Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekend of Contentment and Philippians 4:10-23

A hot lazy start to the weekend.

Cataloguing garden growth*:

Working the garden: brinjal
Brinjal plant: alive and fruiting.

Working the garden: sunflowers
Sunflowers: alive and flowering.

Some Chinese New Year plant: dead and unidentifiable.

Blueberry - Black Tea - Yoghurt Popsicles
Too sweltering for food -> blueberry-black tea-yoghurt popsicles based loosely on a People's Pops' recipe:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 big bag of T2 orange pekoe with an attitude
2 punnets blueberries
2 limes from far too fruitful backyard lime bush
200g yoghurt

1. Make simple syrup with water and sugar.
2. Soak tea bag in simple syrup.
3. Blend blueberries.
4. Pour tea syrup into blueberry muck.
5. Stir in lime juice and yoghurt.
6. Divide into popsicle moulds and freeze.
Crab Flower Club - Unveiling of Footwear Crab Flower Club - Footwear Unveiled
Unfortunately, a popsicle-fast meant that tummy growls would later accompany Darren Ng's soundscape at Toy Factory/Goh Boon Teck's The Crab Flower Club restaging, an interesting presentation of the insecurities that beset older women and perhaps the ultimately false optimistic certainty of youth.

The "cover" for Concave Scream's Soundtrack for a book CD Concave Scream's Soundtrack for a book Concave Scream's Soundtrack for a book
The heat broke overnight and a rainy afternoon ensconced at Kith Café was perfect for a read-through of Mark Ashton and Phil Moon's Christian Youth Work, fuelled by good coffee and accompanied by Concave Scream's Soundtrack for a book. A fantastically good reminder that insecurities and discontentment haunt all ages.

From Philippians 4:10-23 we get a sense that gospel ministry is like farming or gardening. Unlike the assembly-line process of, say, giving new life to old Enid Blyton books, growing disciples of Christ is a long-term commitment. And still, ministry is far more than farming or gardening because of the great affection ministers of the gospel ought to have for the people whom they serve. Because Paul has experienced the love of God, he loves the Philippians (Philippians 2:12, 4:1) with that same love. He thinks and prays for them every day (Philippians 1:3-4), rejoices at their salvation (Philippians 2:17), longs for them (as does Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25)), and is anxious to hear news of them (Philippians 2:19).

Pop culture through the ages (didn't Dante make his name on this?) will have us know love makes one vulnerable to all manner of hurts brought on mostly by slights, real or imagined, on the part of the beloved. Plethora of insecurities ensues, tears recriminations emotional and psychological trauma to follow.

But we find that Paul, far from being a nail-biting bundle of nerves in that Roman prison/under house arrest, is serenely secure and content. Accompanying the clanging of his chains is not the sound of settling (for whatever can be obtained at present) to the detriment of youthful ideology and the hopes and dreams of yesteryear or the zen silence of non-attachment; it is the solid base note of his dependence on Christ that makes him secure and content.

Paul has learned to be content in all situations (Philippians 4:11), a great picture of a heavenly citizen whose contentment flows from having a heavenly home secured by nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul is a man just like ourselves, a sinner saved only by the grace of God, with a nature distorted by sin and subject to all the pressures of this world: persecution, loneliness, rejection, opposition, weakness, temptation etc. Yet as he faces the trials of gospel partnership, abandonment by those to whom he has preached the gospel, imprisonment and most probably death, he claims he can do all things through Him who strengthens him (Philippians 4:13).

All things? There would be no dramatic prison break, nor magnificent display of power with fireworks to the glory of God at the tapering end of Paul's life. Elsewhere, he even complains of a thorn in his flesh that caused him great suffering that he could not be relieved of. What Paul must mean here is that just as all Christians start their new lives, so he can continue in complete trust in God in every circumstance, whether he has been brought low or abounds, enjoys plenty or faces hunger, is in abundance or in need (Philippians 4:12). He is content because he can trust Jesus to provide him with everything he needs to do the most important job - the task of ministry. In fact, Paul will only be able to do any work at all in Him or through Him who strengthens him.

(A week ago, we were discussing whether being trained in the medical profession might have better equipped us for mission work especially in creative access countries. Perhaps the answer is that God has equipped all of us, regardless of the perceived uselessness of our training or of our very selves, for every good work, in every circumstance. He used the eccentric, tone-deaf, painfully shy, incompetent gospel speaker Eric Nash (aka Bash) to convert a few who would later go on to preach the good news to many many others. Should we be surprised? The last anyone checked, the God we're speaking of created man's mouths, minds, entire beings, as well as the rest of the known (and unknown) world. He will give gifts of talent and circumstance as he chooses but they (our successes and failures, our charismatic or prickly personalities, our jollity or depression, our joys and sorrows) are all given that by them, we will bring glory to God. As John Piper might say, Don't Waste Your Cancer.)

Because of this rock solid security, Paul is, in that way, independent of the rest of the church. He does not bop up and down with the tide. He can and will go on preaching the gospel whether or not he, the ox, is fed.

But he praises and encourages the giving of the Philippians because it increases to their credit (Philippians 4:17) not to Paul's; God does not deal in pyramid schemes. In the present, the Philippians are expressing responsibility for gospel ministry financially and demonstrating with their wallets where their minds and hearts lie: in God, in God's work and in the coming of Christ. Though the money given is given to another human, Paul describes it in first rate OT sacrifice terms as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God (Philippians 4:18).

Strong arm, guilt-inducing tithing tactics are useless for building up the church. The reluctance with which we part with the earthly goods given to us by God should be warning enough of our lack of eternal perspective and deadly short-sightedness.

And as Paul affirms his trust in God to provide for his needs, so he too encourages the Philippian donors to keep trusting in God to meet their needs (Philippians 4:19). The Philippians were far from rich. 2 Corinthians 8 suggests that rather than the amply-supplied dropping their after-tax excess into the donation box, these people were like widows giving their last coppers; they gave out of their poverty. But the promise is that God will supply their needs out of his riches. Don't cling on to those last few possession, keep giving for the gospel because that is all you care for, and God will provide for your needs. This requires trust because they will only keep giving generously if they trust him.

Looking back at all the humans forming the links of the chain to our conversion, we can thank God for the people who nervously answered our scathing questions, who kept up the friendships inspite of not-too-subtle jibes at their lack of intellectual rigour in believing so wholeheartedly in a God, who gave so that we could hear the gospel at that Christmas party or at the talk we went to because we were bored and heard that the food was good.

Because the Christian life is no walk in the park, and because God alone supplies all our needs, let us keep trusting and depending on him in prayer that in our physical need, our good health and bad, our financial abundance or pressure, our fears, our overflowing sin, our lack of courage in proclaiming him, he will enable us to live for heaven, only for his glory, the only reality.

Kith Café
7 Rodyk Street #01-33
Watermark @ Robertson Quay
Tel: 63419407

*no, this has nothing to do with the current trend, after CSA boxes, to urban agriculture, city yard farming and yuppie apiaries.

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