Category Archives: Spiritual Discipline

The right and wrong cause of conflict

Looking back over the last few weeks we have touched on some big themes – some of which we like to talk about, others we try to avoid. I’ll let you decide which is which!

I was struck when reading Book 15 of the City of God this week that there are really insightful lessons for us on a key topic that perhaps we don’t like talking about but is an inevitable part of being human – conflict.

In this section Augustine traces the early days of the earthly and heavenly cities, right back to their founding fathers Cain and Seth. He sees the conflict between Cain and Abel as a picture or symbol of the conflict that will always exist between the two cities.

As we trace Cain’s descendants they are the first to establish a physical city on earth. He compares this to how Rome was founded by two brothers, one of whom killed the other. Augustine contrasts the evil jealousy of both sets of brothers with the goodness experienced in the heavenly city:

Cain was the diabolical envy that the wicked feel for the good simply because they are good, while they themselves are evil. A man’s possession of goodness is in no way diminished by the arrival, or the continuance, of a sharer in it; indeed, goodness is a possession enjoyed more widely by the united affection of partners in that possession in proportion to the harmony that exists among them.

XV.5

He goes on to explain that the members of the earthly city “fight among themselves; and likewise the wicked fight against the good and the good against the wicked. But the good, if they have reached perfect goodness, cannot fight against themselves”.

Thus we see that there will always be conflict between the citizens of the two cities as well as conflict within the earthly city as it fights itself. Moreover, we know that no citizen of the heavenly city has reached perfection so “there may be fighting among them inasmuch as any good man may fight against another as a result of that part of him which makes him also fight against himself”. He goes on to say

Spiritual desire can fight against the carnal desire of another person, or carnal desire against another’s spiritual desire, just as the good and wicked fight against one another. Or even the carnal desires of two good men may fight.

XV.5

There is much more in Book 15 worth exploring, including a fascinating explanation of the long length of life before the flood, incest and giants. But that is for another day! The jewel that I would hold up before us is this brief dive into the types of conflict, summarised as:

  • Earthly city infighting
  • Earthly and heavenly city fighting each other
  • Individuals within heavenly city fight with themselves against their own sinful nature
  • Spiritual desire of one person fights against carnal desire of another (within the heavenly city)
  • Carnal desires of two good men fight against each other

While the first and the last in the list are ultimately ungodly conflict, the other three causes could have a godly purpose and motivation. Indeed, there can be no progress towards perfection without conflict – either in the individual or the church. There are remnants of the sinful (carnal) nature in all of us, even the most godly.

What this tells me is that in vain do we seek a life free of conflict, whatever city we belong to and whatever our need for peace and calm. We should expect conflict, welcome it (to some extent), and learn from it in order to grow in godliness and spiritual maturity.

Choosing a life void of conflict, with comfort or any other object as our goal, is choosing a life of spiritual stagnation. The key question I leave this section of the book with is this…will I live determined to be driven and controlled only and ever by my spiritual desires throughout any and all conflict I experience? Whilst I naturally avoid conflict, if when it comes, I can keep this as my spiritual north, then the conflict will be redeeming and healing whenever it arrives and wherever it leads.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Essential reading for the Christian at work

A review of Every Good Endeavour by Tim Keller

It is a rare jewel of a book that effortlessly articulates and unpacks the complex struggles and dilemmas that those of us seeking to serve God in the workplace wrestle with, yet this book cracks the code of our unspoken questioning.

If you have ever wondered if your work is important to God; if God has a greater purpose in putting you in an organisation; or if your work can be meaningful in the midst of the mundane then read on.

Some of us are struggling just to survive in our jobs let alone thrive. How can I do what I do every day in a way that is more connected to God’s purpose of extending His kingdom? Throughout the book Keller explains the wrong thinking that has shaped our assumptions – like why society values certain types of roles over others and why work is so tough, even when you’re in the right role.

He meticulously unpicks our sloppy thinking around our subconscious spiritual hierarchy, and society’s beloved idols that unwittingly shape our thinking.

I found it a book of immense helpfulness in aligning my own job to how I can then serve others, serve society, model competence and witness to Christ – a formidable calling!

If you have all that sorted then feel free to skip this book, for the rest of us it is Induction Course 101 in essential frontline living – every Christian entering the workplace should digest its rich teaching before picking up your new lanyard and photo ID.

This series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference coming to in September.

Why today is my last day on Facebook

I posted this on Facebook back in August just before I left, it’s been over 3 months since coming off FB and I can honestly tell you I haven’t missed it once. I know there are lots of people who really enjoy using it to keep in touch with friends and family, but I would challenge you to honestly ask yourself if the benefits really outweigh the negatives. I’m not saying anyone else should leave it, but if you want to know why I did, read on…

 

Dear FB friends, today will be my last day on Facebook, for three main reasons:

1. The Scottish referendum has taught me what it’s like to be captive to other people’s enthusiasm. Although I post on a variety of topics, I write on things important to me, especially my faith. I have never been criticised for this (or unfriended as far as I know) but I have a much better appreciation for what it feels like to be on the receiving end of political or religious proselytising. I will still write because I want to contribute something to the discussion, but will not automatically upload these to FB.

2. It encourages insecurity, jealousy and envy – have people liked my post? Why did so and so not like it? Why do they get so many likes? Why did they post that? I wish I was doing that…I wish, I wish, I wish, why, why, why. Not healthy!!

3. The gap between reality and perception – whether intentionally or unintentionally we can easily portray a digital image of ourselves that distorts our real life and personality. What is endearing face to face can become annoying digitally. I don’t want this filter over my life – I want to decide on what I see and hear, not on an edited selection of things that other people want me to read. I also don’t want to inadvertently portray an image of myself inconsistent with the real me.

For me the positives don’t out way the negatives – don’t get me wrong there are some great aspects of FB – ease of keeping in touch with a wide circle of friends, some good articles, etc. But would my life be any less richer, fuller or blessed if I didn’t have these things? And the dependence that it breeds is like a peer pressure, approval seeking, social conforming addiction. I want to be free from that.

Follow your own path, not the one others digitise it for you. No Facebook, know peace.

You better “Like” this today, because ifacebook-freet will be gone after that…

2 Peter 2.19: “They promise that these men will be free. But they themselves are chained to sin. For a man is chained to anything that has power over him.”

Lessons in Spiritual Discipline from the Commonwealth Games

I have been doing the kids work at church over August and tied it in with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to use physical discipline to teach the kids about spiritual discipline. I wrote this to explain the journey we have been on for the rest of the church family and my daughter read it out:

“I would like to tell you about what we Mail Attachment have been doing in Sunday School, or as we call it BCB – Blairgowrie Church Bunch. Over the last few weeks we have been looking at the Commonwealth games and what it takes to succeed as an athlete. We started by thinking about Eric Liddell, the Christian sprinter who a gold medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics. We watched a clip of Chariots of Fire where he speaks about the running the race of life with God.

We discussed what you need to do to be a good athlete – eat right, drink well, exercise, sleep and warm up. We then thought about what we need to do to be spiritually strong – listen to God, speak to him, go to church, help other people. We compared physical disciple to spiritual disciple and worked on The Tree of Discipline.

We thought that praying was like eating – because it is vital to keep us strong and healthy. We wrote prayers on wrapping paper and wrapped them round a chocolate bar. We thought about the verse, “His delight is in the law of The Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night, he shall be like a tree planted by springs of water.”

Then we all took a turn to be blindfolded and taste different drinks – we had to say which we liked the best and which we recognised. We thought that drinking was like bible reading because it refreshes us and satisfies our thirst for God. The verse we thought about was “taste and see that The Lord is good.”

We also thought about the importance of silence and solitude and compared it to the importance of sleep for athletes. We played sleeping lions and we so good we all came first. We thought about the verse in Luke 5.14 when Jesus “went out often to desolate place to pray”.

We thought about how adrenaline helps athletes get extra help to go faster for longer or run away. We compared it to the. Holy Spirit that makes the bible and prayer come alive. We thought about what happens when you add the Holy Spirit to a Christian and compared it to adding Mentos to Diet Coke. We sneaked outside to do our experiment and made the coke explode like a volcano! Our verse was Jesus’ conversation in John 4 when he says: “rivers of living water will flow from within them”.

Thank you for your attention and please ask us about what we have been learning. Thank you for praying for us, and for making us feel part of your family.”