Sunday, 29 May 2011

Purify my heart...

Leading prayers at church this evening, I always worry that I will not 'do it properly'.  I don't like to pray specifically for world disasters; nor for other churches; nor even for the sick and bereaved in our own community. I am afraid, sometimes, to name them for fear of forgetting someone important or upsetting someone else if I omit their loved ones.

Today, I jotted a few notes. I focused on the work of Compassion, and on renewing hearts to love God and serve his people.

I prayed, and choked up, touched by the plight of millions of children all over the world. I almost couldn't carry on.

And then, all I could think of was God's people, sitting in churches, hearing His Word. I so desperately wanted them to respond.

Brian Doerksen's song Refiner's Fire sums it up so beautifully:

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


There’s a Faith Jam going on today over at Bonnie’s blog on perfectionism.

Perfectionism. What an ugly word.
The world worships it.
We Christians must renounce it.

Perfectionism means I must ALWAYS be right, ALWAYS be perfect.
My life must reflect perfection or it loses worth.
My work must be completely fulfilling; my life full of marvellous friends and adoring relations; my home spotless and beautifully decorated and my menus delicious and apparently effortlessly planned; my appearance flawless.

I cannot allow any imperfection, defect or fault to exist in my life.

So career moves must ALWAYS be ideal: if they are not, my life is ruined.
Relational problems are always the other person’s fault, never mine.
Anything not quite up to ‘magazine standard’ in my home is explained away as a temporary glitch as I plan the next home move or redecorating project.
Any flaws in hair, clothes or make-up will be quickly rectified.

I am perfect.

Of course, I won’t say I am. I will excuse any sense of stress or appearance of becoming – oh, ever so slightly of course – uptight with a sweet little smile and the explanation: “I am a perfectionist, you know,” as I flutter my eyelashes in demure modesty.

This is wrong.

Perfectionism DEMANDS perfection. It cannot accept ‘pretty good’ or ‘almost there’ – it must have EVERYTHING. It is all about ME and ignores others. It depletes others of energy, burdening them with the demand that they recognise how wonderful I am – or would be, if circumstances/other people had not ‘done something’ to cause me to be slightly less than completely marvellous.

Perfectionism is an ugly word. We must see it for what it is, and renounce it. Admitting mistakes and failure is the open door to true spiritual growth.

Psalm 51:16-18 (The Message) says
Going through the motions doesn't please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.
   I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love don't for a moment escape God's notice. 
Or, in the NIV:
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

We need to be broken. We need to fail. We need to make mistakes. We need NOT to be perfect.

PS Attaining perfection is indeed to work towards becoming all we are meant to be, while acknowledging that we are not yet there...we mess up.
Understanding this is complicated, even paradoxical. I should probably have started with the dictionary definition of perfect: complete, not deficient, faultless.  PERFECTIONISM is the UNCOMPROMISING pursuit of excellence: to me, perfectionism does not allow for mistakes.  The repercussions of perfectionism on our relationships with others – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, God – are countless. I aim to improve, I work towards becoming better, but it is only Jesus who can make me truly perfect. 

A kind friend has sent  this link to John Wesley's sermon on being perfect...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Truth and lies...

I've been thinking about lying a lot recently.  As a Christian, with many Christian friends, I don't come across lying very much. Generally, my friends speak truth - not just an absence of lies, but truth-inspired wisdom. Wisdom which inspires, illuminates, encourages... But that's another story...

I've jotted down these notes to share at a breakfast I host each month...

Now, lie can mean, as the Oxford English Dictionary says, 'to make a false statement with the intention to deceive'. Lying can often mean much more than that.

I come across lying in my job quite often. While many children tell the truth, it is my experience that others lie almost automatically. They second-guess an answer, and, without time to evaluate the implications for them, 'play safe' by just lying. Along the lines of 'Did you do this?' they will answer 'No,' regardless of whatever 'this' might be. Usually, it only takes the lift of an eyebrow or a simple 'Really?' to get them to change their minds and 'tell the truth'. Usually.  Occasionally, there are individuals who find it very difficult to 'tell the truth' - in fact, 'truth' as they see it may seem far removed from facts and reality.  That's a bit harder, with children, but I usually get there in the end. And it is incredibly satisfying to see a child blossom and develop into a 'truth-teller', emerging from the darkness of hidden lies. 

But lying by adults I find very difficult. Especially when they lie to my face, thinking I don't know the truth. 
I like to believe what people tell me. I like to rely on their words, to take them as true, to depend on them. I trust others to tell me the truth, whoever they are:  friends, colleagues, acquaintances...  Naive, but trusting. I'm learning to take some statements with a 'pinch of salt' and check out the veracity - or otherwise - of the information. And I don't necessarily expect 'truth' from some quarters - double-glazing salesmen perhaps?  But the greater the degree of trust, the greater the betrayal.

It's happened to me recently. I'm growing up. I'm learning to live with it. But my trust has lessened exponentially.

It's not a nice feeling. It's made me even more determined to try to tell the truth as I know it - not as I see it, for there are always different opinions and sides to every question - as much as I can.

There are degrees of lies, of course: many of us say a 'white lie' is fine - said to spare someone's feelings. Or when truth is simply withheld, for the same reason, or because it might be embarrassing, or get someone into trouble, or...And those kind of lies are stories in themselves. Yet I'd like to suggest that even white lies, or withholding the truth, can cause as much harm as telling the obvious whopper. Because lying is a fundamental betrayal of trust. The person lying doesn't trust the person they are speaking to with the truth - and so they hide it. Yet, when the hearer KNOWS the truth, as happened to me recently, it is a huge deal. Ignorance is indeed bliss, for with knowledge of the truth come the piercing arrows of deception, distrust and disloyalty.  Proverbs 25:18 in the New Living Translation says: 
Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow. In The Message it is: Anyone who tells lies against the neighbours in court or on the street is a loose cannon.  Psalm 57:4: I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts--men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
Jeremiah 9:8:Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit. With his mouth each speaks cordially to his neighbor, but in his heart he sets a trap for him.

It’s not ‘nice’!

The last wish of a dying man, reflected in Proverbs 30: 7-9, gives great importance to truth. It says And then he prayed, "God, I'm asking for two things before I die; don't refuse me—Banish lies from my lips and liars from my presence.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of lies, subject to the influence of the Father of
1.    How can we live so that we ‘banish lies from our lips’?
2.    How can we deal with those who lie to us?
I think the key to any life question is to memorise what the Bible says: 

1. We must make sure, whatever others do or say, that we speak the truth – for our own sakes. Heed the warnings:
Proverbs 4:23
Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts. Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.

Proverbs 6:16
Seven Things God Hates ] Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family.
Proverbs 12:19
Truth lasts; lies are here today, gone tomorrow.
Proverbs 14:5
A true witness never lies; a false witness makes a business of it.
Proverbs 14:25
Souls are saved by truthful witness and betrayed by the spread of lies.
Proverbs 19:9
The person who tells lies gets caught; the person who spreads rumours is ruined.

2.    Make sure, whatever others do or say, that we speak the truth to win them over:
Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. 1 Peter 2:12 (The Message)

3. Make sure, whatever others do or say, that we do not contribute to a deceptive atmosphere.
As the previous verse says, it's easy to join in and 'indulge' ourselves. 'Sinful desires, which war against your soul' (I Peter 2:11, NIV) are easy to give in to. Exodus 20:16 says: 'No lies about your neighbour'. We may not tell outright lies, but we may pass them on, distort the truth and contribute to rumours and 'whispering in corners'.

So we need to speak the truth for our own sakes, and for others’ good – both individually and corporately.
When we speak straight-forwardly, truthfully and keep away from gossipy discussions – we earn the right to speak THE TRUTH about Jesus into people’s lives.
But that’s another story.