Closing the gap between belief and practise

Nail_in_cross

I am on a journey. A quest to span the gap between what I believe and how I live. ​

As a Christian this should be pretty simple – just follow the teachings of Jesus and things will be fine. ​In practise I find that within days (if not hours) of resolving to be more committed in following Christ I have stumbled into the mire of selfishness and lukewarmness.

Therefore, I am going to embark on an outrageously scary project for someone like me who has long thought that spirituality should be internal and private: I am going to write as openly as I can here about my own attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ while living and working in a secular society. There will be mistakes, blunders, laziness, sin, doubts and fears. As God wills there will also be worship, rejoicing, and faith. This will not be an exercise in ‘correct’ theology or preaching at you. Consider it more like a window upon a soul stumbling in the footsteps of John Bunyan’s Christian.​

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Making the best of my time

Why do I give my time to that low-priority stuff which could easily wait at the expense what is immediate and important?

How many hours have I wasted catching up on blogs, social media and whatever else is new on the internet? Then I find it is very late, my sermon is not yet finished and I’ve not done the dishes either. Why is it that low-priority stuff which could easily wait is given my time at the expense of the immediate and important?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

The section of Ephesians this sentence is taken from discusses the works of darkness in which we should not participate in as Christians. Such things as foolish talk, crude jokes, impurity, coveting, getting drunk, and general unfruitful pursuits. Often in the New Testament the idea of  fruitfulness comes up – our lives are expected to bear fruit for God.

Great, so I’m expected to be fruitful on top of working full time, being a father, a husband, and trying to maintain our house. Where am I supposed to find time to be fruitful?

Godly, organic time management

God’s time-management principles are simple: stop doing pointless and destructive things, replacing them with fruitful pursuits. This is an organic model which fits our humanity better than trying to cram every minute with action and scheduling life in a manner more appropriate to a robot than a person. Jesus talks of pruning unfruitful branches to make the tree as a whole bear more fruit, a principle we can apply to our own lives. Not just adding more stuff to do but cutting away all that is unfruitful so what remains will grow better.

Fruitfulness is also a lifetime assessment – no tree bears any useful fruit in its first few years – in fact God commanded Israel to not eat the fruit of a newly planted tree for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23-25). Similarly, a tree cannot control the seasons or growing conditions around it.

Sometimes life is hard and our focus has to be on survival. Then seasons change and the roots which that down deep seeking living water in order to survive a drought enable great fruitfulness which could have come no other way.


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Go and do likewise

"Vintage colour engraving of the good samaritan. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. In the parable, a Jewish traveler is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured Jew."

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37 ESV)

This man thought he was getting himself off the hook by asking Jesus just who exactly was his neighbour.

In response, Jesus demonstrates that he knew damn well all along who his neighbour is and has been ignoring God’s command to love him.

We also need to go and do likewise.


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John the Baptist gets high

Imagine spending thirty years of your life intensely focussed on what you are convinced is your entire purpose for being. The enormity of the task sometimes causes you to quiver and seriously doubt yourself, can you really pull it off? What if, in the crucial moment, you fail to perform what is expected of you? If this job is not done properly history will hate you for it!
It is the preparation which costs so much; constant vigilance, total discipline and self control, being unable to participate in most of the entertainments your peers enjoy. Every day – preparing and waiting – Oh the seemingly endless waiting.

Finally, after years of study and setting yourself aside for the task you know you are ready and the time is right to begin. With faltering voice at first you start speaking out, attempting to convince others of the message you have been given.  Surprisingly the people respond. They see your sincerity, look past your idiosyncrasies and understand the message.

Well, the common people that is. The educated and wealthy start mocking and debating. They cannot see why your teaching is applicable to them, especially given their inherited position.

Yet, despite this opposition even your reputation grows until crowds are gathering to listen and act. People are taking it seriously, asking sensible questions about how to change injustice. Things are happening!

However, with the success your anxiety mounts. Things are surely going to come to a head soon but you still haven’t done the most important thing. What if you’ve missed it? What if dealing with so many people coming to listen and be changed has blinded you to the most important part of the task?

With such doubts in your mind every night you rehearse your message. Your tone is getting more strident and uncompromising. The ‘debates’ with the authorities are getting less like debates and becoming more like tirades against them. Someone is going to get real upset before too much longer!

Then it happens, after yet another heated exchange with the scribes. Looking up, the man walking towards you matches what others have described but more importantly you recognize in him an air of uncompromising sincerity. Now, after so many public speeches your words tumble out awkwardly and you hear yourself wondering out loud whether what you’d been planning to do is actually the right thing.

He smiles and reassures. Yes, your concerns are valid but stick to the plan. So it is done.

Then…

Well, words cannot describe it. Nothing you had imagined came near the actual event. But it happened, just as you had been told. Good thing the water was fairly shallow or you’d have nearly drowned! Not only the dove, but the voice also! The sign! YOU HAD JUST BAPTIZED THE SON OF GOD!

I am speculating here, but it is my guess that John the baptist – a young 30-year-old man – found it difficult to focus on his work for the rest of that day and probably was buzzing too much to sleep very well that night! The purpose God had given him in life had now been achieved!

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34 ESV)

Nothing looks the same

Last Friday evening my wife and I went to a concert by New Zealand’s two best gospel singers, Derek Lind and Steve Apirana.
Steve & Derek regularly tour NZ in support of Tear Fund, playing for donations in local churches. Their concerts are humorous and spontaneous, these guys are relaxed and genuine. They also have depth, there is no flashy lights or stage makeup, what you get is real faith accompanied by experience and wisdom.

This particular concert has challenged me. It occurred at a time when God seems to really be on my case about reaching unreached people groups in hard places with the Gospel and love of Jesus. Then along comes the Christian singer who has been in my ears since 1989 and seriously reinforces that message!

In fact God niggling at me about missions work is nothing new either, over 20 years on that one too! (I’m a slow learner). There has also been a lot of background work needing done before I would be fit to inflict upon the world.

During the month of October I was praying and writing about the Shan people of Burma. For over a year now they have been on my heart and I would love to do more than praying only. Recently I was offered the possibility of going to Thailand to visit some of the work being done amongst the Shan people there and see first hand what I have been writing and praying about.

What I am finding is that my perspective is changing. I am seeing things differently, myself, my life, my place in the world, the realities facing others don’t look the same.  There is no undoing the knowledge I now have of how much suffering is happening in Burma. With that knowledge I am responsible (to paraphrase Brooke Fraser), I cannot just pretend it is not a problem.

Nothing Looks the Same

Fly the friendly skies,
nothing looks the same.
From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
Fly the friendly skies,
and hang your head in shame.
From this altitude,
nothing looks the same.

Was that a lightning bolt?
Nothing looks the same.
Was that a camera flash?
Nothing looks the same.
Is God taking photographs,
for evidence for blame?

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.

But under the spell of gravity,
there is dissonance and danger.
This voyeur gets to touch,
and taste and small and see,
This is not fiction,
it’s fact, and it’s stranger.

This is not a checkerboard,
these are paddy fields and fishponds.
This is not quaint,
it stinks and it’s ugly.

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
From arm’s length,
nothing looks the same.
Even from 35 millimetres,
nothing looks the same.

Just remember this
at the end of a long hard day,
I get to fly away,
you get to stay

Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same

Derek Lind – Nothing Looks the Same

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