Monday, January 16, 2017

If the Preacher Doesn’t Impress You…

This is a sermon I wish to preach one day… if a church would let me…
My aim today is to convince you that my work in preaching is done, here, today, even if you don’t enjoy it or aren’t inspired by it. Even if you don’t like it. And I warn you, you may not like what you hear me say today. I accept that up front.
I want you to know, in 30 minutes’ time, that just because I’m not a charismatic speaker doesn’t mean God isn’t using me; that if I’m unimpressive on this occasion it’s not that the Holy Spirit isn’t speaking through me. Indeed, I’m wanting to say the opposite — that the fact I’m here today means the Holy Spirit is using and will use me.
Further to that, I want to suggest that God will use me today to show you that it’s an acute idolatry to come to this or any other church simply to hear a particular sermon or speaker, and to laud that person for their oratory brilliance. There’s no problem with compliments for your thankfulness, we just need to keep it at that. Say it, then leave it, for the person, themselves. Don’t go on about it. Going on about it serves nobody, and it nullifies the Kingdom effect.
God can and does speak through anyone, because most of what God has to say has to happen in you. This is a biblical fact. If you have ears to hear you will hear. And hear well. If your mind is piqued and curious, your cognitions will stimulate your thinking. You’ll be contemplative, both here and for days afterward. If your heart is prepared to receive, it will receive today, and we trust the Spirit for that. If your will is strong in the Lord today, you’ll leave with your spiritual hands readied to do some hard God work.
Besides, I’m only a little part of your experience here today. The words you hear me speak are only a tiny component of what you think as you hear me speak the words. All your life context, your experiences, personality, pastimes, your spiritual gifts, and many other components of you come into play as my words hit you.
Whilst listening, you’ll analyse my words for truth, for instance, checking to see that they’re true, and when that box is ticked in your subconscious thinking, then, because you’re seeking a performance, you’ll begin to rate me; but a performance I’ll not give you, for the truth in all its unadulterated splendour is all you need. It’s all God wants me to give you. I know you want a performance, because I want a performance out of me, just like I like a performance when I’m sitting in a pew. But God’s thinking is not our thinking, just as His ways are not ours, as it’s said in Isaiah 55:8-9. God wants His message spoken plainly, for willing ears to hear, for incisive minds to contemplate, for hungry hearts to receive, for hard working hands to apply.
It’s taken me twelve years of occasional preaching (I’ve preached only about one hundred times) to realise this: 
God doesn’t want you pampered by my winsomeness,
He wants you piqued by His Word.
All I would need to do would be to read fluently from His Word and His power should work through that spoken work, and if it doesn’t, that’s not my fault. His Word says that that would be your issue; a mirror back to you and your relationship with God. Of course, we want to contextualise God’s Word for today.
Just because I read from notes doesn’t mean God doesn’t have something profound to say through me. It doesn’t mean I’m not anointed to speak here. The very fact I’m here for this purpose says something powerful about God and His mighty church. I was chosen to give this sermon today, just as the person was last week, and the person next week is. I’m hoping you’re thinking about those who preach here.
Just because I don’t use much humour, as if God’s Word and His Kingdom were funny, doesn’t mean my delivery is getting in the way. Could it just be that preachers who use lots of humour are compensating for something? I mean, are you here to be entertained? It’s a serious question. Because church in our world has become that way. Not only are we required to entertain people, we’re indulging them in the process. Sure, some preachers are naturally funny people. It’s great if that’s who they are. I’m more your serious kind of guy, so God is happy for me to be me.
Just because I don’t tell lots of interesting stories, which, where there are lots of them, or a lot of narrative content, really are fluff for little kiddies, doesn’t mean I’m not presenting well. Are we mature enough to hear the Word preached plainly without mollycoddling you with stories?
I want to suggest that well packaged entertainment is milk when what all of us need, as Hebrews’ says, is more solid food. In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Hebrews 5:11-14 reads like this… it’s heading is…
The Problem of Immaturity
11 “We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. 12 Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature — for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.”
When we seek to be placated by entertaining messages what we’re really saying is the sermon needs to suit me. Rather, it should be the other way around; every sermon suits me — it actually does — for, through its words the Holy Spirit will reach me and usher into me a cherished Word all for me, alone. The Holy Spirit, and not the preacher, will speak powerfully about where our faith is at, how we’re getting on with others, who we need to forgive, about our sin, and how we’re relating to God, Himself. All that goes on as we bathe in the Word during any sermon at all. But, if we listen to a sermon with derision because we dislike the preacher, their delivery, or their material, God is speaking to us… derision, really?
So, it’s not about entertainment or eloquence. It’s about the Holy Spirit’s engagement and energising of us.
As a speaker who cannot claim eloquence, and who refuses to entertain, I want to explore for a moment two key figures in the Bible who, too, were not regarded as eloquent:
Paul as Preacher
Paul felt this sense of not being impressive enough by the Corinthians when he said in verse 1 of chapter 10 of his second canonical letter… I who am humble among you in person but bold toward you when absent.” Nothing about being a bold preacher from his own nib. He preferred to boast in Christ, and indeed would refuse to boast in himself or anyone else. Paul reinforced this when he quotes them as saying, “His letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) Such a person should consider this: what we are in the words of our letters when absent, we will be in actions when present. The Greek word for “despicable” can be read as “pathetic” and to be “considered of no account,” and even “contemptible.” And to be counted as “weak” in person, no wonder the Corinthians couldn’t regard Paul’s preaching ability — they were already convinced!
Yes, the apostle Paul!
If anyone was a super-apostle of the Lord, Paul was. And, even though Paul conceded he wasn’t professionally trained as a speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6), he counted all worth in his presentation to be the knowledge he presented, not in its delivery. Somehow, we forget this. That barring nobody, the most famous and influential Christian to live, Christ’s very apostle, leant not on his delivery, but on the knowledge he imparted — if only those there before him would listen. Many churches, of course, did. But not as recorded in Corinthians.
Paul faced criticism about his speaking when other apparently more eloquent Judaizers (leaders trying to bring Jewish principles back into the Christian faith, who were said to be super-apostles) received rave reviews.  Yet, isn’t it amazing the faith of someone so “unimpressive?” And yet the last word is that Luke depicts Paul in Acts as a bold and powerful rhetorician. Earlier, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he responds to the fact that the Corinthians are impressed by Apollos (chapter 3) and he apologises sarcastically that he did not come to them “with eloquent wisdom” (1:17), when he says that “Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with the cleverness of human eloquence, so that the cross might not be emptied of its meaning.” (1 Corinthians 1:17) Cleverness in this context is not a good word; it’s a worldly word. Do we hear Paul’s words here? Human eloquence empties the cross of its meaning — it shines the light not on Christ, but on the gifted speaker. Yet, Paul’s point was that it is spiritual immaturity to have partiality with men when we need to be impartial followers of Jesus, alone. And it is entirely possible that Paul suffered stage fright (a form of public speaking phobia), at least in some situations.
Moses as Leader and Speaker
What about other reluctant speakers in the Bible? Well, we know Moses (Exodus 4:12) was less than impressive, or at least he didn’t rate himself. What Paul was for the New Testament, certainly Moses was for the Old Testament.
If we analyse Exodus 4:10 and 6:12, where Moses laments in God’s Presence why he cannot accept the calling that he ultimately does accept. Moses says he is not eloquent, nor a skilled speaker, nor fluent. At best, Moses had a fear of public speaking; at worst, he was actually impaired in some way.
Some historians postulate that Moses was incredibly knowledgeable and gifted in speech, and Stephen in Acts 7:22 says it in plain words. Moses, these historians would convince you, was an Israelite who, because of the time he spent and the education he gained in Egypt, possibly found it hard to relate and communicate with his own people. He possibly fought for acceptance. Either way, God still used him to lead the people out of Egypt toward the promised land. He was still a capable enough orator to get the job done — an historically massive job at that.
Back to the Humble Preacher
As ministers we work hard at increasing our preaching skills. It’s our craft. It’s where we spend a fair amount of our time in professional development. It’s where we’re likely to make the broadest and biggest impact in church life. There’s no excuse for incompetent preparation. One pastor in his 80s who I knew told me about preaching, “it is and it’s always been 99 percent perspiration, one percent inspiration,” inferring not only the hard work that went into it, but the lack of savvy eloquence. There’s also no excuse for impassionate delivery. Many ministers, myself included, practice their sermons before they preach them, to hear the words as they come out, to refine the message, and to train the mind and mouth connection to say parts of the message that need to sound seamless.
I once heard Tim Keller, the famed New York pastor, say that he still puts in twenty-five hours into each of his messages. I’m not embarrassed to say that I usually spend that much time on my messages, praying, contemplating, reading, writing, practising delivery, re-writing, honing, praying some more. Most ministers I would venture to say would take at least ten hours to go through the same process. At least. Some are able to get up with less preparation, but these would be the significant few-percentile minority.
None of what I’m saying means I’m not responsible for preaching a sound Word faithfully to you. I must do that. Only if I don’t do that am I what they said of Paul — despicable, but for other reasons. And I trust you to let me know. But I’m sure, with the training I’ve had and the preparation I’ve put in, that this is a worthy Word for you to ponder upon, albeit an unusual message.
I want to challenge you to see your preachers and the preaching you receive in a new way. See them and it as God speaking to you through them, and not as them performing. It’s not about the preacher or the preaching. It’s about the capital-M Message.
I want to say it again, in finishing, that:
God doesn’t want you pampered by my winsomeness,
He wants you piqued by His Word.

God knows we all need to grow up and expect less entertainment from the pulpit, and receive more truth about grace. Because truth about grace that abounds in love is all that really matters… not personalities, goose bumps, rating scales, and the rest.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why Forgiveness is Not About Closure But Resolution

“Hatred stirs up strife, but loves covers all offenses.”
— Proverbs 10:12
One of the purposes of conflict resolution is forgiveness, so quarrels are stopped quickly, for if they’re prolonged, hatred is stirred up, which leads to strife. And this is a lamentable result in any event; reprehensible between, or involving, Christians, who are devoted to their Lord of love.
What love does in us, whenever we know there’s discord between us and another person, is it compels us to do whatever we can to resolve the matter.
Love understands that forgiveness must take place between aggrieved parties.
Love knows that dissension cannot be simply left as it is, as if it had never occurred.
Forgiveness can be thought of, then, as something that cannot simply be one way. One could be prepared to forgive, or to seek forgiveness, to resolve the impasse, but unless the other party comes some way to acknowledging the damage, little progress can be made.
Simply put, no closure can be obtained for one when the other party brings closure.
When one person has nothing else to say or do, the other person is marooned into finding closure when their needs were not, are not, and won’t be considered or cared for. It stirs up a brooding hatred in the person, who could be trying to forgive, simply because of the lack of regard the other person has of resolving the matter to love’s standard of mutual satisfaction.
***
Love covers all offenses by agreeing that disputes must be resolved to parties’ mutual satisfaction. Hatred, however, is content to let justice meander into the wasteland of self-serving strife.
Taking our ball and going home leaves the person holding the bat with nowhere to go.
Love does not win unless everyone wins.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Prayer for Us in the World in Worrying Times

Without much doubt we’re living in tremulous times. The tectonic shifts of seismic proportions in the previous year should cause us all concern.
Our Eternal Father, Who justifies humanity so much as to live, and gives us breath and purpose, I bow before You, and give You what You’ve designed for me to give — recognition of Your Sovereignty over all of life, from eternity past stretched out eternally. You and You alone are worthy of my worship. Forgive me those times when I make idols of other things. I thank You that Your grace is sufficient for me.
Lord, we’re concerned, really disturbed. Firstly, God, it’s the leadership of the United States of America that threatens to destabilise our world most. No matter what people say about the outgoing President, the incoming President seems neither a man of compassion nor wisdom. How will he unify a nation? Why does he affront the world? Secondly, the state of the world’s economy is at a tenuous point, and another breakdown of the financial system can never be counted out, as greed abounds to insatiability. Thirdly, more than ever national governments are thinking selfishly, not inclusively, when the world needs more geopolitical cooperation, not less. The culture of the world’s peoples underpins and drives this, and there seems more a divide — a vicious and vociferous divide, accentuated through this social media age — between the right and the left than ever before. Fourthly, the environment and global warming are possibly beyond repair, even if there was sufficient world leadership to respond. What planet are we leaving to our grandchildren, Father? Is it to another planet You’re calling us? Would we even look after it? Fifthly, and lastly, Lord, what are we to make of terrorism; the insidious scourge, a war from within? How will this menace possibly be defeated?
Lord, grace us with this knowledge: that, no matter what, You and only You are in control, even when it looks like everything is out of control. Grace us with peace when we’re riddled with anxiety, joy when we’re saddened, and hope when despair threatens to swallow us whole.
We know, Father, that You have Your purposes in the way life works out. Assure us now and always, by Your Presence in our person, that You have Your purposes in the way the world is going. Give us vision to see positive things in this world, and passion and energy to join innovative responses within loving communities.
Father, give us hope as the new President is inaugurated, prudence with our resources and diligence for our work, courage to be the people of God who have a voice, faith that You have Earth in the palm of Your hand, and trust as we venture through the world, with Your Spirit’s wisdom guiding us.
We live for You, Father,
In Your Son’s precious and holy name, I pray, in and through the Holy Spirit.
AMEN.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Dozen Contemplations

Given that I could not answer easily the question, “How do you contemplate?” here is a contemplation how I contemplate. I find there are deliberate and non-deliberate contemplations.
The deliberate contemplations are:
1.     Reading the Bible – the most direct contemplations come from reading the words, the verses, and whole books of God’s Word. I read expecting to hear from God when reading, and most of the time I do, and especially when I engage in Lectio Divina, which is praying the Word slowly and repeatedly, emphasising words and phrases, imagining ourselves as the reader who is also divine speaker.
2.     Post-difficulty – the soul of lament, when all is despair, is a surprising source of revelation, and it is therefore a key contemplation that searches God. This is one of the reasons why Christians have the advantage in hardship; they use it as impetus for growth.
3.     Napping – an incredible contemplation occurs when we shut off our conscious mind and allow the unconscious mind its voice. Unlike in long sleep, when R.E.M. induces dreams, whereby the dreams speak for the subconscious, naps facilitate the unconscious mind’s voice, bringing it to the surface upon waking. The naps where this is possible, in my personal experience, are sub-15-minute naps.
4.     When praying – bent toward God in my consciousness, free of distractions, I’m His and He is mine. Such a contemplation is often revelatory. There is a discipline involved of praying simply as truthfully as we can. When we pray with others we inevitably have part of ourselves as part of the show. We have to limit this, trusting others and ourselves to the words that come which God wants us to say.
5.     Anti-thought – whenever I seek silence I’m trying to empty my mind. This is a habit, so longer intervals occur between the distractions, which is the noise of life. Stopping thought is the way to achieve mental and spiritual silence so emotional peace can be obtained.
6.     Fasting – although it may not seem to be a form of contemplation, fasting brings in many changes within my spirit, often in the form of challenges. Contemplations that are challenges are God’s revelatory truth — even some we don’t want to face, but beneficial all the same.
Non-deliberate contemplations come because of openness of mind, where and revelation results — i.e. hearing from or seeing God through non-deliberate contemplation — in other words, in the normal walk of life. Here are some that I find relevant in my life:
7.     Movement – I’m sensitive to movement, and anytime I’m moving, whether I’m on transport or walking or cycling, etc., I inevitably hear from/see God.
8.     In nature – like many people, when I’m out in nature I cannot help but be touched by God through what my senses experience.
9.     Marriage and family – so much raw material for contemplation comes through our relationships. We have such intimacy in a great many of our relationships, and God speaks through them all. I’ve always been the kind of person who ruminates on my interactions with others.
10. Learning, any learning – stimulus is contemplation of a most natural means. The greatest reason to take a university course is that the mind grows through constant contemplation.
11. Mentoring – whether I’m the mentor or I’m being mentored, God speaks in the transactions. True mentoring, a spiritual process, is one where we all learn, and that’s because the Holy Spirit speaks to anyone who will listen.
12. Observations – places where there is a hive of activity are ripe for revelation as I simply sit and am free to observe.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Enigma of Time and the Conundrum of Eternity

God’s glory superintends all creation, time, and eternity. His glory is a hefty thing. That’s why our lives, our time, and eternity matter so much to us. Like what happens to us once we die. God knows we fret about that. What would weigh us down should now give us hope through what we read in the Bible about the house[1] that is prepared for us in eternity.
But time is an enigma. The older I get the more reminiscent I become. The more I want to step back in time to reconnect with parts of myself that I feel could be lost. If I reflect, emotions come in, welcome ones, but hard at the same time, for they evoke memories that cannot be relived unless in the mind. They’re untouchable. I cannot go back there.
God understands. He made us.
More practically, time is enigmatic in that our perception of time affects everything we do and are. I’ve found that there are two time constants that are beneficial for my focus, and one that leads my focus astray. I must focus on the day, and the worries of the day only, and, simultaneously, maintain focus on the vision God has from a long time ago put in my sights. Those two; right up close, and so far away — years away. The constant of time that is problematic is the focus on tomorrow, next week, next month, even next year — because it busies the mind in so much conjecture. And for what? For no accurate prediction of a result at all. So there are only two time constants that bear truth: right now and the vision that directs our purpose which drives us in the present.
None of us can escape eternity. It’s coming at us, as we hurtle to it.
And it’s not just about our deaths that concerns us about eternity. It’s everyone else’s death that ensconces us there. We lose a precious loved one, and immediately we’re invested into where they went, and, because they cannot return to us, when we can return to them. We’re torn between time and eternity, because we have loved ones both here and departed. Even as we arrive in eternity there will be family and friends back in time. Then we will have to wait for them to return to us.
***
We spend our time thinking about the future and we arrive in the future thinking about the past. We’re constantly fumbling with future and past. And present is simply habit.
Time is best held in the now, with purpose from vision and a definite eternal hope driving us.
Eternity overwhelms us if we think about it too much, but thankfully we have a God who has planned it all before time existed.
The enigma of time and the conundrum of eternity. Neither can we reconcile. So we give up trying and remain content to simply live while we can and not fret about what’s coming.
God gives us time to experience life and grow, and He prepares us an eternal home. Life’s best kept that simple.


[1] John 14.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Never Be Afraid

Never be afraid when life is scary, because the mind provides options, and can steer the heart past fear toward courage, which is hope, a faithful ally.
Never be afraid of stepping out of a boat when the One who owns the ocean is ready to hold you afloat.
… and another like it…
Never be afraid of climbing out on a limb when there is Someone ready to catch you should you fall.
Never be afraid to smile when you’re tempted to frown, for a frown disempowers everyone, but with a smile you’ll warm anyone open to possibilities.
Never be afraid of being caught in a situation you know you can only be vindicated in.
Never be afraid of letting someone off the hook when they expect condemnation; that moment they see Jesus.
Never be afraid of giving yourself up as if that’s the only way to joy; the quickest, surest way to joy is to disappear to yourself.
Never be afraid to take a risk in the present for a future that invests in people.
Never be afraid of saying no, for in saying no power rises for saying yes.
Never be afraid in the midst of terror, in the face of anxiety, for the heart has piqued the mind for some reason, and it’s the mind’s task to discover it.
Never be afraid to listen, for knowledge is only gained when we listen, and ignorance is proffered to those who don’t.
Never be afraid to give up something bad to gain something good, because something good always comes when we give up something bad.
Never be afraid when time collides and priorities swarm, where resources are swallowed up. God is trying to say, “Rest, my little one…”
Never be afraid as a new season approaches, because change leaves us feeling isolated, but change is the only way we can be liberated.
Never be afraid when you feel small and insignificant. The God of time and everything brought you into being and you matter to Him as much as anyone ever has or ever will.
Get it?
Never be afraid.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

It’s Impossible to Out-Sin God’s Grace

Nothing you have ever done is bad enough to not be forgiven by God. We’re so used to not measuring up to peoples’ standards we think God’s the same. He’s not. God’s unconditional love is so profound it is impossible to fully comprehend it.
Nothing we will ever do, now or in the future, will separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Not that we need that as an excuse to go out of our way to injure our relationships, but we do need to know that no sin can detach us from the love of God.
Importantly, so many people are resistant to God because they either feel they’re not good enough, or, in the same breath, they’re not interested in a ‘God’ who makes them feel bad for anything they’ve thought, said or done. But that’s simply not God on either account.
Firstly, none of us is good enough; hence, Jesus coming, living, dying for us — i.e. dying for the fact that none of us are good enough. No longer do we need to measure up to some impossible standard. Because of Christ we are good enough!
Secondly, God is not a God who makes anyone feel bad for what they’ve ever thought, said or done. God is love and that alone. It’s only God’s mislead Christians who legalistically make people feel bad. Or, it’s the person themselves that inflects that attribution against themselves from the unconscious guilt they continue to carry.
It is impossible to out-sin God’s grace.
If you find yourself having tried every other thing to get your life right, try God. Grace has the effect that it takes all the pressure off. It’s easier to please God when we know He’s pleased with us (in Christ).
The most surprising thing about a relationship with God is the power He gives us to do what we want to do, because, if we have that power, we always want to do the right thing.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

If the Year Left You Speechless

A litany of reviews of 2016 array social media on the last day of the year. A great year for some, but interestingly, and I quote, “the hardest year” for many. It was certainly the hardest year I’ve known, and that’s saying something — to eclipse 2014, when we lost Nathanael.
In so many ways 2016 has left me speechless, but equally, with a renewed resolve. I don’t pretend for one moment that 2017 will be any ‘easier’, but one thing for sure, I’m readier I think for whatever the new year will throw at me than what I was 366 days ago.
Like the Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” a year like 2016 has left me a little numb. I won’t forget how this year has made me feel. I’ll never forget how some people made me feel this year. Forgive, yes, I’m Christian, so I do know what I’m bound to do. But forget? Not sure that’s possible or even God’s will. And, besides, I’m thankful that some people made me feel this year; that those feelings brought me to a place where I had to, many times, reach out to God.
If there are facets of this year that are unforgettably real, times you’ve been left so speechless they’ve left a mark on the psyche, a steeling is required — if resilience for hardship is to be embraced.
James certainly knew it when he said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trails of many kinds…”[1] that we would find these times are anything but joyful. But he also knew that if we thought about what God was building into us as we faced our despairs, we could consider it pure joy, given that this short life will be over after only a few dozen more New Year’s.
If the year left you speechless, thank God that you shut up long enough to hear Him speak.
That’s the only thing I’m thankful for: that, though 2016 was the hardest year, I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned.
If the year left you speechless, thank God you step into 2017 readier than ever to live.


[1] See James 1:2-4 in the New Testament.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fuel for Your Cup When You Feel Like Giving Up

It can happen any time of the year, but it occurs more commonly at the end of years where outbound despair waits for inbound hope. Whether we ‘do’ New Years’ resolutions or not, we all want to do things differently next year. And some years are so lamentable we wish for a revival. Those years we dearly wish for a resurrection of fortunes. Even if we’ve had a great year we do wish to keep the momentum going in fresh, new ways, because anything contrary is more unpalatable than ever.
This is a message not just for the end of year or New Year.
There are times in all our lives when we feel exhausted of body or spirit (or both) and we ardently deliberate on giving up. And knowing we have no choice but to keep going makes the choice doubly hard, because there is only one viable option.
We must keep going.
How do we do this when we have nothing left in the tank?
The truth of life is many lives are pushed to their limit, but it’s only as we lose hope that life overwhelms us. Yet it’s at that overwhelming point we’re poised to learn life’s most valuable lesson:
Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.
—Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
As we encounter ourselves at the end of our tether we come to be ourselves, not in the madness of that instant, but in the quietness of spirit that exists when we can be quiet.
Yes, being quiet of soul is possible even in bristling, swarming chaos.
It’s the time that God gets us to be who we are before Him. Only then are we open to His help and healing. We’re much too stubborn otherwise. That help is the input of courage and strength, and the healing is the ability to use that courage and strength.
Adversity tears every unnecessary thing from us that was never ours in the first place. See hardship’s purpose? Only as we believe in this truth does reason merge with quietude nurtured in our hearts to produce a burgeoning hope; a vision that transcends the overwhelmed feeling.
Our temptation is to face adversities from the standpoint of our own common sense. But a saint can “be of good cheer” [ cf. John 16:33] even when seemingly defeated by adversities, because victory is absurdly impossible to everyone, except God.
— Oswald Chambers (source of quote, here)
This is the truth for believers of God.
We cannot be defeated, for especially in defeat, victory awaits despite defeat. Only by faith can that victory be borne on the wings hope that has learned to smile in defeat.
See the victory?
Victory comes in not being downcast in defeat.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
— James 1:2-4 (NIV)
In defeat, then, is the material of victory, for if defeat cannot defeat us, nothing can.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Francis of Assisi – The Seven Peace and Goodwill Virtues

Francis of Assisi lived from 1181—1226. The legacy of his 45 years is one of incredible spiritual presence. Here is an Admonition of Francis, and below it, a commentary:
Hail, queen wisdom! May the Lord save you with your holy sister, pure simplicity!
O Lady, holy poverty, may the Lord save you with your sister, holy humility!
O Lady, holy charity, may the Lord save you with your sister, holy obedience!
O all of you most holy virtues, may the Lord, from whom you proceed and come, save you!
There is absolutely no person in the whole world who can possess one among you unless they die first. She who possesses one and does not offend the others, possesses all; and he who offends one possesses none and offends all; and every one confounds vices and sins.
Holy wisdom confounds Satan and all his wickedness.
Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.
Holy poverty confounds cupidity and avarice and the cares of this world.
Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world.
Holy charity confounds all diabolical and fleshly temptations and all fleshly fears.
Holy obedience confounds all bodily and fleshly desires and keeps the body mortified to the obedience of the Spirit and to the obedience of one’s brother and makes a man woman subject to all the men and women of this world — and not to men and women alone, but also to beasts and wild animals, so that they may do with him whatsoever they will, insofar as it may be granted to them from above by the Lord.
***
My Commentary:
Holy wisdom is a principal virtue beyond summary description. One may study her for their entire lives and never know her more other than to grow into her. God knows it is a supreme gift that becomes us, which is beyond mere knowledge, that beholding a mystery is the essence of holy wisdom. In sum, with holy wisdom, Satan is defeated. Those in whom Jesus inhabits, by the Holy Spirit, are married incontrovertibly with all-conquering holy wisdom.
The purveyor of pure, holy simplicity knows without knowing, that there is nothing of the wisdom of this world or the wisdom of the flesh that ought to be cherished for the acquisition. Holy simplicity has an aversion to both, remaining pure, appearing na├»ve — which, in this way, is God’s hiddenness — to the world.
When holy poverty absorbs us into herself, the folly of cupidity and avarice and the cares of this world is implicit. Not only is there no need of them, again, there is spiritual aversion.
That one with holy humility resists pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world with the other virtues: simplicity, poverty, wisdom… and the others. These join together, making humility a super virtue.
Having the other virtues, holy charity has the foretaste and is the foreclosure of goodness, which is the vision of all evil in all diabolical and fleshly temptations and all fleshly fears.
Holy obedience upholds the sanctity in and of all relationships, creating in us the transcendent and the paradoxical; the power of subjugation, where no man or woman could be as Jesus was, and the Martyrs were, and the Persecuted Church are, otherwise.
***
Francis of Assisi, a Saint, was a champion of the poor. As an exemplar of Christ’s teachings, he shows us that peace-and-goodwill is the spiritual virtue of life.
Pax et Bonum (peace and the good) was the motto of Saint Francis. You may counted only six virtues in this Admonition of Francis’. The seventh is the Pax et Bonum that superintends them all.
Through virtue, vice is overcome; virtue confounds vice without vice knowing how or why.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How Do We Know If Growth is Good Unless It’s Tested?

“Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
— Exodus 20:20 (NIV)
Whenever we meet the real living God He scares us. Not because God is scary, but because He is so awesome — in the more traditional meaning, not the slang, of that word. That’s the nature of Divine encounter. In coming face-to-face with God, we would not be human if we were unafraid.
He scares us because we know He sees us as we are, and, because He sees us as we are, and because He desires so much that we grow, He is testing us so we meet His approval. Not that we aren’t already approved of through Christ. But there is a difference between our status as human beings and our status as disciples. Those who take up the cudgel of faith agree to surrender themselves to God — to do His will. Doing that will means God will require us to grow.
Approval, in this context, is about improvement for leadership ahead.
Dokimazo (Greek) – Strongs 1381
The New Testament is littered with this word, Dokimazo, which means simply, “tested for the purpose of approval.” It occurs in the gospel of Luke, in many of Paul’s letters, and once each in 1 Peter and 1 John. The purpose of approval is not about being good enough to be a member of God’s church, for which everyone is approved.
Such testing that’s required for the purpose of approval is for discipleship. Interestingly, both words “test” (i.e. prove) and “approve” are from the same root word.
Where This Gets Personal
The first period of testing I was aware of in my own life was in the church that both accepted me with open arms yet also demanded I meet certain behavioural criteria whilst making a way for me to enter leadership, for which they knew I was called, even if I did not yet recognise the calling on my life!
In Exodus 20:20, Moses tells the people not to be scared, because God’s testing is a good thing. It’s designed to keep us from sinning. In other words, God’s testing is a sign of God’s Presence (as it was for the Israelites in the Exodus). Being that God is entirely trustworthy and faithful, we can trust that His testing us is for our own good. After all, how awesome is it that God shows Himself as real, and His Presence is known through testing which is known through the consistency and constancy of things that could only come from God, through belief.
In that first period of testing, I knew all along I was being tested by God, simply because all the events in my life at the time were both hard yet achievable — too coincidental to be random, yet never more relevant to my life in the midst of my own challenges. It seemed that God wanted to show me that I could endure the toughest season of my life, and do it easily, because I knew surrendering to Him was all I could do, because He was with me. It was actually a very comforting feeling knowing that, whilst life was harder than ever, He who could help me like no other could, was indeed helping, and, in that, I knew I would get through! It doesn’t matter when life is super hard if we know we’ll get through; that there’s a purpose in it. It was most comforting because I had a tremendous purpose: God had chosen me for a mission, He was real in my experience, and He had vouchsafed me. He was making for me a way. In this way testing makes us feel very special, which is no small compensation for the adversity suffered.
God was testing me in ways that I could both endure and appreciate, and He was allowing this testing for the purpose of my approval. I was becoming a leader in Christ’s church. And all leaders must be tested, for if leaders aren’t tested how are we to know if they meet God’s holy standard or not?
One Caveat
Legalism can twist what was designed for our betterment and encouragement, and principally our preparation, and make of it, abuse.
God never wills it that a church, entity or individual lord it over an individual in the name of testing. Authoritarian leadership is a power out of line. Always has been. Always will be.
But where we subject ourselves to leadership, God and the church have every right, and certainly the role, to test us. Every leader must be tested and approved. But there is, of course, a fine line between blessing and belligerence. Testing from God is never belligerent. It never maims. It is always something that is highly reasonable, and not impossible to endure, and, because God communicates the purpose of His testing, there is strength to endure adversity.
***
This year has been a particularly testing year for me, personally. There were some fundamentals in the Christian growth journey I’ve needed to stow. It’s been agonising. It’s been frustrating. I’ve experienced much anger; much anguish and sorrow. Time and again I’ve had to learn a new submission; that God is in control, not me.
At this point, though I haven’t always enjoyed the process of testing this year, I have almost always been able to see God’s purpose in it.
Discipleship is growth in the destiny of becoming good. The key process is testing. Unless our growth is tested we don’t know if our growth is good.
Testing is never truly enjoyable, but afterward (Hebrews 12:11) we see it’s benefit, particularly when we saw its benefit throughout the process.