minded and others are seen as open-minded. What is fascinating to me is that at the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn’t all there is. That there is more to life than the material. That existence is not limited to what we can see, touch, measure, taste, hear, and observe. One of the central assertions of the Christian worldview is that there is “more” – Those who oppose this insist that this is all there is, that only what we can measure and observe and see with our eyes is real. There is nothing else. Which perspective is more “closed-minded?” Which perspective is more “open?”

The passage in Ephesians endorses this sense of “more to life,” It is quite staggering in the intensity of its vision.

It begins where we all must do, I guess, in the confines of our own thoughts, feelings and fears, but then introduces the “agent of change” – a God who addresses your intellect and imagination and who seeks personal relationship. “I ask…God… to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do.”

This is very reminiscent of the way Paul himself began his journey with God. He was -quite literally- stopped in his tracks in a supernatural encounter, with a blinding light, and a voice. And the voice was the voice of Jesus. So from Day One of his journey, Paul identified the knowledge of God with the summons of Jesus, calling him into relationship and into purpose, intentionality and meaning.

And it’s huge. Mind-bogglingly so.

Look how Paul begins to describe “the immensity of this glorious way of life.” For a start, as Rob Bell observed, “at the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn’t all there is. That there is more to life than the material.” Paul describes “the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength.” God speaks to us, smiles and jokes with us! He sweeps away any vestige of self-recrimination or inadequacy (“There is now no condemnation in those that are in Christ Jesus“) and lifts us up into an entirely new perspective (“seated with him in heavenly places“).

And at every point in his prayer, Paul breaks into praise with the sheer boyish excitement that Yeats expressed in that line, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” It’s as if Paul’s senses have suddenly grown sharp! The voice of Christ was the final piece of the jigsaw and suddenly the whole picture became clear. “Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…”

And then, in that light, the whole of his life came into focus. And in that understanding, he glimpsed the wider plan of God for “the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever.”

And so often, we see things badly skewed. We miss that God-perspective completely and our focus is so localised, so personalised that we spiral in upon ourselves. In Romans 1, Paul described our situation: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The passage here closes with an instance of Paul’s rebuttal of that skewed thinking which is simply breath-taking in its confident assurance:

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

Paul was a member of a tiny sect, devoted to the belief that a peasant preacher from the back of the beyond who had been executed on a trumped-up charge had risen from the dead. He encouraged others in this belief;  and he, and many thousand others were abruptly killed for their obstinacy by the Emperor Nero. And yet, as someone prophesied: “The day will come when men call their sons Paul and their dogs Nero.” In the reversal of history, it has proved to be the case.

And similarly, we “do not yet see all things under his feet.” We may just see a Church weak and divided. But Paul’s claim is utterly different. On the contrary, he insists, we see Jesus, and in that gaze we also see his church. And:

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

Everything!

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“The size of your roof…”

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Having finished  reading an article on (basically) developing a positive attitude to life, I was intrigued to read, in the credits, the author (Nataly Kogan) described as “Chief Happiness Officer” of a company.

Now there’s a job, for which I thought, as a pastor, I should be eminently qualified. It’s what I do all the time, making sure people are happy.  In fact, a colleague recently suggested to me that the role of a pastor was “really somewhere between being a court jester and a pharmacist.”

Be that as it may, here’s an online list from your Chief Happiness Officer. Seven Ways to Being a Happier You

  • Happiness Strategy # 1: Don’t Worry, Choose Happy
  • Happiness Strategy #2: Cultivate Gratitude
  • Happiness Strategy #3 Rid yourself of Unforgiveness
  • Happiness Strategy #4: Counteract Negative Thoughts and Feelings
  • Happiness Strategy #5: Remember, Money Can’t Buy Happiness
  • Happiness Strategy #6: Foster Friendship
  • Happiness Strategy #7: Engage in Meaningful Activities

Now, perhaps your reaction is to roll your eyes at the sheer obviousness of this kind of writing. Who on earth reads it? (Apart from me, of course). And despite the fact that every point is well referenced with the extensive research of some Austrian psychologist, you wonder if a PhD is really necessary to figure out that you are happier when the have friends (#6) and have something to do (#7).

And that’s the point. This is not rocket science, and with all respect to Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his mates, we have a built-in grasp as human beings to know what plases us! There’s a moment in Pride and Prejudice when Miss Elizabeth says: ” I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness…”

And so we do. And our seven-point guide just underscores what we instinctively know to be true. We all of us live that way, more or less.

And that’s why the spiritual nature of those seven principles is so interesting. That’s because to be human is to be spiritual; or rather, that there is a basic part of being human which is run on spiritual principles. We are more than we seem. Someone said that it’s  not that we are human beings having a spiritual experience, but that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. That is to say: being spiritual is the deepest part of what it is to be human.

And the Bible is written at that level: it is written by humans who have acknowledged a bigger picture both inside them and in the story of the universe. And so the book begins: “In the beginning, God…” 

So I would argue that the very reason these seven principles are so obvious is that they are part of our DNA: that we were constructed that way as to know what “constitutes our happiness.”

We are built for peace (#1) and instructed to “cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

We are built for gratitude (#2). But to whom is this gratitude directed? The Bible is clear: “I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1)

We have no business nursing grudges (#3) and Jesus instructed his followers that “horizontal” mutual forgiveness was essential to maintaining “vertical” relationship. “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15)

We are encouraged to be optimistic (#4) and Bible insists that “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

We are encouraged not to be grabby and materialistic (#5) and Jesus taught thus: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21)

We are told to foster friendships (#6) and the Bible lays that down as an absolute commandment: A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34,35) Again, there’s a correlation between God’s actions and ours. The way Jesus loves us is the way we are called to love one another.

We are encouraged to engage in meaningful activities (#7) and the Bible endorses that from a God-perspective: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Col 3:23)

And remember: these seven principles are -its is suggested- what makes us happy.  And I’ve tried to indicate that the Bible endorses that view.  But, in the words of Amit Kalantri: “Don’t compare the size of your roof with the size of the sky.”  We are intended for much more than merely keeping ourselves cheerful  or having a laugh and a bit of banter as we pass through life! If that was the case I really would be in the role of court jester (though possibly not pharmacist!).

I’ve been reading and re-reading this passage from Ephesians 1 (from The Message) over the last couple of days. To me, it forms a prayer for this morning’s devotion and a powerful picture of the “size of the sky,” of the grandeur to which we are called as human beings who are alert to the wonder of God’s call:

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.”

 

 

 

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“Working in Whispers…”

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“It’s all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.” ― Charles de Lint

There’s an interesting addition in Ephesians 4:32. It’s an adjective: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” We may easily gloss over it without really reflecting on its importance.

Here’s the thing: it’s quite possible to be professionally kind,  calm cool and collected and smiling on the outside without being tenderhearted on the inside. But it’s not enough.

God calls not for a change of manners but for a change of heart.

The word “tenderhearted”  means “easily touched.” If you stayed out in the sun too long and your skin was tender, then the least touch might hurt. The same idea is being applied to the heart here. When your heart is tender, it feels easily and quickly.

But how can you just decide to be sensitive and compassionate in that way? Doesn’t it come from your inner character? You can’t just switch it on like a tap!

Here’s how the verse goes: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Do you see it? The sensitizing of the heart comes from two strong sources, like hidden springs sourcing a mighty river: the first is the forgiveness of God.  The second is the love of Christ.  The thought recalls Psalm 87: ‘All my fountains are in you.’

So when kindness calls for forgiveness, the pattern is the forgiveness of God in Christ. And when love expresses itself in kindness, the pattern is the love of Christ giving himself up for us. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” (Eph 5:2)

Kindness means forgiveness. Forgive your brother like God forgives you. Quickly, thoroughly, completely.

But not easily, off-handedly, dismissively, as if you’re saying,  “Ah sure, it doesn’t matter.” God’s forgiveness takes sin seriously and so should ours. Forgiveness is not flippancy toward sin. It sees it and names it—and then covers it. God forgives what he hates.

Nothing is swept under the rug with God. It cost the life of Christ to forgive us our sin. So God’s forgiveness reckons with a real settling of accounts and so should ours. When kindness calls us to forgive a wrong that has been done to us, we are sustained by the truth of God’s holiness. God has forgiven the inexcusable in us, and  so we are called to live according to the grace that we have received.

But there’s nothing artificial or theoretical here: God’s forgiveness is real and ours should be too. When he forgives, we are really restored. Nothing is held over our heads for later blackmail. It is gone: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

How does that grace work out in the way we live together? It means that we can’t secretly insist that people earn our approval, let alone our love and kindness! Jesus said in Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies, and do good . . . and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” Freely you have received. Freely give.

Maybe the hardest thing is to show kindness when it hurts. But that is exactly what Jesus did for us, and how we are called to live for one another.

Lord, make me tender-hearted. I’m so ashamed of the “record of wrongs” that I keep playing over in my head. I bear grudges and only forgive grudgingly. I put people on trial and watch how they perform before I give my approval. Forgive me, Lord. Make me exuberantly generous, joyfully gracious, kind, kind, kind.

Like you are to me.

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“We being many, are one body…”

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In Romans 12, Paul works on the idea of the church being like a human body, with different parts functioning together to create one harmonious whole. Here’s a snippet:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Rom 12: 3-8)

Working Together

Paul stresses the activity of each member, noting that God has allotted to each believer a special function or ministry. God has also appointed to each member a measure or a proportion of faith, enough to enable each particular member to fulfil that particular ministry.

If a body is to be vigorous and active (and normal), then each bit should do its stuff. A church in which only one or two members had any active ministry would be, by Paul’s standard, like a body in which, say, your big toe and your elbow could move, whilst all the rest remained paralyzed and useless. A sad condition indeed.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that the Holy Spirit works through each member to create this “harmonious whole.” “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (v 7). He describes different kinds of Holy Spirit activity (through the use of “spiritual gifts”) and concludes: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing each one individually as He wills” (v11). It’s like electricity running through one complex circuit in a house, but being used for a variety of purposes -dishwasher, lights, fridge and so forth – to facilitate the running of the whole.

It seems clear from this that God intends each member to exercise spiritual gifts, and when these gifts are not used, the whole “house” does not function together properly. If you’re not sure what I mean, try doing the dishes in the dark!

In 1 Cor 14, Paul discusses how these gifts are to be exercised: “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied.”  This indicates that some gifts are more important than others, or (at least) more appropriate at certain times. The lights come on after dark; the dishwasher after meals. The verse also notes that not everyone has the same gifts. Look at v13: “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” Plainly, then, we can pray for gifts we don’t have.

The Importance of Prophecy

The chapter begins: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” Prophecy is highlighted as being of special importance, but (as 1 Cor 13 makes clear) it is useless and fruitless without love. In v31,  Paul returns to this point: “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.”  Prophecy is thus understood as a teaching gift that encourages. And Paul says, “one by one.” That is, believers are to exercise this gift by turns, not more than one believer prophesying at any one time “to avoid confusion” (v33).

There’s another limitation upon the exercise of the gift of prophecy in v 29: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others [the members] judge.” Paul here limits how many may exercise the gift of prophecy in any service to two or three. The purpose of this is that the whole service should not be monopolized by one particular form of spiritual manifestation. The exercise of prophecy has its place in the service, but it does not make up the whole service. The ministry of the Holy Spirit through God’s people is much more varied than that. Many other different forms of ministry are required to make up a complete service.

And notice that the exercise of the gift of prophecy must be judged, or tested. He says: “Let the others judge.” The other Spirit-baptized believers present who are capable of recognizing the genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy are required to weigh up the genuineness of the prophecy. Paul brings in all the members. He does not specify merely one professional minister who is to judge, but he makes the whole church responsible to do this. This crops up in 1 Thess 5:19-21: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” Everything needs testing to see that it is genuine.

“Test all things”

These are important verses, I think. We are called to be careful and not critical on the one hand or gullible on the other!  It is wrong for believers to quench or reject the moving and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in their midst. It is also wrong for believers to adopt an attitude of criticism, contempt, or unbelief toward the manifestation of the gift of prophecy.

But, when this gift is manifested, believers are to test it by the standards of Scripture and then accept or retain only that which is good—that which accords with the standards and patterns of Scripture.

We see, then, that Paul is careful to guard against anything that might be spurious or disorderly in the exercise or manifestation of spiritual gifts.

So what does “church” look like?

In 1 Cor 14:26, Paul describes the kind of services that result. He says: “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

Notice the phrase, “each of you has”—a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation.

Generally speaking, when Christians come together today, they come with the primary purpose of receiving, not of contributing. They come to get a blessing, to receive healing, to hear a preacher. But this was not the way of the New Testament church. There, the members came not primarily to receive, but to contribute. Paul mentions various possible forms of contribution.

  • A psalm would denote some form of musical contribution. This might be the product either of natural talent or of the supernatural enabling of the Holy Spirit.
  • A teaching would denote the ability to impart some truth from the teaching of God’s Word.
  • A tongue and an interpretation might be taken to cover generally the three gifts of supernatural utterance: tongues, interpretation and prophecy.
  • A revelation would cover any one of the three main revelatory gifts: a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, and discerning of spirits.

In this way, everyone had something of their own to contribute towards the total worship and service of the church. They are thus able to fulfil the injunction given by Peter: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another” (1 Peter 4:10). The ability of the members to minister effectively to one another was due mainly to the fact that they had received these supernatural spiritual gifts.

Had their ability to minister to each other depended merely on education or natural talent, then the main burden of ministry would have fallen upon just a few of the members, and the rest of them would have remained largely passive or inactive, without any real opportunities for spiritual expression or development.

The way it mostly is, I guess!

One body… of Christ

But the important principle that sometimes gets overlooked in many discussions of this all-member-ministry point is the glory of Jesus. “We being many, are one body…” But the body is the body of Christ. We are jigsaw pieces, but He is the whole picture.

And that’s why Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” We mustn’t overemphasise the importance of the individual member to the detriment of the Lord of the Church. No one would intend to, of course, but that might well be the result if the individual contribution comes into undue prominence. ”The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” The gift of the Spirit, don’t forget, is a corporate gift to the Church. The Lord is returning for a “Bride.”

That’s the lovely corporate image of purity and holiness.

That’s us, in the power of the Spirit, reflecting the glory of Jesus.

 

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“Repent and Believe…”

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The word “Repent” has a claim to being one of those words that changed the world. It was on seeing the difference between the Latin Penitentia and the Greek Metanoia that Martin Luther came to faith. The Latin had come to mean “Do penance” but the Greek meant “Change your mind.”

That is to say, in the New Testament,”repentance” was  not a religious duty, nor even an emotion, but a decision.

It’s an important point. Many associate it with tears and grief, but it’s possible to weep and wail and feel grief-stricken, and yet not truly repent, in the Biblical sense. And it’s possible to perform a religious duty of penance without repenting at all!

Repenting means to firmly change your mind, and to do a U turn, to turn back or to return. It’s an inner change of mind resulting in an outer turning around.

The story of the Prodigal Son (in Luke 15) provides the classic picture: the wretch had wasted everything and suddenly come to a decision: “I will arise and go to my father.” The inner change of mind had produced an outer change of direction.

Of course, everyone is in that basic condition: lost without God, and the essential act of coming to your senses and deciding to turn to God is what the Bible means by repentance.

Now this is very different from remorse. In the King James Version of Matthew 27, it describes the scene when Judas “repented” of having betrayed Jesus:

“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.”

But the word translated “repent” here is not metanoia but metamelein. It means remorse or anguish. That is to say, Judas experienced real anguish and remorse but he did not repent. He didn’t change his direction or change his mind. On the contrary, in Matthew 27:5, it says he hung himself. He experienced remorse but he didn’t change his course of action. This is the reflection of Acts 1:25: “Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place….”

He experienced bitter emotion but not true repentance: he didn’t change his mind or his course. The truth was that he had gone too far. He had passed the “place of repentance.

It’s a rather terrifying thought that a person might do so, that the door might slam shut behind you…

The same could be said of Esau, in rejecting his birthright for “a mess of pottage.” In Hebrews 12:17: “For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”

In the margin of the 1611 KJV comes an alternative translation: “He found no way to change his mind.”

Esau wept bitter tears but found no “place of repentance.” By a trivial and impetuous act, he decided the whole course of his life, and “despised” the blessings and promises of  God associated with his birthright.

Many do that, you know.  For a brief flutter of carnal indulgence they despise the blessings and promises of God, only to find later just how much they’ve lost, and find no way to change their mind.

The New Testament  offers but one way out:  “Repent and believe….” That’s the order. Repentance first, and then faith.

It’s how the New Testament begins: “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:3,4)

It’s how Jesus is introduced: ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15).

Notice that: the first thing Jesus taught was not to believe but to repent. Repent first, then Believe.

It’s at the end of the Gospel too. In Luke 24: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.”

It’s in the first sermon preached in the book of Acts (2:38): “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Repentance first, and then baptism and the remission of sins.

It’s how Paul described his ministry (in Acts 20):  “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It’s the order of the foundational doctrines in  Hebrews 6: The foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,  the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”

The point is this: repentance must precede faith. Without it, faith is an empty profession. Many would preach: “Only believe,” but that is not what the Bible teaches. Paul tells us that God “commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)

We turn from “dead works.” “Dead works” means all the acts and activities that are not based on repentance and faith; even religious ones -even Christian ones- if they are not based on repentance and faith.

But there’s one vital thing with which to conclude: God commands us to repent but He also enables it, initiates it and empowers it.  Human beings don’t achieve much left to their own devices!  And Jesus said “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44)

Which is where Luther began his journey some five hundred years or so back.  As he said, (in words echoed many times by Billy Graham and countless others): The supreme moment in human life is when you choose to respond to that drawing power of God.

What an adventure awaits.

 

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“Do everything without complaining…”

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”

In his classic book, Games People Play, psychiatrist Eric Berne  said that one of the most frequent  of  human pastimes is a game he called, “Ain’t It Awful?,” in which people  trade complaints back and forth.

So the familiar line from Numbers 11 has an almost proverbial ring to it:

And the people of Israel also began to complain….”

And they’ve never really stoppped.

Jude (v16) promounced a fierce judgment on “grumblers and fault-finders” (which in the AV is “murmurers [and] complainers.” And James  (5:9) noted the same point: “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged.”

Judged for whining!

Certainly, right back in the book of Numbers ( a book which discusses the subject in painful detail), the question of God’s harsh treatment of whingers comes much to the fore.

Paul is explicit about the opposite trajectory, of pleasing God: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you.” (Philippians 2:13-15)

But, given that the problem is so endemic, is it even possible to “Do everything without complaining”?

Whinging is certainly a dangerous habit to get into. It has something of mockery, sneering and sarcasm in it. The old word is “Murmur” which Webster defines as ” a half-suppressed or muttered complaint.” Half the problem is in the quiet subversive quality of it, like the secrecy of shared gossip.

Imagine sitting next to someone who is always quietly making slightly cutting remarks about your teacher: his dress, his accent, his teaching style. What do you do?

There are only two responses: you either move away or join in.

There’s a line in Psalm 1 announcing blessing on the one who does not join in in “the company of mockers.”

The trouble is when they say something funny -or true! It lures you into agreement and tempts you back into the old game. But it’s not godly, and it’s not helpful to anyone. Least of all you.

In the world today, there are many ungodly murmurers. Complaining and murmuring never gives God glory. What it does is repel people away from God and, indeed, according to the book of Numbers,  it is defined as “rebelling against the Lord.” From Scripture it is very clear that God hates all forms of “murmuring.”

But stuff happens! We never get an easy trouble-free ride through life. I mean to say: there’s always something to complain about! But trials that happen in life are to build us in Christ and we can rest assure that all things work together for good.

Nether is it simplistic to remember to stay grateful; and stay counting your blessings.

And make sure you get some alone-time, free of outside influence, when you can talk with God. Fix it in to the program every single day. Decide to trust in God even in tricky situations. Expect him to talk you through it. Ask for help to be content. Never let Satan steal your joy in being alive.

Why is it so dangerous to “murmur”?

  • It does nothing, but causes unneeded stress.
  • It nakes you forget all the things God has done for you.
  • It deteriorates your faith.
  • It gives Satan an opportunity to sneak in. It opens us up to his many lies.
  • It gives a poor testimony.

Whatever the picture above may suggest, there is no miracle elixir that stops you whinging. According to James 3, it’s a wrong and unnatural use of the tongue. But we’re all in the same boat! James writes: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check…” In fact, he goes on: “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Isn’t that the truth? Stuff just slips out that you bitterly regret. Oh, the damage we cause with our bits of gossip and thoughtless jokes!

And no human being can tame the tongue!

And here’s his conclusion:  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”

His point is that this complaining, critical voice that you’ve grown accustomed to using is unnatural. Your tongue was intended for blessing, for building and empowering – not for criticising, devaluing and mocking.

So what’s to be done?

In the life of Isaiah, we are given an amazing picture of the time when he experienced a call into the ministry of speaking for God and proclaiming his word.  Isaiah expressed his inadequacy for any such calling. What makes this natural response relevant is the way that Isaiah understood his shortcomings as relating to his use of his tongue.

Here’s the passage, in Isaiah 6:5f:

Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’

And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ “

Perhaps you, like me, are a person of “unclean lips.” Perhaps you recognise that it inhibits your service and shames you in the presence of the King.

There’s only one solution. It is to receive the gift of God’s sacrifice, the “living coal” from the altar of sacrifice, purifying your lips, atoning for your sin, and readying you to say “Here I am, send me.

This is the only “elixir” that will prevent you (and me) from whinging and bellyaching our way through life. And the grace of God is a constant resource. Lord, set a guard on my lips! -today!

Every single time you open your mouth to speak, you decide whether to curse or to bless.

I think it was Roy Bennett who said: “Maturity is when you stop complaining and making excuses in your life; you realize everything that happens in life is a result of the previous choice you’ve made and start making new choices to change your life.”

Maturity is when you stop complaining and making excuses, and start making changes.

Start today. Change the way you speak.

Posted in Christianity, Contemporism, Evangelism, Faith, God, Holiness, Jesus, Morning Devotions, New Church, New Testament, Prayer, Purity, Sin & Repentance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus & What Prayer is NOT

Image result for jesus prayer

Jesus’ intent was not to entertain: he had important information to pass on and he wanted his listeners to be alert and attentive to what he said. But even the serious discussion was often accompanied by wry remarks and comical illustrations. It was as if Jesus was incapable of being dull!

Listen, for example, to his instructions about prayer. You would be sure that this was an area where he would be solemn, but he is far from it!

First he begins with a memorable picture of what prayer is not.

Matt 6: 5:  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

You can picture the scene. The rabbi calls upon Brother So-and-so to pray in the synagogue. He stands, clears his throat, adopts a pose and beseeches the ceiling at great length. Everyone is blown away: such oratory! Such verve! Such execution! He sits, rather smugly, basking in the invisible ovation. A job well done.

And Jesus says: He got what he wanted –the approval of men. But did he receive the approval of God?

Do you see the rich absurdity of the picture?

Prayer is not, that is to say, a subject for celebrity. You don’t draw attention to yourself at all. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

This is not really an instruction about where you pray, of course, but about how you pray. There is something to be gained from prayer, but you have to decide what it is you want: you may either receive the “Well done” of people or the “Well done” of God – but not both!

In Jesus’ day, pious Jews would pray publicly at set times in the morning, afternoon, and evening (Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10; Acts 3:1). Josephus points out that sacrifices, including prayers, were offered “twice a day, in the early morning and at the ninth hour.” But Jesus himself does not refer to correct times: only to the correct attitude. Here he firmly shakes his head at any showmanship or display. The theatrical term “hypocrite” denoted a “play-actor” who wore a mask to pretend to be a person other than himself. Here it describes an insincere person who pretends to be pious or virtuous when he is not. People see what’s on the outside and we may call this reputation. God sees what’s really present on the inside. We call this character. God is interested in our character, not our reputation.

The real question is this: Who do we seek to please in our “religious activities” after all? Are we “playing the part” like an actor or are we seeking to please our “Father Who art in heaven”? Do we pray for applause? Do we pray to fool ourselves about our own spiritual standing? Are we trying to get God’s favour by our extraordinary acts of piety?  

 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Many ancient religions had the idea that someone could persuade the gods to act if they just said the magic words over and over again. The word “babbling” means “to say ‘batta, batta, batta”. Batta is –as I hope you realise-  a meaningless phrase. Don’t you dare treat prayer like some kind of rain dance, some magic formula that you just have to repeat to get the desired result.

Of course, it’s not too different today.Sometimes people today treat prayer exactly the same way. Even in Christian circles, prayer can become rote and meaningless, just a bunch of magic words we say to try to get God’s attention, to get our desires answered.

“But when you pray”: find somewhere secret…Jesus wanted to create a whole new way of thinking about what was going on in prayer.

Tameion describes any place of privacy. Jesus is referring to an inner room with no windows, without distraction and without audience. This is in direct contrast to the show-offs who want to be noticed. The focus is rather on the intimacy of fellowship with God, which is at the centre of all prayer, ( be it public or private, of course) This relationship is the real barometer of your life with God, and not all that public stuff because in the secret place for there is no one (or only One!) present to be impressed by your words.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Sometimes people wonder, “If God already knows what I need, then why should I tell him about it in prayer?” I think the answer is that even though God doesn’t need us to tell him, we need us to tell him. When we talk to God, it reminds us that we depend on God and it demonstrates that we trust him. And we need that. All we need to do is talk to him, honestly and sincerely. No fuss, no mess.

The point is that prayer is filled with meaning and significance. That’s the kind of prayer that God appreciates (and that God answers).

So how do you pray? Stop thinking so much of yourself and think of the one to whom you re speaking. It’s a surefire start….

Posted in Christianity, Evangelism, Faith, God, Holiness, Jesus, life, Listening, Morning Devotions, New Church, New Testament, Prayer, Sin & Repentance, The church today, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment