Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

26 June 2006

trust God - trust me...

"Hither Thee unto my hearkening toward Thee, Oh Heavenly Blessed One of Old. Thou hads't bountifully lavished Thy unmerited favour upon me!"

"Yo God! What's up mate? You are so cool! You totally rule, Dude, and that is just sweet like candy Bro!"

I used to think of these examples as the extremes of how a person might approach God in prayer. Sure, they are perhaps extremes with regard to word choice and levels of formality, but more and more, I'm seeing that these two styles of prayer have more in common than I thought.

Before I go there, let me just affirm where both of these types of prayer come from. The formal type often comes from individuals with a strong (and quite proper) conviction to address God with reverence. They may perhaps (again - rightly and biblically) have images of God as King on His throne, and therefore take on the posture of 'kneeling' not only in physical posture, but in their word choice as well. Rather than making the mistake (sin?) of praying something that is 'un'-humble or 'un'-biblical, they aim for ultra-humility and ultra-biblical-ness.

The casual type perhaps comes from individuals who desire to break free from what they feel to be impersonal and overly eloquent methods of prayer. Their convictions take different form in that they, perhaps, feel quite strongly (and not without biblical support) that we are invited to a personal, fatherly way. (the word 'Abba' in Scripture would quite literally mean something like 'Daddy') Rather than make the mistake of not meaning what they say, they opt for a more personal expression of their heart to God.

I think both types have strengths and potential dangers. While I think reverence for God in prayer is deeply important and more and more overlooked, I find it hard to imagine how some of the lofty sermon-esque prayers can be totally free of at least a hint of spiritual pride - having prayed all too often this way myself. There seems to be a subtle arrogance in the 'Amen' to these prayers, as though we might feel quite pleased with ourselves with the eloquent prayer we have just offered. Conversely, while I appreciate the personal and relational informality some bring to their prayers, I am deeply concerned that we may risk losing the vital essence of God's majesty and sheer holiness.

But none of this is my point, really...

There is another dimension that I wonder if we often forget altogether...

"Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
- Abraham in Genesis 18:25 (check out the whole story)

"O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? ...O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? ...Do not forget the life of Your poor forever. Have respect to the covenant;"
- Psalm 74:1,2,10,19,20

"Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God!"
- Psalm 83:1

Are we afraid to question God? Do we (for some reason) think that God doesn't want to be questioned? Make no mistake; we are not to ever take God's place, but does this mean that doubts and questions are unhealthy?

Perhaps our desire to maintain a healthy respect and reverence for God may be part of the reason we are slow to embrace our doubts and/or questions, but I wonder if there is another underlying reason. Though it may sound weird to say it, might it be that we don't trust God enough? When was the last time you 'respectfully vented' to God like the Psalmists did? If you can't remember, then I recommend reconsidering your understanding of God. Is your God unable to handle your 'big' problems, doubts or concerns?

I don't think God is in the slightest way afraid of these. Why should we hide them from Him? (as if we really can anyway!) In the same way that God knows our needs before we ask for them in prayer, He also knows how we feel - whether we tell Him or not. But He still wants us to ask for things and to be real with Him about how we feel! We don't need to 'protect' God from who we are. He wants you. He doesn't want 'not' you. We must be honest with Him. Don't trust me, trust Him - He can handle it.

To take things a little further, I wonder if this shows up in our relationships with those around us? If we can't be honest to God, then might we also struggle to be completely honest and real with others? Maybe the reasons we struggle to be honest with each other are the same reasons we avoid honesty with God. We may be trying so hard to respect each other, we may forget to trust each other.

My best friends in life have been the ones who have trusted me enough to do at least these two things: 1.) admit who they really are (how they're really doing, etc.) to me; and 2.) challenge me when they think I need it. To me, it shows that our relationship is not so fragile that they feel the need to walk on egg-shells around me. If someone has a problem with me, I'd rather know it than wonder if they do or what it is, etc. I think that God feels the same way with us - except He doesn't have to wonder - he already knows!

I've heard someone say that by not telling someone when you have a problem with them, you are actually disrespecting them. If effect, you are saying that they can't handle it. True, some people deal with conflict better than others, but dishonesty is not an option if we are to develop better relationships with each other. I'm convinced that the same goes for our relationship with God.

Perhaps no verse summarizes this better than Hebrews 4:16 - "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need." (I think the idea of the words 'boldly' and 'throne' being in the same sentence should be more striking than we often appreciate.)

I believe I can approach God with such 'boldness' and honesty precisely because I believe He is who He says He is! Let us be people characterised by trust. So much that our trust is evidenced in our honesty toward God and each other.


13 June 2006

buying identity

New Zealand is becoming more like America every minute.

And it's not a good thing.

Yet another Temple for Capitalism (a.k.a. shopping mall) has just recently had it's grand opening not far from my flat. So many people were flocking to this Marketing Mecca that traffic was jammed all opening-day long.

Lately I've been thinking more and more about how my standard of living (and all of the decisions I make to keep it in place) affects the world around me. It's not been a pleasant exercise for me. I've had to realise that many of the choices I make (most are daily) have very negative consequences. This has caused me to think more and more about many things. Take-away beverage (coffee, coke, etc.) cups, plastic shopping bags, plastic water bottles, rediculously in-efficient and wasteful product packaging, disposable goods and other such things don't just disappear when we throw them away.

Allow me to share with you some of the terminology that pushes this type of consumerism along. An article (advertisement?) in the Tamaki and Districts Times, celebrated (venerated?) stage one of the opening of the new Consumerist Worship Centre in Mt. Wellington known as Sylvia Park Shopping Centre. Here is an excerpt.

'Ultimately, Sylvia Park Shopping Centre will feature over 180 specialty stores, indoor/outdoor foodcourt, The Warehouse Extra, Foodtown and Pak n' Save, a top-line specialty fashion precinct that is set to offer consumers an unprecedented range of fashion labels from a single location, cafes, restaurants and a state of the art theatre and entertainment complex... ...Angus McNaughton says that the retail offering at Sylvia Park is the strongest and most diverse of any centre in New Zealand... ...there will be brands and stores making their debut appearance on the New Zealand market to provide shoppers at Sylvia Park with the most comprehensive fashion choices available.'

Another article features the 'new specialised retail store' Howards Storage World with this opening:

'...families strive to cope with increasing collections of electronic gadgets, toys for weekend warriors and wardrobes overflowing with clothing, shoes and accessories.'

Hmmm... Anyone see a pattern here?

The connection between our 'comprehensive fashion choices' and our 'wardrobes overflowing with clothing' is both humorous and deeply unsettling. Also unsettling are the use of the words 'strongest' and 'diverse' in a sentence about a retail centre that promotes anything but strength or diversity. True strength might help us to realise that we don't actually need any more clothes. It might begin to reveal just how obediently we are dancing to the beat of the fashion drum (which waits till sales have peaked and then changes pace to generate another peak). True diversity has nothing to do with people letting clothing manufacturers tell them what looks good and why they should dress just like everyone else.

I know we may think 'it's just business' and that it's harmless, but I think we really need to be aware of the impact that this has on our identities.

Our identities?

Yes. Our identities.

You see, if they can get us to agree with them that we are simply 'shoppers' or 'consumers' then they have succeeded in altering how we view ourselves - and our identity consists of how we view ourselves. We are not concerned with staying 'in fashion' until we are told that we need to 'make room in your wardrobe for the new season.' We are quite content with what we have until we are reminded by countless billboards, store-fronts and countless other forms of advertising that we are about to be left in the dust if we don't keep up with the times. The more I begin to see advertising and marketing for what it really is, the less I'm buying it (literally). We pray 'lead us not into temptation' but happily gaze at magazines that tell us how we ought to dress (and also 'educate' us as to how we might have 'healthier' sex lives) and walk around malls ready to give money to companies who remind us that we can't do without what they have to offer.

I'm no longer seeing these issues as spiritually neutral. I want to live my life thinking about serving others, not myself. I want my imagination to be captured by the call of the Gospel on my life, not held captive by the call of Globalist agendas. I want my identity to be informed and solidified by the Gospel of Christ, not by anything else.

May we support and encourage one another in our true identity which we could never buy, but that was bought for us with Blood so priceless it could never be sold.