Sunday, 24 June 2018

To kill giants

Some years ago now I attended a conference in Johannesburg which brought together well over one and half thousand Christians. The theme of the conference was "Giants" the ones that were looming and that needed to be identified and killed as David killed Goliath (1 Sam 17). The giants that the conference were talking about were things that were embedded in the country; poverty, education, discrimination, corruption, etc. These are not simple things but as Christians we are told that slaying giants is very easy if God is beside us, not on our side because that implies that there are sides, rather that God is beside us walking along the way. In our times of giant facing and fear that comes with it is the need to understand that God walks next to us and gives us hope and courage to see our way through to ending the menace posed by the giant.

We all face giants at some time in our lives. Those giants may seem totally impossible to overcome and get around to continue our lives. For some those giants may be intimately personal, depression say, or the loneliness confronting us with the death of someone close. They may be slightly more distant such as persistent debt, mortgage repayments, etc. They may not affect us directly but may affect a community to which we belong, escalating costs, reduction in membership, etc. They of course may also be large and affect everyone such as those tackled by the conference. It does not matter what the size of our personal or collective giants are we need to confront them in the same manner that David did with five pebbles taken from the stream of life. It is all very well to reel of some simple things like, faith, walking with God, love, hope and prayer as examples of pebbles to take into a fight. In the end David used only one of the pebbles not all five, So each pebble is good for one shot at the giants that face us and we have to discern which pebble to use so that we effectively destroy the giant. Is it really as simple as that?

What are your giants and can you face them?

No, it is not. Giants are however easily killed what is not so easy is the courage that David had to face the terrors that the giants form in us. Remember that the rest of the army was terrified of the giant and it was that group terror that paralysed their actions. It was the realisation and example of one person that allowed for the success of the whole. Paul puts it slightly differently in the Corinthian correspondence but essentially the same thought is their and he leads through example in adversity (2 Cor 6. 1-13). We are to be lights in the world, a world that is filled with giants. Giants that reach out into our hearts and kill us through the fears that creep in as we try to face them. Just as the disciples feared the gathering storm (Mk 4.35-41) we also fear what we cannot easily control. Yet, when the light of Christ is shone into the darkness we are able to overcome the fears and reach out to those who are around us and fear as well. Hope, love, prayer, faith etc are all their to help us in our journey travelling along the way that Christ has opened for us. Conquering the fears that overwhelm us in the presence of God. Facing challenge changes us, facing fear heals us, facing the giants makes us a community to be feared.

Only when we truly overcome the terrors that confront us as a family and community joined together will we become as Christ to our neighbours. Even at the darkest moment in our lives, if we look carefully, we will find that Christ's light is beside us guiding us along the stormy way into the brightness of a new future. The grace of God is God's love which out-pours and guides us into new life only when we release that love are we empowered by it. In hoarding it and not using it we limit ourselves. Imagine David not using the pebbles but rather the armour given to him by Saul. He would not have overcome the giant. Relying on God allows us to drop the weight that others place on us, the weight of expectation, as they magnify the fear that comes with facing the giant. Only by God's grace and Christ's light are we able to perform the miracles that God wants for us.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

God does not see as we see

We look at our surroundings through the eyes of our own biases and prejudices, many of which our unconscious and un-acknowledged. In promoting our own way of seeing we may be directly contravening God's requirements for us and thus we are not living up to Christ within us. Samuel grieved not understanding what God was undertaking but responded to God's call upon his life to anoint David rather than his own expectations (1 Sam 15.34-16.13). Christ tells the parable of the mustard seed and the man sowing and having the result grow without his knowledge (Mk 4.26-34). We are blinded in the same way by our own supposed wants and needs. We often quarrel and complain about words, about thoughts, about ideas rather than allowing God's voice to speak to us and open our eyes in understanding.

By being bounded by our own passions we do not see or hear God's voice speaking to us. We make choices based on our understanding, just like Samuel would have done. Samuel's choices were based on his bias, his unacknowledged prejudice as to what he thought a good King should be. We often deny others the ability to interact with God as a result. The thing that needs to be put to rest before we enter into any long term plan for our community and the family of God is our understanding of what God wants. The call of God is made at baptism when parents and godparents are asked to bring their children up into a relationship with God. That relationship opens us up to the other and we allow ourselves to become part of a community that heralds in an era of understanding and listening. We are asked not to place our views on others or to go with our own views but we are asked to listen to God before disrupting relationship. Samuel was forced by God to listen to God not to jump with his own conclusions as to who was going to be the better king. Godparents are asked to set an example for their children and part of that is setting the example of listening for God's voice, the voice of faith and the other before choosing our path.

New life begins without our help but with God's grace - nurture it do not rip it out

We are happy to wield the power that we think we have because we know better, we have studied more, we belong to groups that promote our way of thinking but what we rarely do is ask if this is what God wants. Our causes may be good, our wishes may be beneficial but that does not negate the idea that God must guide us. The godparents have a tough time ahead when introducing a new child of God to the faith. It is their responsibility to show their child what it means to respond to God. We are often the ones that fail our duty to our children and as a result we become embittered and lost in our own unconscious biases  not listening and not reacting to God's presence. This often destroys community rather than building it. It sets our own measures in place and not God's measures which means we fail to live up to the reconcilatory grace of God's presence. We set up our structures to reflect what we want not what we are asked for within our own lives and those of the body of Christ. We often fail to die as Christ dies and as the child dies in the waters of baptism. If we are unable to die to Christ we are unable to rise again in the new life that is Christ. Only when we become strong in Christ do we begin to proclaim the Gospel of God and not the gospel of our own biases.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

What is your building made of?

When it comes to building and building materials we have a lot to choose from. There have been some fascinating video clips on social media showing various houses being built using a number of quick and easy building methodologies. From wooden Lego style strips to brick laying robots. Yet as we all know, or should know that it is the careful selection of materials and design of the house that makes all the difference in terms of building a home. If we are not careful with our design we find that in the years to come we become dissatisfied and complain about the things we should have done or make additions that are never complete. Often we do not think of the future and what happens is that we end up with something that becomes high maintenance or problematic when we reach our old age and our dream house becomes our concrete necklace around our necks.

Where and what we build is up to us, so long as we glorify God in doing so

In the same way our faith lives are built around careful planning and the use of correct building materials. Whilst tradition is our foundation a stone that is centred in Christ the rest is entirely up to us. We can build cathedrals that glorify God or we can build hovels that hide the light of God away or we can build prisons behind which we cower locked away unable to proclaim the goodness and life that is found in God  The first step in the building plan is to believe in God and in Christ. Until we have that foundation set we cannot build a structure that will last. All we will do is build with sticks and pebbles on sand waiting for our structures to be washed away by the currents of modern life. If we are to build a building that is worthy to sing God's praises with those around us (2 Cor 4.15), we need to ensure that our faith is grounded in Christ's very body and life.

Christ seemingly rejects our preconceptions by rejecting the family (Mk. 3.32-35) but then re-affirms that all of humanity who does God's will is family. In breaking our tradition and the strands that bind us to our biological family Christ re-forges them with those who are doing God's will. Not only does he appeal to tradition, the tradition inherent in everything that family means, but he also builds on it to form a new and longer lasting building that is the community of believers formed on the life of Christ. In our own faith lives we need to build on our tradition and not allow it to conform ourselves. Our building materials nowadays are different to what they where. We can still build cathedrals but they will be different to what they were. We need to realise our own faith journeys so that we can build communities that shine with Christ's love. God was somewhat horrified that the Israelites wanted a King (1 Sam 8.4-20) but still went ahead and allowed this change in tradition. It was to build on something that had gone before in terms of justice and peace. Unfortunately, the Israelites chose the wrong building substrate and ended up with Saul. Sometimes we to choose the wrong way and end up building ourselves a Jail rather than a Cathedral. Sometimes we over rely on what has gone before to determine what is to come.

Only when we build on the firm foundation with the building blocks that we discover in and on our journey of faith do we find God's grace helping us along the way. Sometimes it means changing ourselves as much as changing our community and the way we do things. In contemplating the future we need to recognise the past but allow our faith to bring us to the place of God's grace even if this is unlike anything we have had before.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Hearing God or hearing ourselves

Old Eli took a lot of persuading for him to understand that it was God who called the young Samuel (1 Sam. 3.1-10). Whilst we often suggest that it is prudent to listen and discern God's call in our lives and our lifetime, I wonder how often we actually heed the call as opposed to allowing ourselves to turn over and go back to sleep? Perhaps too often we rely on tradition to suffice and become the call of God. Christ had something to say with regards this type of use of tradition, basically along the lines of "wake up sleepy heads, that is you speaking not God" (Mk 2.23-3.6). The structures of the Church and its institutionalisation are often to blame for this behaviour just as it was at the time of Christ. By placing our reliance on the things that have worked and are working we place ourselves in a place that is often blind to God's working. God cannot be asking us to do that because... We only have to look at the charismatic movement in recent times and the young burgeoning Church in history to see that this is wrong thinking.

How can we wake up and realise that God is calling us to be different and follow where God leads and not where others in the Church want us to believe he leads? How do we tune out, as it were, the noise of the ego's of others and find time for God so that he can lead us? Perhaps the first thing to think about is our own faith lives. It is after all up to us to hear when God speaks and to discern the truth. We cannot do that when we are involved in other things, however worthy they may be. It really could be our children, our livelihoods our passions that distract us so much so that we forget that an integral part of our own life is entwined in the life of Christ. We become ingrained in the habit of Church rather than the habit of faith. Paul sums it up considerable well in the second letter to the Corinthians (4.7-12). We are earthen vessels, we do get distracted, we do follow our own endeavours and we do forget God in our lives. Yet, after all is said and done God is still present, God is still leading if we were only to set time aside for God. We are inclined to make excuses and we are inclined to follow what has gone before. Then when we are given the freedom to undertake a new thing we find ourselves being heavily critiqued for branching out and so wallow in doubt or fear. So we need to spend more time with God.

If we do not listen we cannot hear. 

In granting ourselves the freedom to be with God we are given a greater gift as God's grace becomes manifest within us. The time that we thought we would lose as a result of intentional time with God, is in fact time gained rather than lost. It does however mean that we need to be intentional rather than rely on our habits. This means that time spent with God needs to come at times when we do not come before God out of habit, i.e. Sunday morning. Rather it is time that we deliberately set aside during the week to commune with God. In allowing us this luxury we allow God to direct and enter into our lives more fully. If we do not, we will sleep through the call by God and not respond. or if we do it will be at the last moment and in our rush to respond we will listen to ourselves rather than to God. Rather let us start to put aside time to listen to God and leave ourselves behind. Our wants do not accord with God's but rather oppose all that God has given for us. It is time we start to understand that it is not just service but it is service in the name of God that brings forth love into the world. Be true to God and we will be true to our true selves loving our communities and ensuring that the young strive to become God's children in the world.