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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to the root of the problem!

This morning, I undertook a bit of gardening.

Those who know me will know I am not much of a gardener.  I struggle to tell weed from plant, sunflower from green bean.  But, when it comes to the sort of job that requires a bit of brute force and ignorance, I’m your man!

Our neighbour had pointed out that one of our fence panels was getting very damaged by an ivy plant that has been in the garden for years.  But, acting on my neighbours concerns, I armed myself with some shears and a saw and began to tackle the plant.

The surface of the plant looked quite nice, even fairly attractive. As I began to remove the surface layers, I saw that the plant was twisted, intertwined, parts of it were quite thick through years of being left to grow.  What looked, on the face of it, a fairly straightforward job, began to get heavier and harder.

Once I had got the plant down, I could see the full extent of the damaged fence beneath.  My neighbour had seen what I could not.

This incident got me thinking.

As we go through life we can pick up knocks and bruises along the way.  Our natural desire is to protect ourselves and so we allow things to “grow” around us as a form of hedge of protection.  What we don’t always see is the damage these things can be doing to us.

Like my ivy plant, we sometimes need to do a bit of radical uprooting in our lives.  We need to face, head on, the false hedge of protection that can causes so much damage.

I thought about some of the hedges of protection I have allowed to grow around me over the years.  If I am honest, pulling up some of them, feels like incredibly hard work, have I the strength to do it?  However, I do not have to face this work alone.  God, by the power of His Holy Spirit can and will work within us to clear away those things that damage.  Here is what the Apostle Paul writes;

God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

(Ephesians 3 vs. 20 – The Message)  

 

I love that phrase “deeply and gently within us”.

He works within us as we, honestly, open our hearts to Him and allow Him to change us from the inside out.

What is that?

I read something in a blog today that caused me to panic.

This particular blog was about writing, communication and social media.  The writer was talking about how the summertime was good for planning and making improvements to your media profile.  The writer went on to advise;

If you are feeling brave, you may even want to tackle your WiP

I had never seen those initials before.  I did not know what WiP was.

I have a love hate relationship with Twitter, I do a bit with Facebook, I have a blog.  I have never got into podcasting or vlogging was WiP some new social media platform?

I began to panic.

I felt as though there was a new world out there which I was not part of.  In the face of WiP, I was an outsider, excluded.  I wanted to find out what was involved in WiP, was there an app? I wanted to get on the inside track and then I could proudly say “I am on Twitter, Facebook, blog and WiP”.

You cannot begin to imagine how foolish and relieved I was when I discovered that WiP stands for Work In Progress. In the context of the blog I was reading summer is a good time to tackle some of the work in progress that has been in the background for a little while.

As I reflected on my folly, I began to think about the importance of the we use.

Our words are powerful.  We all know that we can say words that help, heal or hurt and damage but, the language we use has the power to include or exclude too.  Sometimes, the language we use helps us to identify those who are part of the “in-crowd” and those who “don’t belong”.

I remember, when I was training for the ministry, hearing a story of a preacher from Victorian times.  When he had finished preparing his sermons, he would summon his cook and preach the sermon to her.  He did this because, he felt, if his cook could not understand it, it wasn’t worth preaching!

I don’t have a cook, or servants!  But, the incident with the blog was a real warning to me about the language that I use.  Do the words I use include or, exclude others?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been preaching from the “Lost and Found” stories in Luke chapter 15;

One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!”

(Luke 15 vs. 1 – 2 Good News Bible)

 

Jesus then tells them 3 stories to make a point that, with God, there is no such thing as an outcast because, God welcomes all.

I hope our language reflects that!

 

 

 

A Tale With A Sting In The Tail

On Sunday, I shared a well-known story with our congregation.

“There was a man who had two sons.

Two boys, younger one says “I want my inheritance now” and off he goes and wastes the lot.  Wine, women and song.  When the money runs out, so do the friends.  The younger son is left in such a terrible state he ends up looking after the pigs

Eventually, he comes to his senses and heads for home

Dad hasn’t given up hope and spends his days watching the horizon for young son to come again.  And as he sees the younger son on the horizon he rushes out to greet him and welcome him home.  They throw a huge party!  Everyone is happy, except the fatted calf and the older brother who has some uncomfortable things to say to his dad.

Jesus then leaves the story hanging in mid air

It is almost like he is throwing out a challenge to his hearers and to us “Who are you in this story?”

Are you like the older brother?  diligent, faithful, trustworthy and yet what have you got out of it?   How do you respond to those you are “not like me” when they receive the news of God’s kingdom and accept it?

Or perhaps you identify more with the prodigal?

Let’s face it, we have all known those people who have made an absolute mess of their lives.  We know those who seem to have had it all and blown it.  We know those who have walked away.  A few years back, many churches became involved in praying for the prodigals in this longing to see those people who had just drifted from Church fellowships to return.  Maybe there are the prodigals in your family, amongst your friends that you are praying for that you long to see brought back into a kingdom relationship with God.

Maybe you have been the prodigal.  One post that I saw on facebook recently that made me smile said

If the grass is greener on the other side that’s probably because it is fake

 Henri Nouwen said;

“I am a prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”

As I unpacked this story that I have preached on countless time over the years, I found that this tale had a “sting in the tale” for me.  This time, my focus was drawn onto the Father.  He is the character that the whole story hinges on after all.  One of the things that I like to do in preparation is look at different Bible translations.  I am used to seeing the title “The Prodigal Son.  One of the translations I looked at called it “The Merciful Father”.  I think that is a wonderful title because it re-focuses where our attention on the mercy of the Father, whether we are the older brother or, the prodigal his mercy is available for us.  Henri Nouwen again says

“the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper again in my ear: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.’”

And that is true for each of us because our heavenly Father is rich in mercy.  It doesn’t matter what we have done or failed to do in life the moment we turn to God His arms are outstretched to us because He is rich in mercy.

God’s mercy is incredibly powerful.  We often confuse the idea of mercy and pity but, they are not the same thing at all.  God’s mercy can be described as restorative mercy because it brings life and freedom.  It brings hope and grace.  John Paul II In his letter “On the mercy of God” says this;

This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value”

 Mercy has restorative power.

Now, here is the sting!

In Luke 6 Jesus talks loving those who have hurt us, loving those who have persecuted us and then He goes on to say;

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

(Luke 6 vs. 36)

 

You see through this parable there is the challenge for us to not only be receivers of mercy but, to show mercy.  If I am honest with you, sometimes find this difficult.  I am not the sort of person who holds grudges, life is too short.  But, when somebody has done me wrong, I want them to come to me and apologise.  I want them to make the first move toward restoration.  The Father in the parable doesn’t wait Luke 15 vs. 20;

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

(Luke 15 vs. 20)

The Father makes the move.  Can I do that, can I go the extra mile?  Can I embrace those who have hurt me?  Some of those hurts that life has thrown at me run very deep indeed yet, can I be merciful just as my Father in heaven is merciful?

 

I needed to spend some time quietly with God and I needed to open my heart to Him and share with Him some of my hurts and pains.  I found that, as I did, God’s arms were open wide and I felt the power of His embrace.

Is there something or someone you need to bring before God, why not take this opportunity to talk to Him?