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 1

James is named after its author, rather than its recipient, as in some of the other letters. It is likely that this is James, the brother of Jesus. This letter is also probably addressed to Christians of a Jewish heritage, given its style and its content. (Thank you, Biblegateway plus for the wealth of information!)

The first verse talks about the tribes of Israel scattered among the nations. The original context is a) a play on words (James is English for Jacob, one of the tribes b) reverent c) referencing prophesies. So in that one line, you can see how rich that text is. However, as some reading it in a cafe in Phnom Penh, it has a significance for me: linking both the past and present. It’s often hard to consider ourselves as a part of the story of the Old Testament, but we very much are.

James does not hold back any punches. Between verses 4-8 James addresses:

  • perseverance and joy in the face of temptations
  • perseverance leading to maturity and completion in faith
  • asking for and receiving wisdom in generous portions
  • believing that you will receive the wisdom
  • those who doubt are double-minded and shouldn’t expect wisdom from God.

Then verses 9-11 discuss how those that are humble are exalted, but riches wither and fade humiliating those in high position (this humiliation, James ironically notes, is something to take pride in). James was the leader of the church of Jerusalem, where urban slums would have existed. Furthermore, the Jews during James’ time were persecuted, leading to poverty, so it was likely many of his readers were facing great difficulties.

However, once again, it definitely speaks to me as someone currently living in a country that faces poverty. I don’t want to fall into the trap of simplifying the difficulties of the poor or using the cliched “they are so grateful for what they have”. That being said, the outworking of these verses about perseverance is evident. The faith of the believers in Cambodia, who do need to overcome these struggles, is far richer and deeper and simultaneously more simple in their assertions. They say God helps them. There doesn’t seem to be the caveats or scepticism you might see elsewhere. Maybe it is this that is the humiliation of the rich: our poorer faith.

James, again, not holding back, blames anyone who fails to resist temptation. Circumstances, difficulties and, certainly not, God do not cause people to fall into sin. Our desires and the fulfilment of those desires does.

James reminds us of God’s goodness and generosity. Only good gifts come from God, so the bad is not from God. One of the gifts is grace and rebirth, which we must remember in times of temptation.

Verses 19-26 are also highly practical. It’s based around the idea of listening, but leads onto the idea that we should listen to what the word tells us and act on it. It calls out hypocrisy, saying those that listen to the word but don’t act are like those who can’t remember their own reflections after looking in a mirror.

It also challenges me about the future. I will be doing a lot of training over the next few years (including an MA). This makes me reflect on how I should put these ideas into practise and not treat it just as an academic exercise.

These verses are also interesting, telling people to hush their mouths and don’t be hasty to speak in anger. Given the context of the time was a lot of angry and revolutionary Jewish people, this is counter cultural. It also makes me wonder about how Christians respond to the Black Lives Matter and issues those that are oppressed and persecuted. Again, this gives rise to questions about a theology of oppression and justice, one that I haven’t really thought about or formulated for myself. But, evidently, thoughtless, angry and ill-considered statements aren’t the way forward. I think, however, James asks for a practical response rather than one of just words: in the last verse of the chapter he asks for the care of orphans and widows.

Reflection Questions

The process of blogging about my Bible reading seems to more often create questions rather than answers. I decided to make a note of them here, so I can hopefully go back to them and answer them. I might even do some posts where I try to reflect on them and give my personal thoughts.

  • How do I persevere in times of trials?
  • How do I live with humility despite being from a privileged Western background?
  • Who or what do I blame for my failures?
  • How do I make sure I put teachings into practise?
  • How should I respond with words and action to injustices in this world?

1 Thessalonians 2

Yesterday, I did read my Bible but was so exhausted I went to bed at 8pm. So, here’s yesterday’s reading.

Paul faced opposition for the Gospel. I’m very lucky in that I have not faced major opposition in spreading the gospel at any point in my life (so far). And yet, often I’m anxious when I do it. It seems ridiculous. I know those who have faced opposition but are bold and fearless.

Verses 3-6 are interesting in terms of discussing motives, especially as some pastors have been jailed for fraudulent money making schemes. Paul says his aim was not to trick others, or to gain money or praise. He said he didn’t use flattery or hypocrisy or asserted their authority recklessly. This is also interesting in light of stories about controlling church leaders, even to the point of being called abusive. Paul’s method was like parents tending young children. It was done with delight, love and openness. It was also done with encouragement, comfort and appeals the Thessalonians to live in a righteous way. Paul is also so thankful for those God had put in his care.

Reading about how leadership and discipleship can be done does somewhat condemn how others have chosen to do it as well. However, they are as much under grace as we are.

Paul then writes about the opposition the gospel message has received. The Thessalonians received it as God’s Word and have suffered for it. That still happens across the world today. Even in Cambodia, Christians are sometimes rejected by their families.

But the overwhelming tone of this chapter is joyful and full of love, as summed up by the last two verses:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

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.

Colossians 3

Like in his other letters Paul lets us know what living as a follower of Christ should look like and what it doesn’t look like.

First, he tells us to focus both our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Our desires and our perspectives should be based on higher things than the earth.

Then he tells us what the markers of Christian life are:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forgiving others
  • Love
  • Unity
  • Peace of Christ ruling our hearts
  • Thankfulness
  • The message of Christ dwelling among us
  • Wisdom
  • Psalms, verses, songs to God in our conversation and in our hearts
  • Wives submitting to their husbands
  • Husbands loving their wives
  • Children obeying parents
  • Servants obeying their masters
  • Working as if for God not man

Christian living does not involve these things:

  • Sexual impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed (which is idolatry)
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying
  • Fathers embittering their children

Again, these are quite a list.

But if we do it with our focus upon Jesus in his throne, then we will desire to love and serve him.

Philippians 4

The first verse of this chapter is lovely. Paul address his readers as brothers and sisters whom he loves and longs for, then calling them dear friends. He tells them to stay firm in the Lord.

Theres also mention of Euodia and Syntyche, two women in the church who Paul addresses.

Then Paul reminds us again to rejoice. In face he says it twice. He tells us how to do it, pray with thanksgiving and not to be anxious about anything. He also tells us to be gentle to everyone. It’s interesting what Paul equates with rejoicing and what he doesn’t. Not being gentle and being anxious will rob you of joy. Praying, asking and thanking, brings reasons to rejoice. Then we will have peace which is incomprehensible in the situations we face. It’s also interesting that this peace guards and protects us.

Paul also tells us where to concentrate our thoughts. We are to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.

Now in the previous post, I seem to have a bit of a rant about “positive psychology”. This is the idea that thinking about good things creates good things. But here it is, in the Bible. Paul thought about it first! It’s in fact proven that gratitude (or thankfulness) keeps you happier. And here Paul is saying it 2000 years ago.

However, given the context it and the words it uses, it’s pretty much telling us to place our thoughts on God, Jesus and all the good things they’ve given us. We are to think of all good things, and remember all good things come from God. Then, when we have remembered this, we can rejoice with thanksgiving.

Paul then tells us that he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances. And it’s no wonder. Paul has trained himself to do these things:

  • rejoice always;
  • be thankful;
  • be kind to one another;
  • look to God for solutions;
  • think about good things;
  • not to be anxious.

If we follow these steps, then I’m sure we can learn to be content in whatever circumstances too.

Philippians 2

This chapter begins with how we should respond to being united in Christ: with humility, by being like-minded, putting others before yourselves. We are to consider Christ and his mindset, which Paul tells us in what is perhaps one of the earliest hymns in the church’s history.

who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

verses 6-8

The hymn goes on to tell us how God raised Christ, and how every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The next passage is interesting in terms of the idea of salvation. We are clearly saved by faith and grace and not by works. However, verse 12 tells us to “continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” This still puts the authority at God’s feet, but it’s not passive and we’re not to just kick our feet up and relax. We are to be willing and active participants in the work the God is doing and we should be actively obedient to his will and purpose.

Paul tells the Philippians the way they can be blameless and pure, and it probably surprising what he write. He tells them to not grumble or bicker. I know I’m definitely guilty of grumbling, and if I don’t actually bicker, I know I want to!

The last part of the passage is about Timothy and Epaphroditus. Both are willing, faithful and sacrificial servants to God and both submit themselves to Paul. The testimony here of their faith is an encouragement to us, especially when hearing about their struggles. You get the sense that they are joyful and committed despite everything that happened to them. It definitely reminds us to persevere in unity and love for one another despite what happens.

My favourite things about Cambodians

In my previous post I spoke about cultural clashes. I want to remind you that they are not reasons I look down on Khmer people, but rather where our cultural values conflict. Neither is right or wrong; it’s dependent on whose perspective you see it from. Also, there’s a propensity to see only the differences, and more often than not, the negative ones. I love Cambodia and its people. Yes, there are times when that’s tested more than usual, but I still try and celebrate Cambodians and enjoy living here. So here are things I love about Cambodian culture.

The joy

Cambodians are famous for their friendliness, their laughter, their smiles. Their parties are loud and exuberant. Things are colourful. Their chatter playful. They love games and silliness, even as adults.

The word for play is leng /leːŋ/ លេង. It’s often attached to other words to suggest an element of fun or relaxation:

  • daer leng /ɗaᵊ leːŋ/- to go out for fun (to walk + to play)
  • niyiey leng /niʔjiᵊj leːŋ/- to joke or tease (to speak + to play)
  • angkoy leng /ɑŋkoj leːŋ/ -to sit and relax (to sit + to play)
  • keng leng /keːŋ leːŋ/- to nap (to sleep + to play)

Celebrations, such as weddings and other festivals, are bright, loud affairs. There are games and food and drinks. Cambodians love to laugh and joke and play.

The hospitality

Hospitality in the UK and hospitality in Cambodia is somewhat different. (If you want to see how this difference caused me reverse culture shock read my post melamine plates.) It’s slightly more relaxed (those not used to it would say chaotic) than in the UK. It’s far more easy-come easy-go (like much of Cambodian life, it seems). There’s a vague arrival time and people turn up and plates of food appear.

The welcome is always warm (although sometimes a bit shy and nervous around foreigners) and the beer is always on ice. The cheers “juol muoy!” happens regularly. Basically, any time someone goes to have a swig of beer, you have to clink glasses with everyone then every takes a good swig of their glass, often drain it entirely.

There seems to be an endless conveyor belt of food. There are multiple dishes, ranging from soups, seafood, snails, bbq meat, stir fried greens and, of course, rice. It’s a relaxed affair and you just sit eating. This can go on all day. During this time, neighbours, friends, family, passing acquaintances will be invited in or appear and eat then go. There’s a lot of greeting and farewelling or others popping to the nearby store to pick up another case of beers.

There can be (very loud) music and karaoke and children playing.

This hospitality is more casual than in the UK. There are no napkins (maybe some tissues to wipe your fingers), you can use fingers or lettuce leaves or chopsticks or spoons to eat with, there are few manners to worry about. The karaoke doesn’t matter on the prowess of your singing voice. (This can make it entertaining for all sorts of reasons.) This is the type of hospitality I love. Hospitality that is devoid of social barriers such as etiquette (etiquette is always designed to divide people between social status, so think about that when you next tell your child to take their elbows off the table) and special talents. You come, you eat, you sing. It is hospitality designed to welcome.

The bonds

Cambodians can be naturally shy and a bit hesitant with foreigners, but once you are in, you are very much in.

Social networks are important in Cambodia, and often the connections made can be long lasting and strong. Also, when you’ve made a strong friendship with others, you adopt many of their connections as well. There’s a concept of bong-p’oun. This little means older and younger siblings, but it really refers to your circle of close friendships and family members. There’s a sense of responsibility to care and look out for those in this circle. It’s a tight, reciprocal bond.

I’ve been seen grateful for the connections and friendships I’ve been able to make. There’s a definite sense that I have a collection of people who have my back and will care for me whatever happens.