James 2:17-18 (NIV)
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Thank you to the many, many people who live out their faith among us in a myriad of ways. Showing your faith by what you do. Actively serving the kingdom of God.
The mums and dads. Grandparents. Foster carers and adopters. Businessmen and women. Carers and healthcare professionals. The factory workers and the teachers. Those that show hospitality and kindness. Those that look out for the interests of others.
The chair stackers and the coffee servers and the children’s workers. The greeters and the meeters and the smilers and the encouragers. The Elders and the leaders. The cleaners and the connecters. The door openers and the technical whizzes. The prayers and the walkers and the talkers. The counsellors and the listeners. The givers and the sharers.
Thank you to the visitors, the phone callers, the shoppers. The gardeners and decorators. The basement clearers. Good neighbours. The turner-uppers, the offering-takers, communion-preparers, worshipers, dog-walkers, child-carers, lift-givers, bed-makers, cake-bakers, soup givers, street pastors, addiction counsellors, small group leaders, tea makers, Alpha course hosts, washer-uppers, food preparers, administrators, youth workers, debt counsellors, graphic designers, toilet cleaners, drain clearers, window cleaners, child sponsors, hamper packers, food givers…
Feel free to add your own in the comments section below….
Thank you for every act of kindness and service and ministry and faith – seen and unseen.
Though nothing really goes unseen.
This is living faith.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
James 1:22-25 (NIV)
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
Here is how to be blessed. Happy. Content. Joyful.
Look intently into the scriptures. Meditate on them. Gnaw over them like a dog with a good bone. Chew on them. Turn them around in your mind. Look at them from different angles. Use different words and pictures. Think about them while you are lying in bed and driving to work and going into key meetings and facing temptation and doing nothing much.
This is not a glance or a quick skim read. Forgetting what you have read even before you snap your Bible shut and gulp down your coffee.
This can’t be done in a hurry. It is slow work. Deliberate work.
Continue in these words. Night and day. Let these words go to your heart and thrive there. Let them accompany you throughout the day, into the evening, as you go to bed. Not just for a 15-minute quiet time, but let them seep into your day, leak into your leisure, be a part of who you are and what you do and where you go and what you say.
Don’t compartmentalise. God wants to be in your working and sleeping and eating and playing and resting and laughing and crying and thinking and reading and walking and driving and TV watching.
This is a lifestyle. Not a legal requirement.
Don’t forget what you have heard, what you have read, what you have listened to, what you have watched. Write it down. Pray it out. Recall it. Remember it. Tell someone else about it.
This kind of life will inform your every decision, your actions, the way you respond to your boss, the way you handle your money, the way you treat people.
What you are doing in these 40 days is setting you up for a life like this. You are learning to meditate and look intently into God’s word, you are continuing in it, you are not forgetting it, you are doing it!
You won’t feel all the benefits immediately. You will have off days, can’t be bothered days, discouraged days, frustrated days.
But if you continue along this path – you will experience greater freedom and you will be blessed!
James 1:19-20 (NIV)
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Shut up and listen.
This is important.
We’re all good at talking but not so much at listening. It is really hard to find people that really listen well, that ask intelligent questions, that reflect on what you are saying and that show genuine interest in others and what they have to say.
Try to be one of those people.
Someone who isn’t always bursting to give their opinion, their remedy, their answer, even before the other person has finished formulating what they have to say.
Listen and listen well. Look the person in the eye. Try to understand what they are really saying, and maybe what they are not saying, but what they mean. Be quick to do this. Be ready to do this. You will be amazed what you can learn when you listen well to people.
Be a good listener. Be an interested listener. Be an inquisitive listener.
And don’t feel that you have to give an opinion on everything. Don’t interrupt people mid-flow. Don’t be the wise guy who has all the answers. Don’t be a bore. Show a little conversational humility. Be a little slower to speak.
There is something very attractive, very winsome, and very rare about people who are genuinely interested in you.
Be one of those people.
And while we are talking about slowing down, be a little slower in coming to the boil as well.
Watch your temper.
You don’t have to react every time someone cuts you off in traffic. You don’t have to shout and gesticulate and come out with those choice words.
Don’t be so quick to lose your temper. Slow down.
A little more grace with your children, more kindness and consideration with your husband or your wife or your colleague. Don’t be so quick to believe the worst about others, stop taking offence.
This isn’t the way to live as a Christian – it is not pleasing to God. It’s not right.
Be slow to get angry.
My dear brothers and sisters…become a better listener, a more considered conversationalist, a more patient person – this is what God wants.
It’s a bit like a dance really. Quick…slow…slow. Quick…slow…slow.
We need to keep learning these dance steps, these rhythms of grace.
James 1:2-4 (NIV)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.”
“Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God.”
As hard as it is to believe, difficult times are often times of great blessing when God does very rich things in our lives, when he strengthens the very fibre of who we are, and strips us back to an irreducible core that depends wholly on God. Times like these help us to grow up and grow strong in our faith. They develop stickability in us, spiritual strength and mental toughness – we grow from being young spindly trees to solid oaks, deeply rooted in maturity, wise in our poverty and strong in our weakness.
Is this what Jesus was talking about when he said “blessed are those who mourn….blessed are the poor in spirit….blessed are those who are persecuted…blessed are you when people insult you”?
Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase says that we should consider such times as “a gift”.
But before we get carried away here, this passage is not saying that we should love pain and suffering, and welcome them as our best friends. This is not some mind-over-matter, masochistic, positive thinking claptrap.
Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before him.
If we follow the line of these verses we see a “because” and a “so that” phrase. “Consider it pure joy ...whenever you face trials….because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance….Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete…”
As Elizabeth Elliot writes:
“Suffering is the Christian’s boot camp. Those who are preparing to be soldiers must give evidence that they’ve got what it takes. A gruelling course of endurance tests is set for them. Some survive and some don’t. Some decide early in the game that it’s not really worth it, and they drop out. In his wonderful chapter about grace, Romans 5, Paul tells us that we’ve entered the sphere of God’s grace and can therefore exult in the hope of the divine splendour that is to be ours. “More than this, let us even exult in our present sufferings, because we know that suffering trains us to endure” (v. 3).”
“The apostle Peter writes, “My friends, do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you, as though it were something extraordinary. It gives you a share in Christ’s sufferings, and that is cause for joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NEB). When we remember that Peter was writing his letter to exiles, we can try to imagine all the various kinds of suffering that were involved for them. They had been banished from their homes, separated from their loved ones, and cut off from their livelihoods, all through no fault of their own. Their children had forgotten the homelands cherished in their parents’ memories. Some had died. Peter had been through a few mills himself, and understood deeply how they were feeling and the quite natural human tendency to be bewildered when you’re in the middle of trouble. Don’t be, he says. He does not deny that it is “fiery.” He calls it an ordeal. That’s honest. But he tells them it’s nothing out of the ordinary. It is what all of us ought to expect in one form or another, as long as we’re following Jesus. What else should we expect? Jesus said we would have to give up the right to ourselves, take up His cross, and follow. He said we would have to enter the Kingdom of God “through much tribulation.” (The Elizabeth Elliot Newsletter© 2002 by Elisabeth Elliot Gren)
The resurrection (Mark 16:1-20)
“The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection.” (Eugene Peterson)
Thank you all for your continued feedback and comments, whether on the blog or via email or in conversation. I am not responding individually to the various comments on the blog, otherwise I wouldn’t get any other work done! But I am reading them all carefully and digesting and enjoying them!
Like some of you, I’ve struggled on a couple of days to spend time on this as I want to – I’ve lost my rhythm, gotten busy or distracted, or rushed things. But that’s okay. This is a relationship, not a religious ritual. And I am looking to develop a very strong habit of living in God’s word continually and making it a number one priority – way beyond 40 days.
The week after 40 days finishes, we will spend a Sunday asking the question “What next?” to make sure that we all press in and continue to develop this habit we are nurturing and developing in our lives. We don’t want to lose the ground that we have won. We will be putting together some further resources to help people. If you have materials that you have used and found helpful, drop me a line and let me know.
Last week I attended a funeral. I don’t like funerals. And I hate crematoria. There is nothing much about death and its surroundings to like.
I had a dream the other week. In the dream I was talking with someone that I know who has recently died. It was very vivid. I heard the words in the dream spoken by the angels to the women at the tomb: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
He is not here. He is risen.
The women in this story are coming to tend a tomb and a dead body. Instead they find an empty tomb and an angel who informs them that Jesus is not there, he is not dead; he has risen.
“The Bible …is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death…”
“It is the story of resurrection.”
Jesus was the first. We who are Christ-followers will follow him through death into resurrected life.
Death is not the last word.
But if we are looking at application (and we are), how do we actually live the resurrection life here on earth, here and now? I’ll let Eugene Peterson say it, as he says it so well…
“Resurrection takes place in the country of death.
The land of the living is obviously not a vacation paradise. It's more like a war zone. And that's where we Christians are stationed to affirm the primacy of life over death, to give a witness to the connectedness and preciousness of all life, to engage in the practice of resurrection.
We do this by gathering in congregations and regular worship before our life-giving God and our death-defeating Christ and our life-abounding Holy Spirit. We do it by reading, pondering, teaching, and preaching the Word of Life as it is revealed in our Scriptures. We do it by baptizing men, women, and children in the name of the Trinity, nurturing them into a resurrection life. We do it by eating the life of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We do it by visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, working for justice, loving our enemies, raising our children, doing our everyday work to the glory of God.”
Where there is death and hopelessness and the tending of a tomb, may you encounter the risen Christ today! May you know the power and the hope and the glory of the resurrection life in all that you do.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead…” (Eph. 1:18-20)
The crucifixion (Mark 15:33-39)
Congratulations! You are half way!
Half way is a good point to pause and reflect. How is 40 Days of the Word going for you? Are you finding your rhythm and looking forward to the daily readings and opening God’s word afresh every day? Are you struggling a little bit and losing pace and starting to drop back? Have you got left behind a little bit and are thinking of throwing in the towel? Have you been surprised by how much you have got out of this process and have felt yourself moving from duty to delight?
Why don’t you write some of your experiences so far in the Comments section below? The good, the bad, and the ugly! Be honest!
So far we have looked at three methods: 1) Pronounce it! – reading a verse or line of scripture slowly out loud, repeating it several times, and placing emphasis on the different words and their meanings. 2) Picture it! – placing yourself in the story as one or more of the characters, thinking about the scene, the characters, the emotions, the senses, and letting God speak to you through this experience 3) Probe it! – using the SPACEPETS acrostic to probe the text and see how you can apply it in your own life.
You will probably prefer some methods over others, and we still have three more to try out! We are all different and will find that some methods work better for us than others. But the goal remains the same: to love the word, to learn the word and to live the word. I hope that this journey is helping you do that, and renewing your sense that God can and wants to speak to you through his living word!
This being half way, now is a good time to make any mid-course corrections needed to get the most out of the second half! Are you creating the space and time to engage properly with God and his word? Are you “seeking first the Kingdom of God” and prioritising this time over and above everything else? Are you expectant that God will speak to you? Do you need to redouble your efforts?
Whether you are flying, or struggling a bit, take it from today! If you have fallen off the bike, get back on! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Remember that he works in us to give us the desire and the power to do his will.
You are God’s child – he loves spending time with you, and he loves your flawed efforts at spending time with him!
Be encouraged. Be inspired.
You are already half way there!
A woman anoints Jesus with perfume (Mark 14:3-9)
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Today is Sunday and we gather together to worship.
It’s easy to judge others who worship in a way that is different to you. In a quieter way. In a more exuberant way. Here we see the disciples and others rebuking a woman for pouring expensive perfume over Jesus in an act of sacrificial worship. Jesus gives them a good telling off! I think that we sometimes believe that people should worship Jesus the way that we do, and we can end up judging people for their exuberance, their silence, their different approach to Jesus than ours.
In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas uses biblical figures, historical church movements and various personality temperaments, to describe nine different ways in which people worship and relate to God:
• Naturalists love God out of doors. They would much rather pray by a stream, walk along a beach, or wander through a forest.
• Sensates love God with their senses. They are drawn to the liturgical, the majestic, the grand.
• Traditionalists love God through ritual and symbol. They are fed by historic dimensions of faith: rituals, symbols, sacraments, and sacrifice.
• Ascetics love God in solitude and simplicity. Let there be nothing to distract them — no pictures, no loud music — and leave them alone to live in silence and simplicity.
• Activists love God through doing things. They are energized by interaction with others and by getting things done.
• Caregivers love God by loving others. They serve God by serving others.
• Enthusiasts love God with mystery and celebration. They are cheerleaders for God and the Christian life. They don’t want to just know concepts, but to experience them, to feel them, and to be moved by them.
• Contemplatives love God through adoration. They seek to love God with the purest, deepest and brightest love imaginable.
• Intellectuals love God with their minds. They might be sceptics or committed believers, but in either case they are likely to be studying doctrines, issues, or concepts.
We will all resonate with some of these more than others. The danger is that we think our pathway, our wiring, our approach is better than others, or that others should worship Jesus like we do. We can, like the disciples in this story, become a little self-righteous and judgmental.
Alternatively, we can learn from others who are different to us and enjoy the richness and diversity of the body of Christ, from the activists to the contemplatives, the ascetics to the enthusiasts.
The call and command to each one of us is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength and all our mind!
We must forgive to be forgiven (Mark 11:25)
This is definitely territory where application is hard and challenging, but ultimately healing and liberating.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him…”
There are no caveats, exemptions, small print, ifs, buts or maybes in this statement by Jesus. There is not a separate clause for those who have been especially sinned against, abused, misused or mistreated.
“If you hold anything against anyone…”
“Yes, but, you don’t know what they did to me”.
“Yes, but, they are not sorry for what they did.”
“Yes, but, I am not going to just let them off the hook like that.”
“Yes, but, they will never change….they have hurt me so often.”
“Yes, but, what they did was too evil to forgive.”
Forgiveness sets us free. It is what we are holding in our hand, in our heart, that is holding us back, that is poisoning us. Forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook, it is not a lack of judgment, it is not minimising guilt or wrong. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation, though it is wonderful if relationships can be restored. Forgiveness does not require the other person to admit their guilt, or to feel sorry for what they have done. Forgiveness frees you. Forgiveness heals you. Forgiveness allows you to open your hand and your heart and to receive fresh life and joy.
It doesn’t necessarily come easily. It often takes time and it shouldn’t be rushed. We need God’s help and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and often the support and counsel of others.
But we need to forgive, so that we may be healed, and so that the way is cleared for us to receive forgiveness from our heavenly Father. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” If God counted our sin against us, who could stand? Who could pay their debt?
We know this. We have heard it many times.
And yet how many times do we see people refusing to forgive others in church, or in their family, or circle of friends? How many times do we hold grudges, and keep records, and nurture our pain and our anger?
Jesus challenges us head on.
“If you hold anything against anyone…. forgive.”
If you want to dig deeper into this subject, the best two books I have read by far are by the author Lewis Smedes: “Forgive and forget?” and “The art of forgiveness”.
Jesus meets the rich young man – Mark 10:17-31
Following on from Pastor Jimmie Davidson’s thoughts on Psalm 1 and meditation, and opening our mouth and having God fill it in today’s video devotional, here is a quote from Eugene Peterson’s book: “Eat this Book” on the subject of meditation, which is what we are learning to do in these 40 days:
“Years ago I owned a dog who had a fondness for large bones. Fortunately for him we lived in the forested foothills of Montana. In his forest rambles he often came across a carcass of a white-tailed deer that had been brought down by the coyotes. Later he would show up on our stone, lakeside patio carrying or dragging his trophy, usually a shank or a rib; he was a small dog and the bone was often nearly as large as he was.
Anyone who has owned a dog knows the routine: he would prance and gambol playfully before us with his prize, wagging his tail, proud of his find, courting our approval. And of course, we approved: we lavished praise, telling him what a good dog he was. But after a while, sated with our applause, he would drag the bone off twenty yards or so to a more private place, usually the shade of a large moss-covered boulder, and go to work on the bone. The social aspects of the bone were behind him; now the pleasure became solitary. He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we could hear a low rumble or growl, what in a cat would be a purr. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again. An average bone lasted about a week.
I always took delight in my dog's delight, his playful seriousness, his childlike spontaneities now totally absorbed in "the one thing needful." But imagine my further delight in coming upon a phrase one day while reading Isaiah in which I found the poet-prophet observing something similar to what I enjoyed so much in my dog, except that his animal was a lion instead of a dog: "As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey … " (Isa. 31:4). "Growls" is the word that caught my attention and brought me that little "pop" of delight. What my dog did over his precious bone, making those low throaty rumbles of pleasure as he gnawed, enjoyed, and savored his prize, Isaiah's lion did to his prey. The nugget of my delight was noticing the Hebrew word here translated as "growl" (hagah) but usually translated as "meditate," as in the Psalm 1 phrase describing the blessed man or woman whose "delight is in the law of the LORD," on which "he meditates day and night" (v. 2).”
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God? (Mark 9:33-35)
Long before Muhammad Ali made it his catchphrase, “I am the greatest” was on the lips of Jesus’ disciples as they argued about who was preeminent among them. Jesus asks them, Columbo-like, as they enter the house in Capernaum…. “What were you talking about on the road?” The next sentence is so pregnant with embarrassment, it’s almost comical. “But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” Jesus looks quizzically around the room. All eyes are on the floor. A few people shift uneasily. Jesus has nailed them and they know it. He calls the twelve together and he says: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all. “And then, to reinforce what he is saying, Jesus takes a little child and he tells the disciples that the way they treat this child, the least among them, is ultimately the way that they treat God.
More tea anyone?
How’s that going for you? Being the very last, and the servant of all. It’s easy to serve some people. They are so grateful and gracious and appreciative. Others less so. I remember hearing someone say, “it’s easy to be a servant until someone actually treats you like one.” Some people are so unappreciative. Some people actually treat you like their servant. Like it’s their right to be served! Some people are hard to love and serve. Some people are takers and not givers. It doesn’t take very long for the “Martha syndrome” to kick in as we work and serve and see that there are others who are doing “jack all”!
But Jesus challenges us to be “the very last” and to be the “servant of all.” And he reminds us all that ministering to children, to the least, to the seemingly insignificant, is like ministering to God! (Kidzone, Kidz Klub, Source workers, parents, foster parents – be encouraged!)
The concept, the idea, the general theme of being a servant to others, has a warm glow about it. “I just want to be a servant leader”. The reality is much more gritty and a tad bit more challenging.
Is there somewhere that you are straining for position, for recognition, for appreciation? We are definitely less brazen and obvious about it than Muhammad Ali, and even the early disciples. But we are still prone to the same disease of pride!
Where can you put this into practice today or this week?
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”