Building Contentedness Every Day

“This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

These words came from King David in the Psalms, it speaks of the thankfulness he has toward God, because He is the source of all things (Psalms 118:24). And whether, this thankfulness is arising from the circumstances at the time that he found himself in, or in the greater goodness and grace that God bestows on us continually. David shows how there are a great many things we can be thankful for. It is this thankfulness that arises from answered prayers and knowledge of the saving hand of God.

Through the notion that God is the source of all things, he proclaims that we should rejoice. The context speaks of a cornerstone that was rejected and the builder tossed aside. While this could apply to his own situation, that it seemed to him that he was the stone that was ignored and set for destruction, God saw him and lifted him out of his sin. Read more of this post

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Prayers For The Wicked

I’ve been playing a bit of Mass Effect 2.

Okay, that’s a lie–a lot of Mass Effect 2. I am really enjoying it a lot, it really brings back the joy into playing video games where you play one which you connect with immediately. It’s just the right amount of fighting (not too much gore) and open-ended nature of the story line.

I’ve clocked in about 20 hours in the past 3 days or so, which is a lot considering that is probably the amount of video games I have played this whole year combined. The storyline is wonderful, being able to control every action of your player who is going around picking up soldiers to join his team. Going from planet to planet, there is an assembly of diverse creatures that you have to convince to join your team to fight a group that is threatening the existence of the universe as we know it.

One of these is Thane Krios–“a drell assassin, the most skilled in the galaxy. Unlike most assassins, who prefer to snipe their targets from a distance, Thane prefers to get up close and kill his target personally, utilizing a mixture of stealth, firearms, and hand-to-hand combat abilities. Despite his profession, Thane is a deeply spiritual man who prays for success in his missions, and asks for forgiveness after each kill, even going as far as to ignore those in his immediate vicinity until he is finished doing so.” (s)

The spirituality of Thane is what fascinates me. He is an assassin, yet he is deeply spiritual. Meeting him for the first time, he gives an interesting insight into what he does:

Shepard: Can we talk? I came a long way to talk to you.

Thane: One moment, prayers for the wicked must not be forsaken. 

Shepard: She certainly was wicked.

Thane: Not for her. For me.

It is a wise saying that he muses–if we take the vengeance of God within our own hands, do we become the judges, not God? Who then, is the wicked one if we judge with partiality?

The Cross Is The Perfect Statement

“The cross is the perfect statement both of God’s wrath against sin and of the depth of his love and mercy in the recovery of the damaged creation and its damagers.  God’s mercy, patience, and love must be fully preached in the church.  But they are not credible unless they are presented in tension with God’s infinite power, complete and sovereign control of the universe, holiness, and righteousness.  

And where God’s righteousness is clearly presented, compassionate warnings of his holy anger against sin must be given, and warnings also of the certainty of divine judgment in endless alienation from God which will be unimaginably worse than the literal descriptions of hell.  It is no wonder that the world and the church are not awakened when our leadership is either singing a lullaby concerning these matters or presenting them in a caricature which is so grotesque that it is unbelievable.

The tension between God’s holy righteousness and his compassionate mercy cannot be legitimately resolved by remolding his character into an image of pure benevolence as the church did in the nineteenth century.  There is only one way that this contradiction can be removed: through the cross of Christ which reveals the severity of God’s anger against sin and the depth of his compassion in paying its penalty through the vicarious sacrifice of his Son. 

In systems which resolve this tension by softening the character of God, Christ and his work become an addendum, and spiritual darkness becomes complete because the true God has been abandoned for the worship of a magnified image of human tolerance.” (1)

I think at every moment there is a tendency to rush towards one or the other. The cross is love poured out; the cross is wrath poured out. Binaries fight out in our mind, and we become ingrained on one side of the expanse. We have tried to create a dialogue between the two extremes, but it is impossible. And it is impossible except through what we have known. Then, we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the whole world–great enough to cover the great expanse, and wash our doubts away.

Enough for my haughty heart, enough for my lifeless soul.

Great enough to cover my lack of love, and my lack of righteousness.

Is the cross meaningful if you remove the wrath of God away from it? Is the cross meaningful if you remove the love of God away from it?

(1) (Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics for Spiritual Life, 84-85) the irony is that both those buildings could readily be defined as modernist.

The Purity in Silence

Why do we fear silence so much? 

As part of my university studies, I have to do readings, a lot of them I might add. I mean, I read a lot for recreation: Dickens, Hardy, Wilde, and Wharton are among my favourites — but to be forced to read a book on architectural theory is somewhat dull to me. There is this one book I am reading though, from a French author called Henri Bosco that gave me the idea for this weblog.

“There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend color to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless. It took complete hold of me and, for several moments, I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of this shadowy peace.” — Henri Bosco in “Malicroix”

One thing that really mystifies me is in church service that I have sat through, people always have to fill the Holy Communion with the noise of some sort. Whether it be the voice of a soloist, or the gentle strumming of a guitar. There is this almost fear of silence in the church service that might cause the rapture to occur or something like that. Yet, I think that Bosco has something insightful in what he expounds on about silence. There is something unlimited and so solitary within silence that takes and surrounds us.

Where the world defiles us with noise whether visually or aurally — daily we are struck with images which we cannot forget, news of earthquakes and the cries of despair, forest fires and the crackling sound of the American Dream. Being barraged with such noise, often leaves us indifferent in our lives. I don’t know, I for one, am absolutely sick of all the earthquake news of the past month. FFH in their song, “Listen” (parts of which I don’t totally agree with) puts it poignantly:

“Voices are everywhere, and they’re screaming at us: use me, buy me, believe me. We’ve got voices all over our culture: chat rooms, commercials, billboards, and bumper stickers, and they all want our immediate attention.”

The song goes on to expound on the personal nature of our relationship with God, compared to the disconnection of ourselves through media. But, anyway, there is so much we can do personally, but so little that would not become part of the “noise” of life. There is a fine fine line between being a voice in the thousands and the audience of one. Within this world, there is only so much we can accomplish without listening to the one voice which matters: God’s voice; After all, whatever we put our hands to is insufficient if it is not according to what God has willed us to do. It seems that silence often takes the backseat over reactions with the best intentions. in Exodus 14:14 it says the following:

“The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The context being the Israelite nation had just left Egypt, and the Egyptians are suddenly chasing after them. They had just crossed the Red Sea, and they see the Egyptian army coming up close behind them, fear began to inset upon them. But what Moses tells the Israelite nation to be, is silent. There was no call to arms, to shed blood – but God would fight for their nation.

So often today I am like the Israelites – with the best intentions but without silence I don’t understand how small the situation is to God. I pray continually that my eyes would be open to the angels protecting and controlling every situation as in 2 Kings with Elisha and his servant. I pray that I would not become the noise, but I would be silent, so people may see the true expanse of an omnipotent God. I hope to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of this shadowy peace, that I would not forget my own futility and the power of Christ.

“Loneliness and solitude are not two things to be confused, because I spend my solitude with You” – Relient K

The Wisdom of the Young Ruler

Many people think of the young ruler as an idiot.

In many ways I find him very wise, but ultimately lacking perspective. I don’t know, I do very much understand why he would run away from Christ when asked to give up all he had, it is reminiscent of something of that inside of myself. Maybe I’m the only person that takes seriously what a fantastic claim that Jesus gives when he asks of us to give up everything we have, and follow Him. What a huge decision that is, to be asked to give up everything we trust in for something we cannot be totally sure of. It is hardly the things that could be decided in the moment’s thought of the altar call. That is somewhat undercutting what a great sacrifice this is, I have been thinking and mulling over this proposition for a very long time. Slowly and slowly, the caverns of my heart are opening up as the Holy Spirit comes and airs every room of my heart.

In some ways, the young ruler was the wisest of us all, such a huge decision cannot be made with such lightness. Externally, we may have the greatest ambition, but internally we know nothing of Jesus. To walk away in my eyes was a more righteous action than committing a part of our hearts. Anaias and Sapphira would have profited greater from not giving their share to the apostle than giving short of everything.

Reading from an outsider’s perspective of the calling of the disciples, it is simple to think it obvious to drop the nets to follow Jesus. A book is still somewhat a disconnection from reality, and it is easy to read of faith of other peoples within the Bible. Yet, when the rubber hits the road, when Christ demands of YOU, to give up everything that we hold dear, I find that an entirely different proposition more difficult than reading of other people who had done so before.

There is a disconnection I think we feel from the young ruler, that we are somehow better than him. This decision is without realising how much of a sacrifice, that is, without having experienced poverty in life. For one, I feel like him more often that not torn between what I can see and what I cannot understand.

The sermon at church today was of Simon Peter and his redemption through Christ in the last few verses of the Gospel of John:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.””(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”” John 21:18-19 (English Standard Version)

What church history tells us, is that the death that Simon Peter suffered was one of cruxifiction. Origen said of his death, “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer.” As one who would not consider himself worthy to die the same way as Jesus. There is an intense humility in that, that I do not possess at this time.

To be brought continually to that place where we realise we have nothing, we deserve nothing and we are nothing is a place of continual rejoicing for me. To some, it might be reprehensable but to know the insurmountable riches in Christ, and that perhaps that is something of worth. To reach that place in my heart, I need faith, more than I have now. To know that assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things not seen.

I am increasingly becoming sure that if there was just one righteous man on earth like Jesus, then the world would be changed. But in the meantime, we have billions of young rulers too scared to step outside of their comfort zone. I am a young ruler, tempered to what the world proclaims as success, chained to the desires of the heart. More than not, I am scared of what is hidden behind closed doors, than wanting people to see what I do when eyes are not closed.

God’s Timing Over Ours

In Acts 16 there is a powerful story illustrating clearly God’s timing over ours.

“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. ” Acts 16:16-18 (English Standard Version)

The slave girl was filled with a spirit of divination, the Greek word used is pythonissa, meaning she was possessed with such a spirit of divination and likely part of the delivery of oracles of Apollo at Delphos. Such diviners “often dictated ambiguous answers to those who consulted, which served to gratify their vain desire of knowing things to come, but often deceived them.” (Matthew Henry)

The reality is what she was saying was true. Paul and Luke were both servants of God, and they did proclaim the way of salvation. She was right, but she was not speaking in accordance to God’s timing or His will.

So often we may speak the right words of encouragement with the greatest faithfulness to the Bible, but our timing is not according to what God has had it to be proclaimed. I think that is the greatest weakness of our encouragement, when we do not consult God first before we do anything. We may be proclaiming the gospel with the greatest passion and the strongest theology, but if we have not the Holy Spirit, any breakthrough we make is only temporary. We may be as passionate as Billy Graham in our fervour and speak with the boldness of Charles Spurgeon, but if we have not prayer how can we know anyone will be changed from the words we have said.

Moreover, how often are we like the slave girl and speak the right words and live a completely different life elsewhere? She was trying to deter the men from prayer by annoying them when she intercepted the men along the way to a place of prayer. Her message was tainted with the knowledge of the people around that she served Greek gods. Especially across the internet, there is an ability to pretend to have things all together, as if our relationship with God is healthy while our hearts are beating otherwise. While our hearts may be in utmost turmoil, we can post blogs which make us seem as if we are growing in joy in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon that he felt was horrid, filled with stammering, he felt that it was a complete failure in what he did. That night after the sermon he prayed to God, “Lord, God, You can do something with nothing.  Bless that poor sermon.” Throughout the next week continually he prayed that prayer day and night.

He became determined in his next sermon to preach a great sermon. That is what happened, with him being praised highly by the listeners of the sermon that night. He was pleased by himself and slept soundly knowing that he had accomplished a difficult task. Coming back and watching the results of the two sermons, he was able to trace 41 souls saved through the poor sermon, while not one was saved through his successful one.

There is something wonderful in the way that God takes our best moments and shows us how helpless we are. While our worst of times, we find that God is the one that brings goodness back onto us. The slave girl may have spoken the right words, but if not backed up with God’s timing and will for how the events in the world should unfold. Without the primary sanctifying working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, speaking words of truth are nothing more than the Devil working. How often do we destroy the work of the Kingdom by not seeking and surrendering to God first? How often does Satan want to instil in us a sense that we are sufficient and complete in our current state?

 

Remembering the Anointed One

Since it’s getting to Christmas almost, I thought I should start writing some Christmas themed posts.

“But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6 (English Standard Version)

Christmas is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. The name, Christmas, being derived from the Christ, a name of Jesus meaning “the anointed one”.

In the Old Testament, anointing was important for many leaders of Israel. David was found by Samuel and immediately anointed, Solomon was anointed by the priest Zadok in his inauguration before whole nation of Israel. “The specific practice of anointing by pouring oil on the head was used as asymbolic act for officially, designating and setting apart a person for a certain, public,leadership function in the community.” (source) All throughout the Old Testament, there were only three groups of people that were anointed: priests, prophets and kings. The Old Testament dictates that anointing someone involves pouring oil over the head of the one concerned, perhaps not unintentionally similar to the act of cleansing. The aim of anointing giving to the one anointed power, strength, or majesty.

In Christmas, we are remembering someone who was anointed by God, his holy oil poured on his head. But mankind only put a crown of thorns on his head, and killed him on a cross. Only once was Jesus anointed on earth, by a poor woman in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was eating at the house of a leper, his name was Simon. The unnamed woman opened an alabaster flask pouring it over her head. She was no Levite, her anointing meant nothing, at his feet and she wiped them with her tears.

She was one who had sinned all her life, but she came with a great gift, and put it on his feet. To put the bottle of alabaster in context, a denarii was the pay for a day’s wages to a Roman soldier and the bottle was worth 300 denariis. The disciples naturally were vicious towards her, asking why she didn’t sell the bottle and give the money to the poor. But Jesus defends her, that he would not be with them always, but the poor shall be.

“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:8-9 (English Standard Version)

This event occurs close to the end of his life, he knew that the end was coming where Judas betray him and hand him over to the authorities. Everything he said was a reference to his coming death, he states that she will be told in memory of him. His humility and shame in dying on the cross, is mirrored clearly her through the undying devotion, and total sacrifice of her heart to Jesus.

And through this birth of Jesus Christ, no longer was anointing for only those who were of the tribe of Levi, or kings of Israel even only those prophets which preached God’s Word. But now, even to the poorest of women and the tax collectors, they could be anointed and even that be received as children of God. Jesus was born so we could be anointed, and be cleansed and restored to our original state. “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us” (2 Corinthians 1v.21)

*note some other gospels give a different account especially john which gives the woman the name, Mary, who is presumably sister of Lazarus. there is a bit of debate among scholars whether the accounts are related and if the two stories refer to the same event.