A Gentle Word

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).” How many times have we seen relationships torn apart by a word?  It takes so very little to stop, take a breath and to try to see things from the other person’s perspective.  Once this is done, a gentle reply will usually smooth over any hostility.

God has called for us to build bridges with those we meet, even as He built a bridge with us. While we were at odds with Him, through our own sins, he sent Jesus to span the gulf with the cross.  How much easier is it for us to control our tongues than for Him to face Calvary?

Use the gentle word today.  Build relationships, don’t destroy them.

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The Great Commission

Christians often speak of the Great Commission “to go into all the world and make disciples.”  Where we often have our problem is that most of our evangelism is based on the world coming to us.  We are welcoming to visitors, we show our best sides, and we trust in our pastors and teachers to reel them in.

I wrote recently about the lost son.  In the same section, Jesus gives two more parables. One about a lost sheep, and the other about a lost coin.  In each of these cases the lost are being sought.  In the sheep story, the shepherd leaves his flock to find the one member who is missing.  This is moving, and shows God’s concern for those who stray.  In the other the lost coin is still in the house.  The searcher doesn’t need to even leave, but the search is nonetheless important (we often forget you can be in the building [church] and still be lost).  The problem is that in both stories, it is those who in some way identify with the flock or house already that are found.

The great commission demands more of us.  No, it doesn’t mean every Christian has to up sticks and travel to a far off land to make disciples.  Missionaries are indeed impressive servants for their dedication, but at its root the challenge is more direct.

Try reading the passage this way: “As you go throughout the world, make disciples.”  In our everyday walk of life, are we being the ambassadors and witnesses for Christ that we should be.  Is our daily example, and message as welcoming as they are inside the church hall?

What shall you do today, “As you go?”

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Faith

Faith is a belief in which you have total confidence. We all believe something. Whether it is the existence of an all powerful God, the absence of that God, or that “My mommy loves me,”   we believe.

A belief in turn is something that you hold to be true, but cannot prove objectively.  What turns that belief into faith is that measure in which you put trust in it.  You can believe your football team will win the title.  Many (rightly or wrongly) may even put money on it.  But few, if any, would lay their lives down for it.  That takes faith.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed in faith.   He had faith in His Father to be faithful to Him.  He therefore resigned Himself to follow God’s path.  This was indeed to die for faith.  Even in the midst of dying, He still was faithful – “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

I believe this happened.  I believe that His faith, led Him to lay down His life for me.  Lord, help be to have the faith to live up to it.

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Gethsemane

Humility, Deference, and Truth

 

Pastor Rich spoke of humility yesterday, and modeled Paul as an example.  Here is a man (Paul) who was willing to put his prior accomplishments behind him and consider them as rubbish.  It was Christ, and Him crucified, that deserved the glory.

Resting on one’s laurels is an old problem.  In fact, the phrase itself makes reference to those who reflect and refer to their past prizes (laurel wreaths were frequently used in ancient times as trophies).

Resting on laurels can give a sense of entitlement and there is a danger that one expects deference because of it.  Herein lies the temptation of pride. There is a rabbinic story of an old rabbi, who was on his death bed.  All of his students and disciples lined up to hear what he had to say, for everyone knows death bed wisdom, is the most sage of all.  So the most talented student leaned close to hear what his last words would be.  The master aware of the expectation, asked a question of his own.  “What is the answer that you yearn for most?” This was passed down the line from the most talented unto the least. There was silence, then the most talented, drawing on all of his courage said, “Rabbi, what is the meaning of life?”  This question was related down the line.  Then, the old teacher responded: “Life my boy, is like a cup of tea.” This great gem was immediately passed down the line.  All pondered it, each unsure, but unwilling to indicate they failed to grasp his meaning.  Then, the least adept queried: “How is it like a cup of tea?” Each shook there heads in disapproval as they passed the question on to the master. When at last hearing, the question, the old rabbi shrugged and said, “Well, maybe it isn’t.”

The old rabbi of our story, had long enjoyed the respect, and deference of those around him.  He had lost the humility of saying he didn’t know. Are we any different? We also (like his students) often fail to examine things for ourselves, if some “authority” has spoken.  We in our pride, don’t want to either say we don’t understand, or in a false modesty don’t want to make waves.

It is not pride to question, and it is not necessarily humility to unquestionably accept things. It has long been an evangelical Christian tenet, to read the scriptures ourselves, even when they are presented from the pulpit.  We are not to uncritically accept what we are told, but to be like the Bereans. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Act 17:11 NIV).” This was not arrogance on their part, but an eager desire to get it right. To find what is true, and to live up to it.

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The Lost Son

In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells a parable about a man who had two sons.  One son was prodigal, the other dutiful.  The prodigal demands his share of the inheritance, and then departs to a far off land where he wastes it with an excessive lifestyle.  His brother, true to form stays behind, labouring on his father’s behalf.

The first son, falls into total despair.  He is at the end of his tether.  It is only at this point, that he concludes, that even the servants in his father’s house are in better shape than him.  He returns home, and casts himself on his father’s mercy.  He confesses the wickedness and wastefulness of his ways.

His father, not only accepts him back home, but puts on a homecoming party for him. When his brother hears that his brother has returned, and that the celebration is in honour of him – he becomes angry and refuses to join in.  When his father invites him to come in, he responds with vile at his brother.  “This son of yours,” not my brother, “has wasted the inheritance. I have worked hard for you, and been here for you, and you never even once let me have small gathering with my friends.”

The chapter numbers, verse citations, and headings of the Bible are late additions, and not part of the original texts.  The title of this section is sometimes cited as “The Lost Son.” Which one do you think it is referring to?

Food for thought.

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Father and Son

 

A NEU Union

Today I will have a far less spiritual ramble.  I attended a special conference today to vote on whether my education union should seek to form a new union by joining with one of the country’s biggest teaching unions.  This is not a merger, but a totally new construction for the 21st Century.  In the end both union conferences voted to take the proposal to the full membership for ratification.

There were passionate speeches for the new union, some decent on some wording, and even some heart-felt reservations.  This is at its heart -HEART.  The love of our teaching/educating profession, and the desire to create a better system for our pupils and students.

Passion is a spiritual process.  The belief in a principle, the love of one’s vocation (and yes education is a calling), and the dedication to being in unity, not only in numbers, but in our shared goal with others.

It is with that passion, that we who voted for change must now share our dream.  For those teachers or educational support staff reading this, my hope is that you can see and own that dream for yourselves.

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One of Those Days

Everybody gets them; those days when things just don’t go to plan.  Today, I had a student who just couldn’t get the concept.  Here the problem was mine.  I explained that humans have two competing charges from God: the have dominion over the earth, and to be stewards of it as well.  “But what does dominion mean?” I was asked.  “It means to rule over or have control of.”  “So, we are to be in charge of the world,” she responded.  “Yes,” I replied. “But that doesn’t make sense, ” she said.  “Why?” I asked.  “You see if we are in charge of the world, then we don’t need a God to do it.”

At this point I had to remind her, “That’s where stewardship comes in.”  “What’s stewardship again?”  So I start again: “A steward is someone who manages the property of another. Therefore, we are the caretakers of God’s world on His behalf.”  So naturally I am met with: “But you just said we have rule over it, now you are sayings it’s not ours but God’s”

I start again: “That is why I said, there re two competing charges from God.”

“Oh, Sir, you are just doing my head in.”

Sometimes days just go like that.  Balaam knew it (Numbers 22):

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left.27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”“No,” he said.31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell face down.32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it. (NIV)”

He starts off, he gets smashed into a wall, and his ride breaks down.  Yep, one of those days.  In fact, it is so much one of those days, that he doesn’t even seem to notice he is having a conversation with a donkey.  Have you every been so flustered that even the nonsensical seems to make sense?

Sometimes, we just have to take a step back, take a deep breath, and wait for clarity to return.

Hope your day isn’t “one of those.”

Padre

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A Moral Argument

Another brief reflection today.  I was reviewing the moral argument for the existence of God with my students earlier.  Cardinal Newman had argued that our inner voice of conscience is the voice of God within us.  Our moral compass has been designed within us, thus the consistency of ethical views around the world.

My students challenged this with the presence of sin.  If we are God designed to know right and wrong, then there shouldn’t be any fluctuation in our consciences. The easy answer, of course is “free moral agency,” that even though we know right and wrong we are free to exercise our own choices.  This in turn created a student response of “But, what about those that feel no guilt?”  Here, I must admit the moral argument has a limitation, but it also has a lesson.  Our own callousness or “hardness of heart (like Pharaoh)” blinds us to the still small voice.  The more we sin, the more deaf we become to God’s call.

Are you listening?

 

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The Lord Is My Shepherd

HITACHI

Curious Sheep

Today I will be brief, as my reflections have been rather inward focused.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I will not want  . . .” the Psalmist wrote. While the primary meaning of the passage is that of a loving, caring pastor, who leads us by still waters, and provides for all of our daily needs; it also has a self reflective aspect.  We are the sheep of His pasture.

At first this metaphor seems straight forward enough.  If He is a shepherd, we must by application be the sheep.  But, WOW, how accurate is that.  Sheep are amazing in their ability to get into trouble, to be self willed, and ultimately stupid.  Are we, if we are honest any different?

I remember being in the Lake District several years ago and seeing a sheep that had managed to climb onto a wall where it was relatively low and then walk its length to find itself at the wall’s end.  Now it wasn’t two feet above the ground, it was 8 or 9 feet above the ground below.  It couldn’t go forward.  The narrow wall didn’t seem to allow for any turning space.  So, the sheep stood on the end of the wall, 3 yards above the pasture, and bleated.  It needed help, it needed a saviour.  Sound familiar?

We often get ourselves in similar situations – if not physically – definitely morally and spiritually.  No clear way forward is in sight, turning seems near impossible, so we need our shepherd to rescue us.  We need to bleat, to call out to the only one who can possibly get us back on the right path.

If I call on Him who is faithful,  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life(Ps 23:6 KJV).”

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Temptation

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Judean Wilderness

After His baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and fasted. “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him (Matthew 3: 2-11 NIV).

We all have been tempted and tested.  We are experts at it (for good or ill). So, let’s examine Jesus’ case to see if it was indeed a temptation, and if so how He dealt with it.

The first test is straight forward.  Jesus is starving.  Satan challenges Him with a taunt. “If you are the Son of God [prove it].” This is a double temptation!  Jesus was in all ways human, and as such, the possibility of food was a real temptation – a temptation familiar to all of us [to fill our human needs].  But, to make it more taxing there is the implied dare – “Go ahead show your power . . . IF.”  Jesus responds in an exemplary manner.  He shows that while human He is still divine by refusing the food, and he also shows that He will not rise to the taunt – but responds with scripture showing that God and His word fulfills needs beyond those of the mere physical.  He shows the primacy of God’s provision in our lives, and at the same time in His refusal to give into the physical He reaffirms His son-ship!

The second temptation amounted to a short cut.  Have you ever been tempted by the “easy option?”  Jesus came “to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).” His mission, His ministry, and message was to call people to righteousness. Satan suggests to Him, if He throws himself off the temple, then all would see His miraculous survival.  People will flock to Him because such a public display of His messiah-ship.  Satan further challenges Jesus by using the source of His previous answer against Him by quoting scripture himself.  Jesus again resists this “easy” route by using a counter-scripture, one which puts Satan’s passage into context. “Don’t test God.”  What I like about this response is that it not only rejects the temptation of a shortcut, but also serves as a warning to Satan.  In a sense, “Stop testing me [God].”

Third temptation is in many ways the most controversial.  Satan offers Jesus another shortcut.  This time, however, he adds an offer.  He here plays on Jesus’ human fears and survival instinct.  Jesus (and Satan) well knew that in the end, Jesus’ mission would require His death.  If Jesus was to save a sinful world, He would have to redeem them with His own blood (1 Peter 1:18-20). Here the devil says: “I will give them to you. You don’t have to die.  All you need do, is worship me.”  I said this is controversial.  Here is why. Scripture clearly says this is a temptation, for it to be such it must be within Satan’s ability to deliver.  It is a frightening thought that our fate without Christ is in the control of Satan. Jesus’ response is to refuse Satan’s offer, again quoting the Bible. He is in effect saying, I will serve my Father, I will die to fulfill my mission. “Not my will [or yours, Satan], but [His].” 

Perhaps too many people lightly wear WWJD slogans.  But, the example is clear – What would Jesus do when tempted.  He ignored taunts, physical needs, shortcuts, and fears. Instead, He first seeks scripture as guidance, then He follows it, and ultimately does it God’s way.

What are our challenges today?  Whatever they are – we have a model to follow.

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