Satisfied? Proverbs 13:25

An appetite for good brings much satisfaction, but the belly of the wicked always wants more. Proverbs 13:25 MSG

I have thought about appetites and desires quite a bit since reading a little about St Ignatius of Loyola and his practice of guiding people to discern between desires that lead towards God and those that lead away.  He taught that those desires that lead towards God are in fact graces (gifts from God) and those that lead away, temptations.  However this proverb forces us to address the issue of satisfaction and it’s source.

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What is satisfaction? A simple definition is ‘The fulfillment or gratification of a desire, need, or appetite; fulfillment of a need or want’* Yet this proverb suggests that true satisfaction is a result not of the fulfillment of a desire but is connected in some way to the object of that desire.

How satisfied are you?  Are you content or do you find yourself always frustrated, wanting more or wanting things to change.  I wrote these few lines while listening to the famous hymn “It is well with my soul”

“When my life is in the flow of an unstoppable river of peace, then I am satisifed.

When storms destroy all that I have, then I am satisfied

Whatever I have or have not, I am satisfied

When all my flaws, failings, deceptions and betrayals are destroyed then I am satisfied”

Proverbs series

It turns out that our satisfaction is not dependent on getting the object of our desires but in the nature of the object of our desires.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

Featured Image: Some rights reserved by jessiejacobson

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Jesus Only (Part 2 of 2)

Glimpses of Infinity.

….Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.   Matthew 17:1-6 MSG

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Memorializing the Moment.

Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”

In life there are great moments.  Turning points, moments of clarity that change the direction of our life forever.  Deciding to say NO against the flow or saying YES to a call.  Moments of revelation, inspiration and understanding.  In this moment Peter must have felt like he understood everything past, present and future.  He had just witnessed a glimpse of the Glory of God reinforcing his long held belief in a coming Messiah.

Inspired, Peter races to build.  Peter, the rock, the one who believed, who knew Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Peter the activist, the man of action acts swiftly to solidify his belief through action.

The Voice of Truth.

While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”  When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.”  When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

Peter’s activity get’s interrupted.  There is no rebuke for his enthusiastic activity nor is there an answer to his request.  Three things speak to me from this passage.

  1.  I am invited to participate in the cosmic plan of God

In this scene the infinite Glory of God is glimpsed through Jesus’ face and clothing , long departed saints appear and converse with Jesus, a radiant cloud envelops them and the voice of God is heard.  A great moment indeed.  Possibly most amazing is who the voice spoke to.   Not to Jesus, nor to the departed saints but to Peter, to James and to John.  To the most normal, most fallible beings present.

The message?  This is my Son whom I love, my delight…… wait for it…… LISTEN TO HIM.

When my son Harrison was a toddler one of the best ways to get his attention was to say “Come here, I’ve got something to tell you”.  He would stop what he was doing and wait to hear what the news was.

We are invited to stop what we are doing to listen to Jesus.  Jesus said ‘follow me’, here in this great moment the voice of God confirms our calling , ‘listen to Him’.  I like this invitation very much.

  1. I need not be afraid

After the invitation to listen, Jesus’ first words are “Don’t be afraid”.  At this point they are afraid, terrified in fact.  These words of Jesus speak to their current predicament but also to their tomorrow.  Don’t be afraid.

Whatever my situation or predicament.  Whatever lies ahead or whatever has gone before when we listen to Jesus, when we respond to the invitation to participate, to follow, we need not fear.

  1. Only Jesus

As God reveals a measure of His Glory to Peter, James and John they are awestruck.  Peter wishing to memorialize or bring structure to the experience suggests building memorials to Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

I don’t know what Peter was thinking.  Was he imagining the beginning of a Messianic conquest, or did he believe Moses and Elijah had returned for good?  Maybe this was the restoration to the good old days of Israel, no more Roman/Babylonian/Persian rule.

Then God speaks and every word he speaks points to Jesus, the Beloved Son, the focus of Gods delight.  In this great moment forget the structures and plans, forget the past and future, forget who it is you are, forget your heroes of old, forget all that might distract from the focus of Gods delight.  Jesus. Listen to Him.

When they opened their eyes and looked all around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

Image:  Some rights reserved by gr33n3gg

A final message from the pastor

Augustus_Edwin_Mulready_Uncared_for_1871In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35

I find this combination of text and painting almost overwhelming. Perhaps it is the similarity between this young boy and my own son Harrison that stopped me in my tracks.  The skin tone, hair colour even the physical size and presence are striking to me.

Final words from the pastor

These are the final words of Paul to the elders of the Ephesian Church before he sets sail, knowing he will never see them again.  After saying this they knelt and prayed before embracing each other with tears.

If you were asked to write a speech for Paul to the leaders of his church what would you write?  As their pastor what could Paul say that would have the most benefit in their walk with Jesus.

Paul’s message was ‘follow my example, I have not sought to be blessed by you but to bless you.  I have not sought to gain riches from you but to bring you riches.’  Paul instructed them that they MUST help the weak and as a result they themselves will be blessed.

Rewind to Micah

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?    Micah 6:8

The word translated ‘to love kindness’ (hesed) is also often translated ‘loving kindness’ or ‘steadfast love’.  This word appears 250 times in the Bible, mostly used to describe God, but 25% of the time it describes how we should respond to others.

Paul’s enduring message is that the church should be the source of enduring love

Our kindness must be steadfast and loyal.  Paul leaves no choice in whether or not we should be living sacrificially in order to show this kindness.

This instruction is possibly the perfect definition of Win/Win.  Living sacrificially in order to help we are blessed more than if we were receiving help. If you have ever been on the receiving end of help you will understand just how great this ‘greater blessing’ must be.

You can get a hi-res copy of the Augustus Edwin Mulready painting ‘Uncared for’ here

Almighty, Our multi-coloured God

Almighty God - A day in the mountains

Heather, Micah, Jonny and Harrison

I asked my son Harrison (6) to describe me.  He said I am big, I have big feet, big ears, big hands, a blue shirt, brown hair….. and so on.  Then I pointed out that everything he described was physical, everything could be measured in some way.  I then asked if he could  describe what I was like and the conversation took a different tack.

How do we describe the indescribable?  When we meditate on the names of Christ it is tempting to analyse the names, to break them down into component parts.  The name Almighty literally means ‘ to hold all strength’.  This is not something we can understand, we cannot comprehend the strength of the ocean never mind the One who made it, the One who flung stars into space.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev 1:8

Let me take a different approach.  I can tell you my wife’s name, I can tell you her height, weight, eye colour and age.  But you do not know her.  I can send you her CV (Resume).  You will then know her education and professional accomplishments.  But you do not know her, many others have equivalent CVs.  I can tell you stories about how we met, about her many adventures in childhood, I can tell you about music, books, places she loves, I could show you videos and photos or share things she has written.  All this will help you know about her and you might even FEEL like you know her, but you do not.  Even if I could share every memory I have with you , you still would not know her.  You will not know her until you become part of her story and she part of yours.  Then the journey to knowledge begins. 

We cannot know Jesus by definition, nor by reputation or history.  We might know what Jesus likes and dislikes.  We may know that He is infinite in time, in space, in power and in knowledge.  We might know that he is good, that he is kind, that he is merciful.  But still this is not knowing Jesus.

And for the good news (gospel).  Jesus left behind stories, not definitions.  He inspired people to keep telling the stories.  In these stories the person of Jesus starts to take shape.  We realise we want to know this Jesus, this water walking, storm stopping man who is God.   In the stories and lives of those around us and those who have gone before we find a multi-coloured picture of Jesus not a black and white dictionary definition.

All stories of Jesus, whether written, sung, prayed or lived have one purpose, to point you and I in His direction.  As we seek, we find ourselves invited to become part of His story as He is already part of ours.

I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.  John 17:26

This post is part of a series on the Names of Christ  – the most recent posts in the series are found here

Hands up anyone?

Check out Proverbs 18:13

  • If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
  • It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.
  • Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish
  • Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.

Hands Up Anyone?I read this Proverb a couple of weeks back and shared it with Harrison (6) over breakfast.  Harrison’s response?  “There are people like that in my class.  They have their hands up before the teacher even asks the question!”  (spoken with more than a hint of ‘how foolish is that’)

I have to hold my hands up and say “Yep that’s me” , I speak before listening.  It is my foolishness and shame to have answers for people long before I listen to them.  Harrison’s words made me think though.  There are sometimes when we really should have our hands up, but they remain at our side.

  • In confession – ‘Yep that was me’
  • In worship – You alone are worthy O Lord
  • In response – Here I am, send me
  • In celebration – Think of when your team scored that last-minute goal

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Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.                                        Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Worth Celebrating?

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

Desire!

A thought from the practices of St Ignatius of Loyola founder of the Jesuit order.

In his ‘Spiritual Exercises‘ Ignatius directs us to discern the desires of our own hearts.  By this he means to recognise the nature of our desires and the affect they have on our life.

We are all filled with desires, great and small.  While typing these words I have given in to my desire for chocolate, consuming a Ripple and half a Double Decker (single decker!).

I am quite taken by the encouragement to discern between those desires which are inspired by God that lead us towards God and those that lead us away from God.

I recently spent a little time thinking on the reality that the Christian faith is not a moral code.  It is not a series of right and wrong actions, nor is it about right and wrong people.  It is the belief that a God who is right chose to invite us to follow him, making it possible for us to do so in the process.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?                    Solzhenitsyn , The Gulag Archipelago

I find the practice of recognising desires and learning to discern their source and inevitable outcome to be quite a helpful one in determining which path to choose when many paths present themselves.

Admirer or Follower

“The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains, no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires” Eugene Peterson

I copied these words from a book by Eugene Peterson recently.  I cannot remember which book, but will add it in here when I do stumble upon it again.

Challenging to realise that we can say, sing and believe great things about Christ but still not actually follow.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Mark 8:29-31

Peter, having made his great statement that Jesus is the Christ, still had the things of men in mind not the things of God.  Receiving revelation of Jesus’ divinity and the fact he is saviour is not in itself evidence of following.  We follow when we leave behind and follow after.  Following Jesus involves a change of mind, a change of direction, Repentance is not merely a change of attitude but is worked out here and now, in work and at home, on-line and offline.  Self denial will be inevitable as our ways are not God’s ways.  Following will involve making choices against our own will.

Abraham: Pitcher of tents, builder of altars

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…………Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him 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.”      Genesis 12:1 & 7-8

When God spoke to Abraham in Haran to tell him to go to the land he would show him, we are told Abraham took his wife, his nephew, his possessions and the people he had accumulated in Haran and set out.  I particularly like the phrasing of the NIV in Gen 12:5 NIV “and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there”

So having arrived in Canaan what does Abraham do?  He builds an altar and he pitches his tent.  I smile to think of the earthiness of Abraham’s activities.  Hammering in stakes to hold the tent up.  Unpacking camels and donkeys.  Counting the goats to make sure they all made this leg of the journey. Collecting rocks, piling one upon another, gathering sticks, building the altar, choosing the animal for the sacrifice.  Throughout Abraham’s journey we are repeatedly told of him pitching tents and building altars.

I want to consider only one thought in this post, the understanding of the Eternal.

Abraham pitched tents and then moved them and then moved them again.  He knew the necessity of the processes of life.  He knew that Godly men act wisely, create secure homes, pay attention to their earthly responsibilities.  But he also appreciated that a tent is something that gets pitched and torn down again.  It has only temporary benefit.  But an altar?  An altar is a lasting act of worship.  The animal can only be sacrificed once. The altar is not dismantled after use.  It remains.

God promised Abraham that he would inherit the land.  Abraham left altars, points of worship all over the land.  In our lives we must be pitch our tents carefully and intentionally. We must create homes, work hard to developed careers and vocations.  But recognise all that will pass away.  The points of worship in our life remain for ever.

We must know what to pitch, and what to build.

Here is a short exercise to try.  On one side of a sheet of paper write down all the things in your life you consider to be temporary and worthy of careful pitching.  On the other write down the enduring or Eternal, which side are you expending more energy on?  Where is your focus?  Are you building correctly?

Image by Chris M used under license