The Interference of Self

Read: Heb 13:1-6

Sometimes when I am met by a need or a context where I know I should move forward and respond, I push back and either procrastinate or simply turn away.

Why do I do that? Is it fear that my incompetence might be exposed Is it a sense that I might not be safe? Or is it prejudice? Or some combination of a whole raft of reasons? This passage speaks of ministering to prisoners (v.3) – do I fear their violence, and back off? We also read of strangers (v.2) – can they be trusted? Sometimes I am so prejudiced and governed by insecurity with moves me toward self protection and avoidance. Too easily, my fears blind me to what I really need to see. This is the interference of self.

Quite often the truth we need to hear is uncomfortable

Quite often, the truth we need to hear is uncomfortable. It interferes with the ‘realities’ we construct to protect ourselves from inconvenience. If one of these uncomfortable truths threatens my material wealth, my financial independence, or my leisure, I often try to push it away. Sometimes, I don’t even think I realise what I am doing. Yet through defensiveness or dismissal, or something as harmless as well directed humour, I persist in my denial. I would rather that people affirm me, and confirm the sometimes lesser story I have chosen to live at that time.

Well, there is only one affirmation that really matters. One reality worth living for. On Kingdom deserving the focus of my life, one relationship that brings love, peace, life and hope. And it is God (v.6). I don’t have to worry about what others may think, because living with God, or rather Him with me, I have all I need to survive the day.

Q: Does relationship with God really make that much difference to you? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Watch what God does, and then you do it

Read Eph 5:1-20

The command to ‘imitate God’ seems impossible to honour. How can failed and fallen human beings imitate God? True, but that’s not what Paul is getting at. He is asking us to imitate God in his values and character toward people and their world. This makes it more exciting than impossible, right?

The immediate context has to do with forgiveness and love, but as we move through the chapter we hear the writer dealing with the broad scope of life, and how relationship with Jesus transforms it.

Make no mistake, we do these things because God is making us new through Jesus, and because he is at work in us (Eph 3:14-21). God’s work through Jesus means the changes he calls us to are not impossible. What God calls us to attempt he will enable us to achieve.

With that in mind, here are a few questions to get you thinking about how you can watch what God does, and then start to do it:

* How can I show grace and forgiveness to those who have hurt me? Who are the people who are waiting for my words of grace? What will I do to bring grace in these situation?

* How can I help the people around me to thrive? What are their needs and how can I address them?

* How can I help my community to show grace to the poor, the needy, and the helpless?

* How can I help my neighbourhood to be a community that God would delight in? What needs to be done, or developed?

* What injustices are there around me, and how can I join others in addressing and correcting them?

Q: If we ere to do these things consistently, do you think Christians and the church would have more credibility?

Q: What other questions might be helpful as we consider this topic?

Not much to look at…

Read: 2 Cor 4

I don’t like being weak, and I certainly don’t like being perceived as weak. So I engage in the stupidity of covering up. It is a clumsy attempt to project some other reality, one of relative strength and having it together.

I think I shortchange God when I do this. Paul was a man who was in touch with his weakness. I can imagine his CV saying ‘excellent education under Gamaliel, and later, Jesus himself, but I am not much to listen to, and i have several persistent and debilitating personal issues…’ Would you hire someone like that?

When I seek to give the impression of strength, the focus is on me, and the Gospel is masked. We have all seen mega churches which advertise their senior pastors with larger than life airbrushed images. What images might there have been outside Paul’s church (even though he was regional and itinerant, and not bound to a ‘church building’). A cross? A gallows and noose? A broken terra cotta pot? A picture of disability?

Weakness is God’s favourite work context

God uses weakness to reveal the beauty of his grace and character. This may unnerve us. Even so, that is how it is. He chose weak and underdeveloped Israel. Abraham and Sarah were old and past it. Moses was not a great speaker. David was too small for a soldier’s armour. Jesus was viewed as a reject, and gathered other rejects to himself. The cross is seen as foolishness. Jesus’ followers, small in number and uneducated, were given the task of making disciples of all nations.

Weakness is God’s favourite work context. Weakness is how he perfectly shows his power (2 Cor 12:9).

So I have my weaknesses and so do you. I should not feed them, thinking that a worse situation will end up being a context for greater power. That’s like sinning more to get more grace (Rom 6:1).

So while I work on my weaknesses, I will simply pray that God’s grace and power will be at work despite my weaknesses. I will pray that God’s work, God’s character, and God’s grace might be more clearly seen. That my work, my character or gifts might not be the focus.

I am a jar of clay. A cracked clay pot. So let the treasure of grace and the wonder of Christ be more clearly seen.

Q: How might God use your specific weaknesses and frustrations to reveal his power today?

If you’d like further encouragement to be open about your weaknesses, check out Michael Hyatt’s excellent piece, published yesterday: ‘Tell Your Story, The Good and The Bad’

Motive, value and direction

Read Ps 131

I find myself still thinking about yesterday’s reading: Jeremiah 23. I suppose that as a shepherd I should take more time with passages that challenge those of my craft and calling who have strayed from the path.

Yesterday I wrote that a thousand prior decisions lead to an eventual change of value and direction. Today I am thinking that we can stay ‘in the Lord’s council’ (Jer 23:22) by ensuring that our ‘thousand prior decisions’ are one’s that honour God and reflect his character.

David (who wrote Ps 131) says ‘my eyes are not haughty, I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.’ Instead, like a weaned child he has put his hope in the Lord.

What determines your direction, really?

These are remarkable words for a King. They expose motive, values of heart, attitudes of will, and direction of mind. They speak of priority and forethought. David has not set his heart on the big money, the great sets of numbers, or the wins. These things are not bad in themselves. They are generally good ‘goods’… it’s just that they are lousy gods.

Ps 131 reminds us that if we make God our priority, and his Kingdom and character the centre of all our values and ideals we will end up being more calm, with quieter ambitions, and being more content. And the outcomes we achieve, whilst they may not be world beaters, high end, or great, may in the end last longer that that which rusts and rots.

That’s what Jesus said, right?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ” (Matthew 6:33–34, NIV84)

Think about your own life. What are the first things? What has priority? What determines your direction, really?

Fuel for the fight…

Read: Leviticus 26:1-13

The book of Leviticus is a challenge at the best of times. One writer says ‘The contents of the book, perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, see so removed from the daily life of the contemporary Christian that one is tempted to avoid the effort.’

Even so, maybe today’s reading is a cameo of the book’s purpose, and perhaps God’s purpose, too. These 13 verses rock between the ‘I’ of God’s action and the ‘you’ of our response.

As they affirm the Lord for his blessing and grace, and call us to specific behaviour and attitudes, they also present a powerful reminder that the capacity for people to respond and obey starts with his work in our lives.

I know some Christians think differently about this, but I have never been able to accept that we initiate faith and belief and spiritual movement, and only then will God love us. It seems to indicate that God is somehow waiting for us, or dependent on us. I don’t think a God like that is much of a God, really. God is not waiting for us to act: He has acted. He has drawn us into grace, and we get to respond. Sometimes it seems as though we have come up with the idea, but God has always seeded that thirst and exploration in us. And the fact we think it started with us just shows how creative and gentle God can be.

Leviticus teaches us these truths. The central plank of the book, amongst all the other detail, is the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). God graciously acts to forgive rebellious and sinful people. In Lev 20:26 God says ‘You are to be holy because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my very own.’ So our motivation to obey find its source in his lavish grace.

Have a look at the passage again, and notice the rhythm: ‘I have acted’ and then ‘you will do this in response.’ The story of Jesus fits this same rhythm perfectly: while we were still sinners, enemies of God, and rebels, Christ died for us.’

God’s lavish grace is the fuel I need for life’s fight

I find this reality of God’s lavish grace is the fuel I need for life’s fight. Isn’t this the wonderful ‘resource beyond myself’ that enables me to give even when I am at the end of my rope? For sure.

Truth be known, this truth is not well enough known. Is it any wonder that I tire so consistently of doing what God calls me to do? Is it any wonder that sometimes it feels as though God is far from me, even though I know he never is?

And then, no wonder that I am surprised when God answers my tardiness with even more love and grace.

“I will put my dwelling place among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your god who brought you out of Egypt, so that you will no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” [Lev 26:11-13]

Q: What makes it so hard to believe that God just keeps giving grace, even when all we give him is brokenness and failure?

No longer I…

Read Gal 2:11-21

The theme for our readings these last days has been ‘The Lord is with us’. Could there be a more relevant passage than Gal 2:20?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

I am deeply moved by this reality.

All ancient religions, and many modern religions speak of people making places where God can dwell. Temples. Holy places. Attitudes of contemplation. These are the things people create to so God might dwell with them.

Instead of people creating a place where God dwells, God creates a people in which he dwells.

The Gospel of Jesus is very different. Totally opposite. Instead of people creating a place where God dwells, God creates a people in which he dwells. In Jesus, you are a new creation (2 Cor 5:18). You have become his temple (1 Cor 6:19, 1 Cor 3:16,17) It is remarkable that in a place like Athens Paul would remark that it is not God who lives in our Temples, but that we live in him (Acts 17:28). In Ephesus, a city dominated by the temple of Artemis/Diana, Paul makes the point that the Gospel is not about gods made by human hands, but that by grace we have become God’s workmanship (Eph 2:8-10).

Could there me a more transformational reality that the fact that God lives in you? That through Jesus he is recreating you after his image and likeness? (Eph 4:24)

Q: What difference will it make for you today to know that at because of Jesus, every moment He lives is you and is with you?

Present

Read: Romans 8:1-11

This morning I am struck by the simplicity of this week’s prayer:

Lord, you have promised to meet those who seek your face. Come now and reveal your presence to me as I make myself present to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen

We invest so much energy in ‘coming into God’s presence’. We seek to do this through prayer, worship, singing, ‘going to church’ and much more. It is as if we think God will not be present unless we are doing something holy.

This prayer reveals a better reality. We simply to pray ‘Lord, reveal your presence to me’. That is, show me how things really are. Show me what is true. Open my eyes to who you are irrespective of who I am, or what I do.

It is as if we think God will not be present unless we are doing something holy

The truth is God is simply present. And we are too often oblivious to this profound truth. Most of the time we are ignorant, preoccupied, proud, blind, deep in self. Is it any wonder we can trawl through our days feeling as though God is absent?

Romans 8 declares the glorious world changing fact, ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. Because of Jesus, God is as close to us as he can be. Christ’s death has removed every barrier, every sin filled chasm, and brought us into the presence of the God who is. This is the God who is present with us by his own gracious doing.

This is why we pray for God to reveal his presence ‘as I make myself present to you.’ If God is as present to us as he can get, it’s clear that we are the ones who need to do some moving, and draw near to him. We do this not to enable or establish relationship, but as the grateful response of thanks of a fallen son or daughter to a Father who is lavish with grace, and who longs for us to thrive in his presence.

Q: What one thing will you do differently today to practise the presence of this gracious God?