Friday, 28 January 2011

Looking for something?

If I only did this once then learned my lesson it wouldn’t be so bad, or, even if it took me a couple of times to learn I could live with it. However, when I constantly do it again and again, each time promising myself that I have now learned my lesson, it will be different next time, it can easily become a matter for despair...either that or I am just getting old and senile, something I think my kids have been persuaded of for a while...

I am of course talking about car keys, glasses, wallet..... After a long and fruitless search for my car keys, when I was of course in a hurry to get somewhere, as I got more and more frustrated with myself, accusing myself of all manner of ailments which got progressively worse from mere forgetfulness to seriously considering I should have myself sectioned, I eventually conceded defeat, reconciled to not getting to where I intended going. Defeated and demoralised I decided to have a cup of coffee and calm down. and, upon opening the fridge to get the milk, what do you think I found....I hardly dare admit it, ...Ok, milk, the keys weren’t there either.

We have a key hook near our front door (note to would be burglars – not close enough to get them using a coat hanger!) and the obvious answer, the solution to my problem, the thing I promise myself I will do, is simply to walk through the door, lock it, and hang the keys on the hook. Why, why, why , why don’t I do it? ..I don’t know.

But, apparently, my wife does do it, and that is where she had hung them when she found them in whatever random location I had abandoned them.....

Relatively minor in the bigger scheme of things but searching or yearning for something that seems constantly to elude you can be very frustrating. The more important the thing for which you search the more frustrating it becomes!

In the bible, in numerous places, God promises rest and peace to people. This is real rest, not merely a snooze or ‘power nap’ in the middle of a busy day. It is the deep heart knowledge that you are secure in the care and purpose of your creator, forever. You can rest in that knowledge, you can depend upon His presence in all situations. The peace He gives is a deep heart peace that comes from knowing you are where you should be in the universe, that your life is centred on God, that your purpose and direction are not simply the at the whim of unthinking and uncaring circumstances and forces, that you have ultimate meaning and value, that you are loved by the One who is always faithful and always able. This is the rest and the peace that so many people search for (however they articulate it) and that they find so very elusive.

The writer to the Hebrews, in chapter 3 says of people:

‘Their hearts are always going astray, they have not known my ways’...... ‘they shall not enter my rest’

This is the key hook, the answer to our longing for rest and peace, but why, why, why don’t we learn the lesson?

Make it a life priority to know God’s ways – make it a life goal to focus our heart on His ways , to have Him remould and remodel our lives so they are pointed in His direction, then, and only then will we enter that place of rest, experience that depth of peace that so often seems to lie just beyond our reach. This ‘key hook’ has a name – Jesus, ‘who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but instead, made himself a servant’ . He alone leads us into our rest and our peace.

Just like with my keys, it has taken me a very long time and a lot of fruitless and frustrating searching in the wrong places.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, 10 January 2011

Off you go....?

I am working through the E100 programme – as are most of the church, and a couple of last week’s readings really challenged me. You know what it is like when you read something you have literally read hundreds of times but suddenly it springs to life in a totally new way and you know that God’s Word isn’t just alive ‘out there’ or ‘in someone else’ but in you!

In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul tells Timothy the kind of things that he should expect to happen when reading or teaching God’s Word:
Teaching, reproving, correcting and training, or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Sometimes I find all four happen at once.......and I guess that is a reflection of how far I have yet to travel!
Anyway as I read through Genesis 11 and into Genesis 12 we find the whole of the ‘Abram family’ (yes, he hasn’t been ‘renamed’ Abraham yet) are on the move. Terah the father and the rest of them have set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. However, they never get there because somewhere on the way they found a place, Harran, that they liked the look of. They settled there, put down roots, got comfortable and got on with their lives.
Until that is, we reach Gen 12, and God prods Abram something, I imagine, like this:

G: Oi, Abram, what happened?
A: Ummm, excuse me?
G: You were on a journey, but you seem to be on the longest ‘comfort break’ in history...
A: Well, Lord, it’s like this.....
G: I know what it’s like.. you got more comfortable with ‘settled’ than with ‘journey’, go on, off you go....
A: Where Lord?
G: To a land I will show you... – you, your wife, your nephew
A: Any clues Lord, even North, South, East or West would be a start....
G: Just go will you, I’ll give you directions once you’ve set off! – oh and you can take some stuff with you..
A: What stuff?
G: Oh, possessions and a few people, you know.....stuff

And off Abram went.....

It was at that point that the word that shows us truth also became the word that challenges – exposes rebellion, corrects and sets us off on a new phase of training....

What represents ‘Harran’ in our lives? Where is it that we have settled and made ourselves comfortable when, in fact, we should have simply moved on through as part of our journey?
It could be an activity, habitual or otherwise, that is not part of God’s travel plan for us, but we prefer to settle there rather than journey to the place God will show us.

It could be an attitude or a way of doing things or indeed of not doing things. Are there areas where we have settled within our comfort zones and are in the business of putting down roots, rather than stepping out into the things God has for us, all the time knowing that we are not where He wants us to be?
It feels a lot like Paul’s ‘that which I want to do, I don’t do, and that which I don’t want to do, I keep on doing. When God said ‘Go’ to Abram it was a command, a challenge and an invitation to break a cycle and continue on the journey. It was an invitation to discover both a new level of personal faith and God’s faithfulness and provision. It is a challenge and invitation He made to me as I read this story again. I know the areas of my life where the challenge was issued and I know that the invitation is not to be refused. Does any of this ring bells?

Finally, I like the way that Abram was not told to leave empty handed, but to take stuff on the journey. There are things in our lives that are important to take with us for different reasons. There are those things God has done, or has given, that will strengthen and encourage us and there are those things that we have gathered – experiences, lessons, relationships, even the bad ones, that can serve to teach, to warn and to strengthen resolve to carry on with the journey and, importantly, to increase even further the value and wonder of the invitation.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Out with the old?

I guess New Year is the time when 'out with the old' is much on people's minds, the New Year being a useful metaphor for the opportunities presented by 'new beginnings'. In this sense 'out with the old' can be a very powerful and positive driver, although only of real use if our theoretical commitment to the sentiment is actually matched by our practical completion of it. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth about their desire to do a particular thing says:
"Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it....." 2 Corinthians 8:11 (NIV)
This is great advice for anyone, especially at a time of commitment to new beginnings, when we have mentally resolved to take action.
However, the 'out with the old' bandwagon can also be very damaging if it is misunderstood, wrongly applied or used simply as a mechanism to achieve one's personal agenda.

There are a great couple of verses in Isaiah 43 that can, and should, be both an inspiration and a spiritual driving force. When we allow the Spirit to write them onto our heart and we seek to understand them in the light of both the original and our own current context they will be liberating and empowering.
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."
How full of hope and promise is that for those at the point of 'personal resolution', for those at the doorway of a fresh start, for those conscious of past failures but with a determination to 'move on in righteousness', for those who know about God's saving acts of the past and are looking for his salvation in the present?

And yet so often it is read or heard and the first reaction is to rip it out of its context and immediately apply it to a specific church or denominational situation something along these lines: 'great, we can forget all the traditions and activities of the past, the 'old stuff' and move on with everything modern and contemporary. It is then usually wielded 'weapon like' to trample on those whose view of how the past relates to the present and the future differs from ours! I know this because I have wielded that 'weapon' many times. On many of those occasions I could not have been more wrong.
It isn't that these verses don't have application to church or denominational situations,they do, they're just not the place to start!
American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (from "Life of Reason I") and this is a wise saying to remember when seeking to understand and apply Isaiah 43:18-20. There are many occasions where scripture positively exhorts us to remember things of the past:
Psalm 42:4 (NIV)
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

Psalm 77:11-12 (NIV)
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Isaiah 46:8-9 (NIV)
"Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.

Isaiah 64:5 (NIV)
You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.

Ezekiel 16:43 (NIV)
" `Because you did not remember the days of your youth but enraged me with all these things, I will surely bring down on your head what you have done, declares the Sovereign Lord. Did you not add lewdness to all your other detestable practices?

These are just a few of the many..... and there are some common and important themes running through these samples and the others you may want to check for yourself.
It is god to remember actions and activities,failures and successes, salvation and judgement, with a view to leading us closer to God in the present. This 'leading us closer' can be brought about through shame or repentance, encouragement or worship or a myriad other triggers that are used by the Holy Spirit as we remember. I am often taken by surprise as I hear clear and powerful echoes in much of our modern worship from Wesley or Watts or Faber, old and important truths given new life - not because we have forgotten, but because the songwriter has remembered! I am often thrilled to remember how God has worked in the past, not because I want to revisit it or try and slavishly copy what God 'did then' but to feed my vision of the greater things He wants to do now.
So what are we to 'forget' in the Isaiah 43 sense?
Forget those sins for which you have repented and received forgiveness - which means do not let them exert any further influence in your life, because as Wesley reminds us 'He breaks the power of cancelled sin'.
Forget the ways that God did things in the past - not in the sense of 'not remembering' them at all, but rather in not assuming He will do things the same way now.
Don't even remember those activities or 'traditions' and so on that bound and didn't liberate - but be honest with God and ourselves as we do this so that we aren't using scripture in a self serving and shallow way.

On an individual and corporate level the important questions to ask prayerfully are:

'what do we need to forget, because to remember will tie us to the past rather than release us in the present?'

'what do we need to remember, and learn from the past, in order to prepare and equip us for the present and the future?'

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone