Tis the season to get weary!

I don’t know about you, dear reader but, I always find I get weary at this time of year. 

Trust me, this isn’t the blog about how hard ministers work at Christmas!

For many years I worked in industry and Christmas always presented us with a focus point for orders to be out, invoices raised and the factory cleared ready for January stocktaking.  By the time I arrived at the Christmas shut down I was exhausted.  I am sure my friends in the education and care sectors could tell their stories of end of year.  Most of all, however, my heart goes out to those who work in the retail sector!

I find, at this time of year in particular, it very difficult to sleep.  I have so much going round in my mind I find myself waking at hours that I didn’t realise existed.  Today, however, something that has never happened to me before took place.  I was wide awake by 4am.  By 5am, I had given up hope of going back to sleep and I had finished the book I had been reading.  I got up, and made a cup of tea, found a fresh book and got back into bed.  I woke up with a start at 8am with my new book unopened and cold cup of tea. 

I had overslept! 

I never oversleep, it just doesn’t happen to me!

By the time I got into the office, I was ready to spend some time with God in His word.  As I turned to the passage that my reading plan had selected today, I read some familiar words from the prophet Isaiah and couldn’t help but smile;

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

(Isaiah 40 vs. 29 – 31)

Weariness is part of life.  It is one of those things that we all, from time to time, experience.  Periods of intense busyness are bound to wear us down but, as soon as Christmas is here, we can rest and catch up with ourselves. 

It sounds good but I recognize, within myself, weariness comes with a high price tag attached.   I become prone to illness and it is when I am weary I become an easy target for those things that pull me away from God. Another verse I looked at today was Proverbs 25 vs. 28 which says;

A person without self-control

is like a city with broken-down walls.

(Proverbs 25 vs. 28)

That verse is one I can really relate to.  Weariness is what breaks down my walls.

It’s at times when I am most weary, I most need the strength of God to renew and lift me so I can keep walking with Him.  So, that was my prayer today, that God would strengthen me and lift me so that I can walk with Him.

What was your prayer today? 

 

Mite or mite not…..

 

There are two subjects I hate preaching on.

The first is anything to do with s_x (I blush as I type).  The second is money (no blush but, a distinct feeling of discomfort).  Unfortunately, both subjects appear in the Bible because, the Bible is about the reality of life and the God who is intimately involved in all aspects of life.

I suppose I dislike both subjects because, I regard them as private and personal.  I can remember, in my early days as a Christian, a visiting preacher saying it was a great honour to speak about the subject of giving.  I have never felt that way.

Sometimes, you just cannot avoid it…

I have been spending a little time in the Gospel of Luke chapters 20 and 21 over the past couple of weeks and money appears in both of them.  In Luke 20, Jesus has the conversation about taxes and ends with His amazing response “render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to God”.

As chapter 20 draws to a close, Jesus is involved in some pretty full on parable telling and teaching so, as chapter 21 opens Jesus stops to draw breath and spots a widow putting two copper coins into the Temple Treasury – you can read it for yourself in Luke 21 vs. 1 – 5. This story is commonly called the Widows Mite.

As I read this story (which I have used when forced into preaching on the dreaded “m” word), I saw something in it I hadn’t seen before.  I realised that Jesus draws His disciples attention to it because, something within Him was stirred by her actions.  Her simple act of putting something that was, in financial terms of the time, worth next to nothing caused Jesus to have an emotional response.

As I thought about it, I have come to believe that this particular moment really blessed Jesus.

The Temple stood at the heart of Jewish religious and civil life at the time.  There would have been activity all around, people coming and going the great and the good, the important and the lowly all paying into the treasury.  Yet, Jesus doesn’t seem to notice them, instead He sees a poor widow put in two copper coins and it blessed Him.

With all that was going on around, all that He had to do, all the demands He faced Jesus could have easily missed this moment but, He doesn’t.  Jesus is attentive to what His Father wants to show Him.

The key to receiving God’s blessing is attentiveness.

Chris Chapman, in his book Earthed in God (Canterbury Press 2018) says that we have to develop the practice of attentiveness.  He goes on to explain how we can develop this practice saying;

 

  • What is it that I see, and why does it touch me?
  • Why do I feel such excitement or sadness, attraction or fear?
  • How are you at work in my life, and how can I co-operate with you?

 

We hover over the moment, avoiding the temptation to simply move on.  There is something to see here – something to learn. But to perceive it we must stay still

(page 77)

Try it for yourself.

Take a moment to stop (it doesn’t have to be long).

Breathe.

Notice.

What are you drawn to see?  What feeling arise within you?

What might God be saying to you?

Who knows, you may see something that really blesses your socks off!

 

 

 

Being Disappointed….

I was in two minds whether or not to put “pen to paper” and share these thoughts with you or not.  They are not in any way complete but, they are something that I feel God has been speaking to me about recently.

I have been really challenged over the past few weeks over the way that I see.  I do not mean that in the physical sense of the words but, I suppose the best way of describing it is, how I see.

This morning, as I sat with my Bible and had some time with God, I read a familiar passage that produced such strong feelings in me I needed to look carefully at why I felt as I did.  I believe God brought me back to the same thought, it’s how I see that needed to be addressed.

I share these thoughts with you not as somebody who has arrived at my destination but, is on a journey. 

So, my passage this morning was The Parable Of The Great Banquet. The story is of a man who plans a great celebration and invites guests to attend the banquet.  It must have been a real honour to be on the guest list of the sumptuous feast that the host had put so much effort into.  The story goes that each of the invited guests turns down the invitation with what appears to be pretty rubbish excuses.

The host calls his servants together and then sends them out to the “highways and bye ways” to drag in those who would not normally be seen amongst good company.  If you want to read the passage in full, you can in Luke’s Gospel chapter 14 vs 15 – 24. Jesus tells us the hosts’ response;

I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.

(Luke 14 vs. 15 – 24)

When I have thought about this parable in the past, I have seen myself in the role of the servant.  I am to go out and find those who will welcome an invitation to the feast.

 

Today was different, I was drawn to the character of the host.  As I thought about the host I felt two very powerful emotion arise within me – disappointment and rejection.

 

I thought about the time and trouble that the host had put into the feast.  I thought about the expense.  I thought about how he would have gone to that extra trouble for his friends. 

 

I also thought about the “slap in the face” that the excuses would have presented.  The field would still be there tomorrow.  The new oxen could be test driven tomorrow.  As for the chap whose wife wouldn’t let him out, well…..

 

That’s the thing with friends they have the power to encourage and the power to disappoint.  When we believe in our friends and they let us down, the hurt they cause is powerful.  I don’t think there are many people who have gone through life without being disappointed by those we thought of as friends.

Now, here is the bit I wasn’t sure about sharing….

I am a Church minister.  I am supposed to have this “Christianity thing” all together.  I am meant to be mister nice guy.  The shocking thing is I am also human and, therefore, I get disappointed – regularly!

As I sat with God, I felt He wanted me to talk to Him about my own disappointments.   I don’t need to spell out names, dates and places.  The horrible truth is that those occasions do, sometimes, raise their heads and they still hurt even after many years. 

It’s not as if I haven’t forgiven, I have, on multiple occasions.  I pray for God’s blessing on the people and the places but, there are times still when I feel the pain. I have to accept that those hurts run very deep and will take a long time to heal.  I trust that God will bring me deeper into forgiveness and healing if I allow His Holy Spirit to keep working in my heart.

I think, what God was saying to me was, at the times those hurts arise change your focus.  Look at what you have not at what you haven’t.  Do not focus on the disappointment, focus on those who are with you, encouraging you, supporting you.

The host of The Great Banquet must have been disappointed at the lack of his ‘friends’ support but, in the process, he had made of lot of new friends he had never met before!

Does, maybe, God want to speak to you about changing your focus?

   

Lest We Forget

 

Like many people, my thoughts recently have been centred around the upcoming anniversary of the end of the First World War.

To mark the occasion, I am spending a couple of weeks preaching a series I have called “The Peace of God”.  My talk yesterday focussed on a well-known verse from Isaiah 2;

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

(Isaiah 2 vs. 4)

I speculated on how impossible this vision appears.  When peace is political, it breaks down.  Nobody really wins a war, there are always casualties and the world is never the same for those who return.

Of course, Isaiah is speaking in a prophetic sense.  He looks forward to a time when God’s kingdom is fully established.  When God’s reign of justice, peace and joy is fully acknowledged.  But, I asked, is it possible that to some extent we can find peace in this troubled world?

The Bible has lots to say about peace.

But it’s clear that peace is not just the absence of war. Neither is it peacefulness in the sense of being untroubled. Peace, in the Biblical sense, means being in a right relationship with God, with other individuals and with wider society.

“Shalom” is the Hebrew word we often associate with peace.  It is often used as a greeting, trips off the tongue.  I remember when I had the privilege of visiting Israel and being stopped at a military check point by armed soldiers.  They wandered through our party with the word “shalom”.  Seeing their weapons, it didn’t look like “shalom” to me, I was feeling distinctly nervous!

I have heard many people use the word “holistic” and that is what “shalom” truly is.  It means being set right. Complete and whole.

When Isaiah speaks these words of prophecy, he does so at a time of time of incredible disruption, fear and impending war and so, it looks to be absolutely impossible.

I have read the stories of people celebrating the start of the first world war. The great adventure they were embarking on and the stark reality of what they encountered.  I wonder, was there a longing for swords into plough shares spears into pruning hooks or, did it all seem like an impossible dream?

In our day, in our time war from our point of view looks very different now.  Maybe world war 1 shaped our thinking in some way.  Maybe the media with its instant communication and 24-hour coverage, I wonder can these words really come true?

If I am honest about it, I look at words like that and I look at the state the world is in I think surely, it is impossible isn’t it?

But, we have a God who specializes in the impossible!

For many of us the question is, how in this world can I find peace?

One of the most powerful ways that this world robs us of peace is that it gets us to take our focus away from God and onto our problems, our struggles.  The more we look at them the bigger they become.  The bigger they become the harder it is to find peace.  So, what we have to learn to do is to take our eyes off the problems and start looking to God

There is a poster you might have seen that goes like this;

No God, no peace

Know God, know peace

It may seem a twee way of saying it but, it is absolutely true.  What I have come to realise over the years is that there is a reason why Jesus told His disciples to

seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

(Matthew 6 vs. 33)

It’s about knowing God and about knowing His peace.  Let me tell you what happened to me. 

Monday is always sermon writing day in my office.  I had an idea floating around in my head and I was desperate to get it down on paper. 

I went into the office started hammering away.  I spent hours trying to get the thoughts down on paper but, nothing seemed to flow.  Sentences didn’t fit or work.  By the end of two hours’ solid work all I had was a blank sheet of paper!

I got cross with God.

The harder I tried the less I seemed to be able to think

As I flicked through the Bible a passage leapt out at me Psalm 46 vs. 10 which says;

Be still and know

That I am God

(Psalm 46 vs. 10)

I felt God nudge me and say “put it aside and come and be with me.”  I did.  I put the preparation to one side and I went to the sofa in my office and I just sat in God’s presence.

I said nothing

He said nothing

But as I sat I became so aware of His presence with me, it was incredible.  I felt, what I can only describe as, an overwhelming sense of peace. 

The work was still there, it still needed to be done but, when I returned to it, there was a real feeling of peace.  With this sense of peace, the work got done.

We all face competing demands in life.  There is so much that demands our attention, and I wonder how often we reflect that in our prayer lives?

Okay God I am ready, let’s get to it

Here is my list for today

AMEN

Our prayer is about needs and words and less about just being with God.  Chris Chapman in his book “Earthed in God” writes;

Prayer is more than this: it is the deliberate engagement in the formation of relationship

(Chris Chapman)

I believe many of us have lost the art of being still.  We have lost the art of being still in God’s presence

Once we are still and we begin to grasp the fact that we are in the presence of God.  We let go of our self-centred priorities.  We actually let Him Be God, then we begin that journey into the peace that passes all understanding.

To experience peace, real lasting peace we have to get to know God

No God, no peace

Know God, know peace

Friends, that is the very real choice we have to make

 

Disconnect to Reconnect

I am, dear reader, old enough to remember what the world was like BMP – Before Mobile Phone!  I can even remember the days before we had a telephone in our house so, if you needed to make a call, you had to find a call box and make sure you had enough 2p pieces with you.  Just for the record, I do not recall the world pre-decimalisation!

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not anti-technology.  I have a smart phone and a tablet.  I like social media and enjoy being able to keep “in touch” with people.  I am, however, aware that technology can overtake my life and become my focus rather than an aid to my living.

It’s sometimes easier to spot the fault in others.  I have seen the person who is so attached to their mobile that, they are oblivious to all around them.  Whether it’s the person with a child in push chair, ignoring the child whilst the mobile is the focus as they chat to friend about what they watched on TV last night.  The person who is so busy arranging to meet somebody, via their mobile whilst bumping into people around him.  When it comes to people trying to drive and texting at the same time – don’t get me started (prepares to drag out soap box!).  But, before I become self-righteous, and point out the specks of sawdust in their eyes, I need to look at the plank in my own.

I was reading some words of Jesus, this morning, that got me thinking about this;

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.

(John 15 vs. 1)

As I read this passage it spoke to me afresh about the word “connection”.

I think there is a need in all of us to be “connected”.  In fact, I would go as far as to say human beings were made for connection, with each other and with God.  As we get drawn into the virtual world, real connections do not happen.  I no longer speak to those around me when it’s “easier” to send a quick text!

As we become disconnected from each other, I think we are in danger of disconnecting ourselves from God too.  For the branch to produce grapes, it has to be connected to the vine.  Jesus also speaks about the branches that wither and die, I see these as suffering the effects of disconnection.

So, let me get a bit personal here, be honest, do feel connected or disconnected from God at this time?  Wouldn’t it good to talk to God about why you answered as you did?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Distracted?

Sometimes, when I read the Bible, I like to imagine myself within the story.   I ask myself, who am I, what can I see, touch, hear and smell.   I find this really helpful when it is a well-known story and a text that I am tempted to almost “skip over” and so would miss what God may be wanting to say to me.

This morning I was in for a bit of a surprise!

I was faced with a story I had read countless times from Luke’s Gospel chapter 10.  Jesus is invited to stay in the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha does all the work and Mary sits at Jesus feet.  If you want to read it for yourself, you will find it in Luke 10 vs. 38 – 42.

Now, as I said, I have read it countless times before.  I have even imagined myself in it before.  The last time I looked at this passage I was one of Jesus’ followers who was tired from the trek and looking forward to a good meal (I do enjoy my food).

As I pictured the scene in my mind I could see Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and I felt a sudden surge of what I can only describe as resentment.  I realised that (please excuse the clumsy phrasing) I was a Martha when I really wanted to be a Mary!

As I looked through the Bible story, it was one word in verse that spoke to me;

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things

(Luke 10 vs. 41)

I was distracted.

At that moment, I was wanting to give my focus and full attention to God but, in reality, my mind was elsewhere.  I wanted to sit in God’s presence and know of His peace and love surrounding me when, in reality, my mind was distracted by the difficult meeting, the mountain of paperwork, the phone calls I needed to make, getting ready for another meeting, preparing talks, handling e-mails and why is there nobody that can help me?

I was a Martha when I wanted to be a Mary and I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this.

I cannot ignore my distractions because, they are the very really tasks and challenges of my working day but, I can choose where I allow myself to focus.  Let me try and explain what I mean.  Martha was doing nothing wrong, she was only wanting to be a good host however, her timing was out!  She should have taken the opportunity to join Mary at Jesus feet.  Then, when the time was right, Martha and Mary together would have been able to do what needed to be done.

I shared with Jesus those things that were distracting me.  He wasn’t surprised.  He knew about them anyway.  For a few moments, I was able to park them and become a Mary.  I enjoyed just sitting in His presence knowing He was there with me at that moment and I got to listen to Him.

There are a couple of verses He spoke to me about and, maybe, He wants to remind you of them too;

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

(Matthew 6 vs. 33 – 34 The Message) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Book Forward!

As a small child I was sent to Sunday School where we used to sing the chorus

The best book to read is the Bible

The best book to read is the Bible

If you read it every day,

It will help you on your way

Oh the best book to read is the Bible

Through Sunday School I learnt the stories of Jesus and encountered some of the heroes of the Old Testament, like David the little boy who killed the big giant.

As I grew into adulthood and discovered faith, my reading changed.  I was privileged, through the churches I attended, to hear some wonderful preaching from people that helped to grow a real love of scripture in me. 

I was taught the value of a “daily quiet time”.  Read a portion of the Bible alongside some notes and spend some time in prayer.  It was a great discipline and one that I would not knock.  There have been times when this has been profoundly helpful and equally, times when I have struggled with it.  I still try (with varying degrees of success) and do this as part of my own daily pattern.

When I went into ministry, my focus in reading the Bible changed.  The Bible seemed to become a “tool of the trade”.  I found that each time I read a passage I saw it as a potential sermon.  I would, for example, look at my quiet time passage and start trying to find “three points” to preach from.  I found it really hard to just read scripture just for the sheer joy of encountering God through His word.  To combat this urge within, I used two Bibles.  One was “exclusively” for sermon preparation and one was “exclusively” for my personal time with God!

I have been reflecting on this struggle for some time now and I have found that my relationship with the Bible is changing again.  I have tried a few times to put into words what is happening and nothing that I wrote seemed to make sense – even to me.  Yesterday, I read this from Henri Nouwen that seems to capture where I am with the Bible at the moment;

 

“To take the holy scriptures and read them is the first thing we have to do to open ourselves to God’s call. … The word of God should lead us first of all to contemplation and meditation. Instead of taking the words apart, we should bring them together in our innermost being; instead of wondering if we agree or disagree, we should wonder which words are directly spoken to us and connect directly with our most personal story. Instead of thinking about the words as potential subjects for an interesting dialogue or prayer, we should be willing to let them penetrate into the most hidden corners of our heart, even to those places where no other word has yet found entrance.”

—Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

 

The writer to the Hebrews says this;

 

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

(Hebrews 4 vs. 12)

If I want the living word of God to impact my life, speak into my situations guide me and grow me I have to be willing to let the Bible speak for itself and allow it’s words to penetrate, as Henri Nouwen says, to those places where no other word has yet found entrance.

I wonder, how do you allow God’s word to speak to you?

The Invitation

 

Last week I got the chance to go on retreat for a few days.  I had been really looking forward to it.  For a little while my relationship with God had felt a little stale and some of the things I had been dealing with through work had got me a little out of sorts – nothing drastic, just that feeling inside.  I knew that I needed to get away with God for a couple of days.

On our first evening, we were told we would get the chance to watch a film.  As our evening began, I discovered that the film we were to watch was “The Shack”.  I had never seen the film before but, a few years back, I had read the book and had not got on with it.  I knew the book was an allegory and not intended as a work of theology.  I had read the criticism of Wm Paul Young’s views.  I suppose because I had read it in “bits and pieces”, I found it hard to follow and found myself frustrated by it.

As soon as we were told that the film was “The Shack”, my heart sank.  I found feelings within me to watch the film with a distinct attitude of justification for my previously held dislike.  Much less, did I expect God to speak to me through it.  But, speak He did!

I found that as I was drawn into Mack’s story, I began to feel some gentle nudges from God.  The most powerful came when Mack received the invitation to go to “The Shack”, the words just seemed to leap off the screen at me.  There were many other things too but, space does not permit them!

That night I struggled to sleep.  I found myself dreaming about my own past and some of the worries I have in the present.  Some of the dreams could, perhaps, be best described as nightmares.  In the early hours of the following day I decided to give up with sleep and keep myself awake, it was much safer that way.

As our new day began it was to be a day of silence.  There was an art exhibition to help our thinking and spark our imaginations into prayer.  One quote I saw really spoke to me, it came from the basement of a concentration camp;

 

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining

I believe in love even when I cannot feel it

I believe in God even when He is silent

 

Accompanying that quote was a painting that looked like a swirl of blackness.  But, when you stood at a particular angle, there was the face of Jesus hidden within it.  As I gazed at the picture, I felt God saying to me “it’s time to come to The Shack”.  In the story, The Shack represents Mack’s heart.  It’s a dark place where the hurt and the pain of his “great sadness” are stored.

My story is very different to Mack’s and very very different to Wm Paul Young but, I have a Shack too.  It’s the place where I store up my hurts, failures, regrets, anger and the memories of all that has bred my insecurities.  God’s invitation to “come to the Shack” was frightening, I don’t like visiting my shack because, it’s a place of my pain.

In the story, when Mack goes to the Shack (nice little rhyme that!) he has an encounter which brings him healing and transformation.  What struck me was that, in the film, is The Shack is shown as a dark place the lighting is dim, it is a place of shadows.  As soon as Mack has his encounter it’s a place of colours and brightness.  It reminded me of a verse in the Bible which says;

For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.

(Luke 8 vs. 17 – NRSV)

I had always seen those words as a bit of a threat. I don’t want anyone to know what is in my shack or, how it had got there.  Imagine the horror of having your deepest darkest secrets on full display for the world to see!

What I found was, as I went to my shack, it wasn’t everyone else who knew about it.  There was me and one other there and, that one other, already knew what was in my shack and He wasn’t horrified, angry or embarrassed by me.  He simply wanted to bring into the light what I was hiding in darkness so that He could bring forgiveness and healing.

I spent a long time at my shack with God that day.  As the afternoon approached, I went back to my shack and I lay down. I awoke 3 hours later having had the deepest most refreshing sleep for a long while.

I wonder where and how you will encounter God today?

 

 

 

Back to the school of the desert!

This week, in our area, marked the kids returning to school.  One of my aunties always used to tell me that “your school days are the best days of your life”.

I hated school.

I hated school assemblies.  I can remember sitting cross legged in the school hall that seemed to smell permanently of bad feet and boiled cabbage.  I can remember the half-hearted singing of hymns and the headmaster marching up and down yelling “sing” at any child he thought was not putting enough effort into it.  Even now, I hear the words or tunes of certain songs and they invoke really powerful memories for me.

I have always associated “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” with school.  I cannot bring myself to sing the proper words to “Morning has broken”.  Our version went;

Morning has broken

Somebody dropped it

Teacher has spoken

Let’s go to sleep

 

As a child, you tried to sneak the alternative words in without the teacher working out who done it.  As an adult looking back, I now understand the poetry of the words.  I can see what they were trying to convey. They spoke about God’s perfect creation.  They spoke about a world in harmony.  They spoke about a world set at peace with itself.

But that was not the world I knew then and, that is not the world I know now.

The world in which we live, is not the world that God created it to be.  Humanity walked away from God’s will and design and so the relationship was spoiled.

If you trace the history of the nations of Israel and Judah it reads like a pattern of “close to God the nation does well” and “away from God, the nations fall apart”.  There came a time in their history when they had strayed so far from God’s plans and purposes that they lost the nation altogether and ended up in exile in Babylon.

But, what the Bible teaches is, with God there is always hope.

This morning, we read chapter 35 from the book of Isaiah. I reflected on the fact that sometimes the Bible uses particular words that are loaded with significance.  The word that was significant for me in this chapter was the word “desert”.  I saw this word as an illustration meaning, not the natural state of things.  A desert is a tragedy.  A desert speaks of failure.  The desert is the place of regret.

I think many of us end up living in the desert of life.

So, we are faced with a choice.  We either dig in if we are going to get through; tough it out.  Or, we get beaten by it

The passage in Isaiah 35 tells us that the desert doesn’t have the last word.  The desert does not have the victory

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendour of our God.

(Isaiah 35 vs. 1 – 2)

The desert can never have the last word because even in the worst of situations, God can work to bring about His purposes and His plans.

 

 

Camels, needles and all that jazz!

 

The rich young man walked away from Jesus.  Ever since he could remember, he had kept the rules.  Done the right thing.  He had attended all the festivals, associated with the right people, been seen by the great and the good.  Yet, in just a few short words, Jesus had put his finger part of his life that was not up for discussion.

There was nothing wrong with having money, was there?  He liked his nice clothes, he liked to look good.  He enjoyed eating out at the top class restaurants, being seen in the right places.  He had hot and cold running servants, well why not?  At least it gave jobs to the poor.

There was the odd occasion when his income had dipped.  Business plans not quite to schedule, investments not given the rate of return that was promised.  Those were the times when his temper came to the forefront.  Nobody would cross him in business.  He could be a little ruthless at times, he admitted that, after all it was HIS money.

He looked at some of his friends.  He saw what they had.  The latest.  The best.  The new design.  He wanted that too.  After all it was HIS money.

 

What I think Jesus saw when he looked at the rich young man (Matthew 19 vs. 16 – 30) was somebody who was trapped.  He was trapped by his wealth.  We may think wealth is a nice problem to have, particularly if we are not overly rich by our societies standards.  Jesus, however, challenges that concept because that young man’s identity had become wrapped up in what he owned not, in who he was.

After the rich young man has walked away Jesus then goes on to speak about the values of the Kingdom of God.  Camels through the eye of a needle, first being last and the last being first.  His kingdom does not seem to fit into our world view of success.  He reminds us that God’s doesn’t always see things the way the world teaches us to see things.  What the world says is of value is not necessarily what God says is valuable.

This was the passage I was reflecting on during my quiet time this morning.  As I thought about the rich young ruler and Jesus response to His disciples questions I found myself thinking about a word that I do not hear very often.  It was word “contentment”.

One of the ways that our world functions is through the power of consumerism.  Consumerism creates a grey area between needs and wants.  It can lead us to, selfishly, focus on self, whilst claiming to empower us.  It can lead to greed and can be as addictive as any drug.  For some people “retail therapy” is more than a joke, it has become their drug of choice!

The antidote to this problem is found in contentment.  The Apostle Paul writes;

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Philippians 4 vs. 11 13)

 

And to his friend Timothy, he writes;

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 

(1 Timothy 6 vs. 6)

 

It seems, contentment will require us to challenge our current world view and seek God’s views, values and standards.  So, as I thought about these words, I looked at my own life and asked some tough questions of myself.  Am I satisfied with what I have or, am I always wanting more?  Am I content or striving?  What are the things I see valuable?  What would make my life “complete”?

I took a few moments bring my answers to God and, maybe, you would like to do the same.

I then thought again about my own life and listed those things that I was grateful to God for today.  As I did, I began to feel a real sense of contentment and gratitude for the many blessings that God has given to me.

Why not give it a go and try it for yourself?