Day 37 - Issue 23

November 21, 2017

John 14:3 NLT

'When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.'

As a young man, I found ‘waiting’ one of life’s most challenging activities. I was impetuous and ran before I could walk. Filled with optimism and self-confidence, I ran at life with its many opportunities, seldom waiting before diving in feet first. At times this left me in a precarious position, facing the consequences of my decisions with no thought on how to manage them.

So in choosing to follow Jesus, I never thought through the consequences of what that might mean. I was high on the promised upside for me, failing to consider what it meant to live a Christian life. I assumed it was about becoming a better person, with no real idea of what ‘better’ meant. My view was egocentric, all about me. God had other ideas. Following God is to step into a plan laid down before the foundation of the world where God’s purpose running through creation becomes the meaning of life. I am to be a reflection of God and caught up into this overarching revelation of love and grace throughout the earth.

My significance isn’t measured by my academic achievements, nor my role or my influence. It’s measured by the degree to which I respond to God’s invitation to wait and respond to God’s purpose throughout my life. In my early days of ministry, I rushed at opportunity and found myself on platforms long before I was sufficiently formed in Christ. Then, what I communicated was part God, but also part me. My interaction with people, my reaction and response to life, domestic and public, was framed by emotions and insecurities wrestling to control my persona. I was ‘half-baked’.

Training reveals its effect when I do by instinct what I’ve learned when my trainer isn’t with me. Jesus tells his disciples, “I’ll be away soon; do what you’ve learned, and don’t worry that I am not here to closely supervise your activities.”

QUESTION: Do you get impatient with God?

PRAYER: Lord, teach me, train me, form and shape me for your purposes.

 

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Day 36 - Issue 23

November 20, 2017

John 14:1 NLT

'Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.'

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.” I have pondered this often and recognise that trouble, defined as stress, anxiety, concern, feeling unsettled etc, plays a significant part in each one of our lives. Why is it that when Katey was unexpectedly late home from work, I began to fret that something terrible must have happened to her? Normally a delay at school, or heavy traffic was the reason, but my mind moved towards the catastrophic in the first instance.

Anxiety and stress have a physical impact upon us. I can feel my chest tightening, my breathing becomes shallower, my muscles tense. My emotions are equally influenced and concentration on anything other than the issue of concern seems impossible. Then, of course, when anxiety was resolved, and Katey walked through the door, I could react out of my anxiety and project blame, as though she deliberately caused my stress.

The response to anxiety is twofold, and both grow from calculating happiness. First I am invited to recall that God has my best interests at heart, even when it feels anything but the case. Then I am to take charge of my heart and move back into living in the secure knowledge that God exercises full control of every detail of life.

Following Jesus is not a passive activity. We exercise the faith muscle, much as we do any physical muscle required to move our mortal frame. God’s word is clear and true, yet we are expected to act upon it. So I choose to live within God’s provision, even when my circumstances appear to paint a different picture. This is calculating my happiness, for such happiness flourishes once I acknowledge all I have made available to me in God. Jesus invites his disciples to choose to live on the positive side of revelation, rather than fearing the likelihood of calamity and worse.

QUESTION: What things make you anxious?

PRAYER: Lord, help me trust you in the midst of all the things that can cause me to worry and lose sight of you.

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Day 35 - Issue 23

November 17, 2017

Psalm 31:24 NLT

'So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the LORD!'

My mum astonished me when my dad died. I was quite tearful as the reality of his death hit me in waves. But she told me she considered tears a sign of weakness and so she would not cry. This took me by surprise, and I didn’t challenge her statement. I was in no place to do so. However, I deeply disagree.

I was listening to a radio broadcast describing the merchant shipping that kept supplying Britain through the Second World War. One seaman told his experience of being sunk by a torpedo. He found himself swimming, surrounded by cold water and darkness. Alongside him was a fellow crew member and they swam with little knowledge if they were heading in a useful direction. Truly all at sea. After a couple of hours of surviving for its own sake, his colleague said, “I’m done with this” and slipped beneath the waters to his death. A little while later, the seaman described his rescue by a small boat searching for survivors. He kept going when all the odds were stacked against him.

The psalmist commands us to stay strong. We know that we are ultimately safe, yet the experience of swimming in the deep waters of life’s uncertainties can weaken our resolve to keep going. We are spoiled, given our geographical location and the benefits of a developed economy. Millions of God’s friends practise our shared faith in circumstances far more challenging than ours. They find strength to keep going and their testimony can be of great value in strengthening our own resolve.

Strength gives birth to courage because every stroke we swim gives us confidence to swim the next. The experience of surviving 30 minutes in atrocious conditions builds within the courage to swim another 30. Courage is a skill that we can each develop, a skill that is born of adversity.

QUESTION: How strong have you found yourself to be when tested?

PRAYER: Lord, please give your people who are facing hardship and persecution the courage to persevere.

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Day 34 - Issue 23

November 16, 2017

Psalm 31:10 NLT

'I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.'

How, precisely, are we to make sense of God in the face of insurmountable human suffering? I think that question is as old as time itself. As a young evangelist I had many well-crafted responses; these, I fear, mainly reassured those who wrestled with the question yet didn’t wrestle with long-term, unrelenting and debilitating pain. There are plenty of such people today for whom life is lived in continuous pain for which there is no medical remedy. So how might God be present in such lives?

I only speak as an observer; others would be able to speak with greater authority and authenticity than me, as they live with such pain. They face limitations on opportunities others take for granted and are subject to government scrutiny for circumstances they neither wished for nor cling to. The way in which society approaches its most vulnerable must reveal the level of its compassion and heart for God more than any other measure.

It’s essential that we make our complaint known to God and incumbent upon the Church to hear and acknowledge it, however theologically inconvenient it may appear. One strength of the gospel is that no one is excluded, yet I wonder for example how many people with a learning disability are supported in finding their way onto church leadership teams? They serve on health boards, why not eldership? When we don’t know how to respond, are devoid of answers and somewhat embarrassed by the lack of apparent divine intervention, we tend to pass by on the other side and ignore the glaring gap in our theological understanding.

These are situations where, once the noise of valiant intercessors, voices of anguish, complaint, cries of anger and frustration die down, there is nothing left but to wait in silence. Standing in silence alone is far more isolating and discriminatory than standing in silence together. We cannot invent satisfying answers where none exist. We simply wait in demonstration of faith and hope in God.

QUESTION: Is there anyone you know who is suffering right now?

PRAYER: Lord, would you strengthen the weak, comfort the mourning and give relief to those who are suffering today?

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Day 33 - Issue 23

November 15, 2017

Psalm 31:6 NLT

'I hate those who worship worthless idols. I trust in the LORD.'

Throughout my life, God has never entrusted me with much money. I am not especially good with utilising money. That comes from a lack of interest in money as a thing. Growing up, pre-Christian, a cross between a hippy and a rocker, I had no interest in owning stuff. It wasn’t that I was especially noble or politically motivated, I just never developed an appetite to own things. There is an upside; I didn’t have much to cart around when we moved house. However, the downside is that I failed to develop any skills in making or managing money.

It’s not as though I’ve not been tempted to accumulate wealth. There is also the pressure as I enter my later years in thinking through how to maintain sufficient gainful employment to manage to live. The rising cost of living demands greater levels of income just to stand still. So I battle with my internal insecurities and struggle to find a context to talk these things through, since people find the topic of money awkward to discuss.

On the other hand, faith in God’s faithfulness has worked wonders. I have a wonderful debt-free home, I managed to pay off what to me was a very large debt following Katey’s death through an unexpected inheritance from an aunt, and I have never gone without food, as my ample frame reveals. So why is faith in God’s provision so difficult? It is perhaps that the mood music playing throughout society is one of acquisitiveness, and its enticing strains are hard to resist. I’m not immune. So I am practical. I first work out, “What do I really need to achieve?” I recognise I may not be wired to acquisition, yet I am easily allured by the ‘need’ to own something, as well as subject to peer pressure, just like all of us. I need to manage this.

QUESTION: How do you process the endless stream of marketing that envelops you every day?

PRAYER: Lord, give me a generous spirit and help me to trust you with my daily needs.

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Day 32 - Issue 23

November 14, 2017

Psalm 31:4 NLT

Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me, for I find protection in you alone.

I am by nature a confident person; confident in my self-assurance. However, since I am wired more as an introvert than an extrovert, I am not a fan of social gatherings, especially with people I don’t know. The problem with my self-confident, introvert self, is that I find it easy to take decisions, but these can be in a vacuum occupied solely by myself. Having made the decision, although clear on the basis on which I made it, having taken it in my vacuum, I fail to disclose the basis of that decision to others and then am surprised when they struggle to agree with my decision.

My Achilles’ heel is obvious. Failure to communicate effectively with others means that I can advance with only my own narrow understanding of the dangers that lie along my chosen path. These dangers may be sufficient to bring me down, drain my enthusiasm, or provoke me to withdraw. Of these, the latter is my preferred option. While I can persevere in faith, holding fast to the promise of God, when things appear to deteriorate relationally, I have few apparent skills to work that out, and prefer to walk away and put distance between myself and others.

So it is to God I look for guidance, and part of that is entering into conversation with his servants. I need to be located in a small group that is not simply a social club like so many have become, but where like-minded friends of God are together to talk honestly, listen attentively, support practically and progress simply. This is not a friendship circle, although friendships form, it is rather a lifeboat to navigate life’s storms in honesty and together.

Such groups are never church, although they include scripture, prayer and even a meal. Individuals always retain their relationship with their preferred church tradition, but find an honest space to steer a course through life, offering support to those who join them in the lifeboat.

QUESTION: Do you have a group in which you can confide your struggles and battles?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the gift of friendship; may the fellowship we share lead to growth in love and grace.

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Day 31 - Issue 23

November 13, 2017

Psalm 31:1 NLT

'O Lord, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. Save me, for you do what is right.'

Some years ago I lead a retreat to Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is renowned for a large Celtic monastic site that was founded in the sixth century by St Kevin. It is well worth a visit. Just inside the entrance etched into the wall are a Celtic cross and a large fixed ring. If someone fleeing from the authorities reached the monastery and grasped hold of this ring, then they could claim sanctuary, placing themselves under the authority of the monastery. They enjoyed freedom from secular prosecution for twelve months, over which time they determined if they would yield all of their life and property to God and take vows. If not, then they were handed back to the authorities.

Sanctuary is a metaphor for our own grasping hold of God and asking for both forgiveness and mercy. We are never freed from life’s difficulties, but know that God is faithful and will sustain us since we have yielded our lives and property to him. Sometimes the demands of life place choices before us. Will we continue with God, or take back control and take our chances in a turbulent world?

The psalmist speaks of seeking refuge (NIV). Just as someone sought sanctuary in the monastery, so we are placing all of our trust in the integrity and faithfulness of God. We have the power to yield, yet no power to influence the outcome. Our trust is based upon a promise, and promises are difficult to establish in law. A promise is always dependent upon someone keeping their word and can appear very insubstantial. Yet, promise is all we have in return for our commitment.

QUESTION: Have you taken refuge in God?

PRAYER: Lord, may my hope and trust be in you today.

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Day 30 - Issue 23

November 10, 2017

Titus 2:11-12 NLT

'For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God…'

I am a serial learner. I’ve moved from my undergraduate degree through a Masters and onto a PhD. I continue to study for various certificates because I love both the learning and being part of a learning community. What this has taught me, apart from my love of learning, is that to achieve anything demands discipline and hard work. The walk of faith is no different.

My PhD is in Syriac, a living language that is a form of Aramaic. While I can struggle through translation with a grammar book and dictionary in hand, if I were to visit a Syriac-speaking community, in, say, Aleppo, I would be lost. I wouldn’t be able to follow the speed of conversation nor apply grammatical rules to decode the sentences, even if I knew the words.

So it is with Christianity. We can, of course, with appropriate notes, sermons and books, grasp the substance of scripture. Yet, unless we immerse ourselves in the principles and practice of a vibrant Christian culture, we might be forgiven for failing to demonstrate the validity of our message. As a new Christian, I still drank too much. Discovering drunkenness was not commended by the Bible, I still drank, only I didn’t show up drunk to church gatherings. Hypocrisy was seeded early in my Christian walk. Deception I found both easy and rather too natural. Then God spoke and I felt uncomfortable about both the extent of my drinking and the degree to which I controlled the number of drinks I consumed, or if the drink was starting to control me, which I think it was.

So I came seeking support. I spoke out my questions. I was not condemned but supported, and others wiser than me helped be develop a means to manage my drinking. And it worked. So with the Christian life; we need to be convinced we want to live as God instructs, seek advice when needed and develop a disciplined approach that helps replace godless living with godly living.

QUESTION: How well have you succeeded in turning your back on godless living?

PRAYER: Lord, help me live a godly life not to earn your grace but to display it.

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Day 29 - Issue 23

November 9, 2017

Titus 2:9 NLT

'Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back.'

The word ‘slave’ conjures up images of people being ruthlessly exploited for the profit of their owner. However, in Greek and Roman society, slaves might be highly skilled individuals. They served as accountants and physicians. Unskilled slaves, or those reduced to slaves as punishment, led the brutal, short lives we associate with slavery. Indeed, in Rome slaves were regularly adopted as sons by the family they served and enjoyed the benefits that went with their new legal status.

We are slaves of Christ, while we are also adopted sons and heirs. Our status as ‘beloved’ is never in doubt. Yet, our responsibility to develop and deploy our skills in honouring our master and Father is paramount. In a society in which we invite people to work on zero hours contracts, recruit low-wage workers from different parts of the world and basically design the whole of our economy around the sole value of profit, we run the risk of turning a legitimate workforce into no more than wage slaves.

The principle God instructs us to adopt is one in which we assume that whatever we do we are serving him and reflecting kingdom values. As a worker, I am to prove diligent, reliable, trustworthy and compliant. The employer is equally required to honour God first and treat the workforce with respect, deal honestly, reward appropriately and maintain healthy communication and care. We share a common humanity as well as a common God.

The current state of the workplace reveals more about the dangers of the love of money dethroning God. Scripture teaches we cannot love both (Matthew 6:24). There is no problem with working to improve the quality of life for all. Yet, if only a few boats rise on an incoming tide of wealth creation, we run the risk of returning to the worst aspects of slavery.

QUESTION: How do you view work?

PRAYER: Lord, help me today to work in a way that honours and pleases you.

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Day 28 - Issue 28

November 8, 2017

Titus 2:8 NLT

'Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us.'

Christians sometimes score horrid own goals: the horrific revelations of how over many years the institutional Church has covered up child abuse perpetrated by ministers upon vulnerable youngsters is a prime example. In many instances energy has been spent exercising compassion to the perpetrators, and they will need help, but very little support or understanding has been given to their victims. Many have been left abandoned by the roadside, beaten up, wounded and consistently passed by.

Once institutions are accused, their leaders gather with their lawyers and every statement is carefully crafted to manage any legal repercussion there might be. A simple apology, a commitment to listen and a readiness to work with victims to support them in recovering their life and finding a future might prove a more practical and godly response.

Words once spoken cannot be retracted. They are a public record. When I argue with my wife, the words are spoken, exist, wound, and whenever we make up, the reality of the exchange cannot be withdrawn. Words are an important currency. We can use them glibly, albeit in honesty. For example, to declare God heals physical ailments is a truth we can draw from scripture. Yet, we say this with caution if we have not observed someone healed, nor are prepared to pray for such healing and accompany the person if our prayers are apparently unanswered. There must be much greater accountability for our words, for this is one critical area upon which the authenticity of our faith is judged in the court of public and popular opinion.

I now seek to keep things simple and clear. I invite questions and am quick to explain what I believe, but as yet have little experience of. I want to be clear and I invite those listening, neighbour or friend, to tell me what they have heard me say. It is our responsibility to ensure that our words are life-giving and wholesome.

QUESTION: Consider your own use of words. Are they full of encouragement and integrity?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, may the words of my mouth be pleasing to you. Help me with this today.

 

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