Tuesday, 31 March 2015

1 Peter 2:11 - 17

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it

Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul or surrender to those desires that fight against you. 

Always let others see you behaving properly, even though they may still accuse you of doing wrong. 
Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then on the day of judgment, they will honor God by telling the good things they saw you do and be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens: he wants you to obey all human authorities. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. 

It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society: you will silence stupid and ignorant people by doing right.. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. You are free, but still you are God’s servants, and you must not use your freedom as an excuse for doing wrong.

Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Respect everyone and show special love for God’s people. Love your spiritual family.

Revere God. Respect the government.

(The Message and CEV combined for emphasis and clarity.)

As I read the Epistles, I am again and again reminded of all my mistakes and how very far short I fall of God's standards. I feel as if I am continually striving to improve, to reach a standard of 'perfection' that seems absolutely unattainable.

Far from making progress, I seem to slip further and further back. 
My sinful responses to awkward situations increase.
I become less generous and forgiving.
I behave more and more badly.

BUT Paul encourages me:
"But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do.  What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me.

So with my mind I serve the Law of God, although my selfish desires make me serve the law of sin.

And so does Alan Redpath:
"When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible man, and he crushes him."[...
"The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime."
"The Christian life doesn't get easier as one gets older."

But I don't beat myself up. I realise that these exhortations and admonitions are written in the Bible because others struggled as I do. They were written because they were needed. 

Life hasn't changed. 

Wise Peter, his wisdom gained through weakness and betrayal, through faithfulness and love, through suffering and sorrow...

May I have the courage to keep on deciding and deciding and deciding with my mind to serve God. 

To decide with my mind to live an exemplary life.

And, when my selfish desires try to take over, to remind myself that I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

And remind myself of all those who have done that and are persecuted. I determine, again, to know Christ in the power of His suffering.

However small that looks in my life.

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7 - 11

The Cornerstone

And so I seek Jesus, for he is - he HAS to be - the foundation of my life. The cornerstone.

Christ alone, cornerstone,
weak made strong in the Saviour's love,Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all

My hope is built on nothing lessThan Jesus blood and righteousnessI dare not trust the sweetest frameBut wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstoneWeak made strong; in the Saviour's loveThrough the storm, He is LordLord of all

When Darkness seems to hide His faceI rest on His unchanging graceIn every high and stormy galeMy anchor holds within the veilMy anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstoneWeak made strong; in the Saviour's loveThrough the storm, He is LordLord of all

When He shall come with trumpet sound,Oh, may I then in Him be found;Dressed in His righteousness alone,Faultless stand before the throne.                      Hillsong, 2012

Peter reminds that Jesus is precious to me, but not others.

"To you who trust him, he’s a Stone to be proud of, but to those who refuse to trust him,

'The stone the workmen threw out
is now the chief foundation stone.

For the untrusting it’s

'. . . a stone to trip over,
a boulder blocking the way.'

They trip and fall because they refuse to obey, just as predicted."

But i do not need to fear those who oppose the Good News:
Matthew Henry says, about Isaiah 8:14 which Peter quotes here: "The believing fear of God preserves against the disquieting fear of man."

The Lord All-Powerful
will destroy the power of death
and wipe away all tears.
No longer will his people
be insulted everywhere.
The Lord has spoken!

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. He is my support, everything on which my life is based:

"But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done. The Scriptures say,

Once you were nobody.
Now you are God’s people.
At one time no one
had pity on you.
Now God has treated you
with kindness."

We ARE God's people, we who believe.
Me too. Even me.

Once I was nobody.
Now I am God's chosen.
God has treated - and treats me - with great kindness.

How can I do any less towards others?

Save me, God, from my sin and selfishness!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Becoming clean(er)

1 Peter 2:1
"Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
Stop being hateful! Quit trying to fool people, and start being sincere. Don’t be jealous or say cruel things about others.
So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk."

Oh, I wish. I wish I COULD get completely rid of all of these. And as I struggle to become who I really am, I beloved daughter of God, I grieve over these faults.
I manage, usually, not to act on my feelings. 

But sometimes they get the better of me.

And I am not alone. I read, many times, of others who struggle like this as well.

I gain wisdom. And as Peter says, in the Message, 'clean house', I am reminded of a story which both Matthew and Luke recount: " “When a corrupting spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return, it finds the person swept and dusted, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits dirtier than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”

So, as I do make a clean sweep, just for a moment, of malice etc etc, I am reminded of the NEED, the ABSOLUTE ;NECESSITY, of living with the Holy Spirit. Making sure that I fill my 'clean spaces' with Him: HIS thoughts, HIS attitudes, HIS intentions.  I cannot eliminate my feelings - but I can stop them taking over. And I can do this by cultivating an attitude of generosity, replacing negative feelings with positive words, criticism with compliments, unkindness with kindness...

'taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ'.

"You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God. Be like newborn babies who are thirsty for the pure spiritual milk that will help you grow and be saved. You have already found out how good the Lord really is."

Seek Jesus: "Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God."

Present myself to Jesus. Only be staying close in his presence do I have a prayer of managing.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Inspiration for living life loving

Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. (You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart.) 

Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said,

The old life is a grass life,
its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;
Grass dries up, flowers droop,
God’s Word goes on and on forever.

This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.

God's Word.

Not just words from God on a page in the Bible, but God's Word. 
The Word that was made flesh. Jesus. 
The Word which was there at the beginning, before Creation.
The Word who promised that He would be with us always and for ever.
The Word who promised to send us another to help and encourage us - His spirit.

I have new life. I can leave everything that belongs to the old life behind - not just when I die, but now.

I can leave my sinful desires out of my life if I choose to love others as if my life depends on it. 

I can be free from being a slave to my sin. I do not have to give in to temptation. 


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Live rightly - for the best Reason

1 Peter 1:17, 21: "You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Live out your time here as (a) foreigner(s) with reverent fear.

I am a foreigner in my workplace, my community, my 'frontline' as Mark Greene (author of Fruitfulness on the Frontline) would put it.

...Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God."

A deep consciousness of God. As Matthew Henry says, "the Word of God been planted in my heart by the Holy Ghost. is a means of spiritual life, stirring up to our duty, working a total change in the dispositions and affections of the soul, till it brings to eternal life."

I feel this. Not often, but just now, as I struggle with angry thoughts and wishes for revenge. I feel my thoughts in an uncomfortable struggle inside me.

Almost like a feeling of indigestion, where the body struggles to digest unpalatable foods, I feel my ungodly responses trying to rise to the surface and spill out of my mouth. I feel the struggle and live in grateful amazement that my sin is not winning my soul. It is NOT turned into action.

I live with huge tension, constantly trying to turn every thought into obedience to Christ, I am discovering this truth: "Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored." Romans 8:5-6

And so 1 Peter 1:21 says: "It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God...Through him (Christ) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God."

My faith and hope are in God. That 0 and WHO -  is what enables me to get through times of trials.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Living generously

I read Peter's call to holiness, to right living, to a generous life: "So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. (Put all your hope in how kind God will be to you when Jesus Christ appears.)Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. 
As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

And I have just written of living generously, and the cost to my self will, the need to kill my selfish desires:

Living generously
is not about giving out of my riches
but my need.

I forgive my enemy
the friend who has betrayed
the colleague who has put me down

open-handedly giving away
my need to win the argument
my desire for love and rognition
my wish for revenge.

  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Living generously
is not about benevolent feelings
but selfless actions.

I bless my enemy
do good to the friend who has betrayed
speak well of the colleague who has put me down.

grudgingly putting away
a desire to wound
yearning for a nasty response
craving harm.

  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Living generously
shows me how far short I fall
of perfection.

And how can I do this? Because I have received the gift of life that is Jesus. Because he has saved me from condemnation  because he loves me. Because I can be joyous and endure because of him.Because.

set my mind on things above.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Keep on keeping on

Eternity. The prospect of life for ever with Jesus. When I think of it, REALLY think of it, imagining life where there is no pain or heartbreak, no sorrow or tears, no dull ache of emptiness and grief...yes, I know this to be true: 

"I know how great this makes you feel, 
even though you have to put up 
with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. 

... genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory."

And what IS my faith? 

My faith is in believing that Jesus died because of MY ugliness and sin: I cannot try to beautify it, ignore or hide it.

My faith is in believing that if I follow Jesus' example, I will try my best to live a life of self-sacrifice and care for others - recognising that I cannot achieve 'goodness' or 'greatness' in my own efforts. I can only do what little I can, steeped in imperfection and the possibility of mistakes, and offer it to Jesus to use.

(A bit like grubby uncooked pastry which 4 year old me offered to my grandmother. I remember my puzzlement that she didn't seem to want it...)

Because: "You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation."

Keep on believing.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Living for eternity

1 Peter 1: 3 - 5 What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

And so I can rest. And smile at the future. God has it.

For, as Angela says over at Love God Greatly:
"This is the reality for those who are found in Christ. Here Peter writes a letter of hope to a people, then and now, who are suffering, hurting… who are needing to be reminded that there is this amazing inheritance waiting for them when they get to heaven. An inheritance beyond anything they can ever imagine. A place with no more pain, sadness or heartbreak. A place were we are finally complete, whole… and without sin.
The place our hearts and minds have been aching for since we drew our first breath. Home. Our real home. 
...Like Peter states at the very beginning of Chapter One, we are strangers in the world.
This is not our home. So let’s start living with this truth in mind.

Let’s stop trying to make heaven here on earth.

Let’s stop trying to “save” for the future, and instead pour our lives into NOW.

Jesus is coming back you all, and with the passing of each day His arrival is getting closer and closer. Let’s spend our days wisely, investing in what will last for eternity…"

Spend my days wisely. The second time in as many days I have been reminded of this. Reminded of Andy Stanley's advice: "In the light of my previous experiences, my present circumstances and my future hopes and dreams: what is the wise thing to do?"

The wise thing is to dress myself with compassion, seeing others through Jesus' eyes. Treating others as I want to be treated. Remembering that this earth is not my home and what matters here is only what is of eternal significance.

"Only one life, will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Getting dressed

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armor. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.

In the face of opposition and misunderstanding, of anger and attack, I get up. I get ready to face the world. I remember who and where I am.

Romans 13 tells me that I can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. I should get out of bed and get dressed, not loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. I need to dress myself in Christ, and be up and about!

Yes, but how?

I clothe myself.

I search in the wardrobe of my soul
for a shirt of compassion.

Its neck is high, as close to my 
wanting-to-be-angry mouth
as it can get.
When I open my lips to retort
the collar tickles my chin
reminding me to speak in tolerance
and mercy.

I put my arms
into sleeves of kindness,
the cuffs
drooping down over my hands,
encouraging me to care.

Around my neck
I hang the heavy necklace of humility
weighing down my pride and arrogance.

I throw a shawl of gentleness
around my shoulders
hoping to keep it on
even when the atmosphere is hot.

I carry a bag of patience
wishing to dole some out to others, too.

And...forgiveness. Forgiveness 
lives in a tiny purse.

But love. 
Love is more important than anything else.
Love is what ties everything completely together.
Love is a coat, covering all.
Love is a basic, all-purpose garment.

May I never be without it.

But life is more than this. More than just clothes. I wear uniform. I am like a soldier in the Lord's army. I am to "Let the truth be like a belt around (my) waist, and let God’s justice protect (me) like armour. (My) desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on (my)feet. Let (my) faith be like a shield, and (I) will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit."

What is the war? The war is living a God-honouring life in a day-to-day difficult world. The war is responding with grace when I want to respond with ghastliness. The war is unwinnable if I do not put the uniform and armour on.

And so:

Truth is the belt which holds my trousers up, keeps me together. 
The truth that God loves me - and my protagonist - so much that Jesus died because of what I have done.

God's justice is a thick winter coat which protects me from the elements.
I am safe and protected from attack, because God is just and will defend me.

A willingness to speak about God's good news for us is the shoes on my feet, taking me places I want to go, taking me places I don't want to go...
When I accept this gift of new shoes in a new life, I accept the responsibility which comes with wearing them. A responsibility to use words and actions to tell about what God has done.

Faith is an umbrella which protects me from the rain of evil.
Sometimes, I just have to shelter beneath this, I know that God loves me, no matter what happens.

The knowledge that God has saved me - ME! - is a warm woolly hat.
And I pray that this knowledge remains uppermost in my mind, regardless of what I - or others - do.

And spirit-filled messages in my mind and in my mouth fight evil.
So, when I know I am loved and saved and redeemed by grace, I can remain open to God speaking into my heart and mind and share what He gives me with others.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


I've had quite a week - partly of my own making. A large part, I think. I've had - am having - the sort of week when I echo the psalmist, repeatedly, "...sin is always before me".

Or, as the Message puts it, "I know how bad I've been; my sins are staring me down."

Staring me down. Shaming me. Filling me with disappointment.

Because here's the thing, the dichotomy: I am a new creation in Christ, I am redeemed, I am bought with a price, I am loved, I am forgiven...and I am sinful. (No point in detailing exactly how - I'm trying not to wallow in the negatives.)

Justified but not yet sanctified.
Considered perfect and blameless - in God's sight, but not yet actually so.

And, as I read the Bible, and try to pray and follow Jesus' teachings and wisdom, I find myself ever falling short of the standard I aim for.


Not possible.

I need to remember that 'a miss is as good as a mile' - in other words, it doesn't matter how much I strive or how close to 'perfection' I get, I STILL DON'T MAKE IT.

Frustrated? Yes. Disappointed with myself? Definitely. Feel like a failure as a Christian? Tick. Have a sense of shame for 'letting God down'? Tick. Tick. Tick.

And as I pondered the relational mess I was in, partly from my own attitudes, partly from the accusations of others, I realised how ridiculous my thoughts and feelings were.

Frustrated - because I wasn't as good and perfect as I hoped to be. Ridiculous. "Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God."

Disappointed? Well, what else do I expect? I am not even near perfect and to think otherwise is self-delusion.

Feeling like a failure? Of course, that is my natural state. All of us - including me -have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. "...we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us."

'Letting God down'?  Am I nuts? Was I ever holding him up? Does he need his reputation defending?
As the Christian rhyme artist, Propaganda, says, quoting Charles Spurgeon: "Trying to prove GOD exists is like defending a lion only He don't need the help. Just unlock the cage."

And so I recognise that I am hugely imperfect but I AM trying my best. And when the attack and difficulties come, I can step back and look more easily at what is happening without seeing it all through the lens of false guilt.

Freeing. Liberating. #gainedperspective

Because though 'my sin is always before me', Jesus has it covered, Literally and liberally, with his huge grace.

#calm #peace #Godlovesme  #Godlovesmyenemiestoo.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Little things?

Three tiny nudges today, within a few minutes of each other, which I hope to remember:

"Without a vision, the people perish." A verse from Proverbs 29 (v18) which refers to the keeping of the laws, where God blesses everyone who obeys the law and society prospers.

And, perhaps, also individually: "If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed."

And so, not wanting to lack vision, I pray for one.

Meanwhile, God reminds me of one of the ways in which to gain His vision.

Through a seminar on suffering and the experience of John Donne when he was locked in isolation while suffering from the plague, I am reminded of the need to dig deep into myself, letting God reveal insights into who I am.

Nearly five hundred years later, a young girl confesses that she avoids isolation, avoids the desert place, avoids being alone with God for fear of plunging into the depths of her own soul.

And 24-7 prayer reminds me of how wonderful it IS to be in prayer, to be in God's presence, to trust that he will reveal truth to me in and from the depth of my soul.

I am, after all, created in God's own image. Created to be in relationship, in conversation of speaking and listening; created to be whole.

Created and blessed to share His vision.
And so, not wanting to lack vision, I pray for one. Alone with God and the depths of my soul.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

In the eye of the storm

I've been closely following the monster super cyclone Pam, as it has wreaked more havoc and destruction in Vanuatu than any of us should have to bear.

The devastation numbs the heart and mind.

As I looked closely at the infra red satellite imagery, as Pam bore inexorably down on the tiny island nation, I noticed the eye of calm in the middle. Where wind barely was. And yet on its edges was the worst of the storm - winds of up to 200mph. Unimaginable.

And so is life. I spent the morning in a seminar examining 'Growing With God in Difficult Times'. Graham Archer from CPAS led us to examine our responses to different life crises.

I felt as if I was in the eye of the storm. Because, as I considered how, at times, I feel unbearably crushed, I took heart from the apostle Paul's own experiences which were, in fact, far worse than mine: "My friends, I want you to know what a hard time we had in Asia. Our sufferings were so horrible and so unbearable that death seemed certain. 9 In fact, we felt sure that we were going to die. But this made us stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting God, who raises the dead to life." 2 Corinthians 1:8 - 9

We listened. We talked. We considered the many, many survival mechanism we humans use to respond to a crisis.

We pray; search the Bible for wisdom and comfort; read other Christians' wisdom in books and blogs;
We face up to the implications, or we 'park' the problem until we can deal with it;
We rationalise, thinking it through;
We look back at past difficulties, looking at how God has carried us through

And so we seek the prayers of others; try to see the problem as a growth or ministry opportunity; get on with life, hiding in busyness; and we fight worry and anxiety, fear and stress.

And I learnt. I learnt of the crisis of pain and fear, physical and emotional. And how important, in it, it is to give myself

  • time
  • information
  • the opportunity to talk.
And when the crisis comes, it brings with it the crisis of meaning, of identity. If I am ill/unemployed/bereaved...then who am I? Do I matter any more? Am I worth the same amount as when I can write a list of my achievements and 'possessions' - even relationships?
  • then the only solution is in the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, reading, worship...
The crisis of death invites me to keep in perspective who I am: remembering that we pray that the 'body of Christ will keep us in eternal life'. ETERNAL life.

And then there is the crisis of life. The criosis of living NOW, of keeping close to God, in difficulties, and in calm. 

Because life is cyclonic. We find ourselves on the edge of the storm where there is barely a rustle of wind to disturb our peace; or caught up in the maelstrom, as difficulties seem to grow, like the winds, ever stronger; or even in an unnatural calm and peace when right in the middle of it. But everywhere, throughout the storm, GOD IS THERE.

We need no satellite image to remind us.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Day I Met Jesus, by Mary de Muth and Frank Viola: a book review

I was blessed with a preview copy of The Day I Met Jesus and devoured it in almost one sitting. (I'm now rereading it more slowly, picking up on other thoughts and studying different aspects of the stories.)

It has an intriguing format: Mary de Muth writes the stories of five different women who encountered Jesus, with each story being followed by a thoughtful, relevant commentary by Frank Viola.

The five women are the woman caught in adultery; a prostitute who dared express her love for Jesus; the Samaritan woman at the well, who had experienced multiple divorces, longing to find meaning and purpose in life; the outcast woman who had chronic bleeding; the woman who sat at Jesus' feet, taking on the role of a male disciple.

Mary de Muth brings these women to life, giving us insight into where these women were coming from, Who has not been paralysed, at times, by a sense of loneliness, emptiness and desperation, as the woman caught in adultery would have felt as she faced certain death? We can all identify with these feelings of desolation, when there seems no way out and sin beckons. We shudder as we read, recognising that, in a myriad of different ways, we too could allow ourselves to be tempted into sin. Mary de Muth clothes these simple accounts with fascinating detail, taking the reader back to life in first century in Jerusalem.

Frank Viola then, after each story, opens it up with Biblical interpretation.He gives a modern and relevant commentary on the passage, inviting us to respond. We are encouraged and affirmed as he helps us apply these familiar stories to our own lives.

At the end of the book - 'Talking It Over' - there are discussion questions for each chapter which can be used in a  group setting; and footnotes for each chapter, too.

This book reminds me of another favourite, 'Chasing Francis' by Ian Morgan Cron. The combination of Biblical narrative and Bible study is powerful enough as it is, but focusing on women's stories in a world where many women are still abused and disenfranchised is empowering. Jesus loved them; he loves us too, just the same.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Thoughts on submitting - Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:21-24:

"Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.  Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ.  The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing.  So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands." Put their husbands first.
What does it mean for me to understand and support my husband in a way that shows my support for Christ?!  What does that look like?
I understand this to be a follow on from verse 21, which talks about how we should live as Christians: be courteously reverent to one another. In the society of the time, wives would be the property of their husbands. The Jews had lived under the law, interpreted by the rabbis to such a strict extent that it was impossible, as Paul states in Romans 7, to keep properly. Jesus turned this upside down: it was God’s grace that saved people, not people’s own merits and deeds.

This admonition in Ephesians, then, is an encouragement to respond to each other as we do to Christ. This sense of awe and wonder: that Jesus should have died for MY mistakes and failings should be what drives me in my treatment of others. Paul says elsewhere ‘consider others as better than yourselves’ because Jesus humbled himself - the Philippians 2 poem says it all:

"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father."

We are to consider ourselves as ‘dead’ to the world (Galatians 2:19) and as such give up all our ‘rights’ in relation to each other. My right to be respected, loved, cherished, obeyed, appreciated, valued, desired… whatever I consider my ‘right’ to be in any relationship. My ‘submission’ - which the Message translates as understanding and support - is a representation of my submission to Christ in that he has paid for me and ‘bought me with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19 - 20)  My life is not my own.   As such, all that should matter - and, of course, sin and selfishness and ‘me’ and ‘my’ gets in the way of perfection - is my relationship with Christ as I try to work that out with others. It is holding my ‘rights' lightly, being willing to give them up.

Now, of course, in terms of my relationship with my husband I often don't give up my rights. After all, respect for me is incredibly important to me and many of my struggles are because I feel he doesn't respect my opinions/point of view whatever enough. Often, when I am satisfied he has understood, then I can 'support and understand’ him. It is all about putting the other person first.  If my 'right’ is to be respected and listened to, I need to be ready to give that up. I don’t like being told what to do - and I fear losing control - and so I don't naturally and readily 'submit’ in the old fashioned sense. But when I think about it, and try to understand - as I try to understand what God wants to do in my life - then it becomes more possible, in spite of my own selfishness.

It's all about NOT getting my own way!

Of course, the flip side is that Dad needs to lead me by 'cherishing’ me and being as self-sacrificial towards me as Jesus was and is. That is equally hard for him! From my point of view, leadership by Dad should be by example - and I need to have a humble enough heart that I do actually NOTICE his good example - and that he should make decisions based on what is best for both of us, not just what he wants to do.
So although I think we possibly disagree or 'discuss' rather a lot, perhaps we don't really. IF I want to show support for Christ - submit to Christ - then I must be loyal to him first. And if supporting Dad shows that I am a loyal wife and Christian, then that has to underpin everything I do in that relationship.  

Of course, discussing something so that I CAN understand is also what we do in prayer - we ask God and discuss and argue about what is happening until we come to an understanding. An understanding which, often, is just that we DON'T understand but are able to accept and to trust God.
As Isaiah 55:9 says:
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

And, sometimes, it's the same in marriage. Sometimes I just have to stop trying to understand and accept that my husband is trying to do the best he can for our marriage.

Even if I still don't 'get it'.