Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How much do you love God?

So Youth Week started today with a full days activity at Craigavon Watersports Centre. It was great craic and the weather stayed dry for a change! Each morning of this week we begin with some worship and a short devotion or thought for today. I led this today and this is what i shared...

How much do you love God? Think about it right now? How much do you love Him? How important is He to you? How high does He sit on your agenda?

It’s a hard question to quantify isn’t it? I mean it’s not like ‘how good are you at maths, or football?’ You can quantify those things much easier. Love is harder to quantify.

I bet if we went round the room and asked everyone what God meant to them we would use words like: Savour; friend; Father; forgiver; healer; EVERYTHING.

BUT how does that work out in our daily lives? How much do we love God in our everyday life and relationships?

I recently heard a quote that helped to quantify my love for God and really challenged me in the process.

Dorothy Day, co-founder in 1933 of the Catholic Worker Movement said this:
"You only love God as much as you love the person you love the least."

I don’t know about you but when I first heard this it really made me stop and think about how much I love people (or fail to love people) as an indicator of how much I love God.

Author Brennan Manning went on a spiritual retreat and he wrote this:

‘One lonely night in the Colorado Rockies, I heard this message [from God]: “Brennan, you bring your full presence and attention to certain members of the community but offer a diminished presence to others. Those who have stature, wealth, and charisma, those you find interesting or charming or pretty or famous command your undivided attention, but people you consider plain or dowdy, those of lesser rank performing menial tasks, the unsung and uncelebrated are not treated with the same regard. This is not a minor matter to me, Brennan. The way you are with others every day, regardless of their status, is the true test of faith.’

Can’t we all relate to this? Why are we like this? I think it’s our INSECURITY. We want to hang out with the ‘cool’ people, the ‘funny’ people, the ‘hot’ people because that makes us look ‘cooler’, ‘funnier’, or ‘hotter’. But what about Jesus? Who did Jesus hang out with? The disciples were pretty average really, they were awkward and they often got it wrong. They fought with each other and they abandoned Jesus when he needed them most. Who else did Jesus hang out with? Tax collectors, Samaritan women, prostitutes, lepers – people with questionable character and often people on the fringes of society.

So my question this morning is this – how many people with questionable character do you know? Do you know many drunks, thief’s, prostitutes or homeless? What about people on the fringes of our culture and society? Gay people? Immigrants? Disabled folk or the elderly?

How much do you really love God?

So how does this fit in with the Bible? Does the Bible agree that we ‘only love God as much as the person we love the least’?

Matthew 5:46-48 (New Living Translation)
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[c] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

This passage challenges us not to measure our love by how much we love the people who love us back. Also let us not forget about the passage of the sheep and goats when Jesus makes it clear that how we treat others is directly linked to how we treat Him.

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

So there is a challenge for us all this morning. Are we going to chase after the adoration and approval of others to find our value, worth and SECURITY. Or, are we actually going to be radical enough to believe God when he says that HE LOVES US, and respond accordingly in the way we treat the rest of the world?

What if it is true that:
"You only love God as much as you love the person you love the least."

Let’s meditate on the following Scripture for a few minutes:

19 We love each other[a] because he loved us first.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister,[b] that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.[c]
~ 1 John 4:19-21

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Having a moment with Foy...

Hello there, a while ago i promised a bit of a blog about the new Foy Vance album. It's called 'Hope' and was released in the UK at the start of July. If you are not familiar with Foy's music then your life is less fulfilled as a result! He is one of those artists whose music will touch you to the depths of your soul with a combination of his emotive, real-life song writing and powerful vocals. Not only that but he is a local Christian guy hailing from Bangor - so go on, buy it!

On my travels this summer i spent a lot of time listening the new album and i think it is fantastic. So i thought i'd just highlight 3 songs that particularly caught me:

1. I Was Made. This seems to be a song about Foy's encounter with God. The song begins with an expression of his lifestyle before he met God - 'i didn't know what i was missing'. Then God finds him and he professes:
i came round to all the truths i found
i threw down all of the chains that bound me
i was made for loving you

He goes on to make reference to Christ's suffering for our sins:
i left you hanging all alone
threw my stench upon your throne
after all that you'd been through

'I was made for loving you' - great truth within a beautiful song.

2. Indiscriminate Act of Kindness. This is probably Foy's most well known song and i have heard it hundreds of times before but as i listened to it on a bus one day on my travels, there was a particular line that just grabbed me and challenged me deeply. The song is about a one man's kindness in a random encounter with a down and out drug addicted woman. The line that got me is when the woman asks:
how is it you can see past me as i am?

Surely as Christians we are called to see past people as they are but the sad reality is that many don't. Ive worked with lots of young people over the last few years and when i ask them what they think of church people, more often than not the answer will be 'they don't like us' or 'they think they are better than us'. Just a few weeks ago i was chatting with some of the local young people and this question arose and one guy said something that really struck and chord with me:
'they [meaning church people] see us drinking [alcohol] and just think we are bad people.'

How sad, that often Christians are not defined and known for their ability to accept and 'see past people as they are'.

3. Two Shades of Hope. Hope is a word that is woven throughout this album - hence the title i guess. 'Gabriel & the Vagabond' speaks of the 'gentle whisper of hope' that leads to life transformation - again referencing a God encounter. 'Hope, Peace & Love' is a simple song that has echoes of 1 Corinthians 13. 'Two Shades of Hope' however attempts to portray the harsher side of hope. He opens by explaining the two shades: 'the enlightening kind', covered in the above songs, and; the other which he likens to a 'hang man's rope'. He goes on to share some real life stories including a loveless broken relationship and a lost battle with cancer where on each occasion 'it was hope that dealt the hardest blows'. His conclusion? Despite the pain and despair that comes within relationships, he still has the realisation that:
'i cannot help myself but hope.'

A moving song that i'm sure we can all relate to in some degree.

I can't endorse the album to you enough - you will not be dissapointed! On top of that he has a few gigs coming up at the end of the month at the Black Box that would be worth checking out. Foy Vance has yet to attract mass attention which means it is still possible to see him in small intimate venues at little cost (£10) but this is could change very soon, so take the opportunity while you can!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's your move...

So i got back on Saturday from SU camp and i was completely exhausted! Maybe that's a good indicator of how good the camp was! It was one of the best weeks of residential youth work i have ever been involved with. There were 22 trainee leaders (aged 16-18) at camp and our role for the first 4 days was to train them so they could lead the camp when the p7's arrived. This group were probably the best group of young leaders i have ever worked with. They were very teachable, committed, passionate about God and soooo funny. That's a recipe for a great week in my book!

The most exciting thing about the week for me was really getting to know these guys and girls and then sitting back and watching them lead the P7's. It was amazing to see them really take on responsibility and do things they never thought they could have done. For most of them, this was their first experience of leadership - giving talks, leading games, teaching memory verses etc. There were a lot of fears and nerves but this taught them to rely on God more than ever, and He was definitely FAITHFUL! At the end of the week we had a team de-brief and it was obvious that this week had been extremely significant for each of them.

It was a reminder to me of how much that age group thrive and grow on responsibility, especially when they have the correct support, encouragement and training.