A time of reflection

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.

Removing shrines and Chinese good luck charms from the house
Continue reading “A time of reflection”

1 Peter 3

Perhaps the most famous part this chapter is “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason to the hope that you have.” This verse has always made me ask myself a few questions.

  • What is the hope that we have?
  • What is the reason for this hope?
  • How do we give the answer in a clear manner?
  • Who is asking us these questions and why?

The passage this verse comes from is in the context of suffering, mainly suffering on account of your faith. It asks us to give account of our hope in the face of threats and problems. Now, this is perhaps why the question is being asked in the first place. Hope and optimism is not unusual when things are fine. If you’ve got a nice house and healthy bank account, no one is going to be surprised when you seem a bit perky. However, when you are facing genuine trials and opposition, it may seem a little more unusual. (It is a possible barrier to evangelism for missionaries in poorer contexts. When we preach how joyful we are because we know Jesus, they may be thinking it’s not Jesus but our wallets that are making us so cheerful. But that’s probably another blog post entirely.)

Now, these passages about suffering always trouble me. I’ve never really suffered for my faith. There was one time at secondary school where someone said, “I hate how you always tell me about your faith.” I then pointed out, she was in fact at a Christian Union event and I was answering a question she just asked. (And then I burst into tears.) But that’s hardly suffering. So it makes me wonder if I’m doing it wrong if I’m not suffering. And then, should I be asking the Lord for suffering? (I haven’t made my mind up on that one yet, so I may hold off on that prayer for a while.) But it makes me wonder about the state of the church in the West. Is the legitimacy for our witness hindered precisely because we have it too good? If you listen to stories of the persecuted church, there are incredible testimonies of churches flourishing under heavy opposition. In Europe, where everything is more comfortable, it is seen as a dying out-dated phenomenom. In America, Christianity is perhaps too closely associated with the “Karens” of the world. We have what we want, and often we believe we deserve it. In fact, the stories of suffering believers often come as a surprise even to “comfortable” Christians, and are perhaps a bit unsettling. So it’s easy to see how a testimony of hope is powerful in such a context.

And the reason for the hope is clear: in their hearts they revere Christ as Lord. It’s interesting that the word “revere” is used here. It’s not love or some other warm emotion. Revere suggests a respect or fear towards someone. There is perhaps a clear implication: Christ is Lord. If suffering in obedience is a part of his will, then it is right. I interviewed my Khmer best friend about hope in troubles, and he said the most important thing to do is to fear God. This is, of course, interesting and jarring to the ears of British (and I suspect of other) Christians. We often soften God and perhaps do a disservice to our faith in doing so. Of course, God is love and cares for us. But he isn’t safe and cuddly.

How then do we bring a theology of suffering and fear of God back into our churches? How to we then give reason to the hope that we have?

2 Timothy 2

Again, this chapter tells us that we are to be strong, but the source of our strength is not within ourselves, but in the grace of Jesus. Paul provides three examples of what it means to be strong in the power of grace, using the analogies of a soldier, athlete and farmer.

The first example tells us to embrace suffering, not to get entangled in civilian affairs and to be a soldier for Christ. Again this begs the question of what it means by civilian affairs. Where do we put our focus and what are we to ignore and not be distracted by? What counts as civilian affairs? It does tell us that we are to be single-minded and to only seek our general’s pleasure. Therefore, whatever we do, we do it to glorify God.

The athlete analogy again shows strength, endurance and hard-work, but within a set of rules. These rules are to show us that we are to be obedient to the word and to the commands of Christ Jesus.

The final example of the farmer suggests the fruitfulness of pursuing God’s purpose. By living within the will of God, we will receive his promises.

Then Paul reminds Timothy of Jesus’ death and resurrection, to encourage him to share in this suffering for the gospel. He also mentions his own suffering, that was endured in the pursuit of fulfilling this gospel. Verses 11-13 tells us that if we die and endure in Christ, we live and reign in his resurrection power. However, he we disown him, we, too are disowned.

The final part of this chapter shows how Timothy is to focus on the word of God and avoid quarrels and Godless chatter. He is to be kind and gentle, even in his rebukes. Then, Timothy can present himself as someone who is not ashamed of the gospel he has heard.

1 Thessalonians 4 and 5

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,
  • encourage others,
  • help the weak,
  • be patient with everyone,
  • strive to do what is good for everyone,
  • rejoice always,
  • pray continuously,
  • give thanks in all circumstances.

And as we do this, may the grace of God be with us.

Stay safe.

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.”

Amos 6

There seems to be two themes in this chapter: pride and complacency. We see that the people of Israel are enjoying life. The drink wine, have beautifully furnished homes, eat delicious food, listen to music, relax and have fun. It all seems great.

But this wealth and status has made them arrogant. They look down on the poor; they have stopped caring about them. It also means they’ve forgotten about God and his desires. Their worldly gain has been their spiritual loss. It’s stopped them doing what is right and good.

And the result we be destruction. The big mansions will be destroyed. Israel will be oppressed. The Lord detests their ways.

Philippians 1

First, does anyone else have trouble spelling Philippians? Is it two ls, two ps? Oh, you do? Great.

Philippians is a letter to former Roman soldiers who are now believers in the city of Philippi. They have been very supportive of Paul during his time in prison, which perhaps is why he writes so warmly towards them. I love how Paul says “I thank my God every time I remember you” and that when he prays for the he “always prays with joy”. What a lovely thing to say.

Paul also talks about God’s transforming work in believers:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

verse 6

Paul again speaks of how we are currently redeemed and transformed, and will continue to be transformed until we are with Jesus in heaven. It’s such a hope-filled statement and reassuring to us as we struggle with our sinful natures.

Again, Paul writes a beautiful prayer for his readers:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

verses 9-11

I pray this prayer for myself as well, and hope that it becomes a reality in my life.

After this, Paul encourages those in Philippi by telling how his hardships have served to advance the gospel. It seems passive at first, that it just sort of happened that way, but it was an intentional choice of Paul. It challenges us today to use our struggles and difficulties to advance the gospel and to proclaim Christ. It’s often the case that during struggles and hardships we become inclined to be self-serving, introspective and somewhat self-absorbed. However, during Paul’s time of immense difficulty, he still considered how this could be used to see Jesus proclaimed.

Such was his desire to see Christ proclaimed, he didn’t care that people were doing it to cause him trouble. He only cared that Christ was being glorified. Often, we question the motives of pastors or preachers. However, rather than focusing on that, perhaps we should pray that Christ is seen regardless.

Paul does not care whether he live or die. In fact, he would rather die because it would mean being with Christ. However, he feels that Christ still has a job for him to do here so that Christ’s glory may be further known. Paul wants to remain so “that through my being with you again your boasting Christ Jesus will abound on account of me” (verse 26). Isn’t it amazing that this is Paul’s first and foremost concern: Christ’s glory.

Because Paul is passionate about this, he extols his readers to live in a way that brings honour to Christ:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…

Verse 27

The “whatever happens” is a bit of challenge. On my bad days, on the days where the whatevers are unpleasant or exhausting or frustrating, I’m not sure my conduct is always worthy of the gospel of Christ. In fact, I’m sure the opposite is true. So, again, I pray that whatever happens, I live a pure and blameless life worth of the gospel of Christ.