2010-01-19 – “Dawn”
Well, the schools have started and so it’s time to start the eDevs again! To those I haven’t seen yet: Blessings for 2010!
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations3:21-24)
I hope you will pardon the pun for this series title. We often say that “reality bites” and most people mean is that there comes a moment when our rose-coloured spectacles of our wishful thinking, sentimental perspectives and idealised hopes crack and the harsh light of the so-called “real world” _bites_ us.
But there is another reality that we often discount. A reality where Jesus enters into our world and even though He assures us that “in this world you will have trouble,” He is also quick to remind us to take heart for He has overcome this world and He will never leave us or forsake us.
And so in the midst of a present reality that bites us, there is another greater Truth unfolding. We need to be reminded of it.
In computer-speak a “byte” is cluster of ones and zeroes and is what is usually needed to transmit one alphabet character of information. Over the next couple of days I will be sending you some “Reality-Bytes”: A reminder of God’s greater truth in the midst of our lives.
If anyone in the OT experienced a Reality-Bite it would have been Jeremiah sitting the smoking ruins of Jerusalem that the Babylonians had decimated after an 18 month siege.
If anyone should have and could have doubted God’s love and care – it would’ve and should’ve been Jeremiah. In the midst of tragedy and heartache and pain, Jeremiah chose to reach out to a God whose love for us is as certain as the sunrise tomorrow morning.
2010 already has 18 days spent and gone and we are busy with the 19th day. Resolution and Optimism have faded in the hurly burly of tightening our belts after too much eating and spending and as the pace accelerates to a frenzy, many of us are wondering whether we have the strength for it all.
Jeremiah’s certainty is our ultimate reality: The night will not last. The failure of others does not have to destroy us. Our own sin-brokenness will not have the last word. There is a cross and a Saviour who gives us a bridge between our dark reality and the dawning of real reality: God’s unconquerable love for you and me.
2010-01-20 – “Independence”
If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jeremiah12:5)
Independence is a highly-valued trait in modern-society. To be sure, it is good to grow from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood.
We need to learn to “carry the can”, “shoulder the responsibility” and “face the music.” BUT the reality bite that we must face is that there are a number of life circumstances that can wound us and sometimes even kill us emotionally, spiritually and even physically.
The Biblical Reality is that our problems don’t disappear when we become people of faith. Jeremiah was called to a tough ministry and he was called to repeatedly and doggedly call God’s people to repentance.
But Jeremiah had had enough – they weren’t listening. He was done! Two verses earlier he says: “Drag them off like sheep to be butchered!”
One would imagine that God would come to him and say “Shame Jeremiah, you’ve done your best and they haven’t listened – I bet you’re feeling pretty upset….”
But God says: “You’ve raced with men (and lost) how will you compete with horses?”
There are two parts to this:
1. It’s not gonna get any easier.
2. Do you think you’ll make it on your own?
Let’s be clear: God is _not_ taunting Jeremiah (“Is that the best you can do?”) He is pushing him to the place of acknowledging that he needs help.
The reality bite we have to come to terms with is that there are some horses we cannot outrun on our own. The reality-byte we are offered here is that God knows that we have limits and wants us to recognise that we need His help.
2010-01-21 – “Nothing”
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John15:5)
Many of us tend to have a “God of the gaps” theology. We carry on with our own lives and doing our own thing until we hit a problem we can’t solve (a gap) and then we rush to God.
Jesus has a different take: Actually, a branch cannot grow without a life-giving and life-sustaining vine connection. Oh the branch can fake life, it can pretend that the leaves that are drying out or already dry are actually still alive. The branch can put up a good pretense, but it’s not really alive and it’s not going to produce any fruit.
Today many people put up a good show. They have the signs of life: the houses, cars, salaries and showcase families, but there is often a deep inner void – a God-shaped hole inside – a space that only Christ can fill.
It’s quite odd really – most people try to deal with reality by “faking it.”
Jesus is refreshingly blunt – you can’t do real life without Him.
And this is not about being near the Vine or trying to look and sound like the Vine. It’s not about studying the Vine or using Vine terminology. It’s about connecting to the Vine.
When all the pretenses are stripped away, what can we do without a real relationship with God? What can we do without getting life-nutrition from the Vine? What can we do apart from Him?
2010-01-22 – “Realization”
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, O king.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel3:24-25)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in Exile in Babylon. The king, Nebuchadnezzar – the known world’s most powerful man, had decreed that people should bow down to his statue when the band played… or else! …And the else was the fiery furnace!
Pragmatic people said: “Well, this is the real world. We’ll cross our fingers and bow down.” But in the crowd were three men who refused.
Were they crazy? Didn’t they realise that they could cause trouble for the rest of the Jewish exiles? Surely they were intelligent enough to realise that the ultimate reality was Nebuchadnezzar’s oven-on-steroids?
Even Nebuchadnezzar was dumbfounded: “What were these guys thinking? Do they really think they can defy my oven?”
But there’s a shock in store for old Neb…
The realization hits the biggest faker first…
As Nebuchadnezzar, thinking he has proven his power, looks expectantly into the furnace, he comes to a dramatic realization – he has to synchronise his expectations with what is really real -There are no heaps of ash in the furnace, no screams, no triumph of the “real world” over childish religious zeal. There’s a new person in the fire – and he looks like he’s God incarnate – God-with-us!
This last weekend I sat on a hospital bed with a new mom of twins who’d been told she had developed an irreversible heart condition which would mean she would never be able to do normal things like carry her babies or climb a flight of stairs. We looked each other in the eyes and I said “We are now at the end of what medicine can do and in the realms of what God can do.” And the church prayed…
On Sunday night they took a sonar of her heart and discovered that there had been a 90% improvement. On Monday she left ICU and on Thursday she went home. Hallelujah!
There is a REALITY that supercedes our “real” world. We need to realise and re-align to this!
2010-01-26 – “Fuel”
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I have always wondered about Paul’s list.
I can understand him wanting to reduce the basics of life to 3 things. Three reminds us of the Trinity, three is easy to remember and many things come in lists of threes (e.g. sun, moon and stars; body, soul and spirit; yesterday, today and tomorrow)
I’m also happy with faith and love – I can understand how they made it to the top of the pile with regard to a life with God. It makes sense that faith is how we relate to God and that love is crucial in our vertical and horizontal relationships. And I understand that love is the greatest.
But hope? I’ve wondered whether peace wouldn’t have been better? Surely we need peace more than hope? Or what about humility? Wouldn’t it be more desirable to have humble people than hopeful people? Or what about courage? Surely one needs to be courageous in our exercise of faith and love?
And what is hope anyway? We say “I hope it rains tomorrow, I hope I pass the test, I hope the bulls win.” Is this what hope is – a vague sense of the power of positive thinking?
Nope… hope is more than this. Hope is the fuel of those who live in today’s broken realities. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning. And lost hope is the primary cause of depression and anxiety today.
Hope is the key to a living reality that we can take hold of. Hope is a sense, a conviction, a stirring within that assures us that God is there, that He is good and that He has a plan.
Hope is God’s gift to us – we can’t do much to _generate_ it, but we CAN do a lot to _stifle_ it. We overwhelm hope with cynicism and negativity, we ignore hope when we are obsessed with past hurts, we poison hope when we try to medicate life’s pain with drugs, alcohol or hedonism, we choke hope when we place our security in the proliferation of possessions and we sabotage hope when we place our feelings at the center of the universe.
Sometimes we are out of love and don’t have the strength for faith. Hope gets us up and hope causes us to reach for God. Hope is planted deep in us by a God who specializes in making us indomitable through His power at work in us.
Elsewhere (Rom5:5) Paul writes: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Hope is our reality fuel – God gives it to us: don’t choke it, stifle it, or ignore it. Deep inside there is a conviction bubbling that we are not alone and that we are loved. When you grab on to that hope, then faith and love will follow.
2010-01-27 – “Accompanied”
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8 is a very needed and very important chapter in the New Testament. It makes a number of very important points:
Here are a couple from the first half of ch.8:
* It is by the Holy Spirit that we become spiritually alive
* It is by the same Spirit that we are adopted as God’s children
* It is the Holy Spirit who helps us when we pray.
But Paul is not only talking about our spiritual lives in ch.8 – He is also realistic about the pain and heartache that our world is subject to.
Paul is no slick tele-evangelist promising us a victorious-and-pain-free life (“Just send me $100 so that God can bless you”) Absolutely not! Paul recognises that pain is part of our world:
* He describes the earth groaning as if with labour pains. (“22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”)
* He links human frailty with the vulnerability of sheep going to the abattoir. (“36 For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”)
But Paul is not threatened by the presence of trouble. His faith is not shaken by visits from adversity. He does not shrink back from hardship and he does not try escapism in the midst of frustrating setbacks.
Paul is a realist – he faces trouble fearlessly. Why?
#1 He is convinced He is loved by God – and that Christ was God’s best, given up for him: (“31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all –how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”)
#2 The presence of trouble does NOT mean that God is absent or impotent. Rhetorically and expectantly Paul asks: “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
#3 God is at work with a long-term plan that is His best for me. (“28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”)
#4 We are not alone and in this is our victory – Christ loved us so that He went to the Cross – so that He could be with us and forgive us and that we will never ever be alone! (“38 For I am convinced…)
2010-01-28 – “Perspective”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James4:7)
There are four forces at work in the world:
- God, His angels and His people as individuals and the church
- My own sinful nature (Paul calls this the “flesh”)
- The broken world system
- Satan and the fallen angels (demons) with him.
The problem is that we tend to focus on the devil. We see him behind every bush and some people start to play “spiritual cowboys and crooks” believing that _they_ can vanquish the powers of darkness.
James makes it clear:
If we want to overcome evil and brokenness we must:
- Draw near to God
- Resist Satan
Drawing near to God as James describes it in the verses 4-10 involves humility, submission, confession and sincere repentance. He concludes with verse 10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
When it comes to resisting Satan, the sad thing for me is that even Christians do not properly understand that Scripture clearly teaches us that there was a war in heaven and that Satan and ONE third of the angels were thrown out. (Therefore there are two angels for every one demon) Let alone the fact that Christ overcame sin, death and satan on the cross!!!
It is not our job to defeat Satan or even to take the fight to him. We must simply stand our ground (Paul makes this very clear when he talks about the armour of God: “After you have done everything, to stand” (Eph6:13)
So, let’s get our perspective right! I need to make some clear decisions with regard to the four forces in the world:
1. God: Submit to Him, humbly trusting Him to save me
2. My Flesh: Confess and Repent sincerely and God will lift me up
3. The World: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph5:11)
4. Satan: Wear the full armour of God and stand firm, resisting satan.
There is no point in tackling 2,3,4 without doing 1.
2010-01-29 – “Steam”
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans12:11-12)
A lot of church-leadership authors advise pastors to use new believers to do outreach, launch initiatives and take the church forward because people who have been Christians for a long time seem to be “stuck in the mud” and “have run out of steam.”
What an indictment!!!
Unfortunately it seems to be a true trend.
When we are new believers, we are blown away with a sense of God’s love and God’s forgiveness. It brings tears to our eyes to think that Jesus died on the cross for us and we are motivated to take risks for Him because, after all, He came all the way from heaven to earth just for us.
And then, like the weeds in Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed, life chokes our enthusiasm, blunts our passion and takes the edge off our devotion. We drift into mediocre, un-prioritised living.
In verse 11-12 Paul urges us to be resolutely passionate. We must _choose_ to prevent the weeds of the cares and busy-ness of life from choking our fervour and passion. We need to do what it takes to maintain spiritual momentum.
If you think of a steam train, it is easier to keep the steam going than to rebuild the fire to re-heat the water when we’ve run out of steam.
There are some practical steps to keeping up a head of steam:
- Keep up the fervour
- Serve the Lord
- Joyful hope
- Patient in affliction
- Faithful in prayer
I’ll deal with these next week.
Are you in danger of running out of steam, or has it already happened? It’s time to make a decision.
Why not bow your head right now and ask God to light the fire in you again. And then stir yourself up to be on fire for Him!
2010-02-02 – “Steam: Fervour”
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour… (Romans12:11-12)
On Friday I wrote about how we’re on fire for God when faith is new and then, all too often, our passion fades. We’re looking at how we can keep our momentum and not run out of steam…
Paul reminds us that it is all “In view of God’s mercy (Rom12:1). It’s all because we realise how much we have been forgiven and how Christ came and suffered for us.
Here are a couple of possible translations of the first part of v.11:
- Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit. (RSV)
- Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit (ESV)
- Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame (MSG)
- Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit (CEV)
- Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive (NIRV)
The original Greek that Paul wrote, if one translates in a very blunt, literal fashion, reads something like this:
“Be zealous (earnest, eager and diligent)
Don’t be lazy or troublesome
Boil over with an enthusiastic heart filled by the Spirit.”
A new believer _feels_ excited with the recent discovery that Jesus has died for them. Those of us who have believed for a long time are in danger taking it for granted.
We have to be deliberate in our fervour. We must make a decision to be determined. We must _decide_ to be zealous. There are three key parts to this determination:
1.We should strive to be earnest, eager and diligent.
2.We must avoid the temptation to be slothful.
3.We must realise that only the Spirit working in our hearts can make our lives “aglow”, “boiling over” and “aflame.” Obedience to His promptings is what fuels the fire!
The word “enthusiasm” comes from two words: “in” and “God”
2010-02-03 – “Steam: Serve”
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (Romans12:11)
Many people are dissatisfied with the depth of their relationship with God. They are aware that their spiritual lives need a kick-start. They say to themselves: “I need to sort myself out first and _then_ I can do something in the church.”
But sometimes the best way to grow closer to God is to jump in and begin to serve.
- How spiritual do you have to be to pour a cup of tea?
- How good a hotline to heaven do you need before you can hug a child?
- How much Bible knowledge do you need to greet people at the door?
Jesus indicated that the road to greatness begins with serving others. There is a “Copernican Shift” that takes place when we begin to serve. (Copernicus was the first one to suggest that the sun and not the earth was the centre of everything.) When we serve, it moves our focus from ourselves to others.
When we get involved in service for God, we deliberately place ourselves amongst the things and people of God and this greatly increases our chances of:
-being inspired from the example of others
-having our hearts softened
-getting our priorities clarified
-growing in confidence
Couch-potatoes and Pew-warmers grow more slowly than those who actively seek ways to serve God in practical ways. It takes courage to take the plunge, but it is worth it!
2010-02-04 – “Steam: Patience and joyful Hope”
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans12:12)
If we’re going to keep up our spiritual momentum and not run out of steam then we will need to realise that life is not always fair and that problems can and will come our way.
These adversities are the result of being broken people living in a broken world and knowing God does not guarantee us a pain-free life. When we assume that we have a _right_ to a life that is always fair and without trials and tribulations, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Maybe that sounds a bit morbid to you. Am I saying that our lot is to have trouble in life and that we will just have to “suck it up”?
Paul reminds us of two important character traits that we can draw on, namely, Hope and Patience. As we face the trials of life, hope and patience help us to see past the trials to the greater reality: God’s love for us is stronger than the storms of life!
I spoke at length about hope earlier in this series (See “Fuel”) and so, for now, this definition will suffice: Hope is the confidence that God is with us and life is not pointless. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning and hope paves the way for faith and love.
But Paul takes it further: Not only should we nurture and protect hope, but we can learn to be content, peaceful, assured and satisfied in this hope. Another word for these qualities is Joy. Joy is not the emotion of happiness but the peaceful contentment and assurance that comes from knowing I am not alone.
Patience is about having a long-term view. Patience allows us to see beyond the pain and frustration of the moment. Patience is the runner who endures the burning lungs and pushes aching legs up the hill in the race because they are looking towards the Finish Line. Lack of patience is often a lack of vision.
Both these qualities are given to us by God. They are gifts poured out in our lives by the Holy Spirit. We just receive them and nurture them.
* Romans15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
* Galatians5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
2010-02-05 – “Steam: Prayer”
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans12:11-12)
Reality bites us and we think that we are too busy too pray.
If we want to avoid running out of steam, the final reality byte we need to download is this: “Be faithful in prayer.”
I have an over-busy mind and always seem to be over-run with things that must be done. When it comes to maintaining spiritual fervour through prayer, I am still learning.
Here are some quotes from people who have mastered the truths that I am still learning:
Martin Luther said: “I have so much to do today that I _need_ to spend the first hour in prayer.”
Someone else said: “Seven days without prayer makes one weak!”
What about this one? “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go.” — Abraham Lincoln
“One can believe intellectually in the efficacy of prayer and never do any praying.” –Catherine Marshall
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”– Corrie Ten Boom
Fredrik Wisloff said: “You may pray for an hour and still not pray. You may meet God for a moment and then be in touch with Him all day.”
And this awesome one: “Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan” –John Bunyan
What I’m learning is to stop making excuses about being busy, about not knowing how to pray and just not quite managing to make time to pray, and I am simply grabbing moments to connect deeply and intimately with God.
And whenever I do, it’s like taking a huge breath of fresh oxygen and realising that I’ve been holding my breath and that I actually _want_ to breathe more often.
2010-02-09 – “Dry?”
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John7:37-38)
Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel had two pictures that reflected contemporary society:
* A valley of dry bones that could be brought to life by the preaching of the Word and the infilling of the Spirit.
* The wastelands of the Dead Sea brought to life by a river flowing from the temple.
The New Testament makes it clear that _we_ are the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we are dry and thirsty, He invites us to come to Him.
1- come to Christ in repentant humility.
2- bow our hearts before Him and embrace Him as our Saviour.
3- surrender to His Lordship and appoint Him as King over our lives.
1- receive the unconditional love and forgiveness of the Father
2- know the security of adoption by grace as sons and daughters of God
3- experience the transforming power of the Spirit to heal and transform us and those around us.
The River is the Holy Spirit who will flow in and from us, and, in line with Ezekiel’s vision, that river can flow into the deserts and wastelands of contemporary society and bring gracious abundant life.
But in Ezekiel’s vision the river gets deeper and we can stand by the side, paddle, wade or swim in it. It’s not MY river, it’s the river of the Spirit and we can choose to what extent we will paddle, wade or swim in it.
So, if you’re thirsty…
- Come to Jesus – get _real_ with Him.
- He’ll start a river in you and you have a choice:
Stay on the bank or take off your shoes and start paddling, wading and swimming. (Something on the “How?” of this tomorrow…)
2010-02-10 – “Watersports”
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. (Acts16:13)
(Analogies are not everyone’s cup-of-tea, but they can be evocative and memorable, so even if you’re not the analogy type, bear with me!)
In the New Testament, rivers were where people were baptised (See Mark1:5) and in Gentile cities where there were no synagogues, the Jews would meet by the river to pray.
Now we don’t gather at a physical river, but the imagery is valuable nevertheless.
- The river is where we can be washed
- The restfulness of the river flowing gently by is conducive to prayer
- The river provides us with cool water and if it is moving water it is safe to drink
- When we learn how to swim, the water can carry us
If we imagine life as a “Dr Livingstone” push through the jungle then these are useful analogies to remind us of our relationship with God:
(It is “a jungle out there” after all!)
1. When we confess our sins, Jesus forgives us completely, but it is only as we stay close to the still small voice of the Spirit that our sense of being forgiven remains and we are emboldened to resist temptation. This means we must follow the course of the river carefully – it is so easy to wander away from it and get lost in a forest of business were the bird-and-beetle sounds drown out the sound of the river and we struggle to get back to it. Sometimes the best way to find the river again is to turn around and retrace our steps (which is what repentance is.)
2. If we would become quiet enough to listen to the still small voice of the Spirit, we will find prayer to be as calming as the gentle sound of a big river flowing slowly past us. (The thing about big rivers is that the power of the water is enormous! And so is the power of quiet prayer!)
3. The water of the Spirit’s river is best drunk from the cup of His Word. When we are regularly, systematically and humbly connecting with Scripture, we are in the best position to drink from the river.
4. One of the secrets to learning how to swim is to understand that we don’t fight the water, but use it to carry us. But we have to take the risks. In the same way, the Spirit will ask us to reach out to others and to serve Him in the world. This will be scary, but if we work with His promptings and trust Him to carry us, we will swim.
2010-02-11 – “Sacred”
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
You only have to move one letter to turn “SACRED” into “SCARED.”
Life has many of us SCARED. There are the fears we have of physical dangers – crime, accidents, disease, natural disasters etc. But there are the deeper fears that have us awake at 4am in the morning:
- “Is it worth it? Is there any purpose to this life?”
- “Am I up to scratch? Do I have anything to offer?”
- “How can I forgive myself for the ways I have failed?”
Most of us go through life insecure and intimidated. We measure ourselves by the airbrushed models, plastic celebrities and the hyped-up tycoons and conclude that we’re failures. This “so-called reality” comes along and “bites” us and we live SCARED lives.
Scripture has a different perspective: We are Masterpieces (that’s what the Greek word for “workmanship” implies) and life is purposeful and we are valuable. Life is SACRED!!!
Nancy Guthrie points out that we are not masterpieces like the Mona Lisa which hangs passively behind glass. We are masterpieces like a Stradivarius Violin which is best appreciated when it is played by a Master Musician.
The _reality_ is that God has created us and even though the decay of sin has dirtied our body and rusted our strings, the Master Musician can clean me and restore me and make beautiful music with my life.
It’s about understanding that even giving a cup of water can be an act that glorifies Him. So stop being SCARED, cease trying to be someone else, embrace who God has made you to be and listen to Him in the small stuff and you will find that life is SACRED.
2010-02-12 – “Wet Paint”
…confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians1:6)
We spoke yesterday about being God’s workmanship (masterpieces).
Here’s another bit of reality:
- The paint is still wet
- The clay is still soft
- The instrument is still being tuned
And the Master Artist is still working on us…
We are not left to struggle through life on our own. We are not stuck with a “final version” of our talents and character and left to fend for ourselves – trying to get to heaven by keeping our painting clean and our frame shiny. Instead, our talents and characters are a starting point and God is on an upgrade path with us!
We are works-in-progress, we have “L-Plates” in our rear windows. And the best way to travel when we have Learner Plates is to have our Driving Coach in the car with us…
God promises that He is at work in us. Through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in us and our communion with Him in prayer, Bible Study and Fellowship, we are being guided along a road that brings us closer to Him and makes us more and more like Jesus!
And all of heaven is determined to get us to the destination.
So: There’s good work going on in you and God is making it happen!
Look at what Paul writes later in Philippians:
“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (2:13)
Thank You Lord that You are working on us!
2010-02-16 – “Time”
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes3:1-8)
(Just a disclaimer: I have not mastered this one yet, so I’m talking to myself more than anyone else!)
If our diary entries were decided by the voices that shout the loudest, our lives would be a continuous run of meetings and work commitments.
We live in a society that is rush rush rush and we easily get sucked into this helter-skelter. The famous saying “time is money” is rather scary if we apply it to Jesus’ comment “wherever your treasure is, there is your heart…” What would people conclude about my priorities if they audited my diary?
Ecclesiastes (the word means “Wise Teacher”) offers another perspective: Balance.
While there is a lot we can say about the poetry of the passage and the perspectives it gives of Providence, I want to reflect on the aspect of variety and balance that the poem gives us.
The saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is just one of the perspectives that the Ecclesiastes poem gives us. But there is more: The poet is saying that life is a rich tapestry of many colours and all of these colours are necessary for a meaningful and complete life.
When we fail to appreciate the simple things of life like a family meal together,
when we rush through the sad times of life to avoid too much pain,
when we duck the home challenges in exchange for the work challenges,
when we avoid the silent times with too much chatter or social networking,
when we give in to the demands of the urgent instead of the important
we lose balance and life becomes an unreal chaos that bites us.
Today’s reality byte: How balanced is your diary? Is there time for God, your family and you?
2010-02-17 – “Priorities”
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew6:33)
There’s the story about the college professor who demonstrated the value of setting priorities to his students by putting sand, stones and rocks into a jar. If you put the sand in first, it fills a third of the jar and then the stones fill another two thirds and there is not enough space for the rocks. If however, you put the rocks in first, the stones and the sand fit into the spaces between the rocks.
So, if putting the rocks in first is important then it is probably essential to figure out what the Rock-Priorities in our lives are.
Here’s my take on a priority list.
1. God: My personal relationship with Him – my Quiet Time and day to day obedience to His promptings and guidance.
2. My Family: My spouse (first) and then my children if I am married. My parents and siblings if I am not.
3. My Job or my Studies: If we believe that work is a calling (and God created us to work!), then our job or our studies are the key area where God can use me in my life. (But I have to draw boundaries to prevent this part of my life from destroying others)
4. My Church: God and church are not the same thing and very often people confuse being involved at church with their relationship with God. Preparing a Sunday School lesson or a Bible Study does not replace my Quiet Time with God. But the church (in spite of historical failures and human imperfections) is God’s chosen vehicle to change the world. Most of what I do for God (apart from sharing my faith with those I come into contact with) should ideally happen in the context of the church. (But I have to draw boundaries too)
5. My Health: Exercise and Relaxation are critical – they “sharpen the saw” and preserve our energy and vitality for the rest of our lives. (But I must avoid the trap of being self-obsessed)
6. Friends: Friends are in two groups: Those who help me get closer to God and those who I am trying to get closer to God. There should be balance in this too.
If you’re anything like me, reading a list like this often leaves one feeling convicted. The danger is that the conviction leads to paralysis instead of action. We feel: “My life is so out of balance that I’m not even going to try and turn it around.” My advice is don’t try and fix it all at once, because those efforts often fail. Go for small, incremental wins that change those ingrained habits one little victory at a time.
God’s glory and your sense of value and worth are what’s at stake!
2010-02-19 – “Forgive!”
This is a repeat-and-modify of an old devotion because I felt prompted to pick up this thought again.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew18:35)
Jesus told a parable about a slave who was pardoned from a huge debt he owed his master. Having been forgiven he went and prosecuted a fellow slave who owed him a small debt. Their friends were appalled at his behaviour and told the master who immediately had the hard-hearted servant thrown into prison. Our verse is Jesus’ summation of the story.
Forgiveness is a very difficult relational skill. We talk about “forgive and forget” and this is where the trouble comes in! To make me forget a hurtful thing that someone has done, you would have to hit me on the head with a hammer to give me amnesia!
People think that forgiving is a once-off process and that we will then magically forget and life will go on. The reality about forgiveness is that it is a _process_. We keep choosing to forgive until we can remember without pain.
When someone we love and trust hurts us, we struggle to come to terms with that. Sometimes they know that they have hurt us and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are sorry for what they have done, sometimes they are not.
Choosing to forgive is choosing to let go of the feelings of pain, disappointment and betrayal that someone’s actions have caused us. Every time someone’s failure comes up like bile in my throat I choose to forgive. I can’t forget, but I can choose to let go, again and again and again until those failures don’t have power over me anymore. I keep choosing to pardon someone because I have been pardoned and I know what it is like to have been set free by God!
The interesting thing about unforgiveness is that it mostly bites the one who won’t forgive, and not the one who isn’t forgiven. Very often the people we are angry with don’t even know it!
The Reality is that people fail. You can go through life picking at the scabs that people’s failures have caused you and infection, sepsis and big horrible scars will be the result, or you can choose to dress those wounds with daily applications of the ointment of forgiveness until the wounds are healed and only small scars remain.
2010-02-23 – “Thoughts”
And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. (1Chronicles28:9)
David is nearing the end of his life and is passing the baton on to his son Solomon. There is a surprising clarity of thought that comes at the end of our lives, and so this admonition from David is worth paying attention to.
There are three important aspects to David’s life-advice:
1. Acknowledge the God of your father: I was going to write “Acknowledge God” but that is more theoretical, more philosophical while David’s statement refers to something more experiential. For all his faults, David had lived a life close to God – he was called a “man after God’s heart.” By acknowledging his father’s God, Solomon would be acknowledging the God David worshipped in song and dance, the God David heard from, the God who gave David victory and the God who guided David’s steps.
2. Serve Him with wholehearted devotion: Just one story from David’s life illustrates this. When David buys the threshing field that will become the temple site, the owner of the land, Araunah offers the land and his cattle and firewood to David as a gift because he is, after all, the king and it is for the worship of God. But David responds “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2Sam24:24)
3. Serve Him with a willing mind: Many people have a faith that is purely observing tradition. For others faith is purely an emotional crutch. But when we engage our minds, we are reformatting the the operating system of our minds. We take faith into our day to day life experiences. When our minds are willing, we are at a place where we are ready to allow the implications our our faith in a loving, holy God to affect and impact the way we live, speak and do.
To live well we need to acknowledge a God who wants to be part of our lives, we need to serve Him with all we have and we need to engage (thought)FULLy.
2010-02-24 – “Grow”
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians2:6-7)
Many of us stagnate spiritually. When we receive Christ we are filled with gratitude for all He has done for us, and we are enthusiastic and highly motivated. But then the “feelings” wear off and our edge is blunted by the hurly burly of life.
Paul urges us to continue the rest of our lives with the same joy and energy that we had when we first came to know Christ. But how can we do this?
1. Put down roots into Christ:
This means that we develop daily routines to push our roots down into the reality of His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and the glorious comfort that He is currently our high priest, praying for us and preparing to return for us. Without roots going ever deeper into the incredible truth of His coming into our world to save us, the tree of our relationship with Him will just whither.
2. Strengthen your faith according to your teaching:
The secret to growth in the early church (see Jerusalem, Antioch, Berea and many others in the book of Acts) was that they were devoted to good Biblical teaching. There is no escape from the importance of solid Bible-based learning – but this teaching must be followed up by internal application and putting into practice.
3. A permeating attitude of gratitude:
Pessimism, dissatisfaction and a sense of “waiting for your ship to come in” are fatal to a healthy spiritual life. Too many of us are pessimistic of the present, dissatisfied with the past and waiting for tomorrow to be a better day. A gratitude-attitude has us looking up instead of looking down. A gratitude-attitude points us toward Christ. A gratitude-attitude counts our blessings and waters the roots.
(Deepening roots + teaching-strengthened faith) x gratitude = growth
2010-02-25 – “Materialism#1″
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew6:28-33)
True Reality is a combination of physical, spiritual and emotional needs. In this Reality we are a combination of Body, Soul and Spirit. Many people get “bitten” when they separate these areas and emphasise one above and beyond everything else.
The Greek Culture (in which the New Testament was born) was Analytical – they were the ones who divided Body, Soul and Spirit. This distinction is often UNhelpful because we have used it to divide life into separate compartments and “never the twain shall meet!” The Hebrew Culture (of the Old Testament) tended more toward Synthesis. They saw life as an integrated whole. (They understood that if our feet are sore, our soul feels it too!)
When it comes to this text, many people move from one extreme to the other. Our so-called “real world” is an overly-materialistic world where people are gripped by possession-obsession and wealth-craving. Many people interpret Jesus’ words as a call to completely abandon the physical world (and call it bad) and to live purely in the spiritual realm. This is to misunderstand Jesus words.
Jesus is not saying that working for a living is bad or that clothes and food are bad. He is calling us to balance. Materialism is bad when we become obsessed by and define ourselves according to the things of the material world.
Jesus is calling us to well-prioritised simplicity – his example of lilies, grass (and the sparrows in another passage) – is about simplicity. The lily still photosynthesises, the grass still puts down roots to get water, and the sparrow still forages for food.
His point is that we need to recognise what is temporary and what is eternal. And get the sequence of importance right.
2010-02-26 – “Materialism#2″
30-33″If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowersâ€”most of which are never even seenâ€”don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Matthew6:30-33)
This is the same passage we looked at yesterday, but in the “Message” which is a paraphrase* Bible Translation by Eugene Peterson.
What I really like about this translation of this passage is the way in which Peterson unpacks the idea of “seeking first the Kingdom of God” because he’s really linking into what I’ve been trying to say with “Reality Bytes”:
1. Move from the pursuit of “getting” and respond to God’s giving.
2. Understand the way God works: “Every good and perfect gift comes from Him.” (James 1)
3. “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.”
- Life each day secure that Christ is Risen and interested in you.
- Know that God has loved you long before you thought of loving Him.
- Understand that He provides our needs and not our wants.
The Greek word for “seek” (which Peterson translates “steep”**) implies making a careful search, doing a thorough investigation or research, it means “get immersed in your subject.”
Jesus is calling us to become quiet enough to observe and experience the God of all creation and to live our lives under His care. When His Reality becomes our way of life (our bytes) then the shadow-reality of materialism will stop “biting” us.
This brings us to the end of our “reality bytes” series.
I hope you have found it meaningful!
(* Just a quick note on paraphrases: While one should never use a paraphrase translation (like “the Message” or “the Living Bible”) in isolation, there is a lot of value in using the freer translations to give us a better perspective on the more literal translations. While “the Message” is a lovely translation, it is still the work of one person (albeit that he is a very gifted scholar and a very pious God-follower) and should always be compared with other translations for balance.)
(** The English word “steep” is a cooking word – it means to: imbue, immerse, infuse, ingrain, invest, marinate, permeate, saturate, soak, submerge)