Day 60 - Issue 22

September 22, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:17 NLT

'For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News – and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.'

We live in an age of personality. Reality TV shows are overwhelmed with applicants. No one’s prepared to wait for their five minutes of fame. The worst of me observes that this same virus has entered the Church. Now we have platform personalities, in demand worship leaders and a Christian ministry industry marketing products from the erudite to the plain vulgar. Of course, it’s not lost on me that I am in fact benefiting from the very thing I highlight!

Paul makes a big statement that Christian ministry is not about identity, it’s about service. The degree to which my identity is located within my ministry is the degree to which my life is missing God’s course.

As Christians we can begin to take great pride in our brand, or church, as if it reflects more of the kingdom than other church expressions. We can criticise those who are not as active or evangelistic as we perceive ourselves to be. This leads us to align with one leader over and against others. It is self-defeating; a house divided must surely fall. We are one body, so we’d best get used to learning to live with our ‘strange’ cousins.

The Christian message is simple and clear. It revolves around the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection. Its leader is Christ and we are to by all means enjoy diverse approaches to encountering God congregationally and individually, always recalling we are together forever. I’ve tasted big platform life and it is intoxicating. I found it easier to make compromises in my values system for benefits I aspired to and gave very real immediate gratification. Consistency is tough. Paul calls us back to mission and warns us of the dangers of platform and profile.

QUESTION: Is the character of your church as important to you as following Jesus?

PRAYER: Lord, I pray that your Church around the world would preach the Good News about Jesus.

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Day 59 - Issue 22

September 21, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:13a NLT

'Has Christ been divided into factions?'

Now in my 60s, there’s one aspect of the Christian life that still puzzles me. That is Church. In the naivety of my early Christian life, when Christianity offered me a model of perfection, I held an idealised view of fellow believers. I assumed the Acts Luke described in Jerusalem was a typical church in action. My assumption was that this community, as Ron Sider in his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Thomas Nelson) describes it, was about total availability to and unlimited liability for one another. However, experience showed me this was an ideal and not a reality. Many I read spoke of the “Jerusalem experiment”, as they called it, as a complete failure if not a fiction.

I discovered that, just as elsewhere, there were techniques to ensure self-advancement within the Church. I accepted this as a further sign that transformation was always a work in process as we waged war with fractured mortality. I quickly began to accommodate myself to the practices of Church advancement.

The difficulty was that fellowship together became rooted on two principles. One was an unachievable vision of recreating the authentic New Testament Church in our contemporary culture and the second was a narrow view of what constituted correct liturgy, be that formal or free. Much of what I was involved in was designed specifically to appeal to a younger generation; style of music, comedic communication, space for dancing and high intensity. It worked, but because something works doesn’t make it right, as every adulterer who successfully keeps their spouse in the dark about their double life knows deep within.

The Church is the bride of Christ. The New Testament is peppered with descriptions about church life, often addressing things that are drifting or going wrong. Much written is about the respect we have for one another in thought and deed and, of course, it’s merely an extension of love of neighbour. In honesty, my churchgoing was about securing affirmation, which came in spades once I was on the platform and preaching. This is a long way from Sider’s view, which I today fully endorse.

QUESTION: How does your involvement in church help realise Sider’s vision for Church – total availability and unlimited liability?

PRAYER: Lord, may I be diligent in helping your Church be all you call it to be.

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Day 58 - Issue 22

September 20, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT

'Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.'

Years of operating as a consultant, guiding businesses through change processes, has taught me that securing alignment is a noble aim but an elusive goal. So many organisations use the word ‘consulting’ when they actually mean ‘informing’. I have been asked to facilitate days of staff consultation, when it is clear senior management have made decisions which will not be subject to review in light of the staff’s input. This breeds bad faith and loses and demotivates skilled people.

Sadly, the Church behaves the same way. We appoint leaders by methods far from consultative and lean heavily upon some intangible quality, such as anointing, to establish their authority over the rest. Not sure this is quite what’s meant by the priesthood of all believers. Even such anointed leaders share the same Achilles heel of insecurity, and can act as much out of their human fracture as their divine anointing. I was once just such a leader; brash, confident, yet equally uncertain. I was exposed through personal circumstance. What appeared initially as a failure proved, in fact, to be the point at which God was able to break in properly and invite me to view myself and God from God’s own perspective.

Jesus speaks of truth while we massage it in an attempt to preserve another’s ego or protect our own shame. When this veiled insincerity breaks down, conflict erupts and the body goes to war with itself. Anyone who has observed an autoimmune disease will know this has but one tragic conclusion: death.

Paul reminds us that our disagreements and divisions are an expression of our failure and not the firm defence of the truth. Failure to encounter Christ in my enemy is failure to love Christ at all. Yet that is hard. How I struggled when I felt unjustly scapegoated and sacked from my Christian position. I organised my own pity party and planned how I might damage those I saw as against me. Now, what part of Jesus had I failed to grasp? Slowly I walked a path of recovery, one that continues today. I found who Christ truly was and understood who I really was intended to become.

QUESTION: How do you contribute to church unity or division?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you said blessed were the peacemakers. Help me to become one of those.

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Day 57 - Issue 22

September 19, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:5 NLT

'Through him, God has enriched your church in every way – with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.'

Mornings are busy affairs. I am pretty good these days at maintaining a sense of peace and joy in serving, so grateful for all I have learned from my Orthodox Christian friends about the ‘Jesus Prayer’. This is a core component of my contribution to Oratory life and I relish it most of the time. I see it as one aspect of the rich gifts God has entrusted to me. Cooking is serving, hospitality offers welcome and hope.

Too often we become obsessive about gifts we perceive to be of a more spiritual nature. We lose sight of the lack of distinction God makes between spiritual and secular. We are, after all, both mortal and spiritual, and everything we do reflects these elements of our being. Church has historically led us into all sorts of problems when seeking to divide the two.

The challenge is not to deny the value of the appetites, but to discover how under God’s leading they can be our servants rather than our masters. This is a battle each one of us faces, while Paul gently reminds us that we together have all that is required to live grace-filled lives. Where the battle remains we can conclude that we are desperately in need of the Spirit’s help. One reason for participating in church is to build those horizontal relationships that we might be enriched as each deploys their gift for the benefit of the whole. Church is not simply turning up for Jesus. It is to serve, encourage and enable one another as well.

I lost my way for a while in church, for attendance was a lonely affair since there were no viable horizontal relationships. This was painful, for after a number of years looking at how best to re-engage with church, and having taken time to fall in love with the Eucharistic journey, I was at a loss to know why my hospitality skills appeared to fit so ill in what I’d hoped would have become a new home for me.

QUESTION: Are you willing to discover your gifts in the everyday service that makes up your domestic and working life?

PRAYER: Lord, help me be a blessing to your body and bride.

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Day 56 - Issue 22

September 18, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:4 NLT

'I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.'

I used to train new workers in Youth for Christ. I always asked them the five most important things for a new Christian. Prayer, Bible reading and attending church were always the top three. A little later I asked them to identify the five most challenging things in their Christian life. Well, back they came: prayer, Bible reading and going to church. It wasn’t lost on any of us that what we most insist upon is often that which we find most challenging.

One thing that can often be lost is grace. I like to think of it as the poise associated with an accomplished dancer or sportsperson. It is self-evident that they are trained as well as competent in their chosen discipline. If I were to meet them on the street I may not know their discipline, yet I’d recognise their grace.

So it is with the Church, and Paul is speaking to the congregation not the individual here. We turn up unfit for the opportunity gifted us by God. There is little sign of the poise or grace associated with those engaged in God’s work. Often it’s a challenge recalling what we are gathering together for.

Our act of worship, whenever that takes place, is not simply time with God. I stumble in uncertain of what’s about to happen, grab a mug of coffee before engaging in some semblance of worship. If worship feels dull and monotonous, then the problem is less with the worship (always dependent upon how alert the leadership team are on the day) and more about my own worship unfitness.

I’m tired of lethargic worship. Turning up and doffing my cap to the Lord of All just doesn’t cut it. I want to prepare my heart well before arrival and relive the drama of the Eucharistic journey afresh each week. Repetition is only monotony to the lost, lazy or unimaginative.

QUESTION: Where would you place yourself on the worship fitness scale?

PRAYER: Jesus, train me in righteousness, but also in delighting in wonder, love and praise.

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Day 55 - Issue 22

September 15, 2017

Romans 8:38-39 NLT

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life…indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When unwelcome events invade my life uninvited, I react in both fear and frustration. Fear, simply because I don’t like what I experience and can exercise little or no control over the eventual outcome, and frustration because it interrupts my view of my future as I’ve planned it. So much of life is lived within the narrow confines of my head, with little thought to the random nature of events. This feeling of control is ridiculous when I stop to consider the majority of events that lie beyond my control.

Terrorists turning motor vehicles into weapons, medical diagnosis or weather-related disasters – I’m not in control of any of those. How to make sense of God in all of this? It is holding on to a truth that we believe matters and endures with or without us. For example, after terrorist attacks, the general population regroup and hold vigils, while politicians and media remind us all that this is the price for democratic freedoms such as speech and movement.

While we take hold of Christ’s salvation message with anticipation that we will be shielded from the worst of life’s ravages, we learn that this salvation message comes with few guarantees this side of death. What we live with is a confidence that come what may, God’s rule and reign shall endure long after terrorism and other inexplicable disasters have disappeared. Yet, this is tough when I experience one such disaster while in my mortal state.

It then becomes a real battle within to hold on to my convictions. Emotions from self-pity, through resentment, to simple defeat disturb my psyche. Where the constitution of the USA speaks of self-evident truths, they are only self-evident for as long as people hold them to be so. History reveals how easily they are snuffed out by a political movement with a mind to rewrite them.

QUESTION: How strong is your conviction in God’s ability to sustain your well-being against apparently impossible odds?

PRAYER: Lord, I am grateful that when all else has passed away, your love will remain.

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Day 54 - Issue 22

September 14, 2017

Psalm 119:114 NLT

You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.

Men, so common wisdom suggests, need sheds. It’s something about a private space and the need to be tinkering or making something. Women can sit down and talk with each other, while men like personal space to process while doing. How true this is I don’t know. I, however, have always enjoyed my own company. While growing up, my bike was my sanity, riding off into the countryside to think, read and birdwatch. As I’ve grown up, I’ve continued to enjoy my own company. Indeed, one of the challenging learning cycles on getting married was to concede so much personal space.

My journeys to my prayer ‘shed’, a space where I chat with God, are frequent and essential. Never excelling at DIY, I remain comfortable in my own company. In fact, rather than accumulating a lengthy to-do list, intercessions, thanksgiving, Bible reading and so on, I have a blank slate and simply wait upon God. My mind wanders every time, yet I have familiarised myself with my ‘shed’ and so breath prayer, being still and reflecting on recent reading is a discipline I easily return to each time. It’s the place I find solace and hope for the way ahead. I process disappointment and articulate my fears. Returning I am better able to talk about who and where I am at, not necessarily with my doctor, but most definitely with Jayne and friends.

Within each of us, God scattered a seed. The degree to which this germinates and grows is reliant upon our desire to find and propagate it. For years I simply reacted to life as I encountered it. Once I was caught up in the battle with Katey’s MS, I found I had to determine who I really was, or this fight would make of me what it wanted, rather than me mastering that fight. For this I needed to retreat and find God and me and how we might walk in close communication. I discovered my need to build my prayer ‘shed’.

QUESTION: How and where do you process the things that cause you the greatest anxiety in life?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for speaking through your word. Help me to discover you there.

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Day 53 - Issue 22

September 13, 2017

Psalm 25:2 NLT

I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.

One of the curses of life is the constant anxiety about what others might be thinking about me. When I was working and I received an unexpected invitation to meet with my line manager, I immediately went into panic about what I must have done wrong. By nature I’m a self-confident individual, yet in workplace environments I assume I am in trouble. The mind plays with and embellishes that thought, and all the shortcuts I’ve taken to get the job done come to mind. What will I be challenged with?

This fear of exposure then creates a second problem. I begin to weave a narrative to cover my tracks, even before I know if my tracks have been uncovered. I do this much like Adam in the garden; I point in every direction but my own and seek to blame others.

Of course, on most occasions there is no ‘trouble’. It’s an honest conversation unrelated to my performance. I breathe a sigh of relief while acknowledging I’ve passed through a stressful time. At root of all of this is my need to feel as if I’m in control. And I am not; God is. It is my responsibility to live as best I can within the circumstances I encounter.

The problem is, however I seek to manage a situation, if someone chooses not to like me or refuses to help me, there is nothing I can do about it. All I control is my own decisions and perspectives. Better to focus on what I can control rather on what I can’t. When I fail to take this course I run the risk of chameleon-like seeking to become what I assume the other person wants. This is a form of slavery to the opinion of others. It is best to acknowledge my powerlessness, become like Jesus, in other words, and acknowledge my feelings of disappointment, resentment, anger or whatever. Best to talk these through with Jesus, who both understands and provides a route forward in which I am not controlled by feelings induced through my reaction to others.

QUESTION: Do you make many assumptions based upon data you interpret from the actions of others?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to focus on what you say about me and what you think about what I do.

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Day 52 - Issue 22

September 12, 2017

Psalm 147:3 NLT

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.

Brokenhearted is applied casually to the loss of one’s first infatuation through to the death of a spouse or a child. The words are the same, the experiences something quite different. One thing’s for certain; there’s no moving on until I have turned and faced that broken heart full in the face. In facing my greatest heartache I encounter my fears and the rash of negative emotions that this stirs up.

My own journey through grief, in all its many cycles and phases, taught me that recalling Katey from my memory was essential, if challenging. Initially all I could find was images of the last few months of her life, her broken, twisted body. Slowly as time passed and I pushed back into my memory, I rediscovered the Katey I’d fallen in love with, courted, married and had so much fun with. The past was not to be avoided, but carefully navigated and recovered. I also had to accept and embrace my aloneness, or independence, to give it another description. What was I to do in this new-found state? It took a while to accept it, and even longer time to know how to go forward. I changed my name, not to desert my past, but to acknowledge that it was ‘my past’ and that somehow I had to find ‘my future’!

I held some imaginary conversations with Katey and she most definitely told me that she gave me her love for my lifetime, and I was still alive. I recalled words she had often spoken in our last few months together, “Remember to love again.” What initially felt like betrayal and always filled me up with tears eventually was realised through the generosity of Jayne, someone who voluntarily gave me love.

Healing a broken heart takes nothing away from the scars of that brokenness, yet the wounds are carefully and lovingly bound, wounds that may not heal entirely yet provide the foundation for a richer and fuller life, one that is gift to both self and others. It nurtures selflessness.

QUESTION: How might you find God, whose promise is to heal broken hearts?

PRAYER: Lord, be my healer and the healer of all those grieving and hurting.

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Day 51 - Issue 22

September 11, 2017

Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Today is a day when silence appears to enfold the Western world. It’s forever punctured with the image and fatal consequences of two aircraft flying into the twin towers in New York as well as one into the Pentagon and another brought down short of its target by the brave actions of its passengers. We remember 2,996 fatalities and over 6,000 wounded from that day. We have learned we live in a world in which warfare is played out on our streets.

Somehow, faced with tragedy on this scale, especially for those thousands caught up in the events directly or indirectly, it’s hard to find solace in a God who cares. In the formal commemorations God will be woven into proceedings, yet this is a long way from encountering the reality behind holy words. For some they are sanctimonious at best, mocking at worst. Where is God when tragedy strikes?

It is in life’s tragedies that I am forced to reflect most seriously upon the character of my Christian faith. This is not some form of pain relief or a blanket of invisibility enabling me to journey through life untouched by distress. This remains a fractured world. One in which the pain of 9/11 gave rise to counter strikes that only increased the scale and level of human suffering and pain across the world. Retribution is understandable, yet its primary victims are very ordinary people like those who began but never concluded their working day that September morning.
Retaining confidence in God in a fractured world takes courage. For faith is courage; courage to face down my own doubts, disappointments and keenly felt injustices while retaining a confidence in the faithfulness of God. In a fractured world, a gram of faith is better than no faith at all.

QUESTION: What consolation does God’s promise of steadfast love offer you?

PRAYER: Lord, I pray for all those who have lost loved ones as a result of war. May you bring peace to their hearts and to this aching world.

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