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Giving It All Away

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I thought I would share the notes I prepared before leading my small group meeting last week. As usual we only made it a fraction of the way through the content I’d prepared. I’d much rather that happened than we ran out of things to say! This is not much more than some passages of scripture and some questions to discuss. Maybe you’ll find it useful in thinking through the subject yourself, or sharing with others.

It’s sometimes difficult to talk about money, even amongst friends. Why that should be is an interesting question in itself. To help us see things in a slightly different light, and to break the ice somewhat, a couple of days before we met I asked my friends to take a look at this web site: http://www.globalrichlist.com/

Does this put your financial situation into perspective?

Matthew 19:16-22 (NIVUK)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he enquired. Jesus replied, ‘“You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

How would you react if God said these words to you?

Then I played a podcast called “Rejecting Riches” from the BBC World Service radio show “The Why Factor” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02jhfpp which can also be downloaded from this page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/whyfactor (See 14 February 2015).

We spent the rest of the evening discussing issues raised by this programme. Some bullet points to comment on:

Alan Large – Lottery Winner

  • Didn’t need the money
  • It was too much – a curse – people calling from all over the world asking for handouts
  • Gave it all away to family and charities

Chen Shuchu – Taiwanese Vegetable Seller

  • Grateful for help given by others when she was young
  • Only spends a few dollars on herself
  • Gives the rest away

Chuck Feeney – Duty Free Shopping

  • “All you can really do is count it”
  • Will give away all his fortune before he dies (within 10 years)

John Pedley – Businessman / Christian

  • St Augustine “Find out what God has given you. Take what you need. The rest is required by others.”
  • Sold everything, moved to Uganda, built a health centre
  • Now runs a fruit farm, gives away 90% of profits to health and education projects
  • The futility of his rich life
  • Why does he do it? Not to redeem himself. Not to make himself feel better. Believes in a God of justice.

Other thoughts

  • The drowning child analogy (mosquito nets)
  • What are the rights and wrongs of playing the lottery? Do they change if you resolve to give away all your winnings to charity?
  • Tithing – is 10% too little, just right, or too much? What is in your heart when (if) you tithe?
  • How is your attitude to money affected by personal factors such as your age, work, and family situation?
  • Where does altruism come from? Biological imperatives? God? Both?

Acts 4:32-37 (NIVUK)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Would you like to live like this? Is it even possible in modern society?

Acts 5:1-11 (NIVUK)

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

What is your response to this passage?

Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive the apostles. How would events have turned out if they had been honest about what they were keeping?

A final thought:

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NIVUK)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Honoring Those With Whom You Disagree

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Please read this post by Frank Viola. It’s a timeless reminder of the attitude we need to take towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I Recommend PrayerMate

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I became aware last year that my prayer life wasn’t everything that it should be. While I would frequently talk to God throughout the day, it felt like casual conversation, small talk. I knew that I needed to be more intentional in devoting time to prayer, and more focused in what I spoke to God about.

So I was very interested when I read about PrayerMate. I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly who mentioned it – I found it in an article referenced in an email from one of several Christian mailing lists that I’m subscribed to.

PrayerMate is basically an electronic prayer list, and this is how I use it: I have four categories, one for the Church (both local and global), one for my family, one for my Small Group, and one for my friends. Within each of those categories are a list of subjects that I want to pray for. So most of the categories contain a list a people. The Church category is different, as its subjects include local initiatives, global conflicts, and general issues such as Church leadership.

PrayerMate sets an alarm each day – very useful for me! Then I open it, and I am presented with one subject from each category, so everyday I will pray for three specific individuals and one Church issue. PrayerMate rotates the subjects so that they are different every day, and over the course of a week or so I will pray for everything and everyone on my list.

If there are particular issues concerning one of my subjects, for example a health issue for a Small Group member, then I can add notes about this, and those notes are shown when PrayerMate selects that person for prayer.

I will be adding a new category soon, for Praise and Devotion, as this is something I don’t include enough in my prayers. I will be adding lines of scripture, especially from the Psalms, to acknowledge God’s majesty and faithfulness, so that I give Him the honour due to Him before submitting my petitions to Him.

PrayerMate comes pre-loaded with a few categories and subjects, which you can adapt or delete if you wish. There are also many ways to configure the way subjects are selected for daily prayer, for example to focus more on categories that are closer to your heart. I haven’t used half of the available options.

I feel much more comfortable about my relationship with God now that I have this tool to help me develop discipline in my prayer life. If you don’t need help in this area then I am very pleased for you, but for me, PrayerMate has been an true blessing.

Much Dreaming and Many Words

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I can’t say that I have a favourite Bible verse. There are many that I return to time and again, according to my mood and the season of my life. One of those is Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” It means a lot to me, particularly in my current season. But I didn’t want to talk about that today because it’s too well known and too obvious – I like to not be obvious! But the word “fear” struck me. I know the Bible has a lot to say about fear, so I looked for more examples and this verse leapt out:

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
(Ecclesiastes 5:7)

This is a verse I want to keep in my heart, for several reasons.

It comes at the end of a passage in which the writer is warning about making hasty vows to God. It’s very easy to make promises in the heat of the moment, at a time of desperation. But God knows whether you are able to keep that promise, and He won’t be impressed if you make one that you can’t follow through with. Why would you try to impress God anyway? Maybe you say something unwise in a public situation not to impress God, but (consciously or not) to impress other people. That’s just as foolish, or maybe more so.

Out of context there are other subtle variations of the message that appeal to me: why keep dreaming impossible, and meaningless, dreams? Make your aspirations realistic, so you can achieve them and actually do some good instead of just talking about doing something great.

I like to play with the phrase “many words are meaningless” as a warning not to babble on about things, just to keep to the point, and keep it short and simple. I’ve certainly sat through some sermons where this would apply! And I know I’m sometimes guilty of using six words where one will do!

But I can’t help smiling most at the blunt conclusion “Therefore fear God.” At the end of the day, whatever we think, whatever we say, and indeed whatever we do, it’s not about us, it’s about God, and that’s where our focus should be throughout the good, the bad and the ugly days.

So in very simple terms, the verse is telling us: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, keep your feet on the ground, and put God first.” That’s wisdom to hold on to every day.

A Year in the Life

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The fireworks have started, I hear them outside my window. As I write it is nearly 10pm in Birmingham, England. 2014 will soon be history.

Looking back at the year, it feels like quite a dreadful one, almost certainly the worst I’ve experienced since I came to faith. You may not have got a sense of that from my blog posts, and that is something I regret. When I first started blogging it was my stated intention to share my life – my journey – with you, including the ups and the downs. What I didn’t realise at the time was that something that felt so internal and personal to me is actually almost entirely shaped by my relationships with other people. Friends, family, brothers and sisters in Christ, other loved ones, and not-so-loved ones. They have all had issues to deal with, some of which have involved me directly, and they have all had an impact on me, for better or for worse.

And yet I’ve been unable to share with you so much that has filled my prayer life, because I’m determined not to share anyone else’s story without their permission, especially when they involve sensitive situations or emotions. And the situations and emotions are ongoing, so I haven’t reached a point where I feel comfortable to ask permission.

Occasionally over the years I’ve shared personal vignettes, with participants left unnamed and stories intentionally vague. Right now I don’t feel able to do even that, though I’m sure I’ll find opportunities in the future.

But at present all you know is that 2014 has been dreadful in my eyes. Sure, I can think of many blessings, stars twinkling in the dark sky. But my, the sky is dark.

Where can I look for my hope for 2015? Where else but to the Lord, and to His word. I wanted to end this post quoting Philippians 4:10-13 but when I went to Bible Gateway to find the exact scripture reference (after writing the previous paragraphs) I was amazed to see their verse of the day, no doubt inspired by the time of year:

This is what the Lord says — he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:16.18-19

Wow.

I’m thankful that although I feel unable to share the deepest issues of my life here at present, I have good friends who I can talk to, and who can give me wise counsel, or if needs be just a comforting shoulder. And I’m thankful that God is ever-present, even if I sometimes don’t see him through tears of sadness or frustration.

My prayer for you, my friend, is that you too have such friends, and that you too know God’s presence in your life. And whatever 2014 was to you, I pray that your coming year will be characterised by God’s joy and peace, and that you will see a way in the wilderness, and streams in the wasteland.

Lord Light the Flame

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I want to share with you the words of a beautiful song by Ruth Fazal. The tune is lovely, but unfortunately I can’t find a video online. The words though, are very dear to me, and speak clearly of where I am with God, and where I want to be, at this moment.

Lord, light the flame in my heart
That I may live for You.
O let it burn deep and bright,
That I may shine Your light.
Come cleanse and purify
The sin within me,
Let it die.
And let me live in Your fire,
O Holy God, that’s my desire

Lord, stir the fire in my heart,
That I may live for You.
O Jesus pour out Your love,
That I may love You too.
Go deep within me now,
O Holy Spirit come with power.
And let me live in Your fire,
O Holy God, that’s my desire.

You can learn more about Ruth at her website. This song can be found on her album “Fire of Love“. If you ever get a chance to see Ruth in concert, take it. I had the pleasure of spending an evening in her company along with about 50 others, in a small church in 2011. It was a wonderful, spirit-filled occasion.

On Love

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Life can be very sad, and it is love that makes it so. When we weep for sadness, it is because we have lost, or are losing, or fear the loss, of something or someone we love.

But then because our sadness is born out of love, it is beautiful. Because love is beautiful. Love is the most beautiful and precious gift that God has blessed us with. Because God is love, so when we love, we experience the merest hint of knowledge of the divine.

When we consider how much love hurts, how it can crush us with immeasurable grief, and when we consider how little we love, compared with God Himself, then how great must be His grief when we turn away from Him, when we condemn ourselves to eternal separation from Him, when we refuse to accept His offer of salvation, but instead choose to worship the sin we think we love.

How little do we understand love?

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