The sumptuous burden of glorifying God

Garden

Lately the Holy Spirit has been prompting me to ask myself whether the things I do glorify God. In 1 Peter 4:10-11 we read

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.

In Colossians 3:17 it says

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

But I find Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 the most challenging:

 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

Because not only are we told to do everything that we do to the glory of God, we’re told to do it not just for own sake, or for God’s, but for the sake of other people.

This is a concept that I’ve had trouble with for a long time, this idea that we’re responsible to others. Oh, intellectually I know that we are called upon to spread the Good News, to be the salt and the light, to be a sort of God flavour to the masses. I’ve managed to avoid this responsibility (and it is a responsibility) of “not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” by saying well, you can be as fragrant a Christian as you want, but you can’t make people believe; that’s something between them, God and the Holy Spirit. It’s a sort of horse/water situation.

But you’ve still got the responsibility to try and lead people to the water, and we do that by dent of how we are living our lives–every aspect of our lives, not just the ones we want people to see, or the ones we take to church or put up on our Facebook.

Which brings us back to the question, Is what I’m doing glorifying God?

It’s a scary question to answer. I think that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to follow through on this prompting for such a long time, because when you ask yourself, Does this glorify God? and the answer is “no”, there’s really no excuse or reason to keep doing it, is there? So much of our lives are filled with these non-glorifying worldly fillers. Often they are small things, things you can “slip past” God, things you don’t even think about. But you’re used to them. You’ve attached some kind of value to them. Heck, you might even enjoy some of them. But if you sit yourself down and get honest, you know that they don’t serve any other purpose than to distract or distance you from your Lord.

It’s not a guilt thing, this question. The Holy Spirit isn’t standing there with a ruler, ready to whip out an admonishment. It’s gentle. It’s a mountain stream. It’s asked kindly, and it’s kindly meant. Worldly fillers are just that–worldly fillers. They have no eternal import. They don’t really matter. But the things that do glorify God? They glorify Him now; they glorify Him always. That’s the difference.

We need to be careful with this. A lot of us think the best way to answer this question–Does this glorify God?–is to cut out anything that might be fun. Our reasoning, whether we acknowledge it or not, is that we think God isn’t fun and therefore God hates fun; fun is sin. Which is ridiculous. You know what glorifies God? Laughter, enjoyment, love, care, hugs and kisses and giggles and enjoying His creation, whether that creation is a magnificent skyline or a magnificent meal. Glorifying God is consciously, continuously turning whatever activity you’re doing into an altar for Him. Yes, some activities won’t make the cut. You can’t glorify God and, say, gossip about someone simultaneously. But it’s probably less than you think, and eventually you won’t miss what you have had to sacrifice anyway because the reward is more of God. And if we accept that our Creator is a loving, caring Father, brother, and friend, we realise that more of God is more than enough.

So it is with confidence and faith and joy that I can ask you: Do the things you think, speak, and do glorify God?

Reblog: The Attributes of God – Holiness | Abundance of Grace

But one attribute of God which covers all the others is his holiness. In fact, Scripture describes God and his name as holy over 900 times. Actually, God can be said to be sovereign, just, merciful, gracious, loving, wrathful, etc. in his holiness. It is God’s holiness that defines him as God, and it is the first thing we think of when we consider his existence.

The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, said of God’s holiness:

God is intrinsically holy. All he does is holy; he cannot act but like himself; he can no more do an unrighteous action than the sun can turn dark. He is the original and pattern of holiness. It began with him who is the Ancient of Days. God is perfectly, unalterably, and unchangeably holy.

In the Hebrew literature of the Old Testament, repetition was used to emphasize words and ideas. As we would capitalize a word or use bold print, the writers of the Old Testament repeated words and phrases. We often do something similar when we speak of good, better, and best. In Hebrew, repeating a word or phrase three times elevates it to the third degree, or the superlative. Interestingly, God’s holiness is the only attribute which is emphasized in this way in Scripture. The seraphim in Isaiah 6 declare that God is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” However, as important as they are, no other attributes are spoken of in this way. We never read that God is “Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign,” “Gracious, Gracious, Gracious,” or even “Love, Love, Love.” Only his holiness is thus highlighted and declared.

Great read: The Attributes of God – Holiness | Abundance of Grace.

Reblog: Lighten Up, Christians: God Loves a Good Time | Christianity Today

We should strive for holiness, but holiness is a flood, not an absence.

via Lighten Up, Christians: God Loves a Good Time | Christianity Today.

Reblog: Why the Gender Debate is “Catching Fire” | The Junia ProjectThe Junia Project

We are naive when we fail to connect that enmity to the oppression of women that has taken place through the centuries and continues today.

via Why the Gender Debate is “Catching Fire” | The Junia ProjectThe Junia Project.

Tips for new Christians

You have joyfully given your heart to God. Now what?

ONE: Pray, like, all the time.

When you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to throw yourself head first into all the ‘stuff’ of religion: Christianity, more than being a Christian. It’s understandable, you’re late to a party that’s been going on for two thousand years. It never works, though, and has the added kicker of distracting you from how much it isn’t working because you’re so busy being religious.

The most important thing about Christianity and being a Christian is having a relationship with God, and relationships take work. You can’t know the Creator if you don’t talk to him. Don’t fret too much about how to pray, the mechanics of it, or about intercession or the like. Praying is just talking to God. So talk to him! Get to know each other. God’s there all the time anyway and, would you believe it, he actually likes hearing from you?

There aren’t any ‘off-limit’ feelings or topics when it comes to praying. Just look at the Bible, God’s seen it all before. You can pray while doing anything. It shouldn’t just be a slot in your day, you know, right after you’ve read your Bible or just before you fall asleep. It’s basically a never-ending text conversation. Some days it will feel like God’s all ears; at other times, it will feel like you’re having a conversation with a cactus. That’s what feelings do: they change. But God is constant, and he gets your messages even when it feels like they aren’t going through.

TWO: Get a good Bible.

There’s a lot of debate (scholarly and otherwise) about just what a ‘good’ Bible is. My advice is to ignore all of it. Don’t worry too much about theology and translation, just choose a Bible that resonates with you. A big part of having a good relationship with God is having a positive relationship with his Word. So while that big ESV Study Bible may impress the hell out of everyone, if reading it makes you want to throw yourself into a waterhole, that just misses the point entirely. A study Bible is a good investment, but reading the Bible shouldn’t be a chore, so for now just find a Bible version that communicates God’s story to you clearly.

Don’t try to ‘stuff it all in’ at once, either, which is tempting when Newbie you joins a study group of people who have been doing this God thing for years. Bible study is a lifelong thing, and the stories, themes and theology contained in the Bible are vast. You don’t need to ‘earn’ salvation by being able to answer a pop quiz on the Old Testament. Reading the Bible isn’t so much a history lesson as it is a journey. And lucky us, we’ve got a companion in the form of the Holy Spirit. All you need to do is show up and read.

THREE: Find a church, join a church.

Most people assume that you come to God via the church and for a large chunk of the population, sure, that’s true. But in a post-Christian world (which is a really pretentious way of saying that the days of ‘assumed Christianity’ are behind us and that our society is increasingly plural and secular), more and more people are coming to God—or coming back to God—in ways that often circumvent churches entirely. The Internet and social media play a large part in this: there are countless devotional websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, blogs, tumblrs, Pinterest boards, daily prayer and devotional e-mails, Bible and Bible-reading apps, podcasts, and television shows, all which can make you feel ‘plugged into’ Christianity as a whole.

On the downside, it often means that, post-conversion, people aren’t ‘plugged into’ local bodies of worship. Initially it may not be a problem—there is a lot of material you can burn through on your own—but eventually, usually around the time you hit your first hurdle as a new (or renewed) believer, the lack of a physical support group can hit you pretty hard. It’s a nasty come-down from the first few months of that ‘spiritual high’ and, unsupported, could take a chunk out of your faith life.

This, of course, is where a church and church family come in handy. It’s pretty intimidating, especially if you’ve been unreligious for a while, or if it’s all new to you, but just go. Find a place where you are comfortable and the people are friendly. You might have to ‘shop around’ for a church. Don’t feel too bad about it. Look, no church is perfect and never will be—it is, after all, by definition a gathering of sinners—but it’s important that you find a place that clicks. Trust your gut on this one.

This might just be the Methodist in me, but a great thing to do when you’ve found a church is to join a Bible study group. There’s no quicker or surer way to get to know a church and its people, and from there it’s short work to join in on other activities.

FOUR: Christianity is actually pretty hard.

There’s a tendency, when you first convert and the Holy Spirit is just flow, flow, flowing, to assume that that feeling is going to last. The good news is that it doesn’t: after a reasonable amount of time, God cuts back on the high and the harder work begins. The journey is different for everyone, but just know that it is a road we all travel, and the road leads to spiritual maturation. It’s like taking the training wheels off your bike so you can cycle faster and more freely.

It’s just not always easy to be a Christian. You will doubt whether there is a God. Others will doubt you, and whether you can really do this ‘Christian’ thing (or if you should). You often lose people. You often lose your sense of self. Saying goodbye to old you isn’t going to be a clean break. It costs a lot of re-evaluation, repentance and downright scary change, and you aren’t always going to be sure that it’s worth it.

Spoiler alert: it is. Even a pretty bad day with Jesus is better than a good one without him.

FIVE: You are going to mess up so, so badly.

Old you is the worst kind of ex. Old you is not going to leave you alone. You are going to take old you back sometimes, and you are going to regret it. Old you will still visit, call, poke you on Facebook, and generally be a pain in the behind. Old you will sometimes be very reasonable, even persuasive—after all, old you likes all the same things you did.

The thing is, there’s no way to get rid of old you entirely while you are still on earth, so it is always going to be a struggle. Always. Some days will be easy, very easy; others, not so much. What I don’t want you to do is sweat it. You are going to mess up, so very badly. You are going to be the Worst Christian Ever. Fine, alright. What you do need to do is go back to God each and every time. He hasn’t gone anywhere while you were off with old you. He’s kept the lights on, waiting for you to come back home. Go back in. Repent. Be loved. Start all over again. Grace will heal the stubbed shins that come from bumping around in the world.

Do you have any advice for new Christians? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were just starting out?

Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.

Robert Farrar Capon

Weekend faith renewal: something to think about the next time you feel like you’re falling short as a Christian

Does it feel like you’re not measuring up, spiritually? God isn’t the one who is holding the yardstick. So my question is: who is?

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See also:

Friday Funny | April 4, 2014

Atheist

Have a great weekend!

Prayer Monday | 31 March 2014

A prayer for Monday:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Help us to become better disciples and instill in us the knowledge and compassion we need to carry out your work.

We also ask you to help us broaden our commitment to your son, Jesus.

There’s much all of us can do to help relay your message to all people we come in contact with, daily.

We must actively commit ourselves to this mission. In your son’s name, we pray.

AMEN.

{via Monday Prayer | Connect Missions.}

Our topic for tomorrow’s Bible study is the continual prayer mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Since it’s prayer Monday anyway, I thought I’d post some of the more interesting things I find.

  • Pray without ceasing: why anyone can do it and almost nobody does‘. This is a great post. Listen: “Prayer isn’t something I generate, it’s something I join in progress”, and “Prayer is where we begin telling the truth about our own lives.”
  • “The position of our text [1 Thess 5:17] is very suggestive. Observe what it follows. It comes immediately after the precept, ‘Rejoice evermore;’ as if that command had somewhat staggered the reader, and made him ask ‘How can I always rejoice?’ and, therefore, the apostle appended as answer, ‘Always pray.’ The more praying the more rejoicing. Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul, they flow away, and in their stead streams of sacred delight pour into the heart. At the same time the more rejoicing the more praying; when the heart is in a quiet condition, and full of joy in the Lord, then also will it be sure to draw nigh unto the Lord in worship. Holy joy and prayer act and react upon each other. Observe, however, what immediately follows the text: ‘In everything give thanks.’ When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.” Maestro Spurgeon; read the whole sermon here.
  • “Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.” —John Wesley

Ruminations from the back pews; yes, ‘pews’.

Ruminations from the back pew

I have a confession to make. If you’ve read previous editions of ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ (and if you haven’t, good God man, save yourself), you’ll remember (perhaps unwillingly) that I’d staunchly refused to give in to any and all variations of ‘clappiness’ during worship (the Dutch Reformed Church, my religious alma mater, does not acknowledge any emotion that might make your mustache move). You will be thrilled (or horrified) to learn that I’ve thrown all caution to the wind and my hands up in the air like I just don’t care. Yes: I fear that I am now one of those worshippers.

It was Jack Hayward’s excellent book, Manifest Presence, that brought the change around. I finally figured out that worship isn’t about me. (Papa Rick will be ecstatic, I’m sure.) And you know, in realising that it isn’t about what I want out of worship, but what God wants out of worship, I’ve ended up getting more out of worship. Neat, huh?

Anyhow, yesterday we had a fantastic healing workshop at Trinity Methodist in Linden, Johannesburg, which is enviously beautiful and has floods (floods) of natural light in the chapel. We HMC folk are plotting a takeover even as I type this; I have already earmarked ‘my spot’ (my once and future spot!)

Sheldon

Dr Sheldon Cooper is my spirit animal.

The workshop was led by Rev Ray Goddess and managed to be informative and practical without being too ‘how to’ and formulaic. Hearing the testimony and seeing the healing that took place afterwards during the healing service itself just reminded me that essentially we Christians are called to do no more and no less than bear witness to the greatness of God. Fantastic news considering that his awesomeness never stops.

It’s actually ironic that I’m posting a ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ on one of the few Sundays lately I haven’t been to church. This morning I worshipped in the grocery store by covertly singing along to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Natural Woman’ in the toiletry aisle (in my defense, I caught at least two other people doing the same thing), and then naturally proceeded to run into three people from my congregation.

Methodists! They’re everywhere.

Pentecost.

Pentecost.