Finding God in the Everyday
In considering love this week, I’ve thought a lot about what love in action might look like. I was reminded of a friend I knew a few years ago. He was pretty hit and miss in his church attendance. He would not have been able to deliver his testimony from the front of church. He did not know his Bible inside out. He did not have all the right answers. But he did know the names of all the children in the Primary School where he was the Head. He did show an interest in every individual he met. He would do anything for anyone. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.
I remember one night at house group, we were talking about discipleship and David said –
“I’m not sure I know exactly what discipleship is, but I do get out of bed every morning and say ‘I wonder how I can love as Jesus loved today’. Is that what you mean?”
David died very suddenly in his mid forties and at his funeral, the church was overflowing with individuals from all walks of life whose lives had been touched by this extra special man and his extraordinary love.
And then just last week, I attended a retirement ‘do’ for the tutor of my Living Theology Today course in Durham. He had tutored the course for ten years, each year welcoming in a new set of students and walking with them through their head and heart journey of faith and discovery. When I received the invitation, I knew I had to go, but was concerned that there would be no one else there from my course. How wrong I was. The room was full of people whose lives had been changed by this man. Everyone was there because they wanted to testify to the difference that this one man had made to their faith and life.
But Jim is not a loud, confident, charismatic individual. He is the epitome of ‘unassuming‘. He is reserved and shrinks from the limelight. He hates being the centre of attention and does not stand out in a crowd. His knowledge of theology is extensive and deep and yet he values fresh insights from much less learned individuals like myself. His love is patient, gentle and kind. He seemed overwhelmed by the good wishes of us all, as if surprised that he had had an impact on so many lives.
Of course, the very best example of love in action that has ever lived is Jesus himself. Look for love in his every action. Look for love in his every word. Love is there to be found in all that Jesus did and said.
He did not heal the sick to show how spiritual he was.
He did not turn water into wine to prove a point.
He did not pick these particular disciples to make himself look good.
He did not cast out demons to prove how much God was using him.
He did not tell parables to get in with the in-crowd.
He did not walk on water to impress.
He did not calm the storm to gain respect.
He did not feed the five thousand to become popular.
He did not wash the disciples’ feet to make people look up to him.
It was all out of love. Love for his followers. Love for the sick. Love for the lost. Love for God. In Jesus, we find a kind and compassionate love. A love that cares and meets needs. A love that nurtures, cherishes and forgives. A love that is patient and humble.
Let us be inspired and challenged by love in action.
Let us learn to say with my friend – ‘I wonder how I can love as Jesus loved today’.
Many sermons have been preached, many books have been written, many discussions have taken place about how we should live as Christians. We have agonised over making the right decisions and knowing God’s will for our lives. Some of us would have loved to be handed a book of rules – a list of guidelines on how to please God. We have obsessed about how to worship, how to evangelise, how to study the Bible, how to pray. We become with preoccupied with the minute details of what we believe, determined to prove that we are right, that we know precisely and unequivocally what it takes to be a Christian.
Been there. Done that. Grown out of the T shirt.
I guess God set the Israelites on the right track with the Ten Commandments. (or 613, if you count all of them in the Book of the Law – according to Qi!)
And then Jesus simplified these commandments, which were causing some level of confusion in the interpretation in his time, into three simpler commands –
Just one command basically. Love.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:38-40.
It does matter what we believe as Christians. But how often has that become the be all and end all of our faith, with love nowhere to be found in our heated arguments, our judgemental opinions and our superior attitudes?
Maybe it is all far simpler than we have been led to believe. The writer of 1 John seems to think so.
Life, fellowship, joy, light, truth….
All wrapped up in Jesus.
All there to be discovered if we obey his command.
The one command that has underpinned every command ever written.
The command to love.
Simple, yes. But so hard to do. Maybe that’s why we try to make it more complicated than it actually is. Maybe that’s why we bury this simple command under layers of dogma, tradition, intellectual argument and perceived spirituality. Because getting down to loving is hard.
Loving our partner for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, is hard.
Loving our children as they make their own (misguided?) decisions is hard.
Loving our neighbour with all their annoying little demands and habits is hard.
Loving our friends when they let us down is hard.
Loving that person at church who has hurt us is hard.
Loving ourselves when we make the same mistake yet again is hard.
Loving God when things are going wrong and He doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it is hard.
Loving the noisy person in the cinema, the inefficient shop assistant, the group of loud teenagers outside the shop is hard.
GOD IS LOVE. We discover God waiting for us in the situations where it is hardest to love. To strengthen us, to encourage us, to fill us with His love.
GOD IS LOVE. We reveal God to others as much through how we love them as what we say to them. Maybe more so.
It is that simple.
“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
Live simply. Simply love.
Another school holiday; another book to read. This time one that I would not normally pick up. The kind of book that does not usually attract me. But at the moment, I’m fascinated by Heaven and that’s what this book is all about. “The boy who came back from heaven” is the story of a young boy Alex Malarkey (I know, I couldn’t believe the name either) who is in a serious car crash with his father Kevin Malarkey. Together, they retell the events after the crash and the experiences from each of their perspectives. They tell of miraculous encounters and answers to prayer in a totally down to earth way. As if they are saying “This is what happened; you decide what you make of it.”
I don’t really know what I do make of it, but I did appreciate the honesty surrounding the Dad’s personal doubts, the strain that his marriage was under and the apparent lack of complete physical healing for Alex. I found Alex’s section on demons particularly fascinating. (p169-172) –
“I remember the devil telling me a lie in the car accident: “Your daddy is dead, and it’s your fault!” He is the father of lies and I am so glad I know now that he is a liar.”
Well, I can relate to that. I have spent my whole life living with lies. I just didn’t always see them for what they were. Looking back, I can see that I was brought up in what for me was a negative environment. Some would say realistic. For fear of succumbing to pride, we were encouraged to be down on ourselves. In a desire to keep our feet on the ground, we were constantly reminded of how unworthy we were. Positive thinking was positively frowned upon. Such an approach keeps you humble. It also keeps you defeated.
This is how Alex describes being around a demon –
“Well, it’s evil, scary, and ugly! They accuse me of things, bring me doubt, make me feel sad, and tell me that I will never be healed and that God won’t protect me.
I know these things sound bad, but I also know something much better: “The Spirit who lives in [us] is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4). My God is true and faithful and loving. He’s perfect!”
I don’t know what to think about the personification of the devil and demons but I do know this. Just the evening before, I had been laying face down on my bed. I never wanted to get up again. I could not face going downstairs. I was drowning in a sea of lies.
“I can’t cope any more. I am not up to this. I am getting it all wrong. I am a complete failure. I am not cut out for this.”
I lay there listening to these words repeating on a loop in my head. I believed it all. I was completely defeated. Lies were being whispered into my mind and taking a hold.
And when I read Alex’s words the next day, I knew he was right. My God is true and faithful and loving. My God is greater than the lies. Listening to lies leads to defeat. Concentrating on the truth will give me the strength to lift my head from the pillow and go downstairs.
It’s worth a read.
You can buy “The boy who came back from heaven” from Amazon UK
My family all laugh and warn each other to “Never say never” as far as I am concerned. Like this is a bad thing. OK, so I am constantly (in my husband’s opinion) moving furniture around and rearranging rooms. I am prepared to change my mind. I have grown to love football. I am adapting with age. I believe in better – the hope of improved relationships, improved behaviour in the home, improved positive effect on the world that I live in…. – and am looking for steps to take, changes to make, to bring about that evolution.
And evolution is good. Experimentation is good. According to Michael Moynagh in the book emergingchurch.intro that I have just read and enjoyed –
“For God has chosen experiments to propel creation. What is evolution if it is not a history of experimentation? One species flourishes, another doesn’t, a third mutates. It is as if each is asking “What will work in this context?” The natural world is a living laboratory, constantly learning.” (p40-41)
And the same is true of human history – the advances of civilisation, industrialisation, technology. Some things have worked. Some things have not. Some things have been pure genius. Some things have been plain ridiculous. Sometimes we have said “This used to work but it doesn’t any more. What will work better?”
And so the same is true of church. In many cases, church is not working. Phrases like “We’ve always done it this way” “We don’t do things like that here.“ “That wouldn’t work here” are stifling the adventure that is the journey of faith of the Body of Christ. Is it time to embrace experimentation? (if this interests you, then that book is a good start).
And what about us as individuals?
In a recent interview I heard, Rob Bell was asked to comment on the fact that he had changed quite considerably in the last ten years. (the implication was that this was a bad thing). In true Rob Bell fashion, he turned it around “Have you changed in the last ten years? Haven’t we all changed in the last ten years?” How sad would it be if we looked back and felt that we had not changed at all? If we had learnt nothing from all our experiences, our relationships, our study? If God had not revealed more to us and we had not grown in Him? What a waste that would be. How futile those ten years would have been.
A friend of mine who had never opened a Bible two months ago and is experimenting with attending church posted this comment on Facebook yesterday –
“XX is working towards a pure heart J”
Isn’t that what sanctification is all about? In practice. On Facebook.
Change is so exciting. Experimentation is risky and scary, but can lead to great places. Evolution opens up a world of possibilities.
Never say never.
One of my earliest memories of my husband from when we were students is seeing him on the stage at Warwick University delivering an impassioned talk on the Upsidedown Kingdom. I was so proud, so inspired – and so unaware of where living with him in that “upside down” kingdom would take me!
We have lived as fools for Christ.
As a young couple with a new baby, we set up and ran a fair trade shop – in our spare time. My husband gave up a well paid job as a computer journalist in London to move to the North East to work for Traidcraft. I gave up work so we could foster – and then go on to adopt three extra children on top of the two birth children we already had. We moved from an up and coming area to be in the parish and community of the church we were attending. After leaving that church in painful circumstances, we returned to it three years ago to rebuild bridges and experience reconciliation. I have never returned to work outside the home to give me more time for my family, my friends and my writing.
We spend more on fair trade and organic products because we believe in ethical issues.
We fiddled on with recycling and composting long before it became trendy.
We take risks and get our fingers burnt.
We ask difficult questions of ourselves and others.
We are honest about our struggles and failures.
We value friendship over a perfect home.
Fools for Christ most of the time anyway, I hope. Sometimes maybe merely fools.
I use to think that getting older meant by default, getting wiser, but like so many others, the older I get, the more I realise how little I actually know. Maybe that’s what true wisdom is though – being realistic about what we do not know and seeking God’s wisdom instead.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1Corinthians 1:25) – which is a relief because to be honest, the wisdom of this world sucks and simply does not work
And a bit further on, Paul writes –
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
– which takes us full circle, all the way back to the upsidedown kingdom.
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Hence fools4christ. Let us know about your “foolishness” for God too.
I have always struggled to make sense of the Trinity. Even more so when I have tried to explain it to my kids. I came across this that helped me and my kids:
Athanasius compared the Trinity to a lighted candle: the lighted candle is a flame; the flame is light and the flame is heat, but it is all one flame. The One God is the creator of all, the one God is the incarnated light of Jesus, and the one God is the warming presence of the Holy Spirit. All of these manifestations are at the same time the flame of the lighted candle. This remains the best analogy I have found to describe the Trinity.
Rufus H. Stark II, retired Methodist minister, writing to The Christian Century.
How easy it is to find ourselves living in a world like this. Where there is nothing new under the sun. Where everyday life becomes a monotony. Where the washing basket is always full and the dishwasher always needs emptying. We travel to the same places day after day; we follow the same old routines; we meet the same people. Life is predictable, mundane – and boring.
And in our relationships, we play out the scenes from tales as old as time. The age old themes resurface again and again and again. It’s all been said before, felt before, done before.
Yet within our familiar surroundings, God is waiting to surprise us.
A daffodil can lift our spirits.
A stretching cat can bring a smile to our face.
The intricate detail of a butterfly’s wings can fill us with wonder.
Our children never cease to amaze us.
Our friends have the capacity to surprise us, when we least expect it.
And how little we actually we know ourselves!
Let’s marvel as we travel deeper into the adventure that is self awareness.
A flash of insight can bring a different perspective.
An exciting revelation can invigorate the most monotonous of tasks.
An unexpected discovery can feel like a glimpse of eternity.
Right here. Right now.
I’ve come to the conclusion that boredom is a state of mind.
An adult state of mind.
We took our children for a walk in a nearby wood the other evening. They were dragging their feet, grumbling that they would rather be at home in front of the television. Until we turned a corner and there was the most amazing sight. A carpet of bluebells amongst the trees. Suddenly all the moaning and cares were forgotten. The children were scampering around excitedly like little puppies. This vibrant scene bursting with life had filled them to overflowing with joy.
I want to recapture that sense of abandonment. I want to be lost in wonder, awe and praise. I want to be like a child, walking around with my eyes wide open, waiting to be surprised. I want to see with the eyes of a toddler, stopping at every interesting leaf along the path. I want to look for God and find Him in the most unexpected of places.
I want to live life in colour, not in black and white.
“I really love the name of your boat,” he was saying “Querencia, right?”
“Yes,” she said. “You speak Spanish?”
“No, but I read a book about bullfighting once. Isn’t that the spot in the ring when the bull feels protected and secure?”
“Exactly,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a place in the sun. Other times it’s in the shade. It’s where the bull goes between charges. It’s like an invisible fortress, the only safe place.”iphone 5/5s/5c refurbished
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“Just like your boat.”
The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud
And that’s another thing I turn to in the school holidays – losing myself in absorbing “light” fiction. Then sometimes I find a truth right there in the escapism. True rest is there to be found in the wildest storm, when attacks are coming from all sides. True rest requires protection and security, strength and safety. It’s where I need to go between battles.
My thirteen year old adopted daughter can whip up a storm in seconds. The anger is raging, the hurtful words are hitting the target over and over again. Feelings of helplessness, hurt and failure threaten to overwhelm me. Even when she has long forgotten what she was angry about and has fallen asleep, I lie awake into the night, trying to find some peace, some rest, some restoration.
Where is my Querencia?
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
God is my Querencia.
God is my invisible fortress.
In him, I can feel protected and secure.
God is my only safe place.
In him, I can find the rest to let love win again.
So the school holidays are a notoriously difficult time to experience rest. The waters are not so quiet when filled with the shrieks of children splashing in the freezing cold stream. The pastures are not so restful with games of football and Frisbee going on all around. If God is only there in the quiet times, then I‘ve had it.
I therefore turn my thoughts to mindfulness – practising the presence of God in everyday life. Maybe hope is to be found here.
My friend has determined to practise mindfulness on her daily morning walk with the dog. Rather than obsessing about all that she has to do that day, she concentrates on her surroundings, tries to feel positive about being out in the fresh air rather than in bed and notices something new every day.
“I never realised nature was so noisy,” is her conclusion. “The running water, the birds in the trees, the breeze in the leaves – when you listen, it’s all there.”
Creation crying out in praise to the Creator. Cool.
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So when I am out with the kids, I try to be really out with the kids (rather than at home in my head, composing lists and worrying about unfinished tasks.) I enjoy the sunshine and the blossom. I concentrate on what the children are wanting to tell me. I draw their attention to the wonderful world that we live in. I celebrate the moments of laughter and love. I draw on my reserves of patience and love when things start going pear-shaped. (most – some – of the time).
And I wouldn’t say I feel rested, but I am getting through this Easter break so far without resorting to mindless colouring in (not with the kids, but in the evening when the kids have gone to bed!), a sure indicator in my experience of a fried brain. I don’t feel like packing my bag and running away. God is there in the midst of it all, waiting to be noticed, wanting to be found. The housework can wait.
PS: I’m obviously not doing as well at the whole holidays experience as I thought I was. When one of my husband’s colleagues asked him how I was, he replied “she’s wearing that slightly haunted look she always has in the school holidays.”
Some way to go yet then.