July & August 2017

Our God Who Honours Women
‘You shall name him Ishmael [God hears] for the Lord has heard of your misery’….’You are the God who sees me…I have now seen [the back of] the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [well of the Living One who sees me];….Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.’ Genesis 16.11b, 13b-14a and 21.19a

We often study the promises made to Abraham, both in Genesis chapter 12, where he hears the voice of God and answers His call to move and in chapter 15, where God initiates a covenant with Abram, promising that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, later reaffirmed by the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17, when Abram and Sarai’s names get changed to Abraham and Sarah. But we don’t often study God’s promises to and about women in the same narrative. We may have been told that the Old Testament is patriarchal. It certainly describes a culture that could be defined as patriarchal. But that makes the discovery (revelation?) of God’s equal relationship with, and treatment of, women even more stunning! The Old Testament directly challenges our view that it is as patriarchal as the societies of its day.

So what about Sarai, Abram’s wife, and her Egyptian servant Hagar? Sarai decides to take matters into her own hands (‘The Lord has kept me from having children.’ 16.2), and offers Hagar to her husband, so that she can ‘perhaps…build a family through her.’ But when Hagar becomes pregnant, she despises her mistress who cannot get pregnant. Sarai ill-treats her in return and she flees. ‘Near a spring in the desert’ (v.7) is the setting for an encounter with an angel, a messenger from God, who tells her to go back and gives her God’s promise that ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count’ (v.10). Hagar’s description of her relationship with God speaks of awareness of one another’s intimate presence: ‘She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Note that Hagar was not a perfect person, but she was understandably distraught by the bad treatment she received from Sarai. Sarai, though, was reaping the consequences of taking matters into her own hands. But neither Hagar or Sarai had learned her lesson yet! Genesis 21 reveals that somehow, Ishmael had picked up his mother’s bad habit of looking down on others (…the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking…v.9) but this time, God tells Abraham that he must listen to his wife Sarah (v.12) when she says to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael and reassures him that Ishmael will also be a nation. God tells a man to listen to a woman! And what Abraham is to listen to is the ranting of a jealous woman who wants to get rid of her rival and that rival’s son, because their contempt is unbearable. Jealousy v.s. contempt – not very pretty!!

And yet God is faithful. He had already fulfilled His promise to give Sarah and Abraham a son (Genesis 18), despite Sarai having taken matters into her own hands (!), and now Abraham is reassured that the son of the outsider, Hagar the Egyptian, would also be blessed, despite her own wrong attitude. But perhaps the most astounding aspect of this whole episode is the tenderness of God towards Hagar when she has left her child to die. We read that ‘God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar,…”What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.”‘ (v.17) God instructs her to take the boy and only then does He open her eyes so that she sees a well of water…and all this AFTER reiterating His promise to make him into a great nation – a promise made directly to her as a woman with no man to care for her!

The promise comes when we cannot see how God can possibly fulfill it. So let’s trust Him, unafraid, joyful in spite of our sinful weaknesses, grateful for His forgiveness and moved by His tenderness.

June 2017

‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).’

How do you feel when you’ve eaten a good meal? Not overeaten, but simply had your fill of good, wholesome food? Relaxed?…Tired – sometimes feel like resting?…Content?…Satisfied?…More energetic?…Like a need has been met?…At peace with the world? When we call food ‘wholesome,’ ‘whole’ is important! It has the connotation of survival – when a person is ‘whole’ they have everything they really need. Shalom means to be whole. Shalom in Hebrew or Salaam in Arabic, is blessing the person with wholeness. It’s saying, ‘May you always be content.’ That is the stuff of life in all its fullness! The apostle Paul says in Philippians 4.11: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ This is more than just food giving Paul strength. This is life to the full! Paul uses the analogy of food to tell us that there is more to life than food!

There is a great comfort in eating – and often when we feel needy, we turn to food for comfort. In our society, that is subtly rejected. So we get the twisted phenomenon of people seeking to bring security into their lives by controlling that most basic of needs for food – they try to control what their food does to and for them. They become anorexic or bulimic, or often both at the same time. They can no longer find comfort in food – it is their greatest enemy. They become self-destructive without realising it, by considering it ‘sinful’ to partake of that which gives them life – FOOD! People’s penchant for control extends to their relationship with Jesus, too. We tend to want to reject His Lordship over our lives. We don’t trust that He alone knows what’s best for us, and so we go our own way, as Frank Sinatra sang in ‘I did it my way.’

Bread is one of the thematic threads that runs through the Bible. When Jesus referred to Himself as the ‘…bread of life’, people of His day who read the Bible would have immediately thought of the OT book of Ruth – and they would have known that He was connecting Himself with the line of King David. They would have remembered the story of Naomi, a widow from Bethlehem, Hebrew for ‘House of Bread.’ She had moved with her family to Moab during a great famine in Judah. They would possibly have thought about how, though she was called Naomi (‘my joy’), when she returned to Bethlehem, having lost her husband and her two sons (they died in Moab) – she told everyone to call her Mara (‘bitter’).

Jesus’ mother Mary carried the same root – ‘bitter’ – in her name. Simeon said of her – ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, ‘House of Bread,’ she not only found bread to eat, she was given a whole new life! Through her daughter-in-law’s marriage to their kinsman Boaz, she became the ancestress of both King David and Jesus! Mary and Joseph also went to Bethlehem, ‘House of Bread’, to be counted for the census, so that the Roman Empire could decide how people would be taxed (sound familiar?), and Mary, too, received more than her daily bread – Jesus the BREAD OF LIFE, was born! Jesus, who alone can give us the fullness of life that God desires for us, was born in the town named after that most basic of food that gives bodily life.

Having fed 5000 people, Jesus tells his disciples. ‘I am the bread of life’. The passage in John 6 tells us that “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Jesus was deeply concerned both about the bodily needs of human beings and about their complete wholeness of life, which was only possible in relationship with Him – God in Christ.

When we do good deeds that include provision of food and water to needy people, let’s not forget that there is more to life than food. ‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).’

May 2017
Prayer for the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese in Europe
”I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24.49)
During the annual ICS (Inter-Continental Church Society) Conference held last week near Interlaken, Switzerland, I had the great pleasure of being able to speak at length with the MU treasurer for the Diocese in Europe – like me, a relative newcomer to the MU in this diocese!
So this month I would like to use this monthly reflection to ask you to pray!
We are told that the Diocese in Europe covers about 1/7 of the world’s land mass, and is represented in 43 political entities. What a huge privilege…and what an awesome responsibility! Many countries have Anglican chaplaincies that include a large number of Africans and a growing number of Indians, who come from countries where the Mothers’ Union is huge. To quote from the Church Times article by Bill Bowder posted on 2 November 2006:
India swells Mothers’ Union membership
The Mothers’ Union has trebled its numbers in the space of two years, from 1.1 million to 3.5 million. The figures were due to be presented at the MU’s general meeting on the Isle of Man yesterday.
The increase is almost entirely accounted for by the arrival of the 1.9 million members of the Church of North India’s Women’s Fellowship for Christian Service and the Women’s Fellowship in the Church of South India, who joined the MU last year.
The first international audit, completed this year, shows that the MU’s traditional power base in Africa still holds strong. Rounding the figures, the audit shows that Tanzania has 680,000 members, Zimbabwe 15,250, South Africa 55,000, Kenya 500,000, Malawi 12,850, Burundi 7200, Zambia 6100, and Madagascar 4300.
PRAY that the MU in Europe will know how to work with fellow Christians from these countries and more, to contribute to a growing and vibrant MU in the Diocese in Europe.
PRAY for yourself and the members of your MU group, that you will have a clear sense of what God is calling you to be and to do – that God will give you both a definite sense of direction and a loving and joyful desire to see it through.
PRAY for those who have been given positions of responsibility in MU in the Diocese in Europe – that we will:
know how best to communicate with each other and with you
be able to develop a strategy that unites and strengthens all the groups throughout the Diocese in Europe by listening to God and to you, in order to have a sense of what God is already doing through you and to continue to grow and develop a Christ-honouring and people encouraging Mothers’ Union in Europe!
And above all, PRAY that everything will be done in God’s time and in God’s way – including waiting for God to ‘clothe us with power from on high’ before we jump into any project or activity.
Thank you and God bless you!!
April 2017
A God who enables women to be radical
”I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” (Ruth 3.9b)
The mantra ‘my body is my own’ is being used in a variety of ways. It has become an essential part of educating children to enable them to defend themselves from physical abuse. It has been used by women marching for the freedom to decide what to do with ‘their own bodies’ when it comes to sex and abortion – witness the images of placards shouting ‘My body, my choice!’. For Naheed Mustafa, a young Canadian Muslim woman, ‘my body is my own’ means that she is free not to pursue the prevalent emphasis on physical beauty as the norm for self-esteem. So she wears a hijab and other clothes that cover her body.
But there are other possible interpretations to ‘my body is my own’. Such a statement can carry with it the connotation of disbelief in a creator who has formed our female bodies in the first place. Or it can indicate a lack of trust in the creator if such a one is acknowledged. Submission of our beings to God or any other person is a fearful thing if we cannot trust that person to want the best for us.
I have been preparing talks on the biblical book of Ruth. It begins with the circumstances that cause Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi to call herself ‘Mara’ (bitter). She seems to have every right to be bitter. And yet…she is willing to give God another chance to prove Himself to her. As her creator, she had no one more powerful to depend on. What she didn’t realize was just how loving her God was – this God she was staking her last breath on!
Ruth is a love story first and foremost – and there is no love without submission. Love must include the giving of one’s very self to another person. And, in the words of Walter Trobisch’s book Love is a Feeling to be Learned, the feelings don’t necessarily come first! Submission is also the giving or oneself to another person…another person you know you can trust!
The outcome of submissive love in Ruth is the marriage of two good people and the birth of a son who would be the ancestor of Jesus. But that outcome would not have been possible without Ruth’s submission. The following three examples illustrate Ruth’s loving submission to Naomi:
Ruth 2.2 Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to do something which will be good for both of them by providing food.
When Naomi asks, ‘”My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?”’ (Ruth 3.1) and gives instructions to Ruth about how this could come about, Ruth replies (3:5) ‘”I will do whatever you say”’ (Ruth 3.5).
As the relationship with Boaz develops, Naomi advises Ruth to ‘”Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today”’ (Ruth 3.18).
Ruth is also submissive to Boaz:
‘So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled”’ (Ruth 2.8-9). Boaz is being directive here, but it is clear that he has only Ruth’s best interests in mind. And that is what communicates itself to Ruth, because she is enormously touched by his kindness and responds in a classic sign of submission (Ruth 2.10). Ruth’s values were such that she appreciated Boaz’s kindness (2.13) and responded to the protectiveness he displayed. Men in those days were no different from what they are now, and he made sure that none of his men touched her; while she was working in his fields she would be protected and cared for (2.9, 22).
Ruth submitted and it has brought good to all of us in Christ. One could say that as an essential part of the history of Jesus, God in Christ, her submission was of cosmic importance. This is radical! It takes courageous trust to relinquish all claims to one’s own country, one’s own people, one’s own ‘gods’ and one’s own body to submit to a new life. But it blessed everyone, filling them with JOY! (Ruth 4.14-15)
March 2017
A God of Motherly Compassion
‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’ (Isaiah 49.15).
Father George Morelli explains that, ‘Compassion differs from empathy. The critical element in compassion that differentiates it from empathy is its behavioral component. Empathy is thinking and feeling what others are thinking and feeling. Compassion combines the deep awareness of the sufferings of others with a desire that leads, eventually, to an action to relieve the suffering.’ (
Our readings for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten season of discipline, remind us of this aspect of God’s character, and of the importance of being more compassionate ourselves. We are not asked to wallow in our grief at sin, but rather to remember that God is compassionate. His character is above all one of feeling for us, of wanting the best for us.
In Joel 2, there is a movement from God the righteous judge who comes on the appointed day of the Lord; God who is ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (v.13b)’ to human beings, to whom He says, ‘”Even now, return to me with all your heart.”…Return to the Lord your God (vv.12 and 13b)…’ The movement continues and comes full circle to God again: ‘Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing… (v.14).’
This movement was experienced by the Assyrian Ninevites when Jonah was sent by God to preach judgment to them. They believed God, turned away from the sin that would have brought them judgment, and God ‘repented’ (he changed course). ‘When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3.10).’
Today we live in a world where compassion is increasingly in short supply. We might say we suffer from ‘compassion famine’. We are often very much like Jonah, in fact. We find it hard to feel compassion for others when we judge that they have done wrong. And we find it even harder to act on their behalf out of compassion when we judge that they have done wrong.
Jonah got angry! He was angry with God for His kindness to a city that he had proclaimed disaster to. Was he ashamed because what he had prophesied did not come true in the end? He was angry with God for allowing him to suffer physically rather than be at ease under the vine. Was his own comfort more important than the lives of all the living in Nineveh? Do you identify with Jonah?
In the account of the ‘adulterous woman’ in John 8, Jesus does not humiliate the teachers of the law and Pharisees by pointing out the person who had been caught in adultery with the woman. Compassion (in human beings) includes the conviction that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ – ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace (Romans 3.23)’ – I have missed the mark – I have failed to be the person that God created me to be in the first place.
Jesus let ALL of the men go, before he let the woman go: ‘”…neither do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin (John 8.11b).”’ Compassion may mean ‘letting things go’ – not feeling that we have to do God’s work of judgment for Him, but rather leaving judgment to Him in His time – accepting that He is more compassionate than we are! At Christ’s death on the cross, compassion became ‘passion’ – the fulfilment of what it meant to give His life so that others might live. Lent is a time to remember that is takes both compassion and Christ’s passion for each one of us to live life to the full!
February 2017
Belonging to Jesus’ Family
…to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God
(John 1.12-13).
At the Stella Maris (Roman Catholic equivalent of the Anglican Mission to Seafarers) annual service of Christian Unity, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we met a Catholic priest who had worked for many years in the West African country of Cameroon. He told us that he goes back every year to visit – they are his family. ‘It is not enough to have children – you must ensure that they continue to be nurtured. To do otherwise is irresponsible. If you don’t visit them, expressing your love for them, they may be lost.’ That word ‘lost’ is something I reflect on a lot when I consider young people in Europe today. Where do they receive the kind of nurture that says, ‘I am willing to lay down everything else in order to spend some time with you – loving you!’? This priest is not married, and yet he can speak of his fellow African believers as ‘family’. He commented, ‘Their concerns are basic – food and drink, a home and time for relationships. We worry about things that stem from our interest in our own self-importance.’
The Mothers’ Union focuses on family. The last session in the ALPHA course is called ‘What about the church?’, and one of the descriptions of the church is ‘family’! This biblical description of the church is nothing like having the same blood running in our veins! This is a family that we choose to be a part of…we cannot choose our biological mothers and fathers.
As Jesus hung dying on the cross, he was still concerned about those he loved belonging to one another and caring for one another. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19.26-27).
This care tempers what appears to be a harsh response to his biological mother and brothers (recorded in all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew 12.46-50, Mark 3.31-35 and Luke 8.19-21). Luke tells us, Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’
It is not always easy to belong to any family, but Jesus’ words encourage us to belong to his family. They encourage us to commit to hearing God his father and ours and obeying Him as he did – which means doing! It means right action! It means that we live out what God has asked of us as we listen to him.
As Mothers’ Union, we long to make family better for those with biological connections. But we are also in the business of listening to God and obeying Him in our own practice, which includes encouraging people to be committed to God’s family, the church, becoming brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus longed for his disciples to be full of JOY! And he longs the same for us, his disciples in the here and now. Here is his recipe for joy: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15.9-12). And how did Jesus love us? By becoming God’s body language and living and dying in that flesh-communication, so that we might LONG to be a part of the loving family that he already belongs to!


January 2017
A Heart that Longs for His Coming
And now…continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming (1 John 2.28).
My father is coming to visit us in March! I am longing for his coming. It has been more than a year since we’ve seen him, and I miss him very much. He was a good father when I was growing up, so I am very grateful. But more than that, put simply, I love him. And so I long for his coming with joyous expectation that is fulfilled each time he visits.
The Christian year, unlike the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582, begins with the season of Advent – launched for us this year on Sunday 27 November 2016. The Christian year begins with longing – with the longing for Jesus to come again – to ‘visit’ us. We long for it with great expectation, because we know that He is faithful. We long for Him to come again because we know that He is coming to judge the earth, i.e. everyone, righteously. He is coming to put things right! To sort things out!!
Maybe 2016 was a year in which you particularly longed for some help in sorting things out!? And not just for yourself, but for the world?! And perhaps for particular countries or places in that world?
New Year on 1 January, with it’s frequent emphasis on ‘resolutions’ that depend on strong wills to sustain, and are often the follow-on of overindulgence during the Christmas holidays (or should I say the ‘winter’ holidays for those of us in the northern hemisphere?!) also emphasises great expectations – normally, of what we can achieve during the gift of an unknown future – a space that we can ‘write’ on. New year ‘resolutions’ tend to be relatively limited in their compass, being about one’s own concerns, hopes and dreams for one’s own perceived personal best (nothing wrong with that) or perhaps about relationships with family and friends and so on. In contrast, the scope of the Christian longing that is meant to be pondered on at the beginning of the repetitive rhythm of a 12 month Christian year may include these, but takes in the whole of creation, and depends on someone else to fulfil our longings and dreams. It includes:
  • Reflection on our failings and sorrow as we wonder at all the reasons God became ‘in Christ’ – all the way to death – for us. As we hear in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – ‘Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…’ (from Isaiah 53.4). Surely…definitely…there is no doubt about it!
  • Joy at the results of God’s humility in being ‘with us’ in the flesh (Jesus!), by His Spirit, and finally coming again so that we will be forever and completely one with Him (the Bride of Christ).
    This joy and the longing force us out of ourselves into a world where God is King.
As we enjoy the celebrations associated with the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar year, let’s continue to hold on to our longing for Him who alone makes all things new…’“I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21.5).’ Let’s ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him (Psalm 98.1).’
December 2016
Say ‘Yes’ to God’s Refuge and Rest
Both highborn and low find refuge in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 36.7b).
November 2016
Say ‘Yes’ to God’s Invitation
Read The Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14.15-24
“Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God (Luke 14.15b).”
Let me begin by asking you a question: What makes you feel rested?
My Scottish husband’s brother is married to a Campbell. The Scots have long had rules of hospitality that enable clans who have been enemies for many years to nevertheless extend hospitality to those enemies in the context of a forbidding and dangerous landscape, where many would otherwise have died out in the elements. This hospitality traditionally lasted up to three days, while the guests recouped their strength before going out into the wilds again – and hopefully, safe back to their homes. Many years ago, the laws of hospitality were broken by the Campbells. The MacDonalds of Glencoe faithfully offered the three days of hospitality to these their enemies. But instead of complying with the tradition, the Campbells rose up in the night and killed their hosts. Needless to say, after that no clan felt safe in enemy territory – even for one night! And the Campbells are not welcome in Glencoe to this day…
Finding rest in prayer…becoming one with the heart of God…
The heart of God is the most important place of refuge! The regular interruptions in our daily lives that make us aware of God’s presence with us and in us become that prayer of the spirit uniting itself with God. That is what always assures us that we are safe because we are loved. God welcomes us! Psalm 36 tells us:
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains
Your justice like the great deep.
O Lord, you preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both highborn and low find refuge in the shadow of your wings!
There is no favouritism with God! As we become one with the heart of God, we inevitably start to treat others as God would – to cherish each one even as we cherish Christ. One of the best places for hospitality is in the home. When two married people, for example, are one in Christ they share an intimacy that is impossible to beat! They extend a refuge to each other and to any children that they might have. But that is not true for everyone. The home that should be the place where one can truly (and safely) be oneself and be loved for being that person, may become a place that is dreaded – a place that makes a person feel trapped and unsafe.
BUT…God is into changing things!
God is in the business of turning things upside down. As we become the people that God has created us to be, God may mark the change by a change of name. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah (Isaiah 62.5). Hephzibah means my delight is in her and Beulah means married.
In Papua New Guinea, many choose a different name when they became Christians – to indicate that they have changed. Often the change is remarkable. We know of young men who went from killing one another in tribal conflict to standing between those same tribes, endangering their very lives in an effort to bring peace – even if it DID mean through the shedding of their own blood. What changed them and what changes us is our relationship with God – becoming one with the heart of God.
May we be people who give refuge and rest to all who draw near us as we remind ourselves that Jesus – the One who gave His life for us – is coming soon to welcome us…forever!
An Invitation
Our church is organising a big event at the moment. It is an art exhibition with paintings, drawings and sculptures by nine gifted artists who are members of the church. We are calling it People have faces: Reflections of Glory for several reasons:
God has made us in His image. This is particularly evident in our capacity to communicate – and body language is often revealed to its greatest degree through our faces.
Some of the people exhibiting have had their talent hidden from many of the church members. For whatever reason, their art is yet to be woven in to their life in Christ – though it may be a very important aspect of who they are as people created in God’s image. These people don’t yet ‘have faces’ – they are not fully known – within the church. Biographies of the artists should rectify this to a certain extent.
The main focus of this particular exhibition is portraits of people from all over the world. It is a church of 27+ nationalities. But not everyone is comfortable with that fact. Perhaps it is easier when others don’t ‘have faces’? It often requires an intentional commitment before we take the steps necessary to recognise and befriend the ‘other’.
Two thousand invitations are going out, and many posters have gone up all over the local area. Everyone is sure that there will be a good turnout on the night – it is very exciting!
A Refusal
Nevertheless, those who are at the centre of the organisation for this event can be tempted to feel discouraged at times. Why? Because there has been one excuse after another, all valid, for many of those who regularly attend church services, to refuse the invitation. Thankfully, this is not a matter of life and death, nor does it indicate what the person’s relationship with God is like. But it does help those who have put so much effort into the event to understand how God feels when whose who should be close to Him refuse His invitation to join Him in His Kingdom – an exponentially much more important matter! Those who refuse to accept God’s invitation to join Him in His Kingdom do so because they have other things in their lives that they consider more important – whether it be buying a field (v.18) or five yoke of oxen (v.19), having just got married (v.20) or whatever our present-day equivalents are.
Understanding God’s Point of View and Feeling With Him in It
Our relatively small efforts at organising something to bless others may or may not have important consequences. But God’s invitation to a heavenly banquet, which is in effect the offer of intimate, loving communion with Him, is a matter of life and death – and yet it is often refused. And that does cause Him rightful anguish. “Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame (v.21).’” Saying ‘no’ to God’s invitation is comparable to crucifying the Lord Jesus again. It makes His sacrifice a fruitless exercise for those who have been invited but have innumerable excuses for not responding to that invitation in the affirmative.
The experience of an invitation refused may be a good way to ‘become one with the heart of God’ (my preferred definition for prayer) as we get a glimpse of how He must feel when He offers the riches of His Kingdom and they are refused. Maybe we should put ourselves in God’s shoes more often!
October 2016
True Freedom is Being Real
Read Ruth chapter 1 – “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter (Ruth 1.20).”
Loss is a bitter business
Some years ago, before I was married and had a family, something happened that pained me very much. In conversation with someone I knew well, I shared my pain. His response was, ‘You’re very bitter, aren’t you?’ And I, being honest, said, ‘Yes!’, all the while wishing I’d told him nothing. Why? Because to the pain I’d shared was added the pain of the awareness of his judgment on my bitterness. And that lack of understanding made me feel very alone.
Change is always stressful, but loss – negative change – is doubly so. Loss can make us bitter. It might be loss of love, or home, health or a job. But in our pain, it is good to know that the One who alone has any right to judge us – God – does not do so. He does not abandon us. Naomi had every right to call herself ‘Mara’, meaning ‘bitter’, when she returned to Bethlehem from Moab, with her daughter-in-law Ruth. She had lost:
her husband Elimelech (1.3)
her sons Mahlon and Kilion (1.5)
her home in Moab (1.7)
But hope need not be relinquished
Naomi acted on good news from Bethlehem by preparing to return – alone – to the place she’d come from before disaster transformed her life. She didn’t lose hope, despite her other losses. And she didn’t let the bitterness that overwhelmed her swamp that hope, either. This was something that she had a choice in. ‘When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there….’ – to Naomi’s ‘home’, not theirs!
Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth staked her whole life on the hope that she saw in Naomi – while Naomi was still bitter (1.13)! Naomi did not pretend that everything was alright. In fact, she dared to point the finger at God and blame him for everything – “…the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me (1.20b-21).’ She was real – about God and about herself, with her daughters-in-law (1.11-13) and with the community (1.20-21) that welcomed her back in Bethlehem. She was REAL!!
I can’t help but think that Ruth must have found her mother-in-law’s honesty both refreshing and reassuring. There is something strong and secure in ‘naming’ things what they are – ‘Mara’ in Naomi’s case – and not pretending the thing does not exist by refusing to name it. Being real breeds trust. It is also a breeding ground for positive change. There cannot be that kind of change where/when energy is expended in creating the illusion that everything is alright when it isn’t.
Do a reality check on yourself regularly. Talk with God (rail at Him, if necessary!) about your circumstances and your response to them. This kind of exercise will change you from within, strengthening you, enabling you to make positive changes as necessary, as it grows hope in you. It will not only draw people to you, as Ruth was drawn to Naomi, but it will also draw people to the God in whom you trust, as Ruth was drawn to Naomi’s God. This is the God in whom there is always hope!
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely if anything but death separates you and me (Ruth 1.16-17).”
September 2016
True Freedom: ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1.21).’
Read I John 4.15-21 – There is no fear in love (John 4.18a).
The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea, 1901, 1942
Every year, when I get to the beginning of September, my heart warms to these words: ‘The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea’ (PNG). Why? Because for nearly 4 1/2 years, when my children were very small, and just after the birth of our daughter, we lived in PNG. And we were very blessed!
In those days, dying in PNG was not that unusual. It might be from disease (particularly malaria) or payback demanded in kind – death – from another tribe for the death of one of their own (someone was always held responsible!) or it could be tribal war that claimed lives on both sides. Fear of the other, virtually unknown, tribe living in an adjacent valley, often drove fearful people to attempt to inculcate fear in the other, leading to tribal warfare, with all the tribal war paint intended to intimidate. We saw the human condition – undisguised, despite the war paint! More recently, I was interested when a European said to me, ‘I aim to attack first, before I am attacked. It is my best defence.’ These are the words of a heart full of fear.
Like night to day, darkness to light
What we saw in PNG was the transformation when people came to know and be loved by Jesus their Lord and Saviour. The fear vanished, to be replaced by God’s love towards others in their own hearts. The effects were seen in:
The physical – open faces, full of hope and lots of smiles
The relational – the beating of one’s spouse (for example) was no longer considered culturally necessary. Love and honour was experiences as being more effective in strengthening the bonds of marriage.
And in worship there was no longer the need to placate the gods they feared. There was no more fear of the curses that they used to experience as the harbingers of death (such as the case of the educated doctor I saw one week who died over the weekend because he’d been cursed). Fear was replaced by the love of God in Christ – and the result was freedom!
So when we thank God for the martyrs of PNG on 2 September, we are praising Him for people who gave their lives freely in the name of Christ. This is to die fearlessly. To live fearlessly – which is what most of us do more of (!) – is perhaps harder. It is about not fearing that our lives are meaningless and therefore striving to build up our own self-importance by the things we appear to achieve, through what we do.
So our time in PNG informed living for Christ, too. Just two examples:
1. My husband John was working with Christian university students. This often involved late night meetings. One of the students, who had been adopted by missionaries, said, ‘You missionaries get so busy that you don’t have time for your families. What we need is Christian people we can observe. People we can watch as they live lives as marriage partners, parents, friends and in their daily behaviour towards others. If we go on too late – leave! Go home to your wife and family! That is more of a model to us than your continued presence with us into the night.’
2. To the question, ‘What will you do when you retire?’ a Papua New Guinean will answer, ‘Go back to the village – to my place.’ Translated, this means ‘where I belong, among my people’. Where do you belong?
The Mothers’ Union puts a right emphasis on strengthening the fabric of families. That is an honourable mission! But do you practice what you preach? Your practice is what expresses your true freedom in Christ.
August 2016
Families are happy when they are ‘rich towards God’
Jesus replied…’Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12.15).’
The parable of the rich fool, recorded in Luke 12.13-21, highlights one of the problems that often divide families. That is, what is going on with the inheritance that has been passed down from one generation to another? The death of a family member often brings out the greed at the core of a person’s heart. It reveals what our real values often are – values that can result in division in a family and destroy what should be loving and supportive relationships. ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,’ says the brother. Jesus, the one who has come that we might ‘have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10.10b) replies that ‘life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12.15).’
Presumably, the man who wanted Jesus to get his brother to divide the family inheritance with him was concerned about justice. About justice being served to him! If you know Dickens’ Bleak House, it’s what Richard Carstone, one of the wards in the Jarndyce case, wanted for himself, too. That elusive justice that would enable him to inherit the Jarndyce fortune when the numerous Jarndyce wills were sorted out. As with so many others before him, it ends up destroying him as he puts it before all else, including the love of his wife Ada Clare, the other ward in the Jarndyce case. He is already dying when a good will is found that does indeed mean that he inherits ‘the fortune.’ Unfortune-atly, the whole lot has been eaten up by lawyers and court costs, so that there is now nothing left! But he dies happy, because he has at last come to his senses and is surrounded by the people who really love him.
Jesus uses legal language when he responds, ‘Friend… [Someone He knew and loved? – Jesus called His disciples friends], who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ He then proceeds to tell a parable that is really a warning, much like the warning that John Jarndyce, one of the Jarndyce family who has refused to spend his life on the Jarndyce court case, gives to Richard Carstone at the beginning of their relationship.
What is the warning? Do not be greedy – LIFE is not about the amount of possessions we have! ‘Be on your guard [watch out, in yourself!] against all kinds of greed;…’ (v.v.15a) Why? As well as driving a wedge between people, it makes people dissatisfied! And God wants us to know that we are blessed!!
Being ‘rich towards God’ (v.21c) means that we store up memories of all that He has done for us – daily!
Living life to the full means that we are aware of inhabiting that space that is God’s spacious place for us – His gift, accepted moment by moment in relationship with Him. Unlike the rich man in the parable, we don’t look for a future that we perceive ourselves to have created through our own efforts at amassing a fortune. We live gratefully in the present moment. This is WISDOM.
The rich man planned for a life of his own making. In the parable, God calls him a fool, because, in fact, he has no control over what is really his life! ‘You FOOL! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’ (v.20a) Life, as God desires it for us, is not in our own power to grasp – it is bestowed on us by a loving God.
This is the life that each one of us needs to model – perhaps, in particular, those of us who have been placed in families (which is most of us!). Putting the wisdom of Christ at the centre of our lives draws all those we know and love closer to Him, enabling unity to prevail – beyond the grave!
July 2016
A cheerful heart is good medicine… – Proverbs 17.22a
Those who sacrifice thank offerings honour me, and they prepare the way so that I may show them the salvation of God (Psalm 50.23).
What is a thank offering?
In the Old Testament, a thank offering was optional – it was given as an outward expression of the inner fullness of praise to God. It could be gratefulness for sins forgiven; appreciation of God’s healing power in sparing a person from illness or death; or even thankfulness for God’s character as a God who answers prayer. For those who longed for the world to be a better place – more like the place that God intended us to inhabit as human beings created in his image – a thank offering could be in anticipation of God’s action – a promise waiting to be fulfilled or an expression of trust in a good Lord whose ‘love endures for ever (Jeremiah 33.11).’
Being grateful can feel like a sacrifice, because it is what most expresses our awareness of not being completely in control of our own lives – of not being autonomous human beings who can be proud of having no need of anyone else. When we say ‘thank you’ we acknowledge a gift – something gratuitous and perhaps unexpected. It may be:
Someone helping us in a practical way like washing dishes or making a bed.
A present for a special occasion like a birthday, Mother’s Day, or ‘just because’ (the person loves you!)
Emotional support when things are really tough.
Whatever it is, gratefulness – saying ‘thank you’ is an expression that reveals our dependence on another in relationship. It is saying, ‘LIFE would not be the same without you – your thoughtfulness fills me with appreciation!’ Or, at least, that’s the appropriate response…isn’t it?
It honours God
To honour is similar to bless, which comes from the same Hebrew root as to bend the knee or kneel. It acknowledges one’s right to be honoured. To be grateful to God is to honour him.
Sometimes it is particularly hard to be grateful to God. But trusting him so much that we are able to say ‘thank you’ whatever our circumstances (I Thessalonians 5.18), and even when our desires are thwarted, helps us to see things differently. At the end of June, when we remember Peter and Paul, and when ordinations usually take place, we remember that not everyone, for example, gets through the selection process for the ordained ministry the first time. I have known some be very angry, if not bitter, with God. On the other hand there have been people who, thankful in all circumstances, have had their eyes opened to a way set before them that has brought great blessing to them and to others…a way that has still ended in ordination…some years later!
It prepares the way for God’s salvation to be seen.
I know someone who is always ungrateful. It’s a permanent attitude. She believes everyone (including God) is against her, too. She is calculated and manipulative, sure that should anyone do anything for her, it’s because they have an ulterior motive – there’ll be a sting in the tail! She is unable to trust. And so she believes what she wants to believe. She has not yet ‘let go’ to genuine gratefulness that would prepare the way for her to see the salvation of God in Christ, freeing her from the bondage of self-delusion and transforming her into the loving, joyful person God created her to be.
When we’re ungrateful, we don’t ‘see’ properly and we may miss the truth of God’s blessing right in front of us. May our eyes be opened today and every day, so that we don’t miss God’s best staring us in the face!… And be thankful (Colossians 3.15).