Dying to live

Let me make this clear: A single grain of wheat will never be more than a single grain of wheat unless it drops into the ground and dies. Because then it sprouts and produces a great harvest of wheat—all because one grain died.

The person who loves his life and pampers himself will miss true life! But the one who detaches his life from this world and abandons himself to me, will find true life and enjoy it forever!

If you want to be my disciple, follow me and you will go where I am going. And if you truly follow me as my disciple, the Father will shower his favour upon your life.

John 12:24-26 The Passion Translation

A wise word:

In becoming more,
we need to learn to let fall
all
but the power and the presence
of God with and within us.

The true measure of greatness
is our self-giving;
and the way to true life,
sacrifice.


Motho ke motho … alive in community

Words to live by …

… learned at a young age through the life-lifting devotions penned by Herbert Brokering and Scott. C. Noon in my belonging in various forms of youth ministry …

A tree can only live
in an environment.
A word can only live
in a context.
A baby will only live
in an embrace.
A thought will only live
if received.
A human can only live
in a family.
A noun can only live
with a predicate.
I can only live
in community.

… lived in the gift of multicultural worship and the learning of an unfamiliar tongue …

Motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe –
loosely translated as “a person is a person because of other people.”

… longed for in the wide open spaces of a new(ish) land …

“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

Romans 5:2 (The Message)

Day Thirty One: Other-Wise

Psalm 148
Proverbs 1:1-7
James 3:13-18

The book of Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings which distil God’s truth for good living. Short, insightful, and often humorous, they cover every aspect of human experience – from marriage and parenting to government and economics to lifestyle and habits – presenting the choice that is ever before us:

to act (and react) wisely, OR foolishly.

These sayings (attributed often to Solomon, the wisest of Israel’s kings),
were written down
so that we know how to live right and well;
so that we can get a firm handle on what is right
and just and fair;
so that we (and our young people) can get a grasp on reality;
and those already well-schooled in the ways of the world can find that they have yet something valuable to learn
(Proverbs 1:1-6).

Yet they are not the only proverbs on offer. The English language is strewn with wise-sounding sayings like:
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
“Fortune favours the bold.”
“God helps those who help themselves”
(which many people mistakenly believe is in the Bible).

Self-help books, empowerment seminars, business gurus, and marketing moguls have added to these an assortment of slogans, catch phrases and positive affirmations that influence – sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously – our values, perceptions and responses:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
“I embrace my power.”
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

“Start small – finish big.”

List any proverbs, quotes, affirmations and/or sayings that you catch yourself saying or that you think may have an influence on how you think, speak, act, spend, live. 

With so many powerful, positive, wise-sounding “proverbs” shaping our subconscious mind, it can sometimes prove difficult to discern which words to pay attention to and which to discard.

The mark of true wisdom that keeps us on track for right living, however, is that it gives life – not only to us, but to others! – for it springs from the mind and the will of the living God:

“Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;
only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” 

(Proverbs 1:7, The Message).

In our reading from James 3, we find four marks of a wisdom that begins in and blossoms through God:

1. Godly wisdom is meek and humble: it does not lead to boasting or bitter jealously or selfish ambition ….

2. Godly wisdom is authentic: no cunning, no conniving, no twisting the truth, no two-faced friendships – what is said matches perfectly with what is done ….

3. Godly wisdom is open and conciliatory: impartial and sincere, it helps to build a healthy and robust community and encourages us to do the hard work of getting along, of treating each with dignity and honour.

4. Godly wisdom is pure and peaceable, seeking good – for me, for my family, for my neighbour, for my community, for my colleagues, for my friends, for the stranger on my street, for my so-called enemy, for my country, for my continent, for my planet ….

Look back over your list.
Which of the words or phrases are of a worldly wisdom?
Which reflect the wisdom of God?    

Pray for the wisdom – not only to live well, but in your right living to be a life-giver to those searching for wisdom and their way in the world.

Day Twenty Eight: A Word to The Wise

Psalm 148
Proverbs 9:1-12
2 Peter 3:8-13

We are just two days away from 2018 and social media is full of (and has been for a while) sponsored ads for:
~ the diary/day planner/goal visualiser that will help you achieve all of your targets and desires;
~ the not-a-diet-but-a-step-to-better-health program that will enable you to wow your
co-workers and friends with a slimmer, better you;
~ early-bird discounts on motivational seminars and quasi-professional courses to help you get ahead of your peers – and stay there!
~ the best apps on the market for those lacking in willpower and accountability, featuring personal trainers and life coaches who will be with you every step of the way (virtual steps, of course) in helping you realise the change you’re after ….

more money,
a clear head,
better sleep,
a smaller waistline,
a graduation,
zen-like peace,
more patience,
a complete makeover,
a relationship do-over –

the prospect of a blank slate unleashes within many of us a frenzy of unfulfilled desires and hopeful expectations that the new year will be our best one yet –

that this time round our resolutions will be ticked off as realised;
and failures or mistakes or crises or general unpleasantries will just not feature – at all!

Deep down we know it’s folly;
that those “with our best interests” at heart are simply calculating the interest that they will earn as we buy the book, the app, the sweat gear that will lead to “our best self” or “our best year.”

In today’s readings, Wisdom warns us to leave the company of the simple and walk in the way of insight –
which begins with the Fear of the Lord
and leads into a life of (and from) knowing a Holy God (Proverbs 9:10).

Over the entirety of the Advent and Christmas season, we have received the invitation to base our lives on a different Message to those that the world constantly inundates us with:
a Message of sufficiency and abundance,
of affirmation and belonging,
of expansion and opening up,
of grace and salvation,
of forgiveness and compassion,
of hope, joy, and peace.

As we look forward, it’s not just to a new year;
but to the new heaven,
the new earth,
the home of righteousness which we have been promised (2 Peter 3:13).

It’s to a new self:
a God-imagined, God-made, God-breathed, God-given self;
rather than a better self, or
a self-made man- or woman-self.

Read again the beautiful words from Proverbs and receive God’s freely-given promise of provision for the year ahead (verses 4-6, The Message):

 Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place, and invites everyone within the sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,  roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

As you reflect on plans or resolutions that you have been making for the year ahead, ~ is there any particular area of your life in which you are experiencing a sense of scarcity or confusion?
~ how do your goals/dreams contribute to a life with meaning?
~ what is the grace that God is offering you?

With what do we measure?

A reflection based on readings from “Beyond the lectionary:”

With what do we measure?

An easier question to answer might be “with what don’t we measure?” for, from an early age, we begin to learn the language of comparison. Our parents applaud enthusiastically when we manage to place the triangle, the circle, the square into the “correct” opening; stack rings in order of greatest to smallest, or perfectly identify the colour of different items presented to us.

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Our teachers add to our limited recognition of numbers when we begin the formal schooling process, a vast array of “measurement” means from dollars and cents to metres and litres to ratio and proportions to angles and planes which we can compare and convert.

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As part of our critical thinking skills and verbal performance, we excel when we can correctly identify the “odd one out” or circle “the one that does not belong’. And we fast discover that those terms can be applied as criteria in our social relationships too.

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The older we get, the more proficient we become at measuring, sorting, classifying – and the more tools we are given to do so: race, gender, nationality, language, socioeconomic status, highest level of education, and so on.

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Anything, really, can be used to measure – from whether you’re a cat lover or a dog person, to how many drinks it takes for you to start behaving badly, to whether you wear weird socks underneath your relatively normal looking slacks. And it all means something! as we take our measurements and sort, classify, and compare in an effort to figure out where we fit in the world around us.

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No wonder it is such a struggle when we enter into the Christian life to learn a new language, a new way of looking at others, that is not based on measuring whether people are worthy or welcome but on offering “how best can I be a brother, a sister, a servant to you?”

Each of our texts today offer us a new word, a new way of measuring, based not on classifying and comparing but on transforming outsiders to insiders, strangers to family, darkness to light.

***

In our Old Testament reading, King Solomon – the son of David and writer of many of the wisdom sayings in Scripture – is placed in the difficult position of rendering judgment in a case where there are no witnesses; only the words of one distraught mother against another’s as each longs for a living baby over the dead one.

The means by which he reaches a decision seems quite cruel, and even illogical,  at first: he orders a servant to get a sword and cut the live baby in half so each woman can get a piece. But the real mother reveals herself by her response. While the woman with no true bond is happy with his solution, the child’s mother would rather give him up entirely than see him harmed in any way.

Love is the measure. Love is what Solomon was looking for as he applied his God-given wisdom to make the right decision. And not just any kind of love, but the sacrificial sort that would see a mother giving up a lifetime with her child just to know that he still breathed; that, indeed, Christ Jesus would embody as he laid down his life for his friends, for his persecutors, for the whole, wide world, for you and for me.

Is it the same with us? Do we display to strangers, to newcomers, to those with whom we would not previously have imagined associating a love which welcomes, which protects, which serves – often at great cost?

***

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, a difficult and divisive congregation, we discover that one of their ongoing arguments resulted from the very human desire to possess what was seen as the greatest of all spiritual gifts – the supernatural capacity to speak in angel tongues, in different languages – and so gain authority and status within the life of the community.

This is an example of measurement at it’s worst where a person’s worth or value to the church was rated according to the gifts that they could offer, but Paul puts an end to it when he says, “if you want to have a spiritual gift, then seek most of all those gifts that will build up the body; that will help the church grow stronger.”

Growth is the measure that Paul offers as an antidote to the poisons of power, of pride, of envy that were so rampant in this congregation.  He warns that the desire for and discernment of our individual gifting and talents should not be for our own advancement or exaltation or – for that matter – hoarding, but for the growth, the strengthening, the knitting together of the body and the drawing nearer of God’s kingdom. Otherwise we are as useless as untuned instruments for leading worship or muted trumpets for signalling an approaching battle.

Is it the same with us? Or do we use our God-given gifts to build another up; to grow together in faith, in love, in understanding?

***

Finally, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tackles the crowd at the Feast of Booths about their hypocrisy; their double standards.  It must have been a difficult time – dealing with his brothers’ disbelief in his divine identity and authority, with the crowd who has questioning whether he was for real or simply leading the people astray, and with the increased, hidden hatred of the priests and Pharisees who wanted to get rid of this healer, this teacher who was upsetting the status quo.

One of their accusations against him was that he had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath day, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of holding him to the law of the Sabbath (that no work should be done) while happily circumcising a baby boy on a Sabbath day themselves.

While the religious leaders sought to keep up appearances of piety and obedience, Jesus acted according to what was right. Justice was his measure: ensuring that the vulnerable, the diseased, the accused, the outcast, the prisoner knew the power and the presence of God in their lives. Judged unworthy and unimportant by those who measured by the way things look, they are the very ones to whom the Messiah came.

Is it the same with us? Do we value justice for those who are hurting, for those who are searching, for those that society seldom even looks at more than the comfort of our religious rituals and routines?

***

Love. Growth. Justice.

Three simple words. Three powerful ways of measuring – not how others fit in to our community of faith – but how wholly and how vividly we are portraying the face, the heart, the mystery of God as we go about our daily lives.

As those who heard King Solomon’s decisions respected his wisdom and gave glory to God, may those who encounter through our words, our actions, and our priorities a different way of measuring based on offering rather than judging do likewise.

 

 

 

 

Choosing well

A children’s lesson based on 1 Kings 3:16-28 – Solomon displays godly wisdom.

Preparation 

  • 2 identically-sized, solid bowls filled to the same level – one with sweets; the other with cereal or rice grains covered in a layer of sweets so that they appear the same.
  • 2 boxes – one containing biscuits and the other lasagne sheets or similar. Prior to the lesson the boxes should be opened carefully, the contents switched, and the boxes resealed.
  • 2 “presents” – one containing a boy’s toy in a pink gift bag and the other a girl’s toy wrapped in a blue gift bag.
  • Sufficient copies of the “with what do we measure?” worksheets*

Interaction

Present each of the pairs to the group – one at a time. For each, allow the children to point at which one they would choose and to share their reasons behind each choice. After their decision has been discussed, reveal what is actually in each container. Wonder with the children:

  • What part of our body helped us the most in making our choices?
  • Were they the best choices?
  • If you knew what was inside before you chose, would you choose differently?

Thoughts to share

  • Sometimes our eyes trick us. They tell us that what looks the biggest or has the nicest wrapping is the best and then we’re disappointed when we find out what is really inside. Sometimes they trick us into making friends with the wrong kind of people – people who look good and friendly and beautiful on the outside but who are actually mean and unkind on the inside.
  • In our story today, Solomon faced a tricky situation. He didn’t know which mom to believe – which woman had killed her baby by accident and which woman was the mother of the living baby? Instead of choosing based on what his eyes saw or his ears heard, he relied on his mind – on wisdom from God. He made the right choice and gave the living baby to the woman who showed that she loved the baby with all her heart – and all of the people respected him for it.
  • In order to make good choices we need to rely less on what we see and more on God’s wisdom.

Prayer

God, help us to choose:
right instead of wrong,
peace instead of fighting,
being kind instead of being mean,
telling the truth instead of making up lies,
measuring with love instead of our eyes.
Amen.

Worksheet pages

Click With what do we measure for children

 

* Sermon notes on “With what do we measure?” will be posted on Sunday (27/8/2017)