proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.

Harmful, but enticing.

Awaiting a chance to entrap.

You might not agree with me, but I believe one of the ways that Satan works is to take that which is good, and use it to corrupt us, ensnare us and enslave us.

Take consumerism.

Like it or not, we are all consumers. The very fact that we need to purchase even the basic necessities of life makes us consumers. That’s not bad.

But consider our thirst for more. Or our desire to purchase the best. Or have the most. Or to accumulate. Or to spend. Or to buy that which we don’t need.

Or simply look around at your stuff.

Please don’t tell me there’s not something gradual and subtle and harmful about the creep and reach of consumerism.

Realise I’m not just blaming Satan.

I know the human heart’s tendency towards greed and selfishness. I know the reality of human sin.

But Scripture also tells us that Satan is cunning (Genesis 3). So it shouldn’t surprise us if Satan has participated in the onward advance of consumerism.

Or take social media.

In and of itself, it’s not bad. We keep up with friends. Share snippets of news. Participate in each other’s lives.

But it also feeds the ego. How many ‘likes’ has my post got?

Feeds curiosity.

And feeds the spread of ‘fake news’.

Or technology.

Brilliant advances have made life easier in all sorts of ways for all sorts of people.

But has it contributed to our need to be constantly entertained?

Or fed into our desire for everything to be fast and instant? And therefore leaves us impatient when things don’t happen quickly?

This is deep stuff, and my simply musings aren’t going to do it justice. But as writer, Ruth Valerio points out, “What is at stake here is to be aware that these things have the potential to form us in ways that run counter to our focal concerns (i.e. becoming like Jesus)” (p118, Just Living).

I would go further.

Yes, these things have the potential to form us. But they also have the potential to ensnare us.

But in asking the question of what we allow to shape us, Ruth Valerio wants us to consider that more often than not, it’s the values and things of culture that shape us more so than the values and things of God.

And she shares an illustration.

A teacher once showed her pupils a jar filled with large stones. ‘Is it full?’ she asked. She then picked up a handful of small pebbles and poured them into the jar around the big stones. ‘Now is it full?’ she asked. With her students watching she went on to pour in a container of sand, and then filled up the whole jar with water. ‘Finally,’ she asked, ‘is it full?’

The question, when it comes to Christian formation, is what are the large stones that we will put into our lives around which everything else needs to fit?

Our contemporary society teaches us to see the large stones as being god things like a settled job with a secure income, a house, consumer goods, and so on. Those are what we are to get secure in our lives first, and then everything else (church, friendships, time to build relationships, etc) has to fit around those. The big stones have to go in first before everything else.

The biblical narrative of following Christ, however, tells us that the large stones are quite different: they are about pursuing God’s Kingdom of justice and righteousness; picking up our calling to serve the wider creation; and living to see our relationships enhanced in all areas. These are what we are to focus on first, and then trust that God will work out the other things and pour them into the jar of our lives too. (p.116-117, Living Justly)

I’m almost done.

What I love about the way that Valerio concludes her thoughts is this. The way we grow as followers of Jesus…the way we become more Christ-like….yes, is through the Holy Spirit and Christian ‘practices’ such as prayer and bible reading etc, but primarily, it is in the context of Christian community. It is through belonging to, and participating in, a living, breathing community of Christ-followers who are wrestling with this together. That’s why at Neighbourhood we describe ourselves as a growing family of ordinary people who love God and are committed to learning what it means to follow Jesus.

Folks, I love learning what it means to follow Jesus with you…and from you.

I love being challenged by you.

Seeing Christ in you and through you.

Hearing Christ through you.

Growing together with you.

Thanks for journeying together.

Simon Lang