The Danger of the Good

What are we more in danger of?  Idolizing something bad?  Or idolizing something good?  Where does the biggest danger lie for us?

Bronze SerpentThere’s an interesting story in Israel’s history that warns us of the danger of the good when it is lifted up over God.  Hezekiah was a decent king in a long string of mostly crappy ones.  We’re told he made a lot of efforts at reform.  He destroyed many idols of foreign gods but he also destroyed one thing that was once precious and good in the eyes of God.  He [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).  2 Kings 18:4

That bronze serpent was made according to the instructions of God.  Israel had saved it since the time of Moses.  Jesus even positively refers to it.  But in the 1,000 years between Moses and Hezekiah, something had happened.  God’s People had started to worship it as an idol; they had exalted it over God.  So, for the reform-minded Hezekiah, it had to go.

In this we see something important.  It’s not the bad things in our lives (the outright disobediences, the gross sins, the obvious idolatries) that are the sneakiest.  It is the good stuff that is most dangerous.

The Bronze Serpent was what God-had-done-for-us-back-then.  It was something good and should have been held up as something to remind them of God and His goodness.  Instead, valuing the good gift over the Giver, they worshipped it instead.

The good stuff for us (the-last-thing-God-did-for-us, our work, our family, our comfort, our ministry), even these can be lifted up over God and become idols.  The danger not being that they are bad, but precisely that they are so good.

Be Still

Be Still

Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

Praying my way through the Psalms I came across this well-known verse.  It’s often viewed as an encouragement to inner serenity.  Or it is a spiritual posture to take in the Presence of God.  If applications are made along those lines I certainly don’t wan to take that away from anyone.  To seek God’s peace, to balance one’s inner storm before Him as we spend time in His Presence is a wonderful thing.  In fact, one of the main objectives in prayer may well be to do just that.  And yet, while Psalm 46 doesn’t say less than that, it also says more.

Be still and know that I am God serves as a conclusion to the entire Psalm.  The lead up tells us a lot about.  God is a present help in trouble verse 1 tells us.  The earth will feel like it’s giving way (v 2), the sea is stormy and the mountains are trembling (v 2-3).  Nations are raging and kingdoms are in tumult (v 6).  The world seems as though it is chaotic and the circumstances of God’s People, from their perspective, don’t look cheery.  It is into this reality that the command to be still comes.

Why this matters is that it is saying something much larger than finding inner peace in prayer time.  It is that in times of great upheaval, we must never forget that God is God, and we are not to be moved.  God’s People (both Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians) have faced the tumult of their times.  As Christians today, we face shifts in the our culture and troubles in the world.

When we read the news from North America we’re told from many sources:

That our culture is getting less faithful all the time.  (this is very Western centric but I’ll let that slide for now).

That our children won’t follow in our faith once they hit university.

That the world is getting worse and worse.

That Christianity is going to die unless it changes certain moral beliefs or gets “relevant”.

And so on…

But it is in face of all that, that God’s People are told to be still.  Be still and stay put, stay faithful to God’s great work no matter what this decade brings, or that century.  “The  Church must learn to think in centuries” it has been said, and that is a good maxim.  God is a in control over all history and not on e of His promises will fail.  That’s what is meant by the command to know that I am God.

To be still is to not be moved from the faith once delivered to the saints.  Decades come and decades go, centuries also come and go.  Public opinion goes this way, public opinion goes that way.  It may seem to the faithful that the world is shaking and rocking but we’re told to be still and know that I am God.  To stay where we are in terms of faithful witness and not forget that God is in control.

 

Who Am I? vs Who Are You?

How do we respond to God properly?  How do we respond with thankfulness and not with presumption?  How does our response show how we have received (or not received) His grace?

"I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord..." King David Playing the Harp, Gerard von Honthorst, 17th C

“I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord…”
King David Playing the Harp, Gerard von Honthorst, 17th C

King David was a man of many failures.  Also, he had many high points in his relationship with God.  Perhaps that is why he can be of such help to us as we all struggle/stumble/trip/fall/get back up in our pursuit of God.

2 Samuel 7 records an amazing prayer of thankfulness that David prayed God makes covenant with him.  It is well worth meditating upon but the first line jumps off the page.

Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?

This is how to pray.  This is prayer to God that understands his grace.  And when we understand God’s grace, our disposition to Him will be similar.  When we don’t, it tends to veer to the opposite.

Who am I?   David prays with total humble thankfulness.  He knows that he deserves nothing from God.  Why?  Because he remembers where he’s from and that it was God’s grace alone that brought him to where he is.  He is King (no small achievement).  he has had success (by God’s power).  And he knows that everything is his life is a gift (it’s this way for us all).  He has a low view of himself and his efforts – not in a low self-esteem way but a healthy way.  He has no sense of entitlement.  He is at the top of his life and knows he doesn’t deserve.  God’s grace has made him amazed, thankful, and reverently worshipful.  He gives all the glory to God.  This is a response of one who has a sense of God’s grace.

Who are You?  Without a grasp of grace, we will either become arrogant in ourselves or will turn demanding of God.  Instead of an amazed ‘who am I?’, we may begin to ask God ‘who are you?’.  Not in a searching, seeking way but in a demanding way.  We believe that God owes us something – for our good behaviour, or just because we’re entitled to a good life.  But we’re not.  Everything comes as a gift from God.  When we forget that, our amazed thankfulness will turn to demand.  And because the life we want is rarely the life we get, we could doubt God’s goodness or blame Him in some way.  Who are You? we could ask, demanding that He give the life we desire.

God’s grace given to the undeserving is the heart of Christian faith and a key to the amazed, worshipful, and thankful soul.

Why Should a Church Help Clean the Neighbourhood?

good posterThis Saturday is a community clean-up organized by the neighbourhood in which sits our Church building.  This year we’re taking part – both by encouraging bodies to help out and with a little funding.

Why?  Why is the perennially important question for anything so it’s important to ask it here.  Why should a local Church participate (enthusiastically by the way) in a neighbourhood clean-up?

This post (a repost from a year ago) is mainly for my own congregation’s benefit to help us focus on why we would expend effort on something like this.  Not that we’re cynical or resistant to the idea, by and large, but just to help us be clear.  But if you’re a reader from elsewhere, there might some pearls in it for you too.

So why is The King’s Fellowship participating?  How about for three reasons:

1)  For Us.  We’re doing it in order to help us.  We need opportunities to serve others and taking part together in something like this is to that end.  Many people in the congregation serve wonderfully in their own neighbourhoods and social circles.  It should never be suggested that we are not a serving people.  But corporately, as a congregation, there has never been a strong history of King’s doing service together.  So we need practice at that.  This Saturday is an opportunity for that.  Participating for one Saturday may not seem like a big deal – it’s not! – but it could be a step toward more ways to corporately serve.  Plus, it will be fun!  As someone who used to work in West Broadway take it from me; this community knows how to make stuff fun.  We’ll take part and we’ll be build community amongst ourselves.

2)  For Evangelism.  Picking up garbage with our neighbours is evangelism?  No, it’s not.  It is service.  Evangelism is when we speak the words of the Good News to someone and plead, persuade, and appeal to them to repent and believe.  Evangelism isn’t service but it can be helped by service.  Our Church has owned a building in this neighbourhood for years.  People could come to faith through our witness.  But they need to know we’re here first.  Serving is a way to let our neighbours know that we’re here and that we want to serve them (and serve with them) in Jesus’ name.  In addition to being an intrinsic good on its own, serving can be a way of ‘earning the right to be heard’.  This, I suspect Christians will learn in the decades ahead, is even more important as suspicion of traditional Christianity rises around us.  Picking up garbage this Saturday is a way to get to know our neighbours, be seen helping alongside with their common concerns.  No pressure to ‘share the Gospel’.  We’re there to serve.  But let me just share what a community leader told me once.  I told him that “propagating our faith is always a top priority for us”.  He smiled and replied:  “Hey, we’re all people.  We may see the world in different ways, but if people see you taking part, maybe they’ll be more open to your beliefs”.   Wise words.

3)  As A Stepping Stone To Something More.  One of my constant prayers for my congregation is that God would give us one or two unique ways to serve our neighbours.  That’s an important prayer because WB is a community which has lots of needs but also lots of people, programs, and organizations (both religious and non) who are already meeting those needs.  We don’t want to be redundant and run, for example, a healthy breakfast club or food bank when those things are already being done competently by others.  We also don’t want to shirk responsibility either.  We are to be a city on a hill after all.  It is important to not parachute in with our plans and agendas to help out.  We need to come alongside and participate in what is already going on.  We need to be servants and act like missionaries where we’ve been planted.  We need to not come in wearing our T-shirts but to wear theirs. *Psst, this isn’t just a metaphor – there’s a free t-shirt in it for you!*  If my prayer for one or two specific ways to serve is going to be answered, it almost certainly won’t be answered while sitting still.  If we take part in something as simple as this clean-up , and keep on for maybe a few years, we will be learning, making connections, becoming comfortable with our neighbours, and they with us.  Then, who knows what could come of it?  Oh wait, God knows!  Let’s participate and be in prayer.

No Hiding

Looks like he found a good church.  But it wasn't the one of his dreams.

A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him. “Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on the stand.” … The bushel may be the fear of men, or perhaps deliberate conformity to the world for some ulterior motive.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer