Be Still and Know
Day 53 - Issue 29

Day 53 - Issue 29

June 26, 2019

1 John 2:15-16 NLT

'Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.'

The disciple’s challenge is the choice between love of this world and love for God. God has placed free will into our hands; he is not an enforcer; we have responsibility to decide our response to God.

One of my inspirations as I pursue my life as a lay, contemplative Franciscan is that of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Following Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Toleration, AD 311 Christians went from being defined as atheists, to religious acceptance and status. The discipline produced through periods of sporadic persecution ended; comfort and security took their place. The first Christians who relocated to the desert, either as hermits or small communities, wanted to ensure they were not consumed with the earthly benefits official acceptance offered them.

They faced the problem we face today; to identify our heart’s desire. “Desire” is a very powerful word, most often associated with love and sexuality. Advertisers have identified it and direct promotions incessantly in our direction offering to satisfy this deep-seated inner demand with tawdry material products. Like the Desert Fathers before us, we are to choose between settling for the comforts our society offers and the pursuit of God in all his fullness.

I have taken years to discern where my heart’s desire lies. I’ve pursued recognition, profile, material well-being, relationships, self-indulgence – before settling upon the fact that for me my heart’s desire is to be attentive and still before and in God. The pressures I experienced as I walked this path were immense, and I had to take time to discover how to be present to God’s presence in each moment, rather than be distracted and dominated by my fears. I had to choose where to focus.

QUESTION: What is your heart’s desire?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to identify honestly where my loves and desires really are, and grow within me a deeper, greater love for you.

Day 52 - Issue 29

Day 52 - Issue 29

June 25, 2019

1 John 2:2 NLT

'He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins – and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.'

As a young evangelist, I was captured by the importance of securing commitments to salvation. In some ways this was a numbers game. The competitive nature of storytelling at events such as the annual Evangelists’ Conference, revealed a highly competitive group of evangelists, and in doing so, in my opinion we lost sight of the holiness of humanity. Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s work of salvation is to offer hope in what may often look like a hopeless set of circumstances.

One reason I believe that hope can drain from us is the culture of news media. Its constant, often aggressive, questioning of every form of authority usually creates defensiveness on the part of the interviewee. So we have a picture that those entrusted with the government of the country, as well as other politicians, are by nature, if not liars, deceptive, leading to a loss of trust in public servants.

In reality I need to focus my gaze upon the work of Jesus and recall that without entering into a practical understanding of that work, not one of us can find any security or stability in this life. Also, the good news, this work of recovery of relationship with God, is available to anyone and everyone.

My job is in part to explain the gospel message, yet far more compelling is living it. As a visual aid I hope to provoke questions, and my words are then a response to the felt need of another. The challenge is always, in what ways is the Way of Jesus distinct from the ways of this world?

QUESTION: What opportunities do you have to tell others about Jesus?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you that you took and atoned for my sins. I am so thankful.

Day 51 - Issue 29

Day 51 - Issue 29

June 24, 2019

1 John 1:5b-6 NLT

'God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.'

I get up early each morning and currently take a prayer walk to start my day. My favourite time for this is winter when during that walk the night slowly gives way to day. So I set out in darkness and return with the dawn breaking up that darkness. For me it is symbolic of the light of Christ removing the darkness of sin and my gaining my spiritual sight.

Darkness is also symbolic for those things we do that we would not want to come to public attention. My “secrets closet”, as I call it. I know we each have one, and our memories can recall incidents from many years ago for which we remain ashamed. Of course, we know God’s forgiveness, yet the memory of the past can cling even though in God’s eyes it holds no power over us. Yet, I can reignite that power if, feeling low and disgruntled, I reinvest in that memory. I can revisit, reactivate my darker nature as and when I choose.

Our walk of faith is a journey into greater degrees of light. We discover more about ourselves and of God. Our challenge always is what we do with this revelation. I understand that it gives me greater appreciation of what God offers me, but also that I alone can take up that offer. God never manhandles my decision-making. If I am not sufficiently engaged with that revelation I stagnate where I am and, like Israel in the wilderness, go round in perpetual circles making no significant advance in my appreciation of myself, God, or my discipleship journey.

Discipleship is about putting what I know into practice. None of my “spiritual muscles” can develop without exercise. In fact, without practical working, they shrink and die away. We are to live Christianity dynamically daily, for no other reason than this is the life I have freely chosen to make my own in this world.

QUESTION: What is your spiritual exercise plan?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to practise the truth, to know and grow into the gospel and live it out by faith.

Day 50 - Issue 29

Day 50 - Issue 29

June 21, 2019

Exodus 20:17 NLT

'You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.'

Coveting is a yearning to possess. Now, “yearning” is quite a powerful word. It speaks of a deep and emotional longing for something. Such yearning creates restlessness within and the focus of its attention proves impossible to avoid. It is all-consuming and controlling.

In a material society, advertisers constantly seek to awaken such yearnings within us. This is partly to compensate for low self-confidence and also to fill the vacuum that empty lives create. In many ways the repeated trips to the shopping mall is a quick fix for the boredom that embraces us the moment we have time available with no obvious distractions. It is because we are wired in this way that covetousness is birthed – like David gazing upon Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11), yearning for her and entering a destructive path. The response to coveting – that is, yearning for something that is not my own – is to focus on what is mine.

We have observed marriages failing in increasing numbers over the years. My own experience, which is all I have, is that having been married twice, my first wife dying aged 54, I have discovered that marriage, while the same covenant, is not the same experience. We are each wired differently and the skill and the demands of marriage require me to learn and adjust to the person to whom I’m married. And, of course, this is mirrored by my spouse. Jayne is very different to my first wife. If, however, I assume that she is the problem in my life, it would be all too easy to look around and covet a false but apparently quick fix for the ills I feel.

To avoid the yearning is to take responsibility for focusing on what I have and where I am and celebrating God here in the reality of my existing present.

QUESTION: Be honest, what things does your heart really yearn for?

PRAYER: Lord, may I not be satisfied in the delights of temporary things but instead delight myself in you.

Day 49 - Issue 29

Day 49 - Issue 29

June 20, 2019

Exodus 20:16 NLT

'You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.'

As a mediator, I believe disputes should be resolved confidentially, quickly and cost-effectively. Legal processes fail to meet these three criteria. In fact, the only beneficiaries of any litigation are, in my opinion, the lawyers.

A recent car park incident saw my vehicle and another briefly hit, as I mentioned earlier. Without witnesses, we agreed a “no fault” incident. I was surprised and angered to receive a phone call from my insurers to say I’d been accused of severely damaging another car and failing to report an accident. I took a deep breath and politely gave my account of the situation and waited to see what would happen. Next I received a letter from my insurer explaining that unless I could produce CCTV or dash cam evidence, they were unable to support my claim that it was the other driver’s fault. I rang the insurer and they explained without this “evidence” it would need to be a knock-for-knock incident. I agreed. They paused on the end of the phone and then said, “Wow! That’s very reasonable. Most people get angry at that point.”

Life happens and the loss of my no claims bonus was simply a consequence of life. It seems that in car insurance, once trust is lost then it is replaced by an economic means to suit everyone’s lack of trust in the other.

God invites us to honesty and not to look to short-term personal advantage by misrepresenting the actions of another. The danger is that I can be reduced to the same behaviour on the grounds that if someone else does it, then I might as well join in. I might even have a sense of moral propriety, since I’m only doing what everyone else does. Instead, we are to treat each other with fairness and respect. I may not get on with everyone, yet I’ve no right to take advantage of another by speaking falsely about them. I am to represent them honestly and not exploit them for my advantage.

QUESTION: Can you identify ways in which you speak falsely?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to always speak the truth.

Day 48 - Issue 29

Day 48 - Issue 29

June 19, 2019

Exodus 20:15 NLT

'You must not steal.'

Throughout my working life I have had responsibility for how I use my time. Initially this was both a privilege and a great challenge. It was all too easy to fritter time away on non-essential issues. No one closely supervised me, so I was responsible for what I did with my time. In Christian service the outcomes were difficult to measure. I had to come to terms with my own inert laziness.

Many speak of their work as a means to securing income with little reflection around any responsibility to their employer. Equally employers often appear to have little investment in the welfare of their staff, apart from the hours they invest in working for them. If I was to describe myself, and then either of the above situations as “stealing”, how would you react? For scripture invites us to treat our employment, and our employees, as a sacred trust from God (see eg Ephesians 6:7).

Over the years I’ve learned how to order my time so that I am faithful in serving the sacred trust of my work without cutting corners or investing time for my own ends when I’m engaged in work. In the past, I’ve taken from my workplace resources that are really for delivering my work simply because they were there and I felt that either no one would mind, not that I asked anyone, or that I was entitled to these things.

A few years ago, many were shocked at the MPs’ expenses scandal. There was much self-righteous indignation over such an abuse of power. Yet, I reflected what my actions might have been if I were in their shoes.

The problem with stealing, whether taking goods illegally or abusing the trust of my employer or exploiting my employees, is that is hardens my own heart towards right living. Stealing may lead to the loss of our nation’s soul.

QUESTION: Are there any areas where you take from others?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to have the utmost diligence and integrity in all I do.

Day 47 - Issue 29

Day 47 - Issue 29

June 18, 2019

Exodus 20:14 NLT

'You must not commit adultery.'

The power of the human mind is incredible. When we reflect upon human achievement against all adversity, we recognise the human capacity to persevere and accomplish great things. However, there is a sting in the tail. Human creativity and endurance can equally lead to harmful outcomes. As scripture warns us from the off in the story of Cain and Abel, the mind, if not carefully managed in direct obedience to God, will drive us to acts that are unacceptable and of which we shall be ashamed.

The mistake we often make in work, relationships and every sphere we operate in is to assume our thoughts are the only and the best in a situation. Of course, this is foolishness. No one is seeking to have the mind of Dr Micha Jazz but is in pursuit of the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16, NLT). It is remarkable that we are invited to access the greatest mind of all, omnipotent and infinite. This is the reason that God invites us to resist temptations to dehumanise ourselves through objectivising another of God’s image-bearers and realising our own satisfaction at their expense.

Sin starts in the mind. We all too often entertain the thoughts, and we know just how powerful sexuality is when nurtured and then released. It’s interesting to recognise that God is neither male nor female for scripture declares that humanity is equally, male and female, made in the image of God. So when a couple engage in sexual intimacy it is the closest approximation to the Godhead afforded to our mortality; hence, God’s instruction to avoid carnality, lust and its fruit, adultery. We are to treat the dignity of each human being, no matter age, ethnicity and so-called ability with the dignity God affords every one of his creations. We are an expression of the holiness of God. How we each live out that holiness is a matter of personal choice.

That choice begins with my willingness to submit my mind to God and accept his way as the route to a life worth living. It is my responsibility to live as God invites me to, not just to satisfy him but to realise my own greatest happiness.

QUESTION: In what ways have you experienced unfaithfulness in yourself or from others?

PRAYER: Lord, create in me a faithful spirit as you have been faithful.

Day 46 - Issue 29

Day 46 - Issue 29

June 17, 2019

Exodus 20:13 NLT

'You must not murder.'

It sounds pretty straightforward not to murder. I am unlikely to execute so violent an act against another. Even in anger, I do not feel constrained to strike another. My violence is verbal and that’s the problem. How often have my words contributed to the destruction of another’s reputation? The saying goes, “No smoke without fire” and when my gossip carries only a smidgeon of truth buried among piles of fanciful conjectures, evidence of my own fracture, I make it difficult for the one I accuse to maintain their reputation.

Murder is not limited to the destruction of another’s mortal life. After all, life is expressed in all manner of ways, and if I make an assault upon reputation, manipulate or bully another, I am in the process of killing the God-ordained image seeded within them. In other words, we are to hold one another in high esteem. To think ill of another is part and parcel of our humanity. God invites us to interrupt such a thought pattern and remind ourselves that we are nothing without God. As God accepts us, he promises to make someone of us.

Learning to see others through the eyes of God is a challenge presented to each one of us. Out of shame we may well point the finger at others. This, we hope, directs another’s gaze away from us while justifying to ourselves that we’re not “that bad”! In accepting our fracture and God’s perspective we are able not just to receive God’s grace but become a source of hope and encouragement to others.

God knows that acceptance of others and mutual encouragement leads to full and complete lives. In a day of radical social, cultural and economic change, only God’s framework for living offers hope for our future together. The danger is that insecurity itself breeds contempt, anger and the need for a scapegoat. Only in Christ are we brought together since we are accepted for who we are and as we are and the cross has torn down all walls.

QUESTION: Are there are any places where hate has taken root in your heart?

PRAYER: God of all things, there can often seem to be so much violence and hate in this world. Lord, bring your peace.

Day 45 - Issue 29

Day 45 - Issue 29

June 14, 2019

Exodus 20:12 NLT

'Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.'

If as a teenager I discovered just how frustrating parents were, as a parent I later discovered just how frustrating children and teenagers can be! Yet, this frustration is no sign of a lack of love. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is an expression of disappointment; both in my inability to manage a situation, and the disappointment felt in the other. Of course, there is no frustration where I have no love or relationship.

I am very involved in care for my 95-year-old mum. She lived on her own for eleven years after Dad died. She was just around the corner from us. When living alone became too much, she moved in with us for two years, before choosing the safety of a care home where she now lives. I think age brings with it increased inner angst, so I get regular phone calls alongside my regular visits. I find these frustrating. On reflection I’m disappointed in myself that I get wound up by Mum’s anxieties. I’m equally saddened that at this stage of life she appears to find it difficult just to rest and enjoy each day for what it brings. She deserves her rest and enjoyment.

God reminds us that life is given to us by our parents and even if we have never known them, we can give thanks for the life we have due to them. In a fractured world, parenting can prove damaging at times. Yet, we are robust and can survive with support and find ourselves even amid the scars we carry. It is appropriate simply to give thanks for our parents, rather than criticise them for where we feel they have failed us. As a parent myself, I reflect on how I might have done things to enable my daughter to enter adulthood better. One thing’s for certain, God invites us to do the best we can for our parents on the basis that family is at the core of Christian life and is the model through which God reveals God’s own love.

QUESTION: How might does your church care for the ageing in society?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help your Church to strengthen the bonds of families.

Day 44 - Issue 29

Day 44 - Issue 29

June 13, 2019

Exodus 20:8-10a NLT

'Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.'

In a secular society it’s hard to differentiate between days. I remember growing up when shops shut lunchtime Saturday and didn’t reopen until Monday. The weekend was a time of peace and quiet. Families gathered for a roast around a table on Sundays. I came to love the quiet, even though on occasion I was bored and longed for some action. Today, retail therapy is a hobby and indeed the whole capitalist enterprise is dependent upon cash passing through tills, either real or virtual. So the very idea of a Sabbath is alien to many.

The word Sabbath means “rest”. Historically the Jews kept Friday night through Saturday as a time reserved for God. They stopped work and rested, taking time to worship God together. This same idea was carried into the Christian Church, eventually settling on a Sunday in recognition of the resurrection.

Initially I treated such days lightly. I didn’t feel I needed a pattern of rest, and kept working. Having worked for myself most of my life, the only boundaries I knew were those I set myself. Yet, I discovered the enjoyment of stepping aside from work and engaging with family. A lot of my challenge was the extent to which my identity, my sense of purpose and destiny was wrapped up in what I did. Slowly, I have come to recognise the blessing and benefit enshrined in these Ten Commandments.

I now take Sunday as a rest day. This includes attending church, for here I engage with my Christian family and with God. I renew my faith commitment through the Eucharist and then once more enjoy a roast with family and friends. This is healing and restorative. The day is dedicated to God, a day of celebration of self-care, love of family and friends as well as renewal of faith and contemplation of the privilege of being known and loved by God.

QUESTION: How well do you rest from work?

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of work and for the gift of rest. Help me to appreciate both gifts.