Sunday, 24 August 2014

Prosperous Planning?

I've become more relaxed when it comes to planning. I realise that when other people are involved they don't necessarily work to my time scale. So when I am planning, I don't always expect people to respond in the way I expect them to respond (if that makes sense!?). I plan in the way I see best, but make the plan flexible enough to be changed when it needs to be. I think there are a number of different types of people when it comes to planning......

Those who have everything planned in meticulous detail - who have a folder of routes and ideas and timetables and find it difficult to deviate from the detail. These people work better with those who just want someone else to make the plan. 

Those who want to collaborate with others when it comes to planning, but then when it comes down to it, get frustrated and end up becoming the one who plans in meticulous detail, but without the folders and the timetables, and with a gentle sniff of flexibility (I think I am this person). 

Those who have a vague plan in their head which only comes out with the right questions. These are often the most frustrating, but come out with some amazing stuff!

Those who plan last minute, are always late and would rather someone tell them what to do until someone tells them what to do. I'm never this person. 

We all seem to have a different view of what it means to make a plan. When you ask 'what's the plan?' each of these different people will have different answers.... from here it is planned out minute by minute to 'wait and see'. 

I've listened to a couple of sermons lately where I've been told that God has a plan for my life, so it's all going to be OK.  I've been told that if my life isn't going to God's plan (ie not going well) then I'm clearly not a good Christian. I've also read a few blogs that have been frustrated about the misuse of Jeremiah 29:11, which was said to a particular people group at a particular time and shouldn't be misused to tell me that God has a plan for my life. 

What I struggle with in this apparent plan of God where I am told that life is going to be rosy is when I see friends who are having a really hard time; who are suffering seemingly needlessly because things haven't worked out and then are told, well it's going to be OK, God has a plan, and it's wonderful. I believe God has a path for me to go on, but I think we've warped this idea of that plan by surrounding it with the phrase 'it'll be OK because......'. 

The thing is Jeremiah 29:11 doesn't talk about things going well right now. It doesn't talk about the Israelites escaping from exile right now. God tells the Israelites, who are stuck in Babylon, to make the best of a bad situation because there is hope in the future. They didn't want to be stuck in Babylon. They didn't want to be there so much they got angry and Psalm 137 was written where the babies of those who have hurt them are smashed against the rocks. This is not the Psalm of a nation who are are happy to be in exile, happy to say, well, it's OK, God has plans, but is the Psalm of a nation who are so frustrated at their situation that they express emotion by wanting to hurt the Babylonians as much as they have been hurt. 

Sometimes when we say, don't worry, it's going to be OK, God has plans, we forget that the people we are saying it to are those who have had everything meticulously planned out but have been thrown into exile. When we see the plight of Christians driven out of their homes in Iraq, we can't imagine saying 'don't worry, Jeremiah 29:11'. 

What this verse does promise the Israelites, however, is that there is hope in the future. They are promised hope in a future where they will prosper. They did eventually make it out of exile, but life was never the same again. For me, that hope comes in Christ, who was sent by God into the world to die so all may be restored - so that all may have eternal life. When we talk about plans we are not talking about life getting better today, or tomorrow. When we talk about plans we are not talking about that deep seated pain an individual has gone through being what God wanted for that person. When we talk about plans, we see hope in the future that there will be a way out of this, that there is hope that there will be a future where there will be no more pain or sickness or death. This is Christian hope. This is the hope that brings to completion the plans of prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11. We might see glimpses of that as we journey through life, but that hope of prosperity is more than a glimpse.  

When Christ came to earth as a human being, he brought God's Kingdom to earth. I believe we are living in a time where God's Kingdom has come through Christ, but that the world has not been fully restored. When we see glimmers of hope, through healing, through reconciliation and through the clear signs of God's love poured down on earth, we see some of that Kingdom. We were told in church this morning that where we stand against what society chooses to do that doesn't reflect God's Kingdom we need to offer an alternative. Where people are fighting we need to seek peace, where people have no food we need to seek to bring food, where people are suffering we need to stand in solidarity with them to bring them out, where Richard Dawkins suggests abortion is better than a child with Downs Syndrome (his words this week have made me so angry) we need to speak out. Every time we do that we bring glimpses of hope, glimpses of God's Kingdom, glimpses of those plans that God has for us. Hope that speaks of this:

"He will settle disputes among great nations. They will hammer their swords ploughs and their spears into pruning-knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again".        Isaiah 2:4

Thursday, 21 August 2014

I know you?

"I know you!"

Do you? What does it really mean to know someone? Walking down the road you see a familiar face, you say to the person next to you - "I know that person" you? You read an application form or a wikipedia page detailing the facts of somebody's life. You meet them and you know them.....Do you? 

To know someone you need to spend time with them. You begin to find out the little things that make them tick. You know what irritates them and you do it all the more to get a reaction (no, nobody does that!??!). 

One of my favourite Psalms talks of being known - being known by God. Psalm 139 talks of God who has searched me, examined me, excavated me, dug deep down into me. It talks of God who is endlessly fascinated by everything we do - God who cares enough to count the hairs on our heads, who collects our tears and understands each one. It talks of God who knows every single knot in our stomach when we are worried about something. It talks of God who knows how to undo the knots but also knows the knots we don't want to undo because we think it will hurt too much. 

This is God who to whom nobody is anonymous, to whom nobody is a write off, who loses nobody in a crowd and who knows each person by name. God understands us in a way nobody can, not even those who know us best. 

How wonderful it is that God knows me fully. 

I love Psalm 139, but when I spent time in preparation for my sermon last Sunday I stopped and I thought for a moment..... 

Is it not a bit creepy? The fact that God is there in everything. The fact that he sees everything? It's wonderful, but it's a little bit scary. It talks of God who hems us in, behind and before - which reassures but also constrains. God who besieges - surrounds us with a fortifying wall.

It sounds a bit like the over-controlling partner in a marriage who loves their partner deeply but wants to know too much. Or a bit like the parent who wants to let the child go, but can't and loves them so much they still want to be involved in every aspect of their life. It talks of a feeling of being smothered. 

Or does it? 

One of the arguments I have heard against the existence of God is one where people choose to believe that the God we worship is a dictator type God who looks down on his people, controls their movements and gives them no freedom. That argument speaks of the threat of this Psalm - of a God who controls. If we picture God like that we live in a shade of angry gloom - the idea of God becomes despicable. If we think of hemming in like being besieged in a medieval war where God is the evil besieger, then we are left in a struggling poverty where we feel threatened by him. 

But.... that's not the God of Psalm 139. This is God who knows us intimately and wants to stand in the hemmed in city with us - he doesn't know us from afar, but knows us from within. He is not an over-looker, but is a factory worker fighting in the union for a peaceful yet justice ridden outcome (I love 'The Mill' - excellent Sunday night TV!). If we feel threatened by God who hems us in, we need to question whether we are seeing God as a God of dictatorship or God as a God of love, reaching out not in control, but deep love. 

To see God as a God of love and not a dictator, creepy stalker or chaperone the best place to understand that deep love is on the cross - where instead of hemming us in a siege to control our every move, God sacrificed his only Son, Jesus Christ, so that we could be liberated - so that we might know God who builds a fortress to protect us, living in it with us, gathering our tears, cherishing our thoughts, knowing our deepest desires and knots. 

Divine knowledge is far beyond any human knowledge, and divine presence is far beyond anything we can fathom. The Psalmist beautifully describes the depths of this love. 

When we choose to accept that it is not a threat to be known by God, our life turns from one that is hemmed in by expectation where our view of God is a far off being controlling and dictating our every move to one that is stamped with the word 'free', with the word 'child of God' where there is no need to hide any more: all is accepted. You will be searched, but nothing will be found in you that hasn't already been embraced and loved. God formed us, made us who we are. He loves us, loves us just the way we are and sent his Son to die for us so that we might know him.