Treasures

That awful moment you arrive home and realise you’ve been burgled. It happened once when the kids were young. Drawers open, rifled. My jewellery box pillaged, most of its worthless contents scattered around. My engagement ring on the floor, discarded as it had lost its stone. My grandmother’s jade ring! The only piece of value I possessed, was gone. It’s an empty feeling.

“It’s OK mum, I’ve got your ring. I was playing with it this morning, and it was in the toy box under my bed!” And so there it was, safe! We did lose a few things that day, but nothing noteworthy – to be honest we didn’t possess that much worth stealing!

Burglary aside, should I have valued the ring more? Should my daughter have had access to such a valuable piece? Should it have been left in a toy box? Curiously, if I had guarded it more closely, we’d have lost it!

Jesus warned us not to store up treasure on earth, where it can be spoilt or stollen, but to store up our treasures in heaven, where they are always safe (Matthew 6:19-21). In our western culture of plenty, it’s hard to work out what this means in practise. Was Jesus advocating living on the bread-line, giving away everything other than basic essentials? Should we empty our bank accounts and renounce having any valuable  ‘stuff’ around us? Yes, if that’s what God is telling you.

But at the very least, imagine yourself in your rocking chair at the end of your days. What will you then think the most important things in your life? Was it that you had a fat bank account, or that you made other people happy? The precious thing a child dropped and broke – will it still sting that you lost it? Or will it be more important that you comforted the child, and kept a good relationship with them? Will you even remember the thing you lost? That I sponsored a child right through his education, that will matter. Will the world be better because I was here?

Stuff will always be that – just stuff. Unless we choose to apportion it a greater value. As with my grandmother’s ring, if you hold too tightly, you can lose out. If we hold lightly, share willingly, and value people more, no-one can steal that away from us. That is treasure in heaven.

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Power to overcome

People are roughly divided into two groups – those who go to the gym (or who at least think you should), and those, like me, who have never actually been inside one – shock horror! With some people, exercise is almost an ethic, for others it’s a waste of good energy. Personally, I’ve plenty of cupboards to clean, stairs to climb, washing to hang out, and a whole lot of other stuff I need to do, that keep me well exercised. But however you keep fit, it’s all about building muscles. You do stuff, use the muscles, and they get stronger; then you can do more stuff.

The same applies in the spiritual life. The more you do the spiritual disciplines, the more power you have to overcome your weaknesses. Forgiving others is so very hard, but it’s like exercising that muscle, God helps us find the strength to decide to start forgiving, then to do it better, and eventually get to the place where unforgiveness no longer has a hold over us, and we can overcome the hatred, so we are free to be forgiven ourselves (Matthew 6:14-15, and see also Dirty hands, clean hands).

It also applies to fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Not something we find easy in our culture, but it is do-able. Again, choosing to begin in a small way, and building it up like a muscle.

There are rewards for forgiving (being forgiven) and for fasting that is done right. It’s all about power to overcome. How often have you encountered a problem like not being able to forgive, or not feeling up to fasting, or serious prayer, or something that you feel God is telling you to do, but you find too challenging – and you tell yourself, “I just can’t do this, I’m not spiritual enough, I’m just not that person, it’s not how I am…”  Is there a Christian on the planet who has not had those thoughts? Yet some do achieve great things. So why not me? Why not you? We too have the Holy Spirit to help…

Like building muscles, choose to start. Begin with small things, but begin. Then keep going. Do stuff, and then you get stronger and do more stuff. It’s power to overcome. Overcoming yourself, and your own perceived limitations to start with. But with God’s help, power to overcome.

Matthew 6:14-18

Matthew 6:14-18

For thine is the kingdom

I’m writing as the results of the American election unfold. As fellow blogger Pieter Stok put it, the process has been “like observing a slow motion train wreck and being helpless to do anything about it.” 

And so I turn to the next section of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m looking for that section, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever, and ever. Amen.” Only it isn’t there in my bible. I loved singing the wonderful crescendo of that part when we sang it at school. But it is absent in the very reputable NIV translation! There is plenty of discussion over whether Jesus included this in the original, but it is thought by many to have been added as a doxology – giving glory to God at the end of a section of worship. Hence its absence in later bible texts.

I’m not particularly arguing for the return of the missing bit of the Lord’s Prayer. I can add it on anyway, whether or not Jesus did – because I’m pretty sure he’d have had no problem with its sentiment. The content is totally scriptural anyway.

As the world apparently goes mad, isn’t it wonderful to know that the kingdom belongs to God. That ultimately he has all the power; that he can do anything; that he can take terrible situations and bring something good out of them; that he is totally faithful and worthy of the trust we put in him. And that, whatever happens, we can still give the glory to him.

You may not like the results of the American election; you may be rejoicing. You may be very, very fearful as to where this world is heading. It’s time to take your attention firmly away from where the media wants it to focus, and fix your eyes on a glorious, all-powerful king who needs no election, and who will reign for all eternity. God is still on the throne, no matter what.

And what about the election? Now, more than ever, it’s time to stop moaning and criticising, which achieves absolutely nothing, and time to pray, pray, pray without ceasing, for the rulers of this world, whoever they are. They really, really need it. For God’s is the kingdom. And the power. And the glory. Now and for ever. For ever. Amen – so be it!

Shift your focus, change the outcome

I have three wonderful (now grown-up) kids, that I am so proud of. I am amazed at their achievements, and even more amazed that my husband and I managed to turn out three such spectacular human specimens! However, I do know, sadly, that no-one in our family (me very much included) has ever achieved perfection. Come to think of it, we did a lot of teaching about how to be good; I don’t remember one single lesson teaching, or being taught, how to be naughty – we’ve all managed that bit all by ourselves!

Don’t you fancy living a life where you always make right choices, always say the right things, even always think the purest thoughts? That would be a life free from temptation, wouldn’t it? There again, without the temptation, wouldn’t it just be life as a machine that is programmed to follow a particular pathway? Making right choices when there is no temptation isn’t really a choice. But making right choices when there is temptation to do wrong – well that would be complete freedom. But the only person to achieve it perfectly is Jesus himself.

So what was Jesus meaning when he taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)? Temptation is pressure to do wrong, and the truth is, all of us will fail if the pressure is strong enough. And ‘the evil one’ is always happy to oblige in that department.

Jesus must have looked around at his audience, knowing that many, if not all of them would suffer, even die for their faith. They undoubtedly were going to face a time of testing, trial, temptation. What he was teaching them, was the ‘the evil one’ only has the power we permit him to have. Focusing on him leads to failure. They needed instead, to keep their eyes firmly fixed on Heavenly Father, who knows precisely how much pressure we can take.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful;he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Some temptation gives us the opportunity to grow stronger in faith. Too much would crush us. God knows what we need. Fix your eyes on him. That’s how to disempower ‘the evil one’.

 

Dirty hands, clean hands

red-suitWhen my kids were little, they had these fantastic water-proof jumpsuits that were a real fashion statement for kids then – NOT. Bright red, you could spot them on the darkest days. The outfit was completed with a trendy pair of wellies, and meant the kids were free to splash in mud puddles to their hearts’ content! Inside, they were clean and dry. Brilliant!

So here’s the picture. Imagine the child, mud larking and having the most glorious fun, when a small toy falls into the dirt. The child spots and grabs the toy, and holds it tight in the palm of its hand. When mum comes to clean up her little one, she unwraps the mucky outer layers, and washes his hands and face. Only the one hand won’t come clean, because it’s holding tight to one very muddy toy. Dirty water drips down onto his clean clothes from that hand. Gently she encourages him to let go, and only then can he become completely cleansed.

That’s how I see the part of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

You see, our Father God wants us to be clean, completely clean, and free from sin. If we confess our wrongdoing and ask him, he will forgive us, and remove all the dirt, cleansing us and setting us free from every sin.

The problem is, when others hurt us, we have a tendency to hold on to that hurt, and so we hold on to the dirt. Forgiving someone means letting go. It sets them free; but more importantly, it sets us free. Not forgiving someone, means that we are still attached to that hurt, and it prevents us from being totally cleansed, forgiven, healed and liberated.

Sometimes it is so hard to forgive. Especially when we’ve been badly hurt. Especially when it seems they are getting away with it. Especially when they know they’ve got away with it, and there’s that smirk. But holding on by not forgiving empowers that person, and gives them a hold over you. But their mud does not have to stick on you.

God wants you to be clean and free, and sent Jesus to pay the price for our sins, for that very reason. But as you are forgiven, you too must forgive. And keep on forgiving. Live forgiven and forgiving. Live free.

Give us this day…

What do you need? More money? A better job? A bigger house? Sleep? Peace? Health? More time? A better life? One thing most of us in the west don’t need, is more food. In the days of Jesus, when a lot of folk lived at subsistence level, it made sense to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11) Even today, in the UK, there are some for whom this is a very real prayer need.

But when I can slip round to the supermarket and choose from heaving shelves, why do I need to ask God for it? And what about all those other things I really could do with? Take sleep for example. As a carer, I have to get up, sometimes several times in the night, and a proper night’s sleep is a real treat. I am very grateful for our Personal Assistant who gives me that once a week; but that didn’t stop me moaning about it to God the other morning, through bleary eyes. You know what he said to me? “Offer it up to me as a sacrifice.” That stopped me in my tracks, I can tell you.

Philippians 4:19 promises,  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. And let me tell you, he is very, very rich. He can give us EVERYTHING we need. I need one good night a week, and he gives me that. I’d like a whole lot more sleep. He could give me that too, but he asks me to sacrifice it. Why? I’ve no idea. But I do trust him. Whether I moan, or whether I offer it gladly, I still feel tired. But offering sleep up as a sacrifice gives it meaning, value and dignity; moaning achieves nothing. And although Jesus taught his disciples to pray for bread, they still felt called to fast sometimes.

So what do you need? Really need? Hannah needed a child. She asked God, and he answered, and in the deal she offered her son Samuel back to God, as a personal sacrifice (1 Samuel 1). God is no liar. He WILL supply all our needs. But sometimes offering our lack back to God as a willing sacrifice demonstrates our trust in him, and takes our relationship with him to a deeper level. It’s all about trust.

 

As it is in Heaven

How do you imagine Heaven? I had a dream once about Heaven, and it felt very real. I had my own home, and I knew everyone, and there was an amazing camaraderie between everyone. Then we gathered to worship, and it was such wonderful worship. I knew the song in the dream, but it was not a song I had ever heard before. Thousands upon thousands of us all worshipping with this new song… I can’t really tell you how incredibly awesome that felt. After that dream, the idea of going to Heaven has seemed a lot more real, certainly without fear.

I’ve come to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew – looking at 6:9-10. Jesus had been saying how not to pray, and now he gives the positive instruction.

“This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Most of us get stuck at the word ‘hallowed’. My father thought it was just for him, as a child, as he misheard it as ‘Harold be my name’! It means holy, honoured, sanctified. Such a long way from the swear word we hear bandied around so easily. Think in terms of that intense worship I saw in my dream – that’s how we come in true prayer. In awe at the very name of our wonderful Holy God.

And then we should go on to pray that people, me included, should obey God, just like everyone in Heaven does. We are asking that Earth should look like Heaven. That people should behave like they do in Heaven. What would that look like?

What if homes were full of people who loved each other, and sought only the best for each other?

What if schools were full of students who respected their teachers and each other, and the teachers sought only to maximise the potential of each wonderful individual?

What if we didn’t need hospitals, because everyone got healed; or prisons, because they would be empty?

Can you get your head round a world that looks like Heaven? Because that is what you are praying for in this first part of the Lord’s Prayer. And that is how Jesus said we should pray. His instruction. If that thought doesn’t revitalise your prayer life and mine, I really don’t know what will!

In the quiet place

A friend of mine has two children who can only see their daddy under supervision. Because he might possibly hurt them, someone has to watch how he handles them, and listen to what he says to them. The children need protecting, but it’s difficult to build an effective relationship under that scrutiny.

It may also be one reason why celebrity relationships fail – they are too much under the public gaze. We seem to need quiet privacy for a relationship to flourish. That’s where love, reliability, honesty and trust can grow. The children’s father might proclaim to the world at large how much he loves his kids, but he failed to demonstrate that at home when he had the chance.

In our culture, no one is particularly tempted to go  standing on a street corner, praying out loud. It’s just not cool! Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of doing that in Matthew 6:5-8. But he told his listeners to pray in a quiet, private place and talk to their heavenly Father. And you don’t need to keep babbling, repeating the same requests – that’s just not necessary, as God knows what you need even before you ask – just like any good earthly father. What’s really important, is not the talking, but building relationship. That place where we learn that God is loving, reliable, honest and trustworthy, and where we can become like him, secure in his love.

You may be proclaiming to all how much God has done for you – which is great by the way. Your neighbours may see you going to church with your bible tucked under your arm. Fine. Your colleagues may observe you working diligently, never uttering a bad word. Excellent. You may be doing all the right things, but when did you last tell your heavenly Father how much you love him? Do you regularly curl up into Daddy’s lap and just enjoy being with him? Too often we rush into prayer, give God a list of all our requests, and rush off again, without giving him a chance to tell us what is on his heart. Prayer is about spending quality time with God, sharing what’s on your heart, and listening for his response and promptings. The power of prayer is in the relationship, not the asking. Tell him you love him, and listen to his reply. Enjoy!

 

matt 6  5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

Loving and giving

There are the deserving poor. Sad pictures of  children with hunger-bloated bellies, or destitute women picking a living off a rubbish heap. And then there are the undeserving poor. Plenty of them. Lazy scroungers who won’t work claiming handouts, or beggars on the city streets. And when it comes to charity, I know where I want my money to go. Quick to judge aren’t we? Do we really know the stories behind the pictures?

In Jesus’s day, beggars were registered, and had their own official spots. You could know they were the ‘deserving’ poor. They performed a function too. Giving to them made you feel good. Being seen giving to them made you feel even better! But Jesus challenged that (Matthew 6:1-4). He wanted people to love. Love their neighbours; love their enemies; love those they didn’t even know. It would be a poor sort of love that gave alms for your own benefit. No. The reward would be simply to know that God knew you had done right in loving, kindly, generous giving.

How do we choose who to give charity to? The pictures that pull hardest on the heart strings? The best constructed adverts? Or are we constantly attentive to the voice of God, to give where he points – whether there is a significant ‘ahhhh factor’ or not? He, and only he, really knows the story behind the picture: the individual and his or her heart’s cry. The deepest needs.

Giving is certainly not about being seen doing good. It’s not even about doing good because it makes you feel good. It’s about doing what God says, giving where he says, whatever he says, however he tells you, whether you see the need or not.

Have you ever received charity? It’s actually quite embarrassing. So much easier to give than receive. How important it is that giving is done quietly, sensitively, out of the public eye, with as little condescension as possible. It’s just not loving to let others know about it, if they don’t need to know.

So as we go our way through life, let’s be listening, with an open heart and an open wallet. What needs does God see, that he is sharing with me? How can I help? How can I be subtle, loving, generous, sensitive, wise? God will reward me, and meet my needs too. And it’s one way of loving my neighbour.

mtt 6 1-4

Doing like Father

What is the difference between God and a consultant? …   God doesn’t think he’s a consultant!

Actually most consultants I’ve come across are really professional and caring, but there’s one who is unbelievably rude and singularly unhelpful. Loads of official complaints against him, but he still draws an enormous salary for insulting his patients. Doesn’t it make your blood boil?

Yet Jesus said we should love our enemies, and do good to, bless, pray for those who harm us (Matthew 5:43-48). And this would cover much worse situations than a rubbish health consultation. The Rabbinic tradition had come up with a much easier decree – to love neighbours and hate enemies. They hadn’t got it from anything God had told them, incidentally. Leviticus 19:18 taught them the ‘love your neighbour‘ bit, but they’d taken God’s commands to come against national enemies like the Amalekites and Canaanites, and applied it inappropriately to personal situations of hostility.

Instead Jesus reminded them how God loved all, and provided for all, righteous or unrighteous alike – fellow countryman or stranger, Jew or pagan – all. And he instructed us to do likewise – “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Copying him, wanting to be like him. That is serious worship.

It’s easy to love those who love you! I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine – works just fine the world over. But being the first one to show kindness, when you’ve been served rudeness, or hurt, or treated unfairly, or someone you love has been harmed – that is the real challenge. But it’s what God has consistently done throughout history, and most especially through Jesus. He loved me and sent Jesus to die for me, long before I gave a thought in his direction.

And he asks that I copy him. To love the unlovely, forgive the hurters, care about injustice, demonstrate his love to a hateful and hating world.

How would I respond if someone did something terrible to me or someone I love? I know what I should do – but would I be able? Well, v.48 instructs me to be perfect, like my heavenly Father; and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give us power to be like him. So I must trust him for the grace to forgive even in such terrible situations.

And in the meantime, to be kind to those who I don’t honestly feel like being kind to – including rude consultants!

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