Overcomers

I am always right!

There have been three steps to this striking realization.

Firstly a friend said something along these lines “I cannot trust my judgement to be accurate because my mind is so committed to self-preservation”

The truth of this statement was instantly before me.  Our mind and will is always right because its goal is self-preservation.  I ought to deceive others if it protects me.  I ought to make every choice based on what provides the best outcome for me.  The ability of my mind to elevate and protect me in competition with others is surely right.  It is surely an advantage in this world to use every opportunity to secure advancement by using my influence, intelligence and resources.  Our judgement cannot be trusted to be accurate because it is designed to put me first in the same manner in which my hand will recoil from a flame.

With this thought lolling around inside I began to notice and recall situations and conversations in which people acted contrary to this new understanding of mine.  They have said things that are not natural, done things that provide no benefit to themselves.  Surely this is not right.  Something must have become dislodged  in their internal processing.

The third realisation is that these people who act without regard to their own advancement fall into two distinct categories.  Two diametrically opposite categories if such a thing is possible.  The first group of insane people seem to have some higher insight.  They see and recognise the choices that will lead to their betterment but choose instead to take a different path.  They appear to be following another.  They act in obedience and love.  Overcoming instinct, overcoming self rightness, overcoming defensiveness, overcoming self.  For ease lets call this group ‘Overcomers’ (I think someone may have coined that before me).

The other group who act without regard to their own advancement are very, very different.  They seem to make unusual choices.  They take paths that lead quite obviously to their detriment.  They choose companions that take from them, they spiral seemingly out of control, looking for a wall sturdy enough to break against.  And break they inevitably do.  These folks also seem to be following, but blindly, not knowing whom.

Both of these groups differ from ‘normal’ society in that they do not act rationally to defend and better themselves, instead they follow a different beat.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.      1 John 4:4-6

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Unhinged

 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Eph 3:20-21

UnhingedI find that dismantling these verses and putting them back together helps me greatly.

Firstly we establish with no real stretch of faith that God is able to do all that we ask. Then we widen to the realisation that God can do all that we ask or think (imagine).  I don’t know about you but I can imagine rather a lot.  I can imagine time travel, teleportation (my spell check tells me this isn’t even a word so lets Imagine that it is), my becoming a Jedi Master, visiting Perelandra. I could go on.  More seriously can you imagine an end to civil wars, hunger, betrayal, cancer etc.  How about the transformation of the most evil person into a compassionate father?  God can do all we ask or IMAGINE.

Now Paul not only says that God is able to do more than we can ask or think.  Not just more but far more abundantly or exceedingly abundantly more than all we ask or imagine.  You’re getting the picture right?

????? According to the power at work within us ????????  Now things really start to get interesting.  If we content ourselves to dwell only on the first half of this sentence we can view it as a description of the abilities of God.  However these words reveal the place in which these actions of God take place. Within us.  The power of the “able to do”

Then the finale “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”

The glorification of God is not an event to be anticipated or hoped for.  It is the working of his power in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations.  That means yesterday, today, tomorrow.

These verses create in me a picture of a solid oak door frame.  Enduring, powerful, unmoving.  Past, present and future.  So in the light of God’s power at work within us, glorifying Him in all generations, how come we so often seem unhinged?

Take a moment to consider the verses that immediately follow;

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.    Eph 4:1-3

Paul, in the light of God’s incredible power, urges us to walk in correct response to the call (word) of God.  The response? All humility and gentleness, patience and pursuit of unity.  I sometimes wonder if the reason we sometimes feel disconnected from the power of God in our lives is because we simply don’t understand what our response to God’s call ought to be.

If my people will humble themselves, and pray……. then I will

Epiphany

EpiphanyFB

On Jan 6th I asked “What does Epiphany mean to you?”

As you can see I got a couple of interesting replies on Facebook.

I think the second comment is a particularly insightful response in relation to Epiphany.

In Stories for the Christian Year, poet and author Luci Shaw recounts a wonderful story introducing Epiphany.  For weeks her daily, hour long journey past the foothills of the Cascade Mountains can be in thick drizzle and haze.

The mountains are clearly marked on the map, but they might as well not exist, lost as they are in clouds, obscured by drizzle, fog, haze.  Then, some morning, unexpectedly, a strong air from the sea will lick away the fog and allow the sun to shine cleanly.  And Mt. Baker, towering magnificantly beyond the foothills, unbelievably high above the other mountains, is seen to be what it has been all along – immense, serene, unmovable, its dazzling, snow-draped profile cut clear against a sky of jewel blue”

Mountain Epiphany

The Epiphany in the Christian calender is that day, early in the year when we celebrate the revelation of the God-man Jesus.  This was not the creation of Christ, it was an unveiling.  A transformation yes, because He who was not human became human.

It is a celebration of the day when the Saviour was revealed as ‘not made up’.  The day when the plan to piece together a broken world was revealed in a human face for the first time.

Epiphany is humanity’s first ‘face to face’ encounter with the unwavering lover of mankind. The ever present, oft hidden Saviour stepped into the light, into the experience of his fallen creation.

The nature of Epiphany is that it does indeed confirm that like Mt Baker behind a thick blanket of cloud, God is indeed ‘all made up’ to those to whom He has not revealed Himself.

A prayer: Father do not hide yourself from those of us who need your presence.

 

Image by Sarai Rachel used under license

Advocate – 3 lawyers walk into a bar

Law Courts

3 lawyers walk into a bar, the first says “today I was advocate for a burglar, he refused to plead guilty but because of my skillful argument he only got 6 months”.

The second replied, “today I was advocate for a mugger, he pleaded guilty, apologised and returned the wallet, but because the offense was violent I was only able to get the sentence down to 18 months”

When pushed the third lawyer replied, “today I was advocate for a selfish traitor.  A wretch who betrayed the High Kings trust.  A man with lies on his lips and murder in his heart, a dangerous man to whom nothing can be trusted, repeat offender no less.  His  crime was treason and to make it worse the High King Himself sat in judgement.

“What happened?” his friends exclaimed.

Well the King welcomed him into his family, offence forgotten, debts all paid in full, dressed in royal robes of finest silk.  He promised never to leave him nor forsake him. He spoke warmly of this man, like the apple of His eye.  He prepared a mansion, a position of responsibility and authority.  Righteousness, peace and joy in the presence of the King was the sentence swiftly executed. Turns out he was actually created for adoption into the royal family.  Last I heard he was sitting down, a feast spread before him to eat with princes at the Kings table.

“How is this possible?” protested the lawyers.

“Well, tonight I am executed” answered our Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous – 1 John 2:1

I pray

Thank you, Christ our Advocate

The headline post “Names of God” provides an overview of all posts with this tag.

For the most recent Names of God posts click here

Image by Matt H Wade used under license

Forgiveness: Number 1 hit in 1951

20120719_172954-300x225One of my favourite books is Full Surrender by J. Edwin Orr, in the second chapter he tells a series of stories about how he discovered the truth of forgiveness.

The book was published in 1951 so hopefully no-one will mind my copying out a few paragraphs here.  It might look long but stick with it, it’s valuable.

“My mind went back to the days when I used to play ball “out the back” behind our house in the Ormeau suburb of Belfast.  I was seven years old.  Diagonally across from our house was the house of an unfortunate man, unfortunate only in the sense that his windows were always being broken by stray balls.  He should have moved house, we thought.  One day he came charging out of the house, waving an indignant fist:  “The next one of you kids breaks my window – I’ll break your ear!” 

We fled in distress.  There was not much good in arguing with him.  He had a one track mind and would not listen to reason.  And who was the next one to break his windows?   I did not even stop to pick up the bat.  The ball was doubtless under one of his beds, beyond recall.  I ran instinctively for the shelter of home, but the news of my misdemeanor preceded me.  My father was in the kitchen and grabbed my wrist before I could make a quiet exit.  He insisted that I accompany him to the scene of my offence. 

“I’ve brought you the culprit that broke your window,” he told the man.  The man glared at me.  Then he turned to my father in a more reasonable tone of voice.  “Look here, Mr. Orr, I know that kids can’t help breaking windows.  I used to break them when I was a kid myself.  But it isn’t right that any time a window gets broken round this back that it has to be my window.  I’m willing to forgive the kids, but somebody’s got to pay for it!”  So my father paid the man, who told me I was forgiven but not to do it again.  And I carried away a lasting impression in my mind concerning forgiveness – somebody must pay for it.  That is the first principle of forgiveness – someone must pay for it.

Twenty years later, an Irish friend of mine borrowed a sum of money from me.  He had been gambling and was in danger of losing his job.  He agreed to pay me back in weekly instalments, but never did.  I felt annoyed with the fellow for a couple of years.  Finally I decided to forgive him.  But who suffered?  The debtor or the creditor?  The sinner or the sinned against?  Obviously the sinned against.  I could have taken him to court, in which case he would have suffered.  How much would he have suffered?  The amount that he owed me!  Instead I forgave him, and so I suffered; and I suffered the amount that he owed me, that I had forgiven him.  Thus I learned a second principle of forgiveness – the one who forgives is the one who suffers.”

J. Edwin Orr goes on to discuss in detail the basis of forgiveness in the cross.  However as I read these stories my mind is taken to forgiveness between people.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  Luke 9: 23-26

We often think of these words in relation to the suffering of those who follow Christ in the world.  We think of persecution, slander etc.  However I think the greatest challenge is the challenge to forgive others.  To really forgive.  When I am offended and I choose to forgive, I choose to pay the price of the offence.  I accept the loss or theft or the slander of my name or whatever the offence may be.

Could I paraphrase?  “Every day I choose to follow, I let my rights fall away, I choose that this day I will forgive all offence against me, I choose to accept the price of forgiving others.”

I pray

My God I am thankful you paid the price of my unfaithfulness and idolatry that I might know forgiveness

My God, help be aware of all those who have accepted the price of forgiveness when I have sinned against them…… should I thank them also?

What did you expect?

What did you expect?

“The closer our expectations are confined to God, the higher our expectations may be raised”

Matthew Henry: from The Treasury of David, notes on Psalm 125

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him (Psalm 62:5)

  • What are my expectations for the day, week, month, year ahead?
  • How much do I rely on the love of God?
  • How many of my hopes for the future are based on what I can do or what others can do for me?
  • If faith is of more worth than gold how rich am I in faith?
  • Where is my hope?
  • Am I filled with vain daydreams or are my expectations confined to the all-powerful, all loving, all-knowing, ever-present God?
  • Am I prepared to wait in silence for God to reveal Himself?

Image by Cretog8 used under license

Book Review – Living the Message – Eugene Peterson

Living the Message: Daily Reflections with Eugene PetersonLiving the Message: Daily Reflections with Eugene Peterson by Eugene H. Peterson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brilliant compilation of excerpts from the writings of Eugene Peterson, both challenging and encouraging.

I have found this book to be an invaluable devotional guide over the past 12 months, consistently inspiring me to explore the Bible with renewed enthusiasm. This is a great introduction to the writing of Eugene Peterson however I have found it to be most beneficial as a reinforcement and reminder of the teachings found in detail in the original books.

The excerpts are from his earlier books as this was published prior to the Spiritual Theology series and were selected by his wife Janice during the period in which The Message was being written.

Also you should note that this is not a compilation of daily devotions taken from the ‘Message’, the title ‘Living the Message’ reflects a lifetime of writing about scripture and living it out.

View all my reviews

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Worthy of the call – Solzhenitsyn August 1914

Worthy of the Call

“But Sukhomlinov had become Chief of the General Staff, and with the ignorant rashness that looked so much like decisiveness had ‘reconciled’ the rival plans: Russia would attack on both fronts at once! ……… (his successor) had gone so far as to give the French a firm understanding that Russia would move against Germany as well as Austria………How long would France remember Russia’s sacrifice, her blood tribute? Knowing all this, you must still show yourself worthy of your calling”*

*from August 1914 (Red Wheel) – A very short but insightful review of the book can be read here

This excerpt from the first of Solzhenitsyn’s Red Wheel series shares the thoughts of Colonel Vorotyntsev as he travels from Army General HQ to the field HQs and beyond to the front line to visit with the commanders in the field. He takes it upon himself to speak with the field commanders directly, taking personal responsibility for the success of the campaign in Prussia.

Vorotyntsev knowing all the errors of judgement made at Army GHQ, can see first-hand the failed communication network which ensures the Russian Army have no idea where their individual battalions are never mind where the Germans might be.  In the midst of total confusion and conflicting egotistical officers Vorotyntsev knows one thing to be true. He must still show himself worthy of his calling.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”    Ephesians 4:1

I am a firm believer that every action we take can only be a response to the actions of God.  God is the initiator.  God is source.  The earth and everything in it was not only created at his word but is also held together by the imperishable Word of God.

That being said I am also a believer that our actions count!  What we do affects the world around us.  We are urged by Paul to live up to the calling we have received.

Paul urges the church ‘to walk’, to act, to move forward in this world.  Our calling is a heavenly one.  A heavenly calling is a calling that comes from heaven.  It is also a calling towards heaven, but it is a calling that is received and responded to on earth.  God has not called us to wait for heaven, he has called us to walk towards heaven in a manner worthy of the call.

For another blog post approaching Ephesians 4:1 from a different perspective try Unhinged

Abraham’s Seed – Promises

“and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”     Gen 22:18

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one,”And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  Gal 3:16

64091_10151186834796987_2091898201_nOn Jan 1, 2013 a rainbow stood proud over Belfast.  As we were pointing it out to the boys a friend (that’d be Calvin) posted this photo with the caption ‘Promises!’ on Facebook.

Jesus is the sole fulfillment of the promises of God.  In Jesus all the nations (even Northern Ireland) of the earth are blessed.

I pray

Father, thank you for not backing out, thank you for promises made and promises fulfilled.  Thank you that there is hope today and tomorrow.  Thank you that your promise is true in Abraham’s Seed, Jesus Christ.

The headline post “Names of God” provides an overview of all posts with this tag.

For the most recent Names of God posts click here

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Abraham: An altar at home

Abraham - An Altar at HomeWhat makes a house a home? We probably all have different ideas. Family. Books. Photographs. Art. Flowers. Memories.

“From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.” Gen 12:8

In these earlier posts I posted on how Abraham understood that which is eternal is significant and that his family continued building an eternal inheritance for generations.

Here I want to pause to consider what it means to ‘pitch a tent’.  We are given no real insight into the logistics of the nomadic lifestyle but we do recognise that the tent is simply ‘home’.  We know Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) But he did not neglect his duty to create home here on earth.  How do we know this?

Let me paraphrase the story of Sarah’s death.  When Sarah passed away, Abraham owned no land on which to bury her.  So he approached a local land owner and explaining his situation offered to buy a field from him so that he might bury his wife in the cave at the foot of the field.  The landowner replied ‘what is money between you and I’ and offered to give him the land.  Abraham insisted and a deal was struck for the purchase. (Gen 23)

We learn two things from this:

  1. Abraham was a man of means who could afford to buy the land.  To date he had chosen not to.
  2. Abraham was respected and considered an equal in the eyes and by the measures of the world.

While Abraham’s destination and motive were both heavenly, this did not stop him from acting properly in the world.  He built a substantial business, his home and family were respected. These were not his objectives but they were the outcome of living a life centred on worshipping God.

In thinking about creating a home in this life I cannot avoid this fact: Where Abraham called home, he built an altar.  “pitched his tent…. there he built an altar”

In everything we are told of Abraham, building altars appears to be the one thing he did with consistent intentionality.  Home is where we worship God.  Home is where we acknowledge God’s complete sovereignty.  Home is where we sacrifice in order to follow further.