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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Coveting and Contentment

Coveting, an older churchy Bible word that means 'to really want something.' Coveting is not something bad in itself, you can covet good things and bad things, in good ways and bad ways. People have come up to me saying, "I covet your prayers," meaning they would really appreciate it if I prayed for them. Often though, coveting is used in a more negative way, in the way God uses it in the last commandment, "You shall not covet......" in wanting something that someone else has and you don't. But what's wrong with wanting something that someone else has? Isn't that the motivation behind working harder so you can get it for yourself? Isn't that the foundation of the Canadian (American) dream; always looking to achieve or get more: a bigger house, better job, cottage, whatever? Though I can see that if you covet your neighbour's wife or husband it's rather negative and I feel really bad for your spouse, you're not supposed to be trying to get yourself a new spouse when you already have one. But why would God tell us that a strong motivating emotion like coveting is wrong if it makes us work harder?
I believe the reason God takes such a strong stand against coveting is the tendency we have to make gods out of the things we really want. We aren't very good at keeping things in balance or perspective, and coveting feeds that part of our hearts that says, "more, more, me, me..." and forgets what God has already given and blessed us with. Coveting makes it really hard to be content and appreciate what you already have. It takes your eyes off of God and his desire for us and sets our eyes on ourselves instead. Contentment is the counter to coveting, and contentment is hard to learn, hard to embrace when all around you the mantra is to work harder to get more, to get more because you deserve it.
So how do you practice contentment, or do you think it's rather foolish and simply an excuse for lazy people to slack off? Personally, the more I work at keeping my focus on God and what I already have, the more I'm experiencing contentment and God's joy and happiness in the family, work and things I have, and the more I want to be a blessing to others. Try it, it's life changing!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

making sure justice works

As I sit here writing this, my province is once again home to people banging pots trying to intimidate the government to bow to one group of citizens over the province as a whole. Now to be honest, it's not a clear cut issue as the government has placed itself in this position of having to go back on work contracts signed in the past. But the workers themselves hurt their own cause by storming into the council chambers of our city, trying to disrupt the work of the city councilors and intimidating them through a show of force.
This reminded me of the principle behind the "don't bear false witness" commandment. We too often make it too small by restricting it to telling our children not to lie, but the whole thought behind the command is that people need to be honest in order for justice to happen and for our civil society to be trusted by its citizens. We need to think bigger than that when we look at hos God is calling us to live with each other here. Intimidation tactics, whether in city hall, in parliament or in the church creates distrust among regular people; forcing  through laws or rules without proper negotiation or consultation is an abuse of power which also creates distrust in the leaders, whether in city hall, parliament or the church council. Neither respects the others, both create distrust and weaken the society they profess to care about and say they want to protect and grow.
In the 10 Commandments, God is giving his people a way of living together based on respect and honesty, especially in this commandment to not bear false witness. God has created us all in his image and he desires that his people live this out in their relationships with each other. In God's society, it's not about taking what we can get for ourselves and always fighting for every last dollar, it's about creating a society where people take care of each other and work towards creating health, trust and a sense of belonging for all those who live among the people of God. Take a look at the regulations God put into place about aliens and foreigners and you see grace and welcome.
How can you, how can we work together to create a church that models justice, trust and health together so that our society can get a glimpse of what God's kingdom is all about?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What's yours is yours, especially your name

I taught a class a while ago on the commandment about stealing. Now just to be clear, I was against stealing, after all, what is yours should be yours. But I was amazed as I did some research on this command that the early church wasn't all that concerned in this command about stuff, but instead they were more concerned about someone stealing another person's good name through gossip or slander. Now I had always associated gossip and slander with the not giving false testimony command, but I was wrong. When I was a young man, my father took me aside and told me, "I don't have much to give you as we are not wealthy, but I've worked hard to make sure that I could give you a name that is filled with honour. This is the best gift I can give you, hang onto it with pride and keep it valuable for your children." It's something I've taken to heart, not just for my children, but also because I call myself a Jesus follower and know that in the eyes of our world today, my name also reflects on him.
As I thought about this angle that stealing here is about a person's name and reputation, I was convinced that these previous thinkers are onto something, especially as I thought about an incident a number of years back where someone accused me of doing something wrong but never spoke to me, but simply told a number of people in our faith community. As a pastor, my reputation is important, not just for myself, but for the church and my family. Now after the elders did an investigation, it was found that the accusations were false and based in anger over something else, but needless to say, I was shook up, as well as my family and friends. As a fellow pastor mentioned, it's something we face, but it's never a pleasant experience and there are always people who want to believe the worst about others no matter what.
Gossip is not a harmless past time and it reflects on what is going on in the person's heart; that there is a spirit of bitterness or anger inside that comes out in the telling of stories that belittle or hurt others. It's made me appreciate Paul's words to encourage and build up others because that comes out of the love Jesus calls us to, and makes the church family a safe and beautiful place to belong to and a reflection of the kingdom Jesus is ushering in.
May your words be words that bless rather than hurt.