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!

The choice

Curiously, there are only two things you absolutely HAVE to do in life. You might say you HAVE to eat, or collect the kids from school, but even these are a choice. Just that the consequences of not doing them are unthinkable. The two things then? To die, and to take up space. Maybe a useless piece of information, but actually, it does free you up, to realise you ARE choosing your life.

So when the government demands its taxes, you are choosing to pay, rather than face prison. Work is a choice you preferred to having no resources. Cleaning up is better than living in the mess, you have decided. You don’t HAVE to keep people happy, you choose. Empowering isn’t it?

So when someone turns nasty on you, or is rude to you, or takes advantage of you, how do you react, knowing the choice is yours? If they are stronger, or more powerful, a wise choice is usually damage limitation. Pride would have us rise up unthinkingly and fight our corner, but the outcome may actually turn out worse. These were the sort of situations Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5:38-42 – like a personal attack, or enforced labour.

The Jews had put in place the ‘eye for an eye’ ruling, to prevent escalation of vengeance – you were limited to retribution only equal to the damage suffered. But here Jesus was advising an alternative approach. The occupying Roman forces might commandeer anything they pleased – possessions, labour, liberty. Naturally, pride would rise up to fight back. But Jesus was not advocating natural reactions, but supernatural responses, where Holy Spirit wisdom carefully chose the pathway, where self was controlled, and the outcome the most desirable. At worst, they would be no worse off, with only pride a little dented. At best they might win over their enemy, shame them into better behaviour, and make a friend.

Injustice riles us, people can get nasty, life can seem very unfair. If we let our pride rule the situation, we don’t generally achieve the best outcome. We can be directed by anger, or we can take a moment to ask Holy Spirit to guide us. We may still have to fight, but it will be cleverer boxing; or he may urge us to respond in a different way. Whatever your enemy can do to you, he can never take away your freedom to choose how you react.

Yes or no

One of the hardest things I find in caring for someone with advanced Parkinson’s, is never being able to look forward to anything. You can never be sure you are going to be able to make it, and plans have to be kept open to change. But I suppose life is like that for everyone in a way – you can never really know what’s round the corner.

So should we make promises? Can we ever be sure we are going to be able to fulfil them? Jesus warned about making oaths in Matthew 5:33-37. Swearing an oath by heaven, earth, a place, your own head… whatever… was disrespectful. But more than that, it was unnecessary. Simply saying you were going to do something should be strong enough. Your word should be your word. If circumstances genuinely prevent you, no amount of swearing can make the slightest difference!

The problem is that we may say we’ll do something, when we’ve only half a mind to. We say, “Yes, OK I’ll do my best to come,” when what we mean is, “I don’t want to come, but I don’t want to tell you that; so I’m pretty sure something else will come up so I won’t feel guilty about not coming”! “I’ll try…” is all too often a euphemism for “no”. I’ve heard the expression ‘D.V.’ or ‘God willing’ used against interruptions to plans. But it’s often more a matter of whether I’m willing!

Does it really matter when we all know how this works? If someone politely hedges round a straight ‘yes’ we can be pretty sure they mean ‘no’. But Jesus thought it mattered – “…anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

God promised to send a saviour into the world, and it is no coincidence that Jesus is the Word of God. God truly gave his Word. And it cost him.

There will sometimes be overriding circumstances, that genuinely interfere with our intentions,  but truth is part of our spiritual armour (Ephesians 6:14). It protects us. We need to be truthful.

God made me in his likeness, and he wants me to be like him. He kept his word to me. He didn’t  ‘try’ or ‘do his best’.

Lord help me to make my ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ be ‘no’ so that people will trust me, and know that my God keeps his promises too.

 

For better, for worse

A lady came to live next door, with her baby girl. She was of Asian origin, and recently divorced. Before long her ex-husband issued terrible threats, and fearing for the safety of both herself and her child, she finally relinquished the baby to his family’s care. It shouldn’t have happened under British law, but people with determination and power find ways to circumnavigate rights. I watched my neighbour decline into a downward spiral of disastrous relationships and poor health, as her status in British Asian culture reduced.

Add to that sort of scenario, a culture where women are uneducated and unemployable. where practically their only career option is prostitution, and you begin to see why Jesus had a problem with divorce (Matthew 5:31). He was speaking into a situation where men could legally just decide, for any reason they fancied, to simply relieve themselves of their current wife and go find another they preferred. Women had no say in the matter, and could be left unable to support themselves, and unlikely to find a suitable provider.

The cultural laws were badly flawed. But Jesus was in the business of reforming hearts, not society. If people saw marriage as a life-long commitment, then they would be more careful in their choice to start off with, and invest more effort into making it successful. An easy opt out made marriage into a disposable commodity, leaving terrible consequences for the powerless cast-off wife.

Today, in western culture, women do have more rights; but as my neighbour’s situation demonstrates, divorce can create dire problems. The solution is still the same as Jesus saw it – making marriage a life-long commitment, so couples invest their energy into making it work. Of course there will always be painful situations that have no such easy answers, and then we can only repent and thank God for his grace. His covenant to us is a life-long commitment, however we behave to each other.

As a Church, we need to teach people how to make the right choices about if and whom to marry. We need support for married couples to make strong relationships. We need to encourage and value those who are single, that they don’t feel pressurised into an unwise marriage. And we need to help those whose marriages have failed – it is not an unforgivable sin, and there are often disastrous consequences to work though.  And of course, we need to comfort those who have been parted by death from their life-long partner.

In short, we all need help. We all need support. We all need prayer. What are you doing about it?

 

Whatever it takes

I must irritate my family something chronic! I do love chocolate – but not in the way most people do. I NEED to have it there, in the fridge, ready to eat any time I fancy it; but so long as it is there, I’m happy – I don’t often eat it! So a bar of chocolate can last me literally months (I still have some left from Christmas!). BUT woe betide anyone else pinching it on me! They have to look but not touch. Hahaha!

Temptation is all around us. It’s part of the world we live in. Jesus dealt with the subject of adultery in Matthew 5:27-30. He said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Here’s the thing. Noticing a person, even noticing that they look attractive, is not the problem. It’s not looking once, but looking the second time. You can’t help noticing, but you can help looking. That is the choice. And that is where the problems take root. Letting yourself go down that street. The issue is – how much do you want to stay pure – in this or any other area? How important is it to you, that you do not fall into sin?

Sin separates us from God. That is why Jesus chose to sacrifice himself on the cross, to take away our sins, so that we could have a relationship with God our Father. Choosing to sin – looking twice – creates a blockage and damages our relationship with God. Jesus was willing to give his life to undo that. It may seem a bit dramatic to talk about gouging out eyes and cutting off hands to stop ourselves from sinning, but Jesus went much further even than that. How far are you willing to go?

I need to get to the point where I will say, “I will do whatever it takes to stop myself from falling into this particular sin.” For some, that might mean relinquishing the credit card, or the internet. For others, it will be to break off an unhelpful relationship. It might mean changing your job, or moving area. It might be a matter of confessing and sharing the issue with someone, however difficult you find that. It might mean making a hard decision.

It’s whatever it takes.

%d bloggers like this: