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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Day 27 - Issue 23

November 7, 2017

Titus 2:7 NLT

'And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.'

A challenge in communicating about the Christian faith is the temptation to present things in a way that increases their inherent value. I know as an enthusiastic young Christian working with Youth for Christ I often ‘sold’ some legitimate Christian truth from the platform I’d been given well ahead of my knowing the true value of that product. So I marketed the miracle of prayer, and yet my own busyness as an evangelist drove prayer far from my regular daily practice. I was not myself the total beneficiary of the product I promoted. No surprise that I crashed and burned age 27 with physical exhaustion.

I recently bought a small chainsaw for cutting up logs, and general garden maintenance. It came with a ‘buyer beware’ warning, for it’s a dangerous weapon as well as a practical tool. The salesman spent a good deal of time helping me understand how to use this equipment safely. We are to approach the Christian toolkit the same way. Prayer can turn situations around. We take a stand against evil that pushes back against us with every intention to harm us, and we’d better know what we are getting into.

We must learn how to wield the tools of our faith over time and diligently apply them with care and consideration. We must develop a consistency and become both an inspiration and informal coach to others starting out and developing their skills in living out the heartbeat of revelation through their lives.

QUESTION: What spiritual tools has God given you, that you think are underused in your life?

PRAYER: Lord, I pray that the gospel will produce good works in me so I may be an example to others of the goodness of your grace.

 

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Day 26 - Issue 23

November 6, 2017

Titus 2:1 NLT

'As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching.'

We take health seriously in the UK. We prize our physical well-being, while improved nutrition, lifestyle and medical advances mean we can anticipate a longer and healthier lifespan. Indeed, the silver economy is a critical target market, and a rapidly expanding holiday industry is built upon the over-50s demographic.

Scripture offers no criticism of exotic holidays or their frequency. It does, however, speak of the responsibilities that accompany ageing. I have reflected often, privately and in conversations with others, on my disappointment that ‘Mr Angry’ who developed within me as I grew up, still exists. The root of this unacceptable and unattractive behaviour today wounds me as much, if not more, than it wounds others. People have told me that some feel frightened by me. I have little understood this, because I am at times unaware that what they experience is anger. It truly does sober me, and when I recognise I have had an angry outburst, I carry the disappointment for days.

As the family of God there is an essential role for those who are older. If I embraced Christianity enthusiastically as a naive 19-year-old, I desperately needed to see ahead of me people who had road-tested the truths I’d accepted and discovered they were both practical and stood the stress tests of time. Now, as one of those seniors, what example is my life and behaviour to others?

Spiritual health is an essential part of our overall well-being. It comes from diligent application to the ways of God and is realised through the work of the Spirit. Many moving into the autumn of their lives map out a retirement plan that addresses their finances, their use of leisure time, relationships with children and grandchildren, but there is often an empty page beneath the title, ‘Spiritual Practice’. This is the page where we each recognise the good of God in our life, find ways to make visible all we know through experience of him to others, acknowledge and work on the loose ends and finish well with him.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts about your spiritual health?

PRAYER: Lord, may the fruit of your gospel lead me to wisdom in my way of life.

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Day 25 - Issue 23

November 3, 2017

Jeremiah 6:16 NLT

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.” But you reply, “No, that’s not the road we want!”

I discovered my love of history very young. It started with a series of Ladybird books featuring brief stories of historical figures. I remember at 7 asking my parents for RJ Unstead’s [itals]The Story of Britain[end itals] as a birthday present and reading it slowly from cover to cover, even making notes. History is a specific narrative tying events together in an ordered way, and there are many narratives that can be created.

It is good to remember that the history of God’s ways with the people of God is an essential narrative for those of us wanting to prove faithful in our life and service. There are times when it’s good to gaze back at where the Church has come from. Especially when we know our life is at a crossroads.

Many friends of God appear to run out of steam as they move into the later years of life. The reality of faith appears to dim and they pause and consider what it is they really believe. Some tuck God away somewhere and reinvent their lives; others seek to make up for years they feel they’ve lost in serving God. Certainly personal insecurity and anxiety accompanies the ageing process. Accompanying my mother, now aged 92, revealed to me how vulnerable we can become with advancing years. The physical vulnerability I expected, but the mental and emotional fragility is a surprise, and is painful for her.

In preparing for the challenges advancing years present, I have stood at the crossroads and begun to read into the works of the Eastern fathers in the Church. Their works speak of intimacy with God and ordering life in ways that both acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, while creating the space for deepening friendship with God. I will seek to walk these ancient paths in anticipation of a richer and fuller experience of the God of all eternity in all of the moments of the rest of my life.

QUESTION: Are there areas of your life where you are questioning the ways of God?

PRAYER: God of the ages, your ways are sure; may your word be a light to my path.

 

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Day 24 - Issue 23

November 2, 2017

1 Corinthians 15:55 NLT

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

Death is not a subject that’s easy to talk about. I discovered when accompanying Katey with her MS, the ‘death’ word was not wanted by the majority of professionals we had to engage with. We initially were seeking to establish some timeframe to help navigate our journey together, and were surprised and shocked when the consultant neurologist attempted to make light of it and said, “Oh! I wouldn’t be surprised if Katey outlived you.” We both found this profoundly unhelpful. It was one of many disappointments along the way as we tried as best we might to engage in a conversation around death, a very important issue for us.

Scripture has no difficulty with the subject, and death is spoken of often. Because Christianity has its roots firmly established in the soil of hope born of the saving work of Messiah, we can agree with Paul and declare that all our anxieties about death have been addressed.

Once someone dies, although they have left us physically, we will treasure their memory. We travel on our own very individual journey with grief; it’s a journey that never ends but passes through innumerable changing landscapes. We recall the wonderful things they said and did; why they were important to us and where the gaps are for us now they have departed. Indeed, I have come to enjoy the words “faithful departed” to speak of death. They have, after all, simply departed this life safely en route to the fullest expression of God’s kingdom and care.

So we can thank God today for the influence of those who have departed and who are meaningful to us; a day of commemoration praying for the deposit of faith they have left for us and for others. All Souls’ Day is not a bleak day, but an essential part of acknowledging we do not fear death, and celebrating the wonderful testimonies of the faithful departed.

QUESTION: Take some time to recall and give thanks for the deposit of faith those who have gone ahead of you have invested in your life.

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for the faithful departed who have taught me, loved me and invested in me. Thank you that you have removed the fear of death.

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