Category Archives: Bible

Gentleness

 

A week ago, I had the opportunity to preach in Church for the first time. Below is the neatened-up version of what I said. If you would rather listen to the talk, it can be found on the church Facebook page here.

Continuing with our study of the fruits of the Spirit, today we are looking at gentleness. We are going to read 1 Peter 3v8-18.

The dictionary definition of gentle reads as follows: kindly, amiable; not severe, rough or violent; mild; moderate; arch. noble, chivalrous. I like that last one, it makes me think of knights of yore.

Today is Palm Sunday and we have been thinking about Jesus entering Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. This is maybe not how we would picture a knight, but that’s the point: the Jews were expecting a Valiant Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel, but Jesus’ mission was one of gentle revolution – a quiet ushering in of the kingdom of God, turning lives around.

In this passage from Peter, gentleness is linked to living and preaching the good news. We must be ready to give an answer for our faith in Jesus, which we hope would have been evidenced in our lives. If we are ‘eager to do good’, despite insult or mistreatment, people will want to know why.

My NIV study Bible note explains that ‘our apologetic (“answer”) is always to be given with love, never in degrading terms’. This reminded me of another verse about gentleness: ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1)

All this got me thinking, what are we known for? As Christians, are we known for being ‘eager to do good’ and answering questions ‘with gentleness and respect’? or is the way we are seen in the world less positive?

Recently I have been reading Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace – a follow up to What’s So Amazing About Grace? In the opening chapter he says:

We are called to proclaim good news of forgiveness and hope, yet I keep coming across evidence that many people do not hear our message as good news

I feel like in the media Christians are presented as/assumed to be angry about things? When I was a teenager it was Harry Potter, some of my friends tore up their copies. At uni I remember hearing about Christians due to the Jerry Springer opera. We often are presented as being angry about things we disagree with. To the wider culture we are thought to be on the wrong side of many debates – gay rights, abortion, etc

In some ways we are meant to speak out, be a prophetic voice for the voiceless and stand against injustice when we see it. We see this in the Bible, in the books of the prophets. This is sometimes described as righteous anger. And sometimes this is okay – Jesus got angry, we see that in the gospels. But we need to think about what Jesus got angry about. He got angry with the temple traders who disrupted the worship of the Gentiles by setting up a market in the only area they were allowed to worship God in the temple. He got angry at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, (Matthew 23) who ‘tie[d] up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders’ – who were so focused on the law that they missed God’s grace. These were people who were meant to be showing the way to God, but instead were so caught up in legalistic obsession with rules to live by, without changing their hearts, that they became a stumbling block.

I believe the Church today maybe in danger of this – it is too easy to get on our moral high horse and miss out on showing people the grace of God. I’m thinking about – for example – the abortion debate. I’m ‘pro-life’ but not just the life of the unborn. Some others who label themselves as pro-life aren’t necessarily so in all areas – I’m going to paint a picture of a stereotypical American politician, a Republican, who would say they base their politics on Christian/family values. They are anti-abortion, yes, but they are also anti-immigration (refugees), anti-gun control, anti-universal healthcare – meaning sick people struggle to get the medical help they need, – they are anti-welfare, and they support the death penalty. Is that really pro-life? – This type of person is often seen as hypocrite by wider society. If you are ‘pro-life’ you need to be pro-all life.

Another debate where we perhaps don’t cover ourselves in glory is the area of gay rights. When I was an undergraduate at uni in Cardiff the gay marriage debate was working it’s way through parliament. One of my housemates asked what I thought. I explained that I believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life, but that while I try to live by what I believe the Bible teaches, I don’t think I should be inflicting my values on those who don’t hold to the same beliefs as me. I choose to try to live by a certain moral code, because my of faith and the values associated, but I can barely stick to it myself, so why should I enforce it on others who don’t hold to the same values?

The passage from Peter talks about suffering for doing good – but is that taking the moral high ground, or showing people love even when it’s hard and we disagree with their lifestyle?

Taking for example, Christian bakers. There have been several famous cases both in Northern Ireland and USA, where Christian bakers have been taken to court and lost their businesses over refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings/gay rights etc. I understand why and support them and applaud their courage, but at the same time – it’s just a cake! And what sends a better message to the world – refusing to serve someone because you disagree with them, or choosing to serve them despite disagreeing with them?

I heard another story on twitter which made my soul hurt. A gay guy was on his way to adopt a cat, when he got a message from the lady who owned the cat saying she had found out he was gay and didn’t feel right giving the cat to him because she was a Christian. She then proceeded to lecture him about his lifestyle. That is not a good demonstration of love or gentleness.

Billy Graham quoted as saying ‘It is the Holy Spirit’s Job to convict, God’s job to judge, my job to love’. Gentleness in action means living a life that shows love and respect to everyone, serving those in need, regardless of how you feel about their life choices. This means: seek peace, do good. Show God in the way you live

Verse 15 of our passage says ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’. The key words for me are: ‘who asks you’. Meaning, wait until you are asked. Show grace, don’t force your opinion on those who aren’t ready to hear it. Wait to be invited. Earn the right to speak into someone’s life by showing them love. And think about what you say – is this going to draw this person closer to God or push them further away?

At school I had a friend called Richard. When we met in year 7, he was an atheist. We stayed friends all through secondary school. When he came out as gay in year 10 or 11, I was the first person he told and I was honoured that he chose to tell me. When we were leaving to go to different sixth forms, he told me that couldn’t be an atheist any more, he had to believe God existed because he saw Him in my life. I was not a perfect teenager, I messed up quite a lot of things, but I tried to live my faith, show kindness to those around me. That opened the door for opportunities to share God with people.

Before you think I’m awesome, I’m not great at this. I often fall into workplace gossip and get frustrated with co-workers who don’t have same work ethic as me. I am resolved to do better! So let’s look a good example of this, when Jesus met a Samaritan woman of dubious morality in John 4.

[I read Ruth Tucker’s re-telling of this story from Dynamic Women of the Bible]

What Ruth Tucker highlights so beautifully is the isolation of the woman before she met Jesus. She was an outcast. The moral people of the town wanted nothing to do with her. She was hungry for conversation, and Jesus was there to meet her.

Jesus may have initiated the conversation, but he let her direct it. He was crossing boundaries even to talk to her (man to woman, Jew to Samaritan) but he didn’t let societal norms stop him from reaching out to someone in need.

He didn’t push her on her life choices. He brought up her marital situation, yes, but didn’t linger on it when she changed the subject. Regardless of her problematic lifestyle, he talked theology with her. Instead of a lecture, she was treated with grace, kindness and respect – with gentleness.

And it worked – where a sermon on sexual morality would have sent her running, an open discussion when Jesus clearly knew about her life but accepted her anyway was what changed her. And the result of this change impacted the whole town.

In this way, gentleness is linked with the other fruits: living a life showing love and kindness to others, bearing with their faults patiently and with gentleness. These create opportunities to show God’s grace to them.

We should be trying to live out our faith, to base our lives and actions on biblical values. But we should not be trying to force our moral code onto others and then expect them to listen when we tell them God loves them. Instead, if we show them God loves them by the way we interact with them, they will be more open to hearing what we have to say. We need to earn the right to tell people about our faith – and maybe that means we never challenge them on parts of their life we disagree with, or maybe that means one day they’ll ask for our advice. Either way, treat them with gentleness and respect, seeking peace. Keep the door open for them to see God.

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my second favourite Christmas present

My favourite Christmas present last year was easily our family holiday in Cyprus. No competition. I love travelling, seeing new places and different cultures, and to be able to do so and tie-in visits to my extended family, courtesy of my wonderful Nan, is hard to beat.

Coming close second in the Christmas present rankings was the gift from my parents of a new Bible. It is no ordinary Bible, though, it is a new version of the NIV with lovely wide margins for making notes and doodling, and COLOURING PAGES. I find colouring quite a soothing activity, and the Bible is one of the few books I don’t mind scribbling all over, so this really was a perfect gift.

It is such a beautiful book, however, that it has taken me a few weeks to build up the courage to tarnish its pristine pages. There was one day last week though, when a verse kept tumbling through my mind and I just needed to doodle it out. I sketched a bit in pencil first, but when I was happy I outlined the text in pen and got colouring. I’m new to this type of artsy-creativity (more of a crafty person myself) but I was quite pleased with the result, and am now filled with the desire to learn more calligraphy and lettering styles…

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Trusting in times of lamentation

Psalm 13

After a fairly substantial interlude, I’m returning this week to my series of reflections on the Psalms, picking up where I left off with Psalm 13.

This is a psalm is a psalm of lament. These are some of my favourite psalms because they are so real and raw and honest. One thing I notice about this one, as with so many others, it has the instruction at the start ‘to the choirmaster’ – implying it was to be used in Israel’s times of corporate worship. I often forget when I’m reading the Psalms that many of them were not simply written as personal prayers. Some of these passages are so full of pain and even anger at God, and they weren’t secret, but instead were public expressions of grief, confusion and doubt. I don’t know much about ancient Hebrew worship services, but I find it encouraging and challenging that they could be so honest in community. It’s something that I wish we would be more comfortable with in our churches today, but maybe it’s just not very British?!

In this Psalm, David feels like God has forgotten him. He is full of sorrow – in today’s terms we would probably say he is depressed – and he feels defeated, as if his enemies are crowing over him. He is asking God to give him new hope because he feels hopeless. But he remembers that God has blessed him in the past, and so he knows he can trust in God. He is confident that he will be restored and that he will be able to praise God joyfully again in the future.

Sometimes, for us too, it can feel like God is far away, that our plans are failing while others are succeeding, like evil is winning in the world. When this happens, we need to remember that God is both Good (Yahweh – LORD) and Great (Elohim – God). He can always bring new hope to us, as we remember all that He has done in the past – both for us individually but also as witnessed by others in the Bible or in the testimonies of people we know. This encourages us to keep trusting Him for the future.

When I read the psalms of lament, it reminds me that I need to be real with God. To open up about my hurts, my fears and my struggles and to hand them over to Him. When the world seems so messed up, I need to cry out to God. When He seems far away, that is when I need to cling on hardest to my faith and keep trusting in His goodness and greatness.

My Awesome God

My awesome God!

Beyond anything I can understand

More than minds can comprehend

Showing us things unseen

Making the unbelievable believable

We’re waiting for You

Hungry for You

Crying out for You

And boy do You turn up

and turn everything upside down

Defying explanations

Exceeding expectations

Stretching imaginations

So we see more

and want more

and seek more

More of You

This is a poem I wrote on Sunday 4th December, 2010, after an amazing evening at church where some pretty exciting things happened. I’ve moved on from that particular church now, and but I love rereading this poem and remembering all the amazing things that God has done in my life.

Recently I’ve been studying the Exodus and certain aspects of the Law given to the Israelites at the dawn of their nation. I used to get really frustrated at the Israelites and how quickly they forgot what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt. Throughout the Law books in the Bible, one phrase is repeated over and over: ‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt’ – the Israelites are meant to keep the Law as an appropriate response to what God has done for them.

I say I used to get frustrated, because one day I realised I do the same thing – we so easily forget the good things that happen in our lives as soon as the next crisis comes along. This is why testimony is so important – sharing what God has done is encouragement to others and keeps it more firmly in our memories.

This was an instruction to the Israelites too. One of my favourite brief passages in the Old Testament law texts is this section from Deuteronomy (6v4-9): ‘“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’

So find ways to remember what God has done for you. Write it down, tell a friend. Keep His words and promises at the forefront of your mind by leaving yourself notes, putting up posters, setting a reminder on your phone… If you have other suggestions please comment!

It is so important to keep reminding ourselves of all that God has done for us, to keep us trusting when the tougher times comes, and to keep us celebrating His love for us. The God we serve is awesome indeed.

The precious words of God

Psalm 12

In my personal Bible studies I am still sloooowly working my way through the Psalms. There is so much to love in those pages that I am taking my time and dwelling on each one. I make detailed notes, which I have been using to write some of these posts. If you followed my old blog, you may have noticed that these jumped about all over the place, and when I moved to WordPress I decided to be a bit more systematic: starting from the beginning of the Psalms and working my way through. I don’t manage to read and reflect on Scripture everyday, but I am working on this as I think it is vital when studying theology not to forget the point – which is to love God with my whole mind as well as my heart, soul and strength. My notes have got a few Psalms ahead of my blogs, so this week I have been looking back at my reflections on Psalm 12.

If I could meet any Bible character to sit down and have a chat, David would be pretty high on my list. He is such an interesting person – a warrior poet, a shepherd king, a messed-up man after God’s own heart. I often find the Psalms resonate with my experiences today, and Psalm 12 is no different.

In this Psalm, David feels isolated, like he is the only person around who is faithful to God (and this is actually quite common for Bible characters – Noah and Elijah, to name a couple, felt similarly isolated in their faith). David feels like he is surrounded by deceitful people, those who boast and flatter, and he wants God to bring truth to the situation.

The Psalm seems to take a jump here, to God speaking up on behalf of the poor and needy – but one thing I’ve realised as I’ve been looking more into issues of social justice is that deceit is a big part of the mechanisms of injustice, whether it is to trick someone into slavery, to cover up a crime or to keep someone trapped in a life they haven’t chosen. God sees all of this and He is a God of justice who will act – often through us – to free the oppressed. He keeps His promises to us, and He will protect those who seek His help.

Sometimes trying to live God’s way is a lonely and isolating experience, especially in a culture that is increasingly at odds with what we believe, but God is always with us and strengthens us to live for Him. Sometimes those around us will deceive us, and sometimes our culture and the media will try to convince us that we are idiots for wanting to believe in God and live a way that honours Him. Instead we need to listen to what God says – primarily in His Word, the Bible, but also through Christian friends and older, wiser people in our churches. Because, as David says, “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace” (v6) – they are true, clear and precious, and He will not lead us astray.

Third Sunday of Advent

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John 1:1-18

This is one of my all-time favourite bits of the Bible. Especially at Christmastime when as we remember how Jesus came to live on earth, became fully human.

When I read this passage, I’m always struck by v14 – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. I’m told that a better translation of ‘dwelt’ is ‘pitched His tent’ or ‘tabernacled’

I’ve got a little note written in the margin of my Bible here – “be a tabernacle people, not a temple people. God who tabernacles with us wherever we set up camp”. We can get so fixated on church being a building, God’s house, that we forget that WE are the church, and wherever God’s people are, He is right there. Before the Israelites settled in the Promised land and built a temple, God’s dwelling was the tabernacle, a “tent of meeting” that they packed up, picked up and carried with them wherever they went. When they finished their day’s wanderings, they would reassemble the tent and set up camp around in. God dwelt in the middle of wherever His people were.

Looking back on the last year, and starting to think about the one to come, this is such a comforting message. Whatever this year throws at me, Jesus is right there with me through it all. He, Be came, became flesh and lived as a human. He knows emotions, He lived highs and lows and is right now with me to comfort or rejoice, to laugh, cry or encourage as needed. That gives me hope.

Advent is a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ into the world, but we can get so caught up in the Christmas traditions that we miss so much of the beauty in the story.

I’ve had several conversations this week with friends about a character in the nativity that is so often overlooked: Joseph. He didn’t have to take on the burden of Mary’s pregnancy, but he choose to still marry her and adopt her child, God’s child, as his own son. He protected the baby Jesus from danger, and then brought the boy up, teaching him and loving him. Joseph’s adoption of Jesus teaches us a profound truth, which is explained in verses 12 and 13 of this passage: “to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection gave us access to God, gave us the opportunity to become His sons.

I say sons because, much as I love to be inclusive of my own gender, children just does not get across the power of the image. Sons were the heirs, they had all the rights in Biblical times. Everyone who believes in Jesus gains all the rights of a son of God, all the inheritance He has in store for us (women included).

Jesus came. He was born, He lived, He died, He has been through all of human existence and can comfort us and encourage us, He is with us now, Emmanuel, and He welcomes us into God’s family.

face to face

Psalm 11

King David was a man of great faith, even when circumstances were not great. It makes me so happy that we have so many Psalms that were written by (or at least attributed to) him. They permit us to be so honest with God, as we can see that David never minced his words when it came to his emotions, his pain frustration and anger, he took it all to God, along with his praise and worship.

In this psalm we see that David is assured of God’s care for him, he takes refuge in God. People are telling him to be afraid, to flee his enemies, but David trusts in the LORD. He knows that God sees what is happening. David is sure that God will judge those who do wrong, and also that the righteous will be tested, purified, but ultimately they will get to see God.

We may not like the sound of the testing/purifying bit, but it is a promise that is repeated throughout Scripture. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is in 1 Peter 1:6-7: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ’. I haven’t had the easiest year, by any stretch of the imagination, but through it all I learned to cling ever tighter to my faith, to God who sees me through every trial. I know that I am stronger, that my faith is stronger, because of what I have been through, and I trust that that is honouring to God. Another of the many verses that have enocouraged me this year is Romans 8:28: ‘and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’. When I look back on the last year, now, with a little bit of distance, I can see start to see the good in it.

See, the thing is, trials hurt, being purified in a fire is painful, but I want to be pure. I want to have my rough edges stripped away and to be made righteous by my faith in the One who created and loves me. Because there is a promise in this psalm that is echoed elsewhere in the Bible. The righteous will see God. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus promises something very similar, though his words are slightly different: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ I hope that I will have the courage to face any trial that comes my way if it means I become more like God and brings me closer to meeting Him face to face.