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Idolatry: anything that diverts my attention

I’ve been recently working on differentiating the Source of my abundance, from the channels which Source might use to bring me abundance.

For many years, I held my company and the income I earned from my company as being my source of income, until that moment I began to understand that Source and channel are not the same things! I was challenged to take my eyes off my company (and my own abilities) of being my source of income, and start focusing on the Source of All Goodness, rather than on the channels through which I am blessed.

I thought – mistakenly – that I was making good headway with this lesson.

This week, after a few tough months, financially things were improving, and then I started to hit bigger runs, gaining momentum. And I suddenly found my thoughts turning to how well I was doing at creating income and abundance.

Oh, wow, look at that – how “me” has crept back into my view again! No longer connecting Source with my abundance, but starting to look once more to my own efforts and work.

What am I focusing my attention on?

What idols do we fall for?

Conservative Christians can be quick to accuse Catholics of Mariolatry – “worshipping Mary”, and are quick to point to all the imagery and statues of saints.

But there can be an equally strong argument that fundamental Christians fall into Bibliolatry – elevating the Bible to the point that it is equal with God. Possibly, because we reach a point that studying the Bible is more important than developing a personal and intimate relationship with the Creator. Of course, this assumes that the Bible gives us all the information we need to daily live our lives, rather than any need to listen to Spirit.

Other potential idols, even when we are wary to Bibliolatry can creep into our lives. Henri Nouwen once said that the main obstacle to loving God is service for God. Are you so focused on doing that you have forgotten about being a God-child? Which service or program are you so caught up in that you have forgotten that the most important thing is you listening to the still, small voice?

Closely tied to the idol of service for God is an overarching focus on results. We talk about us and what we are accomplishing and achieving. All the ways that we are working out our salvation and what we are doing for others in our community. But once again – we’ve gotten lost in doing.

Equally, we see leaders stepping into roles because they feel needed. Or perhaps they need to be in control, in order to fulfil an inner sense of lack or emptiness. Once again, it turns into an ego response.

On another level, entirely, we often find church members or Christians worshipping their leaders and everything that they say. Rather than allowing Spirit to guide their interpretation or application of how to live, another man’s (or woman’s) interpretation is applied in their lives, with no questioning or conscience. No openness to listen to Divine Love.

Practising the Presence

I don’t care how you want to refer to the Universe, God, Divine Love or any other name that you want to give Light and Love that permeates all that is – the All-Knowing, All-Sensing, All-Beingness of Life.

And once you have begun to practice the Presence of the Divine in your life – what diverts your attention? What things in life start to take more importance than the Divine in how you practice living life?

Most often, for me, it’s the need to have control. So, for example, I sit in silence, laying down my problems – offering them on the altar, so to speak – and I get an answer. “This is the next step forward.”

And away I go, and take that next step forward, and then – instead of returning to the silence to find out what my next step is – I proceed to sit down and create an action plan. I add things to my schedule. And I take over full control of all the next steps.

Until I realise that I made a mistake, and return in shame to the silence, because I’ve messed up.

Somehow, my need to control everything becomes my idol. Rather than being willing to live in the uncertainty of “WAIT” I fill up the time and days with doing! And I forget to simply practice the presence of the Divine in my life.

For Christians, those of the Jewish faith and Islam, the worship of I AM takes on a special meaning of no idols – no “something” or “someone” that can be worshipped other than God itself. The typical definitions of idol worship relate to the creation of a statue – such as we find in the story of Exodus and the golden calf.

But in my life – it can be so much more than that!

Anything to which we attach our confidence, our loyalty or devotion, or anything we get completely wrapped up in, can become an idol. So – even if we get wrapped up in our problems, we are potentially creating an idol. If I get wrapped up in controlling everything, rather than living in faith and flow, that has become my idol.

When I limit my definition of “idols” to statues, golden calves, leaders or mythical creatures, I am easily blinded to all of the other idols that I so easily serve!

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Define, God, path, destination, agnostic, personal God, higher being, books, leadership, wisdom, controlling, tongue, Proverbs, power of words, presence of God, practicing presence, Shekinah

Defining God, part 2

So, after 15 years as a happy agnostic – and I would say that I accepted that there might be a higher being, but it was not a personal God – I was decided to start searching for God again. I can’t identify (at least not at the moment) any trigger. I thought there wasn’t any particular event or tragedy in my life. Just at some stage (maybe 2008) I decided I wanted to find God again. But the decision was a decision of finding God for myself – not the God of my childhood or upbringing, but rather what did I believe and why did I believe it?

Then I remembered… I was reading a lot of self-help and leadership improvement books (at the same time as I was studying my Masters in Business Law). At some stage, I got caught up in “searching for Wisdom”, in particular about controlling my tongue. And if there is one thing that I haven’t forgotten from my childhood, it is the sound of Dad’s voice as he read Proverbs. Dad read Proverbs to us every night: I read Proverbs today, and I hear Dad’s voice. Apparently, reading through my 2009 journal, I was really looking for answers about the power of words over your life. Here’s an excerpt (September 30, 2009):

Yesterday, I had a weird experience.  I say weird, because it was definitely out of the ordinary!  Having read the 10 curses that block the blessing, I was speaking with Alexandra and she made a comment “I’m such a B***h” and I corrected her saying “don’t curse yourself”.  Just came out of my mouth, without thinking.  Another friend, that heard me, turned and said “oh, not another one that’s converted to Kabbalah”.
And I admit, I was a little lost.  I’ve heard the word “Kabbalah” before.  I know it refers to a religion.  “Sounds” Jewish to me, but I really didn’t have any idea what I had supposedly “converted” to.  Luckily for me, Alexandra “knows all about it”.  She knows a number of people that have “converted” to Kabbalah.  And gave me a basic explanation… and there wasn’t anything in her explanation that I disagreed with.
What most impacted me about her description of Kabbalah is that it is a way of life, not a religion.  Hmmm…  What does that tell you about how people see Christianity and the Church?  When they differentiate Kabbalah from religion, and indicate that it’s a way of life?  It’s that what Christianity was supposed to be?  A new way of living?  So, how did it move from being the radical, new way of life to becoming just a religion?  Food for thought.
Anyway, my intention was not to discuss Kabbalah and whether or not Christianity is a religion or a way of life… My intention WAS to discuss that one of the points that I totally agree with them on is that the Tongue has the power of life and death.  What you say (whether you intended to say it or not, whether you were thinking when you said it or not) has an effect in this world.  What you say can bring things into existence.  Life a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When I say “I can’t do this”, am I expressing reality? or my attitude? or am I creating a reality that will result in my not being able to do it?
Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) is a well-known statement by Descartes from 1637.  Of course, he originally wrote it in French, not in Latin.  Obviously, what we think is what we speak.
mini book review “10 curses that block the blessing”… Chapter 1:  “The Creative Power of the Tongue”.  It starts with these simple words The number one way a cruse can come on your life and block your blessings is in the words you speak to yourself and others.  Many times we curse ourselves by the words we speak.  Like the author, I don’t much believe in those Christians that go around with the “Name it and claim it” religion.  But I have been reading a lot of Proverbs this year (One chapter a day, every day, since last December, to be precise), and it clearly states “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit”. (Proverbs 18:21).
… But I certainly didn’t remember the Old Testament story of the Children of Israel getting to the river Jordan, ready to cross into the “Promised Land”, and when they send out the spies, 10 of the 12 come back and say There are giants, they have really good fortifications, they have organised armies, there is no way we can beat them (well, I do remember that part), and God’s response to Moses was “As I live, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will do to you”.  Uhhh… what did you say?  As I’ve spoken, so will you do?  So, whatever comes out of my mouth, that’s what will be?
Proverbs does say it in a LOT of different ways:  (Proverbs 13: 2-3)  A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth, but the sould of the unfaithful fees on violence.  He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
So, what have I been creating in my life? How have I limited myself and my ability through words spoken without thought?  Throughout the book, the author mentions Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”.  I’m starting to wonder what I have destroyed in my life, through not thinking that what I say may have a full effect on my life.  Negative words produce negative results, but positive words produce positive results.
Chapter 2: “Loshon Hora – The Curse of Evil Speaking”  Once again, be careful what you say.  But, with a slightly different slant.  Karma (if that’s what you’d like to call it) – the curse of gossip and slander.  When you speak evil of another person, it will come back to haunt you.  You do reap what you sow.  You speak badly about someone else, and it comes back on you.  I’d never really given much thought or consideration to how many times the Bible speaks about gossip, but it’s up there with murder, deceit, inventors of evil things, etc.   I’ve always tended to quickly read over the “whisperers, backbiters, proud, boasters, gossiping and slanderers”…

Somehow I picked that up in the bookstore… And I just found out (reading my journal) that since December 2008 I had been reading Proverbs every day – one Chapter a day. And it all came about because I was looking and reading about the power of our words and getting Wisdom. Now, admittedly I was reading a lot of Covey, Maxwell and other writers who I know come from church backgrounds – and their values and perspectives resonated with me.

But at the end of the day, I also know I came back to what Mum & Dad taught me as a child in my search for wisdom and growth. I may have chosen a different path, but the wisdom and love was still there under it all. Teach a child in the way that they should go and they won’t stray from it.  I’m not sure if that’s quite what it says, but this morning I don’t feel like looking it up to check it. It’s somewhere in Proverbs and it says something along those lines!

And it was a conscious decision after about a year of reading Proverbs every day, to start looking for God again in my life. Not to go to someone for them to tell me what to believe, but for me to discover what I believed for myself. To study. To search. And to spend time in silence.

And reading more through my journal, in September 2009 I joined a prayer group:

I also started going to a home-group, which was basically because I’ve started to understand the power of prayer and what I wanted was a small intimate group where you get real support from “real” people.  People that are, like me, struggling with living uprightly on a day-to-day basis.  I don’t really want to go to church, because I am still struggling with the values and hypocrisy you find in Churches.  And I have no excuse, the home group is literally “around the corner” from my house.

Interesting to look back through my growth and attitudes.  Okay, I admit – I’m still not big on organised religion! I’ll leave you with what I found yesterday in Facebook:


So what are the patterns of my thoughts & words? Those are the ones creating my life!


Define, God, path, destination, agnostic, personal God, higher being, books, leadership, wisdom, controlling, tongue, Proverbs, power of words, presence of God, practicing presence, Shekinah

Defining God

So one of the books that I’m reading at the moment is “In Tune with the Infinite“, by Ralph Waldo Trine. I am loving this book! Hard to believe it was originally written some 115 years ago – it’s easy reading! But what I really love about the book is that he focuses on Oneness with God, every moment of each day. Life hasn’t always been this way: I haven’t always valued being present and being aware of Presence or oneness with God.

I am much more comfortable with the terms he uses to refer to God than with those of some other books, but my awareness of the names we use to refer to God are also a reflection of the image we have created of how and what God is.

Is God personal or simply a Presence?

I really struggle with identifying where I stand on this? Maybe because I think God is both! God is God (omnipotent & omnipotence; omniscient & omniscience; omnipresent & omnipresence): why must we put God in a box and a definition?

A bit of background:

I grew up in a fundamentalist (of course, we didn’t call ourselves that!) group, where Mum & Dad worked as missionaries. Now when I look at the “do’s” and “don’ts”, the corporal punishment expected to be given (i.e. my parents were looked down on if they didn’t punish), and the control over how everyone lived their lives, I wonder how close to being a “cult” we were. Thankfully, Mum & Dad got kicked out of the mission, although it was heartbreaking and earth-shattering at the time. It was all I knew. Then we moved back to New Zealand, where I discovered that we were Presbyterian.

How does a Presbyterian end up in a fundamentalist group? Trying to save the world! I have to hand that to Mum & Dad: they truly believed that they were doing God’s will and this was the best that they can be. And I will say this for them: every time I go back to Soloy or Tolè, they are remembered by everyone with great love and affection. They positively impacted people’s lives. And in some cases, literally saved lives (mum was an RN and midwife, so in the boondocks with no EMTs or hospitals, sometimes mum was everything). And dad was love. He loved these people with his heart. If I had just an ounce of the amount of love that dad has for the world, I would be a great person! Do I disagree with some of dad’s opinions? Yes. But I can agree to disagree with him!

By 17 I had “left” the church: blame it on the hormones, the rebellious years, starting University and living the student life. But, the explanation that I gave to myself – as does every self-righteous 17 year old – is that I was sick of the hypocrisy. And by hypocrisy I mean: you know I go out drinking on Friday & Saturday night, and you want me to come to church on Sunday morning and pretend to be a good Christian. I would much rather sleep in and sleep off the hangover!

Reality, which I came to face years later, is that I was mad at God, at Christians, at the mission (especially leadership), and at “organized religion”. I didn’t know enough then to be able to think through all of those things or actually verbalize it yet. So, it was much easier just to be a rebellious teenager that no longer wanted to go to church with my parents.

Forgiveness & moving on

At 21, in the midst of an existential crisis, my flatmate leant me a book she had just finished reading as she went through her separation & divorce that had really helped her: Louise Hay “You can heal your life“. I read it through once. And then I read it through a second time, and did all the assignments as it suggested. And my happy (well, actually, miserable at the time) little bubble finished bursting! I literally packed a weekend bag and my dog (you can’t cry if you don’t have a dog to hug!), borrowed a friend’s bach in Kaiaua (pronounced: Ky-ow-ah), and went off to say goodbye to my demons! I spent the better part of 3 days grieving and forgiving. Letting go. And coming to terms with “what do I believe now?”.

I realized that I blamed God for everything: everything that had been done by so-called Christians in God’s name was God’s fault! A child’s view? Perhaps. But also the consequence of the way I was brought up!

My broken heart and broken dreams and broken family all tumbled out. I came to terms with everything that I blamed Mum & Dad for: and came to an understanding of how they were also victims to some extent of what had happened. And I realized, as a young adult, that they were human. They had done the best they could with what they had and they knew. They were not perfect: they could have done things differently, but they didn’t know any different. They protected me to the best of their ability, they same way they looked after my sister and brother. And for all 3 of us, it hadn’t been enough. We were hurt and broken. But so were they! Life had dealt them a beating and they were lucky to still be standing! I’ll write about all of that another day!

And most importantly, I started to forgive myself!

Twenty years growing up in Christianity and I had to learn from Louise Hay what forgiveness and letting go meant! I’ve read somewhere that tears contain healing properties. I must have completely healed my body in those 3 days with all the tears I cried!

Who & what is God?

Having said that, after that weekend, I came away with a view of God as an impersonal entity that was not involved in the daily affairs of men. I was done with Christianity! God and I were good, insofar as I no longer blamed God for how I had reacted to everything that had happened to me over the past 20 years. Man-made situations were simply that: created by other men & women who had claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. And I was done with organised religion and others telling me what God had said and how to read and interpret the Bible.

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And so there I stood, happily: standing on my own two feet. Responsible for my life and the life I wanted to have. Not some rebellious teen that didn’t want to go to Church on Sunday morning because she wanted to sleep off last nights drinks, but someone who simply decided that God was “out there” and not “in my heart”. Religion was organized to control and manipulate us, but each person had to decide for themselves what they believed.

I was suddenly comfortable talking to Mum & Dad about God and beliefs and life in generally without feeling guilty that I was living differently from what they believed. I built a new relationship with Mum & Dad: one that to this day is amazing! They’ve done a great job of growing up.

And so, for the better part of the next 15 years, I was a happy agnostic. I am totally responsible for my life and being, and God may exist, but it has nothing to do with me personally.

Living as a happy agnostic

So, as a happy agnostic, at 23, I came back to Panama to say “goodbye” to the ghosts and ghouls of the past, to forgive and let go of any last vestiges that might be in my subconscious. The plan: spend 3 months on holiday in Panama and then move to the UK to go backpacking for a year while I decided to do with life. But free and clear of anything that I was still hanging on to, because I always felt in New Zealand that I was in the wrong place. Something was still hanging onto me that wouldn’t let me move forward with life.

Of course, life never quite goes as planned: twenty-one years later and I am still in Panama. It is still home!

When I stepped out of the airport doors (which was air conditioned), and I was struck by the hot, humid air, something inside said “Welcome home”. And so, in a second, I changed my mind. I am not going to stay 3 months, I’m going to get a job and stay for 2 years. That plan isn’t the one that happened either. I’m still here!

Living in a predominantly Catholic country, where I would venture to say that the vast majority are non-practicing, it’s easy to be agnostic. No one is worried here about what church you do or don’t go to; no one worries about your “salvation” or what you personally believe. There’s superstition, possibly more than your fair share. I adopted a black cat – so I was definitely a witch! And I let people believe it, if that was what they wanted to think. It’s just a cat! But if you want to assign my cat some supernatural powers, so be it.

And so it went for about 15 years.

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Sunlight is said to be the best bleach and streetlamps the most effective police officers…

Lectionary Readings:
  1. Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
  2. Luke 1:46b-55
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
  4. John 1:6-8; 19-28

Growing up here in Panama, I went to Boarding School in Chame. As a child, after playing games or skating on the basketball court, we’d head back to our dorms, taking the shortest way back straight across the soccer field.  Pitch dark – although probably only 7.30 or 8.00 p.m.  Not something I wanted to do alone!

I remember (probably on more than one occasion), walking back across that field, and my friend Marion would let out a screech or scream and take off running, and I would scream and bolt for the buildings and the lights.  In overtaking her I would notice she was doubled over with laughter, but that wouldn’t really sink in until I was safely standing, out of breath, on the porch under the lights.  She’d eventually show up, still laughing.  I was so predictable: waiting for those unseen snakes or ghouls or scary monsters to grab me out of the dark.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m just scared of what might be hiding in it.

Today I want to speak about the LIGHT.

Ever since mankind crawled out of the primordial slime, we’ve cried: “More light.”

Sunlight. Firelight. Candlelight. Torchlight. Neon, incandescent light that banishes the darkness from our caves, homes; lights that illuminate our roads, dangerous intersections and treacherous corners; and even lights that turn on when you open the door scaring the bogey man out from inside our refrigerators. Floodlights for our sports arenas. Tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.

Light is so much  more than watts and foot-candles. Light is metaphor: knowledge and truth (the age of enlightenment); light is life and growth (photosynthesis, vitamin D); light is energy and force; and light is light.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.   He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

The Pharisees said to him: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”

He said “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

This is our third week of Advent, our celebration of the birth of Jesus: the way, the truth and the life.  The gospel of John starts with these words of Truth:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through Him all things were made… In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness…

Notice the connection with Genesis 1?

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep… And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…

And to Genesis 3?

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

I want to start today by quickly reviewing the dichotomy of light versus darkness, in all its metaphors. Take a moment to reflect on these contrasts. What images come to mind as I read these words of Light and Darkness?

Doubt Anxiety Nightmares Despair London winter Dimness Depression Fear Tiredness Lethargy Captivity Blindness Haunted  Sickness Grief Sadness Deception  Heavy-hearted Addicted Imprisoned Contaminated Hatred Ignorance Consumed Hungry Famine

Faith Peace Courage Energy Dreams Freedom Hope Health Sunshine Sight Brightness Pleasant Contentedness Truth Joy Happiness Light-heartedness  Free spirit  Pure Love Knowledge Rejuvenated  Plenty Satisfied

Light is a force and energy, whereas darkness is merely the absence of this force and energy.  So, when the Bible says that God is LIGHT, what are the author’s trying to communicate to us?  It doesn’t say that God is LIKE light, or God is “surrounded by” light, or “God has a great big electric generator so He can sit in the spotlight”, it says “God IS light”.

Light is the essence of God – the same way that man is flesh and blood.  This light is self-existent, God possesses this power in and of Himself.  It has no external source. God is pure light, not diluted or mixed in any way with evil, hatred, untruth, ignorance or hostility. God is light is not a theoretical assertion about the nature of God, but a statement that drives us to the heart of what God is like: God is pure light.

God is the source of all living things.  God is truth and enlightenment.

If we briefly look at some of man’s encounters with God in the Bible, we can see a little better this Light and its many meanings.

Think of Moses’ first encounter with God: the burning bush. The bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames.  God has his full attention – but didn’t have to destroy anything in order to do so.

The children of Israel got a glimpse of the glory of God at Mount Sinai:

under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself… but the cloud covered the mountain, and the glory of God looked like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain.

This was all a little much for the children of Israel, especially when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with a radiant face, and they were afraid to come near him.  A little like Jesus’ transfiguration  on the mountain with Moses and Elijah.  A bright cloud enveloped them… and when Peter, James & John heard the voice, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.

On the other hand, think now of David, and his beautiful psalms. Here we find at least three metaphors:

  1. Picture God “clothed in garments of light”, symbolising the One who is pure, righteous and holy (there is no dirtiness, nothing to taint or contaminate God).
  2. God’s revelation through spoken and written word gives light: “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”; offering moral guidance and direction for how to live.
  3. Light symbolises also salvation: “God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Or how about Isaiah:

The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

Did you ever notice that most of the prophets start with “The word of the Lord came to…”, except for Ezekiel. Have you noticed Ezekiel’s spaceship?

I looked and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightening and surrounded by brilliant light.  The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures (with faces and wings – each of the four had the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox and the face of an eagle) – so it didn’t matter which way they were facing, they were always facing forward.  The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches.  Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright and lightening flashed out of it.  The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightening.

Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome… Then there came a voice… Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.  I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.  Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  When I saw it, I fell facedown…

I’m somewhat relieved I haven’t had THAT encounter with God!  And then sent out to preach against the injustice and evil of man…

And what about Paul? While breathing out murderous threats against the disciples, on the road to Damascus suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, sending him to the ground.  When he got up and opened his eyes, he couldn’t see.  And for three days he was blind.  Three days to sit in quiet and solitude, and meditate on the meaning of his life.  Three days to sit and think about what he’d been shown when he saw the light.  Three days to wonder if the light was going to be the last thing he ever saw.

And yet, without light, none of us can see.  Our eyes are useless in the pitch dark.  Our sense of hearing and smell and taste and touch are unaffected by the darkness – but take away the light, and we are all blind.  We need the reflection of light off objects to be able to see them.  Light = sight.

You know, and I know, we each need that encounter with the LIGHT.

Some of us will find that light burning within us, but like the burning bush, this light doesn’t consume us. It is the Light that sends us out to rescue those who are prisoners or slaves, whether they are addicts, those imprisoned by poverty, those bound by depression or those just in need of love.  This light from within feeds itself and gives us energy and light, but it doesn’t destroy us. It is the light of life!  The light of the Spirit! The light of joy and giving! This is the Light that we are called to share with our fellow man. Don’t hide this light under a bushel.  We are not to be mirrors of this light – this light is meant to burn inside each of us!

Some of us will fall on our faces, before the purity and power of the LIGHT, and simply worship.  And when we walk away, after being in God’s presence you will be radiant, transfigured.  Perhaps scary for others to see, but we will be RADIANT.

Some of us need to walk in the light, as David did: the light that guides each footstep and guides our path. We all need the words of truth.

Others will find in the Light that place of safety and security, the salvation that they so desperately need.  The light that lifts them out of depression or addiction.  The light that sets them free.

Some of us may be in that place where it seems that there is no light from the sun, and then we will hear, as Isaiah did “the LORD will be an everlasting light”.

Others of us will need to see the supernatural, like Ezekiel. That light that takes our breath away – and when it’s done, empowers and emblazons us to stand up and speak out against the injustices in the world.   That takes us to fight for the 13 million people in the Horn of Africa that are starving because of the drought; the drive and motivation to face the starving refugees of Somalia; the motivation to stand up in “occupy” and say I disagree with the financial powers that be, “this is wrong”; or whatever message is laid on our hearts regarding the injustices and inequality in this world.

We need that Light that moves us to pray for the family in England of the man who after losing his job went home and shot his wife and daughter and 2 other children and then turned the gun on himself, leaving 2 orphaned children in the hospital to deal with the horror of the future without a father or mother or sister.  And yet others will be called to minister directly to the grieving.

Some of us need that jolt of lightening like Paul, that stops us in our tracks, and makes us take time out from our endeavours and goals and plans, and the rat-race we call life, to make us rethink the direction that our life is heading in.

But more than anything, ALL of us need to be plugged into the LIGHT, the energy, the life-force.  We are all like stand-alone computers, that until we are plugged in to the electricity, we can’t do anything, and unless we’re connected to the network, there’s a limit to how much information or data we can access.  We all need to be plugged in and connected.

We read in first John 1: 5-7

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with Him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus… purifies us from all sin.

I ask each of you to take a moment right now, before we go on with this service, to meditate on what God’s Spirit reveals to you.  How are you called to respond this Christmas season?

Some of us will be called, like Isaiah to proclaim:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because I have been anointed by the LIGHT; the LIGHT has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; To proclaim the year of the LIGHT’s favour… to comfort all who mourn; … to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. For the LIGHT loves justice, and hates robbery and wrongdoing; the LIGHT will faithfully give them their recompense. … I will greatly rejoice in the LIGHT, my whole being shall exult in my God; for the LIGHT has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness…   For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the LIGHT will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Others, will, like Mary proclaim:

My soul magnifies the Lord, my LIGHT, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the LIGHT has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me…  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; the LIGHT and TRUTH has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. The Mighty One has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; the LIGHT has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. The Mighty One has helped his servant … in remembrance of His mercy.

And finally, from Paul we are reminded:

Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; Give thanks in ALL circumstances, knowing that this is the LIGHT’s will for you. Don’t quench or put out the Spirit of Light by allowing darkness to take hold in your life; Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything that you are told and hold fast to what is good and true; abstaining from every form of evil.  And know that the God of peace Himself will sanctify you entirely; that your spirit and soul will be kept sound and blameless, no matter what happens or how crazy this world gets.  Because the one who is call THE LIGHT has called you, and the LIGHT is faithful and true, and will do this.

everything beautiful, relationship with God, no Bible, how did Abraham discover God, Pentateuch, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, gospels, epistles, Muslims, Christians, Jews,infinite all-powerful God, building faith, living, true God, infinite in being, perfection, most pure spirit, invisible, immutable, immense, eternal, most absolute, but one God, no god other than Him, compassionate and merciful, reflect with care, timelessness of God, creation of time, a time for everything, a time to plant, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to tear down, human heart, be happy, do good

Everything beautiful in His time…

Lectionary Readings:

1-     Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25

2-    Psalms 78:1-7

3-     Matthew 25: 1-14

I often wonder what our relationship with God would be like if we had no Bible. Think about it for a minute – other than your relationship with God, what friendship or relationship comes with a guide-book?

So, how on earth did Abraham discover God and become God’s friend? He had no Pentateuch, Psalms, Isaiah or Jeremiah, no gospels or epistles from Paul to help him along his way.

We read this morning in Joshua:

‘…Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshipped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan…[1]

How did Abraham, living in a family that worshipped other gods, discover God for himself?  Why do we have Jews, Muslims and Christians believing in this infinite all-powerful God, building faith and rituals and traditions on the God described in the Westminster Confession?

One & only,(a) living, and true God:(b) who is infinite in being and perfection,(c) a most pure spirit,(d) invisible,(e) without body parts,(f) or passions,(g) immutable,(h) immense,(i) eternal,(k) incomprehensible,(l) almighty,(m) most wise,(n) most holy,(o) most free,(p) most absolute,(q) working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will…”[2]

Even if we read the Koran we find:

“Your God is but one God. There is no god other than Him, Compassionate and Merciful. In the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of night and day, in the ships that ply the seas to the benefit of man, in the water sent down from the heavens to revive the earth after its death, in the different species of animals scattered across the earth, in the rotation of the winds, in the clouds that are subordinate to God’s command between heaven and earth, in all of this, there are signs for men who use their intellects.”[3]

“Tell men to reflect with care and see what things the heavens and the earth contain.”[4]

The Bible says that if I seek God, I’ll find Him.  How long is building my relationship with God supposed to take?  There are supposed to be signs for those who use their intellects to see God – but where am I supposed to look? When will God’s work in my life be done?

In answer to my question, how did Abraham discover God for himself, I found some light shed in a couple of legends that are sometimes recounted to Muslim children.  I told one of those legends this morning to the children, and now I want to tell the 2nd one to you. Then I’m going to relate these to our Bible readings this morning.

Here goes:

In the days of mighty King Nimrod, there lived in Mesopotamia a young man named Abraham. Now, Abraham’s father was an idol maker named Terah Azar, who carved the wooden gods worshipped by his people. But Abraham was a believer in the one God, and not in the gods made by hand.

Azar would send Abraham and his other sons to sell his idols in the marketplace. But Abraham would call to the passersby, “Who’ll buy my idols? They won’t help you and they can’t hurt you! Who’ll buy my idols?”

He’d also mock the gods of wood: take them to the river, push their faces into the water, and command them, “Drink! Drink!”

Abraham would ask his father, “How can you worship what doesn’t see or hear or do you any good?”

Azar replied, “Dare you deny the gods of our people? Get out of my sight!”

“May God forgive you,” said Abraham. “No more will I live with you and your idols.” And he left the house of his father.

Now, the time came for one of the festivals of that town. The people gathered in their temple and placed offerings of food before their gods.

Abraham walked among them, saying, “What are you worshipping? Do these idols hear when you call them? Can they help you or hurt you?”

But their only reply was, “It is the way of our forefathers.”

“I am sick of your gods!” declared Abraham. “Truly I am their enemy.”

When the people had gone out, Abraham took some of the food and held it up to the idols. “Why don’t you eat?” he mocked them. “Aren’t you hungry? Speak to me!” And he slapped their faces.

Then Abraham took an axe and chopped the idols to pieces—all except for the largest idol, of course, the chief god of the people. And he tied the axe to the hand of that idol.

When the people returned, they were shocked to find their gods broken up and scattered about the temple. Then they remembered how Abraham had spoken, and they sent for him.

“Abraham,” said the head man, “was it you who did this?”

“Surely it was someone!” he replied. “Their chief stands there with an ax in his hand. Perhaps he grew jealous and destroyed the rest. But why don’t you just ask him?”

The head man said, “You know they neither strike nor speak.”

“Then why worship gods that you make?” demanded Abraham. “Worship instead the Maker of all!”

But few of the people would listen. Abraham was seized and brought to King Nimrod for punishment.

When Nimrod had heard the accusers, he turned to Abraham. “Who is this mighty God you spoke of?”

“He it is Who gives life and death,” answered Abraham.

“But I too give life and death,” said Nimrod. “I pardon a guilty man sentenced to die—then I execute one who is innocent!”

“That is not the way of my Lord,” said Abraham. “But listen to this: Each morning, my Lord brings the sun up in the east. Can you make it rise in the west?”

Then Nimrod grew angry. He had a great fire built, and he ordered Abraham to be tied up and thrown into it. But the fire only burnt away the ropes, and they saw Abraham sitting peacefully among the flames. Beside him was an angel in Abraham’s likeness, comforting and protecting him.

After that, Nimrod did not dare try to harm Abraham again. Abraham returned to his town, where he gathered those who believed in the one God. Then he set out west, placing all faith in the Lord.

And so… As in Genesis, we find Abraham setting out to the west from beyond the Euphrates.

The timelessness of God came up one morning in our discussions in adult Sunday school – our clocks are set by the earth’s rotation around the sun, and our tides and seasons by our orbit around the sun and the moon’s orbit around the earth.  So, if God created the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars, then it goes without saying that God created time: the hours, minutes, and seconds of our day– and therefore God is timeless – above and beyond our restraints of time.

In Matthew 25 we read about the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – to light the way for the bridal party.  The 5 wise virgins had enough oil and the 5 foolish virgins burnt out their lamps and had to run off to get more.  While they were gone, the bridegroom arrived and by the time they got back, it was too late – they were no longer needed.  The 5 foolish virgins made one small mistake – they acted on their expectations, rather than acting with forethought.  They expected the bridegroom to show up at a certain time.  Not in his time – when they expected him to.  They were ready now… he should be here now… “oh, what could possibly be taking them so long?”  “They should have been here hours ago.

Think about it like this:

15 years ago we didn’t have cell phones to coordinate with each other.  Let’s say us girls were getting together to go shopping for Christmas tree ornaments, and we organised to meet at Albrook Mall at 10.00 a.m. Saturday morning, at the entrance by the supermarket.  Everyone would be there at 10.00 a.m., because if you weren’t there on time, you would know if we were still at the mall or whether we’d moved on from there over to El Dorado, or if we’d decided to go to Caledonia to see if we could find better bargains.  Then we would organise a time, and whoever failed to be there was out – unless, of course, the one that’s missing is the one that has the car!

So, imagine this wedding… you’re waiting for the bridegroom – an essential part of the wedding! Without him, nothing gets started.  And while you’re waiting, you run out of oil… Now, he’s an essential part of the wedding – but are the lamp-bearing virgins “essential”?  No… they’re part of the wedding, but one more or one less – the show can go on without them.  The bridegroom has arrived, the procession leaves… and whoever went out for oil gets left behind.

So… How about you and God?

Are you expecting God to act “on your timetable” or have you come to understand your minor role in Act 2011?

Is your attitude: “I prayed about it, and I need the answer by next week, OK God?” Or are you working on God’s time?

Psalms relates: that for God 1000 years is like a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.[5]  I found on the internet where someone actually worked out what that meant – if 1000 years is one day, then one minute in heaven-time equals 8.33 months on earth.  So, when God’s response to your prayer is “I’ll be with you in just a minute” you know how long you’re supposed to wait?

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3 explains it:

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, … 5 … a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

15 Whatever is… has already been, and what will be… has been before; and God will call the past to account.

Solomon, the philosopher and wise man, the King – looked on the world and on creation, and saw God in it; got a glimpse of eternity.

When I read the Hebrew Scriptures, I get a feeling of how quickly generations pass.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath[6].

In our Psalm this morning, we read about what our ancestors have told us, and how we are to pass these experiences on to the next generation.  Our job on this earth is to learn from the past and build for the future, while understanding the eternity which is set in our hearts.

In business, we talk about leaving a legacy – what legacy are we leaving? What have we learnt about God and our relationship with Him that we are leaving to those who will come after us? If each new generation were to write another book of the Bible, what would it say? How could we describe what we have learned about God to others, to make it easier for someone else to understand?

I want to finish this morning revisiting our reading from Joshua 25 – that I’ve taken a little of literary license with:

Respect God and serve Him faithfully.  Throw away your gods – stop chasing after more money, fame and fortune, keeping up with the Joneses, fitness and health, making a fashion statement – and focus on the truly important and eternal things in life.  If this change of lifestyle (focusing on the eternal and leaving a true legacy) seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves today who you will serve: Money? Intelligence & Knowledge? Fame & fortune? The Joneses? Fashion? Fitness? Pleasure? The big “I” – me, myself, and I?

But as for me and my family – we’ve decided we’re going to focus on our relationship with God and how to translate that into everything we say and do.

All the people answered – “No, we won’t get caught up in the present and material world and forsake God and chase after meaningless pursuits! We’ll remember what we were before and what God has done for us, the miracles we’ve experienced; His protection and guidance in all our travels.  We’re going to make this commitment too, because He is our God.” 

Joshua warned them: “You won’t be able to serve God – He’s holy and perfect and without any faults or weaknesses.  And he expects the same from you! God won’t just overlook and forgive your intentional rebellion and sins – when you decide to forsake the eternal and run after money or fame & fortune, or get so caught up with running your business that you forget that there’s more to life than the bottom line.  If you start looking to the material world for your happiness and satisfaction, you’ll be headed for disaster: it will be the end of you, and you’ll lose everything that you’ve built and learned in your relationship with God. Remember the eternal. 

But the people were adamant: “No, we’ve decided. We’re going to serve God.” 

And so Joshua responded to everyone present: You are witnesses against yourselves – YOU’VE chosen God for yourselves (I didn’t choose Him for you.  I didn’t force Him on you.  It’s your free-will choice). Worship Him. 

And they responded – “We are witnesses…. We’ll worship God. What He says, we’ll do.”

We have each been given the gift of God’s Spirit – and the right to be called Children of God. Do we accept the gift?

Having accepted this, it’s our responsibility daily to tend to this Spirit – the continual flow of the relationship we have – keeping it constant and flowing.  Eternity has already started for each of us – it’s not some unknown moment of the future.

Our relationship with the Creator, with the Eternal –This is what really matter. 

Even in the mundane, we need to find that pearl of growth and change that lights our way, so that we can light the way for those that will come after us.

Each day of our lives should be lived as if it were our last: THIS is the day that will decide my future.  I’m ready and prepared to live this day filled with the Spirit!  Seeking and finding God. Not just reading my Bible – but actually building on my relationship with a living God. Building on yesterday’s foundations, and making room for tomorrow’s dreams.

Being the lamp that is shining in our community and lighting the way for others to follow.  Believing that God makes everything (even me) beautiful in His time… and working toward that final finished product.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up — that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.[7]

[1] Joshua 25: 2-3

[2](a) Deut. 6:4; I Cor. 8:4, 6; (b) I Thess. 1:9; Jer. 10:10; (c) Job 11:7, 8, 9; Job 26:14; (d) John 4:24; (e) I Tim. 1:17; (f) Deut. 4:15, 16; John 4:24, with Luke 24:39; (g) Acts 14:11, 15; (h) James 1:17; Mal. 3:6; (i) I Kings 8:27; Jer. 23:23, 24; (k) Ps. 90:2; I Tim. 1:17; (l) Ps. 145:3; (m) Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8; (n) Rom. 16:27; (o) Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8; (p) Ps. 115:3; (q) Exod. 3:14.

[3] (2:163-164)

[4] (10:101)

[5]Psalms 90:4

[6]Psalms 39:5

[7] Elisabeeth Kubler-Ross

Jehovah Jireh, my provider, Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, grumbled, complained, fussed, griped, groaned, kvetched, muttered, mumbled, moaned, protested, spluttered, snuffled, snivelled, eat our fill, never gossip, prayer request, how blessed are you, counted your blessings, count your blessins, health, sanitation, read, write, sign their names, Master's degree, needs, roof, clothing, food, security, poverty, riches, blessed by God, enough, God provides for us day-to-day, earthly desire, insecurity, store up for a rainy day

Jehovah Jireh – my provider

Lectionary Readings:

1- Exodus 16: 2-15
2- Matthew 20: 1-16

You may recall, last time that I spoke, I gave a 5 minute summary of the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges.  And one of the recurring themes throughout these 7 books was that the children of Israel grumbled, complained, fussed, griped, groaned, kvetched, muttered, mumbled, moaned, protested, spluttered, snuffled and snivelled.  And yet, God still came through for them.

Our reading this morning from Exodus 16, starts with:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
If only we had died… in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

Our course, Christian don’t complain, the same way we never gossip.  Have you ever actually heard a Christian say: “I don’t like what God’s given me!”?  or: “I can’t believe God is taking me down this road! It’s not like I have a lesson I need to learn…”
Of course not.
At least, that’s not HOW we complain…
We merely vociferously express our discontent with what God has given us, couched as a “prayer request”, so that others can pray about it with us.
I want to ask you today:

How BLESSED are you?  Have you counted your blessings lately?

Let me give you a short-list of how blessed I am:
1- I am married to a good man, with strong family ties; and he loves me!  He makes me feel special and loved.
2- Both of my parents are still alive, and more importantly – still together.  My nephew Luka-James was born September 7th, no C-section required, my brother was able to cut the umbilical cord, and both mother and child are healthy with no complications.  I now have 6 nephews & nieces, ranging from a few days to 21 years old.
3- I have a fantastic network of friends and loved-ones, who are there for me in my times of need, helping to work through problems or issues that I may have.
4- I have my health!
5- There are 925 million hungry people in the world, mostly living in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  I eat well: nutritious, regular, balanced meals, 3 times a day, and snacks when I’m peckish.  My fridge & pantry are usually full.
6- 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10.00 a day – that’s less than $300.00 a month.  So, how blessed are you?
7- More than 660 million people live without sanitation, and live on less than $2.00/day, and more than 385 million on less than $1.00/day.  My comfortable 3 bedroom apartment, with 3 bathrooms, running water, and flushing toilets is looking really nice!
8- There are about a billion people that cannot read and write or sign their names: I am blessed with having 2 law degrees, and struggling to finish my thesis for my Master’s degree.
9- In the world, with a population of 7 billion, there are only 812 million people that own cars.  I’m one of them.

I am truly blessed.

My needs: roof, clothing, food & security – they are all taken care of.
This reminds me of Proverbs 30, verses 7 to 9:

Two things I ask of thee; deny them not to me before I die:
#1 – Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
#2 – give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.

That is to be truly blessed by God. A magical word: “enough”.
So – how does God deal with the complaining Israelites in our reading from Exodus?  He gives them what they need: raining bread from heaven every morning with the early morning dew, so that they could simply have enough for each day.  But with a test: can they follow instructions?

Collect only enough food for today; BUT, on the day before the Sabbath, collect enough for both days.
How well do you think the children of Israel did at following those instructions?
Yeah – you’re right – they failed miserably.

There were some that stored the manna on the first day, and found to their disgust on day 2 that it was rotting, with worms, and smelt awful; and yes, there were those that didn’t collect before the Sabbath, and went hungry on that day… and there is a “note” made in Exodus “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments & instructions?”

Every evening quails came up and covered the camp, and so they had bread and meat to eat.  And they ate manna, every day, for 40 years.

2 simple lessons:

Our earthly desire and insecurity lead us to want to store up for “a rainy day” that extra so that we will never go without.  But God has promised us food each day.  Day-by-day we are to present ourselves before God.

Day-by-day we ask for strength, for patience, for understanding and wisdom, for that special anointing of the Holy Spirit, for power – enough for today.
Jesus warns in Luke 12:15:

Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

And then goes on to say in verses 22 to 30:

… do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap,… and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds! … But if God clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O men of little faith!  And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, not be of anxious mind.  For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them.

Most of us struggle with the concept of God provides:
• I’m self-sufficient!
• I work.
• I earn a salary.
• I go to the grocery store and buy my food with the money that I earned.

Where is God in this?

Maybe it’s easier to see God when you live and work on a farm: where you depend on the rain and sun and frost at just the right time, because the change in weather can either mean bounty or lost crops.
Have we lost touch with Jehovah Jireh?
Deuteronomy 8 warns:

He gave you manna to eat in the desert… to humble and to test you… You may say to yourself: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

Or maybe, we don’t notice God’s hand in providing for us, because we’re looking for the supernatural:
1- Manna raining down from heaven
2- 5 loaves and 2 fishes feeding 5,000
3- Ravens bringing food, when you’re hiding in a cave
4- Your oil and meal never running out during a famine
5- Or maybe like what God did in Exodus 3 – where the Egyptians gave the Israelis all their gold & silver and fine clothes as they were leaving.
6- Or maybe like in Ezra 1, where Cyrus (king of Persia) commands all the neighbours of the Jewish people that want to return to Jerusalem and  rebuild the temple that they should give them silver & gold, and goods and livestock and freewill offerings.

I’m going to try that sometime – go and tell all my neighbours that God says they should give me all their gold & silver & precious things.

7- Or maybe you’re looking for the big miracle, mentioned in Deuteronomy 6:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant….

How do you think that would go down with my neighbours?

Are you too busy looking for the supernatural to notice God’s hand in the everyday common & mundane life?
Do you see God’s hand: when you get or don’t get that promotion or new job that you’re after; when the offer you made on the new house got accepted; when the loan you needed to buy the car came through…
Or did you presume that was a result of your own hard work, just normal business practice.  That’s how life is, how things work…  it wasn’t a miracle…
But, I believe God takes care of us each day.

Phil says I’m a bit of a mystic – because I believe in a supernatural God.  And I do. I absolutely and completely believe in a God of miracles.  If the Bible says that you can move a mountain with faith the size of the mustard seed, the fact that I can’t move a mountain only tells me that I haven’t reached that level of complete trust and understanding of God where I know which mountain I’m supposed to move, when it has to be moved and where it’s supposed to be moved to.  Letting me move mountains right now would be dangerous (and probably irresponsible on God’s part.) How many environmental permits would I need to do this?

But I know that God does provide in unusual and miraculous manners.  When Mum & Dad were missionaries here, saying that they lived “by faith” seems an understatement.  When they got to Panama, and the mission leaders asked them how much had been pledged to them monthly, dad’s response was $2.00.  Yeap – that’s what they had in pledges.  The rest was going to be “by faith”.
Did I wear hand-me-downs?  You bet!  Did we eat a lot of veggies out of our own garden? Absolutely! Where there times where we had rice and beans, rice and beans, and rice and beans? Just ask my Mum!
And yet, when we left Panama to move back to New Zealand, we moved into a house that was ours.  We hadn’t bought it. But we moved into this 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house, with about 1/5th of an acre of land around it, in dad’s home town.  About 1 block away from Jamie’s primary school, and maybe 8 blocks away from high-school.  Once we moved back, and dad had a job, this lady organised with the bank that held the mortgage for us to take over the mortgage, but ½ of the house was fully paid and gifted to us.
Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t a mansion – it was in a humble part of town, with a rainbow of nationalities and backgrounds as neighbours.
I find it hard to complain about how God provided for us when we moved back to New Zealand without a dollar to our names.  We had furniture (second hand, perhaps a little worn, but comfortable); a friend of dad’s gave us an “indefinite loan” of a beat-up ol’ car, until we could buy one; dad got a job quite quickly (although a humble one), and we were settled.  Everything we needed was taken care of.  In all those years of my parents living “by faith” – I don’t remember going hungry.

Jehovah Jireh provides.

So now let’s talk about our second reading, the parable about the landowner that hires workers for his vineyard.  What can we learn from this about Jehovah Jireh, our Provider?
He hires one group of workers first thing in the morning – agreeing with them the wages for the work.
He hires another group at noon, at 3.00 p.m., and then at 5.00 – with each one agreeing the wages to be paid for the work to be done.
And at the end of the day, the foreman pays each of them the agreed upon wages.
Now, those that had worked all day, had something to say about receiving the same amount of wages:

These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

And the master replied:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?

God provides for each of us in a different way – according to His purpose and plan – not according to our wants or sense of what is right and just.  We may look at other Christians and feel that they are more “blessed” than we are – but who are we to question what God has chosen to give to them?

And what about those murderers? Thieves? Drug dealers? Arms dealers? Those that traffic people and keep them in slave labour?  Why does God let them also have their food, roof and clothing?
Matthew 5:44-45 tells us:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

While it might not make any sense to me, God not only is providing for me, but He’s also providing for those guys that don’t believe in Him and don’t even realise that He’s providing for them!
Because He chooses to. And it is His to give.

And what about the gift of a relationship with God?  A murderer may, the night before his execution, turn to God… and we believe that this simple act of faith will be enough to save him.  Why does he get the same treatment from God that I do?

GOD’S RESPONSE: I make the sun rise on the evil and on the good; I send rain on the just and on the unjust.  Because I choose to. Because I am God.

Why do some Christians get to speak in tongues, have the gift of prophecy, or words of science or wisdom?
GOD’S RESPONSE: Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

Why do some have the faith to lay hands on the sick and heal them, cast out demons, while others lack the supernatural touch and anointing?
GOD’S RESPONSE:  O ye of little faith!  I said that these signs will accompany those who believe…

We read in Romans 9: verses 14 to 21:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! …
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?”
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?

And so, each of us can say with confidence:

My God will supply all of my needs, according to His riches in glory.

In quick summary:
1- As Christians there is no room for complaining and murmuring, we are to be thankful and count our blessings
2- We are to present to God our needs, request our daily bread and whatever else we need each day
3- Our faith and trust should be in God, not in ourselves, our savings, our retirement plan, but like the Israelites we need to learn to trust God – one day at a time
4- There is no room for envy in life as a Christian – go back to point one – be thankful for what you are given and count your blessings.  Jehovah Jireh has promised to take care of your needs.
It’s because of this that we can give food to the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers into the safety of our homes, give clothing to the naked, take in the sick and care for them, and visit those in prison:

Because as we treat the lowest and most needy of all people, we are treating Jesus.

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God is… merciful and gracious

I am, therefore I do.
Our reading from Romans 12 starts with:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

Most of us “know” Romans 12, verses 1 to 8 almost by heart.  In fact, when you’ve heard them repeatedly, ad nauseum, you actually switch off and stop paying attention. You think you already know it.
I’m always busy skimming ahead, searching for the “quick fix instructions”:  how to live a better Christian life? What do I have to DO?
And so, I jump over the first phrase “in view of God’s mercy” and I boldly grasp hold of “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy & pleasing to God”.  That’s the “what I’m supposed to do” – alright! let’s do it!
What’s interesting to note is that most of Paul’s teaching (I read this somewhere – and I’m amazed it actually stuck in my mind), the books of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, & Colossians – all seem to be divided in 2 halves.
First half: Theology. God’s character or what Christ is or has done.
Second half: Christian behaviour – what to do. What to avoid.
Part I – answers the question: WHY?
Part II – answers the question: HOW?
Finally – the explanation of why I always enjoy the 2nd half of his writing much more than the first half.
If you look in my study Bible, you will find Galatians 5 & 6 heavily studied, while chapters 1 to 4 are hardly touched; the Mary’s of this congregation will enjoy Ephesians chapters 1 to 3 for study, meditation and prayer – and I’m sure that like me the Martha’s skip over those and go straight to chapters 4, 5 & 6 – where almost every single verse will give you instructions about what to do to be a better Christian.  You might also read Colossians 2, onward – where is says “continue to live in Christ, rooted and built up in Him”, you will be tempted to skip over Paul’s’ discussion of the Supremacy of Christ in chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2…
My study Bible divides Romans in 2 parts: Chapters 1 to 11 (Part A – actually titled  – “What to Believe”) and Chapter 12 to the end (Part B – “How to Behave”).  ¿Notice how part A is always so much longer than part B?
And so, I skip over the reference in verse 1 of Romans 12 to God’s mercy (perhaps not having understood it, because Romans 11 just seems so dry… I mean, have you read it?  “The remnant of Israel”;  “ingrafted branches” and “all Israel will be saved”).  Come on Paul! Just get to the point!  What are we supposed to be doing here?
Of course, Paul DOES actually explain the importance of “what to believe”, in order to tell us “how to behave”.

Romans 12: 2 – … be transformed by the renewing of your mind. THEN you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing & perfect will.

The more I know God (and know “what to believe”), the better I understand the Creator, and the better I understand God, the more I am able to think like God, and the more I think like God, I am able to discern His will for me and my life.  And THEN I will know what to do!

So, Paul starts this Part B “How to Behave”, with a reference to Part A – what to believe (how to think). And this reference is “in view of God’s mercy”.
What mercy?
Well, the mercy he’s been talking about for the last 11 chapters of Romans that you skipped over because it’s oh… soo…  a little dry, perhaps?
Here’s your 20-second summary of chapters 1 to 11:  the foundations of Christian holiness & righteousness.  God is gracious and gives us a free gift of righteousness that we don’t deserve.  In faith, we believe in the Lordship of God and in His loving mercy to save us and count us as righteous through Christ.
Maybe a little too precise!
Let’s try the 1-minute summary:
Romans 1, 2 & 3 – You’re all a bunch of sinners.
Romans 4 & 5 – Not to worry, God did something about it.
Romans 6 – We identify with Christ in baptism, likening this to death, leaving our “old self” behind and being renewed into a new self.  Old self is dead.
Romans 7 – occasionally, however, the old self comes back to bite me, and as much as I try to be well-behaved and do what I’m supposed to, I keep messing it up. Woe is me! What a wretched man I am!  Oh… but that’s right, I’m not the one that’s supposed to be doing the work of transformation.
Romans 8 – the Holy Spirit is supposed to transform me – stop trying so hard to do it yourself and let God be God.
Romans 9, 10 & 11 – God’s plan of salvation isn’t limited to the Hebrew nation, but also the Gentiles.  God understands that man is sinful, but is gracious & merciful, and is going to take care of the salvation of man, because whatever man does will never be good enough.

God’s mercy for mankind is that man can re-establish the relationship with God and spend eternity in God’s presence, light and love.
So, there you have it – God is merciful & gracious.  That should be enough of an explanation to take care of the neuro-part of changing your way of acting.  Right?

I haven’t even begun to comprehend God’s mercy, but I see it best in the Old Testament:  Welcome to the bullet train ride, through Genesis to Judges in less than 5 minutes!
God and the angels are all in heaven.  Satan decides he’s the most beautiful creature ever created, and gets 1/3 of the angels to believe him.  They revolt against God – demanding an independent democracy, 2-party system, with elections every 5 years and the right to be re-elected.  God unilaterally overrules their motion, Satan and the fallen angels are banished from heaven.
God creates the heavens, earth, and light; sky, brings up dry land, and gets vegetation to grow on the land; creates the stars, sun & moon; creates the creatures of the sea, birds, and animals, livestock, etc., and then makes his masterpiece – man in his own image.  He gives man dominion over the living creatures.
Satan is jealous – why didn’t he get one of those worlds?
God sees that man is lonely, and so makes a woman for him.
Satan’s really jealous now!
Then Satan sees opportunity: a chance to get more power and followers.  He tricks the woman into disobeying God, seeking to become like God herself – and Adam with her.
Ha! Got them!  Commit the very same sin for which Satan had been banished:  man gets banished from the Garden of Eden.  Satan’s elated –if you can’t rise to the challenge, bring them down to your level.
But God, in His great mercy, keeps His Word and yet manages to re-establish his relationship with man, by sacrifices of innocent blood of a lamb:
Cain & Abel, the gardener and the shepherd, make their offerings to God.  Cain gets angry and hurt when God favours Abel’s offering, and kills his brother.  Rather than killing Cain, God in his mercy marks him with a special mark, so that others will not kill him.
God establishes a special friendship with Abram, and promises him that his descendants will occupy Canaan.  They move to Egypt because of the famine, and there they grow and multiply, but because the Pharaoh is scared of them, he makes them into slaves.  God, in His mercy, hears their cries and remembers his promise to Abram, and sends Moses to lead them out of Egypt.
When getting out of Egypt proves a little harder than just telling Pharaoh to let them go, and Pharaoh orders harder labour, the Israelites complain against Moses & Aaron. Satan starts smiling, opportunity knocks… where there’s complaining there is rebellion and sedition.
After 10 plagues on Egypt and more hardship, Pharaoh tells them all to leave and get out, and God is merciful and gracious: the people of Egypt gave them all their articles of gold and silver.
They camp by the Red Sea and Pharaoh chases after them.  The Israelites are terrified and complain to Moses – Did you bring us to the desert to die?  But God is merciful, and delivers them from the Pharaoh and his army, and they celebrate with songs and dance.
3 days later and the water in Marah is bitter, so they grumble to Moses “why isn’t everything perfect? I’m a Christian – I shouldn’t have any problems”. God is merciful, and shows Moses a piece of wood, to make the water sweet.
After 6 weeks of travel, they start to grumble and complain – they have no food. God, in His great mercy, rains down manna from heaven.  They get bored with the manna, “Rice & beans with sardines, again? Back in Egypt we had McDonalds, SushiExpress, vegetarian delights, and Italian cuisine”, and oh… how they complain, but God, in His mercy, gives them quail to eat.
They reach the Desert of Sin: no water, they complain… and God, in His mercy, tells Moses to strike the rock and water gushes forth.
Because there are 600,000 men as well as women & children, God gives Moses the 10 commandments and some other rules.  In the 40 days Moses is up on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel get impatient, the complain… Moses obviously isn’t coming back and they make a golden calf. Satan throws a massive party!
God suggests to Moses that He will destroy them all, but Moses reminds God of His promises to Abram, and so God relents and is merciful.  They get the 10 commandments on the tablets of stone.
When they get to the Promised Land, the 10 spies forget that their mission was to tell the people HOW to invade Canaan, and suggest that they shouldn’t even try.  Forget everything that God has done so far! All those miracles, they’re worthless.  Not near strong enough to defeat these giants!
They complain and rebel against Moses.  God threatens to destroy them all.  Moses reminds God of His promises, and God in his mercy does not strike them all dead.  Instead, He forgives them, but removes the GPS unit from the camels and so they wander the desert for 40 years, with a little complaining and a few rebellions along the way.

You can almost HEAR the women saying “I told you to stop and ask for directions, but no… you’re not lost… which is why we’ve run into this same oasis 3 times in the last 8 years. No… we’re not going around in circles!  Men! We could have asked those Bedouins for directions and been there already.”
Joshua leads them victoriously into the Promised Land.  They take Jericho by the power of God, with the walls miraculously crumbling down.  But, as we always do when faced with a seemingly normal situation, when the Gibeonites come to them demanding peace, they forget to ask God’s opinion and made a treaty. When they discover they’ve been tricked, it was too late.
Nonetheless, God, in His mercy, still helps them to conquer all of the land that they were promised.
Once they were settled into the Promised Land, they became complacent, and failed to drive out all the remaining peoples. Satan re-establishes his residence in the high-places.  God appears at Bokim, reminding them of the covenant He had made with them “I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.”  But the people of Israel had disobeyed. They repented and God, in His mercy, accepted their sacrifices and forgave them.
A new generation was born, that didn’t know personally what God had done for Israel, and they started to worship Baal and other gods of the people around them.
God allows other nations to raid their lands and plunder it.  But God, in His great mercy, raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  But they didn’t always listen to the judges, and quickly turned to worshipping other gods.  Whenever God raised up a judge, he was the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as he lived, because God had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.  But when the judge died, the children of Israel would forget God and go back to following other gods.

God in His mercy and grace eventually sends Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice, Satan’s ecstatic when the Jews send Jesus to be crucified on the cross!   When it’s too late, Satan realises that God had an ulterior plan, taking the battle right down into the depths of hell to beat Satan on his own ground, and raising Jesus from the dead.
Never quite seems to work out for him!  God somehow manages to play by the rules and still win! It’s just not fair!
And because the Israelites failed to accept Christ, salvation comes to the Gentiles as well.
By faith in God & His mercy, anyone can re-establish the relationship with God.
And so we read in Romans 11, verses 33 to 36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgements, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counsellor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory…

So, there, I’ve said it.  God’s great mercy and grace is simply this –we can accept His transformation by the renewing of our mind, by the simple act of believing, changing our perspective of how we view ourselves.
Forget about that Romans 7 man or woman, the “sinner” – defeated – unworthy.  Of course you can’t fulfil the law!
See yourself through God’s eyes – the potential of what you COULD become if you allowed GOD to transform and change you.  Don’t focus on what you are right now, on your failures and weaknesses of the past.  Live in the present, today, and look to your future – be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I’d like to finish today, by reading Romans 12, verses 1 to 8, to you, remembering God’s great mercy. This is from the version “The Message”.
So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognise what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you.
Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God.  No, God brings it all to you.
The only way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what He does for us, not by what we are and what we do for Him.
In this way, we are like the various parts of a human body.  Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around.  The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people.  Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of His body.  But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we?  So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvellously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantages, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them.  Keep a smile on your face.

Like it says above:
The only way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what He does for us, not by what we are and what we do for Him.
The more I know God (and know “what to believe”), the better I understand the Creator, and the better I understand God, the more I am able to think like God, and the more I think like God, I am able to discern His will for me and my life.  I recognise my gifts – And THEN I know what to do!

Now go out – by God’s mercy – and serve others as you were meant to!