Spirituality on Sunday: Stir up Sunday…

Today is ‘Stir Up’ Sunday – the day that people are supposed to stir up their Christmas pudding ingredients and let them settle before cooking the pudding for Christmas.

In the wider Christian church it is ‘Christ the King Sunday’, and the last one before the Christian ‘new year’ on the First Sunday of Advent.  The church at large (with the exception of some churches I know, lol) focus on the ultimate reality that Christ is seated on the throne, victorious, interceding, having done all that was required of him.  There’s more to it than that, but that’s the essence.

Today, the idea of being stirred up and being at the behest of Christ the King have rumbled around in my heart and mind.  I’ve been carrying an ache, or ‘a burden’, to use older language, but which maybe describes it better.  A spiritual longing.  And how can I articulate this longing by any other way that talking about how it is challenging me?

A few weeks ago, visiting my spiritual director, I was challenged with the question as to how I am tending to the presence of Christ in my life.  Am I noticing him?  Am I paying attention to him?  Am I responding to Him readily?  My honest answer was that, in part, I’m generally spiritually lazy, truth be known.  Yes, I pray.  Yes, I engage in a regular way with scripture.  Yes, I worship.  Yes, I witness and engage in mission.  Yes, I sense him especially close at times, but mostly I can be unattentive. It’s all got so casual.   It is tempting to start looking at others in order to point out the malady that plagues me in the ways that are more obvious in others, but any follower of Jesus is invited to look at the log in his own eye before attending to the speck in his brother.

And so, I find myself pleading that God ‘would rend the heavens and come down’ – into me: casting aside any casualness; over-familiarity; carelessness in prayer; and in mindless wandering in communion with Him.  I’m reminded of the words by Andrew Murray, who said to a group of preachers/pastors ‘Your people’s greatest need is your own personal holiness.’  The only way for this longing to be shared and fulfilled in the church is if it is fulfilled and addressed in our own lives as spiritual leaders.

Now, on one hand, this is serious business.  We’re talking about our access to the throne of Grace.  We daren’t stumble in foolishly unaware.  On the other hand, I’m not talking about legalistic piety, or ‘holier than thou’ that translates in to ‘we don’t spit, we don’t chew, nor do we go with girls who do’ – you know what I mean, right?  I’m from a holiness movement background…and there, so often, ‘holiness’ is just behaving good.  But, that is holiness misunderstood or at least incomplete.  Holiness is the work of the Spirit in us that, yes, will probably produce changed behaviour, but which is ultimately a change of heart.  It’s renewal, blessing, perfect love, Christlikeness…and it certainly isn’t dour or miserable.  It’s joy and peace from knowing Christ and his reign in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:  ‘fan into flame the gift of God that is within you’, referring, of course, to Timothy’s anointing for the task of ministry, but which I think is applicable in many aspects of our lives pertaining to magnifying the gifts and presence of the Spirit in us, and of our lives magnifying Christ.

I pray with this ache for me: my spiritual poverty. I pray for the wider church, for the congregation I serve, and for you reading.  God, would you stir us up?  Lord, would you alert us to the presence of Your Majesty and Glory?  Lord, would you leader us deeper into you, by whatever means, that we might more worthily magnify your holy name?  God…would you stir us up again?

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Missional Thursday: Obliged, eager and unashamed…

I felt a call to study through Romans in my personal study time recently – not for the purpose of preaching anything or preparing anything from it, but just for building myself up in the study of God’s word in a focussed way.

So far, I’ve been unable to get beyond the challenge of 1: 14 – 17.  These were big verses for Luther, of course, in the beginnings of the Reformation in earnest, but it was not so much the theology of Paul (amazing though that is) but his undeniable passion for the gospel, and particularly in his calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles, that struck me.

15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’

There were three particular phrases that caught me:

‘I am obliged…’ (v14)  The word here, I understand, is akin to ‘I am indebted’ or ‘I am a debtor’ to both the people and the gospel to be shared.  Of course, one can never ‘pay God back’ for the gift of salvation he has given us, but there is that sense of, having been gloriously saved, of wanting to give our life to it.  Paul’s call to mission, of course, was almost synonymous with his call to faith in Christ.

I am reminded of my own experience.  For me, the call to give my life in ministry of whatever form came almost exactly alongside my conversion to Christ at the age of 15.  The overwhelming sense of being saved left me with no other desire in the world but to give my life to the sharing of the gospel.

Now, 22 years on,  I question whether I still possess that same sense of compulsion, call and duty.  On one level, of course I do.  But deeper in the heart, I can’t say that there hasn’t been, at times, a waning or a reticence to the unequivocal call to engage fully.  I’m not going around debating this in my head…I’m getting on my knees about it.  Lord, renew the urgency and passion for your gospel.

‘I am eager…’ (v15)  Paul was eager to get to Rome to preach the gospel amongst the people there.  This is of no surprise.  He had an unshakeable calling as apostle to the Gentiles (1:5) and Rome was, undoubtedly, the Gentile capital of the known world…this was the apex of his calling – to impact the Empire at its very heart.  So, we understand his eagerness in these terms.

I ask myself not only ‘do I sense my duty to preach the gospel’ but ‘am I eager and more than willing to do it?’  That means going beyond my comfort, my fear of rejection, my own easy/cosy plans, my own ‘busy schedule’, and my own habits and preferences, to be BURSTING to do the will of the Father who sends me.  I’m tired of the patterns of ministry I’ve experienced over many years which seems to allow the inclusion of time for everything barring the very bare essentials of witness, mission, evangelism and sharing with people everywhere the good news about Jesus.  Only my eagerness and, I guess, determination to carve my time for the gospel will adjust this.  Eagerness involves desire, passion and sheer determination.

‘I am not ashamed…’ (v16)  At first, this might seem odd…it might seem that Paul is answering some sort of self- or outside-accusation that he has had shame with regards the gospel.  Who knows?  Haven’t we all faced times when we’ve felt like pulling back from sharing?   I think the general context of Paul’s ministry, however, shows that even with fear and trembling he hasn’t been one to shrink back.  He does say in his letter to the church in Corinth that for many, especially Greeks/Gentiles, that the gospel is foolishness…a nonsensical, weird, upside-down message, which is also a stumbling block to the Jews.  Paul certainly has had his experiences pre-conversion of opposition to the ‘ridiculous message’ and tried to snuff it out.

No, I think Paul is saying that in spite of what people think about the message, he knows its truth and is passionate about it because he knows it to be ‘the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…’ even the ones who think its garbage!

For me the question is ‘do I have confidence in the gospel of God’s saving grace?’  I know he has saved me well and good.  I know he has saved others.  But, do I translate that into confidence that he will continue to do the same?  Also, in a cynical and disparaging age, am I willing to press on with confident gospel witness regardless of how it is received?

I just sense in many areas of my own life and of the church’s life a sort of divestment of power and emphasis from the heart of the gospel.  It is amazing how our mission can carry on with the heart ripped out of the centre of it.  It is amazing how many churches are content to plod on and see little fruit, not because the take up is just slow, but because there is an unwritten embarrasment about the strength of the gospel message and so it is watered down.  It makes me weep.  I weep for the church and for my own self.

Now, this is not saying that we should become pains in the neck shouting out angry words everywhere…I think that’s what has been a turn off in gospel passion/preaching/proclamation/sharing, and rightly so.  The gospel can be offensive, but that doesn’t mean to say that we are to be offensive!  We see in Jesus, Paul and the others, the heart of the gospel being shared in times of pressure and also in times of sensitivity and gentleness.

My point is whether we actually feel confident in the message enough to dare to share it, regardless of what comes back at us.  Paul invites us to preach just twice:  in season and out of season.  We have the impression that the gospel and the things of God are out of season sometimes and so we speak less, but this is a lie straight from the pit of Hell.  The missionary Spirit is as active as ever in the lives of people but he invites our particupation….how shall they hear unless someone tells them?

In writing this I mainly write to myself.  It is the source of repentance and turning for me.  It is the source of needful hours in prayer.  It is at the heart of a needful refuelling and recovery of ‘first things’.  It is the hope that God re-envision me and the people I serve for gospel work.  Lord, help us.