Thursday, September 13, 2007
STEALING IN THE LORD'S NAME
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. You then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing do you steal?
They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but, my own vineyard I have not kept!
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children.
A righteous man walks in his integrity -- blessed are his sons after him!
You husbands must conduct your married life with understanding.
If... any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God -- who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty -- and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.
In Christ, you were... set free from the sins of the flesh... and in him are sharing the miracle of rising again to new life -- and all this because you have faith in the tremendous power of God, who raised Christ from the dead .... God has now made [you] to share in the very life of Christ.
(Ephesians 4:28, RSV; 1 Corinthians 6:8, RSV; Romans 2:21, RSV; The Song of Solomon 1:6, RSV; Proverbs 13:22, RSV; Proverbs 20:7, RSV; James 1:5, Phillips; Colossians 2:11-13, Phillips)
God got my attention in an unexpected way while on a three-day retreat with a small group of fellow clergy.
We participated together in a relational Bible study based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and, drawing from the data of the biblical record, background studies and our own imagination, we explored together many aspects of the characters in the story. The priest, Levite, injured traveller and the Samaritan were all carefully analysed with the purpose of enabling us to identify fully or partially with one or more of them and relate the parable to our own lives.
However, although as a group we had overlooked considering the robbers, I found myself identifying with these who had selfishly and ruthlessly hurt and stolen from the innocent traveller. I came under deep conviction concerning the many people whom I had robbed of my time and love over the years.
After that group meeting I spent three hours in solitude in the retreat chapel letting God address me. I listed the names of those from whom I had stolen my quality time and my care and concern. Heading the list was my wife and then my family. My notes of the ways I had taken from them what was their right included: quality time to listen, to talk, to commune, to pray, to enjoy each other, to do those things they wanted to do. So often I have offered them the fag-end of my energy instead of my freshness, alertness, enthusiasm and joy.
My reflection led me to the disturbing awareness that all this failure to make significant space for those dearest to me brought into serious question my motives for my ministry. Was this neglect due to living in obedience to God's will or was I acting out of motives to satisfy my own needs for self-actualisation or selfish egocentric drives?
In that chapel I had a solemn encounter with God which led to confession, acceptance of forgiveness and a renewal of my covenant with God.
That evening I wrote a long letter to my wife listing the hurts I had caused her and asking forgiveness. Later that letter made a profound impression on her. She said, 'Only the Holy Spirit could have revealed these things to you.' There was forgiveness and the beginning of healing and enrichment of our love. Later I wrote to my eldest son -- and there was a similar work of grace.
If you really want to gauge the quality of your spiritual life, check your love dimensions. Not how often you read the Bible, or how much scripture you have memorised... but whether the people with whom you are living regard you as a lover -- a person reflecting the love of Christ which he sheds into our heart.
Howard Hendricks, in The Work of An Evangelist
When the family of the Christian leader, especially if he has to be away from home a lot, knows that they matter enormously to him, then the Gospel he talks about begins to become good news at home. Children need to be loved, and loved, and loved. Loved without strings attached. Loved if they don't go to church. Loved when they are a pain in the neck. Only in that way can they understand at gut level about the love of the Father which pursues them undiminished whether they hear or whether they forbear (Ezekiel 2:5)... Each of us will have our own different ways of expressing love and care for the family. But unless that is a high priority, we will find that we may gain the whole world and lose our own children.
Michael Green, in The Work of an Evangelist
I opened Thomas Kelly's Testament of Devotion... He caught my attention by describing perfectly my condition and the condition of many I knew: 'We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfil them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed and fearful we shall be shallow... We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Centre!... We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Centre of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence. This ability to say Yes and No out of the divine Centre was foreign to me... To say Yes to pleas for help or opportunities to serve usually carried an aura of spirituality and sacrifice. I could say Yes easily, but I did not have the ability to say No. What would people think of me if I refused?... As we yield to the Centre everything about us becomes focused, synoptic. This yielding is nothing more than the experience of the great commandment to love God with all our being. A French Christian, Marie of the Incarnation, wrote in 1628, 'My spirit was more and more being simplified... In the depths of my soul... these words were continual: "Ah! My Love, my Well-Beloved! Be blessed 0 my God!"... And since that time my soul has remained in its centre which is God.'
Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity
Faulty values and choices in the past have closed many options in the present and the future... The central reason for reappraising your lifestyle and values is not the fear of having a heart attack or suffering some other disaster. Rather it is to make sure that you are on the road you really want to travel -- the road that will allow you to use the years ahead creatively, productively, and joyfully, whatever life brings. A better future is more likely to occur by choice than by chance.
Howard Clinebell, Growth Counseling for Mid-Years Couples
One day I was working at a boring job and a friend came to join me. He loitered about for nearly an hour, perched on the edge of the table, smoking a cigarette and talking occasionally of nothing in particular. When he had gone I was filled with a special joy because I realised that he had deliberately wasted an hour with me; it was not that we were discussing something of importance or that I needed consoling: it was a pure and unsolicited gift of time. If we think about it, for busy people time is often the most precious thing they have to give. Doctors, priests, those who counsel, will always 'spend' time with those in need. They may sit up all night with someone who is distressed; they may pass long hours in listening to problems, or in giving advice; but this is all time deliberately spent. We only deliberately waste time with those we love -it is the purest sign that we love someone if we choose to spend time idly in their presence when we could be doing something more 'constructive'.
Sheila Cassidy, Prayer for Pilgrims
In a world full of strangers, estranged from their past culture and country, from their neighbours, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found... The term hospitality... should not be limited to its literal sense of receiving a stranger in our house... but as a fundamental attitude towards our fellow human being, which can be expressed in a great variety of ways. Hospitality... means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.
Empty space tends to create fear. As long as our minds, hearts and hands are occupied we can avoid confronting the painful questions to which we never give much attention and which we do not want to surface. Occupation and not empty space is what most of us are looking for... Being busy, active and on the move has nearly become part of our constitution... Preoccupation is in fact a greater stumbling block than occupation... We indeed have become very preoccupied people, afraid of unnameable emptiness and silent solitude... Preoccupations are our fearful ways of keeping things the same, and it often seems that we prefer a bad certainty to a good uncertainty. Our preoccupations help us to maintain the personal world we have created over the years and block the way to revolutionary change.
So we can see that creating space is far from easy in our occupied and preoccupied society. And still, if we expect any salvation, redemption, healing and new life, the first thing we need is an open receptive place where something can happen to us. Hospitality, therefore, is such an important attitude. We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own centre.
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee:
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
George Matheson, The Australian Hymn Book
My God, you are immortal, invisible, incomprehensible in your greatness, and mysterious in your almighty power. But because you are my Father, I am not afraid. I bow in awe before you but I speak with confidence and familiarity as child to parent.
I confess I have, somehow, not yet brought into balance all the elements clamouring to be ordered in my complicated existence. My life has become an unlikely plot, a conspiracy I helped begin but do not, any longer, hardly control at all.
Give me grace to find the space to allow you to get my undivided attention, then to listen unhurriedly and follow your guidance willingly.
Fill me anew with your Spirit so that I may experience an intimate connection between my spiritual life and my temporal needs.
Enable me to keep adequate space for all who enter my life this day, especially those who walk closest with me.
Take this day into your own keeping. Control, direct, instruct and sustain me. Totally transform me by your Spirit of love. May each life I touch be blessed because you are the secret centre of my life. Amen.
May your spiritual experience become richer as you see more and more fully God's great secret, Christ himself! Now to him who is able to keep you from failing and to present you before his glory without fault and with unspeakable joy, to the only God, our saviour, be glory and majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord... Amen (Colossians 2:2,; Jude 24,25, Phillips).
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 191-196