Friday, June 29, 2012

So how much is enough?

How much should I give?  10%?  The tithe?  Is that before or after taxes?  Should I include any extra monies that I receive?  What about my investments and any interest they make for me?  Should that be part of my giving?  And who should I give this to? Should I give 10% to my local church and support other ministries and charities out of the rest of my income?  Or can I dole out this 10% as I see fit? 

And the questions just keep piling up, one upon another.  The truth is that all these questions are really just stalling for time. The proverbial 'red herring'. No matter what the answer, the questions highlight that we are anything but gracious and generous in our giving. We want formulas. We want guidelines. We want someone else to tell us how much.

I like Paul's answer to these questions.  In 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 he says:

"I am not laying down any rules. But by showing how eager others are to help, I am trying to find out how real your own love is. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of his poverty." (2 Corinthians 8:8-9)

Paul says that it simply comes down to this.  "How real is your own love?"

How real is your love for the Lord and his sacrifice for you? How real is your love for his church? How real is your love for your local faith community? How real is your love for your fellow believers? How real is your love for those in need?

When I read about the life of the early church in the letters of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles, it is obvious that the love of the people for Christ, his church and one another shapes their core values.  When I see the life in the church today and hear some of the messages being preached in various parts of the church, it appears that the core value is being shaped by self-interests and consumerism.

So how much is enough?

Well, how real is your own love?

Friday, June 22, 2012

An alternate reality...

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul paints a picture of his life and work as an apostle that is all but appealing. Hardships. Suffering. Endurance. Dishonour. Beatings. And so his list goes on. Not impressive in any one's eyes really.  No wonder the people at Corinth didn't think too highly of him. Paul just didn't seem that successful or impressive. Yet there is a genuineness to Paul and his ministry. In verse 6-7 he speaks about his "purity, knowledge, patience and kindness" then goes on to describe his "true love, message of truth and power of God" which are all at work within his life. Later in verse 11 he speaks of how he has opened his heart wide to the Corinthians and encourages them to respond by also opening their hearts wide to Paul and his fellow travellers.

Mixed up in all this are what people consider to be impressive or successful. It appears that the Corinthians certainly did not see Paul this way because of what they were focusing on. Outward appearances. Grand speech. Not inner integrity and daily demonstrations of grace in every day life.

This still afflicts the church today. Small struggling congregations see the huge edifices, numerous staff, multiplicity of programs, and  multi-million dollar budgets and consider themselves failures. Small numbers, struggling budgets, a single pastor (and sometimes not even that) and they feel defeated. Useless. Pointless. People go church shopping like so many consumers in some sort of spiritual department store and choose their churches and congregations on how glossy and impressive the packaging appears.

To these churches and church shoppers, Paul's message is clear.  It is not about outward things...staffing, finances, programs, buildings...but about inner-life. The spiritual communion among members of the community. The grace extended through the daily lives of the people from this faith community.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Getting on with living...

2 Corinthians 5:6-17 is the focus for this week. Paul's words to the Christian community gathered at Corinth are, as usual, speaking on several levels.  They are a reflection on and affirmation of Paul's work as an apostle and evangelist. They provide motivation to all Christians, giving us reasons to remain faithful, confident and, most importantly, filled with hope. But for me, what spoke the loudest was that Paul here is wrestling with the question: "Where do I find Jesus?"

Within the church at Corinth were those who believed that God was only interested in their souls and spiritual life and the physical body and physical life were of no account or value.  Consequently, despite their expressions of faith, some people within the church were openly living in direct contradiction, some would say rebellion, to the teachings of Jesus. Others were simply looking for that great spiritual experience and divorcing themselves from all things earthly to the detriment of their families and communities. The message of Jesus and the good news of God's love was suffering as a result. Paul attempts to bring them, and us, back to earth.

He speaks about the difficulty of living here and knowing that we are still living away from our true home. But instead of focusing on the longing to be there Paul uses this to remind us that this is the very reason why what we do in our lives at this point in time is so important. He encourages us to look for Jesus within our everyday lives as humans rather than trying to exit this life in order to find him. There is much about the incarnation here. The Word made flesh. God become man in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Just as God chose to come and dwell among people as one of us, so we are reminded that this is also our role. We are called to live in this world. As individuals or as part of the wider community of Christians we are the physical presence of our gracious God. Our voices must proclaim this grace. Our actions give it life. Our attitudes, shaped by grace, lead to compassion, forgiveness, community, peace. The love of Jesus "compels" us, writes Paul. This love is the driving force, the life force, within us for we are "new creations" here and now, not later.

This brings me back to the original question: "Where do I find Jesus?"

For me, Jesus is wherever I am and wherever the church is gathered.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Having a look at Romans 8:12-17 for this Sunday. Best if I give you my notes from reading. Some interesting stuff about who we are...and a little about 'how' and 'why'. Enjoy!  

Romans 8:12-17 3/6/12 Trinity

v.12..."We have an obligation"...that is a debt which needs to be repaid. Interesting picture. Those to whom we owe money or allegiance have claim on us...first claim. We are usually very aware of that claim. Paul reminds us that such a claim upon us is made by God. Therefore...this calls for a change in living. Why??? Love begets love. Grace begets grace. this claim is proved... because we are 'children' of God...this is actual fact...with the Father in Jesus Christ through the Spirit.

 v.14…Sonship…the glorious end of all grace’s triumph.

v.15…contrast of slavery – sonship…lead by the Spirit., bestowed by the Spirit. Slavery…our attitude Sonship…Spirit’s gift The naked cry of a child…Father  

For Paul, the radical message of Jesus was that love offered belonging and forgiveness, and that from the new restored relationship with God goodness would flow, not because of fear of disobedience, but because love begets love. Love is the fruit of the Spirit. The way of imposing the law leads people into slavery.

v. 16…as our spirit is revealed so the Holy Spirit confirms… we are God’s children.

v.17...and if that...then this...This fact now means that we are heirs of the 'kingdom' of God with Christ and therefore able to live without fear... the follow-on…if child, then heir…with Christ as his sufferings are also present in us and we suffer in this world because of our faith in him

Though God is the Father of all...all are not his children…that is not everyone lives in relationship with God. Actions and attitudes express an independence. Expectation is that we control our lives…that we make our own destiny…that we are the one who can take credit. Is this freedom of the will or bondage of the will? If take hold of the Spirit then we are overcomers…if we attempt to do It ourselves then we remain slaves to sin. So ultimately God gives us the ability and opportunity for true freedom through drawing on the power of the Spirit, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the grace of the Father. There is a tension in this.

Spirit gives a new relationship with high level of privilege…Until they enter on the experience of faith and are led by the Spirit ...we need to be brought into this relationship...we cannot enter by ourselves...a reoccurring theme in the Word of God. We cannot earn or learn our way into a relationship with God.

Heirs...sharing in suffering and glory.

 Two-fold…assurance/promise…God claims us through the Spirit…this is basis our relationship. One of grace, acceptance, love, reconciliation that is given as gift by God to us…makes us his children, heirs, inheritors.

Also reminder/challenge…same as above…we cannot…dare not think for a moment that we are chosen because of our actions…attitudes…etc. It was the mistake of Israel and blinded them to the messiah’s presence in Jesus.

We learn what to fear. Discomfort, pain, grief, suffering, are all experiences which lead us to fear something or someone. The spirit of the Pentecost message is that the Spirit of God ‘casts’ out fear as he brings to us through Jesus the ‘perfect love’ of God. For through the working of the Spirit you and I are made ‘children of God’ and therefore ‘heirs’ of his kingdom. Your place, our place is assured. God’s love for you as Father is assured…he has adopted you as his own. May you always live in His love.

 Interesting mix of Roman and Jewish custom.

Aspect of ‘adoption’ Roman…unknown to the Jews… as is also the ‘heir’ with the full right of inheritance…again common to the Romans, but not to the Jews.

 However, the address given to God the Father…’Abba’… strictly Jewish.

 A tension here…the v. 15 says we receive this ‘adoption’ by and through the Spirit…it is already ours…and yet…compare this with v.23…a future event as well….’adoption’. We can never possess it…never have it in our hands…never reach that point where we no longer need God.