Affirming the Blessed

It has been a fair few centuries since He said it, but I wonder if the church He died for would recognise and affirm those He referred to as the blessed.

Those 8 characteristics are as counterintuitive and countercultural now as they were when He shared them with His disciples way back then. Sometimes in the bid to be people-pleasing and attractive to the eye, much is said to sell Christianity as something worthwhile because it’s like wish fulfillment, where all your wildest dreams come true and phrases about having the best in this life are appealing and gratifying, especially as they often coincide with what the world and the flesh suggest would be the best in this life – security, comfort, material benefits and happiness.

It’s jarring, then, to hear Him once more make the clarion cry that the blessed pursue something of far greater worth than security, comfort, material benefits and happiness. Indeed the blessed turn a lot of what others would deem that which truly makes us happy to that which ultimately makes us holy – not for our sake but for His Name’s Sake.

Yet how do we actively affirm what He referred to as the blessed?

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

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MTP02 – Treasure Above All Treasures

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:3-5)

Again connecting Proverbs with the Kingdom, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states that your heart will be on what you treasure.

The father tells his son in this second chapter of Proverbs that if you want something worth treasuring then make it knowing God.  Imagine how much better decision making in life would be if these were truly treasured.  Imagine the benefits and happier life for yourself and others if this was the pursuit.  Then consider the just, right and fair attitudes it would promote.  Then ask yourself – what is worth treasuring?  What does my heart desire?

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

dmcd

Insights From Matthew – On The Flipside Of The Woes

Earlier in this look at Matthew I had the temerity to suggest that Jesus could get angry and it would not be in our best interests to be on the receiving end when Jesus is angry.

I had to read it several times to begin to consider the level of charges that Jesus makes to the religious rulers of the day. As I hear His words though, in as much as I’m transported to the scene, the words also travel deep to my heart.

It is easy for me to be critical of institutional church and the failing of denominational structures that have been more concerned with maintaining itself rather than unblocking the way for people to get to the Kingdom. It is easy for me to highlight the issues and neglect. It is easy to do that, but that would be missing a crucial point that Jesus has been saying since the first time He opened His mouth and it was recorded in Matthew’s gospel account.

For back in Matthew 5 Jesus is explicit that if I want to be in the Kingdom my righteousness has to exceed that of these religious rulers. In other words, rather than getting bogged down in being critical and annoyed at the failings, I have to be only too aware of living out the flipside of the woes.

Flipside 1 – vs. 13 – Rather than making no effort at getting in and being a hindrance to others, my concern should be doing everything I can to get in there. As a result of that, I won’t be in the place to be an obstacle. Rather as the faithful in times past have blazed a trail, I can follow it likewise and point to others to follow in the path that has been left to enter.

Flipside 2 – vs. 14 – This is a serious charge. No point in praying long eloquent prayers with the wit and wordsmith skills of Shakespeare whilst widows in need of help are actually being taken advantage of having whatever life is sucked out of them. I know of some cases where it’s literally the case that the poor old widows are not being supported at all but are expected to volunteer whatever time they have to the ’cause’. Sad to see. So to flip that over I’ve got to be a vessel through which those who have served for so long are the beneficiaries of practical, soothing, ministry. (That means me shutting up, right? Right.)

Flipside 3 – vs. 15 – Wow. Ouch. I mean read that in your own time and tell me if we’re not guilty of that to some degree even if by association. Kill ourselves giving people tracts and getting them into emotion-filled services, they make the commitment and before you know it, the lively enthused new convert slowly sadly becomes contorted to the sad bitter images of the grumpy set who sit and criticise. Oki-doki. Flipping that over, it’s time to get back to the heart of discipleship – getting back to flipside 1 where my passion for Jesus and His kingdom is evident and infectious by that same spirit that rose Jesus from the dead. Time to sharpen myself against other ironed out brothers who are serious about Jesus and then when others join us on the journey they will likewise be filled with that Spirit of joy to pass the good news to others.

Flipside 4 – vs. 16-22 – In a very real way Jesus combines two crucial threads He’s been saying earlier on in His ministry. Recently He had to highlight to the tricky customers trying to trip Him up that when it came to taxes, as it’s got Caesar’s head on it, you might as well give him what is his, as long as you give to God what is His. Before then way back in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus was clear that when it came to swearing, we should just let our yes be yes here. So the very real pointer in this section of scripture, is rather than being caught up on the wrong things by which to pledge ourselves to, as if material goods are worthy of that much attention, it is so important to be making our declarations according to the throne of God – according to God Himself and stick to our word in allegiance to Him and no other.

Flipside 5 – vs. 23-24 – What is the point of making such a big deal of material goods when there are lives at stake? That’s why I have short shrift with projects that have more to do with brick and mortar than the souls and lives of people in need. So here flipside living is sure giving God materially what is His but matching that with the desire to give God of myself in being passionate about the things He’s passionate for – the weak, poor, disenfranchised, alienated, foreign. Flipside living is standing up for justice and mercy wherever possible and doing is wholeheartedly.

Flipside 6 – vs. 25-26 – This kind of living is not as much fussed about the external lifestyle as the state of the inner man and as that is something for which we can advise and encourage but for which the individual takes responsibility it removes any room for judgemental spirit. It echoes the need Jesus points out again back in the Sermon to recognise that those who see God are pure in heart. John in His first epistle in scripture would put it that those who realise they are the beloved purify themselves even as He is pure – and that’s an inside job.

Flipside 7 – vs. 27-28 – Building on the theme of being right within again we are taken back to the Sermon where Jesus informs us that in that day many will come to Him in that day saying Lord, Lord were we not the bomb?! Did you see that crusade I ran and those who flocked to give their lives to you? Did you get that concert and those DVD’s and albums that people loved? Did you see me in that act of kindness and essential social action in meeting the needs of others. Did you see it, Jesus? Did you see it, Lord? But because of the corrupt state of my heart all Jesus see is a worker of iniquity. Oh let my outer life reflect the state of my heart and not a convenient front. And let my heart be pure in its desire for God and love for others.

Flipside 8 – vs. 29-31 – I cannot afford to consider myself to be in a position where I say well if I was in their position I would do better than they did, especially when there maybe things God could expose about me that shows me to have just as corrupt a heart. The heartbeat for the things of God moves on from the holier-than-thou attitude to being taken jup completely with doing and being everything pleasing to God.

The words of Jesus are stinging. I’m not sure if He’s had a discourse that is so brutal and heavy in impact in such a way. Yet it’s not for the sake of just letting off steam – there are Kingdom issues at stake for His audience – disciples and followers to consider carefully and not fall into the same trap.

Oh to live on the flipside of the woes.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

dmcd

Living For Spiritual Highs – Walking Through Spiritual Lows

My church background is pretty interesting and the things that I’ve learnt over my time in Stoke-on-Trent and especially at the YMCA has been eye-opening for so many reasons. I’m extremely grateful to God to be exposed to these things and experience a lot of them as well as observe them. The more I see new things and they connect with God the more I’m amazed at how wondrous and beyond my comprehension He is.

Something I’ve noticed is how certain corporate experiences in services and the like. In some settings there’s a great anticipation and expectation for something significant to take place. Sometimes when that expectation is met it knits people together in amazing ways that would not have been applicable in another setting. People have some memories they share of how God moved in their situation and it’s brilliant.

There is no doubting that the power of God is able to deliver people instantly from things that have been plaguing them for years. It is a reality that has been witnessed and celebrated time and time again. In all that expectation and anticipation it can sometimes, appear as though Christians live for spiritual highs. Almost as if occasions like that is their fix. The concern here is because of the painful work of sanctification that requires slower process work and it’s more about brothers and sisters supporting each other by being there for each other challenging and consoling one another as they bear each other’s burdens.

Although it is prevalent in New Testament epistles it does not appear as emphasised in the Christian experiences as the wonderful charismatic moments. It’s not an either/or situation, it is a both/and gig where there is an appreciation for what both brings to the table.

It’s a concern that comes from hearing and seeing people talk of an amazing move of God only to see them struggling to maintain any semblance of a Christian life afterwards. Rather than growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, it just appears as though they’ve got their fix and just wait for the next one to come along. Is that what following Jesus is really about? Isn’t there something about actually changing in character from a selfish, sinful, slob of a slug of a sentient being, to a humble, mourning, meek, hungering & thirsting, merciful, pure and peacemaking personalities? Doesn’t that further reinforce the loving attitude that’s then developed with each other and the Spirit-filled life that comes from that, rather than an almost addictive power-driven desire for spectacle for self-gratification?

From this I have a desperate desire to see liberated people of faith gradually addressing their flaws and exercising their gifts and having an expectation and anticipation for God to show up, but not just in the wham, bam, thank you ma’am of charismatic events, but in the hum, drum, pedigree chum of regular life.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

dmcd

Divided Loyalties

Sometimes when I watch movies, especially James Bond ones, I listen out for when the title of the movie will be mentioned.(Obviously in my opinion Roger Moore always delivered his best of all the Bonds, that raised eyebrow just convinced me from the start.)I think that sometimes it is whilst writing the narrative or some dialogue in the narrative that the title for a book or a movie emerges, just as a significant theme in a song that is repeated can lend itself as the song title.In the same way I was engaging in a conversation when the phrase of this blog entry came to mind.

I said it to the person and it had a resonating effect on me.This dear friend had said some things around looking forward to spend more time with the family.I was thinking, however, that the reason why things have come to this point is because there’s always a competing force for the attention that means the family suffers.

I also thought that it’s not just this person who suffers from divided loyalties.To some extent there is an overriding interest that takes up the heart, even if the time is otherwise taken with other activities, the mind is just going over that issue again and again.It is so often the case that someone is physically present and to some degree engaging in the activity of the time, but it’s obvious that they are elsewhere either in spirit or mind.Their mind is taken up with their own thing of desire.

As ever Jesus exposes the issue slap bang in the middle of his famous teaching on the mount where he simply says,

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

That which captures the heart and takes up the attention has virtual mastery over us.It’s funny really, we run away from the sense of anyone owning us or telling us what to do.We make a big deal of being autonomous, independent, free-thinking individuals when in most cases, (come on it’s presumptuous and arrogant to say all in a blog like this when you’re not that brave yet) we’re actually not that autonomous, or independent or free-thinking.Sooner or later some master will take us under his wing – especially the enticing allure of money and all it can seemingly buy and what it can mean in the sight of others.We come under its wings and before you know it moods, thoughts, decisions, temperament, life activities and relationships are determined by what masters us.

Not only that, but it’s not as if there’s choice to be mastered or not.All this liberalism and free country jargon may keep us warm in our thoughts at night, but slavery has not been abolished, just either blatantly ignored in the so-called Third-World, or made to be far more sophisticated in the so-called First-World.Slavery and mastery is wrapped up with the whole human psyche and it’s then a case of discovering which mastery will give us the best chance of not being oppressed, compressed, distressed, depressed, repressed and even negatively possessed.

That sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it.I’m not going to make it any softer, though.Think of it this way, though.As a slave if your master is responsible for upkeep and takes that seriously to ensure that your working conditions are as conducive and constructive to your benefit as possible and you are just required to be obedient to instructions that are actually to your overall benefit, how is that a bad thing?If the Lord who has mastery over us instructs us … commands us to love each other and empowers and equips us to do that how is that a bad thing?If the Lord who has mastery over us instructs us … to find the truest sense of liberty in being like His Son by linking with Him and allowing Him to carry the bulk of the burden how is that a bad thing?

Obviously it’s a bad thing to us because we don’t appear to be in control, even if we’ve been deluding ourselves in thinking that the autonomous, independent, free-thinking position has improved our situation.It’s got to be a definition of madness to think that illusive and elusive living is somehow any better.

The divided loyalty continues though and in reality it’s not that divided at all, whenever something else other than that which is meant to be occupying the heart is there, then we’re always giving cheap second-hand service to everything else.The funny thing is, under the Lordship of the creator there’s more than enough time to look after the family.There’s more than enough time to be effective at work.There’s even enough time to pursue pastimes that help you in building relationships and the like.Indeed under this mastery all of those activities are effused with life and purpose possible because it’s rooted in acknowledging first and foremost the Lord who makes it all possible.

Until then, though, it’s the ongoing challenge of seeing where the heart is and asking this kind, forgiving and liberating Lord to help us find our hearts in Him.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

dmcd

Where Do I Fit In The Larger Scheme Of Things

This is not designed to be a long blog at all. I’m here in the midst of assignment fun where I’ve got something like three assignments to get completed before Monday and that’s not straightforward at all, but by the grace of God everything is possible. In my case, it has to be really.


Today I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how the Sermon on the Mount is about the character of God being lived out. I’m sure I must have mentioned before how this whole sermon/teaching has to be taken as a whole. There is a piecemeal approach that means people miss out on so much that holds it together and the themes that run through it. For example anxiety is only a real issue and treasures on earth will bug us when our focus is away from brings us into a relationship with God in the first place. That is to say when I think my issues are more important and humility is no longer an issue then it’s no wonder I get anxious. Likewise loving my enemy is nigh on impossible when I’ve forgotten my perpetual state of mourning because of the helpless and hopeless position I find myself in without God. I haven’t even touched on the characteristic of being merciful or being pure, because these cannot be an issue until I recognise just how greatly in need of God I am.


In my current circumstances a desperate dependency on God cannot be over exaggerated. Not just in terms of the assignments and other pressing decisions, but in getting the whole life balance thing right. I am endeavouring not to be anxious about everything, but in everything by prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving making my requests known to God. I want to maintain a sane mind before God, one that remains ever connected to Him. One that recognises that without Him I am nothing and that all I do is only possible through Him.


What these events continue to do is expose my own heart to me, which is another crucial element about the teachings of Christ that cannot be overlooked especially in the craze of ‘what does it mean to me’. It is just more obvious than ever that rather than make the bible fit my world I need to fit the world that the Bible is painting and ask myself how do I fit here. How do I fit in what God wants from His children? What becomes ever more evident and all the more harder to live up to is that this is a theocentric business and God does what He does for His glory and to be a part of that is a privilege in itself. The sooner I get that in my system, the sooner I feel liberated to enjoy the part I play in God’s orchestral symphony classic.


Right. Now back to those assignments.


For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

dmcd

What Is The Narrow Road?

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:14)


Should God spare my life and give me the opportunity I would love to write out my spiritual journey as fully as I can more as a testament to the greatness of God rather than an ego-fest of how I’ve got close to Him. It is amazing to recall some of the key episodes that have brought me to this place and in all of this as so many things have been questioned and reinforced and changed His faithfulness and grace to me has only grown.


I find the concept of the narrow gate and hard way still difficult to swallow. What makes it even worse is how few people are actually finding it. I was reminded of it when I came across this cool song on the subject by Jon Gibson. The way itself is not difficult to work out because this is what Jesus has been talking about since He started teaching this sermon. Poor in spirit? Merciful? Pure in heart? Loving your enemies? Secret devotional life? Seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness? Not worrying about basic necessities? Not being judgemental? Taking the log before sorting the mite? Living one of those things is challenging, living several of these is a stretch – the whole package, and the others as well is just crazy to expect from people. Talk about hard – hard doesn’t cover it.


Not only that but there is the issue of how much this will cost us in this life? Rejection, hatred, persecution, misunderstanding, and that’s just a part of the bargain. Gaining new desires from that which satisfies the self to that which satisfies God is a hard process and doing that in the light of an expression of success which doesn’t fit those around us also makes it the more difficult on the surface. I find it involves hard decisions not just in the day to day issues of temptation, but the larger scheme of things like commitment to lifestyle choices, relationships, connections and the like. This can sometimes call for traumatic changes in life that affect things at a deep level, then the question always emerges, what is at stake?


It is not a joyless task and it is character defining that involves a greater appreciation for joy in the truest sense of the word. It also allows you to learn contentment more and more and celebrate pictures of God’s grace wherever they shine from whatever weird angles. I am really glad for the people I’ve come across on the journey who have been good indicators of where I am and where I should go.


I realise above all, though, that it is the Good Shepherd leading me to learn a life of rhythm – rest, recuperation, walking and disciplining towards the feast ahead. In His wisdom, He does what it takes to ensure that all His flock ever need is Him. He does what it takes to show that all the flock could ever want is Him. So even in the hard times, He knows best and He becomes more and more all that I ever need.


For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

dmcd