Monday, July 29, 2013

Why don't we give freely?

In Acts we see the church community in action like I think we'd all agree - even if we follow with a lot of buts and qualifiers - that the church is meant to be.

There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. They sold any possessions and goods that did not benefit the community and used the money to help everyone in need. Acts 2:44-45

Why don't we see that? Why don't we share much of anything at all other than maybe a meal with a strictly controlled guest list, let alone everything we own?

One factor is definitely that we see our stuff as ours, that we worked for and paid for ourselves, and why should we give it to people who didn't do anything to earn it?

We forget that we live in God's house, so everything we have is really His anyway.

But more than that, I think it's because we are afraid.

I think I find it easy - relatively - to remember that all I have is from God. But I still don't want to share my iPad. Why? Because while I think that God provided for me once, I have trouble believing he'll do it again.

We live in fear. What if the money runs out? What if I lose my job? What if the car breaks down? What if someone burrows my stuff and breaks it - I might not ever get another one.

When I had a proliferation of baby clothes that my daughter had already grown out of - many unworn - my first thought was eBay. Maybe I could get some money for things I didn't need. The clothes were all gifts in the first place, but the justification ran through my head - 'we've got a new baby, I'm not working, we need the money.'

I was afraid.

Then God nudged me, and I realised how blessed I had been to not have to buy a single piece of clothing for the baby myself. Not everyone has that kind of support. And so I decided that I would rather donate all that clothing to women who might really need it because it would come from no other source.

This idea was met with less enthusiasm from others than I expected. They were afraid too. The idea of giving it all away seemed like too much - 'what if you have another baby? What if you need it?'

Momentarily I nearly gave in to the fear. 'Maybe I shouldn't give it all,' I thought. 'Maybe I'll keep enough to clothe another baby just in case I happen to have another baby and its a girl and its summer and I desperately need clothes for her...'

And then I realised I had nothing to fear.

And not just because the family and friends who bought me gifts last time will still be there to support me next time.

But because I choose to believe that God is faithful. That Jesus meant it when he said "My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom.
That means you can sell your possessions and give generously to the poor." Luke 12:32-33

The baby clothes are just practise. And I hope that I am learning how to have faith so that when it comes to giving away all I have - my money, house, time - I can do it without fear.

You can start practising too. Find little things to give and share, even if you're worried you might lose out.

And how do you overcome the fear of what it will mean to give? Perfect love drives out fear. Seek God and His love, and with your eyes on Him, your 'stuff' won't matter. In fact, giving away your money will be a joy not a fear.

I know I've got a long way to go before I get there, but I know deep down my spirit rejoices in the love of God so much that I'd have joy living in the mud with nothing to my name if it meant love and life with the body of Christ.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Where is your treasure?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34

Where is your treasure? Or in other words, where is your money? What do you spend it on? And in a society where time is also valuable, what do you spend your time on?

Because that will say a lot about where your heart is. Where your priorities are, what your focus is.

In a society where a lot of our time is spent earning money, and that money is then spent on ourselves, I'm not sure that says anything good about our hearts.

Plenty of people will right about now be saying, 'But I earn money to support my family - that's where my heart is.' True, and that's not wrong but I would like to challenge a lot if people to think about the lifestyle they are paying for and whether that is really what their family needs?

My instinct is to tread carefully here, to not upset anyone or make anyone feel bad about earning money or having nice things.

But then another part of me - an increasingly stronger part - starts to feel sick at the disgusting excess in our culture. The selfish state of our lives and hearts. The hypocritical political correctness that prevents us from talking about money while so many suffer.

We are storing up treasures for ourselves here on earth, like that is going to get us somewhere.

'Planning for the future' is not even an excuse. Because most of us are doing it out of fear, the opposite of trusting God - I need my money. I need to take care of me, or who else will?

We spend our time and money on ourselves, on gluttonous businesses without regard for those trampled on to supply them, on building up our wealthy, secure indulgent lives...

We have no time left over for real community. For giving generously to others. For lavishing love. For nurturing relationships.

Where are we storing up our treasure? Is your heart focused on yourself or the kingdom of God?

Don't be afraid. Don't conform to what is expected in our self-centred society. Don't justify or make excuses. Examine yourself. Make room in your heart and life for the ways of God, no matter the sacrifice of time, money or desires for yourself and see the heavenly results. You might just have a change of heart....

Don’t reduce your life to the pursuit of food and drink; don’t let your mind be filled with anxiety. People of the world who don’t know God pursue these things, but you have a Father caring for you, a Father who knows all your needs.
Since you don’t need to worry—about security and safety, about food and clothing— then pursue God’s kingdom first and foremost, and these other things will come to you as well.
My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom.
That means you can sell your possessions and give generously to the poor. You can have a different kind of savings plan:one that never depreciates, one that never defaults, one that can’t be plundered by crooks or destroyed by natural calamities.

Your treasure will be stored in the heavens, and since your treasure is there, your heart will be lodged there as well.

I’m not just talking theory. There is urgency in all this.

Luke 12:29-36

Friday, July 19, 2013

Faith Muscle Rehabilitation

If anyone has been bed ridden or sedentary after a long illness or bad injury, often they will need some sort of physiotherapy to rehabilitate their muscles. After not being used, muscles atrophy and it can be difficult to make them function normally and with any degree of strength again. I noticed it when I was pregnant and had a long bout of morning sickness that left me bed ridden for a couple of months. Afterwards I found it difficult to do even simple things because my legs were so weak, let alone more strenuous exercise. I didn't do much in particular to strengthen my muscles again due to a combination of laziness and preoccupation with a new baby, but I probably should have. It's taken the better part of a year to feel back to normal, whereas with proper exercises and training it may have only taken a couple of months.

Our faith & love muscles have atrophied. I feel like I'm harping on about the negatives of the western world, but I think out insulated lives have a lot to answer for when it comes to our faith, or lack of it.

I'm not discounting anyone's suffering - there's a lot of very real pain no matter where you are in the world. I just mean that there's a lot we can turn to and rely on before we consider God as our best and only option. It's very easy and all too tempting to become self centred, for life to become all about us and how people treat us, and what others do for us.

We don't have all that much opportunity to exercise our faith and love. Not in real, deep, til-it-hurts kinds of ways. Our faith and love are languishing and need some rehabilitation. We need to start actively seeking ways to use them, and it needs to go beyond the day to day.

Sure, buy someone some flowers. That's nice. But it will be a long slow road to powerful love if that's the extent of our exercise.

If we want real change, real heart revival, real and powerful faith, we need a bit of hardcore physiotherapy. Something that extends us, challenges us, maybe even hurts a little.

Jesus didn't go around giving people flowers and writing get well cards. He healed them.

'They'll know we are Christians by our love' doesn't mean 'by how nice we are'. The love of God goes hand in hand with power.

We need to exercise the love of God in us - we are not meant to be so weak and feeble when it comes to faith and love. And we can't do it alone either. The body is meant to work together. The hand can't move without the arm. What use is a strong foot without a strong leg?

Time for some serious love rehab.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rich or pathetic?

Last time I wrote about how we, the western world, have told God we don't need Him, that we can do it ourselves, and is it any wonder that we feel like we are on our own?

God doesn't force His way in if we've told Him to stay out of our lives - he'll never leave us, and will continue to draw us back - but He gives us the free will to say no to Him. And we've said no so often and so loudly that I think many of us don't even know how to 'need' God anymore.

When Jesus said its easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, he wasn't saying people with money can't go to heaven - he was pointing out how many obstacles get in the way of us recognising our need and putting God in his true place when we have wealth to rely on.

Consider a person crushed by sickness and poverty. If someone comes and says "I can pray for you and God will heal you", how much nearer are they to the point of saying "Yes, I need God. I've got nowhere else to turn." We, with our profuse wealth and health and safety, don't know what it means to have nowhere else to turn.

At least we think we don't. Intellectually we may know we 'need' God, but most of us are looking at our lives with earthly eyes, and even though we say it, deep down do we really believe it? Are you really relying on God, or are you relying on your prosperity and praying to God that you never lose it.

That's a dangerous position to be in. Because with earthly eyes you are fine and dandy, but that's not what God sees with. "I know your works. You are neither cold with apathy nor hot with passion. It would be better if you were one or the other, but you are neither. So because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. You claim, 'I am rich, I have accumulated riches, and I need nothing'; but you do not realize that you are miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.

Does that prick your pride? Does it make you defensive to be called pathetic and wretched? Not that we need to dwell on our lack, but it's something to think about when we are tempted to look to ourselves rather than Christ.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We've told God we don't need Him

Sometimes we hear of amazing miracles happening in third world places like the deaf hearing again, the blind seeing, the dead being raised, and we (the western world mainly) wonder - if that stuff is all real, then why don't we see it here too? If God's the same everywhere and in every time, why don't miracles like that happen more here?

Why doesn't God show up?

But let's think about what we have been saying to God...

Have we been worshipping Him with our lives? Have we been devoting ourselves to Him? Have we been telling Him how much we need Him and acknowledging that everything comes from Him?

Or have we been keeping Him at arms length? Have we been paying Him lip service, while going our own way?

We've told Him to stay away. We've told Him we don't need Him. We've told Him we can do it ourselves. And he's let us.

We wonder why God doesn't show up more, but He's just doing what we've asked Him to do.

We think it's too big of an ask to devote our lives to God, because we feel like we'll have to give up too much. So we'd rather go it on our own.

We rely on our own health system, our brains, our safety, our prosperity and wealth. What do we need God for? He might just ask us to give some of it up.

I can't convince anyone of their need for God alone - that comes from each of us, from our hearts to God.

And you can choose to give your life over to God now, even while you prosper, even while you seem to be ok on your own. Or you can do it the hard way, when the trouble comes.

What is going to sustain you when the things of the world crumble? When these things fade away and you realise God upheld it all, and you were putting your hope in the temporary, decaying things, the things of earth instead of the things of God's kingdom.

"O how bad it will be for you who look to the south
to Egypt for help and depend on her horses,
Who trust in its many chariots and fix your hopes on its strong drivers.
Yet you do not look to the Holy One of Israel for relief
or even bother to consult Him.
God is both wise and willing to wreak disaster;
He does not second guess Himself or backtrack on what He says.
God will amass all divine power against those who do evil
and against whoever aids and abets them.
As for Egypt, why do you rely on them?
They are great, yes,
but merely human, not God—their steeds just creatures, not spirits.
But when the Eternal reaches out and makes His power felt,
those who lent their help will stumble; those who looked for help will fall.
Together they will be routed and killed."
Isaiah 31:1-4

Monday, July 1, 2013

The devil wants to keep you from praying any way he can

The devil wants to do whatever he can to keep you from praying.

He wants you to think you're too tired, busy or full of doubt to pray.

And if he can't keep you from praying all together, he wants you to be weak in prayer, to think it doesn't work or Gods not listening or he's too far away.

He wants to do anything he can to keep you from the kind of prayer where you know that you can go boldly to God with anything, that ANYTHING you ask for will be done.

And if the devil works so hard to keep us from bold, effective prayer, there must be a reason. And that reason is that when we get connected to God, we really do have the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, to overcome ALL the power of the enemy.

If the devil knows our authority, so should we. Don't let him keep you from it.

Go boldly to God. Pray without ceasing.