I’m very blessed with the family I live with. I have a very nice relationship with the two twin boys. One of my favourite things is when they come home with a story to tell me. They just excitedly spill out what happened in the day. Often it’s hard to keep up with the mix of Khmer and broken English. Other days, we will have cups of teas together and sit at the table. We will just chat and again they will tell me their little stories. Sometimes it is about how they fell over playing and the pain of that or that they saw a cool car. I feel so blessed in these times just to hear about their lives and their thoughts and feelings. Yes, it’s sometimes not clear and they can’t articulate themselves. But I feel like I get to know them more through these moments.
In the garden of Eden, Adam walked with God. Moses would speak to God as if a friend.
This chapter picks up where the previous one picks up: in the tension of being a sinful but also redeemed. Here it reminds us that we should not sin but that we also have Jesus to rely on. It reminds me a bit of when Peter writes about how God provided everything but invites us to have a role. We often try too hard to rely on our own strength to reach purity, but the fact is we can only have it because God redeemed us through his son Jesus Christ. Our human efforts do nothing; it’s only through the cross and the good work Jesus is doing in us that we can achieve anything.
Verses 3 to 6 expand on us further. We are to keep Jesus’ commands out of love for him. Therefore, it’s so important to daily focus on him and what he did for us to motivate us. In times of trouble or temptation we look not to ourselves or our own strength but we look to the cross. Then we can love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
The next part of John looks at another way the love for our Lord is express: our love for others. It’s not coincidence that Jesus responded to the question about the greatest commandment with a twofold answer. We are to love our God, which is expressed here in how we love others. These verses also remind us of how Jesus said in Matthew 5. You can’t offer worship if you know a brother has something against you. Jesus came to redeem us with God and each other. Therefore, if there are relational issues within the church, we aren’t living in the fullness of Christ’s redemption.
Verses 12-14 are interesting, exciting and encouraging. The fact that we are told that we have overcome the evil one is an interesting concept in the fight against sin. As we battle against evil desires, we must remember: the victory is won! That’s another good reason to look toward the cross.
The last sections talk about not loving the world because it is temporary and to love what God has given you. We are also warned not to deny Christ. We are to remain in him and remain confident in his promises. In that way we can be pure when he comes again.
No one would be surprised if I was to say that 2020 has been hard. Of course, it has been — we’ve all been in the midst of a global pandemic. And as I have seen the devastating impact this virus has had around the world — on societies, economies, the lives of individuals as they see their loved ones’ or their own health diminish — it’s been tempting to dismiss my problems as insignificant. I’ve been healthy, protected in Cambodia and by my youth from the worst and, for the most part, financially stable enough not to fear what would happen next.
But, as the end of 2020 comes towards us, and as I have more opportunity to reflect, I have realised various things. I have lived 2020 (and even, to some extent, the end of 2019) in survival mode. Yes, there has been so much joy and things to be grateful for. But, I have felt, for the most part, as if I have been lurching from one crisis or difficulty to the next. I also need to be able to be okay with living with feelings of grief, disappointment and frustration. Sometimes too quickly, I will brush those feelings off, as if I don’t deserve to be experiencing them, because, of course, someone has it far worst than me.
In my new MA course, we are being encouraged to reflect. I thought I would write a post about my experiences of 2020, as a way to perhaps get them out my head and maybe to process them a bit better. This may be a bit of a long one, so perhaps grab a cup of tea, coffee or comforting drink and take a seat.
I started 2020 already exhausted. In 2019, I had taken on a new subject: iGCSE drama. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I also took on responsibilities with the school play and continued with my language studies in the evenings. Furthermore, that semester, the Ministry of Education in Cambodia demanded that the school submit a ridiculous amount of paperwork, including every scheme of work within the school. Fortunately, the English department only needed to make a few adjustments, but I spent quite a bit of time helping the Khmer teacher with his. (He had to produce schemes from preschool to grade 10 all by himself.) I also decided that I should move house. So, I found a new place and in the last few weeks of December, I packed up all my belonging and found a new fridge, stove, washing machine and bed. Just writing all that out was exhausting enough, so I’m not surprised I was a little tired.
The last part of 2 Peter reminds us to think wholesomely, remember the words of the prophets and to anticipate the last days. It then goes on to describe the end of days. They seem awesome and terrifying at the same time, but Peter reminds us that our gaze will be on the arrival of God’s promises: the new heaven and the new earth.
We are to remember the prophet’s commands and the words of Jesus. This means, I expect, that we need to know them well and probably try to remember them. This will help us be blameless and spotless on the day of judgement. It may be that the day of judgement does not come in my time, but I need to remember that patience equals salvation. There’s a lovely verse: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (v. 9) Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone goes to heaven and it’s like the handouts at the Oprah Winfrey Show. It just means that God’s heart is leans toward salvation not toward condemnation.
Peter warns that we need to be on our guard so that we don’t fall away. This probably is in the context of the previous chapter. And how do we go about doing this? We grow in grace and our knowledge of Jesus Christ. I think this takes us back to the very beginning of the letter, remembering that God has given all that we need. We need to be living according to the promises of God’s salvation and learn more about Jesus. This is also linked to the statement to remember the words of Jesus. By doing this, and daily reminding ourselves of them, we are able to know Jesus more and more.
We need to be reading our Bible and just seeking a deeper knowledge of Jesus in everything we learn.
Yesterday, I wrote a post on 2 Peter 2 about how false teachers were condemned and how Peter is very emphatic about how much he detests them.
It left me with a lot of questions, which I posted up on Facebook. (Forgive the poor grammar on the post below, it was for an informal context.)
I got a few responses, some of which were surprising. Mostly, I was surprised about how many people have encountered false teaching of some kind. This made me sad and somewhat concerned. However, I’ve had a brief chance to reflect on this and also to distill the answers I got.
Fear of the Lord
Whenever we are discussing what is the right and what is wrong interpretation of the Bible, I think the starting point is always this:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
If we want the wisdom to avoid false teaching, we need to start off with a fear of the Lord. Is this that we are meant to be shaking in our boots when we think about our faith? No, I don’t think that’s what it means. However, what it does mean is that we are not to be confident in our own intellectual capabilities when trying to discern the Lord’s ways. Here are a few verses to back this thought up:
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. (Job 9:10)
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7)
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. (Psalm 145:3)
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33)
This does not mean we accept all teaching blindly, or shrug our shoulders and decide we’re going to stop thinking about things. God gave us brains and the ability to reason; these are to be used not wasted. But even those abilities are God given and, as we are created in the image of God, it is God who is the ultimate source of all truth and knowledge. Therefore, our first step is to humbly submit ourselves, our intellect, or assumptions, to the Lord.
I know that I am often guilty of doing the exact opposite: I doggedly and stubbornly argue a point because I have decided that my intellect is far superior than everyone else’s. However, I have tried to get into a habit (perhaps an annoying one) of always asking questions first. The other day, I was in a Bible study and we were reading Matthew 3. It talks about the Kingdom of God. I could probably articulate a response in what the Kingdom of God is, but I put myself in the position of not knowing and I asked what it meant.
So, prayerfully humble yourself and acknowledge you need the Holy Spirit’s help and the help of the wider church, the wisdom of those around you, to be able to grasp God’s ways and purposes.
Know your master’s voice
The Pharisees got pretty angry for what Jesus said and even wanted to stone him. (If Jesus can be declared a false teacher, that’s a warning for all of us.) In John 10:25-30, he tells the Pharisees this:
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
If we are to be disciples of Jesus, sheep to the great Shepherd, we need to be listening to his voice so that we may follow him. The shepherd in Jesus’ day was more than just a kid that sat in fields, playing the pan-pipes, cuddling lambs. The sheep were in danger from wild animals and could easily be killed. The sheep listened to the shepherd’s voice because he kept them safe, he provided them with food by leading them to areas with grass and water. We are to be pursuit of Jesus’ voice through scripture and prayer in order to receive protection and nourishment. Jesus taught us to pray that we would be delivered from the evil one. In the passage above, it clearly shows that it is Jesus and God the Father who keep us safe, and this is safe from erroneous teaching, too.
The more we will know the Bible, the more we can spot false teaching. The more we understand the nature and the character of God, the more we can discern his ways. But God takes an active role in this as well, as Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” We need to let the scripture transform our mind as we read it.
It’s all about Jesus
If the message you are hearing glorifies something other than Jesus, it is wrong. If a teacher puts their thoughts, theories, ministries, miracles, fame and fortune on a pedestal above Jesus, they are wrong. If it puts anything other than Jesus at the centre of your life and your world it is wrong. If the teaching puts your wealth, your job, your health, your family, your sexual desires, your hobbies, your comfort, your security, your sense of control, your reputation, your to-do list, your pride, your friendships, your home, your sense of self-worth, your intellect, your feelings, your deepest wishes at the centre of your life instead of Jesus… it is wrong. All of those are to be put into submission to Jesus. There is no desire in your heart that should be left out of this. It all has to be chucked in the bin in pursuit of Jesus. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is complete nonsense. The Christian hierarchy of needs is just a triangle with Jesus in the middle.
The apostle Paul puts it like this:
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
Philippians 3:7-9 (The Message Version)
This is not because Jesus is horrible and wants us to be miserable; it is in fact the opposite. Jesus is God; he is from heaven. Anything he can offer is far better than anything we can get here. Jesus is so, so generous; so generous in fact that he gave his life for us. He owes us nothing more than this, and yet he still shows us new mercies each morning. We just need to make sure that Jesus is the priority in our life.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
This isn’t some cosmic manipulation: Jesus saying that if you give me good ratings I’ll give you good things. It’s just that Jesus knows what’s good for us. We were made to live with God in the Garden of Eden. But we get distracted by shiny things here. Nor is it some divine vending machine: put a few prayers and worship songs in, stick a few coins or notes in the offering basket, and we get what we want. In fact, the more we look to Jesus, the less important our dreams and desires become to us. We start realising that we have our fullness and identity in the work of Christ.
If you want to check whether your views of Christ align with the biblical truths of Christ, I would take some time in Colossians. (I’ve linked Biblegateway.com showing to two versions side-by-side, the NIV and The Message.) In fact, read the whole New Testament, and then the Old Testament. But in the mean time, I’ll just put one of my favourite passages about Jesus here.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
The introduction of 2 Peter seems to wrestle with ideas that can cause confusion within the church. In fact, it probably has been seen in a number of the large theological debates since the death of Jesus. It is this: how much of our salvation and sanctification depends on us and how much depends on God. I’m not going to make an effort to delve into these deep topics and the history of such debates, but here is my rather simple and probably flawed interpretation of the matter.
We are told first that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. This puts the power into God’s hands: he provides. It goes on to say that he has called us, again making the impetus God’s. Furthermore, he has given us promises for us to cling onto and to receive. Then it goes on to say that this is so we can “participate in the divine nature” of God. First, before I analyse it to death, let me just say what a beautiful statement that is. Through our salvation, we get to live in the holiness of God. That sounds crazy and wonderful and strange. But, going back to my first point, “participate” tells us that we get a role to play.
God does all the ground-work and all the hard stuff. He sent his son to die so that we may live. He saves us. He has the absolute power and authority in this. But, he still invites us to join in with him. He invites us to use our mind, hearts, strength and soul in what he is doing. I get the picture of a father doing a job and letting his young son or daughter “help”. Their child imitates their father but doesn’t really do anything particularly constructive in the effort. The father could have easily done the task on his own. Instead, it’s about the participation and the communion between father and child. That is what our Heavenly Father daily invites us into: a participation and a communion with him as he builds his kingdom. It really does not depend on me. I’m just to join in and enjoy the relationship I have with God.
We are also invited to participate in our own spiritual growth and development. We are to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual-affection and love to our faith. This, again, seems to be something for us to do as well. A metaphor perhaps for this could be a patient following the exercises to allow them to recover effectively after an operation. The surgeon does the hard work to fix the problem and oversees the recovery afterwards; the patient makes sure that they live in a way that enables them to take the best advantage of the operation and new lease of life they have been given.
So, how do we participate? Well, it seems that we do it through constantly reminding ourselves of the grace we have received and the cross. We look to Jesus. This inspires us to participate and to make the most of the freedom and salvation we have received.
Again, this chapter discusses the behaviour of those in Crete. But it also tells you the reason: because they have put their trust in Jesus. Our faith means there are implications in how we live. We should be obedient to authority and should live peaceably with one another.
It tells us how before we were enslaved by our passions, hatred and pleasures. But now, in our new life, we are free to be obedient to God. This idea is definitely counter cultural (at least in the west). You have curly calligraphy signs or t-shirts that tell us to follow our passions, listen to our hearts. But, when these are not in line with the will of God, they are foolish and they result in slavery.
Verses four to seven explain the mechanism of grace:
It is not through our deeds;
God our Saviour showed his love and kindness;
By the Holy Spirit with are given rebirth and renewal;
This power of the Holy Spirit is received generously through Jesus Christ;
We are justified by grace;
We become God’s heirs;
We have hope of eternal life.
The reason Paul reiterates this is so that they know why they seek to do good: because we are recipients of rebirth, renewal, love, kindness, grace and eternal life. When we devote ourselves to good, they profit not only ourselves but everyone. It ensures our lives are productive and that we are able to live according to the gifts we received. This is the witness we have available to us.
Verses nine to eleven talk about divisive, argumentative people. The fact that this is mentioned throughout Paul’s letters suggests it is not an isolated problem. In fact, it pretty much warns us it’s a problem we need to be prepared for. Churches will not be full of perfect harmony, it turns out, so we need to be on our guard against divisiveness.
So, I pray that I can be focused on doing good, promoting unity and having a productive life.
Again, Paul discussed the importance of perseverance and of integrity, especially in keeping with the word of God. It reminds us how important consistent and faithful study of the Word is. It also tells us how we should pursue it expecting the Holy Spirit to inform us, not our culture or those preaching it. There is a long history of people distorting scripture for their own purposes or so that people would want to listen. We must remember that God is the ultimate authority on Scripture, so it’s his opinion on it that matters.
Paul talks about his difficulties again: being poured out, abandoned, cheated by those around him. He still notes how God was faithful in these circumstances. Again, it reminds us that the approval of man is not worth seeking, but it is God, who will sustain and strengthen us, who we should endlessly pursue. I am definitely a people pleaser, and forget that it is God that I should be pursuing, although he is always to pursue me first.
Both chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Thessalonians are relatively short, so I decided to combine them. Also, I need to make up for lost time, as I slid off the wagon for a week or so. Many people’s lives have been turned upside. My change in routine has been minimal, which has been enough to sideline my Bible-reading habits. But I will press on.
Verse 1 and 2 of chapter 4 asks the Thessalonians to do more of the same. They’re doing the right things, so Paul simply tells them to do it more and more. I pray that I can do the right things more and more as well. Hopefully, as I do the right things more, it’ll crowd out the opportunities to get it wrong.
Verse 3 says that it is God’s will that we are sanctified. One (correct) reading of this is that we should be obedient to this. However, it also reminds me that God is on my side with this – he wants it to happen and will make it happen if I cooperate and submit myself to him. Therefore, let God’s will be done!
Our purity is rather significant, because we should pursue it and “anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” This is somewhat trouble and a good reminder of what disobedience to his word actually is. It is an unwillingness to accept God and a desire to reject him.
Verse 11 is somewhat interesting too, especially in the light of megachurch pastors and Christian “celebrities”. God calls us to have a quiet life. Not an outrageous and a loud life. That’s something interesting to think about. It is this that wins the respect of outsiders, not the loud trumpet call and the soap-box evangelism. There is (probably) a place for this and a Biblical reasoning. I’ve yet to wrestle with this idea further. (This is something I love about reading the Bible: when you don’t actually know what it fully entails or means. It just fires up my curiosity.)
The last section of chapter 4 is about believers that have died. These words were meant to be an encouragement to those in Thessalonica. However, they can be an encouragement to us now, especially with the global tragedy of coronavirus.
Chapter 5, again, is relevant to today, but perhaps less encouraging. It talks about how suddenly destruction can come. Christians, however, are to be sober, thoughtful and proactive, even during times of suffering and even on the Day of the Lord.
The final instructions are helpful reminders of what to do, especially during the coronavirus outbreak as well:
warn the idle and disruptive,
help the weak,
be patient with everyone,
strive to do what is good for everyone,
give thanks in all circumstances.
And as we do this, may the grace of God be with us.
Chapter 1 of Amos is pretty much about the divine judgment of God against the nations surrounding Israel. These nations have committed terrible sins against God’s people: Israelites being killed and enslaved, breaking treaties with them, women were killed and even the pregnant women were slaughtered. The atrocities they did were horrible.
But God will punish them, tearing down the walls of their capitals, bringing fire to their cities. Their kings will flee or perish.
Often, the Old Testament prophecies are somewhat unpalatable for modern readers. They speak of retribution and revenge. God seems cruel and hard.
But we need to remember, God is holy. He is just and good.
Our societies see guilt and innocence in very black and white terms: you did it or you didn’t. However, I think the Biblical idea of sin is far more complex and pernicious than that. It kills and spreads. It’s like a disease that infects and ruins, like yeast in dough. Therefore, when we read these chapters, we perhaps have to think of sin as being more than we can define and therefore the cost of it more than we can say.
But it does make us ask a number of questions of our faith and reflect upon what we believe:
Do we trust God enough to believe in his justice?
Do we have faith that God’s plan is right?
Do we believe that God’s ways are perfect?
Do we believe that he is love?
This passages definitely challenge our thinking.
However, God loves his people. He loves other nations too. This is why prophets are sent: they warn people. God want the people to turn back to him and to find his mercy. However, sadly with the case of a lot of prophets, they don’t heed the warning. Because of God’s just nature, something needs to be done about the wrongs they have committed. So, when they fail to seek God’s mercy, they find themselves at the hands of his justice.