Saturday, 21 September 2013

Why Pray?


There are many reasons to pray, heaps of them, praise, petition, worship, confession, help, peace, healing, protection, revelation ... I could go on.  I needed to state that before I begin here, I know there are many 'why's'.  I don't want to ruffle feathers, that is not my purpose in this post. I just have to be honest. Since I was a child I wondered about the logic of praying to a God who knows all.

A few weeks ago, I was talking about this with my niece, me rugged up in my merino top, warm hoodie and ugg boots because it was night time and we've only just come into spring, her in a singlet, thin cardie and jandals, as teenagers don't feel the cold. That is irrelevant to prayer, I know. Anyway, we meet under the guise of a 'mentoring' program we are part of, we learn from each other, and I'm not going to get into the in's and out's of mentoring now.  This particular night we were chatting about prayer, the 'why do we tell God anything, when He knows everything?' point came up.  It was good to chew the fat with a 15 year old on this subject. Enlightening. Not sure we came to any great conclusions that night.  I only hope she has been thinking on it as much as I have since.

This goes back a long way for me. It dawned on me one day that my prayer life was dismal, utterly dismal, because I finally admitted to myself that I didn't believe in prayer. I had told people I will pray for them, numerous times, and wondered what my prayers will do. I have attended prayer meetings where people and situations have been petitioned for, and I think, God knows that, why are we telling him!?!

Last year a dear, dear friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Prayerfully that put me in a awkward situation - how was I going to pray for her?  I told God about it, like He didn't have a clue. I begged God to heal her, I pleaded for God to comfort her and her lovely family, I asked God to draw her and her husband close to Him in this time. And I did this from the very depths of my heart.  Yet all the while, I had in the back of my mind, 'He knows what is going to happen, and it will happen as He knows it.  So what are my desperate prayers going to accomplish?'

The Bible speaks of occasions where God changed his mind, I'm not heading that direction today. I'm just wanting to put out there the formal in 'stating the obvious' of our prayers sometimes.  

Example:  Fictional Samuel lost his job.
Do I pray; "Lord, I want to lift Samuel up to you, he just lost his job and things are really tuff for him right now, please comfort him and bring another job along very soon."

This is where my 15 year old niece succinctly put it, "That's like me telling you, who woke up this morning and dressed yourself, 'You are wearing jeans, a blue hoodie and glasses.'". It's stating the obvious.

If I was to tell a friend about fictional Samuel, wouldn't I say something more like; "My heart goes out to Samuel, I don't know what to say to him, or what to do to help, I wish I did."  

So why do we treat God like he's oblivious of circumstances and more importantly, is it a way we become formal when we pray? The whole point of relationship is to draw nearer, yet we distance ourselves by making it about circumstances and not about how holy, glorious or merciful God is, and us, mere yet beloved, mortal. It can become religious and formal because we don't talk about how we feel, or how we can be moved, used and changed through the Holy Spirit.

I don't think there is any point in praying if we are going to tell God circumstances, He knows all, what's to tell. 

What you would tell your best friend, that is what God wants to hear from us.  Imagine with me for a moment that you go around to your best friends house for a cuppa tea and you sit down and immediately turn into a news anchor, giving updates of your week - they would look at you  like you had 'lost the plot'. Yet don't we do that with God?  

Breaking news Lord, Samuel has lost his job! And I am wearing the same blue hoodie today as I was the other day.

He wants our hearts, not our articulate review of situations.  He wants our obedience and time, our company, thoughts, wants, desires, and fears.  Yes petition, but from your heart.  If you don't care about a situation, don't pray about it, then think 'tick' done. Ask God for the power of the Holy Spirit who doesn't just give compassion, He is compassion.  

I challenge myself, and you if you're up for it: Let's get real with God. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Psalm 32

"Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit."

Blessed in these verses is Hebrew asherey, it means 'happy'.

We all know the joy of the LORD is our strength, but do we know He wants us to be happy too?

What is happy?
Is it attaining all we want?  Or is it fulfilling our purpose?

What is our purpose?
Is it to be all we can be?  Is it all we were designed to be?

"Our purpose is to make God conspicuous in us." Beth Moore

Making God conspicuous brings happiness.

Confessing our sin and repenting, means our sins are cover by God himself in Jesus Christ. When we receive that forgiveness we make God conspicuous and know happiness.  When we refuse to forgive ourselves we continue to draw attention to ourselves. That is not our purpose. Our purpose is not to make ourselves conspicuous. All attention on the One who deserves all attention.  In giving God glory we are blessed.


Monday, 16 September 2013

What is Rich?

According to the Forbes Rich list, the richest man is a guy from Mexico, he is 73 years old and has a net worth of 73 billion dollars.  What level of income or net worth do you class people as rich?  I have met some wealthy people and by comparison I do not classed myself as rich. Our family has to work, we have a mortgage, we can't buy anything we like, and sometimes we even need to save for what we need.  So, no, I don't think I am rich.

Perspective

A popular quote says, "If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy."

Clarity

Mark 10:17  "And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'"
And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"

I often look at the country I live and the middle-class people that surround me, and I ask myself the question, 'how can I share Jesus with people who don't think they need anything like him?'.  They may think they need a new boat, new house, new spouse, but they don't need a saviour.  "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God."  It is only recently that I even saw myself or those around me as rich or wealthy, I thought we were middle class, that's not rich! Hmmmm, Perspective.

Apart from the fact that we are never content, which I will get to soon, why does our wealth blind us to our true need?  Are we searching constantly for some existence where we will feel secure?  Do we really think a new boat will be the transport to that contented, secure existence, or will it be a new relationship or a new hair-do? I'm not so sure of myself that I can find any answers to these age old questions.  I'm just wondering out loud,  'Why does wealth blind us to our true need?'

Our disconnectedness to our soul and insatiable appetite for more, even when we get more, is an indication of our hearts, longing, searching for peace. We are not content, when we get more we believe we will be happy, then we get more and we think we need just a little bit more, like there is some utopian level of attainment, some nirvana we are striving for.  

Here is an example, somewhat over simplified  but still it works.  We had a toddler and a brand new baby when we decided my husband would go back to studying. We were fortunate enough to live in a house on the farm our family owned, rent free. Our food budget for the week was $100 NZ.  That was a struggle, we didn't eat a whole lot of meat, but we lived well. Once my husband finished studying and we had a regular income, the food budget went up to $120. Initially I thought it was Christmas, and it was great to be able to buy a few little extras.  Then it became a struggle again.  As each pay rise happened, the food budget increased, sometimes by $10, other times $20.  Each time the same thing happened, initially it was a treat, then I would say to myself, 'if only we had a little more'.  

Some, many, Billions even, live on less than $2 a day, and I have  budget of $170 to spend on food for our family of four each week.  I AM RICH. 

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Mark 10:25 NIV.

Epiphany: Stop looking to the extremely wealthy as the rich Jesus identified in this passage, I am that rich young man.

Jesus was not pointing out those on the Forbes Rich List.  He was pointing our you and me.  We are the rich. We live surrounded by the rich. We live in a culture of the rich young man. And most of us have bought into the culture of discontentment, and love of stuff, more.

I have to ask the question, how do I share the wonderful news of Jesus Christ in my community?  How do I share what I know and have and more, with those who have so much, and also with those who don't have enough?

This passage of the Bible raises many questions; 

Am I willing to sell everything I have and give the money to those in need, to follow Jesus? Is the way I live now, truly following Jesus? 

Do I follow the truth of the Bible, all of it, or just the parts that fit into my life? 

Have I fit my faith into a cultural setting, following a westernised Jesus, or do I follow the real Jesus of the Bible? Do I even know there is a difference?

"Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more?" (David Platt, Radical, pg 127)

I'm just wondering if reaching our middle class for Jesus, involves giving up our middle class lifestyle and living counter-culturally ... If they, with discontentment and piles of stuff saw us, giving away what we have because Jesus told us to and loving it, wouldn't that be a testimony of faith?  

How do we reach the rich, middle class, who want for nothing yet seek after things to fill that empty void? 

Maybe the answer is us, giving up all they are seeking, and finding our contentment in Jesus. 

Let's rebel against the culture that says we 'have to have' a better house, better car, nicer clothes, a boat, and a holiday home. Not that these things are bad in themselves, it's the 'have to have', the 'need', the void we all attempt to fill with these things that change them from blessing to curse. 

Father, Open our eyes to your truth. Spirit of truth, change our hearts, convict us, move us, that we may impact our middle class culture for you. Thank you Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Cross and The Cup

Is the modern church ignoring the work of salvation through Christ Jesus on the cross?  I'm wondering if we have missed the point of the cross ... salvation, rather do we focus on the wood, blood and pain.  


"Since that day (Jesus' death)  countless men and women in the history of Christianity have died for their faith.  Some of them were not just hung on crosses; they were burned there.  Many of them went to their crosses singing."  David Platt, Radical pg 35.

People have died gruesome deaths, because of what Christ Jesus did for them. However the death of Christ Jesus wasn't their salvation and it isn't ours.  These others who have died for their faith could not save us. Jesus' death on the cross wasn't just death, it was so much more. It was taking on the cup of holy wrath, divine judgement, hatred toward sin, your sin, my sin. A cup pour out, emptied, to the last drop upon Jesus' own soul, that is our salvation.  Jesus took the holy justice of our punishment.  

We ponder on the death of Jesus, the bloodied face from the crown of thorns, the raw, torn flesh of the whipped back and sides, the severed tendons of the nailed wrists and feet. We remember, communion, the bread, the wine, we remember his death.

We tend to focus on this excruciating physical pain, I propose, for two reasons: firstly we understand physical pain, we have hurt before.  We can relate, on a very small scale - if you have had a thorn in your finger you can at least try to imagine have thorns pushed into your head.  If you have stood on a nail, you can at least try to imagine having nails driven into your feet.  We can understand, and somewhat relate, so we focus on that physical pain.

The second reason is that, I think we would prefer to think upon Christ Jesus' physical pain, as it draws us away from the punishment of our sins.  Who, given the option would dwell on their sins, and the cost of those being thrust upon another person? That person, who in no way, deserved to take our punishment?  I wonder if we avoid thinking about the holy wrath of God toward sin, because it was our sin. 

Growing up in a middle class, Christian home, I was a good kid, I told the odd lie, partied a little as a teenager, did some silly things, but really, nothing too bad.  I've never done drugs. I wasn't sexually promiscuous. I went to church most weeks.  I didn't often get drunk.  I never was too bad.  ... Carry that mindset over to my adult status, when I was meant to actually have a clue about life, and what do you get?  A deluded Christian.  

About 2 years ago, I began asking God to highlight my sin, as I was totally ignorant of it, I asked him to go gently, I was well aware that my spiritual maturity was infantile.  He did, He pulled out a bright yellow highlighter and started slowly.  Fear. Anger. Jealously. Bitterness. Hatred. Pride. Selfishness. Filth, filth, filth.

Now, I think about Jesus taking my punishment for my sins, my filth, my disgusting attitude and heart, and I can see why Jesus dying wasn't the deal breaker, or my salvation.  Jesus took what I should have taken for all I have done, and he took it, willingly, lovingly, passionately. He took it - my sin upon his soul.  He did that, on the day he died, he did that, for me and you.  And although the cross was gruesome, it wasn't what freed us. Don't misunderstand me, I know Jesus chose die and through his death and resurrection, he won the battle against sin and death. I'm pushing the point of the cup of wrath he had to bear, because often, we don't, we chose to miss it, and focus on his death.    


"In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself. Some say, "God looked down and could not bear to see the suffering that the soldiers were inflicting on Jesus, so he turned away." But this is not true. God turned away because he could not bear to see your sin and my sin on his Son."  David Platt, Radical, pg 36.

We can not get to God through our own efforts, goodness, trying hard, ticking boxes, attending church or even pastoring a church.  We all get to God through Jesus, and through the cup he chose to bear for us.  The cup that had our name on it, yet, he took it from us, for love, for obedience, for his Father, for his glory.

Jesus is my salvation. Praise his name. 

Friday, 6 September 2013

Watered down version of Christians


I'm not a connoisseur of wines, my repertoire consists of red or white! Within my understanding of red wine, I can not tell you the difference between merlot and pinot noir. Port on the other hand is distinctive even to the untrained and uneducated. Port was the communion wine at my home church 20 years ago, and I still remember it.  Port is a rich, sweet, heavy, smooth fortified wine.   Compare that with the watered down version of juice now used in communion, and the comparison is undefinable.

Does my life reflect anything remotely similar to the Christians of the early church?

Have I accepted Christ via a watered down version of what was offer by Christ Jesus himself?

What part of my life is 'taking up my cross' and following Him?

Is it possible to attend church, say the sinners prayer, to think I know Christ without actually knowing Him?

Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?"  Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" 2 Timothy 2:4 ESV

Harsh?  Not at all, not when we read the promises of a life following Christ Jesus.  Jesus doesn't want us to have a pass into heaven, he wants us to have abundant life, both now and for eternity.  Sadly our version of abundant life here on earth is cluttered with stuff, useless, pointless stuff, stuff that gratifies for a second and then leaves us wanting.

Abundant life does not mean money, leadership, fame, approval. How do we know?
Well ... Jesus.

He never promoted money, Mark 10:21, "And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

He never promoted leadership, Mark 10:45, Jesus said "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

He never promoted fame, Matthew 19:30,"But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

He never promoted approval, Mark 10:34, Jesus said "And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise."
Galatians 1:10, Paul said "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

Is it really as easy as believe, confess and say the sinners prayer?  Where does the sinners prayer appear in the Bible?

Did I go into the bottle store to buy Port and come out with watered down juice? I wonder if we have been sold a dud, such a dud that when we get to heaven, we may be frantically recalling all the good we did;
"Lord, did I not place food in the food bank in your name?  Did I not serve as usher in church in your name? Did I not attend homegroup in your name?  Did I not go to church every Sunday in your name? Did I not pray for others in your name?  Did I not go on short term missions in your name?"

If you are wondering what authentic faith, a rich, sweet, heavy, smooth faith looks like, then dive into Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts to see what the early Christians and early church looked like. I don't think you will find watered down faith, you will see hardship, persecution, community, sacrificing, tears, joy and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Serving Jesus will not get you the "Well done good and faithful servant... enter into the joy of your Master" Matthew 25:21. Jesus doesn't want servants, he wants children, workers, lovers, brothers, sisters, freedom fighters, prayers, givers.

I wonder if it's about time we asked that question, 'What does Jesus mean by,
Luke 14:27 "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."





Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A Call to Die, A Call to Live

I am reading David Platts book, Follow Me. The by line says "A Call to Die. A Call to Live."  I have a sneaky suspicion I am moving into a place of gathering and weaving of all I've been learning over the past year, and making and moulding it into something more formed and distinctive rather than a tangle of yarn. 

The tangle began with a lack of peace, a desire for more, I started by stating, honestly and aloud "There has to be more to this faith walk than what I am living!".  I wasn't alone, strangely as I began talking with some friends, I realised there were a number on this same walk. I began my search with the Holy Spirit, as His existence in my heart was smothered by my understanding or lack of it. This developed into a quest for more of God's presence, more experience, greater understanding.  Then water doused the fire, controversy, questions of theology, unsettling attitudes, they over shadowed.  The slide into the valley was so subtle, the fire spluttering and the light fading. Many friends on the same walk found themselves with company in the valley. When the lines of 'them and us' are drawn, no one wins, not even those who are right. 

We live in community for a reason.  Friends who shared this experience came for dinner not so long ago, we talked honestly, from the heart, shared our pain, our questions, then we prayed. I am so thankful for wise friends who allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to minister.  Truth sparked the coals that had lost so much of their warmth. Words of encouragement, revelation, love through honest conversations. The light is returning, the questions are still there, but the valley doesn't look like a dead-end now there is light growing.

Beth Moore says Time + Conflict = Change. True. Experience teaches. Yet all I have been learning doesn't seem to follow a logical course, and some days doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  There seems to me to be quite random revelations that seem important yet don't tie into what I have been learning. For example; I'm coming to an understanding that one way to be filled with the Holy Spirit, is to be out of our comfort zone relying on the Holy Spirit, through telling others about Jesus Christ. Another is prayer, I've been asking myself the question, why pray to a God who knows all? Is petitioning a list really how I should pray?  Am I building relationship with God through my prayers? How did Jesus pray?

I have no idea what I am to be learning, I guess one day I may understand what it all means.  Maybe, maybe not, but either way I know God is weaving, delicate and intricate. My greatest revelation and the foundation for my searching is that I want more of God. I want, in fact, I need for there to be more to life, an abundant life, what I was living can't be all there is to faith.  
"The Life God has for us is one of abundance. It is meant to be full, not repetitive. He wants us doing things that have eternal impact. He wants us busy expanding his Kingdom in one way or another, today and everyday.  This doesn't mean that every Christian should quit his or her job and move to a foreign country. But it does mean that we need to figure out how to make each day count for his purpose.
Paul Said it like this: "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."
Don't most of us do the opposite? We busy ourselves with "civilian pursuits" and occasionally jump into the battle when we feel compelled. Kingdom service is something we visit on a mission trip, day of service, or prayer meeting. Being entangled in the civilian lifestyle has become the accepted norm. It is even applauded so long as we can point to some occasional Kingdom activity. But doesn't Scripture tell us to live differently? And wouldn't your life be more "abundant" if you could figure out a way to be on the battlefield every day?
You may be looking at your life and assuming you have no options. Isn't a person with bills, family and responsibilities destined to be "entangled in civilian pursuits"?
Absolutely not. You and I were made for more."
(Francis Chan)




Monday, 2 September 2013

A City Without a Wall


I've had walls on my mind quite a lot recently. It seems rather an odd thing to think about doesn’t it?  There’s been a story of a wall and city, with another about a war in which a city was conquered. These have formed a theme that has continued for a few months now through story after story.  It started with the story of the destruction of the walls of Jericho when God gave this fortified city to the people of Israel. Later I read about the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, then the rebuilding of the wall by Nehemiah, then much later, the decimation of the city and wall of Jerusalem by conquering Rome in AD 70. 

One of our family Bible memory verses I am teaching my children is "Losing self-control leaves you as helpless as a city without a wall." Prov 25:28 (CEV). While this verse is on our wall for my boys to learn, it’s also written out in bold marker in our kitchen to remind me that I frequently loose my self-control, whether it's through anger, chocolates, distractions or saying yes to too many things. At that point I become a city without a wall. I expose my vulnerability, making myself an easy target.

Self-control is not a swear word!  It's not easy, but it is a blessing rather than a curse (I really need to keep telling myself that). I'm sure we can all think of personal examples. Talking to parents of 2 year olds, familiar words ring out, not just from them I suspect, but from all over parent-dom, "I never had an anger problem until I had children".  It's true, the little treasures know how to press your buttons at an early age, that’s for sure.  When buttons get pushed, faces flush with anger, voices rise.  Self-control wanes then vanishes.  

"Love suffers long and is kind...is not provoked ... bears all things ... endures all things." 1 Cor 13:4-7(NKJV) These verses speak very wisely and powerfully to any parent of a 2 year old! Children are a huge blessing from God. They bring joy and laughter, yet they also make us suffer long sleepless nights. I could have sworn I heard an amen somewhere in the distance!! Children provoke. They do know how to get to us, so contributing towards our lack of self control. It's amazing what we endure as a result of our children. We sometimes feel like life is endurance of the frustrating kind.  But that is interpreting these verses without Love. Some days we can wallow in the suffering, provocation, frustration and endurance of parenting, but it is only when we chose obedience to the Spirit of God that we chose love.  Our children's provocation means we don't have to respond inappropriately. We can choose to bear all things and endure all things, because we choose to be obedient to Him and His call to love.
 "Every moment, God gives us opportunities to live for Him.  What happens when we get upset and lose our patience? We lose the blessing of staying in a place of love." Heidi Baker.
 Self-control is not limited to parenting. We need it in our relationships, at our work place, while eating, in our conversations and thought life, even how much time we give to Facebook/Twitter.  We need self-control for many things, if not all things.

Self-control is a part of our defence that keeps us safe.  We are powerless unless we use God’s power. This power is not just restricted to self-control. There are many other areas where our defences may be down including such areas as pride, comparing, hate, addictions, sexual immorality, bitterness, doubt, judging, anything and everything that has a hold on us. When we give into temptation and allow ourselves to be defeated in those areas, we leave our city gates wide open and ripe for invasion. It's easy to want to try to fight temptation, to try to do better, to want to do better, but without the power of the Holy Spirit it's all effort and no break-through.

When we invite Jesus to be our Saviour, He gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. We are His temple, He is our security and protection.  He is our wall.  If we would only give him jurisdiction and power to defend us, instead of thinking we can protect ourselves, we would live in victory with a capital V.

Romans 8:37-39 gives us our battle cry "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the presence nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." He who loves that much and that permanently, is our solid defence. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are our wall, our protection, our defence in all things.









Be prepared to be Rocked ...

An explosive quote from David Platt:

"Over the last year, through various circumstances and in large part through my complete and utter inability as a pastor, I’ve come face-to-face with my self-sufficiency that plagues me. Along the way, face-to-face with the frightening realization that I am part—and I think it would be safe to say, we are a part—of a religious system in our culture, today, that has created a whole host of means and methods for doing church that, in the end, requires little, if any, help at all from the Holy Spirit of God.

We don’t have to fall on our faces and fast for the church to grow. We have marketing to do that. We don’t have to bring the crowds in through prayer. We have publicity for that. We have deceived ourselves and mistaken the presence of physical bodies in a building for the existence of spiritual life. I’m convinced in my own life—in church here, in churches that are represented around this room—that it is dangerously possible for us to go through the routines and programs and stuff we do in church and get to the end and look back and realize that the Spirit of God has been almost entirely absent and completely neglected in the process. I’m convinced, more than ever, that the greatest hindrance—I know this is a bold statement, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement—the greatest hindrance to the advancement of the glory of God in the world today is the attempt of the church of God to do the work of God apart from the power of the Spirit of God." (© David Platt & Radical. Website: Radical.net)