Dismantle Your Glory

Strange title for a blog post right?

There is a well known story in the Bible of a “sinful woman” who breaks a jar of perfume (probably a years wages), and wet’s Jesus’ feet with it, using her hair! It’s found in Luke 7:36-50. In the story there are onlookers who are judgemental. They criticise both Jesus and the woman for this extravagant act of affection.

However, the Son of God responds with gratitude towards the lady, and rebuke towards the onlooker.

This story has been on my mind and filling up my prayers for over a week. (I’ll probably spread it all over two blog posts.)

Firstly though, I had never made the connection between this story and the odd verse in 1 Corinthians 11:15 which talks about a woman’s hair being for her glory. Clearly, in this time and culture hair was important to a woman’s reputation, value and dignity.

So it is even more astonishing that we have a woman, not just extravagantly worshipping Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume, but also dismantling her own glory to do so. How humbling!

I can’t honestly say that I’ve worshipped Jesus with such abandon, such cost: material or reputational. (Thanks T. Tenney for pointing out this link between two passages!)

But we can also pick up a few points (and questions) about what this moment in Jesus’ life teaches us about worship.

  1. When we worship, we ought to be giving God our best. The woman in this story clearly does this, she breaks the most precious item in honour of Jesus, and surrenders her hair (her glory) for the glory of Another.
  2. In our Churches, do we elevate the anointed or the anointer? What do I mean? Well, it seems that in most churches we put on a pedestal those who have amazing gifts, confidence and charisma or even good looks(!), those we consider “anointed”. I think this story teaches us, that it is not the gifted – or the “anointed” – we need to look at, but rather those who are anointing Jesus with their everything. These are the people who should set the pace, the standard for our worship – not necessarily the most gifted with the guitar.
  3. Can we cope with such worship in our midst? The onlookers in this story, certainly couldn’t! When we are around people with such reckless abandon, we can feel uncomfortable. We might even label those people as “too passionate”, “too heavenly minded”, “too emotional” etc. Oh, that we would be convicted by our lukewarm attitude to worship. Jesus deserves our best. And worship is a sacrifice (see also Romans 12:1-2).

In the gospel of Matthew (26:12) it says that the true worshipper did this in preparation for Jesus’ burial. I wonder, if Jesus recalled this moment of honour and worship while He hung on Calvary’s cross? Did it strengthen His resolve, to know the love and freedom and forgiveness He would be purchasing for ever-thankful souls?

But I like how my slate looks

I have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey’s competition programme “Hell’s Kitchen”. It’s a show where 16 chefs compete to show themselves as the best chef, and win a job which usually pays $250k. A sweet prize.

Anyway, in this particular season as we get to the final five. Gordon Ramsey says to the finalists, “look guys, you’ve all done really well to get here, so from here on in I’m giving you all a clean slate. I’ll be judging your performances fresh tomorrow.” – Great news for one of the contestants, who’d had a string of bad episodes, who’d been hanging on by the skin of her teeth!

However, it was bad news for the top performer, who muttered “but I kinda liked how my slate looked”.

This stood out to me, for some obvious reasons. In Christianity we often talk about Jesus giving people a clean slate, forgiving sins and forgetting what is behind us. We also have the famous story of the prodigal son who ran away from home betraying his family. After realising his mistake he was extravagantly welcomed back by the Father. Whilst his older brother looked on disapprovingly.

Admittedly, I can relate to the older brother, in the same way I can relate to the workers who’d been working all day in the field, who received the same pay as the workers who’d only worked the final shift (another Jesus story). There is a part of me which looks on and feels as though Justice has not happened.

The people who worked the hardest, who did the most, who’d had the most success are levelled with the people who were lazy, who did the least, who’d had the least success. Is this fair?

What does the Bible say about this? Is it fair?

1) It wouldn’t be fair if it were true, if my perspective were true. From my point of view, you win if you’re better than the other guy. You win if you try harder, work fast, see more success. But what the Bible says is that “winning” isn’t about being the best, it’s about being perfect. We don’t just need the cleanest slate, we need a spotless slate. But the Bible is clear, all have sinned and fall short and all of us have gone astray turned our own way!

“Winning” eternal life requires absolute holiness. In this case the person who tries the hardest, works the fastest and produces success needs as much levelling as the person who comes last.

2) Our slate doesn’t just get wiped clean. The beautiful thing about believing in Jesus (and accepting the offer), is that not only do your sins get put away, and “passed over”. You’re slate also get permanently inscribed with the life, righteousness and holiness of Jesus. His precious blood, His perfection, His consistent resistance to every temptation, His success.

Of course, God let’s us keep our slate if we really want it. If we are proud and pleased with it. With the good and the bad… we can reject Jesus’ offer to have a wiped slate, renewed and filled with Him. But believe you me, that would be proud-foolishness! Because the truth is, it’s not good enough.

You may even be the best of the best, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law… You know what Jesus said about them? Unless you righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law you will not enter the Kingdom of God.

Do you like how your slate looks now?

 

 

 

How Can I Improve?

Occasionally God interrupts my morning quiet time routine. These are exciting times and more often than not, I love to engage with Him in this. Today He presented a near-forgotten memory to my mind and asked me to ‘wrestle’ with Him over it. Bible down and prayer begins.

When I was a teenager and up till the age of 21, I used to ask this question very frequently: “How can I improve?”. I’d ask it after I’d lead a youth group session for my Church. I’d ask it after leading worship or preaching. I’d ask  it of my mentor whenever I’d lead a Bible study for the student group. I loved asking the question, and the feedback was so helpful and usually gave me insight for things I could actually improve.

Then one day, after a weekend away with new people, I asked it of my travel companions on the journey home…. I can remember what happened next, and it still makes me squirm!

There was a pretty long awkward silence, and one of my new-friends said ‘Paul, no offence, but that sounds like a pretty insecure question.’

I was mortified and backpaddled and defended and “clarified” myself and said lots of things to cover-up and refine the question I had asked so that it meant something different. But it was too late. I was exposed.

At the very least I was exposed to myself.

So I stopped asking the question. Completely. I stopped asking, because obviously I’m not an insecure person, I don’t need to ask this anymore. 

Four and half years later, God interrupts my Bible reading to flash this all in my mind again and asks me to deal with it with Him. My good Father reaches out to teach me and conform me even more into the Man after His heart who walks with His character and likeness.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. There were (at least) two motives behind my asking that question. I wanted to learn, I wanted to improve and I wanted to grow. I knew that it was right to give God my best and I wanted to, I wanted to be teachable and wanted to improve. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around mentors and leaders who invested in me, and could offer wisdom, insights and expertise and I was eager to extract as much as possible from them. But there was another motive at work: I wanted approval,  I wanted acceptance, I wanted to be seen a certain way. Obviously, I wanted the person I was asking to turn round and say “Improve?! Impossible, you did a fantastic job, better than me in fact, you are an amazing speaker/worship-leader/group discussion facilitator etc etc…” . I wanted this kind of approval. But not only this type… – In some twisted and “insecure” way I wanted the approval of being seen as a “self-aware” guy, who could take criticism (who even asked for it!), who was seeking to learn and grow.
  2.  There is an appropriate way to react when your motives are exposed, and I didn’t cotton on. My reaction was to stop asking the question “how can I improve?”, obviously with muddy-motives let’s stop all-together. Instead I think there is an alternative way to respond.
      • Thank God for using other people to expose hidden motives and areas of growth. Don’t lash out or, what I did, hide away. But thank God that He was using other people to sharpen.
      • Then face and evaluate the motives exposed. (They are probably there if you’re tempted to lash out or deny it strongly!) It might be that you need to repent from them. It might be that God wants to work on that area in your life right then and there, let Him speak truth into your life.
      • Then strive to move forward. This may look different depending on what the motives were. I once heard someone say “Your motives will never be completely pure, so don’t necessarily let them make the final decision” (take that with a pinch of salt). Striving to move forward will either look like:
        1.  Ditch the activity
        2.  Continue with the activity, but ask God to challenge and refine you so that the motive is cleared.

In my situation, I’ve decided that I will start asking the question again at appropriate times when I actually want to learn. But ask God to keep checking my heart and asking Him to bring healing to the insecurities.

 

 

Heroes of the Faith

And it’s Monday again, and it’s a bank holiday at that, so I’ve had another good long weekend. Feels like I’m getting a lot of time off work at the moment – which isn’t a bad thing. But I forced myself to write this on Monday evening again, trying to build a regular habit of posting, even though I probably could have done something this morning. I figure if it’s the same time every week it’s easier for me to create a “habit” out of it. Regular postings are key. Consistency is at least. Nevertheless, excuse my rustiness.

img_03511.jpgAnyway, it’s been an eventful bank holiday and I wanted to write about an amazing lunch I had on Sunday. We were invited to dinner with some real hero’s of the faith! Wolfgang and Beryl Stumpf. An older couple at our Church who have an amazing story to tell (in fact it’s so amazing he put it in a book, one I’d highly recommend!)

The Long View Forward

We’ve known this couple for years and Wolfgang in particular has had a giant impact in the way I live out my faith on a daily basis. When I was in youth group as a teenager, he came in  to deliver a session for us instead of the normal youth leader. He came in and shared about his personal devotional time. What he’d been doing for decades and decades!

Every morning he wakes up at 5am and reads his Bible and prays. To a wide-eyed teenager I was so convicted and challenged and awed at this man’s dedication to meeting with God. This was my target. And now as a 24 year old, I’m still doing it. Waking up early because some “old-person” in our Church told us that’s what he did to keep close to God. What an example to imitate! Let’s never be scared to talk about our devotional lives and what helps us connect with God with others’ because we don’t want to be perceived as proud, who knows what some eager listener might adopt as a result.

Anyway, long story short this couple spent a large amount of their lives in the middle east as missionaries. Now retired, they are still living out their faith passionately loving Jesus and providing themselves as a beautiful example for younger generations of disciples. I want to be like that when I’m old!

We really got to know them through their daughter and her husband who mentored us through our dating years and who now serve as missionaries in Egypt. Thank God for amazing role models, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without the example, mentoring and investment of a stream of amazing hero’s. Wolfgang preached at our wedding on a highly unconventional & difficult passage we’d given him (Rev 19:1-10)

We got to spend time with them again for lunch at theirs after church… and well, what hospitality, what interest they showed in us, what vulnerability in what they shared, what hope they displayed for the future and what love for Jesus…what legends!

 

Agenda Item #2  See the Value

So then, Jesus heals the woman. Whoopie! Everyone is delighted. The woman is praising God. The disciples are probably hi-fiving. “Here comes Revival!”. …Hang on a minute, the synagogue leader is not smiling…

“There are 6 days to work, come on one of those days to be healed” – he declares. Interestingly his accusation isn’t at Jesus, this time, it’s directed at the woman. I wonder if she had come on the other 6 days, I wonder if she had come and not been seen. I wonder if she’d been coming all her life and not been noticed. We don’t know. All we know, is that she came this Sabbath and Jesus saw her. Jesus saw her, He spoke to her, He touched her and healed her. And when the Synagogue leader accused her, He defended her.

“This woman, a daughter of Abraham, was bound…” He begins. Jesus doesn’t just see her, beyond (and above) His agenda, He sees her value. He sees her importance to God. A daughter of Abraham. As a daughter of Abraham, she was part of the fulfilment of God’s promise in Gen 12 to Abraham.

It’s not enough for us to just see the people in the way of our agendas, we need to see their value. We need to recognize their significance before God. As Christians, we believe that each human being is important to God. And that He gave His Son to save them (and us!)…

What values do we need to see

  • This Woman – Identity, personhood, characteristics…Who is the person before you, are they male or female, are the rich or poor. Are they loud and outgoing, or quiet and reserved. When we respect their differences, preferences, strengths and weaknesses – we will find it easier to value them. This will usually mean going beyond the stereotyping level.
  • A Daughter of Abraham – Their part in God’s story, their potential, their relationship to others…This isn’t always easy to see, but everyone is part of a larger tapestry. We should try to take into account their relationship to others, to God’s story and purposes. The most significant mentors in my life, didn’t just see where I was at currently, they saw my potential. They saw what God could do through me and encouraged me in it. This isn’t always possible with the stranger on the bus, or the lady at the checkout…not to know the inns and outs, but we don’t need to and it wouldn’t be right if we did without their permission. But to at least acknowledge, this is a person in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made.
  • Was bound – the battles that they face, the obstacles in their way…These may things God will urge us to intercede and help with, on the other hand they may be things which we need to factor into our relationship/relating to them. Someone once said, he wouldn’t judge someone until he had walked a few miles in their shoes. How much capacity for compassion, love, mercy and value we would have for someone if we were to recognize their struggle/s.

In order to discover value, we may have to ask questions. Ask questions and listen to responses. We will have to be tentative to what’s being said and why it’s being said. We probably will need to spend time getting beyond a first impression.

One thing is for sure, Jesus saw her value immediately. The more time we spend in the Fathers presence, the closer our intimacy is with Him, the greater the love which has been sown into our eyes – the easier it will be to perceive value.

LOVE-BY-THE-PALETTE

 

Agenda Item #1 See the person

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We all have agendas, some of them are big and important, some a small and silly.

We set ourselves an agenda each week when we go shopping. We look at our watches, outside the doors of aldi, and we see if we can make it round the shop, past the checkouts and back out the door in less than 20mins. Shopping shouldn’t take that long should it? So we set our self the target of getting it done quick.

The thing with agenda’s is that people often get in the way of them. There’s that family with kids running around the aisles blocking your path. There’s the old lady with a walking stick – whose left her basket in between you and your goal (Why is she using a basket if she’s got a walking stick!?) Then there’s that lady at the checkout who is nattering away, like she’s the most sociable woman in the world – totally distracting the customer who is in my way, and also seeming to enjoy a superficial conversation with a stranger!

It’s silly when you put it like this but we all have them – agendas. Whether they’re work related: closing the deal, finishing the project, getting the promotion. Family related? Having dinner together, date nights, movie nights, playing a game of monopoly (and winning it!) Or maybe even “spiritual agendas”: getting to church on time, reading my bible each day or leading the music worship on Sunday…writing a blog etc.

The thing about agenda’s is that they can often make us blind, blind to people.

There is a story in the Bible (Luke 13:10-17) about Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, – anyone who is a teacher or has done teaching will know that you teach with an agenda. They’re called “learning objectives”/L.Os – we had to write them out as school kids, so that we knew what the teacher wanted us to learn. Jesus had an agenda this Sabbath, He wanted people to learn something. But despite His agenda, he saw a woman in the crowd who was suffering. He called her out and healed her. This messed with the agenda of the synagogue leader – who’s agenda it was to make people feel guilty and bad about themselves (joke!) – his agenda was keeping the Sabbath sacred.

Both these agendas are important. Teaching is important (hence the effort that goes into schools in this country: maintaining them, training teachers, inspecting them etc). Keeping the Sabbath is important (it’s the 4th 10 commandment)! But the difference between Jesus and the Synagogue Leader in this story, is that Jesus wasn’t blinded by His agenda. He could see the woman in need.

Who is the person, who are the people – God wants you to see? They may be the very people in the way of your agenda.

 

Plank?

There is a famous story Jesus gives us in the gospels, well, it’s not really a story, it’s more of a word picture that I think we all know but that we all tend to forget. Either we forget it, or we assume, it doesn’t apply to us. On the other hand, ironically, we’re all really good at spotting the specific person who needs to remember the lesson. We can easily spot planks in each other’s eyes – it’s obvious – it’s a plank – and they’ve got it in their eye. Let me just point it out to them. Or maybe if we’re not so bold, we won’t point it out to them, we’ll point it out to ourselves: hey look, we don’t need to listen to what that guy/girls saying because they’ve got a plank in their eye.

We all go round happily plank-hunting. Who’s got the biggest plank in their eye. It’s like where’s wally, but with planks. Wait, I see another one right over there. Yep, you’ve got one two. Hey, look, I think you need to hear the story about the guy with the plank in his eye – that’s you that is. We even plank hunt, plank hunters….Hey, you, yes you, you’re clearly looking for planks in people’s eyes!

Of course, we don’t see the plank in our own eye. That’s why it’s easy and fun for me to write a blog about you-all to get the planks out of your eyes. But me…

Maybe, if we spot the planks in our eye, we’d find the instruction in James: to be slow to speak and quick to listen, a lot easier.

Maybe, we’d have a lot less ‘how to’ videos, books, blogs and podcasts and a lot more humility?

Maybe, we’d be able to hear Jesus’ word to us and not just for our friends, family, colleagues and the-people-we-don’t-like-so-much-or-agree with.

Maybe…we’d have a more united church?

Maybe…I would be more merciful, loving, caring and honoring.

log-eye

Systematic Theology 10: The Knowability of God

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Forcing myself to get this up and posted. Thanks to everyone who ‘liked’ the previous post – not that I’m doing this for the approval. Because that would be vain of me 😉 and we all know that is not a pitfall battle for me! ;P But, seriously, it is actually encouraging to get the likes, especially on such a mammoth task as this.

Chapter 10, part 2 of 11 chapters on the Doctrine of God. And I am feeling pretty motivated to get it finished by end of February. That, is a tall order. But it’s worth setting targets.

So, if the previous post/chapter was trying to explain how we can know that God exists. This chapter seems to be building on it, can we really know God and how much of Him can we know. In short, we can know a lot about God, but not all there is (because He’s infinite!). We can know specific things about Him, but not the complete depths of those specific things. Not only can we know things about Him, but we can also know Him as a Person.

What did I like about this chapter?

  1. We can never fully understand God! He is so big, so infinite, so deep and wide we’ll never know too much or know completely. Even in Heaven when sin isn’t affecting us. The Bible is clear: God’s vastness is not fully comprehensible, partly because of sin, but also partly because of His greatness! (Grudem acknowledges an argument against this rooted in 1 Cor 13.12 “now I know in part, than I shall understand fully“….But he says the phrase “know fully” is simply an attempt to translate the word epiginosko, which suggest deeper or more accurate knowledge. Simply looking at Psalm 145.3 and other verses like this should clear up confusion. ‘the passages…attribute God’s incomprehensibility not to our sinfulness but to His infinite greatness p.151)… This makes it fantastic for someone who has a intellectual spiritual pathway to God, like me (!), to know that I can keep studying God’s word and meeting with Him and never get bored! Furthermore, it means that there will very likely be things about God that every other Christian will be able to teach me. This keeps me humble and reminds me to be teachable!
  2. I get excited that not only can we know about Him, like a superhero and famous leader, but we can also get to know Him. Real personally, He is our Abba. In fact, we’re told we should boast that we know Him. We are encourage in Scripture to boast that we know God. How awesome is that! God is my Father, I speak to Him on a daily basis! He knows me, and I know Him! This is amazing! It is also a challenging reminder, whenever my study is invested more in knowing about Him than actually knowing Him personally. May my study always be centered and rooted in prayer!
  3. Finally, even though I can’t know God fully, I can know Him truly. I know that He is love (1 John 4.8), light (1 John 1:5), Spirit (John 4.24) and Righteous (Rom 3.26). I know that He loves the world and has made me. I know that He works all things together for my good. I may not know everything, but I do know that He does. He reveals Himself to me through scripture, nature and His Spirit and I get to respond.

 

 

 

Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

Long time coming, maybe we’ll be able to hammer out a bit more consistency over the next few weeks. Who knows. It’s only me putting this pressure on myself to finish the book by the end of 2019. But if that goal is to become a reality we need to pick up our pace. Like seriously.

Doctrine 2, once we’ve passed this section, I’ll be able to say, along with Samwise Gamgee, that this is the furthest I’ve ever been…on the road to finishing Grudem’s book and I’ll be covering *new* ground! Whoopie!

So Chapter 9 The Existence of God, answering the question: How do we know that God exists. I trust no one is on this blog actually hoping to be convinced that God exists by me, because I’m not that clever. But the Bible is compelling and the Holy Spirit at work when we read the Bible is powerfully compelling, so watch out hard-core atheists….(See I still remember what was covered before, it’s not gone over my head.)

Obviously, I’m not going to go through the reasons given in depth, but the 3 main reasons given are 1) Inner Sense of God, 2) a – Evidence in Scripture b- Evidence in Creation, 3) Traditional Proofs (all the x-ological and y-ality arguments you’ve probably heard about in RE classes at school.

What did I like about this chapter:

  • I love that Nature tells of God. The heavens declare the glory of God, writes the Psalmist (19.1-2). As someone who saw Louie Giglio’s talk on if the earth were a golfball and Indescribable, I am convinced that creation speaks of God’s existence. I think the reason it stood out to me in reading, was because I’ve recently tried to incorporate walks in nature into my devotional life. I’ve had some fantastic moments with God doing this.
  • The traditional proofs, make sense, even though there are arguments that find faults in these arguments. Which I understand. However Grudem says that these “proofs” are limited in their ability to compel. I know this goes without saying, but for me this really emphasises the importance of Scripture and God’s power to bring about faith! This is cool, because it means we don’t get to boast that we came to faith because we’re clever, Grace disqualifies us of boasting!
  • Grudem refers to one of my most favourite Bible verses at the end of this chapter, 1 Cor 2.5. The whole chapter unpacks how God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and emphasises our need of God to overcome the blinding effects of sin and enabling us to believe in His existence.