Saturday, June 2, 2007
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
Bless the Lord, all his angels, creatures of might who do his bidding. Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers who serve his will. Bless the Lord, all created things, in every place where he has dominion. Bless the Lord, my soul.
And God gave Solomon depth of wisdom and insight, and understanding as wide as the sand on the sea-shore, so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed that of all the men of the east and of all Egypt.
The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered. He lived in the house of his Egyptian master, who saw that the Lord was with him and was giving him success in all that he undertook.
But the Almighty we cannot find; his power is beyond our ken, and his righteousness not slow to do justice. Therefore mortal men pay him reverence, and all who are wise look to him.
O Lord our sovereign, how glorious is thy name in all the earth!
O Lord, who savest man and beast, how precious is thy unfailing love!
You are, I know, eager for gifts of the Spirit; then aspire above all to excel in those which build up the church.
And now I will show you the best way of all. I may speak in tongues of men or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
(Psalm 103: 20-23; 1 Kings 4: 29-30; Genesis 39: 2-3; Job 37: 23-24; Psalm 8: 1; Psalm 36: 7; 1 Corinthians 14: 12; 1 Corinthians 12: 31b - 13:1 -- all NEB)
Excellence, in the biblical sense, is possible. It is not to be confused with the worldly notion of 'success', which can so easily and uncritically be adopted by Christians, both individually and corporately.
It is a perversion of the gospel to interpret this excellence in terms of the status symbols of worldly success, which include in our culture such things as wealth, positions of responsibility and status (induding in the church) size (of buildings, cars etc.), popularity numbers within the groups we lead, and so on. Rather, the gospel stands against the so-called wisdom which decrees that 'life' is to be found in achieving a perceived elevation in power. The gospel offers fulfilment and joy in the conscious reversal of the values of the world by calling us to engage in the gracious handing over of power and the symbols of power.
The call of God is for us to climb the mountain of true excellence with him. This is the path of self-denial which is saturated in his love, and ours. How different is this call! We are not called to a competition based on frantic ego-activity whereby 'success' is measured in terms of self-fulfilment, no matter who else is hurt in the en deavour. We are called to embrace the 'higher way' of love.
This call of God is also to be embraced by his people corporately. It is hardly the intention of God that we should adopt the destructive strategies of the world in determining how we relate to other groups of Christian people. Our group -- congregation, assembly, denomination -- has no mandate to engage in self-promotion, or to gloat over the difficulties experienced by other groups of Christians, or to have glib feelings of Pharisaic selfrighteousness about doctrine or practice. How can a Christian group ever think it has reached the top of the pile, when 'the pile' is steeped in humility? If the Kingdom of God is the sphere of loving service, of delighting in preferring others above one's own self or group, what place is there for feelings of superiority, or for the practice of undermining others who are God's people?
We are the people of the rainbow, the children of promise. We live in the tension of the 'not yet'. We have not arrived. Our dream takes our acting, our loving, our praying and our witnessing beyond the tinsel of this present time into the reality of God's future. We dream of a new heaven and of a new earth, and we devote ourselves without reserve to that dream.
If I had my life to live over again, I'd try to make more mistakes next time... I would be crazier, I would be less hygienic. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers and watch more sunsets...
Success is a shining city, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We dream of it as children, we strive for it through our adult lives, and we suffer melancholy in old age if we have not reached it.
Success is the place of happiness. And the anxieties we suffer at the thought 'of not arriving there give us ulcers, heart attacks and nervous disorders. If our reach exceeds our grasp, and we fail to achieve what we want, life seems meaningless and we feel emotionally dead.
Anthony Campolo, The Success Fantasy
Success focusses its attention on the external -- becoming the taskmaster for the insatiable appetites of the conspicuous consumer.
Excellence beams its spotlight on the internal spirit, becoming the quiet, but persuasive, conscience of the conscientious who yearn for integrity.
Success engenders fantasy and a compulsive groping for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Excellence brings us to reality, and a deep gratitude for the affirming promise of the rainbow.
Success encourages expedience and compromise, which prompt us to treat people as means to our ends.
Excellence cultivates principles and consistency, which ensure that we will treat all persons as intrinsically valuable ends -- the apex of our heavenly Father's creation... Success pales in the brilliance of excellence.
Jon Johnston, Christian Excellence- An Alternative to Success
Success exposes us to the pressure of people and thus tempts us to hold onto his gains by means of fleshly methods and practices, and to let ourselves be ruled wholly by the dictatorial demands of incessant expansion.
Success can go to our heads... unless we remember that it is God who accomplished the work, that he can continue to do so without our help whenever he wants to cut us out.
The highest offices of State and Church resemble a pyramid whose top is accessible to only two sorts of animals -- eagles and reptiles.
The famous conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked, 'What is the most difficult instrument to play?' Without hesitation he replied, 'Second fiddle.' Then he explained, 'I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that's a problem. And yet if no-one plays second, we have no harmony.'
Charles Swindoll, Improving Your Serve
I will seek elegance rather than luxury, refinement rather than fashion. I will seek to be worthy more than respectable, wealthy and not rich. I will study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly. I will listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with an open heart. I will bear all things cheerfully, do all things bravely await occasions and hurry never. In a word I will let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common.
William Ellery Channing, 'My Symphony'
Lord, I find it difficult to accept that you accept me without reserve in Christ, and that you delight to embrace me as a father welcomes his prodigal child. Help me to experience that acceptance deep within, and to relish your presence. Deliver me from thinking that I have to prove myself, whether to you, or to others, or to myself.
Grant me an openness of spirit so that I can be freed of the shackles of self-expectation and take whatever risks you desire for me today.
I confess that self-promotion is a sin which clings so closely, and I claim your forgiveness and the gift of your self-giving Spirit.
Be pleased to renew us with a fresh compassion for others in need, and a new desire and ability to share our wealth, power and status symbols. Hear my cry for a deeper love for you and for my neighbour.
Lord, enable us to show a deeply generous attitude to all we meet, serve, love and listen to, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion) chapter 49