Last couple of weeks at All Souls the word humility and grace have come up a fair bit in the talks, and that’s cool, as they are great words….
Which brings me to this passage… one I love, but I find so so challenging every time I read it.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Grace might be amazing, but it is hard at times.
Hard to receive forgiveness for things we feel bad about.
Hard to forgive others when we feel aggrieved (I struggle with this one myself if I’m honest at times).
Hard to build a community of grace that is also holy, one of those weird gospel paradox we have to wrestle with.
I think that the heart of understand grace is realizing we ourselves are sinners, we did nothing to earn our salvation it is a free gift, totally unearned.
It is human nature to do comparisons, -actually both ways, both are equally destructive.
“I’m not as good as XXX”
“At least I’m better than YYY”
Yet someone-elses ‘success’ doesn’t make you any less loved.
Nor does someone else’s failure doesn’t earn you brownie points and more divine love.
There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more.
There is nothing you can do that will diminish God’s love for you.
The problem with the pharisee is his pride has blinded him of his need of God, it is easy to maximise someone elses sin, whilst minimising our own, yet as some theologian once said, before the cross the ground is flat, we all come needing grace.
Sometimes we need to experience Grace to share grace.
Just as in the parable of the workers in the field, we all get the same reward of eternity with Christ whether we have been Christians for 5 minutes or 50 years.
It is only when we ‘get’ Grace does this not feel unfair.
The tragedy is (as we heard on friday) the number of “Lost Sons” who are actually like the older brother in Luke 15, who is keen to point out to the Father the failings of his brother, because he didn’t realise the extent of how much his father loved him… “You are always with me and all I have is yours” is how the father replies to him.
Grace felt unfair to the older brother as he didn’t know how loved he was by his father.
Grace is tough because people get what they don’t deserve and sometimes we don’t feel that is fair… well until we slip up and then we are so glad of grace!
I used to have an accountable relationship with my friend Jon in Bournemouth, and I was going through a tough time and did some silly things, and told Jon expecting him to kick my sorry butt (which I fully deserved) but he lent over and put his arm around me listened, (he even) bought me another pint of fosters; which has remained one of the most beautiful moments of my life. His grace and loved actually was the spur I needed to sort myself out. Grace, it’s beautiful. I want to see more of it.
As Paddy reminded us yesterday we let pride blind us to our own faults but point out the faults in others; echoing Jesus words about specks and planks.
I love the line about the woman who washes Jesus feet, those who have been forgiven much, love much…
She knew her need of Jesus’ forgiveness.
Grace and holiness can walk hand in hand, but only in the shadow of the cross of Christ.
I’ll be honest I’ve quoted Mother Teresa’s line about people crossing the world to recieve a blessing but not crossing the road to be a blessing a number of times, and there is so much truth in that statement, but recently I have been challenged by the first part of the quote.
Would I fly half way around the world to receive a blessing?
Would I of my own volition have got into a car and gone to Reading or Cwmbran?
I used to have a very smug and slightly superior attitude of “God can come to me” I’m not going to some Church somewhere to pick up a blessing, God’s everywhere so why do I have to make the effort…
It was a mix of pride, cynicism, jadedness and some heart-protection from disappointment.
I was listening to Pastor Yenka last Friday say exactly those words, I used to say “God can come to me”, but God was calling him to go and see what God was doing else where, calling him on a journey, often we need (even just for a short time) to sometimes come away from the familiar to hear, find and encounter God.
Sometimes, we need to connect afresh with the passionate as they fire us up.
Thinking, as the primary school kids move from being the big fish in the small pond, to being small fish in the big pond, it is constantly good for us to go to hang out with the people who are going to stretch, challenge and inspire us, those who have learned, travelled and gone deeper in various parts of the Christian journey.
Yet too often we sit in front of the telly like Victor Meldrew thinking “I’m okay as I am” whilst dunking our digestive biscuit into our tea and we think of our Church and our Christian life as “okay as it is”, and yet God reminds us there is more, so much more of him and from him.
I worked at St. Michael le Belfrey in York, years after David Watson’s death, but heard a lot about his revival in the 1970’s (although he never used the word revival) and he used to say that people turned up at St. Mike’s and realised they were a screwed up bunch who didn’t have it altogether but God was doing wonderful things amongst them, and people were taking back to their Churches that in God there is more, much more.
The song that really has resonated with me over the past few years here in Kingswood is “there must be more than this” the cry out of God for more of him.
I believe that our evangelism so often is ailing and failing because our faith is often so dry and parched, where our energy is used up fighting battles about trivialities whilst communities go through hell and to hell… We need to find those places which will revive and refresh us, that will revitalise us and restore us, and maybe that is Bethel California or Hillfields Friary, let’s be respectful about our brothers and sisters desire for more of God.
We need to remember that what we have experienced is not all that there is.
We need to remember too that God is not finished with us, with his Church or this nation yet, and whilst we have breath in our bodies we should be (to quote Rowan Williams) finding out where God is at work and joining in.
People often ask “is this transferable” which is entirely the wrong question, because this is putting all the thought into the current thing we are looking at, a better thing to ask is “what are you wanting to tell and show us here?”
Ultimately we are not chasing the manifestation, the hands of God, but we a chasing him himself -his face- and he is always wanting us to seek more and go deeper with him. I think our desperation for more of him brings joy to his heart. I think he loves seeing Christians getting into the cars and heading up motorways because they long to see themselves transformed and Christ made known.
So, lets say, God we want to hear from you, we want to go deeper, we want to see you transform your Church and our nation, the lives of ordinary people, and we want to pledge ourselves to that cause… and lets seek him as hungry people longing for the bread of life.
“Which of the five-fold ministries are you?” I was asked this morning at morning prayer.
The Five Fold Ministries, are “Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teachers”, it is a fascinating question!
Are we all just one of these?
Can we be more than one or is that greedy?
Do I operate in all five on different occasions?
Or is that just vanity thinking I could be incompetent?
Then I thought a bit more about each of these and think these words can mean vastly different things to different people?
I’ve blogged before about how I worry that I see too much of Christian leadership lacks humility and has a smugly superior swagger, something I don’t see in the ‘first shall be last’ Leadership, often looking more like Alan Sugars boardroom than Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in the upper-room.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “hurt people hurt people” which is true we are all broken people and often our brokenness has jagged edges that cuts both ourselves and those who come close to the area of that brokenness.
Yet too often our brokenness doesn’t just manifest itself in sitting on our own in a coffee bar crying into our latte, but in all sorts of behaviours.
I was talking to someone who said something fascinating “I don’t think I am arrogant, but I know I am deeply insecure”, but the insecurity often shows itself in massively competitive ways.
We often forget that a wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy” and yet particularly the apostle, prophet and evangelist can end up engaging is a silly one-upmanship, which actually discourages all of them, talking themselves up and others down, because they want to appear successful.
Yet as Mother Teresa said “we aren’t called to be successful only faithful”.
It is a bit like running a race, if you can’t run forward when looking back.
The Pastor often can be guilty of ‘needing to be needed’ they need me, the danger to run in as a ‘Saviour leader’ where we want to come in like James Bond and save the day, forgetting that we already have a Saviour that doesn’t need replacing. The danger is for those of us with a Pastors heart is that we can fall into the trap of thinking “I’m important because I’m needed” rather than knowing we are valuable simply by being a beloved child of God.
Again, the teacher is often guilty of the same ‘needing to be needed’, yet like all teachers the kids graduate, they want to not just know about stuff they actually want to be doing it themselves. The teacher can fall into the trap of thinking “I’m important because I know stuff you don’t” and yet it often is a matter of time when they over-take us and they know stuff we don’t and suddenly our roles become reversed and we become the pupil.
If you are the Apostolic type, how do you react when someone else has a better and an easier idea?
If you are the evangelistic type, how do you feel when someone else discovers their gift and has great chats about Jesus.
If you are prophetic, how do you feel when someone else has a ‘spot on word for someone’.
If you are a Pastor, how do you feel when someone goes to someone else and not you?
If you Teacher, how do you feel when your pupil teaches you something?
The interesting thing I think is what we ‘ought’ to feel and what we ‘actually’ feel can be two very different things.
Often our insecurity ties us down and limits both our gifting and our effectiveness and fruitfulness in that gifting.
The heart I believe of ‘losing the testosterone’ is knowing our true identity in Christ, knowing our dependence not on our abilities but on his provision and grace, knowing that we are unique and our calling is different from those around us.
It is about an understanding of being part of God’s team and about building a Kingdom not our own empires, it is about Christ at work in us not just through us.
Let’s see ourselves as precious and part of the wider team of God, where our gifts and our weakness combine together with other peoples’ gifts and weaknesses to create something beautiful.
The heart of much of our problem is our self-sufficiency, this idea that ‘we can do it on our own’ which is actually not only unbiblical but a fallacy.
We need one another, and they need us, we are not created for independence but interdependence.
The question actually at its heart is asking about how we can work together where we maximise our strengths and minimise the weaknesses so that we can see the most fruitfulness of the glory of Christ in the lives of those we serve.