Monthly Archives: February 2011

Stewardship is not the same as fundraising

Looking at Leviticus of late, you see this at work. The point of sacrifice is sacrifice.  The sacrifice has no use after it has been offered, other than to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Some of the portions are to be kept for the Priests, but this seems to be a way of supporting the priests who have the necessary butchery skills for the task.  You don’t have sacrifices to support priests, you have priests to enable sacrifice.

We don’t give to support our workers – we have workers to enable our giving – that would be the logic at work in Leviticus.  I am not sure how far I want to take that, is that the same as the Paul’s offering to the Jerusalem Church – that delicate act of stewardship which permeates much of his writing?

My stewardship friend went on to espouse the view that the reason Church offerings had been relatively resilient to the recession was because giving came from within.  If we relied on fundraising we would be in real trouble.

You are the light

Wonderful meditation by Graham Finch on Jesus saying “I am the light of the world”

 

That we fear the darkness, we grope around, we are unable to see and we must look to Christ to be our light in such situations.

 

Graham noted that this is the only “I am” saying of Jesus that is shared.  Nowhere does Jesus say “You are the bread of life” or “You are the way, the truth and the life.”  But this one, Jesus takes the enormous risk of sharing with us.

The left behind pot

 

The students were puzzled, “Why, Master? Yesterday it was the piece under the table in the workroom, the one no one thought enough to buy at the craft fair.”

 

“Exactly,” said the Master, “I want you to study it carefully – its form, glaze, style, effects – and know it intimately.  It is now the new standard for all our work.  Contemplate it and enter its empty space and penetrate its mystery.”

 

It seems that even what is not immediately wanted for valued can be worthwhile.  The beatitudes and woes of Luke’s gospel begin with what is discarded and disdained by the world but immediately searched out and discovered by our God in Jesus.  Obviously, there is something not immediately apparent to those of us whose gaze is not steeped in grace and mercy, whose hearts are not tuned to compassion and salvation.  We who live on the surface of reality miss that which is more elusive and more deeply seeded in some of the people that the Maker of all things has touched.  Being disciples of Jesus, the servant of Yahweh who carries the mark of Isaiah on his flesh, must entail having the veil lifted from our eyes and souls so that the glory hidden in unlikely places and faces can be revealed to us.

 

Luke’s blessing and lamentations never cease to catch us off guard and unawares.  They must have had the same effect on those who heard Jesus’ strong defence of the poor, those suffering terribly and further humiliated by other human beings who considered them worthless, sinners, and despised even by God.  When he spoke with equally forceful words about the wealthy and respected, the well-fed and well-thought-of and warned that they were really the unfortunate ones in dire danger because of their situation, his hearers must have gasped with disbelief and wondered about his sanity.  And, of course, when they realised Jesus was both deadly serious and intent on getting others to listen to him, when they understood that he was speaking as a prophet and defending the covenant, they were equally intent on resisting him with all the force of their position, power, and investment in the society that he critiqued.

Rich

 

 

I am always wary such spiritualising – it can lead us to a non-material gospel (Pete himself warns against this) and can be a tactic for the wealthy to blunt the edge of Jesus’ manifesto; but I am alsochallenged to read Luke as a urgent message to deal humbly with ourselves, to face ourselves (what the Nazareth congregation refused to do) and to understand that the (principal) debts to be cancelled in the year of the Lord’s favour are the debts caused by sin.  This, for Pete, is the biggest bail-out package the world has ever seen.

 

I quite like an illustration from banks in his Preface:

 

“Sometimes a class of young children visits our church building as part of their school curriculum.  As they arrive at the Church door, all chatting cheerfully, the teacher invariably turns to quieten the children down.  ‘”We are entering God’s house, quiet now, you must be quiet.”  The assumption, sincerely held I know, is that to be in the church building is the same as being close to God.  There is the further assumption that God would, for whatever reason, object to hearing our voices.

 

Many people assume that to attend church must be the same as being close to God.  To be involved in church must mean that we are involved in God’s work.  To be a leader of the church must mean that you are even closer to God than other Church members.  But the very opposite may be true.  It is possible, common even, to have all the outward trappings of Christian faith in place.  If I walk into a bank because I hold an account there, make an appointment to speak to the manager and have a card that I can put in the ATM, that does not mean I have any money in the account.  If my account remains empty then all the contact with the bank becomes somewhat meaningless.”

With such frequent money talk, Rich is a well named book indeed.  Luke, I believe, mentions sex five times and money one verse in every five.  His gospel is the biblical equivalent of the Financial Times (or possibly the left leaning Guardian).  Economics, financial and spiritual, lies at the core of the gospel.

You’re not the boss of me

 

Then the whole congregation reads these.  Everyone is told to read the first commandment and then turn to the people around them and say “There is a God and it is not you.”

 

Ortberg notes the change in person between the 2nd and 3rd commandments – from the first to the third person.  The ancient scribes used to say that this was the point at which the Israelites could bear no more of God, and so this was now Moses who was speaking.

 

Then a long discourse on Freedom – and the difference between freedom to do something, freedom from, and freedom for something.

 

This freedom “from” is the way that we want to think about things today, that we want rid of a few extra commandments.  We don’t want to have a boss, we want to be free.  We think about the freedom from external constraints and expansion of personal rights.

 

I am free to drink as much as I want, and then I drink, and it starts to get a hold of me, of my marriage, of my job, and I want to give up, and I am not free.  I want to stop drinking but I can’t.

 

I want to live with a happy optimistic attitude, but I don’t

 

I want to quit yelling at my kids, and I want to be the person that manages anger really really well

 

I want to be less selfish, but I am free,

 

And this form of freedom is very different from external constraints.

 

Nelson Mandela in prison was constrained in his cell, he was more free than his guards

 

The deeper freedom is the freedom for becoming the person I was designed to be.  And to get that freedom is a kind of irony, that we begin this freedom by turning over our freedom to a higher power.

 

And then I begin to receive power to be free from alcohol.

 

There is a moral order, there is a centre of the universe, I am not master of my own destiny, and I am not master of the ship.

 

There is a strong connection in the Biblical writers, between law and freedom (Psalm 119 and James – the law that gives freedom)

 

It is the second kind of freedom that exists in the ten commandments, because often when we exercise freedom to do something apart from God we end up enslaving ourselves.

 

When I make desires my God, I end up in slavery

When I give my desires to God, I end up being free.

 

God Is Worth Obeying

There is a temptation to think of God as the one who enslaves us in an oppressive world.  But it is far from being in, as Hitchens puts it, a divine North Korea.

 

Tells story of a little boy looking out of his window one day, a strong willed boy aged two or three, and what he does in his house is gets chair, and puts it under the curtain, and stands on it, and looks out at the window.  And is mother notices this, and decides to just sneak in beside him, as he is looking out the window, staring ou at the world, and she spies his little white legs sticking out under the curtains, and as she does he hears him utterly seriously and sombrely say to himself “I gotta get outa here”

 

Then we think about Covenants in the ancient world – that there were two kinds of covenants – unilateral covenants between a strong and a weaker party, and bilateral between two equal parties.

 

This has the hallmarks of a Unilateral covenant, but in such a covenant you are normally asking the question “What does the stronger party get out of this?” normally it would be places for animals to graze or a water supply; but here it is that God has a people to bless – fickle, made up of wrong and failed intentions, but nevertheless a people to bless.

 

The other thing is that way that there are two copies of the Covenant.  Traditionally people understand this as because there was only room on each tablet for five covenants, but there were two copies, because both copies were to be kept by the people, and in the Ark of the Covenant the two of them would be together.

 

285 times in the Bible, it is written that we are the God of the covenant.

 

We do not use our freedom to indulge the sinful nature.

 

I would never indulge the sinful nature, everyone gossips, I just want to be able to sin in moderation.

 

No one reserves sexual intimacy for marriage, everyone wants to decide that for themselves

 

Then a thing about sexuality, and about the fact that this generation do not suppose that sex is meaningless, the great lie of this generation is that they believe that they get to determine what the meaning of that sexual encounter is.

 

This idea of there being a moral order is easier to see if we look at other eras.

 

Illustration of encountering someone in the 1860s in the South, and confronting them about slavery, and asking them to give up their slaves, set them free, and publicly back their rights, and they would be horrified, that this would estrange them from their family, from their workmates, it would seem odd, and yet this is not up for negotiation.  We live in this morally ordered world.

 

God is not putting racism up for a vote, and if everybody thought that racism was okay, then everybody was wrong.

 

Sometimes you enter into a community where what looks impossible in one place, sometimes is possible.

 

Tim Keller quotes an early Christian writer, Diognetus (might be here, but can’t find the quote http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/diognetus.html)  who wrote that “We share our table with all, we do not share our bed with all”

 

This just stumped people.

 

This was the opposite to pagan society where people were stingy with their hospitality, but promiscuous with their sexuality.  The Christians reversed this.

 

They were promiscuous with their money and stingy with their bodies, and nobody had ever seen a community like that before.

 

The community was like that, and the world was stunned.

 

The challenge is to form a community, so that everyone in the area will flourish.

 

A generation which is free from spiritual drift, for a transformation relationship with Jesus

In Authentic Community with each other

 

Question – can the world become stunned again?

 

So we will be stingy with our bodies and promiscuous with our body

So we will be stingy with our self-promotion and promiscuous with our servanthood.

 

So that we will be free.

 

Imagine that you are living a life that you cannot be free, and you are constrained and held in by addictions and habit, and then you hear the words “Romans 8” – there is now no condemnation.

 

You get those people who cannot go to God, because they are not ready to be with him.

 

You don’t have to get into shape, you don’t have to get cleaned up first, because God made a covenant and he is sticking to it

 

When Jesus died he made a new covenant, based on Jesus’ obedience not ours,

He has already set us free.

Vapour Management

 

Do this good thing A, and this other good thing will happen B, and this other good thing C will also occur

 

Do this bad thing X, and this other bad thing Y will happen, and this other bad things Z will also happen.

 

Key words

 

Meaningless  – the idea of lightness, emptiness, mist, vapour.  Hebel in Hebrew.

 

Everything is Chebel – horses, possessions, cars, Ferrari (good one for me as I wanted to buy such a thing on the Xbox)

Wisdom, knowledge, having the furniture in your brain arranged in the right way

Everything is meaningless

 

This is a deeper form of wisdom.

 

Where we discern that everything is meaningless

 

“Under the sun” – a phrase for everything that has been created

Everything here happens between birth and death

The realm of that which we create

The exception that is admitted is that which is not created, that is God, who is not created

 

Tells the story of the guy in his street who bought a Corvette – and three months later wanted to sell it.

Neil – everyone has something that someone else really really wants

 

“When I surveyed”

The idea of a ruthless self examination of who it is that we are

 

This is the book for the one who did everything right, and it still didn’t work out.

 

Looked at a picture of a Chilean miner, the moment that they do not worry about anything, not even the big questions, it is just the experience of being alive.

 

It is find something beyond us, something which is uncreated, the very existence of our own being,

The idea of coming into contact with the one who created everything

Neil –this ties in a lot with Augustine’s idea of happiness and joy, and that it is found in God.

 

You have to tap into this idea, that God is ultimate, that everything true is ultimate

 

Most people spend most of their time in vapour management

When people come to Church, what they are really wanting is a better way to manage the vapour,

They want someone somewhere with some kind of authority to fix their vapour.

I want you to help get the vapour arranged properly.

 

Assuming that if you get the vapour managed properly, that will magically lead to some other place of peace and calm and joy.

 

An incredible experience of life.

 

If you tap into the realm of the uncreated, and this joy will have no end.

This is joy which simply is.

 

There is the created – vapour; and there is the uncreated

This is why Jesus is one with God, he is intimately intertwined with God

When you have this taking over your life

Then you can enjoy that which does have a beginning and an end.

 

The people who you most admire, are not the people who are trying to achieve and toil,

This all becomes an expression of this joy

 

“If I could just… then I’d be…” is a fundamental lie

Jesus did not give you seven steps – and then the thing will happen

He came to give it to you now.

 

It’s all vapour….

What shall we do wtih Titus

Paul Preaches The Gospel

 

Just to recount the story of Paul in Galtia.

 

Paul has arrived in Galatia because of sickness.

 

He has preached to them a gospel.

 

Now the gospel here, is a Greek word which means Good New.

 

Good News, note the plural here, was a phrase that the Galatians would have known, and it would have had two connotations.

 

The first was when a battle was being fought, and people eagerly waited to hear what was the result of the battle, whether they were going to be saved or not.

The people would have lived in a city state, surrounded by walls, and news would have reached them of an army which was marching.

So the women and children, it would have been in those days, would have prepared their men for battle, lifted the gates of the city, and watched them go out to march,

And then all they could do was wait.

It was a bit like us in Church last Sunday waiting to hear how Andy Murray was getting on.  We didn’t quite know the result of the match when we came to Church, there was always this possibility that he might have turned things around.

 

So these folks would have sent the men out to battle, and all that they could do was wait.

And several days later – those of you who have watched the film 300 will know the kind of thing I am talking about, Gerard Butler going out with his band of warriors, and the people wait,

And they know that their lives depend on this battle.

And thy wait, and they wait, for a messenger to come running over the horizon.

 

And Paul appears, like that messenger in Galatia,

There has been a battle going on against death, it happened in Jerusalem,

And a man, who was the Son of God, this man Christ, fought death for us, dealt with God’s anger for us, and he won.

This is how Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians,

9 All those people speak about how you received us when we visited you, and how you turned away from idols to God, to serve the true and living God 10 and to wait for his Son to come from heaven – his Son Jesus, whom he raised from death and who rescues us from God’s anger that is coming.

And when normally people spoke about these battles in the ancient world, the runner would come running over the horizon, exhausted, and he would reach the gates of the city, and when he was close enough to be heard, he would lift up his voice, and he would say

“Good news”

But what is interesting with Paul is that he shortens the message in one subtle, but vitally important way – he would say

“Good new”

 

There is something so transformative, so different, so final about what this Jesus has done, that he gives it a category all of its own

“Good new”

Emperor Birth

The second context that people would have used this phrase Good News, would have been in the birth of the emperor, no more so than the Emperor Augustus.

 

This is what has been found in a pillar in Asia minor, to the West of Galatia, from 9 BC

And it is to do with the fact that the Emperor Augustus has been so magnificent that the only appropriate response is to start the calendar year on the birthday of Augustus.

And all through this inscription Augustus is venerated as a God.

Augustus was filled with all virtue, and Providence (a kind of oblique way of referring to God) sent Augustus to the world as a Soter, as a Saviour, (interesting choice of word) and the year should start on his birthday because he causes wars to cease and replaces those wars with peace.  Before his birth glad tidings, good news had been announced, and with his coming, says the pillar, those Good News had been more than fulfilled.

 

So the idea here is of a transformational figure, who is filled with goodness, and in his coming, brings to the world a new era.

 

There is a little idea of what that is like the in town of Ypres.

Ypres as you know was at the centre of many of the most violent battles in the First World War.

My great grandfather fought there at Hill 60, one of the most violent places, which included in it Hellfire corner.  The story was that you could tell the men who had fought at Hill 60, because even amongst all the men who fought around Ypres, these men had a particularly haunted look to them.

 

But there was a haven in Ypres, a chaplin, a man called Tubby Clayton, had taken over a house, Talbot House, known by the initials Toc-H, and this was a sanctuary for the men on the front.

I have been there, there is a library, and there is a garden,

And the idea being that this place was utterly different from the war that was being fought back out there on Hill 60.

And for Paul what Jesus has done in his gospel, is bring about an existence so transformative, so utterly different from the battles  of life, even our battle with God, that he cannot just say “Good News” but he says “Good New”.

A New People

There is a third dimension to this idea of gospel, which comes from Paul itself, and you can see it in Ephesians 3:6

 

The secret of this gospel

6 The secret is that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God’s blessings; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus.

So all this Grace and Peace has meant peace with God

Has meant a new reality in which we live away from the destruction of our former life

And it means we are brought into a new people

 

Peace with God

New environment in which to live

A new people

Story Continues

So the story continues, and other teachers came into Galatia, and they changed Paul’s gospel slightly.

To Paul, they took away its impact, its transformative message

What Jesus had done was not quite enough, there were a few more things that had to be done to win the battle, it wasn’t quite over yet.

I was being shown an old football book of the year 1970?  When Rangers thought that they had won the game sufficiently, and invaded the pitch, only to hear about a last minute goal from Celtic.

Or like the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008 when it looked like Felippe Massa had won, and the Ferrari garage started celebrating, only for Lewis Hamilton to move up a place on the last lap

Paul sees the additional message being pedalled like that, the battle has not yet been won.

Or the suggestion that peace has not yet been won fully by Christ, and so there is more to be done,

That the Gentiles, the people of Galatia, also called the Celts, for they are our cousins (all of us are descended from a tribe of Austrians) are not yet quite part of God’s people

Because they have to be circumcised, and they have to avoid certain foods, and they have to keep certain days in the calendar, and Paul is as we know, quite raging about all of this.

Jerusalem

Now there is a strong connection here with the Jerusalem Church which Paul has had a difficult relationship with.  So he brings the Galatians back to something which happened 14 years after he had become a Christian.

 

He had been away from the Jerusalem Church for a large number of years, and he had a message from God to go up to Jerusalem again.  This was an unsettling thing, why did he want to get involved with the folks in Jerusalem, he was happy by himself.

 

So he went with his ally Barnabas

And he brought another man Titus – Paul is quite clear in verse 1, I brought Titus with me

Not Titus happened to come along, but Titus was brought.

Titus is going to represent something to the Jerusalem Church and this something is going to force the Church to deal with something.

You see for 2000 years the Jews have worked on the understanding that if any man wants to be part of God’s people, then he needs to lose his foreskin.

It’s just the nature of things, it goes right back to Abraham

It is a sign of the cost of becoming a member of one of God’s people.

It is a sign that belonging is taken seriously

And it just is, it’s just the way it is done.  It goes beyond logic, it’s what you have to do.

You become one of us, the foreskin goes.

And this has kept happening in the Church in Jerusalem

But Paul has been going rough proclaiming a gospel which suggests that Jesus has done all that needs done, no foreskins need chopped off any more,

There is something wholly adequate about the death of Jesus,

So complete and furiously effective

That means there are no more foreskins being chopped

No matter diet having to be watched

No more special festivals having to be observed

Jesus is enough.

 

And in Paul’s Church in Antioch, the men, for the first time in 2000 years have been part of God’s people whilst still keeping a hold of their foreskin.

Whereas in Jerusalem, the foreskin has been coming off, or perhaps since most of the members are Jewish, it was off anyway.

And Paul brings up one of these men, one of these uncircumcised men

To established that Jesus’ death has changed the rules of things.

Paul says

In a private meeting with the leaders I explained the gospel message that I preach to the Gentiles. I did not want my work in the past or in the present to be a failure.

And Paul wants to check that the Church in Jerusalem gets this,

Not because he wants them to check that he has been telling the truth about the death of Jesus

But he wants to make sure that the Churches have the one understanding of Jesus death

–          Battle won, new peaceful era, new people formed

Is shared between the two Churches, otherwise there will be a schism between them

 

So you have to Churches, doing two fairly different things

Some different emphases

And Paul wants to make sure that the Church is one

And the test for the one Church is “How are you going to deal with Titus”

 

And there are some problems here

Paul remembers an incident that happened back in Antioch – and at this point in the Greek Paul’s grammar starts going all wrong

Some False brothers slipped into our meeting in order to spy on us

They wanted to make slaves of us

But those who seemed to be the leaders

–          Paul says not “were the leaders” but “seemed to be the leaders”

They took our side, and offered us the right hand of fellowship

And they recognised that it was my job to preach to the Gentiles

And Peter’s job to preach to the Jews

 

–          It seems that some of the Teachers who have corrupted the Galatians have suggested that Paul has been operating without the agreement of the Jerusalem Church, and the pillars they ought to be listening to are James, Peter and John.

On the contrary says Paul, they offered us the right hand of fellowship

And they asked us to remember the poor, which probably means the poor of Jerusalem

Which Paul says he was eager to do, because he was eager to establish the idea that two Churches were one.

Things to think about

 

The Gospel Is An All Consuming Reality

For Paul the Gospel is not some extra thing, a little boost to life.  The genie in the bottle.

My life is school and work and money and friendships and cyber-friendship, and there is this extra bit called Gospel.

 

Rather gospel is an all consuming reality of Grace and Peace

Which transforms every moment, every relationship,

 

It is peace with God, it is a new way of being, in fact every moment could be rendered differently because we live in the light of the gospel

 

It is like that Garden in Ypres, it is totally new.

And the temptation is to always go back to the older reality, go back to the war.

The Gospel is to be fought for

The gospel is to be fought for for Paul

The way that he fights with the Galatian teachers

The way that his Greek goes to pieces when he thinks about the false brothers

The way that he doesn’t just say to the folks in Jerusalem

We have Titus here, and I really don’t think that we need to be circumcising him, but if you folks have a different interpretation, then to keep the peace I am happy to get the knives out.

 

He will fight for this idea, because for Paul it has come from God.

Small things are important

And sometimes small things are important, because they are a symptom of how much we perceive this other reality.

 

The foreskin issue could only be that, but if you give into this says Paul it is “slavery” – they wanted to make slaves of us he says of the false brothers in verse 4.

 

Often people used to laugh at the folks in Northern Ireland for fighting over the issue of parades, what is it that’s so important about a wee stretch of road that gets walked over at 6am in the morning.

 

But there are big issues to do with justice, truth and tradition bound up in this little piece of road at 6.30 in the morning, the future depends on what we do here.

 

I heard Simon Mayo recently discussing autographs with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo I always give an autograph if asked except if someone has knocked on the door of my house, why so, why such a small thing, because behind lies issues of home, and separation.

 

Sometimes the small things really do count.

Your Length Of Service

Your length of service doesn’t make you right.

 

There is an insulting thing almost that Paul does not treat the Disciples of Jesus as having any special authority.  He says that the leaders were seeming leaders. I say this because it makes no difference to me what they were.

 

We all have this thing where we judge the truth of a thing, partly on the thing, and partly because of who said it.

 

I was at a couple of conferences this week, and at one of them I heard speak a minister called David Arnott, he is retired, and he used to the minister of Netherlee Church on the South Side.  When I bumped into him in a corridor later on I was more deferential than I might otherwise have been because he is also going to be the Moderator next year.

You Cannot Overstate What Jesus did for us

You cannot overstate the power of what Jesus did for us in dying for us.

 

He did everything for us.

We go striving for far off targets, and everything good is offered to us now

We imagine that the secret of life is held for us by some guru, whether Paul McKenna, or some management guru, or some time management guru, or some appointment – and the secret of what makes us whole is given to us now

We imagine that our perfection, our purity depends on our good behaviour, Don Miller talks about a time that he and his group of friends decided to live like Navy Seals for a while, in order to know God more, and if they devoted, and if they prayed, and if they fasted, then they would have God, God has already been given to us in Christ.

 

You can never overstate what Christ has achieved for us.

Things to Look up

–          Trevor Morrow

–          Donald Miller

Being suspicious of numbers

 

Began with the story of the man who died with 17 camels, and the instruction that one of his sons was to receive a half, one was to receive a third, one was to receive a ninth and none of the camels was to be dismembered.

 

They went to a wise neighbour who gave them a camel, let one son have 9, one son have 6 and one have 2, and then took back the camel he had given them.

 

David went through a whole lot of things to do with numbers.

 

Included in this was the idea that God took 37 verses to create the earth, and the account of the tabernacle was 11 chapters long.

 

The story of giving away Shekels and how the poor could afford this.

 

It is a lot simpler for God to create a home for man than it is for man to create a home for God.

 

Looked at our complications with numbers in the Church of Scotland, when we will have too many elders, when we will have too many ministers, and no members for them to minister to.

 

Looked at the story of the numbers that Gideon had.

 

Looked at the numbers in the census of Israel.

 

Looked at the story of playing a shekel tax

 

Tells the story of Helmut Thielicke and the his first ever Bible study in his Church, and convinced of the words of Jesus that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  And he was convinced of this and turned up to his first ever Church Bible study and there were two elderly ladies there and an organist who was even older, and outside Hitler’s brown shirted youth were marching in their thousands.

 

And David Arnott concluded with the story of Gerard Manley Hopkins and all creation being shot through with the glory of God.

 

And David Arnott ended by saying that we need the statistics and the numbers because they remind us we rely on the strength of God.

How to hate healthiily

The Hatred Is There

The Jesuit Priest William Johnston once wrote a book on prayer called “Being In Love.”  I used to read it on the bus from South Belfast into the centre of Belfast every morning.

 

It later turned out that I was working with one of William Johston’s nieces, but I did not know that at the time.

 

I read initially at the start of the book about prayer, and this was a helpful book about prayer.  About how to pray in using the scriptures, using nature, how to pray by writing out the scriptures; how we are drawn to asking for things, how we are drawn to praising God for things.

 

And then the book on page 56, of a 166 page book suddenly changed tack, and said there were two kinds of prayer – there was essential prayer, which is about “what” – what God is and what I am, and how we tell God what I am, and what he is.

 

And what surprised me reading the book is that I thought that this was the whole of prayer, that there could not be anything else to write about prayer, since all the basics of prayer had been covered in the first 56 pages.

 

And then he says there is a deeper level of prayer which existential prayer, which is not about “what” and instead is about “that” – that God is, that I am.

It is a prayer simply of appreciation of existence, of being, it is beyond words and works within the deep forces of the subconscious mind.  It is a prayer of true silence.

 

When you practise this form of prayer, initially there is bliss says Johnstone, with the sun shining brightly on your path; and then there are tremors, tempest, rain, earth, tremors mist – whatever.

 

And this shakes you to the core, you will have nightmares, you may feel that you are disintegrating or that the framework which held your life together is collapsing.

 

This says Johnstone is the eruption of the darkness that lies within us.  This says Johnstone is to do with our shadow, the part of ourselves that we hate to see; it is do with our sexuality, and it is to with our mask.

 

During this crisis the mask is torn from your face, and you are revealed to yourself as you most truly are.

 

And it is this lurking shadow, mask, our sex lives that we hide that is the reason that we must talk about hate.

Because the temptation with hate is to pretend it is not there,

Or it is a thing that must be buried, and when we do this we crush the darkness within us but it does not go away.

 

It re-erupts in ways which harm us but we are blind to

In ways that harm others and we cannot see the harm we cause

It shows up in constantly recurring patterns where we attempt to pretend we are better than we are

Or we go to great lengths to hide out true selves.

And the campaign to do away with hate, is not good.

 

We bury our hate – it is smothered in buttery smooth phrases

“I really shouldn’t say this but…

“I am only telling you this…

“There are certain people who shall remain nameless..

“I hate folk who…

“I hate you so much right now…”

“I can’t stand those people who…”

“She really winds me up…”

“And then I looked up and saw he was there…”

 

It escapes in our homes, in our hatred and our anger as it gets vented on those who live with us,

On our chosen scapegoats – so we hate the hatred of the racist or the sexist pretending that we are better than such hatred, when in fact it is just that we have found better perfume to disguise the smell

On our own bodies

This unhealthy hate.

Other forms of hatred considered unhealthy in the scriptures

Healthy Hatred

Hating Your Enemies

Jesus profound ethical address, the Sermon on the Mount, deals with the topic of hate.

 

It is one of the core things at the heart of this blessed life, is to immediately reduce the number of legitimate targets for hatred.  People have been going round with this hatred, and it is no longer acceptable.

“You have heard it was said ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”

But I say to you “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 6:44

Hatred is to be eliminated when it is directed at those who are fools – those you might call “dog”, to utter hatred is the same as murder,

And the pool of people you are allowed to hate, is utterly reduced, your enemies are no longer to be hate.

And you replace that hatred with love and with prayer.

Is my hatred being replaced with love and prayer? Is a good question to ask ourselves.

Hating Your Brother Or Sister

So that leaves our one other group of people that we can hate, who are our friends

Or our family members.

But once again 1 John prevents us being able to hate them

There was a clearly a lot of hatred in the Church that John was writing to

“Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness” 1 John 1:11

“Everyone who hates his brother (or sister) is a murderer” 1 John 3:15

“If anyone says “I love God” and hates his brother he is a liar” – 1 John 4:20

 

The implications of hatred are far-reaching, it is not harmless, the damage it causes is immense

To hate is to be in darkness,

To hate is to murder

To hate is to make impossible our love for God

Hating Your Body

“No one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it” Ephesians 5:28

Now clearly there have been people who have hated their own flesh

And there will be many of us, if not all who are dissatisfied with our appearance

Some of us may have seriously investigated cosmetic surgery – to deal with a disfigurement or to deal with a part of ourselves that we would really like to change.

Hair replacement was recently in the news, James Nesbitt saying that having a hair transplant had changed his life.

 

Now there is a strand in Christianity which is about detesting our bodies,

Which seemed to light upon a natural tendency for hatred of ourselves

But in this passage, Paul is suggesting that there is something profoundly unnatural about hating our body,

In fact caring for bodies receives as high a compliment as one can imagine

When I nourish and cherish (not just nourish, it is not just that you feed your body and nothing more, you also cherish it) your body (and remembered that the bodies that Paul was writing about were scarred, rarely washed bodies, often covered in lice, rough skin and gap-filled smiles – this is the letter to the Ephesians, not the letter to Keira Knightley and Daniel Craig) to cherish your body, is to engage in an act akin to Jesus’ care for the Church.

Hatred From Anger

And finally all consuming anger is forbidden throughout the Bible

“Be angry”  is actually a command,

“Be angry and do no sin” so there is a possibility of anger and non-sinning

How does this non-sinning anger defined, what is it’s quality

“Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

I like the idea of the sun going down on your anger, because the sense is that one does not maintain the fires of anger constantly, until the very last glimmer of light of the sun has gone and then the anger is switched off

Rather the anger fades like the sun, less and less, until part is covered, and then half, and then a very little, and then moment when it is no longer there

 

When did Jesus get angry?  It was the time that he cleansed out the temple

This is borne out of a hatred of the injustice in the temple, and for a time Jesus is angry

His hatred of the system is constant, the way that the poor are exploited will occupy much of his teaching for the last days of his life,

But his anger, how long does that last

It is there when the tables are overturned

It is there when he says “this is a meant to be a house of prayer but you have turned into a den of thieves”

But is it there when he compliments the children singing

Is it there towards the Chief Priests

The hatred of the system that is constant, but the anger, Jesus can resist the temptation of anger to consume him, anger has that attractive quality, we nurse our wrath to keep it warm, but Jesus lets it go, lets it go down with the sun.

Healthy Hatred

It is an odd thing that in the Bible God is said to hate

There are occasions where Jesus tells us to hate

And there are other occasions where the faithful are chastised for not hating enough.

There is such a thing as healthy hate.

Do I not hate them with a perfect hatred…

In Psalm 139, one of the most intimate portraits of God in the whole of the Bible,

You have those lovely verses

“Oh God you have searched me and you know me

“How precious to me are your thoughts O God

How vast is the sum of them

If I would could them they are more than the sand

I awake and I am still with you.

 

Oh that you would slay the wicked O God

O men of blood, depart from me

They speak against you with malicious intent

Your enemies take your name in vain

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord…

I hate them with complete hatred,

I count them my enemies”

And you are trying to square this with Jesus

 

“Search me O God and know my heart

Try me and know my thoughts

And see if there be any grievous way in me.”

 

These are troubling verses.  I once had a colleague who said that hatred of others was legitimate because of these verses.  Certainly the Rev I Paisley used to be fond of his “perfect hatred”

 

There are a number of things to suggest here,

But for me it is curious that in this Psalm of deep self-discovery, we discover hatred

A bit like the hatred that William Johnstone described in his Existential prayer

 

And the hatred when discovered is given to God,

In a mood of reflection

Once discovered, not apologised for, no attempt immediately to remove

But given to God, and what does God do with the hatred that is given to him

Does he give it back, justified and amplified

Or does he take it away?

Hate The Thing

I was with a management coach the other day, Gayle, who was commenting that there were two things which prevented good teams from forming and performing.

 

The first was an inability to articulate, and speak openly with each other. – which I guess is a little like that disclosure happening in Psalm 139

 

The second thing is to personalise

If someone in a kitchen says “The tomato soup today could have done with a bit less water in it” it is the job of the sous-chef not to take that personally.

 

It is one of the hallmarks of good leaders I heard this week, to think in systems, to see the systems in an organisation and deal with those.

 

It is they system that we are hate, to make war with,

We do not wrestle with flesh and blood said Paul, but with rulers and authorities

“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” says Hebrews of Jesus in Hebrews 1:9.

 

You hate the thing, not the person.

 

 

Hate Your Mother And Father and Hate Your Life

Finally some very upsetting words from Jesus

“If anyone comes to me and doe not hate his own father and mother, yes, even his own life he cannot be my disciple”

 

There is a certain form of hatred that has to be gone if we are to be disciples of Jesus

And there is a certain form of hatred that has to be maintained if we are to be disciples

We cannot be disciples unless we refuse to hate the right things

And determine to hate the wrong things

 

What does this verse mean

Does it mean we call up our parents tonight and say “I just wanted to let you know that in the name of Jesus Christ, I hate you”

And how do we hate our own life?

 

I think that this is a statement about the pressures that life and parents put on his

The desire that in the eyes of our parents we be something

Or the unwritten expectation that comes down to us from our parents

Or even the worthy thing that my life, or my parents are the most important thing in my life

It will be what my life wants (food, career, success) or what my parents want that determine how I live, who I follow

 

No says Jesus, all these things go, you hate the pressure, you do not bow to it,

You come and follow me.

The Experience of being hated

Blessed are you when others hate you. – it is the most common use of the word hate in the New Testament, the experience of being hated.

 

The most common experience of the early Christians was not the hatred that they gave, nor even the hatred they wrestled with in their own hearts, it was the hatred they received

 

Finally it is the experience of the Christian to be hated

To be hated and not hate back is one of the toughest tests of our discipleship

Not to be hated, and pretend not to hate back

Not to be hated, and to bear grudges for later

Not to be hated, and to offer response (the Christian always must offer  a response which isn’t fight and isn’t flight and allows some kind of common future)

 

To be hated is not something that we can be afraid to go

Because somehow in that horrible place says Jesus, we are blessed.

Thank God It’s Monday

Values to improve the way we work

  • Collaboration
  • Teams and networks
  • Visions
  • Process awareness
  • Open and honest communication
  • Risk taking
  • Everyone is a leader – not sure how far he goes with that one.
  • Seeing conflict as an opportunity
  • Embracing change
  • Personal growth and fulfilment – Leaders really need to look after themselves

 

From Cloke and Goldsmith  – Thank God It’s Monday

It is interesting that he uses lots of spiritual language without ever confessing a faith.