How to get better not bitter!

Vicar’s article from the Bridge Magazine, May 2019

How to get better, not bitter

I was catching up with some old friends at a conference recently, and they started talking about all the great things going in their churches: growing youth and children’s ministries, soup kitchens, Food Banks and so on. All good stuff. And yet for some reason, I struggled to be really happy for them. If truth be told, I was more than a little jealous. Later, as I reflected on the conversations, I found myself wondering, why is it that when you compare yourself with others, you always end up feeling bitter?

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Writing well over a century ago, long before Facebook and Instagram or other forms of social media, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US President, said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Which rather begs the question, why do we compare ourselves with others at all?

Now at one level comparison is helpful. The business world has long had a practice called Benchmarking: a process by which a company can compare itself with other similar companies to identify opportunities for improvement.  At its best, it’s a scientific, data-driven process that can be an incredibly helpful tool for growing an organisation. But done badly, without due consideration to the differing circumstances of the companies, and without access to all the data, it can be really harmful.

And it’s this lack of access to the data that makes comparing ourselves to others so damaging. After all, we might be experts on how we feel on the inside, but if all we have for comparison is how others look on the outside, we’re going to reach some dumb conclusions. As church leader Steve Furtick puts it, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”

Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25 about a rich man who gives each of his servants some money and tells them to put it to work. Later, he assesses what they’ve done, and in a scene, not a million miles removed from Sir Alan Sugar in the Apprentice, one of the candidates is discovered to have done nothing at all with the money and is fired.

But where Jesus’ story differs from the Apprentice, is the liberating way in which the master treats the remaining candidates. Instead of ranking them to find a winner, he rewards each of them. It’s his way of saying that our task in life isn’t to sprint to the finish comparing ourselves with others to see who comes first, second or third. Instead, we’re to run our own race, in our own lane. The goal is not to win, but to make the best use of the gifts God has given us, by becoming the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. As someone once said, “No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you, than you.”

So next time you’re chatting with friends, or you’re jealously watching the highlight reel of their lives on Facebook or Instagram, remind yourself that God hasn’t called you to run their race. Instead, he wants you to focus on running your own. And when you do that, not only do you run your own race better, but it sets you free to enjoy the success of others. It makes you better, not bitter.

The Kingdom of Easter

Published in the Bridge Magazine, April 2019

 

The Kingdom of Easter

So what’s Easter really all about? The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? New beginnings? Flowers, chocolate and Easter bunnies?

To make sense of Easter you have to understand one thing: Jesus’ core message. So if you’ve just picked this magazine up at random, then read on – because if you grasp this, you’ll be well ahead of a lot of churchgoers!

The gospel of Mark sums up Jesus’ core message like this:

The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14).

Jesus’ core message is as simple as that.

So what does this “Kingdom of God” mean? Maybe it’s like a religious frequent flyers club where you build up point for being good and doing religious things and being on church fundraising committees. Now those are all good things, but they aren’t what Jesus meant.

Or maybe the Kingdom of God is about politics: a way for religious leaders to motivate the masses to fight for whatever bit of land needs defending? But that’s not what Jesus had in mind, either.

Instead, think about kingdom like this: remember the days when you used to sit in the back seat of your parents’ car and fight with your brother or sister about “my side” and “your side”? Well, your “kingdom” is the bit of the seat you rule over. And that’s what the Kingdom of God is like: it’s the realm over which God rules: a realm of eternal love, peace and justice.

Now when some people hear that, they imagine Jesus means Heaven, but again that’s not what Jesus meant. The Kingdom of God isn’t about us going from down here on earth, to up there in Heaven. Instead, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God his focus was on bringing up there down here. That’s why he taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” His point is not that we go up to Heaven, it’s that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming down to earth. And it all starts with Jesus. His body and life was the first place people could see God’s will being done on earth, as they would in Heaven.

That’s why he was such a threat to the rulers of his day. It wasn’t “love one another” that troubled them, it was all his talk about Kingdoms. That’s why they killed him. And that’s why God raised him from the dead: because in the Kingdom of God, there is no death. Only life in all its fullness, forever.

And that’s the point of Easter: a forever and a day promise of life in all its fullness, in the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom which is still near to us now.

And to receive it, we have to welcome it’s king, Jesus, by making him the centre of our lives. And when we do that –a little bit of “up there” comes and dwells in us, a deposit guaranteeing us all of God’s Kingdom promises for the future.

So that’s Easter: The Kingdom of God is near – repent and believe the good news.  And it’s as true and accessible today as it was on the first Easter Sunday.

May you have a very Happy Easter, and may a little bit of “up there” come “down here” to dwell with you this Easter time.

Visit www.hopechurchfamily.org/easter to find out about Easter celebrations in the church in your community.

 

In a spirit of full disclosure, I might have pinched an idea or two for this article from a talk given by US Pastor John Ortberg on Easter Sunday 2015.

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