Friday, August 4, 2017

If the Holy Spirit "lives in you," then where?

The following is some thinking out-loud...

I’ve been having a great back and forth discussion with a good friend regarding the ontological make-up of human beings; bodies, souls, spirits, hearts, minds, bio-mechanics, neurological capabilities etc. My perspective is that humans are indivisible-wholes, we are fully embodied beings whom at death cease to exist. In other words, there is not a “soul” part to us, that at death detaches or flies from the body to another place or realm. Rather our story simply comes to an end. However, this end is not the end. Our story is not forgotten and in the eschaton (the age to come when God judges, heals and renews all things), God (who knows our story even better than we do), will bring about resurrection life and the continuation of our story. This will include forgiving, healing, restoring and renewing the broken and damaged parts of our story as well – there will be no more tears, no more pain, and no more heartache.  Thus, in our “storied-existence,” death at the bottom of page 91 (for example), gives way to resurrection life at the top of page 92, meaning that to be absent from the body (dead) is indeed to instantly be present with the Lord; irrespective of the years that go by in the space, time and matter universe of earth.

In terms of the “soul,” I’m not trying to do-away with it, but rather, to rescue it from dualistic ideas that all-to-often compartmentalize our lived experiences and hinder us in our journey to become fully human – to become Christ-like. As a pastor, I’m trying to minister the life-of-Christ to the life of our church community, in order that they might become whole and healthy humans – fully human in their reflection of Jesus who shows us what it means to be truly human! Attempting this, without a clear understanding of what it is to be human, has the potential to result in all sorts of disconnect and frustration – our ministry is not to “souls,” or “bodies,” or “spirits,” or “hearts,” or “minds,” but to fully embodied people.

I would understand the “soul” to be our inner-self, our accumulated reflections, thoughts, feelings, hopes, passions, dreams, fears, and anxieties – ultimately the product of our natured, nurtured, neurological, biomechanical embodied life. In this sense it is our story, not in terms of an historical-narrative though (that’s too liner), but rather in a more three-dimensional and alive sense; we can go back-and-forth, up-and-down, in-and-out, to-and-fro within our story. It is part ego, part shadow-self, part enlightened, part known, part unknown, part shared and part kept as a secret. In this manner, the “soul” is very real and very much alive. But, it isn’t a ghost that flies away at death, nor the real us to be set against our “body” as simply a “house.” The “soul” only exists in an embodied story and thus, like the body, is extinguished in death. But we have hope! (Did I mention that?)

In our conversation, a passage in 1 Corinthians came up…

1 Corinthians 6:19
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.

If the Holy Spirit lives in us, where does it live? It’s an ontologically framed question in light of our ontological discussion. Quite frankly though, it’s not a question I’d ever considered from that perspective. So, here is my attempt to explain this aspect of this verse. We’ll start with 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and then look at 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, I’ll make some comments as we read. You may like to read the whole of 1 Corinthians though – it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

1 Corinthians 3:16
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 

Here in chapter 3, Paul’s reference to “you yourselves” being the temple of God is a reference to the Corinthian church as a collective community rather than a reference to individual bodies. God dwells in the “community,” the “relationships,” the “gathering” of the Christian church. In this 1st Century context temples always reflected the nature, name and images of their respective gods or goddesses. For the Christian church, the nature, name and image of God was not a reality reflected in carvings or statues but rather in the people of the church, God’s image bearers and their relationships with one another. God makes himself present in their midst and the Corinthian church community serves as God’s sanctuary.

1 Corinthians 3:17
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

The sinful divisions of the Corinthian church though (see early in 1 Corinthians), their vainglory, jealousy and partisanship is damaging their common life together. More than that, it is a form of sacrilege because in sinning against “consecrated persons” who are corporately God’s temple, it defiles the joint sharing in the Spirit who consecrates the temple.  This behaviour has the potential to destroy God’s temple, that is, the Corinthian church.

Now, we’ll jump to 1 Corinthians 6, as in this passage we see the individual also referred to as God’s temple. Note here there are number of quotations representing things said by at least some members within the Corinthian church that have been reported to Paul.

1 Corinthians 6:12
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Free from the law of Moses, it seems that some of the Christians in Corinth are abusing this freedom and embracing practices inconsistent with faithfulness to Christ and Christ-like living. Most likely regarding their eating habits, their drinking, and inappropriate sexual relationships.

1 Corinthians 6:13-18
You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

The general openness of the Corinthian Christians to this kind of living was essentially their advocacy of the quasi-Platonic thought of the day, that is, a dualism between the “physical” and the “spiritual.” Supposedly, one could do what one wanted with their “body,” eat what one wanted to and sleep with whoever one decided to, with this having no bearing in terms of sin or in terms of reflecting the nature of God. After all, these were simply physical acts and at the end of the day the “body” would be destroyed, whereas the “soul” would be saved into eternity. The attitude was thus, don’t sin with your “soul,” but do what you like with your “body.”

Paul absolutely rejects this perspective. Paul is all about a fully embodied life. The body is a temple sanctified by the Holy Spirit, united-as-one with Christ, and the mode of being through which and in which the Christian self brings glory to God. Paul rejects Corinthian ideas that freedom from the law now opens the door to licentious sexual relationships, that sin is a “disembodied” reality, and that our “embodied” choices and activities play no role in terms of our future destiny. We’re to live our “embodied” lives today, in light of our “embodied” future and Christian hope. Paul’s great affirmation of the body being the resurrection of Jesus himself! And, whom we are united with and with whom we share hope in regard to the same resurrection. One commentator writes; “Paul’s eschatology counters the dualism of those at Corinth who devalue the body by demonstrating how resurrection destiny is precisely what gives meaning, responsibility, and significance to bodily existence in the present.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.

Now, in light of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and further to comments in the introduction, this dust-of-the-earth body and embodied existence, is not a house for the real us, our “soul,” but rather, is the real us and is instead a house/home/temple for the Holy Spirit – who takes up residence in us and will ultimately give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:10). Dualism is foreign to Paul, though popular to culture – then and now. For Paul, the whole embodied person belongs to God, therefore despite illicit union with a prostitute argued by the Corinthians to be merely physical, it effects oneness of relationship which contradicts the Lord’s claim over the body. Sin isn’t something outworked in the “physical realm” as distinct from the “realm of the soul,” this is an artificial division.

So, finally, back to our original question: If the Holy Spirit lives in us, where does it live?

In 1 Corinthians 3 the focus is on the collective community of the church serving as God’s temple. The Holy Spirit dwelt in-their-midst relationally, even as they were in relationship with one another. Their sinning against one another damaged their relationships with one another and served as a threat to themselves (as the church of Corinth) and their ability to exist as God’s temple. God was in-their-midst relationally and the challenge to the church was wrong relationships – in this case broken relationships and divisions with one another.

In 1 Corinthians 6 the issue is again that of relationships. Individuals in this instance, who are united in relationship to Christ, are now also uniting in relationship with prostitutes – the two bodies in sexual union becoming one body. Not ontologically one, but relationally one – a concept which in our day and age (as in Corinth 2,000 years ago) is not always perceived as being that “big” a deal. Biblically however, relationship is the biggest deal. God is a Trinitarian relationship. Creation was created to relate to God, self, others and the rest of creation. God enters a covenant relationship with Israel and is the faithful covenant keeping God. Marriage is to be a life-long covenant relationship. The church is a community of relationship with God, each other and the world. To become a follower of Christ is to come into relationship with Jesus and become one body. Again, not ontologically but relationally.

This isn’t to say there are not ontological implications that come about as a result of sexual union. Neurological pathways are developed, chemicals are released in the brain, associations and memories are created etc., all of which impact the totality of one’s embodied existence. That said, it is still more appropriate to think of two becoming one relationally rather than ontologically – and, we would do well in the 21st Century to re-invigorate our commitment and championing of “relationship” as the biblical value that it is. So, in sexual union a husband and wife become one flesh, they become one relationally, I now live in my wife’s story, and my wife now lives in my story. Relationally it is entirely inappropriate for a husband or wife to engage in sexual union with anyone other than their own spouse – that would be to enter into another story and would be an issue of unfaithfulness and a failure to use one’s body to its proper end – the bringing of worship and glory to God whose temple it is.

So then…

QUESTION: If the Holy Spirit lives in us, where does he live?
ANSWER: He lives in us relationally rather than ontologically.

The Holy Spirit now lives in our story and we live in the Holy Spirit’s story – God’s grand-narrative of scripture and ongoing work in the world. Relationally the Holy Spirit is with us always, and in us always, and us in the Holy Spirit. This is Jesus’ encouragement, to abide; John 15:4Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Identity Foreclosure, Questions, Doubts and Postmodernism

To be God’s people is to be those who wrestle with God. It is to work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling. It is to be people of faith, of hope, of trust, of doubt, and of suspicion. It is to have answers. It is to have questions. Of all the places to wrestle with one’s faith, the church would ideally be that place – often it is not.

A big part of maturing from adolescence into adulthood is the questioning of beliefs, assumptions, and perspectives held by one’s elders. Moving into adulthood, young adults don’t tend to simply follow the prescribed paths of their parents, teachers or pastors, rather, they explore other possibilities, different perspectives, and alternative values. The final result of this period of searching may well be a decision to retain much of what they have received from an early age, though some things may be deleted, updated, or reframed. What is essential in this process is that the choice to accept or adapt that which has been inherited, or to adopt other perspectives, comes about through their own weighing of perspectives and wrestling with life’s complexities. This is an exhilarating part of being roughly 17 – 27 years of age - when this process unfolds. Done well, it is also a process that helps the church to continually re-contextualize the gospel in line with the questions, issues, and concerns of the day.

Ironically though, churches are not always a context where young adults feel able to navigate this process. Too often church culture is orientated around believe, behave and belong - especially for young adults who’ve grown up in the church. Christian kids tend to come of age surrounded by authority figures who champion very clear ideals around what one must believe and how one must behave. Often their self-esteem is dependent on the approval of these figures and they experience an unusual pressure to conform to the expectations of others. They are often denied the “moratorium” or leeway in adolescence to delay adult commitments, they prematurely embrace a set of values that was forged for them rather than by them.

Psychoanalyst Erick Erikson suggests that when individuals skip this critical stage of identity formation (or only partly engage) the result is a form of identity foreclosure. Individuals who have undergone identity foreclosure can be highly successful in many areas of life. However, they do tend to exhibit a number of potentially destructive psychological traits. They are less self-reflective than others. They are often mentally rigid, tending to see the world in terms of simplifying narratives that are beyond question. They are incapable of incorporating new values or perspectives into their worldview. They have difficulty cultivating warm and intimate relations even among some of their closest friends and loved ones. They have little patience with ambiguity and little intellectual curiosity in unfamiliar ways of thinking. They seek refuge in overarching meaning structures that are uncompromising and total, various forms of religious propaganda essentially. They are often deeply concerned with maintaining authority structures and upholding traditional religious values. People with foreclosed identities are thus naturally drawn toward fundamentalist communities. And, in an insidious feedback loop, fundamentalist communities produce people with identity foreclosure. This is obviously not helpful.

With this in mind, our postmodern context and its predisposition toward questioning, doubt, suspicion, and deconstructionism offers both challenges and opportunities.

In terms of challenges…

Today’s adolescences and young adults transiting into adulthood have more suspicions, more doubts, more questions than ever, and, given their connectivity and access to technology and information – are asking harder, deeper and more challenging questions of the church and of faith than ever before. On top of that, they’ve been exposed to a such a plurality of ideas in regard to any particular topic that sifting through the information is incredibly challenging. They’ve knowledge and information but need help in terms of wisdom.

At the same time though, the church, often feeling threatened by deconstructionism, is doubling-down in its cries for faith, belief, and trust – and actually working to squash down the questioning of young adults. Partly because the church (understandably) doesn’t want young people to “lose” their faith, but also partly because many pastors and leaders are themselves products of fundamentalist communities who’ve their own challenges in regard to identity foreclosure and, plain and simple, don’t know how to address the complexity of some of the issues millennials are bringing to the table. They know they love Jesus though and that Jesus is the hope of the world, the way, the truth and the life. Surely this should be enough for millennials (and it is), but it isn’t – not served up like that. And thus, in attempting to squash the questioning in order to help young people preserve their faith, they actually end up driving young people away. Perhaps not from their faith in Jesus, but at least from the church.

The church needs to become the place where young adults can come to wrestle with their faith, to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, to doubt, to question and to be suspicious. Not the place they have to avoid as thy seek to wrestle with their faith and work out their salvation.

In terms of opportunities though…

What is exciting in our postmodern world is that “older” folk are bravely attempting to ask questions and re-evaluate the parts of their faith that earlier in their life they may have had questions about but instead learned to tow the party line. Of course, rather than being exhilarating, as it often is in one's twenties, it can be daunting and overwhelming. At least at first. To question “fundamental” beliefs can be a disorientating and difficult process, and often one where participants feel a mixture of guilt and incredible instability. Guilt for asking or doubting, and instability as one is questioning things that they have perhaps felt like they’ve built their life on. Take encouragement from the psalms though - they are a mixture of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. We should expect this cycle to be embedded within our lives as disciples. Unfortunately though, fundamentalist upbringings tend not to make space for this and the process can be scary at first.

When we can make our church communities contexts in which doubt and suspicion doesn't disqualify but rather is expected, and where big questions are wrestled with over time, they have the potential to be incredibly life giving. Places where on the other side of big questions young and old begin to experience a sense of being born-again-again, as faith in Jesus, the good news of the gospel and the great hope we have as Christ-followers comes alive in in the midst of lives toughest questions and challenges.

It’s discipleship as a lifelong journey rather than a 3 step program, with 5 main points, 7 quick keys, and 9 irrefutable laws, outworked over 40 days of who-knows-what.

My reflections interwoven with ideas from...

Ronald E. Osborn – “Death Before the Fall”
Erik Erikson – “Identity and the Life Cycle”
John Van Wicklin, Ronald, J. Burwell and Richard E. Butman – “Squandered Years: Identity Foreclosed Students and the Liberal Education They Avoid”

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Worship: The Battle Ground of the Ego and the Soul

Let's have a look at worship, the lyric and melody type worship. Worship is of course the totality of how we live our lives. Worship is living in a way that gives honour and glory to God. But worship - in the sense of singing - is something that most Christians do, from Sunday to Sunday. 


Let’s have a look at what is probably the most famous worship verse in the bible. The worship pastor's go to 'proof text' and 'sum-it-all-up-in-one-verse.'

Psalm 22:3

You can see the Hebrew text in the center of the image. Hebrew poetry, which the psalms are, is arranged via specific numbers of words rather than the specific sounds that words make - it's not about rhyming.

With this in mind, there is some uncertainty as to whether Psalm 22:3 is 3 words and then 2 words, or 2 words and then 3 words? Does the word I’ve highlighted in yellow go with the top line, or does it go with the bottom line?

Different English translations go in different directions.

The NIV thinks 3 and then 2 = You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 

The ESV thinks 2 and then 3 = You are holy, enthroned (inhabiting) the praises of Israel.

It’s only a little different but makes a big difference, at least in this discussion. 

My Old Testament Professor, John Goldingay, has written a fantastic commentary on Psalms. He thinks 3 and then 2 words and thus sides with the NIV translation. He offers the following… The idea of Yahweh sitting enthroned in the heavens or in Zion is a familiar one (offers a bunch of verses).  Likewise, the idea that Yahweh is the one Israel praises is a familiar one (more verses as examples). But the idea of Yahweh being enthroned on or inhabiting Israel’s praise is unparalleled, and if either of these were the psalm’s point, one might have expected it to be expressed more clearly. 

Thus it is simply more likely that the NIV translation is correct. We can’t be certain. But I think it is fair to run with the NIV.

If we go with the ESV translation of the text, then the next thing we know, we’ve well-meaning Worship Pastors yelling at us; “Come on people, God inhabits the praises of his people! Let’s get singing. Let’s make some noise. Let’s really get into this and ensure that God comes and presences himself with us. Let's really make an effort.”

Bubbling away, just below the surface, is the idea that we have discovered a key or a principle by which we can get God to come at our beck and call. Hallelujah! We've found a way to make worship transactional in order to get out of it what we want. Some people promote methodologies or theologies that turn prayer and fasting and giving into transactional based activities. Beware - these practices are intended to be transformational not transactional.  

In this instance, worship supposedly becomes something that we initiate, and a means by which we move God. If we sing then God will show up, we'll have an encounter. 

You don’t have to travel too far down this road before things start to get bent out of shape. We soon have this great push to sing louder, lift our hands higher, kneel or bow down lower, clench your eyes tighter, be more sincere, be more intense, get a better sound system, get better singers on the stage, get better musicians on the stage, get a better stage. Generally just make more of an effort to make worship something amazing. 
Even just intuitively I think we all know that this isn’t what worship is about. But often this is what it has become about. 

If we’re not careful, it all starts to echo the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel, beating themselves up trying to get a miracle. 

If we go with the NIV version of the text, likely a more accurate translation, I think we'll end up heading down a better path.

Bubbling away, just below the surface of this English translation, is the idea, the conviction, that God is prior to everything. God is the initiator of everything. God is present and inhabits all things, all times, all places. God initiates and we respond.

We don’t sing and then God turns up. We sing because God has already turned up.

And so, we sing louder, we lift our hands higher, we make some noise, we kneel or bow. But NOT because we are trying to make more of an effort and get God to do something. Rather it is an embodied response to the fact that God has already done something - everything. 

Here is perhaps a better verse to start from.

Revelation 3:20
Jesus speaking – Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

Worship isn’t God hearing our voice and responding. Worship is about us hearing His voice and responding.

God’s prior to everything.
God’s the great initiator.
The universe hums with God’s song, long before I try and bring my song.

Worship is a table of hospitality.
The love of the Father is the invitation.
The Holy Spirit is the host.
Musicians and singers are serving.
Jesus is the life-giving meal.

We’re invited to the table, invited to partake, invited to taste and see that the Lord is God, that Jesus is living water, that Jesus is the Bread of Life. We’re invited to take a seat at the table and participate. 

So how do we participate?

Singing is a fully embodied activity, it is an “everything that's in me” type activity. Songs are about lyric and melody, which means songs are about thinking and feeling. Songs are about action and contemplation.

You never put on your favorite album, your favorite song, and then sit or stand dead still. Even if you are following along reading the lyrics your foot will be tapping, your fingers thrumming, your head bobbing. 

Here is Journey's Don’t Stop Believing - try and watch this without moving, impossible! Steve Perry is rocking it! Play it super loud!

Worship is something we participate in when we allow our thinking and feeling to come together in embodied participation. Music, movement, meditation all in one go.

This instructional video may be helpful.

So we lift our hands, we shut our eyes, we stand, we sway, we sing loud, we tap our feet -- NOT because in worship we need to really make an effort, really force things, like the prophets on Mount Carmel, really get stuck in so that God knows we are sincere and will hopefully show up -- we worship because God has already shown up - big time. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us!

We worship and we engage our whole body in the process because that's how we participate. 

The reason that the worship video clip is funny (I hope you thought it was) is because it is so true. We've all seen it get a little weird in worship.

Look at this next diagram. You have the same stuff - singing louder, lifting hands, making noise, and so on - on both sides of the equation. However, on one side it’s about striving and straining to get something. One the other side it is about learning to let go. 

And what’s it about letting go of? It’s about letting go of our ego.

The physical action in worship, our arms lifted before God, singing passionately despite our abilities and so forth, well it’s all about the abandonment of ego.

It is physical action that produces as spiritual openness, a spiritual atmosphere even. Of course it does! Everything is spiritual.

Through embodied engagement in worship we let go of our ego. We let go of  self-consciousness, self-interest, self-reliance, self-sufficiency. All of which, if unchecked, become manifestations of self-worship, a form of idolatry. Holding onto oneself rather than giving oneself over to God.  

In worship, when we practice full participation, we find that the abandonment of ego opens our souls to receive the one who is the Bread of Life, Living Water, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Worship is thus the battle ground of the ego and the soul. 

In this next video clip check out the battle between the ego and the soul. The boy in the middle is “soul.” The girls next to him represent “ego.”

Ego and soul are fighting. Ego says; "stand still, don’t be silly, be dignified, what will people think?" Soul says; "loose yourself in the music, in the moment, you’ve only got one shot."

Here’s a bird that exemplifies what it is to totally let go of ego and embrace soul. You’ll be able to tell which bird.

When we let go of ego we find our soul.

And in finding our soul we find a space to experience all that is true about God.

The psalmist sings in Psalm 103…

Psalm 103:1-5
Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

When we let go of ego and we sing from our inmost being our heart collides with the Father heart of God.

And then, God who is present with us, and the lyrics that we are singing, and the music that imprints it into our very beings, begins to re-script, re-order, re-configure, re-write and redeem the story of our lives and of life.

We let go of and lay down the illusions of self-sufficiency we have, we throw out all the messages that the world tries so hard to throw at us… movies, magazines, media, marketing… in an attempt to shape our lives. In an attempt to tell us, what success means, what should be pursued and valued and loved. What’s worthless and should be thrown away. What the good life is or isn’t. Who I am. Who I should be.

In the lyric, melody of worship and our embodied participation we are re-shaped by God. We find truth and life. Rather than falsehood and death. Rather than finding ourselves shaped by the world’s liturgy, we are shaped by the person of Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of God.

Not because we are striving and struggling and making great efforts, but because we are letting go, and embodying God’s truth in worship.

That’s how it is meant to be. That’s how it’s always meant to be. That’s how worship works. We embody the song. We eat with Jesus. We find life. Ego dies. Our soul comes alive. It changes the way we live.

Through the abandonment and delight of letting go.

It keeps us safe from the temptation to turn worship into either the manipulation of God or of our fellow brother and sisters. It prevents us from turning worship into a man-made, self-gratifying, consumer driven, tick box event that God despises.

Amos 5:21-27
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!
25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
    forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
    the pedestal of your idols,
    the star of your god—
    which you made for yourselves.
27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
    says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

In the scenario here in Amos, worship “stuff” is happening. But lives aren’t being re-framed. It’s not resulting in justice and righteousness and mercy flowing into the world. This shouldn't be surprising, after all, love and justice and mercy and compassion and kindness, the fruit of the Spirit; it doesn't flow from your ego, it flows from the heart of one who has encountered the love of God in worship. 

Worship – the adoration, glorification and honouring of God. Heart touches heart. 

Worship – the abandonment of ego in the lyric and melody of song. 

Worship – the saving of our souls as that which is deep within is allowed to come to the surface. 

Worship – the formation of our lives as the scripts of our world are replaced by the truth of Jesus.

Worship – It’s not about my voice and God responding to my voice. It’s about his voice and me responding to his voice.

Worship – A table of hospitality. The love of the Father is the invitation. The Holy Spirit is the host. Musicians and singers are serving. Jesus is the life giving meal.

Worship – The battle ground of the ego and the soul.

Worship – Lyric and melody searching for action and contemplation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mo Money, Mo Problems – Money: Part 3 of 4

I don't know what, they want from me
It's like the more money we come across
The more problems we see
What's going on?
What's going on?
I don't know what, they want from me
It's like the more money we come across
The more problems we see

Artist – The Notorious B.I.G feat. Mase and Puff Daddy
Song – Mo Money, Mo Problems
Album – Life After Death
Year –
Stewardship, hard work, diligence, is SECONDARY to gift. Gift comes first. Life itself is a divine gift, a divine handout. The way each of us is uniquely woven together, our time and place in history, our skills and talents and abilities – undeveloped as they might initially be – is the first leg up we receive.
There is no such thing as a self-made man, a self-made millionarie. 
This is part 3 of 4 in a brief series of posts on money
Part 1, Living in Beverly Hills, can be read here.
Part 2, Money, That’s What I Want, can be read here. (Please note that discretion is required in this post due to some of the language at one point).
A summary of the posts so far can be read in the italics below. Feel free to skip if you’ve read part 1 and part 2.
Blessing is God’s desire for humanity to live a flourishing, whole and right life. Secondly, blessing is God’s good work of creation that brings into existence the context and conditions needed for a blessed life. Thirdly, blessing is God’s faithful and ongoing work in our world to bring about blessing even though we are not always faithful. The devil, sin, our own hardness of heart and poor choices continually conspires against us and leads us into all sorts of destructive places, life is often a mess; anything but flourishing, whole or right. We rightly perceive that things have “gone wrong.” The climax of God’s faithfulness is God’s willingness to step right into our mess through Jesus Christ. Jesus brings grace and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation to God. This is where true blessing is found (Romans 4:7) and though we may only taste elements of a “blessed” life on this side of eternity, God’s Holy Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. God in Jesus is setting the world right.

While there is an economic element to blessing; there is far more to a blessed life than what can be measured in economic terms. Sleeping soundly, laughing loudly, loving deeply, sharing bread and wine, living in wide-eyed wonder and in right relationship with God, self, others and creation all reflect a blessed life. To think of blessing only in economic terms is an impoverished view of blessing that has been high jacked by Western materialism and consumerism. Unchecked this view soon concludes that the source of a blessed life is money rather than God. Money equates to power and control and thus supposedly, enough money will mean power over and control of one’s life. We either become our own false god (with a false sense of power, authority and control), or, money becomes our false god offering false promises of a blessed life.

As Christ followers our call is not to attain power and control but to relinquish it, after all, “it is no longer I that lives but Christ that lives in me.” This does not mean that we become careless with money, rather we are to be careful with money. But, it is always a fine line between striving for power and control (the love of money) and the careful stewarding of resource (faithfulness with money). Gandalf, in The Lord of the Rings refuses to accept the ring of power from Frodo; “Don’t tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good… but through me, it would wield a power to great and terrible to imagine.” In our world money has the potential to work like the Ring of Power, as much as it can do good, it has the potential to corrupt.

It is always a fine line between striving for power and control (the love of money) and the careful stewarding of resource (faithfulness with money).

Part 3 now follows…

Deuteronomy 8:6-9
Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

In other words, a land of plenty, of abundance, of resource and opportunity and potential.
It’s not too hard to draw a lose analogy and see that in a similar way New Zealand is a land of plenty. We’re blessed to live in New Zealand. We’ve education, health care, law and order, democratic government, employment laws, banks that can be trusted, infrastructure, oceans, farms, forests, lakes, mountains, bio-diversity. We’re blessed.
The medium household income in New Zealand is $47,100. That income puts Kiwis in the wealthiest 4.5% of people in the world. We’re better off than 6.3 billion people. We should celebrate this. Thank God for this. We’ve landed here. Of all the places in the world. Thank you Jesus. 
Deuteronomy 8:10-17
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget
 the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”
Despite being written to Israel hundreds of years ago, the advice is sound for us today. How easily we fall into the same trap. How quick we are to assume that what we have is primarily a result of all our hard work, all our effort, the power and strength of our hands. Or because of our intelligence and sharp minds.
Our culture celebrates the idea that someone might be a “self-made man” or a “self-made millionaire.” Nobody gave that person a leg up or a hand out. Legend! More people should be like they are!
Deuteronomy 8:18
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
In amongst all that follows, this is key:

Stewardship, hard work, diligence, is SECONDARY to gift. Gift comes first. Life itself is a divine gift, a divine handout. The way each of us is uniquely woven together, our time and place in history, our skills and talents and abilities – undeveloped as they might initially be – is the first leg up we receive.

Stewardship, good, bad or indifferent follows from gift.

The New Testament puts it like this in Acts 17:24-28…

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

We are each recipients of the gift of life.
Easy to say, “no I’m a result of biology.”
Sure, but God was the one that created and invented biology.
We’re just stewards of God’s great creation.
We are his off spring.
In him we live and move and have our being.
He marked out our appointed times in history and the boundaries of our lands.
In him each of us is fearfully and wonderfully and uniquely put together.
The recipients of his great gift that is life.

Gift comes first. Stewardship comes second.

We should note here that the gift is not quite the same from person to person.

The gift is life. The gift is a fearfully and wonderfully made human being. But man is there variety!

We’re all put together differently. We’ve all different skills and talents and abilities and temperaments and families of origin and ethnicities and passions and intellectual abilities and emotional sensitivities.

The starting point, from one person to the next, is infinitely varied. And it’s not all equal opportunity! Depending on what the goal, or a particular goal is, some have advantage and some are at a disadvantage.

- If the goal is to slam dunk a 10ft hoop by the age of 17 – well, hard luck short people.
- If the goal is to have a PhD by the time you are 27 – well, hard luck those not so intellectually inclined.
- If the goal is to be a millionaire by the time you are 37 – well, hard luck to you if you’re not business minded, a professional sports person, a rock star or one of the few that win Lotto.

Depending on where you set the finish line, for some it becomes a 100 m sprint, while for others it is 10,000 miles away. This is why we celebrate different achievements in different ways. We recognise the race isn’t even.

Thus in all things, we live in humility trusting that when Jesus returns, he’ll return with grace, and that God in all things will judge impartially.

1 Peter 1:13 and 17
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

So gift comes before stewardship. 

The gift is life, it is the opportunity to know faith, hope and love. 

There is huge variety though.

Of course, our world sets all sorts of different benchmarks in terms of what it means to live the good life, to be successful, to be an achiever, to fit in or to stand out. These benchmarks become cruel task masters though. Especially when we remember that life’s not equal opportunity and that every person has a different starting point.

Sadly though, these become the ways we measure ourselves and compare ourselves to others and comparison has a tendency to ruin people’s lives.

Rather, in humility, we should simply seek to run our own race, to be faithful with what God has given us, and called us to do.

There is no need to compare with others, get one over others, look down on others or be intimidated by others.

Ok, let’s try and land this back at money. Considering this is supposedly a series on money, I’ve not talked about money much!

Have a look at the following diagram…

Money flows into our lives from three potential income streams, investments we might have, a business we own and perhaps work in, or the work we do as someone employed or self-employed person.

((We’re blessed as well to live in a nation were different benefits are also available for people from time to time, in different seasons and for different reasons. But that’s a different subject at the moment)).

((You could also argue that loans are a source of income and also gifts from others too. We’ll keep it simple and just focus on these ones though)).  

Money flows in of course. But money also flows out. Sometimes it feels like it leaks out, like it just evaporates.

Money doesn’t evaporate though. It flows in five particular directions.  


As Christ followers, stewardship is how we navigate and order this kind of diagram, how we monitor the flow of our money.
We can be careless with our money – poor stewardship.

We can obsess over money, striving for more money (power and control) – poor stewardship.

We can manage the flow of our money faithfully and open to God’s leading – good stewardship.

All of us should seek to develop at least a basic level of health in terms of money management. Living within our means, not getting into debt, working out how to be generous; those kinds of things.

Just like we should all seek to cultivate a basic level of physical health in life.
Some people, of course, are more inclined than others to take their physical fitness to whole different levels. Run marathons, hit the gym, sculpt the deltoids. Nothing wrong with this. For some it brings a great sense of reward, of fulfilment, it’s a passion. Eric Liddle famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure!”

It just needs to be kept in check. Family commitments, obsessive compulsive nature, vanity, diet, other responsibilities fall to the side.

It’s like that in terms of money management for some people. Some will be more inclined than others to make the system hum rather to simply let it be healthy. Some people will be wired to make it really hum, it will come naturally to them.

This is ok too; but also needs to be kept in check. It is easy to become greedy, a lover of money, a compulsive risk take, etc. There are all sorts of ways that our money management can get out of check.

This is why we should always remember… the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

These three income streams, investment, business, employment are developed through the leveraging of the gifts that God has given us.

We weren’t all dealt the same cards though.
Each of us us wired with different passions, intellectual abilities, and temperaments. Each of us grew up in different homes that encouraged different degrees of risk taking, championed different values and nurtured each of us in different directions. 
As a result some people were drawn to business, others to professional services such as medicine or law. Some wanted to be school teachers for as long as they could remember. Others determined to work in churches or not-for-profit organisations. Some became builders working for others. Some became builders working for themselves. Some became builders and employed other builders to work for them. 
The financial return varies greatly from case to case. Each person also ends up carrying different pressures and responsibilities in life. Each person ends up with a different amount of money flowing into their life. This shouldn't be a surprise.
Next time... 
How to make more money.
How to manage the money you have.
Tithing - what the heck!