A better view of generousity

As Lent’s been going on, I’ve been thinking about the classic Pauline division between motivation and application, between grace and obedience, between Romans 8 and [therefore] Romans 12. Maybe in today’s quest for relevance it’s easy to get the the balance out of perspective. Maybe my last post does that – straight to the application. So I’m thinking more about the generosity of God who we are encouraged to imitate:

Here’s John Ortberg on the theme of the nature of God in a study of Job :

Because God is a God of gratuitous goodness. And he is uncontrollably generous. He is irrationally loving. He is good for no reason at all. He is good just because he loves to give. He sends streams of living water flowing out of sheer exuberant generosity. There is a wilderness where no one lives, yet it is full of beauty and grace because God makes a river run through it. God delights in animals that are of no apparent use at all. The ostrich looks goofy and flaps her wings “joyfully” as if they could get her somewhere. She lays eggs and can’t even remember where she left the babies. She doesn’t seem to be worth much of an investment. But when she runs—oh my! “She laughs at horse and rider.” Why would God waste such talent?

“I made the behemoth,” God says—probably the hippopotamus. The creature is of no particular use: “Can anyone capture him when he is on the watch, With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?” The ancient world considered the hippo a chaotic monster that had to be destroyed—but not God. “He ranks first among the works of God.” It’s as if God is saying, “Best thing I ever did. I had my A’ game going the day I made the behemoth.”

God takes pleasure in wild oxen that will never plow; the wild donkey that will never be tamed; mountain goats that give birth in secret places man will never see; the leviathan that no one can catch. “Nothing on earth is his equal.”

God creates, cares for, gives to, and delights in animals that don’t appear to be good for anything. Why should God love a world like that? Anne Dillard writes, “Because the creator loves pizzazz.” He revels in the beauty of the least strategic creature. … What God is really telling Job is, “I’m worth it. Life, following me—it’s all worth it. Don’t give up. This pain is not going to last forever. I am the kind of God who is worth getting close to. “

That is because God is gratuitously good—and uncontrollably generous—and irrationally loving. He just gives for no reason at all. It’s his nature! “God loves pizzazz.”

Maybe I need more pizzazz.

An interesting debate

Take a look at this, said someone in an email to me recently:


Take a second to cast your vote in the Evening Standard on-line poll to determine public opinion about whether a Mega mosque should be build for the Olympics. The vote so far is 61% in favour. It looks like the Muslim community is casting its vote in droves, and as usual the Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhist, Jews and Christians are burying their head in the sand. How can the government allow this, when there a mixture of faith at these Games. Instead of a Mega Mosque, there should be an Interfaith Centre, where any religion can go and pray.

Apart from the obvious misunderstanding that this proposal is not an official part of the Olympic buildings, this round robin email is typical of the reaction of many well meaning Christians who believe that Islamic growth in the UK can be stemmed by using planning law. It’s a tricky issue as the Telegraph reports: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/09/25/do2502.xml

Muslims will not come to faith in Christ by banning them – telling them they are wrong – denying them basic human rights like the right to worship. That’s what they perceive the Christian faith exemplified and led by George W [who many call the President of the Christians] is all about. Muslims come to faith when Christians live along side them, respect their faith, and demonstrate to them the love of Jesus.

Christians in some (but by no means all) Muslim countries are also denied the right to open church buildings. Often not through government policy but local hostile opinion. We would want to stand alongside them in their campaigning to have the right to open their church building which, usually, will not just be for worship but education, development, community and outreach. Sound familiar?

Baptists, Congregationalists, Catholics, Jews and Muslims spent much of the time up until the early 20th century being counted as second class citizens. In the early 1900’s in Minchinhampton, my predecessor as minister went to prison each year for refusing the church tithe (a local poll tax which then still levied by the Church of England on everyone in the Parish). Early Baptists in Gloucestershire literally worshipped in the woods to fear of being caught. In arguing for their own freedom to own buildings and worship without licence, they also defended the rights of others to do so. Try this link about Yorkshire baptists in the 19th century standing up for the rights of Jews: http://www.victorianweb.org/religion/larsen2.html

But the most telling part of the Telegraph report is this sentence: The first mosque was opened in Britain more than 80 years ago and there are now well over 1,000 – many converted from Anglican churches. I think that says it all.

Speaking behind another's back

Found this from David Augsburger’s Caring Enough to Confront as a reflection on Ephesians 4:13-15, “Let us speak the truth in love, so shall we fully grow up into Christ”:

When I speak: I want to speak simply. To say what I mean in the clearest, shortest, frankest words I know. I want to reach out with my meanings to meet your meanings. (Communication is a meeting of meaning.) Knowing that meanings are in people, not in words, I want to be as clear and open about my meanings as I can. (Words don’t mean. People mean.)

I want to speak personally. Since I can speak only from my experience, I want to say, “I think. . . ,” “I feel. . . ,” “I want. . . ,” instead of “People think. . .” or “You get the feeling. . .”. To declare my personal feelings and convictions calls for courage. There is no risk in saying, “Most people,” “it seems,” “sometimes feel,” “to some extent. . .” I will risk; I will reveal my true self; I will be increasingly vulnerable to you by respecting your perceptions equally with my own.

I want to speak for myself, not for others. I will not say, “We think. . .””they say. . .” “people feel. . .”or “it’s often said. . .”

I will not try to speak for you. I will not say, “I think you think I think. . . ” I will not try to second guess your feelings, thoughts, attitudes. I do not care for mind reading or mind readers. I want to listen as you speak to me, and respond.

I want to speak honestly. Truthing it is trusting others with my actual feelings and viewpoints. Avoiding honest statements of real feelings and viewpoints is often considered kindness, thoughtfulness, or generosity. More often it is the most cruel thing I can do to others. It is a kind of benevolent lying.

I want to speak directly. I do not want to talk about people when it is possible to talk to them. Whatever I have to say to you, I want you to hear first from me.

I’m rubbish at this – but it’s Lent so it’s worth being challenged.

What's with a veggie day

I’m trying to follow the Love Life Live Lent suggestions, although really starting this blog as a spiritual discipline. Vegetarian day today An challenging idea. Fortunately I was at a Quaker retreat centre so it ought to have been all quiche and herbal tea anyway. Ok so here’s the irony – the other party in was the Oxford Diocese so you think they’d be up for Love Life Live Lent, and we had …. beef curry. Actually, curry like my mum would have made: mince with curry powder, potatoes, and green beens.

Came across this from Mustard Seed:

Lent is a 40 day period before Easter that commemorates the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. In the early church this was a time of preparation for those about to be baptized. Today it is seen as a time of reflection and repentance for all Christians. Out of this season should come a realignment of our lives to God and God’s purposes.

It is not surprising that in a culture like ours, few people practice fasting and self-sacrifice during Lent anymore. Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross never comes at bargain prices, it is very costly. In fact it demands our whole lives but it is absolutely necessary if we want to become the disciples God intends us to be. It means recognizing that the true self is made in the image of God and reflects the characteristics that are true to God’s image – love and compassion, concern for justice for the poor and freedom from oppression…considering the needs of others as more important than my own.

I think many will get a shock when they enter the kingdom of God. It will be a real cross-cultural experience for them because the bargain price values they have lived by will be totally worthless. Fortunately, God’s spirit continues to work within all of us enabling us to confront the false self and its cheap values. It constantly breaks down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and God’s ways. During this season of Lent reflect on your own values. Where have you gone after a bargain and sacrificed God’s values as a consequence? Where is the spirit of God nudging you to change so that your false self will be transformed into the true self that reflects the glory of God?

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