Every spiritual blessing

I came across a facebook video the other day that I found really encouraging, but the title of the creators was even better – “I love being a Christian”. So I spent the rest of my prayer time thinking and praying about that statement. It feels bold, confident and uplifting, something you would want to share and would be hard to miss. Clearly, I wasn’t feeling that at the start of my prayer but by the end of it I was. So it struck me that this is the way God wants us to see our lives.

In fact he has done everything in his power to enable it except for choosing it for us.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Ephesians‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The word for blessed, eulogeó, is not the same word used in places like the beatitudes in Matthew 5. There blessed means a positive favour or position whereas eulogeo means to speak in a way that confers benefit. So God has announced in Heaven that we should have everything that can bless and benefit us. It doesn’t feel like this when we are ill, struggling with holiness or faith but it is true and it is key that we keep focussed on this.


Being real about what’s happening (Offence 2)

As we talked about in the last blog, Jesus says it is inevitable that we will be offended and that this offence is a trap. It takes hold of us and ensnares us and is usually the work of Satan:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

It is interesting to see that the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome (the greek means ‘to fight’) or his/her ability to help others is totally undermined. Indeed they need to be gentle in their instruction. Having been in this situation many times I think the only times I haven’t kept a cool head is when I start to take offence. When I think someone how the other person is the problem. The fact is though it is God who has to grant repentance to people because they are actually in a trap themselves! The word trap is the word for offence and so if the person trying to help gets offended then it is all over for both parties.

At work I am often asked to help people manage conflict or negotiation situations where the stakes are high and the interactions are starting to go off the rails. When I do I always share the phrase “Whoever keeps the clearest head always wins in the long run”. This is a basic truth, once someone gets offended and emotions cloud their thinking they will usually fail in what they are trying to achieve. Regardless of the intention, once someone falls into the trap of taking offence they usually fail in the long run or even if they do get their way they will lose the relationship with the other side.

It is hard to accept this though because offended people usually fall into two categories:

1. They have been trapped into feeling offended because they have in fact been treated badly

2. They have been trapped into feeling offended because they ‘think’ they have been been treated badly.

First ones have a good reason to feel offended and the second are people who through miss-understandings or having the wrong information believe they have a good reason for being offended.

The point is though, regardless of the camp they are in, once they fall into the trap they start to feel justified in being offended and become victims of the other people or they try to deny the hurt and pretend that nothing really happened.

Neither approaches solve the issue and they stay trapped by Satan.

As I think about this I can see where I have denied taking offence out of pride or have nurtured the feeling of being a victim and the result is that it has just continued until I addressed it properly.

Do you feel justified in any offence or bad attitude you have towards people? Or are you feeling discouraged and unsure why? If so, you might have an un-acknowledged sense of being hurt or offended.

I am offended, are you? (Offended 1)

I am currently thinking and praying a lot about being offended. It is not something I have really got my head and heart around before in the way I am praying to now and I hope it will make as much of a difference to you as it has to me over the last month or so.

It started with my wife being recommended a book – The Bait of Satan by John Bevere – which I have found totally compelling. If you buy it is it best to get the 20th anniversary edition as it also has a study guide and other improvements but either way it is a great book.

I have realised that I am often trapped by Satan into this sin of offence and so I am going through the book again trying to really get the principles deeply in my life and the resulting reflections are what this series is going to be about.

The first scripture to think about is:

“Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.” Luke‬ ‭17:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I had never noticed the first bit of this verse as I have always focussed on the ‘woe to anyone’bit at the end.

The NASB is even clearer in with its translation:

‬“He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!”Luke‬ ‭17:1‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus is saying that stumbling blocks are INEVITABLE! The Greek develops this as the word for stumbling block (skandalon) originally means ‘the trigger of a trap, that is the mechanism closing a trap down on the unsuspecting victim”. So this then developed to mean an ‘offense’ or something that triggers a negative cause-and-effect relationship. I guess we would call it a hot button that causes us to react in a negative way.

So to bring it together, Jesus is saying that it is totally inconceivable that you and I will live without traps being set by Satan and that the trigger will be when we get offended and react negatively to that.

This can happen in almost any situation but it is particularly challenging with people that:

1.Are closest to us – “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.” Psalm‬ ‭55:12-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

2.We expect better from them because they are in the Church -‬‬‬‬‬‬“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”2 Timothy‬ ‭3:1-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In fact the closer the relationship the greater the opportunity for taking offence and the greater the significance if we cannot deal with the resulting hurt and barriers. Despite this though it so often comes as a surprise and many of us are ill equipped to deal with it.

Perhaps take a minute to write down the names of people you feel offended by, the ones you avoid a little or a lot and start to pray for the barriers to come down in a safe and Godly way.

God wants you to be GREATLY encouraged (Hope 17)

Today’s scripture is great news! It says that God has given us his promise that we can be encouraged. In fact he goes as far to say that He wants us to be GREATLY encouraged…

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews‬ ‭6:18-20‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is not always easy. Sometimes we get to see ourselves in a way that doesn’t encourage us at first, sometimes we are just tired or ill and sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Whatever our situation though God wants us to be greatly encouraged.

Before moving not why though, it is worth reflecting on the word ‘greatly’. In the original Greek it is usually translated to mean strong or mighty and refers to physical strength that is ready and able. It is used to compare Jesus with John the Baptist, Angels are described as this in Revelation and it is used to describe the strength of young men. I think the word is used because encouragement makes us strong. So why use it in this context? Personally I think it is because encouragement makes us stronger, clearer and having faith is so much easier. When we are encouraged we can face most things and find the strength to say yes to the right things and no to the unhealthy things.

God wants us to be encouraged.

However the challenge is that I am used to getting my encouragement from people and my situation. I have a bad back right now from running too much without stretching so I am not encouraged. However I was in New York last week running along the Hudson River and felt like a master of the universe, which was by the way the thing that gave me a bad back… This up and down encouragement isn’t what God wants for us though. Instead he wants us to see our lives through his eyes, with a sense of eternity and heaven. In fact he wants us to be greatly encouraged as a result of our hope not our circumstances.

What can you do tomorrow to become even more encouraged in your hope and not your circumstances?

3 Surprising steps to not getting tired of doing good (Not Giving Up 6)

Have you ever looked around you and wondered why it is only you who seems to be putting in the hard work, the long hours and the self sacrifice? Personally when I feel life this is it usually selective memory or that on further enquiry I just didnt see the hard work others are putting in! However sometimes it is in fact true that we or a few others are the ones putting the work in and others are shirking their responsibilities and in todays verse Paul helps us to see what to do in that situation.

“And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” 2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The context of the verse is that Paul is talking about the danger of people being idle and associating with them by comparing his deliberate example:

“nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.””

‭‭2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:8, 10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Paul was not a talker but someone who used the power of his own example. It is so much easier to hear a sermon or message from someone who’s life backs the message. We need to be humble enough to hear the truth from anyone but the fact is Jesus and Paul both believed that your own life was part of your message.

I am currently reading a book by a chap called Ray Dalio (a super financially successful fund manager) who argues that everyone should be ‘radically open minded’ which in biblical terms means, humble. However, he suggests that we do this with people who are ‘believable’, in that, they should have been successful at the the thing they are talking about, at least 3 times! I found this really challenging as while I have many opinions to what extent is my life believable according to this definition? Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to only have strong views on things we are living and acknowledge other opinions as best guesses? This is not about being self righteous based on our lives, but more about avoiding hypocrisy and pure head knowledge that leads us to become Pharisees.

Getting back to the the verse though, lets assume you are the person who is genuinely working hard when others aren’t, the challenge you might face is that their example rubs off on you and you start to feel taken for granted, that nobody cares anyway and even start to compare your life to others so as long as you are a bit better then them you feel okay. Bottom line it is possible to get fed up doing good. So what is Pauls answer?

“Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.” 2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:14-15‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Simply put Pauls answer is to encourage the disciples to not go down that path by following three steps:

1. Know who is following God and who is not

2. Pull back your fellowship from them so they feel the shame of being disobedient to God

3. Keep loving them by warning them as a brother or sister.

This is of course a really hard saying and challenge which is not about us feeling hurt but the souls of the lazy and disobedient person. This takes confidence in God, faith and to love like Jesus which is indeed a hard one to end the series on.

I hope it has been help though and the next series is going to build on this and is from a book all about what to do when we feel hurt and offended. I have read it through this week (which is why I haven’t been posting) and it was brilliant so I hope you find it as good as I did.

Praying for people who are discouraged (Not giving up 4)

“I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians‬ ‭3:13-21‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬

Paul doesn’t want the disciples to be discouraged, so he prays. This is a simple equation which I think I often miss. The answer to discouragement or a feeling of distance from God is to pray and to not give up until something changes. This has been such a powerful insight into my life recently, it isn’t rocket science, but the simple fact is that the intensity of our prayer should reflect the intensity of the topic we are dealing with. The degree of pain and angst we feel internally needs to be communicated and expressed outwardly to him. It is not about keeping it in, numbing out or switching it off. We need to know that his heart reaches out to ours and we have hearts that are reaching out to his.

My wife is an amazing example of this and she has taught me a lot about what it is to pray and I am so grateful for her convictions and example. When she prays she is real and serious because the topics she prays about are real and serious. It is not a shopping list worked through while she is doing other things, it is not some internal rambling but an external conversation with God that makes sense and it is not something that she is doing because it is what a Christian does for a few minutes a day.

Who do you know that is discouraged or challenged right now? Perhaps sit down for a couple of minutes and make a list and pray for them with all your heart. I would imagine your list will probably be quite long especially when you consider that you don’t even have to know them personally to pray for them, you just need to know their need for God right now.

In my next blog I am going to think about the rest of the verse which talks about both how and what Paul prayed for. Until then though, how is your prayer life and particularly how is your prayer life when you are talking about others?

You will reap a harvest, just don’t give up (Not losing heart 4)

I always love it when God gives us a law or truth that cuts through everything and provides an eternal insight. Today’s verse provides just such a thing. It summarises so much about the scriptures about Hope and not being discouraged.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians‬ ‭6:7-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I really like Shakespeare and I was listening to a blog about Hamlet recently which discussed the need for the main character to make sure the ghost he was talking to was actually a ghost and not a demon. The ghost claimed to be his Father and was encouraging Hamlet to revenge him, so it was essential he was not being deceived. We know our Father in heaven encourages us to do things but in our desire to hear him and understand him we need to be careful we are not deceived along the way. Satan is constantly appearing to us in different forms both in our heads and, I believe, through external events and people and he is trying to get us to give up and be discouraged. In fact the Bible talks about Satan messengers even appearing as angels of light to deceive us. Satan wants us to think that God doesn’t see what is happening and what we are doing and for us to give up.

However the good news is that God does see and that when we give to Him it will at the right time grow into a harvest. The return will always come, we just need to be patient and not give up. Like the widow going to the judge or taking up our cross it all pays off in the end, even if we don’t see how.

I find the last verse particularly challenging though. It’s message is really simple: when you have the opportunity, do it. The thing about this though is that it doesn’t say anything about how it will be appreciated, received, valued or what it will cost you. The question is do you have the opportunity to do good? If the answer is yes then do it and keep doing it until the harvest comes.