Happily ever after,
So the story books do say
White horses, handsome princes
Fair maidens swept away
But living for the future
Is an error – many have made
Not cherishing each passing moment
And making the most of today
Happily ever after,
So the story books do say
White horses, handsome princes
Fair maidens swept away
But living for the future
Is an error – many have made
Not cherishing each passing moment
And making the most of today
Daily life can be hard. Aging can make it harder, as can illness. We scramble to make ends meet, and all to often we try to carry on on our own. But this is a foolish approach. My wife Dianne discovered that early in the final stages of her cancer. She was not Super Girl or Wonder Woman, at least not in strength and endurance. It was at that moment of revelation and realisation* that she turned to the scripture, 2 Corinthians 4: 16 “So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day.”
It was plain to her, and should be to us, that even when we are physically strained, our spirits are lifted by He who made us. He provides us with a renewal each and every day, this is through not only a good night of contented sleep, but through enlivening our souls with His promises, and with fellowship with our brothers and sisters. Through prayer, time with the Word, and in our contact with those who love us in unity we are renewed.
How obvious is that, when we reflect on Jesus’ own words!
Matthew 11:28-30 tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Are we laying our burdens before God? Or are we so ego driven that we forget the simple promise? No man is an island it is said, but there is a Rock on which we can take refuge.
To do it alone I can but strive
But I grow more weary if in this way I strive
There is a promise to which I must hold
He will comfort give me, and lighten my load
We trust in our own strength
Just a bit too much
Our pride will betray us
If we cling to such
So let us lay our burdens down
And be renewed as we walk our way
His promises fulfilled
Day by day
*Dianne’s journal 9 June 2019
Fandango’s Provocative Question for this week is: “Is it possible anymore to disagree without being disagreeable?”
It is interesting that this question was posted on the very day that my wife and I witnessed a hair-pulling confrontation with accompanying blows between two young women in a restaurant. The exact cause of the fight is unknown, but as it came to punches, a server from the restaurant who tried to calm the situation was struck and pushed, leading to a wound on her arm. So can being disagreeable be avoided?
Fandango in issuing the challenge raised the areas of religion and politics as examples of points of disagreement. These are tricky at the best of times, but it often comes down to the attitude of the disputants. Here I will need to speak with some familiarity, though No Authority. I am a minister of religion, and as such have succumbed to the occupational hazard of being a theist. I must start with the premise that “I believe, I hope, and I even have faith.” A belief is something that you hold to be true, even if you cannot “prove” it. A hope is something that you have a expectation and desire to be true. A faith is a belief in which you have absolute trust in it being true. But that is not the same as saying I have all the answers. There are many aspects of the spiritual and the temporal that I, even as a working theologian, do not “know.” It is with this attitude that I enter into religious discussions. When Fandango once challenged me on a point of word choice and semantics, I was quick to concede the point. Dogmatism on definitions is iffy at best.
When I served with the Navy’s Chaplains Corps, I was happy with the sentiments of the motto: “Cooperation without compromise.” I hold my beliefs, to which I will not yield unless given good reason, and I expect you to do the same. It isn’t about pushing one view over another, it is about common purpose. Later I worked in Inter-Faith Dialogue in which the principle was “Hold fast to your beliefs, respect others for doing the same, seek areas where there is agreement in order to facilitate further dialogue.” Does all this mean that I will not teach what I believe? Of course not, but I am not going to condemn you for disagreeing. I will share my views, not impose them.
Politics is a bit stickier. I am a trade union official. I have dealt with employers, and politicians who make educational policy. We often don’t see eye to eye, but slurs and hostility seldom result in useful results. Compromise may seem anathema in religion, but in politics – dogmatism ends up building walls – literal and figurative. Finding common ground is always best.
So can you disagree without being disagreeable? Most certainly so. In the end it is about human respect. You will never even consider my point of view unless I am willing to hear yours. Dr. King noted that aggression does not help your opponent to understand you, and that aggression breeds aggression. The path of mutual respect therefore calls for us to step back from dogmatism. Even is we in the end disagree, we need not do so disagreeably.
At thirteen I was taller than many of my classmates and very much stronger. I was a shot putter on the track and field team, and was good at sport in general. Despite my size and strength, I was often bullied, precisely because of those characteristics. I however held the conviction instilled in me by my mother that it would be wrong for me the harm a smaller child. Therefore, I endured the bullying.
At thirteen, I had teachers who saw me as clever, and some diligently tried to convince me of my non-physical abilities. But I, whether because of the bullying, or whether I had something to prove to myself, stayed fixedly focused on athletics.
High school was an uncomfortable turning point. By fifteen I had stopped growing and settled in at five foot – seven. I still competed in the shot put, but each year my ranking fell, as others first caught up to me in size and then surpassed it. My response was to practice more, spending long hours with the weights and in the shot put ring. I remained strong, and especially strong for my size. My academics, however, were not a priority. Yes I got mostly A-s, but not consistently so. My senior year, I even took only the classes I needed to graduate.
Alas, I am no athlete. I got a job, married, and went to community college, where I got A-s yet again. Then I joined the forces, where academically I did well even being noted on three occasions as “honor man” in military schools.
I left the forces, and went to uni, and then into ministry. I eventually even did graduate study at the University of Cambridge. I am still no athlete, but I am, as my teachers at age thirteen tried to show me – clever.
So what advice should I give a thirteen year old me? Give up the sport, you will end up too small? Hit the books, your future lies there?
No! The message to the thirteen year old me is: “Hold the Course. The path you are on is the one that will make you – you!”
Haunted Wordsmith Nonfiction Prompt: What is something you would tell your 13-year-old self?
Sister Amba gave a great message this week on our responses to the challenges and confrontations with the world. She illustrated her theme with references to Matthew 4, and Jesus’ time in the wilderness.
She noted that Jesus had just had a tremendous spiritual experience at His baptism, and then was led by the Spirit into the desert. Here Amba reflected on her own experiences of spiritual highs (such as retreats and conferences) and how she faced “attacks” which sought to take her down from upon the mountain.
Jesus too, faced the same thing in Matthew 4. Satan confronted him after He had been hungry, and the “mountain” experience of the baptism was forty days old. Satan attacked on several fronts, including provision, protection, and honour. In each case Jesus responded with Scripture!
Jesus was not only the Word made flesh, but he also abided in the revealed word. What an example. Amba then drew a parallel to Eve in the Garden. She had not received the direct revelation from God to not eat from the tree, but only the word as given to her by Adam. She had been told, but not personally witnessed. Was this the cause of her fall? Jesus however had the word on His lips. He was ready “in season and out” to make a reply. We need to be Jesus-like. When the world pushes, we need not push back, but rather we need to push in on the Word at our core.
This inner reliance on the “power within” will aid us in fulfilling God’s plan for us. Our example and witness will be enhanced. Striking or pushing back against the world will never accomplish that (no matter how personally satisfying the temptation might seem to be).
First Thessalonians 5: 14 – 15 reminds us,
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”
We need to remember that the prophets, and saints of the scriptures were harassed, and attacked. But God was with them. He is with us too. His strength is in control, and we are in His hand. Our striking out, is not necessary. Isaiah 43 reminds us,
” . . . you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you (v 4) . . . . Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it? (v 13)”
We are loved by Him, no one can take us from Him. Better still let Him act. We need not push back, we are in His hand. We need to push into his grip!
I have again been struggling with big questions about my own health, work, and the way forward. I have tried too long to deal through my own strength. This has only led to more stress.
A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling the inadequacy of my own efforts. I felt swamped by the burdens I was piling upon myself (more than just what the circumstances of my wife’s illness, and life and general were presenting). In that despair I was presented randomly with a passage on Facebook: Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” This was marvelous as it said He had a plan for me. I found relief in that, but I still held some of myself back. I needed to trust Him, over me!
The result of holding back was another day of despair. I had yet to fully surrender (an ongoing process, I am learning). I have spent this afternoon asking for guidance, and seeking the same kind of peace I found back on the 18th.
Then the message became clear. No Facebook posting this time, but the “still small voice.” It reminded me of the words of Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I did again find some measure of relief. He is reminding me to let go, to open my eyes, my heart, and my spirit to His ways.
I do not as of yet have all the answers to the questions before me, nor in the path He wants me to follow, but I now have comfort that the answers are there. Not for me to invent through my own cunning or effort, but rather they are their to discover if I only stop and listen to His Spirit.
Lord help me to think as you do, and trust in you.
Pastor John Onelum brought a multi-faceted message on the theme of spiritual warfare this week. He used 2 Samuel 5:22-25 as his central text and used it as a parallel to the approaches we can use in our fighting of “the good fight.”
The text reads in the NIV as follows:
Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.
Brother Onelum made the prefacing comment on the nature of spiritual warfare. We fight on several fronts and against several foes. He categorised these as 1) the enemy within [our own sins and fallen nature], 2) the enemy without [spiritual forces of temptation and evil], and 3) institutional enemies [the spirit of this age, things such as atheism, secularism, and self-serving government].
With regards to the “within” of our own sin, this is not a “done and dusted” situation. If we have once had a weakness towards a particular sin (lying, cheating, stealing, whatever), we are prone to be drawn to it again. We need a diligence ad an understanding of ourselves to be able to be prepared to face these “fiery darts.”
The enemy “without” is indeed the evil and spiritual forces set in array against us. These are sometimes “familiar spirits” as they know our past failings and weakness, and will strive to exploit them. Jesus warned of this when He spoke of an unclean spirit wandering in desert places awaiting a return to its previous abode within us, and if we are unready it may well bring companion evils with it. This onslaught needs to be resisted. Jesus even experienced the Devil’s attempt to play on perceived weakness when in the wilderness. Satan three times tempted Christ with human need and pride. Jesus gave us a marvelous example by overcoming these assaults through the application of godly nature and the use of scripture.
David’s example in the 2 Samuel text shows us some key approaches to help us mirror his and Jesus’ success in the face of the enemies.
The first of these brother John noted is that “Discipleship Matters” – Getting advice from God. Notice when faced with an enemy, David did not just rush in, but “David inquired of the Lord.” We too, can seek advice. We are not forces of our own, sources of all knowledge, we are the people of God, and we have the scriptures, and the people of God to turn to in our battles for both advice and support.
The second key point is that “Detail Matters.” In the same way that we fall into easily anticipated patterns so does evil. It was an interesting aside in the text that the context (shown in some translations) is that the Philistines entered the Valley of Rephaim in the same manner they had previously. They like “a dog to its vomit” made the same mistakes. But rather than responding to it in the same way as previously, God instructs David to go around behind them. The detail is important, as the Philistines would anticipate the Israelites to act in a certain way. God gives a clear, detailed approach: “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees.” We need to look at the details of our conduct. Are our ways God’s ways? Are we people of the Word, and look to keep its details in our lives?
Finally Brother John challenged us to remember that “Distance Matters.” Once we achieve a victory we need to push them back further. “So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.” David not only drove the Philistines from Rephaim but then pushed them six and then twelve miles further. He put a space between himself and his enemy. We too need to do so. We need to make those “familiars” less so. We need to remove the temptations, sins, and other obstacles to righteousness from us.
God has equipped us, and God stands with us just as he did with David. We (and He) are “in it to win it.”
I had just written a post on Ecclesiastes in which I reflected on suffering in life, and then I had this prompt come into my reader. Solomon captured the essence of existence as life is full of ups and downs. In life’s journey there are few certainties, apart from uncertainty.
King Solomon the wise, so it is said –
Saw that life’s fortunes flow and ebb –
There are times of laughter, and those that are sad –
Times to diminish and times to add.
From season to season,
Each of us faces each day,
New challenges – opportunities,
As we travel our way.
For we who weep, and we who mourn,
Perhaps joy awaits on the new morn,
Till that day, we will sow and reap,
And hope to dance and the chance to leap.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
God is not a cosmic Father Christmas, where our lists are checked twice, and then placed under the tree for us. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that God does not bless and prosper us, nor does He never “give in” to our whims. It is more that God as an omni-benevolent being, gives us what is good for us, and sometimes that necessitates the answer, “No” to our petitions and entreaties.
A few weeks ago some of my students were struggling with the Epicurean dilemma. If God is truly good, how can he allow evil? The short answer is that firstly, He is not the author of evil, but rather of free will. We in our abuse of that freedom, cause moral suffering. Why have, I deviated from my starting point? It is to illustrate that when we ask for things like, “God make so-in-so do this or that,” His answer will be “No.” He will not restrict free will, as that would be contrary to His loving nature. Just turn the request on its head. Would you feel as if God (or anyone else for that matter) loved you if they “forced” you into compliance?
Associated with this are the other “No” answers we might receive. “Let me win the lottery,” or “Make me famous,” may sound like positives, but are they actually what is “good for us?” God cares about you and like “the birds of the air,” He will provide your needs, not necessarily our greeds.
And there is the ultimate “good” we also have to consider. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 9 wrote, “. . . a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.” God’s ultimate concern is for our salvation, our spiritual growth, and our relationship with Him.”
This was shown as well in the mission of His Son, Jesus. Even He received the “negative” reply in the garden at Gethsemane. Mark notes, “Going a little farther, he [Jesus] fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him [14:35]. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” Yet not what I will, but what you will .” While not explicit, it is clear in Jesus’ yielding to carry out the plan of salvation, the Father’s will was to hold the course, or more simply, “No.”
We do not always see as God sees. Our views are limited, and our insights to the consequences flawed. His never are. Let us not take the “silence of heaven” or the failure to have our wish list filled in every instance to “evidence” of the lack of a deity, or that that God is mean, but merely that He is looking after us in a way we have yet to understand. In those instances let us, like Paul trust that His grace is enough for us.
For most of us, we have abundant evidence if we look back upon our relationship with God, that he is there, and that He has provided for what we have needed.
Integrity is a great concept. It is about who we are, who we really are. We are more than image. It is our inner self, that matters. But today, too much emphasis is put on the externals.
Where do the externals get us? There have been many cases in recent years of role models failing in their example. They are often role models because of the externals. Whether they are entertainment celebs, sports stars, and yes, ministers of the word, these failing models have had things in their lives that have brought about public condemnation, and a fall in popularity.
In this world of instant “news” and social media it doesn’t take long for iniquity to be exposed. But do we fail to remember that it isn’t public opinion that should keep us on the “straight and narrow.” Solomon wrote, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out (Proverbs 10:9).”
The Hebrews writer puts this in context for us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).” Are we mindful of God’s view of us? Do we live with integrity, or do we hope that somehow our “secret selves” will be hidden?
Integrity is much under-appreciated today, however. It in part comes down to self discipline, something that a “if it feels good do it” morality shies from. When I was at university, one professor speaking on the idea of discipline said, “As a parent you have about 18 years to instill discipline, then it is up to the child to make it their own.” How archaic that sounds in 2018. I have witnessed a shift over the years as an educator. From parents totally supporting teachers, to “I can’t tell them off, they are my friend”, to “I can’t discipline them they might hurt me.” But it is not the outward, even in youth, that should be the driving force in integrity. It is heart motive. The desire to be good, and to have relationship with God and man.
It is heart motive that is difficult to hide, it is often the herald, of the failings we would like hid. “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15: 18-19).” Yet, how often do we hear people make a really hurtful, selfish, or rude statement, only to conclude “only joking?”
I started this post with allusion to celebrities, but really the focus here is on ourselves. Are we people of integrity? Do we have a heart motive of service? Do we seek to live godly lives, or do we try to hold a little back for ourselves? Lord, help us to be people of integrity.