1 Peter 1

Peter is writing to believers throughout Asia Minor and the Middle East. In the first few verses, he recognises those as God’s elect, God’s chosen, those sanctified by the Holy Spirit and those who are obedient to Christ.

Peter praises God for what he has given us: hope in difficulties, an imperishable inheritance, mercy, new birth. Although the believers may have sufferings, they are filled with an abundance of joy and faith, rejoicing in God. I wonder if the first thing that people say when they think about Christians is, “they have an abundance of joy”? I don’t think it is. But it’s such a crucial part to our faith. We are called to be joyful people, always thinking of the many mercies we have received from God and of our salvation through Christ. How do we do that? Well, Philippians 4:8 gives us a clue.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

I wonder how often we are distracted or frustrated needlessly. I know I am. Even minor issues or difficulties can cause me to lose sight of God’s goodness and the hope I have in him.

Peter then goes on to tell us what we are to do in response to God’s grace and mercy: be alert, hopeful, obedient and holy. We are to shun the desires that we had previously and seek holiness. This holiness should pervade all we do, and it a holiness that reflects God’s holiness.

James 2

James 2 starts off with ideas of justice and fairness, looking at the idea of favouritism. In the Roman period, rich people were given a higher legal status and generally treated better. This behaviour was not, however, Biblical, so James was condemning it.

Furthermore, James explores the idea that God gives the poor a rich faith and they also will inherit the kingdom. This reminds us of the famous words of Jesus that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God. It makes me wonder how many church goers activity associate with the poor (I don’t mean soup kitchens)? Why is the church always seen as a place where you dress your best and make sure your face is clean and scrubbed? I feel like we have perhaps lost sight of the idea that churches are meant to be messy, difficult and inclusive. I wonder whether the desire for propriety has robbed us of something far richer.

Verses 12-13 are somewhat reassuring to me. As a teacher I always struggled with the conflict between judgement and mercy. My bent is always to be merciful, but others can be a bit more exact in their application of the rules. The idea that mercy triumphs over judgement is helpful. Also, that is definitely seen in the cross of Jesus Christ: God’s mercy triumphed over judgement; Jesus had to endure an agonising death to ensure it would happen.

James’ statement about needing deeds may seem on a surface level to contradict Paul’s teaching of faith leading to grace rather than our deeds leading to grace. However, they are all a part of the same process. Our faith causes us to receive an underserved grace. This grace is transformative and powerful, resulting in a passionate, fruitful outworking of the Holy Spirit’s activities in us. This is the deeds aspect. Therefore, our faith needs to have deeds too.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the church integrate and welcome people from all walks of life?
  2. How do we prevent the “Sunday best” culture in our churches?
  3. How do I get the balance between judgement and mercy right?
  4. What deeds are there in my life that show the fruit of grace?

1 Thessalonians 3

1 Thessalonians 3 talks about how Paul and Timothy were forced to leave Thessalonica due to persecution. This is timely because many friends and colleagues are leaving Phnom Penh, not because of persecution though, but because of COVID-19. Despite the obstacles and difficulties being difficult, it’s helpful to hear from the thoughts of Paul as he had to leave people he loved in a time of uncertainty.

Paul was worried about the faith of the Thessalonians; he feared the oppression would be too much and the believers there would fall away. So that is something to pray for in the uncertainty of coronavirus; that people do not fall away. Rather, we pray that believers across the world can be “standing firm in the Lord” as the Thessalonians did.

We can also pray this prayer for believers, the same one Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

So, during this time, lets pray for

  • strength
  • joy
  • holiness.

1 Thessalonians 1

This letter to the Thessalonians is full of warmth and encouragement. Again, Paul starts out with a similar greeting to before: he is thankful for the believers in that city and he remembers them in his prayers.

The context of this letter is oppression, persecution and difficulty. But the first chapter seems overwhelmingly positive. Yes, there are mentions of “endurance” and “severe suffering”, but those phrases are surrounded by words such as “joy”, “love” and “hope”. It seems relevant that in complex and difficult times, with the COVID-19 spreading all around, that such words about suffering can be found in the mist of words about joy, faith, love and hope. They are not mutual exclusive and in fact I wonder in the positive was made more evident because of the difficulties.

I really enjoyed verse 5 that the gospel “came to [them] not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” It reminds me of Colossians 1, where it speaks of the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is a message with its own inherent power. It also shows the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in belief. I think this power, the Holy Spirit and conviction are all intertwined to make believers who endure.

The Thessalonians’ reputation had spread, and their “faith in God has become known everywhere.” It would be amazing to have a faith that is known everywhere. I wish to be a man of that kind of reputation: faith in severe suffering; endurance in troubles; joy-filled and hopeful in difficulties.

Bible in a Year: Day 9

This next week is quite intense: I start back at work and taking language lessons in the evening. Let’s see if I can keep it up!

  • Psalm 7:1-9
  • Matthew 7:24 – 8:22
  • Genesis 19 & 20

Once again, today’s readings have been somewhat troubling and difficult. There are many things at odds of what seems to be a modern view of God or of ethics, morality and judgment. However, there seems to be on-going undercurrent of God’s mercy, justice and righteousness.

The Psalms passage emphasises God’s judgment and righteousness. God punishes those who do wrong and protects those who do right. However, the image of God as judge seems to sit uncomfortably with me. I know that this is the more secular cultural baggage that I have grown up with. Words such as judge, vindicate all seem to jar with me. Perhaps I’m just a typical triggered millennial (to use that terrible turn of phrase).

However, God’s judgment is good. David calls on God to “Bring to an end the violence on the wicked and make the righteous secure”. Surely that’s something for us to pray too.

The Matthew reading emphasised Jesus’ authority and the faith that it bought about in people. Jesus’ word have power. The people in the crowds heard it, the leper knew it and the centurion believed in it. Furthermore, the parable of the houses being built either on a rock or on sand shows the authority and power in Jesus’ words. They bring blessing and security when followed and obeyed.

Lord God, help me live my life in obedience and with a firm foundation found in Your word. Amen.

I love what the man with leprosy says to Jesus: “if you are willing, make me clean.” Then the simple and powerful response: “I am willing.”

Jesus, if you are willing, make me clean. Amen.

I love the story of the centurion too. First he understands Jesus’ power. Jesus’ comment about not finding such faith in all of Israel seems a little cutting, especially as there are those, such as Jesus’ disciples and the man seen previously, that seem to show a lot of faith. But it’s interesting as the centurion is an outsider to this religious world and he still seeks Jesus and he still trusts him. I wonder how much the modern Western church is like first century Israel: often the outsiders have more faith than those within.

Again, Jesus talks about the global plan for the church, which resonates for me. I love it because I’m on the mission field.

Genesis 19 is just disturbing on quite a few levels. There’s the threat of gang rape, a father offering his virginal daughters to be raped, incestuous rape, blindings, fire and brimstone and someone turning to salt. It makes you wonder what Lot’s family had been through. It also makes the world seem terribly perverse.

However, in this, there is still a story of God’s mercy. God showed judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah but showed mercy on Lot, his wife and his daughters. He bought them out of that sinful and wicked place and to safety. Lot’s wife didn’t make it, as instantly Lot’s daughters do something horribly repugnant. But still, God was merciful.

I think the call to “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!” needs to be heeded by us today when being bought from the wickedness in our own lives. Jesus took us by the hand to drag us from our sin, even if at sometimes we are hesitant. But we still need to flee for our lives and we can’t look back on our old life and our old sin.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me a new life. Thank you that you saved me from judgment and from the wickedness I was in. Help me to pursue righteousness and to flee from sin. Amen.

Genesis 20 also shows God’s mercy. This time, God is picking up the pieces after Abraham lies about Sarah being his sister again. God picks up the pieces and the consequences of our sins. I expect we often don’t realise it, but I know there are times when the consequences of my actions should have been much worse. However, God protected me in that.

Lord God, thank You for picking up the pieces again and again. You remove my sin from me and protect me from the consequences of my behaviour. As You protected Abimelek from sinning against Sarah, I pray that You protect me from sinning against others. Also, protect those that are caught up in the consequences of my sin. Lord, I repent of the times that my behaviour has affected others. Amen.