Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bless God?!

A few weeks ago my housemate built me a bed from scratch. It’s amazing - a bed 5 ft off the ground, with sliding shirt hangers underneath, and all from a few blocks of wood and some hardboard from a skip. I was seriously chuffed and the week after he made it I couldn’t stop banging on about it.

So there you go - it’s not that I’m not a praising kind of person. It might not be Tottenham that does it for me, but give me a new bed or three points to the Hammers and I’ll be waxing lyrical. But the challenge of Sunday's sermon on Ephesians 1.1-10 was whether or not we ‘bless God’. Hmm. Do I? I’d even estimate 90% of the time I sing praise songs in church I’m not actually mindfully thankful.

I was chatting the other night with a friend and we quickly reached the conclusion we’re both really unthankful to God when it comes to day-to-day life. So today I’ve been trying to think about my day with the reality-specs on, knowing that God has given me every good thing in it and therefore being thankful to God for the great time with a friend, the pleasure of the Mars Bar milkshake, a productive morning at work. The ‘what are you thankful to God for?’ question is one we’ll definitely start asking each other. But Sachy showed us Ephesians 1 is about more than just that; Paul grounds his praises to God with the reasoning that he ‘has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing’. And then it’s bam-bam-bam.

On Monday morning I thought about some of the particular blessings Paul says God has lavished upon us… all of them are blessings – they’re things that God has given to us because we are included in Jesus, because we’re Christians. We talk about ‘not deserving them’, but I realized how easily I pass over the reality of that in my emotions. The whole shebang of Paul’s super-sentence (1v3-14) is the heart and soul of being a Christian. And it’s all stuff that I don’t and can’t have any natural claim on – being chosen, being made God’s child, forgiveness of sin… it’s all complete unmerited gift. And so I found the refrain in v6 and v14 a really great way to anchor my prayers and prompt me to being glad – ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’. To complement that I’ve found a few songs all about praising God to ‘sing’ along to on the old mp3 player as I walk to work, keeping in mind God’s gracious inclusion of me in his plan.

This has started to help me bridge the gap between knowing logically it’s a good thing to be ‘in Christ’, or articulating the goodness of the gospel when I’m chatting to someone who’s not a believer, and then actually knowing these blessings and realizing the goodness of being included in this plan so that I’m actively praising God. Its gonna take lots of adjusting my eyes to the Ephesians 1 planetarium and its gonna take questions from my Christian mates, but I’m praying that my thankfulness for all that I have in Jesus will remain long after the novelty of a new bed has faded.

The original post from In the Shadow of the Gherkin can be found here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus are Falling Off...

A friend pointed me in the direction of this. It's an article announcing the launch of a new bus-advertising campaign from the British Humanist Association, inspired by an article by online Guardian writer Ariane Sherine. Its all in response to a campaign featuring Bible verses on London buses and underground over the last few months, followed by Alpha's bus campaign 'If you could ask God one question'.

Sherine's point is that there needs to be a counter-view expressed, so that those 'vulnerable' to religious advertisting are not fooled into believing there is a God, and specifically for her a God who is angry and has power to cast into a Hell.

The comments left in response to the article are worth a read. Lots of people unhappy with being told there is a judgment. Lots of people complaining God's validity is questioned by him not having recently put in an appearance. Yet also lots of people unhappy with 'atheist proselytizing' . Overall not much concern with whether or not the BHA have much ground for their claim, or likewise the reliability of the truth of the original campaign calling for faith in Jesus.
Ironically the advert uses the word 'probably' (amusingly it's the way to avoid being sued, a la Carlsberg). But surely if anything 'probably' should cause you to realise you can't in fact 'stop worrying and enjoy your life' until you work out whether or not you'd put your money, make that your life, on the strength of that probably. It just smacks of carefree-I-don't-care-if-I-sit-on-the-fence middleclass culture - that's the world we live in at the moment.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Happy Where You Are...

Been spending some time munching through Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment at the moment, and thoroughly enjoying it. Burroughs was a Puritan knocking about during the first half of the seventeenth century and ended up preaching not too far down the road from me in Stepney.

'It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world'.

Being content has connotations of being happy with second-best, but that's not what Burroughs is on about. Contentment is bound up with knowing God is in control, and so one can be contented 'if he has but bread and water'. Yet at the same time there is a sense in which we are to be dissatisfied in the world; 'that is, those things that will satisfy the world, will not satisfy him.'

That's a brilliant observation I reckon: the two sides of contentment, finding a satisfaction in any situation, yet not being satisfied with it alone, for only God will satisfy. Another helpful thing Burroughs points out is that Christian contentment 'is not opposed to all lawful seeking for help in different circumstances, not to endeavouring simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means'. That is, in situations of suffering it is not ungodly to ask God to deliver us from them and to keep in mind that he may well do that. He says that's what marks true Christian contentment out from glib stupidity.

I reckon that's something of what Paul is talking about in Philippians - being content in every situation, yet still a striving forward, a longing for the inheritance of God.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Importance of Listening...

The lovely people in our evening meeting have kicked off a blog to encourage us to be thinking about applying God's word long-term. We were talking today about the danger of not listening well as we hear God's word preached and its been brilliant to be forced to actually confront the deafness that so quickly springs up within us. It seems that a sermon can be so transient - you hear it on a Sunday, I pray it through on a Monday, but then... where does the word go?

Encountering God can't be a momentary thing - it must change, transform, hit... That's what 'applying the word' is all about of course, but I don't really think about application like that. What has God been teaching me over the last few weeks? How has he changed me recently? Not just did I understand that passage on Sunday, or even be wowed by the God in it, but whether I am encountering God. Long-term transformation. How has reading Romans changed me over the last 3 weeks? As I've seen Jesus call me to sit at his feet in Luke and challenge my view of discipleship, have I responded?

Hearing that ends in doing. It's not rocket-science, but I find it easy to forget.