Au revoir

31 12 2012

It’s with some sadness that I bring this blog to a close. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of reading the Bible each day these past two years and considering whether life really does work better if you live it God’s way.

My conclusion is that it does – although “better” is not “easier”.

My thanks to those who have helped me think and write – I have been encouraged all the way by Pete, by other friends, and by those who have studied and understood the Bible better than I ever will. (In case you haven’t realised, I’m especially in the debt of Eugene Peterson, Tom Wright and John Ortberg.)

I’m grateful too to the writers and compilers at WordLive who have, albeit unwittingly, created the scaffolding to support my thoughts.

If you want to keep following my writing, you can subscribe to my 2013 blog. I’d love to keep the conversation going.


Good God advice for 2013

31 12 2012

Ecclesiastes is a scary book to read. It’s the ultimate witness to the futility of human experience when we try to go off on our own, live our own way, build our house without God.

Wordle: future

But it also offers good God advice (Ecclesiastes 7:10,14;12:13-14) –

“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’
For it is not wise to ask such questions.

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

Fear God.

Do what he tells you.

And that’s it.”

Here’s to living well in 2013!

Some thoughts on truth and love

17 11 2012

I’ve been thinking this week about a phrase that Paul wrote in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus: “we will speak the truth in love”.

My thoughts were kick-started by listening to Shauna Niequist speaking about the ancient proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” You can listen to her talk here.  She tells of a visit she made to a metal worker who showed her that you need two things to shape metal – heat and force. We can hammer metal with intense force, but if there’s no heat it’s just big noise and no movement. There must be heat before there can be shape.

Shauna then talks about the two things that are needed if we are to engage in the arena of personal growth – trust and truth. If there’s no trust, the words that are said, however truthful, will be just that – words, and probably hurtful ones at that; if there’s too much trust, the truthful words never get said.  I’ve been in both positions. Someone once said some very hurtful things to me and concluded with, “I’m just being honest.”  Yeah, right!  And wary of this trap, I’ve often failed to say things that I should have said because I didn’t want to upset the other person, even although leaving them where they were did them no favours. It’s critical to have the two in tandem if personal transformation is to take place.

So back to Ephesians.

Someone once said that the sense of  “we will speak the truth in love” in the original Greek (and who am I to argue!) is “truthing it in love”. I like that.  There’s the sense of continuation, not just a vomit of words, but a walking alongside another person, loving them, easing them into realisation of the truth and, as they say in the classier classics, “being there for them”. Isn’t that what you would want from a friend?

And to what end are we to engage in this often difficult path with others?  It’s so that we, and they, grow up – “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other.”

You know better

22 10 2012

You know the persistent song-in-your-head phenomenon?  It’s not always a song you like, but it’s on loop. These two lines have been my loop this week :

“I’ve let go the need to know why,
For you know better than I.”

Are you with me in finding these hard lines to sing truthfully?  I always know better – don’t you?  It started young for me and  I can remember the vibes of frustration from my parents when I doggedly stuck to my point of view and refused to pay attention to theirs.  I knew better then; I know better now.

Then there’s the “why” question.  That starts young too, as anyone who’s ever met a three year old knows. And I have a theory that three year olds don’t really want an answer their “why” questions. And to be honest, we run out of steam and don’t want to give the answer.(Question: why do I need to wear a coat?  Answer: Because it’s cold outside. Q: Why? A: Because it’s winter. Q: Why? A: Because it is. Q: Why?… you know the scene.)

What does the child want with the asking?  It’s a way of maintaining engagement with the adult, drawing them into their world, seeking to build the relationship. But when I ask “why” of God, it’s often just the opposite. It’s a selfish  “why me?” question – sub-text “you don’t care, it’s not fair, I hate you.” It’s that kind of “why” that we need to let go of. And God? He wants to maintain the relationship. He is always good. He knows better than I.

So what about Joseph, King of Dreams?  The Bible narrative doesn’t let us inside his private world. Though the Dreamworks film gives him the song to sing, exploring faith and hope, it’s only a guess about what may have been going through his mind.  It’s not until Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers that we get a hint of his faith – “God sent me here” (Genesis 45:5-7).  That’s a confident faith statement to the family who had exiled him into slavery. It’s a big picture view that must have allowed Joseph hope in the dark times (“But maybe knowing
I don’t know is part of getting through”), and confidence of his being God’s man in Egypt.

Joseph’s faith results in status and prosperity and although there must have been the temptation to taunt his brothers with, “I told you so,” he has grown out of that cocky know it all attitude  into the man who is used by God to provide for his family and, in the broader scheme, to preserve the people of God.

Were the tough times worth it? I think Joseph would have sung a definite “Yes”. I’d like to learn to sing with him.

Can a leopard…?

12 10 2012

I am a leopard with selfish spots. By that I don’t mean “a few little bits of selfishness in an otherwise unblemished character”; I mean that selfishness is my character, my default position in life. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.

I find it’s well nigh impossible to live out Jesus’ exhortation to –

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

I have little bursts of love, and then return to default.

A couple of years ago, I took up a challenge with some friends to see if there was anything we could do to change our “spottiness”, to live life closer to the ideals of Jesus. We were inspired by reading Mike Frost’s book Exiles, although we “made the idea our own”. Here is our version.

We took the word BELLS and used the initial letters to prompt different actions:

  • Bless
  • Eat
  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Sent

So in random order-

Listening and learning involved a God-ward focus – reading the Bible, praying, writing journals, blogging.

Eating?  Well, that’s obvious, except that twice a week we looked for opportunities to eat with people whom we might not otherwise have paid much attention to. “Eat” didn’t need to be cordon bleu, it might be a cup of coffee, but the intention was to focus on another person, spend time with them, make an effort to be a friend.

Sent is trickier to explain.  There’s something about tapping into God’s purpose for your life, seeing the different component parts as constituents of a greater whole. So, for example, instead of seeing work simply as a means to earn a living, seeing it as an opportunity to connect with people, to improve the physical environment, to be “sent” as God’s representative to the workplace. (Paul talks about this idea of sentness when he says that we are “ambassadors of God” – 2 Corinthians 5)

Bless presented me with the biggest challenge.  The word itself has something of the papal about it and if you Google “blessings” images  you will see why I have a problem with the word.  However, it is the first letter of the acrostic, so…

The agreement was that we would make at least two opportunities in the week to bless someone else, not the papal type of blessing, but something simple that would mean a lot to the person.  It might be an encouraging phone call, a card, a small gift, a smile to a stranger, a random act of kindness with no thought of payback. Nothing too demanding, but an intentionality about the action.

Now, I will digress a little via the dishwasher at my place of work.  No one at work likes to load or empty the dishwasher.  If it on already, dirty cups accumulate in the sink, despite the signs which request that people wash their own; if it finished, the clean cups remain in situ waiting, waiting…. you get the picture.  I decided that my “blessing” to the workplace would be to load/unload, wash up the extras/put away, even go round collecting the dirty cups, the ones with the engrained coffee dregs.  If it meant I had to stay after my shift was finished, that was OK because I had decided to do it.  If that meant I missed the bus, the walk would do me good.

Before you think how virtuous I am, I need to confess that it was often a struggle.  I saw the dirty cups and added mine to the pile…and had to make myself turn back and wash the lot. I saw that the dishwasher was finished and took a clean cup out for myself… and made myself keep going until it everything was put away. But bit by bit it became easier to give my time and to deal with the resentment about my colleagues’ untidiness. Spots were fading.

Why do I tell you all this?  I want to illustrate two things.  First of all, I was intentional. I signed up for the BELLS challenge and stuck to it, albeit reluctantly at times. I wanted to change, and I did something about it. Secondly, it had an unexpected effect.  Looking for opportunities to bless others helped move me from persistent selfishness. I found that I wanted to bring blessing to people’s lives, and more than the two times a week that I’d agreed.  Doing something led to becoming something; reaching out to others in a simple, ordinary way made me a better person. I challenge you to try it!

I wonder if this is the sort of partnership that Paul envisaged when he was writing to the followers of Jesus in Philippi –

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:12-13)  

We need to work hard at following… and allow God to work in us. Can a leopard…?




Inspiring a generation

17 08 2012

Inspiring a generation – the theme of London 2012. Fantastic! Now Lord Coe has been tasked with making the proposed legacy of the Olympics a reality.

At this distance, there is still enthusiasm and pride in what Team GB has accomplished, both in organisation and in sporting performance. But can we make it last? If we don’t build on what we’ve achieved, does it negate the achievement? If we don’t pass the baton (successfully!) and inspire a new generation of sportsmen and women, will we in some sense be disqualified?

The failure to pass the baton successfully rears its head in the book of Judges in the Old Testament section of the Bible. (This is hair-shirt stuff; I wish I didn’t have to read it.) Let’s gatecrash at chapter 2:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel…[They] did what was evil… the abandoned the Lord… they chased after other gods… they angered the Lord.” (Selected from Judges 2:10-12)

While this is a dreadful indictment on the new generation, what had happened to the baton of faith that was supposed to be passed securely to their hands?

Strict instructions had been given to the people of God to prevent such a fumble. Here is the famous Shema in Deuteronomy 6:9 which is the first portion of Scripture that a Jewish child learns –

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to those commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again. Tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Sixteen times in the surrounding chapters, the people are told to be careful – to obey, not to forget, to remember. It is not automatic that faith will continue; they must work at it.

So what had happened that there was a generation that did not acknowledge the Lord? Had the previous generation failed to teach their children well? Did the children dismiss what they were taught as sentimental musings about the good old days which they had outgrown?  We don’t know. But we do know the tragic consequences.

There are scary moments in being the “previous generation”. The thought that my grandchildren could ever grow up as a generation who “did not acknowledge the Lord” is anathema to me.  How do you let that one slip?

To go back to the Olympic metaphor – is it deliberate, a folding of the arms across the chest, a refusal to pass the baton, as if to hold on to it were to retain the glory? Or is it a drop, an active turning against God that leaves the next runner waiting without purpose? Or is it a fumble, where the next runner runs on, too early out of the changeover box, unaware that the baton is not there.  They run hard, outrun others, cross the line, but are disqualified.  What a disastrous race!

If we are to inspire a generation, we need to take seriously our own race, our part in carrying the baton carefully, our part in the handover, and pray that neither we, nor they, will be disqualified.

Run well.

Listen and learn

Lost and found

1 08 2012

I’ve touched on seeking God in the past few posts, now it’s time to work on the idea a bit more.

Research – that’s always a good place to start, and it delays the writing process! (Writers among you know what I’m talking about!)

I’ve looked through Old Testament references to seeking God ( makes this painless) and they seem to point to one conclusion – seeking is a wholehearted deal. It’s not for the faint hearted but for the whole hearted. And the corollary is that if we seek, we will find. (I know it sounds odd, but I have friends who appear to be seeking God, but when they some within touching distance, they back off. I can only assume that they don’t really want to find because they know that a wholehearted find would be life-changing.)

And there’s a twist to this seeking because it’s not just that we seek God, but that in Jesus, he seeks us:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10)

So there’s a dance – realising that we need God, seeking him wholeheartedly, finding / being found by him and a wholehearted turn around.

Old Testament prophet Isaiah blends the steps together:

“Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.”

What an exhortation!

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