Monday, 29 June 2015

Are You Positive?


Are you an Eeyore or Tigger? A glass half-full or half-empty person? Are you naturally an optimist, pessimist or somewhere in between? Does it matter?

The great church leader of the 20th Century, John Stott, said of Christians:

We should be the most positive people in the world. We cannot drag our way through life, moaning and groaning. We cannot always be looking on the dark-side of everything, as negative prophets of doom. No, “we exult in God”.

Yet would our friends and family describe Christians as the most positive people they know? 

I have been thinking a little recently about how important the will of the mind is in living as Christians. To be more specific, how essential it is to align our minds and thought patterns to the story that God has given us.

I believe we can enter more fully into the joy that is to mark us out as Christians by choosing to live like the Christian story is really true. Conforming our minds, not to the pattern of thought the world offers, but to the great things the Bible says is true about us with regards to where we have come from, whose we are, what we are doing and where we are going.

Our story, the Christian story, is about how Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection has come to save us from the destruction of sin and evil and to bring his kingdom of hope, love, peace and grace. It is a story that transforms not only my past, present and future but the whole world's. 

As we start to allow this story marinate in our minds we will begin to see life in light of it. We will see things with Jesus-tinted spectacles. We will find that whatever is happening in our lives, good or bad, we always have a reason to sing, a reason to praise, a reason to be overwhelmingly positive because ‘the Lord has done has done great things for us, and we are filled with Joy’ (Psalm 126:3).  

This is no self-help, empty optimism and it does not deny the reality of life’s hardships. This is the Bible's approach to discipleship. Time and time again the message we get is, ‘this is reality, now go and live in the light of it’.

It is easy to fall into negative habits of thought, looking for what is against us rather than the abundance of what is for us. Here are three things we can do to cultivate a positive attitude...


1.     GIVE THANKS

Spend a few moments, at least once a day if you can, to speak out things you are thankful for.

Give thanks and praise to the Lord for all he has done in your life. Thank him for his favour in your life - for things like your relationships, friends, family members, for your job/vocation, for somewhere to live, for the beauty of creation, for your health.

Give thanks to him for the truths of the Bible - for Jesus and your relationship with him, for his obedience to the Father, for the cross, that he is ascended and interceding for you, for the hope of heaven, for the Holy Spirit and his presence, give thanks that you can trust him with everything, that he has plans and purposes for you and that he is with you and he loves you more than you know.


2.     CALL TO MIND YOUR STORY

We all live according to stories, with a past, present and future. The Pastor Tim Keller points out that all humans think and act according various 'cultural narratives' regarding things like identity and freedom.

When we look at our lives, when we look back over our past and see the mistakes we’ve made, when we look at our present and the challenges that face us and when we look to the future and see uncertainty it is easy to become discouraged. The Bible says that when we become Christians we receive new stories: our past, present and future is painted in a new light.

When we look back instead of seeing our mistakes we can see God’s grace and forgiveness, we see his faithfulness and provision, not only to us but also to those men and women of faith who went before.

When we look to the present we see Jesus by our side and we see all the wonderful things he is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us and when we look to the future we see the amazing hope of heaven, where there is no sadness and we will be with Jesus in His full glory in this world made totally new.

In the Old Testament Israel’s perpetual problem was that they kept forgetting their story - that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, that he was with them and that he was taking them to the Promised Land. Instead they looked to their circumstances and the idols around them and started to live according to the stories they were telling. 

In the book of Judges Israel falls into a spiral of sin and the reason given is that they “did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (Judges 8:34).  The Apostle Paul encourages the Church to learn from Israel’s mistakes (1 Cor. 10:11). Call to mind your new story often.


3.     WORSHIP

The third thing we can do is to worship and the let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly as we sing (Col 3:16). This is a sort of happy indoctrination, where our perspectives are changed as Jesus takes first place in our hearts again. This is where we get to enjoy and celebrate all that God has done for us and allow our emotions to fall in line with reality. This is where we can profoundly encounter the transforming power of God’s presence and know his love in our hearts through the Spirit (Romans 5:5).

This can happen in many ways: maybe we need to ‘enter in’ more fully with our whole minds and bodies during our worship in church. It could be we play an instrument and can spend time on our own worshiping through song and music. One very simple thing I find helpful is to put on a worship CD in the background at home or in the car and allow the songs to minister to my heart and mind in spirit and truth.



Are you and Eeyore or Tigger? Half-full or empty? What ever your natural disposition is, if we commit to wearing Jesus-tinted spectacles, living in light of what he has done, is doing and will do, we will surely be the most positive people in the world. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Why you shouldn't care if you don't feel Christmassy...

A good few weeks ago now as I was on my way to work, walking up towards Holland Park tube station, I noticed a lady outside starbucks handing out free sample size cups of coffee. As I approached she asked me if I’d like to try the new starbucks eggnog latte.  Never one to turn down free food or drink, and having failed to make my early morning coffee that day, I was happy to oblige and took the free coffee.  Having taken a sip the nice starbucks lady asked me, “how does it make you feel? Does it make you feel Christmassy?” Slightly taken aback at the question, particularly at 8:45am on a Tuesday in November, I was unsure how to respond and so I simply said it was very nice, thanked her and went on my way to work.

What struck me about her question was the use of the word Christmassy - as if it was a recognised emotion, just like we might be feeling happy, sad, apprehensive or excited we might also be feeling Christmassy. I heard it used casually before but not with such confidence and was surprised to hear it used in a market research setting.

Of course what the lady was referring to was that sort of cosy, warm, ‘fuzzy’ feeling that we sometimes get around Christmas time.  The funny thing is I do know what she means and probably so do you.  It’s the feeling that may well remind us of our childhood Christmas’ and can be induced by the smell of a Christmas tree, a Christmas song, the fire crackling, the family gathered, the presents under the tree or indeed an eggnog latte.   

Since that morning in November I’ve heard the word Christmassy used quite a lot. From people at work complaining that they don’t feel Christmassy yet or declaring that it’s first time they’ve felt Christmassy this year to one BBC programme describing Jesus as ‘the one who got us feeling all Christmassy in the first place’.  My issue is not with feeling Christmassy – who doesn’t want to feel warm and fuzzy? It’s just I don’t think it has an awful lot to do with Christmas.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the amazing story of God becoming man.  If one looks through the two historical accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus the emotions that are used to describe how the different characters were feeling are far from Christmassy...

In Luke’s gospel: Mary’s is described as feeling afraid when confronted with an angel and then her magnificat sees her full of extravagant rejoicing and worship; Zechariah is described as being gripped with fear at the sight of an angel in the temple and later his emotions are more of enthusiasm and excitement as he declares his song of praise; the shepherds are described as feeling terrified at an encounter with a host of angels and at the sight of the baby Jesus gave praise and glory to God. The neighbours of Elizabeth are described as being filled with awe at what was happening.
In Matthew’s gospel: King Herod is described as feeling disturbed at the news of Christ’s birth; the magi are described as feeling overjoyed at seeing the star over the place the child was and then at the sight of the baby they bowed down and worshipped.


Fear, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, awe, terror, worship, praise, disturbed, overjoyed.  If nothing else these words tell us that the Christmas story is dramatic, dangerous and compelling and it demands a response from us that is extreme! This is what the great scenes of the incarnation do to us - when we see that God’s love is so great that he became a baby for us something changes within us. They demand something from us. Athanasius, a 4th century theologian, said that when we think upon Christ’s birth we are ‘smitten with awe’.   

A lot of fuss is made nowadays about getting that Christmassy feeling this time of year. That annual warm, cosy, fuzzy, feeling that the starbucks lady was concerned I had.  May I suggest that the emotions of awe, wonder, fear, joy, of even being disturbed are more appropriate for Christmas as we think upon the spectacular story of God entering this world and its implications for us not just today but for eternity.   

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Daily Bible reading is vital if we're going to grow as Christians. So here's a survey of what's out there to help you get into God's word...

The Bible Speaks Today series
These commentaries are more in-depth than Bible reading notes aiming to be a crossover between an academic commentary and devotional notes. 
John Stott, series editor for many years, said they are characterised by a, “threefold ideal . . . to expound the biblical text with accuracy, to relate it to contemporary life and to be readable.”

Highly recommended if you want to go deeper into a particular book or theme. 




Explore
Each daily Explore study is written to take 15 minutes to do. It uses questions and explanatory comments to get you digging into the passage. It features three mini-sections: 
• Apply, helping you think about the difference God’s word will make to your life.
• Pray 'Thru', encouraging you to speak to the God who’s been speaking to you.
• Time Out, linking to a different part of the Bible, or raising an interesting thought.





The Daily Reading Bible
The all-in-one, take-anywhere package to help you feed regularly from God's word.
Each reading is designed to take around 15-20 minutes, and contains:
- the full text of the Bible passage for that reading;
- some questions to get you thinking;
- some 'points to ponder';
- some ideas to get you started in prayer.
Great if you don’t have room for a Bible. I used these during my final year of uni – the perfect thing for a coffee break at Costa!

Daily Bread
 Aims to help people explore, understand and enjoy the Bible - and work it out in everyday life.  It gives you:
-a Bible reading for each day;
-easy to understand, practical comments which relate the Bible to everyday life;
-a special ‘Talkabout’ section for individuals and small groups.

 Writers from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of perspectives.



Encounter with God

Designed for readers who want a thoughtful, in-depth approach to systematic Bible reading. It contains:
-daily consecutive Bible readings;
-exposition by experienced Bible teachers;
-introduction and review articles for each consecutive series, enabling further study, reflection and response;
-feature articles addressing contemporary issues;
-a dual programme, covering the Bible in either one or six years.
Closer to God
A creative and reflective approach to daily Bible reading, with a Bible passage and guide for every day of the week.

Aims to help ordinary people hear God speaking to them; loving, freeing, changing and healing them.

There's a Bible reading with notes for every day of the week, but each weekly section is designed so that if you miss up to two days you still won't get behind. Plenty of room for prayer, praise and reflection too.




... for Everyone series
 Each section contains a short passage of Tom Wright’s own translation followed by a highly readable discussion with; background information, useful explanation and suggestion, and thoughts as to how it can be used relevant to our lives today.

According to the Ship of Fools website: “Wright writes wonderfully, accessibly and as smooth as fine chocolate.”

Wright has written a commentary for every book of the New Testament!

E100
Provides a comprehensive overview of the Bible including introductions for different sections, 100 readings with notes, and opportunities to pray and respond. 

 It encourages a holistic head and heart engagement with the Bible alongside intimacy with God.  

Ideal for anyone wanting to discover the 'big picture' of the Bible and its relevance to daily life.


Friday, 24 May 2013

I am the greatest! (Matthew 20:20-28)


I am the greatest!
  
The famous American boxer Muhammad Ali was known for his tag line ‘I am the greatest!’ The media, his rival boxers, everyone around at the time were left in no doubt as to what he thought about himself. 

  As a Christian I wonder whether you have ever thought of yourself, even for a short-while, as being a ‘great’ Christian?  What does it even mean to be great in the Kingdom of God anyway? We know what it means to be great in the world of football – everyone can see that Messi is a great player (if not the greatest) because of the staggering number of goals he has scored.  We know what it means to be great in the business world – we consider people like Mark Zuckerberg to be a great businessman because of the products and wealth he creates.  But what does it mean to be great in the Kingdom of God?

  In Matthew 20:20-28 we see Jesus, in response to an audacious request from his cousins; James and John, define for us what greatness looks in like in the Kingdom of God. 

His definition?

Humility. 

To be great in Kingdom of God is to be humble.
If we love Jesus we should want to be great on His Kingdom terms, so here is three things we can do to cultivate humility in our hearts and lives.

1.     Change our thinking
  One of the problems with James and John was that they took their societies definition of greatness and applied it to the Kingdom of God.   Back in Jesus’ day if you had asked any Jewish person what they thought the Messiah’s mission was going to be like the idea of Military or Royal territorial power and influence would have probably come into their minds because of the sort of world that was around them.
  Of course we know that the Roman Empire was at the height of its power during the time of Jesus; from England to Africa and from Syria to Spain, one in every four people on earth lived and died under Roman law.   The Emperors such as Augustus and Tiberius had enormous power and even the leaders of provinces such as Herod King of Judea enjoyed a huge amount of influence.
  To be great in the Kingdom of God means not as James and John thought, the same as being great in the Roman world, to “lord power and exercise authority over people” but rather to serve.   Not to be proud but to be humble.   “Not so with you,” Jesus says, people who are part of God’s Kingdom should not have the same attitude as others, “instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
  They needed to have their thinking realigned with Christ’s way of thinking.  As Paul writes to the church in Rome, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds”.  In fact, the word repentance, in Greek Metanoia, literally means a change of mind or thought.   
If we are Christians we need to consciously align ourselves with the rule and reign of God in every area of our lives and that includes our thinking.

2.   Check our pride
  Another problem with James and John’s definition of greatness was that it was tainted with pride.  Their hearts were still full of self - centeredness.  They could see Jesus was someone very special and as they were related they saw the opportunity to get some of the glory.
Pride is the root of all sin. The German reformer Martin Luther described sin as “man curved in on himself.”
  Right back at the very beginning in Genesis we see Adam and Eve’s pride, their desire to be God, bring about the fall across the earth.   A few chapters later in Genesis 11 we read about the Tower of Babel, a short story which elucidates the pride that sits within the hearts of mankind.  A phrase in this story that stands out as being representative of the ambitions of so many societies and people throughout the ages is the phrase: “Let us make a name for ourselves”.
  Everywhere in our culture we see people who are out to make a name for themselves.  On television shows such as The X-Factor, for example, young men and women desperate to be famous.   In business and enterprise often people will stop at nothing to be successful and make a name for themselves.  And in sport who doesn’t want to be the one who scores the winning goal and receives all the glory and accolade that goes with it.
James and John wanted to make a name for themselves and if we look into our own hearts I’m sure we can think of occasions when we wanted to make a name for ourselves.
Tim Keller describes pride the carbon monoxide of sin.   It silently and slowly kills you without you even knowing.   We need to be awake to the reality and danger of pride in our lives and consciously be checking ourselves for traces of it.

3. Cling to Christ
  Like any great value of the Kingdom; giving, praying, healing, sharing, loving, whatever it is we are called to look to Christ as our great example. 
If we want to know what it means to be humble, if we want to know what true greatness looks like, we need to turn away from the world and the pride in our hearts and look to Jesus ,“who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our great King and Lord humbled Himself and served us to such an extent that He gave up his life, in the most painful of ways, to pay the ransom for our arrogance and pride.

  James and John did eventually come to understand what greatness looked like in the Kingdom of God when they humbled themselves. They did eventually drink from Christ’s cup when they laid down their lives in service of the Gospel.  James became the first apostle to be Martyred (Acts 12:2) and John suffered persecution and exile (Rev 1:9).  I wonder if they did end up sitting next to Jesus after all?