8 10 2012

Just do it! was the 1980s advertising slogan which emerged from rivalry between sports equipment manufacturers and led to the increase in Nike’s domination over Reebok in the sports shoe market. (If you are interested, check out the story here.)

Now we don’t even need the words – the iconic tick is enough.

Hidden at the back of the New Testament section of the Bible in the little book of Jude – little book, big punch!  In it Jude exhorts followers of Jesus to “Just do it”.  So what does he tell them to do?

  • build yourselves up in faith
  • pray
  • keep yourselves in the love of God
  • wait for Jesus’ return

Easy – no difficult words there.  So why are we am I so poor at taking action?

Back in the 70s (and maybe still today), there was a belief that to be truly spiritual you had to “let go and let God.”  In other words, just sit back, trust God and you would morph into the spiritual being that he wanted you to be. It took me a long time and much Bible reading to realise that that is not good advice.  I read right through the Bible and was impressed with the persistent emphasis on being intentional about a relationship with God. (Before you brand me as a heretic, I’m not advocating that I can ever earn or merit that relationship. My salvation is truly, as the Reformers realised, by faith alone.) I need to partner with God in my growth.

The iconic tick in the Bible comes in these words of Jesus:

“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)

These words should be enough, but sadly we’re often reluctant to take their implementation to heart. (Francis Chan, an American preacher, has a neat little YouTube video about doing what Jesus says. Watch it here, laugh, and learn.)

So I am in no doubt that I need to JDI.

Interestingly, with the JDI campaign, Nike was able to attract those who wanted the image without incurring the pain.  People bought shoes with no intention of using them for sport.  (A staggering 80% of sports shoes sold in the U.S. are never used for the activities for which they have been designed.)  I wonder if the “let go and let God” camp is like that – just sign up for “spirituality” and never mind the nitty gritty of working hard at understanding the Bible, at getting to know God better, at praying, at loving others. Soren Kierkegaard is not usually my bedtime reading but I came across this journal entry from 1938 which summed it up for me –

“There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; their cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.”

We are designed to connect with God, to work out our own sums, so let’s get on with it.





The good life

1 10 2012

Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good?

That’s a very “now” question, isn’t it? So you may be surprised to learn that it was asked in the Old Testament book of Psalms – we’re talking about 4000 years ago!  It’s both “now” and “always” – human beings of every age want to live well.

Interestingly, the questioner doesn’t go for a lifestyle modification answer.  His recommendation is not for self-sufficiency a la 1970s sit com, or increased prosperity. It’s a character deal.

So how does the Psalmist answer his question?

Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good?  Then

  • watch your tongue
  • keep you lips from telling lies
  • turn away from evil and do good
  • work hard at living at peace with others

(Psalm 34:12-14)

There’s a high degree of intentionality in this. A good life will not just happen, and aren’t these surprising actions that are advocated? There’s nothing about earning lots of money or being a celebrity in this “good life”.  It’s nitty-gritty “inside” stuff.

I love the directness of what the Psalmist says.  No – “see if you can be a little bit more transparent and honest, and, if you can, do good to others. Oh and try to get on with other people. I know that’s a tough ask because other people are so infuriating…”

It’s straight forward – Just Do It!

We will never arrive; it’s an unremitting, challenging  journey and there’s enough action to keep us going throughout life, however long or short it turns out to be.  But taking action on these things will lead to character change (more of that another time) and a good life for us and those we live with.

Ready for a redesign?

16 09 2012

The property programme Grand Designs is about to return to our TV screens. Viewers are captivated by the wonderful buildings that emerge from the wreckage and become dream homes for the participants.  To say that it’s not all plain sailing would be an understatement!  I found these “before” and “after” photos (www.getawayguru.com.au) of one such redevelopment and thought you might like to see the contrast.

As in property, so in life.  We hold grand designs of what life should look like, only to be disappointed when things get tough.  The redevelopments we want to make take too long, are too costly and ultimately aren’t as perfect as our imagination led us to believe.  What we thought was a quick splash of paint turned out to be a scraping off of cruddy old wallpaper, taking plaster with it. Then a re-plaster, the smell and time that we didn’t factor into the schedule.

Why are we surprised?

Building a life is costly.  There will be some quick fixes – a lick of paint, a polyfilla of a few little holes – but there are big structural factors that go on for a lifetime.

Jesus warned that people should count the cost before following him (Luke 14:28-30). He didn’t and doesn’t want a naive commitment that anticipates only blessings in life.  He expects it to be tough – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:34-36)

Why are we surprised?

Earlier in that chapter Jesus talks about his kingdom coming through his own suffering and death so why should life be easy for me?

Following Jesus is costly.  I used to think that I could get away with building a small extension where I could give God his own space and keep him contained.  What a miscalculation!

I’m learning slowly that following Jesus is living by his grand design.  I want my life to be worth his investment, to know that he’s at work and won’t give up on me,  and to be sure, as was the apostle Paul, that-

“God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished.” (Philippians 1:6)

“Did we suppose that the kingdom of God would mean merely a few minor adjustments in our ordinary lives?”

Tom Wright

Oasis or mirage?

11 09 2012

There are times when we crave an oasis, not the literal desert/palm tree kind, but the place of calm and safety in the midst of troubles.

The book of Ruth comes as one such place.  It tells a beautiful story of love, commitment and faithfulness at a surprising time in Old Testament history – the time of the Judges. (Read the story here)

Ruth is an outsider –  a Moabite, an impoverished widow – and yet in her ordinariness she helps us to understand God’s story. What refreshment!  Please take time to read it.

The PS that comes at the end of the story is a delight too, as we read that Ruth becomes the great grandmother of King David and subsequently an ancestor of Jesus himself. (see Matthew 1:1-17 for the genealogy.)

Sometimes God’s purposes seem more like a mirage – illusory and beyond our understanding – but then comes the reminder in the personal stories that he is still God.

The sun still shines on a cloudy day.

What goes around comes around

6 09 2012

Violence, sex, massacre, brutality, deceit – more the words to describe the action in a modern thriller than words to apply to a book in the Bible. But they are all there: Judges carries these awful themes time and again.  There’s a cycle of disobedience, foreign oppression, cries of distress and deliverance. You would think the people would learn after a couple of revolutions of the cycle, but they repeated the pattern six times, as though it were Groundhog Day.

What’s worse, the judges that God sends as deliverers don’t seem much better than the people.

What’s worse still (by my reckoning), is that four of them are listed among the “greats” of faith in Hebrews 11

So, having made myself read stuff that I didn’t want to read, what have I learned from the book of Judges?

  • God remains faithful to his people throughout this dreadful time
  • Doing your own thing is not a good option
  • God offers opportunities for a fresh start; the downward corkscrew is not inevitable
  • He uses unlikely people, those who fail drastically, to be part of his purposes
  • His words in Isaiah 55:8 are true! – “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

I need to keep processing all this. I still don’t “feel happy” about Judges and I need to pray that my way of thinking aligns more closely with God’s – not just in what I think about these circumstances  thousands of years ago, but about my own circumstances – and ask myself, “Will you stop doing your own thing and align yourself with God’s way of working?”

Faith is life-defining

24 08 2012

What is faith?  It’s difficult to define, but maybe I can get there by thinking what it is not.  Faith is not the warm fuzzies of spiritual life somehow dissociated from the real world.  If I am to take Hebrews chapter 11 (where Wordlive has taken me) seriously, then I need to have a more robust notion of what faith is.

Nor is faith about believing difficult or impossible things just for the sake of it.  So it is not credulity, though at times it must have seemed like it (eg Abraham and Sarah Having another laugh). It is much more.

Faith is life-defining, as the other examples in the chapter show.  It is believing that there is a God, that he has made promises to mankind, promises that he will ultimately keep, even although is may appear that he has taken a holiday.  So there is something about trusting God’s faithfulness much more than it is about conjuring up a spiritual state for others to envy – the “I wish I had your faith” brigade. There’s also something about living out our beliefs, integrating all areas of life.

In one of his interviews in Mitch Albom’s book I mentioned, the Reb says this:

“‘Mitch,’ he said, ‘faith is about doing.  You are how you act, not just how you believe.'”

He seems to have got it right.

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds’.” (James 2:17-18)

Or as The Message puts it: “Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”

So I need to have a life-defining faith, an integrated faith, faith that God is faithful no matter what.

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

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