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