Tag Archives: Bible

Wilderness woes and wistfulness

11 Jun

In the coach station at Birmingham. I’ve decided to give my very forgiving blog some context and character. It’s a grey, windy day in Birmingham this morning, as I head home. I’m sitting in a cafe across from Starbucks (because they have better armchairs) with coffee from Starbucks and considering a refill.

I’ve had a bit of heart-wringing from Him for a few weeks. The way that I’ve been seeing the next couple of years has fallen through. I always knew it could – but you always know things can change with that superiority of a Christian who’s been there, done that, learned her lesson…

I think to myself: I got this faith thing down pat. I have waited and trusted so often, over so many, closely intervalled seasons, that I don’t need any more testing. 10 stars for me. 


And then halfway through one of those sentences, God pulls the rug out from under your feet. And you’re in a test again. At first, you don’t even realise. In my little boxed-in, ‘churched’ worldview, change means doubting my calling. But God said I would live here, do this, give my tuppence to this part of the world. God talked to me about this relationship. God talked to me about planning my finances. So how can this happen?

See, in my head I have a plan. I know what God wants (at least some of it) and I know how to get there. And I am incredibly stubborn about the way that it’s going to work. The problem is if it doesn’t work that way – if he asks me to leave, if he brings me back to Canaan after a 40-year detour in the wilderness but he’s only ever told me the Canaan part of his will and not the wilderness part… I’m a screaming, kicking mess. Because I *never* get that the wildernesses are not detours. It took me 15 years of my life to work out that although God promised the promised land, he actually first moved Abraham FROM the promised land. And then brought him back.

Nuts.

I’m writing this. But I STILL don’t get it. I don’t get the sovereignty, I don’t get the need to relinquish control, I don’t get the concept of doing all I can see and all that will keep me sane and giving the rest to God in confidence that he’ll work it.

Because seriously – who does that?! Who drags you miraculously into the place you think you’re going to be for the rest of your life, hints to you that that is a place that’s a pretty major part of your life. Ok, tells you this is what he wants for you. And then drags you out of it?!

And yet – he does. And it’s not simply a lesson in the wilderness. It’s God in the wilderness. Just like God in Canaan. And you shake your head and shake your head and say ‘No, no, no – this is where I’m meant to be for life. You told me. You told me.’

But all he really said was to obey.

I feel like I’ve been in the wilderness for a little while – and usually, when I expect it… you know, that’s okay! I’ve got my little survival bag and contingency plans. But I’ve been in this weird place for a few days now (yes, nothing dramatic) and I should expect that God never gives me expected things! And every time I have time to myself, my thoughts and my God – I remember all the promises, all the hurts, the little things, the big things, the distance, the slight distance from God – everything that the wilderness, if not the cause, is a reminder of. A big hulking symbol, unmissable because I’m in it dead centre.

And this is why this lesson is so hard. I can only obey. I cannot predict the obedience of others or the obedience of time and circumstance and the weather, for goodness’ sake. I cannot predict that the picture will come true. I can only simply fit my piece into that puzzle clumsily.

Clumsily is really all I can do. You might be able to do perfection. Today is one of those days I can’t even try.

And this is why I’m sitting here crying in a coach station, having cried through church, having cried through conversations, having cried through being told off, having cried through defending myself, having cried through being a pain in other peoples’ sides, because I have NO way to explain why I’m crying. So I have a Mac, a coffee, a tissue held to my face like I have a nosebleed, gratitude for the rain because it covers up crying people, and the funny urge to write a song and these two quotes from two favourite books, one of the books life-giving, one of the quotes rather like a hug and the other rather like a pat on the back and a reminder to get on with it. Because the wilderness is a blessing. Canaan is a blessing. Both are – in the strictest sense – merely wanderings until we see Him face to face. I would say “The show must go on” but this is much too life-like and God-like for that to be fitting.

This:

You Yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your records?

Psalm 56: 8

And then this reminder from Anne Shirley that puts a smile on my wet face.

“Gilbert darling, don’t let’s ever be afraid of things. It’s such dreadful slavery. Let’s be daring and adventurous and expectant. Let’s dance to meet life and all it can bring to us, even if it brings scads of trouble and typhoid and twins!” – LM Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars

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PS to the last one!

16 May

This whole concept of Biblical femininity and Biblical masculinity is kinda rubbing me the wrong way.

A woman is not any less a woman if she doesn’t sew, stay at home, bake cakes and dance (okay, okay, some sarcasm there…). A woman, in fact, in Proverbs 31 did quite a bit of marketing and business. She provides, she goes out and supplies the merchants with sashes, she goes out and markets her wares (!) and and and – she speaks. She gives “faithful instruction”. She – get this – “she watches over the affairs of her household”. She sounds like she’s pretty in charge.

And a man is not any less a man if he doesn’t bring home the bigger income, or doesn’t equate to his ‘machismo’. It worries me when evangelical preachers say things like ‘man up’ and ‘be a man’ in some situation, and make it a Biblical mandate. There is not a specific set of ‘male’ traits and ‘female’ traits that the Bible asks us to have and to follow. We’re denying creation – he made us male and female. We don’t make ourselves male and female in different ways. We emulate the character of God, we are the whole woman God called us to be or the whole man God called us to be.

This feeds in a little bit to the fact that much of the question of gender and sexuality is culturally fed. And we make it ‘Christian’ in a way that seems so harmless but is still dangerous, because it allows to subscribe to gender in way God did not ordain by the way we asses ‘how’ male and female we are.

‘Biblical masculinity’ and ‘Biblical femininity’ seem to engender proponents and telly evangelists and a plethora of bloggers who become overnight experts. For the record though, I’m not indiscriminately against people in these forums. 🙂 I know there are several husband-wife duos out there who do offer an honest account of their every day learning if they’re bloggers with humility and humour and authenticity (like her and him 🙂 ), or a well-thought out argument and often a sermon and teaching on the subject, like this wonderful couple whose teaching I used to love (although it’s been a while).

I have stereotypes. You could call them dreams even – going to a dance ;), being chauffeured around a bit, being given flowers and chocolate and having someone eventually think I’m perfect. You do too – don’t you? But the thing is I know they’re my wishes, I know they’re my desires, I know some of them are fed by Disney.

I do not make some of these things a Biblical mandate. But I know and I see how easy it can be to make them mandates, and how hard it is to pull out the tangled hairs and threads of culture and context from the nature of who God is. Yet it is our call to constantly engage in this activity, constantly probe and do a winnowing of our minds and understanding to see him ever more clearly. And even as I say this to you, I know we will never be truly perfect – until then.

Gender and all that – my half-formed thoughts on a page

14 May

I’ve been struggling for some days with the expression of this. This place of frustration because you so want to do some research and you have to wait for bureaucracy, this place of frustration because you wish Christians – and not just inter-church murals! – would relate to each other outside of theological niceties and interact as people and understand the image of God that is naturally and fluidly in each of us, this place of frustration because you want to say something and let your intellectual thought process go on but you’re afraid of stepping on toes.

Anyone’s toes really. I’ve had these thoughts on gender and sexuality and what is permissive and what is profitable and leadership in the church and relationships – can you see how I might step on anyone’s toes? And I don’t have a side to which I belong – I cannot say to you ‘Ok, I’m a liberal and if you’re going to be offended – stay clear’. I think I’m pretty conservative – but then conservatives are a weird breed and who knows how they (we?) might judge me?

There has been a lot of debate in Biola – a campus I am fairly familiar with through students – on sexual orientation. In my research on social science research projects and ethics, I came across a rather disturbing forum and a train of thought which I am itching to write about and parallel to current arguments. I like predicting people’s reactions and I am usually a fairly accurate guess. And I think they would react with horror that I could ever posit two things such as what I hope to and say that they were similar with good humanitarian ground. However, I think I will. And I’ll make my disclaimers known in good thesis statement fashion 🙂

Today however, I think I’ll stick to A TINY smattering of the oh-how-I-hate-calling-it-that egalitarian-complementarian debate. Actually, quite a few of the debaters are ranting against the terms. It doesn’t really have to be one or the other and a couple can well be equal as well as complementing to each other.

But for what it’s worth, before I even go into some of my ideas, I think that two people are purposed to come together and interact in the special, unique way that God made them. That’s why he only ever called you to one wife or husband – e designed us pretty neatly and uniquely, and he purposed us too. And some of us intellectual or regimented or well, seriously, more anal types need to realise that that is how God’s going to make it work. You go into it with no guarantees except that God called you both to be together, and there’s no changing that.

God could then overhaul your lives entirely. Speak to one or both of you, redefine your calling, or ask you to act on that instruction h gave you when you were 10 and you forgot all about. God could change your physical circumstances, or your mental even! And it is silly – and I often make this mistake, as a single – to think that it’s possible to get all your shots in order before the big day so that your life is sorted for the rest of eternity. I, of all people, should know the answer is ‘Never’ to the question: Since when has the Lord ever made things that easy?! Provision, yes. Love, yes. But trivial and easy lack of challenge – no.

Neither husband nor wife can take a decision FOR each other – unless that couple decides to do that equally and unequivocally for each other, and they take no decisions for themselves. It can’t be one partner taking every decision for the other, unless that is mutual. That undermines the value of each person that God has placed within them. If it were mutual – wow, what a testimony; but also man, that’s going to be hard! Hierarchy goes against the verses that speak of mutual submission and considering others better than yourself. You lay a claim to that authority OVER someone else (Mark 10:42), you immediately destroy the model of servanthood and leadership that God provides.

Paul’s use of the term ‘head’ is a rather complicated thing – no? It strikes me that over and over again, he overturns the image we have of a ‘leader’ in our heads. He makes it instead evident that the leaders are called to lay it down – him saying that to a culture of patriarchy would have been a pretty radical thing. Perhaps he was asking those husbands who had, as their culture dictated, held all authority until then to lay it down? He’s doing a pretty radical thing in the Corinthian church too when he asks women to be silent – women who’d never learned the language the Scriptures were taught in and sat to another side to gossip… Well, suddenly, they needed to shut up and listen. Women who came from a temple culture of matriarchy and female worship – Corinth. And then he kinda turns it upside down for the men in the political and male-dominated city which then became a pretty central spot for Christianity – Ephesus.

He compares the men to Christ, he uses the term ‘head’ in the same way he used it for Christ – and then he says, go do that. I think there is something to that model of headship. And I – personally – don’t think it defines bottom-line decisions but giving, and nurturing and making sure the other is benefited, can grow and can reach their full potential and glorify God best. I’ve been reading a few articles by NT Wright (<3) and Gordon Fee, Tim Keller (who is complementarian but one of the most egalitarian ones, apparently) and also Piper and Grudem, who are on the other side. Piper, however, is very nearly egalitarian too or seems to have become, in his later writings. And almost all of these people have constructions for how the verb ‘submit’ is not repeated with the word for women, but rather remains in the first injunction to both and then is extended to the next clause. Quite a few details like that.

*On a side note – I picked all men for my list of exegetes, intentionally, to avoid any accusation of bias :). It would be kinda cool, incidentally, to see an argument by all-women exegetes to explain this position (or even another topic) and even cooler to see a guy do it 😀 Okay, aside over.*

Bottom-line – there are two theological positions on this – both very clear, and both with a measure of persuasiveness. And I think that in reality, in the practical outworking of life, it will be up to the couple to choose to work their family in the way that serves and produces fruit for God best. In a way that makes use of the giftings of the husband, wife, and children not in any way that reduces the wife’s or the husband’s gift at all. I think I personally might need to remember that in pursuing my calling and my giftings to the exclusion of my husband’s – if that ever happens 🙂 – I have a very high degree of answerability and even blame before God for those things that my husband might miss out on. And I pray I have a husband who thinks likewise!

However, it could be hard if the man or the woman wants to be the authority and grasp for it consciously – it could be hard in that there will be pride on both sides and hurt and ineffectiveness.

TBC…

God’s got it covered

17 Apr

Rejection, betrayal are the two greatest fears women have. And you have had to deal with both. So many women can identify with you, including me (Let’s have coffee one day and I’ll spill the beans) But this didn’t sneak up on God; He has a plan for your future – I am living proof.

That’s a comment I read on a blog post over at (in)Courage. And it fell into place for me today.

At the moment, what’s on is probably what most other people might not recognise as major in my life. But everyone near me and/or who hear my daily outpourings are generally bringing me flowers and chocolate and little notes. My colleagues too – and one of them has had to go be with her family in London. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. But we get chocolates and visits and all that.

Oxford exams are really that big. Exams generally are a pretty big deal, being Asian and all…

Digression: In some parts of Asia, the suicide rates spike up in April and I have research to prove it. Still, taking as I do, my identity in Christ rather than cultural boundaries, I’m very grateful for my relationship with him and with the family I do have!

In addition though, I’ve had a student affairs spike. I’ve also had to negotiate a petty crime, and its fallout in the community. Plus a couple of personal hiccups as you’ve probably figured from that last post of mine 😉 For the record though, I haven’t had personal betrayal – no, not that.

And yesterday, God gave me a much-needed ‘moment’. I called a friend and prayed with her. And she kinda demurred at the prayer… This is a friend with whom I went to church, and we’ve been to a fairly charismatic (you know, pentecostal but not Pentecostal and a fairly traditional Anglican/Presbyterian church together. We’ve been in small group together. We’ve known each other for nearly seven years now. We’ve travelled together, visited each other’s homes. Um, you would assume that we’d be free to pray with each other. But I knew that she wouldn’t actually be so free to pray out loud, even with her family. She told me yesterday that I was important to her and the least she could do is take a day off and buy me lunch – in another city! I’d depend on her to listen in my horrible moments too. But all of this friendship-boasting to show that – no, it wasn’t the easiest thing to pray together.

But hey, I was feeling pretty selfish. So I got online, grabbed a hold of her and said she had to pray with me. That she had to try, and that doing it out loud was a token to ME not even to God, and that He knew her silent prayer but I didn’t. I was at a point of need. So could we please do that? You know – you get the point. I repeat myself generally, but I think this time you got it.

I wanted her to be there and.to.pray.with.me. It wasn’t a major thing. But it was something I didn’t want to do without – the beauty of communion and shared love for Jesus, the vocalising of trust in His provision.

Still I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I thought she’d stumble and pray but she’d pray and I’d have my… silly little token.

Actually, she didn’t stumble. I prayed. She prayed.

Then she said this:

I think you’ll appreciate a random of sequence of events without which this might not have happened.

And the story was this. Over the weekend, her boyfriend had told her she needed to practice to pray out loud. I mean – we all know she doesn’t. We all know she loves God. So then she was amused and didn’t understand and she probably rolled her eyes at the boy. But he made her practice AND pray about it and then said ‘You never know when you might need it.’

And there I was the next day – I wouldn’t have really grabbed a hold of anyone else, and said friend might well have said no, if she hadn’t been made to think about it and consider it necessary. And God showed her how he’d got me covered. And he showed me how he’d got her covered.

And that brings me back to that comment. While facing rejection, fearing it, or uncertainty or betrayal or hurt or simply even just the unknown – I’ve got to know this…

It didn’t sneak up on God.

And now, I’m sitting here thinking how un-random life is in some ways. How very God-like life plays itself out. And how, in a time I needed Him, He put a hand on my shoulder and said ‘I’m watching. I’ve got you covered.’

Shoqed.

Songs in the night

3 Apr

It’s one of those days. I bet you want to stop reading now… 😉 But it’s one of those days I really want to hold on to someone and cry. And no, I promise it’s not because I am just being a bundle of moodiness.

 

Work has been crazy – I am responsible for a community house of students at Oxford. And it’s been a pretty horrible day for the community with some serious letting down the side.

My supervisor emailed and asked me for more work tomorrow.

I am scared of all the things that are coming up in my life that I cannot predict and, for the most part, cannot help. Read visas and job applications.

Tomorrow we have a ‘community meeting’ to discuss this troublesome thing in the house that I wish I could tell you about, so you could be my collective, virtual someones to hold and cry!

And I am in the midst of a lot of personal upheaval involving someone quite close to me.

Aaaaahhh and the exams are closer.

 

 

But here is what I know:

You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?

Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.

Whether morning dawns or evening fades as it is now, O Lord, you are he who calls forth songs of praise. (Psalm 65: 8)

That girl

2 Apr

It’s been days since I wrote. I know.

I’ve been reading and avoiding reading. And worrying about the future, and realising that oh, He knows so much more than I do. He knows everything.

I’ve also been thinking about all the people that I miss. The fact that everything about this whole course and all the effort and resources depend so much on my getting the data, and of course, successfully not procrastinating for the exams.

And in the middle of all that, I am culturally dependent enough to look at a friend’s photography page and wish that I were that girl.

You know her – with the fire in her hair when she’s in the sun, and the beautiful eyes and the wonderfully poised social interaction. The person everyone loves and admires and respects.

Yes *shame-faced smile*. I’ve been that other girl – you know, the one that’s always wishing instead. The one that looks at stuff and reads stuff with a sort of unhealthy longing, as if my winter of discontent was never made glorious.

For a few days, I’ve reminded myself not to feel inadequate and alone because I am incredibly forgetful of grace. I used to stare out of windows and wonder what it was like to ever fly outside of your country. I cried because I could not (did not) go on a semester abroad and yet it was what God wanted. I used to cry about my family’s struggles as a child.

… And I am here. ME. Because God redeemed that not only to save the lost but to raise the bar as if we’d never stopped moving and moved even faster.

I’ve lived in two (ok, three) countries. Travelled to a couple more. My family has never lacked. And I’ve studied and worked abroad for six years. That’s quite a few semesters there. I have a life that is so much more than I’ve asked for.

So much.

I have so much to be grateful for.

And then I realise that this week we remember that it was ME he died for. And you. Because he made us and he saw that it was good.

You’re not inadequate. You are exactly who he wanted.

Deuteronomy 33:26.

So I’ve come here to say I’m sorry for not writing. Life has taken over, but I’m kinda sorry for when I let anything take over but God.

Gideon and me

27 Mar

I’ve been writing muchly about love. And relationships. Well, strike that. Relationship. Singular, with God.

But undeniable as that is, I believe you might need some relief from it 😉 And I’ve been struck by a few examples of God’s humour.

He’s a pretty funny guy. I say this with reverence. Like that time when Gideon needed to whittle down his army, because God wanted to make it pretty obvious that it was he, not the Israelites, who fought that battle. And he says to Gideon:

Yo Gideon, we’ve got the ones who are really ready to fight, but I know that they don’t need to be there. I need them somewhere else… So here’s what we’re going to do.

You take them to the water. And there’ll be some who decide to kneel and just go for the stream. And there’ll be others who’ll get messy differently and hunker down or stand up and dunk their hot hands in to drink from their hands. And that’s really all I’m going to use for a measure.

I bet Gideon was waiting for some deep theological revelation on the character of men. I’m not saying there isn’t – but I’m saying that’s not what God told Gideon. Or he might have hoped for a miracle. A cloud of glory landing on the heads of the chosen.

And I think God winked.

And then the ideas he puts into the minds of people. I mean who ever thought of doughnuts? I reckon someone almost as clumsy as I am started out to make a little dough ball and the centre fell out.

And the funny little hummingbirds – they can fly backwards. They’re the smallest species (or at least a type of them is) and so I bet they look around their shoulder (or not depending on which way they’re going) and say, Ha!


And when I ask for a bus on time and I go on and on about how I really deserve it tonight, he sometimes sends me a friend with a car instead.

Communication in the Bible

22 Mar

I’m trying to find what the Bible says on communication.

I know the emphasis on being slow to anger, and gentle in response to a tell-off. All of that. But I’m looking specifically for how to be open, how to talk to each other, social norms.

I know I’m kinda shooting myself in the foot here. The Bible doesn’t do ‘social norms’. It merely says Be imitators of God.

But if you have an idea of what the Bible might say for how to un-hurt a friend (small or big!), how to be genuine in your care for the other in the way that you talk to them…

We have common sense. Here’s some of mine:

Listen to people. Really listen to them.

Honour their commitment.

Be grateful that they want to spend time with you.

Consider their emotions, anticipate their feelings.

Look for detail – in their reactions and in yours!

And there’s a lot online about how to be friends, how to be a couple, how to be leaders… Especially a lot on dating and marriage from the Christian net circles 😉 Like:

Loving one’s spouse according to the Scriptures involves four elements: 1. A genuine care and concern resulting in self-sacrificial attitudes and actions to meet the needs of your spouse 2. A commitment to fulfill your God-ordained marriage responsibility to your wife or husband 3. A romantic and sexual desire and attraction 4. A commitment to separate oneself from others of the opposite sex for exclusive and permanent romantic and physical intimacy. 

– Ron Jones at the Titus Institute.

But remind me of your favourite verses in the Bible that deal with those things? Or stories in the Bible that allow us to “be imitators”? All those relationships, please! Thanks!

Wonders and workers

19 Mar

Along the walk back home is an Eastern Orthodox church to St Nicholas the ‘Wonder Worker’. Quaint, funny – but brings up a whole host of questions. Wonders? Really? And who works ’em? Personally I don’t think it’s St Nicholas*

Bookmarked to read later! 🙂 I just came across this review.

I would LOVE your thoughts on this. This will become a real blog post as soon as I can get down to it… Anyone read Keener already?

*More lucidity on that perhaps later? 😀

Mother’s Day tradition 2.0

18 Mar

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the UK. And Happy Mother’s day to everyone in the Arab world and the commonwealth (that is not yet re-colonised by US commercialism 🙂 ) – and to everyone in the rest of the world, celebrate mothers again, why not?!

My mother managed to surprise me today. Not that I ought to have been surprised but… I thought she would give me not so impartial advice, take my side, rush to protect me.

Instead, she listened.

If you have or had a mother, someone who stayed by you – aren’t they such a good thing the Father gives us? And if you are a mother, you know what a privilege it is. Or perhaps to you, it’s not – and I wish you could just see it from my side…

And if we were at church together on Mother’s Day where I’m from, they’d give us each a flower to hand to our mothers. Or get the children to do it. So here are some for my readers…

I love you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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