Join the Resolvelution – Week 1

Manifesto

 Well I don’t know about you but I just can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person.

I even prayed about it in 2013 – Dear God, my prayer for 2013 is a fat bank account and a thin body.

Somehow the 2 got mixed up.

It’s that time of the year where we find ourselves in equal measure optimistic about the possibilities of the freshness of a New Year and yet we are also jaded with what we sometimes see as the failures of the year just passed.

Mark Twain captured the cynical spirit of New Year when he said:

New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

But there is something about the freshness of a New Year that draws us to resolve one more time to be different – even if there is a sameness about so many of our goals – Time magazine published a list of the top 10 resolutions that people make:

  • Lose Weight and Get Fit
  • Quit Smoking
  • Learn Something New
  • Eat Healthier and Diet
  • Get Out of Debt and Save Money
  • Spend More Time with Family
  • Travel to New Places
  • Be Less Stressed
  • Volunteer
  • Drink Less

Maybe there a few there that you have already made and broken.  The truth is we are drawn to the possibility that it doesn’t have to be the same – sometimes that leads us to make resolutions, or pick a word for the year, or establish goals…other times that leads us to resist making the resolution, just so that we might avoid the pain of inevitable failure.

One of my favourite writers says this:

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (GK Chesterton)

This year we wanted to capture the possibility that life can be different, that we can live healthier lives, be more wholer and holier (if there’s a difference), start again, be born again, accept the strange assumption that we have never existed before and ask God to recreate us…and so to do this we invented a new word “Resolvelution”…it can mean whatever you want it to mean because no dictionary exists to contradict you…today is the day you get to start to write your own Resolvelution Manifesto…and maybe as we dig into some of the earliest accounts of the life of Jesus in the gospel of Luke we might find there the possibility of a resolvelution.

  1. 1.   Doing Our Part

We start in chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel – if you were journeying with us over Advent in the weeks leading to Christmas, you’ll recall the progress so far – much of the early part of Luke’s gospel is setting the scene for the arrival of Jesus through the experiences of his family – his mother Mary, her betrothed Joseph and her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah.  And the story so far has been one of God’s favour being extended to these people and through them to Israel and the whole of humanity.

And now Jesus is born and among his people and his story begins – although it’s still a little second hand as these early parts are his family acting for him, doing their part in his upbringing and there are some early steps that they take:

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived

 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.

With great favour, comes great responsibility and this family have been highly favoured – their response is to take Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as their firstborn child.

Many of you who are parents have lived out a similar act of presentation in bringing your children for dedication – presenting them to the Lord.  It’s a way of saying to God – here is this child who is yours before he was ever ours…we entrust them to you even as you have entrusted them to us.

This is quite a journey to take with a new born – it’s a 3 or 4 day journey on foot – but its what they must do on behalf of their child as part of saying to the Lord – here he is, he is yours – as they present him or another word that the passage uses is “consecrate” him.

Consecration is their part – their act on behalf of their child – to present and set apart this child to God.  It’s an act of worship, a setting part, a resolution to live life according to a sacred purpose.

Which is perhaps our challenge with resolutions?  They are not acts of consecration for us.

What if there was to be a revolution within our resolutions?  What if they were to become acts of consecration?  Acts of worship?  The setting apart of who we are to a sacred purpose?

I wonder if the content of our resolutions would change?  I wonder if the priority of our resolutions would change?

If our resolutions became acts of consecration, might we find ourselves caught up in a resolvelution of the spirit?

Consecration is us doing our part – presenting ourselves to God.  But if we just present these resolutions to ourselves, or our social media peer accountability network…or if they never emerge from anxious longing and become a sacred covenant – should we ever really be surprised that they become just like any other piece of heavy lifting that we’ve decided to do in our own strength?

What does doing your part?  Presenting yourself to God?  Consecrating yourself look like in your Resolvelution Manifesto?

2.   Doing Right Things

Jesus family not only did their part, they did right things.

We might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus would be some sort of rebel without a cause figure who would destroy the status quo just for the sake of it.  We might have expected that the early parts of his life would prepare him for this with a wholesale rejection of Judaism and Jewish practices.

The truth is Jesus came to challenge the status quo for sure – the habits and practices that had tainted they way Israel related to God but there was also a sense in which he came to fulfil the status quo – not to replace it but to complete it.  Jesus wasn’t plan B.  He was plan A come to restore God’s people to him, even the Jews.

And so we see his family play out these very traditional practices, these foundational practices for Jewish spiritual life.  And within it, the central conviction that God is at the centre of their living.  It’s not exactly how we might go about it, but the heart of this observance is so close to what God is calling us to:

  • They name the child Jesus as they angel asked them to
  • They proceed to have Jesus circumcised on the 8th day in accordance with the scriptures
  • In fact the only odd thing they do is wait 8 days to name him…and yet there is something about performing the act of circumcision as a confirmation of the covenant God has with the people of Israel to be their God and the naming of the child with a name that means “God saves” – maybe that’s why they waited…
  • They then wait another month before they head to Jerusalem again in accordance with the scriptures
  • Once there the child is presented and a sacrifice is made at the Temple again in accordance with the scriptures

This family is living out its framework of foundational practices which serve to underline their resolve to live with God at the centre of their lives – circumcision, presentation, consecration, sacrifice – God is at the centre of this family’s life, at the centre of this child’s life.

The resolvelution starts with a commitment to a framework of foundational practices that state and restate – God is at the centre of my life.

In 2013 our thematic goal was that we would be:

Living as a community of God’s people, pursuing and offering health & wholeness to others

Our conviction was that we could only offer to others the health and wholeness that we were prepared to pursue for ourselves and that it needed to be something we did together, with one another, for one another.  And as the year went by we saw some truly wondrous things happen for people, our community as a whole.  We are healthier.  We are more whole.  Many people have established a whole new framework for their lives that encompasses healthy family life, exercise and nutrition, mental and emotional health and a renewed relationship with God.

We want to do it again.  We have sometimes made it a badge of honour to do things differently.  As if the resolvelution is just achieved by being different.  Sometimes its about doing the right things well.  Again and again.  And so our thematic goal for 2014 is:

Living as a community of God’s people, pursuing and offering health & wholeness to others

But we’ve changed up the how of achieving this.  And in coming weeks we’ll be sharing what that looks like.  In fact, in February I want to ask you to make one of your “right things” being with us on Sunday evenings for that whole month as we walk through what this will mean for us.  Will you pray for us this Saturday as we meet as a leadership team to finalise much of this?

It’s great to have goals, themes, words, resolutions but unless we also have foundation practices – doing the right things – we will find ourselves treading water or worse sinking.

What are some of the right things for you?  The foundational practices?  What do the right things look like in your Resolvelution Manifesto?

3.   Doing What We Can

A final insight into the resolvelution from this passage.  The sacrifice was not at the top end.  Everything else was on the money.  The timing, the long trip, the various rituals.  But the sacrifice was low end.  It was acceptable – it wasn’t out of line with scriptural guidelines – in fact there was a specific low end sacrifice for people with limited means.  What’s interesting is that its mentioned.  It didn’t need to be.  It just could have said – the proper sacrifice was made.  But its pointed out that the low end option was taken up by this family.

Do you think Luke was trying to single them out and shame them – or is there something else being pointed out here.

Certainly it’s clear they were of limited means – reinforcing the fact that this Jesus was for all people not just those with wealth or position.

It’s also part of the story that they made the sacrifices in accordance with the scriptures – they were doing their part and doing the right things.

But they were also doing what they could – they were poor – but they were giving from what they had…their poverty did not prevent them from sacrifice.

I wonder whether sometimes we forget to give from what we have rather than from what we don’t have.  Sometimes we focus on the resources we lack for the journey rather than those we have been given.  Our focus is drawn away from what God has given us in terms of people, family, experiences, resources, opportunities – so much that we have to give from.

The resolvelution will be about giving from what we have, from what we have been given.  Finding ways to sacrifice, to live generously for others.

So often our resolutions are about what we might change in ourselves – but sometimes the best way to change ourselves is to lose ourselves in changing the world.

What will your manifesto offer to others?  To the world?  To the community?  To your church community?  To family and friends and workplaces?

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Thematic Goal 2013

Here’s our thematic goal for 2013 – Living as a community of God’s people, pursuing and offering health and wholeness to others.  This Sunday 17 November we’d love to hear from you on how God has been working this into your life in Christ…

Thematic Goal 2013

Thematic Goal 2013

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Is Your Mind Your Friend?

Aaron Ironside kicked off the Basket Case series with this question.  One of the tools Aaron walked us through offers a model for digging deeper below our behaviours into some core beliefs and assumptions that may be sabotaging life…

Digging Deeper

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Lent: It’s a New Year!

Well, you’ve almost done it, almost completed lent for another year. Good Friday is just over the jump that is the depth of night. There are a bunch of arguments over when lent officially ends but I go with the end of Easter Saturday as new life comes in the resurrection on the Sunday.

For me, Easter is the most important time of the year. Without the resurrection there is no Christianity and without the cross, you don’t get the resurrection. Without the resurrection what do we have? Just another person proclaimed to be a saviour with a bunch of nutty followers.

In the cross and the resurrection, salvation and new life were birthed for the whole of creation. In the resurrection we get a glimpse of what God’s intention for all things looks like. One day he’s going to make all things right. The events of Easter entice us and invite us into the story between the two points of God’s renewed world – the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth. We exist between those points and can capture and share glimpses of that new life in how we live.

Easter calls us back to that existence. Life can so often distract us and so we need continual reminders. As the people of Israel had/have Passover and a myriad of festivals to remind themselves of their story and draw them back to God, so the Christian calendar has days and festivals to do the same – the pinnacle of them is Easter. Continue reading

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Lent Reflection

It’s almost over – lent that is, the world keeps on ticking – next week is Holy Week, the week leading into Easter. It’s also the time of the deepest reflection. We get to look back over the journey of lent, examine ourselves and turn our attention wholeheartedly towards the cross.

On Sunday Nigel talked about being genuine and not doing stuff for show. He honed in on the three practices highlighted in Matthew 6:1-18 – giving, praying, fasting. These also happen to be the three main practices of lent and they have a justice focus that extends beyond our own personal journey. Giving is about justice acted out towards others, praying is about our embrace of justice between us and God and fasting has its focus as shaping justice towards the self. Justice is about making things right. If we do these things for show then we neuter their ability to act as tools of justice because there is nothing right about using them as show-ponies. Continue reading

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Skindeeper – Week 3 – Mutton Dress As Lamb

“Mutton dressed up as lamb”? It’s an unkind phrase used  to refer to an older person trying to look young, pretending to be something they are not.

Matthew 6: 1-18 talks about pretending.

Summary

Jesus gives three examples of righteousness, pillars of Jewish piety – giving to needy, prayer, fasting. He says don’t do these things in front of others to be seen by them (like the hypocrites do who love to be seen by others), else there is no reward from God as you have already received your reward in full (ie. the honour from others),  but do them in secret where only God can see and he will reward you.

 Hypocrites

Jesus doesn’t mention  the hypocrites by name, pretty sure he was taking a crack at  Pharisees & Teachers of the Law.  Last week we saw that they had  a skin-deep approach to moral bottom lines.  This week we see  they have false skin. (See also Matthew 23).  This is who we are NOT supposed to imitate.

3 actions – done 2 ways

(1)   Giving: trumpeting vs. sleight of hand – blowing your own trumpet vs. unobtrusively not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing

(2)   Praying: street corner vs. storeroom  – where everyone could see and hear vs. the only room in house with a door enabling privacy.

(3)   Fasting: ashed vs showered : People poured ashes on their heads on days other than special holy days (when everyone did it)  so people would know they “were extra-holy” Play on words: make themselves invisible so that they would be seen. vs. keep it on the down-low so no one will know you are fasting

 Doesn’t say don’t give, pray, fast – just don’t do them for show!  Doesn’t say these actions are not an appropriate part of our community worship as well as of our personal spiritual practice – just don’t show off!

 (1) Not for show  (hypocrisy)

Life can sometimes be a bit or a drama, but we are not to play-act.

Hypocrite: in Greek drama actors used masks painted to represent the character they were portraying. – like makeup to play a role in movie.

Do I do things for show to impress others, is it just a role or is it the real thing?

If you want to know what you do to look holy ask your partner or your best friend.

 Spiritual disciplines are really important, but there is a danger they can become an attempt to earn spiritual brownie points with God or to blow our own trumpet about how spiritual we are – to look good in front of others.  We can’t earn God’s blessing by doing “spiritual” stuff, they are just occasions for God’s grace – opportunities that we make for God to show up and work in our lives. The Lord’s prayer teaches us that it is not about me – Our father…your kingdom…your will, etc.

 If you do this “spiritual stuff” for show then you have already got your reward,  paid in full NOW,  there is nothing left for later – you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  If you do it in secret  as an act of worship to God – God will reward you by making you beautiful – an uncommon beauty, from the inside out – someone who emanates Jesus.  Also there is the ideas here of future reward – you are living as someone in the KOG that is coming in its fullness and you will share in that fullness.

 (2) what you see is what you get  (sincerity – without bog)

Beauty is, as beauty does.  Beauty is only skindeeper.  What’s on the inside determines what is on the outside. But what happens if what is on the outside doesn’t match what is on the inside?

 It was believed that the English word “sincere’ came from the Latin sin cere from (without wax) – When a sculpture had a flaw, artists would fill in the chip or crack with colored wax to match the marble. Wax was said to serve as cover-up, masking imperfections on what was most likely cheap pottery.  If it was without flaw then it was sin cere, without wax.  This etimology has been discredited; the English word “sincerity” actually derives from the Latin “sincerus,” meaning a clean or pure sound.  But the illustration  still works: “Without wax” exemplifies the ideal: a perfection in honesty… the virtue in speaking true.  IN contemporary kiwi speak it is like a car with no bog, unlike my friend’s Datsun 120Y that had more “bog” than body attached to the chassis. It appeared to be sound but was NOT and had to be sent to the wreakers.

The reality is that we all do a bit of  Image management eg. what we choose to put on web/ not put on web, but don’t we get tired of keeping up appearances?  Calling for sincerity is  not a license to winge but to be real,  especially in church/ cell – real about weaknesses and about our need of each other/God

What does sincerity look like? What you see is what you get.  As we come to know Jesus he can help us stop living our lives out of fear, always seeking the positive affirmation from our human audience or seeking to make ourselves safe in the world by securing the favour of those others around us. Instead Jesus teaches us to pray in dependency, vulnerability and trust to God, understanding our primary identity as children of a loving God.  “Our Father…”

One of the keys to release from this need of keeping up appearances is to forgive – ourselves, others.  On the cross Jesus suffered in solidarity with victims to bring them healing and for perpetrators to bring them forgiveness.  As we understand this more we realize we in need of both. Only then can we take the costly step of opening ourselves to the other,  of  enfolding him or her in the same embrace with which we have been enfolded by God.

 Caveats

1. This is not about pointing the finger at another’s hypocrisy as an excuse not to sort your own act out.  If there is a hypocrite between you and God, who is closer?

2. This is not about opting out of involvement in church in favour of just a private spirituality.  As a community we still need to do life together and be devoted to things like the early church were in Acts 2:42

–       the apostles teaching – not master the text but let the spirit master us by it

–       fellowship – do life together

–       breaking of bread – life centred on what Jesus has done and is doing

–       prayers – to encounter God personally

 All these can be made into magic formulas or opportunities for image projection or showing off, but they are also chances to be real, to surrender to God and let God work in and through our lives in authentic ways.    You see we can pretend on the outside or we can let the uncommon beauty that God is forming inside of us begin to work its way out by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

 Father God… You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

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Lent: A Thought

Lent: A Thought

Ponder this thought from Dietrich Bonhoeffer as you pray over the coming days of Lent. Newness of life hints at beauty. This quote gives us the source of that beauty.

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