discovering God, discovering the Divine, finding God hidden in plain sight, looking within, God is everywhere, the fear of the Lord, the power of prayer, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the role of Women in the church, humility, searching, the power of your tongue, watch your words, speaking things into existence, positive affirmations, taking responsibility

10 years searching for hidden treasures: discovering God

In February 2020 it will be ten years since I started this blog on WordPress, in order to have a place to write about practising the presence of God in my life and encouraging others to take their own adventure of exploration with the Divine.

Yesterday, I took some time to read my first blog posts and review some of the very first things that I wrote on here, and to see how far I’ve come – and how some things remain the same!

I chose then to look at five topics and hold these topics at the forefront of my spiritual learning for a decade. I admit, the last three years, I’ve gone off that track slightly, and yet … I find myself looking at them over and over again still!

The topics that I had chosen were:

The fear of the Lord (which is the beginning of wisdom, according to Proverbs).  Who is God?  What does it mean (in this day & age) to fear him?  What is “fear”?

An intimate relationship with God: which is really 2 topics – Prayer and speaking to God; and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The tongue – blessings and curses, the control of the tongue, the power of the tongue for good and for bad.  What we build up and what we tear down.

Women – how do I reconcile the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 with what Paul says about women in 1 Timothy 1: 11-12.  Throughout most of what is written by Paul, he makes mention over and over to the fact that women “caused” the fall of man and were lead astray, and lead man astray. But, how do I reconcile this model to follow in Proverbs with other parts of the Bible. 

Spiritual growth for a decade

I am still asking myself today some of the questions that I asked myself ten years ago.

Some things have changed

At the same time, I also look at my spiritual journey and see where I have changed and where I am no longer trying to fit a square peg into a round hole! For example, ten years ago I said

Now… I don’t want you to believe that I’m into paganism of ANY sort, but to me it’s VERY clear that God is not only the God of my heart, my spirit & my soul, but God is the God of the world (in every sense of it).  Of the rivers (dividing the River Jordan); the seas (drying the Red Sea); and the forests (He uses them as weapons at His will). 

The forest

Today – I would have written that differently!

I don’t care what you think or believe about what I believe. I’ve gotten over trying to explain myself to others or tone my writing down so that I don’t get any Christian backlash. It’s not that I don’t care about other people, but caring for people is not the same as caring about their opinion of me. I’ve learned the hard way that their opinion of me is none of my business!

So, rather than putting all kinds of disclaimers in what I write, so as to not offend anyone, I am looking more and more at being authentic in what I say. I would have openly stated that I can honour pantheism in its understanding of the presence of the Divine everywhere and in everything.

I am searching for Truth and for the presence of the Divine in my life – and sometimes that just gets messy!

I read all over the place – from all kinds of ancient wisdom, not just Christianity. Because I think that on some level, everyone is searching for the Divine connection.

As I said a few months ago:

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that God is standing outside of the window. The Bible is simply the finger that points TO God, standing outside the window.
We, unfortunately, have gotten hooked on looking exclusively at “the finger”, rather than to where the finger points us!
At the end of the day, our relationship is not with the Bible – the relationship is with God. … God speaks THROUGH the Bible – the Bible is not God.

The best self-help book I’ve ever read?

So, the same way that I consider that the Bible points us to God, I read other people’s experiences in finding God as well.

Which takes me back to where I started – ten years of studying five subjects, to master them.

The fear of the Lord

Allow me to start by saying, I’ve stopped using “the Lord” in my terminology when speaking about God and the Divine. I prefer I AM or the Divine.

These things happen when you start to look into translations and original meetings, and discover that “the Lord” was a translation of a translation and there wasn’t actually meant to be an original meaning of “lord” but it served a purpose. So, for example, you could travel down this rabbit hole and read things like:

I must say… ignorance was bliss.

It was so much less confusing.

Finding God

Even ten years ago, like today, I am intrigued by the question of how Abraham and others discovered I AM – where did they experience the Oneness and presence of the Divine in their lives? Even today, that question still has me reading new stuff like:

I’m not even close to mastering the topic for myself of “the fear of the Lord”, as it seems the deeper that I go, the more questions that I have. The only certainty I have is that the Infinite is infinite… and Never fully understanding is okay with me. It doesn’t stop the search or the desire to know, but I am perfectly comfortable now with having questions and doubts, rather than certainty of any kind.

Prayer & meditation

Ten years ago, I wanted to set up a prayer centre, as a physical place and space. I attempted it a number of times, but never really putting myself out there. Because my view on defining God has changed over these ten years, so has my definition of prayer.

I am much more interested now in sitting in the Silence to hear that small, still voice, than I am to tell God about my problems and needs!

The meaning of

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you

Matthew 6:33

becomes more clear each day. My role in prayer is not to sit and beg a God sitting high in the heavens for some desires, but rather than trust and have faith that it has already been done!

The more that I believe that God is being God WITHIN me, the more I recognise that my role is to listen and do. And in that doing, whatever it may be, is the answer that I seek.

Sometimes, the doing is as irrational as Naaman bathing in the Jordan River, and other times it makes perfect, logical sense.

One of the challenges has been creating that space. And at the end of 2018, it magically showed up for me. I had been looking at the Power of Eight, and how the power of small groups holding together an intention could work, and was inspired by a friend’s post on Facebook to suggest we create our own Facebook group to get together. This began with the simple intention of creating a group that would meet once a week, and hopefully have six to eight members.

This Facebook group now has over 100 members and meets regularly each morning Monday to Friday – “Practising the Power of Eight“. At the moment, we have a short 10-minute meditation for abundance of health, wealth and well-being. Then we have a longer get together for holding specific intentions for those who show up.

But what I have learnt over the last 11 months of running this is that showing up daily to sit in Silence or lead meditation where you hold an intention of healing for another, is so powerful. We were meant to be co-creators, not idle bystanders. we have a role to play, that we fail to step up into, preferring to declare ourselves helpless.

I tell you this: if you had even a faint spark of faith, even faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and because of your faith, the mountain would move. If you had just a sliver of faith, you would find nothing impossible.

Matthew 17:20

Being full of the Holy Spirit

Two verses are always on my mind when I think of this topic:

19 Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? 

1 Corinthians 6:19 (CSB)

and

16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16  (CSB)

And yet we continue to pray to God as if God were somehow so far away. Instead of believing and looking within. Instead of finding God hidden in plain sight.

But, what I have learned over these ten years is the role that humility plays in taking responsibility for this power and this relationship.

The hardest part is getting ego and fears (years and years of fear) out of the way. To start believing that God chooses to be part of me, within me and that there is no need to go looking any further for God.

God’s not sitting up in a temple in the sky, far from reach and view. God is everywhere – and possibly most important – in each and every one of us. But we fail to make space. We fail to open up. We prefer to remain asleep, helpless and hopeless – because there is so much less responsibility when God – out there – is all powerful and I can do nothing.

We are each called to more.

My tongue, your tongue – the power of the tongue

Most of us know “in the beginning was the Word”… and we also know that when God made men and women, we were “created in the image of God”. As I already mentioned regarding prayer:

I tell you this: if you had even a faint spark of faith, even faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and because of your faith, the mountain would move. If you had just a sliver of faith, you would find nothing impossible.

Matthew 17.20

And yet we fail to recognise that what we are saying each and every day is creating the reality we live in. We cry out, I don’t have enough – and fail to see how this is manifesting physically in our world. Because it is the faith that we have! Somehow, we reject that God has taken care of all of our needs, and we insist on saying “it’s not enough”.

Rather than claiming, with actual faith (not begging and hoping that perhaps it might happen) – “My God shall supply all of my needs”… we ask God to save us.

Consider how many verses in Proverbs alone speak of the power of the tongue:

  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
  • A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
  • There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
  • When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
  • A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
  • The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
  • Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
  • Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
  • Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
  • With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.
  • The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
  • Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
  • A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.
  • The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
  • With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.
  • There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
  • The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
  • If you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth,
  • Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
  • and this list is not complete… but I think you get the picture!

Whether you like to watch your words or not, understand that at every moment of every day you are speaking things into existence!

How many people do you see now doing positive affirmations? Working hard at changing their subconscious mindset and the words that they speak to themselves. Because the power of the tongue to create your reality is happening all around you.

The role of women

I’m still searching for answers on this – because the history of the church (especially decisions made of what doctrines to follow and what to leave out), leave me with more questions than answers.

And the same way that the more you know, the more complicated things get — this is another one of those topics.

This thought might rattle you:

“How can women be in the image of God if God cannot be imaged in female form?”

― Marcus J. Borg

But, we know that Shekinah – the Glory of the Presence of God – is female form. We know Divine Wisdom is feminine “she”.

So, what is the role that women are to play and how does this play out in my life, each and every day? Because, I admit, my quest and journey is a personal one. It’s about learning things that transform my life and how I relate to God and others.

Along the way, I share what I am learning and reading, but at the end of the day, the most important transformation that happens is the one within me, where I am transformed by the renewing of my mind.

And hopefully, along this journey, I will be a blessing to others as well!

“God is here, right now, at our side. We can see him in this mist, in the ground we're walking on, even in my shoes. His angels keep watch while we sleep and help us in our work. In order to find God, you have only to look around.” Paulo Coelho
“God is here, right now, at our side. We can see him in this mist, in the ground we’re walking on, even in my shoes. His angels keep watch while we sleep and help us in our work. In order to find God, you have only to look around.”
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Living authentically – the authentic Christian

One of the reasons that I think Christians get such a bad rap, is that we only ever talk about our struggles behind closed doors – if we admit them at all! Perhaps if we admitted our struggles to those outside of Churches – especially the struggles with ego and learning to truly love, we would find that others were more accepting when we tried to share our journey with them!

But, if your upbringing in the church was anything like mine – God forbid that we admit to others that we have doubts about faith, God and “salvation”. You parrot off that you are sharing God’s love with the world, as you Bible-bash them into salvation.

Read More »
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“A noble cedar or a humble mustard seed?”

A few months ago I threw some avocado seeds into my compost bin, and now I’ve discovered I have a beautiful avocado seedling growing in my compost.  I’ve very happy about that – but all I did was throw it away! I was expecting to make compost, but now I am very pleased that I need to ask Alexis to locate a great place to plant an avocado tree.  And we all know how big an avocado tree can get.  So, I’m not sure where that avocado tree will get planted, but I am pretty sure that it will produce some great avocados!Read More »

For God so loved the world…

Readings:

  • John 3: 16-21
  • Ephesians 2: 4-10

For God so loved the world… that over two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this earth in human form to show us what this love truly means. Through his life, his teachings and his example, we find a new way, a better way. He gave what we may consider to be the ultimate sacrifice, his earthly body, in a painful and excruciating death, so that we might receive the gift of Oneness of our spiritual bodies with God, no longer separated but as Children of God. Through this, we might fully understand the meaning of eternal life, as spiritual beings living continually in the presence of God.  Not waiting for our earthly death for eternity to start, but recognising that we are already living eternity.

Jesus came and taught us humility, as he lived as a refugee in Egypt as a child, much like Syrian refugees live today in Jordan and Lebanon. Do we treat our refugees any better than we have treated Jesus?  How do we treat the refugees from Venezuela? The refugees from Haiti, from Africa? If we imagine that each of these refugees was Jesus, how are we doing?

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)

In Matthew 18: 1 we find the disciples discussing “Who really is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens?” He calls a child, stands the child in the midst of the disciples and tells them:

“Unless you turn around and become as young children, you will by no means enter into the Kingdom of the heavens. Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one who is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens; and whoever receives one such young child on the basis of my name receives me also.”​—Matthew 18:3-5.

As we consider how we are treating the sojourners and refugees among us, then we known how great we are in the Kingdom! Before the last supper, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

Because God so loved us… Jesus showed us the importance of reading the Word, as a twelve year old when he read and discussed in the temple the scriptures. Luke 2: 47 says that “all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” At twelve years old. He not only was willing to read the Bible allowed in the temple, but to answer questions and explain it. And yet, we seem to struggle each week for participants to read the scriptures aloud in church each Sunday.

Jesus showed us dedication and patience, as he worked as a carpenter, under his father’s tutelage. And yet we reject the authority of our parents, failing to honor our mother and father as we are called to do.  We push our way forward for honor and rewards, seeking the limelight, rather than being willing to work in the background.

Because God so loved you… Jesus showed us how to handle the temptations that arise in our day to day lives. Through his temptations of hunger (lust of the body), egoism (misuse of our power) and materialism (kingdoms and wealth) we see what is means to be a child of God, holding fast to that identity, and still standing strong in the knowledge of what that really means. In these temptations, we see the challenge to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God” – are you really a child of God? Prove it.

Through these temptations, we see how the ego wants to use our spiritual power and gifts to satisfy human cravings. This is attempting to turn stones into bread, the attempt to find gratification in using spiritual power to satisfy human, personal desires.And yet, Jesus shows us the better and higher way. Are you fully secure in your identity as a child of God? Can you, like Jesus, respond: “It is written”?  Our human nature wants to demonstrate prosperity and success or healing and “prove” that it works. We think some outer achievement will make us happy and successful. But Jesus teaches us a higher way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Most importantly, Jesus showed us what it really means to have a relationship with God, to have the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus showed us, in his every day living and loving, what it means to truly be One with God the Father.

John 14: 4-7 promise us:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
…7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

We are reminded of this again in John 17: 21-23

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 …  so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

For God so loved the World that he sent us Jesus… who taught us what it means to be a child of God (as each one of us has already been called to be). Paul says in Colossians 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Message says “Everything of God gets expressed in him, so that you can see and hear God clearly”.”  Are you living out your life as a son or daughter of God?  Is every quality of God fully expressed in your life and living and loving?

Psalm 82: 6 says in a stunning way:

You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.

The same calling to greatness and Oneness with God that Jesus had, each of us has.  To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.” We were created by God, in God’s image, to do God’s will on this earth.  And God so loved each one of us, as sons and daughters, that God sent us Jesus to show us the way home.

Jesus reminds us of this in John 10: 33-38:

33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 … know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Like the Prodigal son, we have lived our lives without authority, power, belonging and sharing at the table of the feast: but God loved us. And so today we are reminded of this rich mercy, of the great love with which we are loved. We are made alive in Christ, seated with him, shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us! If we are living in separation from God, then we are throwing away the gift of love that was given to us.

And because of this great love that we have been shown, we are all challenged today to love each other! The test of how well we have overcome that which separates us from God is how well we love our brothers and sisters:

John 13: 35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Sermon: 2017 plans

Happy New Years! Welcome to Day 1 of failed New Year’s Resolutions… a little cynicism for you… How many millions resolve to make a change in the new year and then fail in the first week?  Most of us see the New Year as a perfect opportunity to start over or to change bad habits. How’s the new diet going?  Did you start exercising this morning, or have you already started with “I’ll start on Monday!”? Oh, that’s right – Monday’s a public holiday – I’ll bet you’re starting on Tuesday, right?

I’ve been reading a lot recently about how to make (and keep to) your New Year’s Resolutions:

  • 29 New Year’s Resolution Ideas – Make This Your Best Year Ever!
  • Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Like a Boss 2017 – The Decision-Driven Secret
  • 6 Ways to Create (and keep) New Year’s Resolutions in 2017

I’m sure, as you look at all of your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, there is a common thread throughout – they are your version of YOU as a better person: exercise, less television or internet or social media, more prayer, giving, serving, practicing gratitude…

This New Years, I want to remind you of the disruptions that happen in life, and those who live with and around us whose lives have been disrupted.  Remember Joseph and Mary, living in Bethlehem – probably rebuilding their new life in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.  I wonder…   Where was Joseph working? Had they started to build their own home or were they living in a rental?

And suddenly, in the midst of whatever life and plans and dreams Joseph and Mary had now rebuilt, an angel appears in the middle of the night in a dream and tells Joseph to flee to Egypt and remain there until they are told they can leave, because Herod intends to search for the child and destroy him.   And we know what the collateral damage of Herod’s fear was:  all children under 2 years old in and around Bethlehem.  Now, maybe that was only 20-30 children, if Bethlehem only had a population of 1,000 or so people – but that’s 20-30 too many!

A few weeks ago you may have seen the image of a couple and their baby from Aleppo, the father wearing patched pants and mismatched clothes, carrying a baby in a blanket that was much too large for the child, with the baby in one arm and an IV drip in the other.  The look of determination, shock, and yet emptiness in the father’s face.  A mid-eastern couple and their child, fleeing from violence – just like Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus whose birth we have just celebrated last week. Displaced by a power struggle that really has nothing to do with them, and yet everything to do with them!

And how many displaced sojourners and aliens do we have in Panama at the moment?  People whose plans for their lives were disrupted by the situation in their homeland, who have now traveled to Panama, as Mary & Joseph traveled to Egypt, looking for a safer place to live, away from the imminent threat that their homeland held for them as a family.  There are over 90 verses throughout the Bible regarding the “sojourner” or the “alien”, and it’s good to be reminded of them:

LEVITICUS 19:33-34 ESV 

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

EXODUS 22:21 ESV

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

DEUTERONOMY 27:19 ESV 

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’

ZECHARIAH 7:9-10 ESV 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

LEVITICUS 25:35 ESV 

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.

Isaiah 16: 3-5 ESV

3“Give counsel;  grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive;  4 let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them from the destroyer.  When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,  5then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.”

And yet, our world has become one in which we have all become like Herod, treating the outcasts and the sojourners and the aliens as if they were a threat to us – wanting them dead and out of our towns and countries: they should just go home, they don’t belong here!  They have come to take what is ours!  They are a threat to our comfort and power!  So we should destroy them before they destroy us.

And yet this is not what we are taught if we closely read everything that God ordered Moses and the people of Israel in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the light of today’s reading in Matthew: Jesus was that outcast, whose parents ran with him to Egypt as an alien and sojourner to escape the anger and threat of Herod.

This New Years, I invite you to remember:

“As one person, I cannot change the world; but I can change the world of one person.”

 

We are called to be Christ-like – to giving living water to the Samaritan woman, to heal the lepers, to feed the hungry, to dine with the tax-collector, to accept the Centurions’ request and command from afar…  Decide this day, what will you choose?  And each day in 2017, choose again and again!  One act a day to being the presence and love of Christ in this world!  Actively choosing each day to be this love.

Let us pray:

Creator God, today we remember that you taught us by your very example humility and simplicity in live.  As this New Year begins, focus our hearts on paying more attention to others and less on ourselves; listening first and talking later; offering constructive criticism, without complaining; performing acts of kindness each day.  We remember this day that you have granted us the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we might show the fruit of the Spirit in this world, being the light and salt of the earth.  In the name of him who taught us by his very example. Amen.  

Sermon: the Helper

Lectionary Genesis 2:18-24

A HELPER WHO IS “JUST RIGHT”

You’ve all heard the 10 reasons why God created, Eve, right?

  1. God worried that Adam would always be lost in the garden because He knew men would never ask for directions.
  2. God knew that Adam would one day need someone to hand him the TV remote because men don’t want to see what is on TV; they want to see WHAT ELSE is on TV.
  3. God knew that Adam would never2. buy a new fig leaf when the seat wore out and therefore would need Eve to get one for him.
  4. God knew that Adam would never make a doctor’s appointment for himself.
  5. God knew that Adam would never remember which night was garbage night.
  6. God knew that if the world was to be populated there would have to someone to bear children because men would never be able to handle the pain of childbirth.
  7. As Keeper of the Garden Adam would never remember where he put his tools.
  8. The Scripture account of creation indicates that Adam needed someone to blame his troubles on when God caught him hiding in the garden.
  9. As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, he only ends up getting himself in trouble.
    And the NUMBER ONE reason…
  10. When God finished the creation of Adam he stepped back, scratched his head and said, “I can do better than that.”

Seriously, there is so much debate now about the correct interpretation that we should give of the Creation story, and especially of the role and relationship between man and woman.  The Church is supposed to be shaped and guided by the Word of God, and yet it is clearly evident that our cultural norms and expectations have guided our interpretation of the Bible, and even come into play with respect to the translation of the Bible.

There is no question that gender issues have been shaped by our culture. In a patriarchal culture, the Church accepted and used passages of the Bible to justify male superiority and female servitude.As cultural views shifted, we have looked back at the translations and words used, and searched for a new understanding of the Bible – but we should ask ourselves, are we simply looking to once again “be right”, as opposed to being guided by the Word of God?  Are we simply now looking to justify a feminist or egalitarian perspective of the creation story that is acceptable in today’s society?  Or are we looking for the Bible to present to us an actual Biblical response to the question of “what is a Godly relationship between a man and woman?”

This morning, I would like to explore the verses of Genesis 2: 18 to 24, and  provide some insight regarding translation and meaning.  But this is merely one of many possible understandings and meanings that can be found, and I would venture to say only scratches the surface of a possibility of interpretations.  But there are lessons here for us!  While God created man & woman equally in His image, there is  no doubt that we are different – the same way that the males and females of all species are equal but different.

In Genesis 1 we find a chronological view of Creation – from day 1 in which God creates time, through to day 7 in which God rests.  On day 6, God is particularly busy, creating all creatures that habitat on land.  Great and small, he creates them, and when God is done, he declares that “it is good”. After this God – Elohim – the multiple nature of God, decides to create man in his image. God says:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”

And so, man is created, both male and female. In order to avoid confusion, I’m going to use the term “mankind” to refer to humans, and man to refer to the male gender.  To emphasize the godlike nature of mankind, God gives mankind dominion over the earth, and asks Adam to name all of the animals.

The creation story in Genesis 1 is repeated in Genesis 2, but told from a different perspective, demonstrating different facets of God’s character.  And so, in Genesis 2, we rewind a little, and are given more details regarding the creation of mankind, and in particular the differentiation of men and women.

Most versions of the Bible have simply translated verse 18 “It is no good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” or “a helper that is just right for him”. And because it was culturally acceptable and appropriate to define “helper” as an assistant or as subordinate to the man, the woman was interpreted as having a role of serving: somehow intended to be responsible for catering to the needs and demands of her husband.  Because if woman is the helper, man is the boss, right?   Even Paul says that the man is the head…

But much has been written about the translation of this section, especially regarding the original term “ezer” having been user rather than “azar”.  “Ezer”, with an e does not mean the same as “azar”. Azar does mean helper or servant, but ezer has a different meaning completely.

The word EZER is used in the Old Testament some 21 times, 2 in the context of Eve (women made in creation), 3 times in relation to man’s help and 16 in relation to God.  And the 3 times it’s used in relation to man’s help, it is referencing that help did not arrive such as that help which only God can provide.

So let’s see what other words and terms ARE used throughout the Old Testament that might have been used to describe women as servants or assistants, that would have clearly established woman’s role as being subservient to that of man:

  • The best word for helper or assistant in Hebrew is Azar – and it is used 82 times in the Old Testament, in contexts of helping, assisting or giving aid.  So, if God had wanted to say helper, he could simply have used this word, azar, instead of ezer, right?
  • And if we wanted to specify that woman was a servant-helper, a better word would have been ebed.  In fact, the word ebed is used over a thousand times in the Old Testament.  But that’s not what it says in Genesis 2.
  • Or then there’s the word sharath, which means high-ranking assistant, like Elisha was to Elijah, or like Joshua was to Moses.  But Genesis 2 doesn’t use sharath.

So, what does ezer mean, then?  Ezer is help from God: not only from a superior, but a miraculous help.  Divine intervention.

Before you go off thinking that women are witches and we really fly on broom sticks, let’s get into the translation issues a bit more closely.  Ezer means that God is the help.  Ezer conveys that it is never a servant, helper or assistant.

So, how does this help us?  Well, possibly because if we realise that this was Divine assistance, we will realise that maybe we’ve always been misunderstanding this verse.  It never was intended to say that the woman was the helper! In fact, it should not be ascribed to any human at all.  So, if she isn’t the helper, what did God make?  What does Genesis 2:18 refer to?

Let’s look quickly at the other word that rises in this verse – “suitable” or “right” or “companion”.  The word in Hebrew is kenegdo. Kenegdo arises from 2 words:  Neged refers to a mirror image or reflection, and ke refers to “himself” or “likeness”.  So, God has said he will make a likeness of his mirror image or reflection.  So, woman was supposed to be a mirror-image of man.

Going back in the verses in chapter 2 of Genesis we see what the story of the creation of Eve starts out with the only time God says about creation – “this ins’t good”.  And what isn’t good?  It’t not good that man is alone.  Man is incomplete – because unlike all of the creatures that he has just named, male and female, Adam is alone.

And so God says, I will help man by making his mirror likeness, a reflection of himself.  The solution for man’s loneliness is woman, made to reflect him. God did not create woman to be man’s servant, or assistant or subservient to him. He didn’t make Adam “the boss”.  But rather, God makes them one – flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.  Equal and together. In harmony and communion.

But, as with the fall in Eden, the moment we allow our self-interest to get in the way, we start to run into  relationship and control issues.  The moment we start to allow our egos to rule, we look at our differences, and then separation and domination begin to take hold, rather than unity and oneness.  Separation and domination was never part of God’s divine plan for men and women.

Lessons we can take away from Genesis 2 today:

  1. Companionship – It is not good that the man should be alone.  Human’s are social creatures – we need to connect with other people.  One of the most shattering emotions of which human beings are capable is that of loneliness – it consumes people: whether they be teenagers, struggling with acceptance, stay at home mothers or fathers who are thirsting for interactions, or the elderly who are feeling forgotten.  We need each other.  What are you actively doing to be part of the lives of those around you?  If you are a spouse, are you making sure that your other half doesn’t feel alone?
  2. Are you sharing the load and the burden?  Whether it be with your spouse, or a team member at work, or another volunteer in an organisation you have joined: is someone feeling that they have to do everything themselves and that they are not getting the support that they need?  What can you do to support that person?  What needs to change so that you become a team player?
  3. Are you taking care of your responsibilities?  In every team, each person has different functions and tasks: and your first priority should always be to have fulfilled your responsibilities first.  It’s  no good to be worried about what others aren’t getting done to the detriment of your own responsibilities.  You will always hear – finish  your own responsibilities before helping another – just like in an airplane you put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. AND FINALLY
  4. Acknowledge and rejoice in our individuality and differences.  They are not meant to separate us from each other – they are intended to complement each other.  Yes – women and men are different – women may be more emotional, or protective of our little ones – but that doesn’t mean the weaker sex! And some of us are black, white, yellow, pink or any other colour under the sun.  We come from different cultures and customs.  But these differences are to be enjoyed and celebrated, creating a diversity in our team work and fulfilling all of the needs.

Today I would invite all of you to explore how you were created to be “just right”, a Divine gift to help and connect with those around you.

Sermon: We all stumble

If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James.  This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs.  The book of James is quite short:  it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James.  Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!

Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another.  Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned).  Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth?  We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!

Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water.  A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.

This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having.  As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).  NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:

Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, …  (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)

Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies?  Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos?  Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?

There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.

There is a whole science based on “Words that Change Minds”, how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up.  What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.

It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling?  They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says.  Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick?  They never seem to get a lucky break?  Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.

If you think I’m speaking about magic or something airy-fairy, let’s have a look at some verses from the Bible:SpeakLife

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Psalms 141:3

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Proverbs 21:23

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

Matthew 15:11

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

 

Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to “stick out your tongue?”.  He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts.  James explains this in chapter 3:  how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?

In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”

Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.

Phillipians 2: 14

Do all things without grumbling or complaining

Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all  four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.

Proverbs 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

 

But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.

Proverbs 17.27

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding

Proverbs 15:1

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond.  Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship?  Or will our words be a healing balm?

General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.

The person who asked the question seemed troubled. “But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”

“Oh yes,” answered Lee. “I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:

  1. We can stop listening to it, rather than participating.  Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
  2. We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem.  This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose.  It’s so much easier to say “it’s not my problem”, rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through.  People had being confronted.
  3. Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.

For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym:  THINK

  • T–Is it true?
  • H–Is it helpful?
  • I–Is it inspiring?
  • N–Is it necessary?
  • K–Is it kind?

Then, we should look at healing.  We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words.  But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.

Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.

Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

perception-reaction Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.

Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.

Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.

Abraham Lincoln counselled us:

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.

This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get.  As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.

Sermon: We all make mistakes sometime

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15

The story of David is not about a saint. He had many faults, numerous sins throughout his life. As John Walton writes,

“God has not given us the Bible with the intention that we put the heroes of the faith up on pedestals of awe and reverence. In contrast, we find that the characters portrayed in the text are shown to share many of the human weaknesses with which all of us struggle. … We cannot view them as superhuman. … Instead, their stories are in the Bible because God worked through their successes as well as their failures. … They are part of God’s story.”

God had plans for David, who was “at times an instrument and at times an obstacle”.  I like the fact that the Bible tells it like it is.  We read about these heroes, but not just the great things they have done.  We read about their failings, their wrongdoings, their dark sides.  And there are lessons for us to learn.

Today I want to talk about one of David’s better known mistakes – his affair with Bathsheba and then his attempt to cover it up, by having Uriah murdered.  Yes, of course there’s murder in the Bible – we find it with Cain killing Abel, with Moses killing an Egyptian before running off into the desert, and now we find David plotting a murder to hide that he got another man’s wife pregnant.

Here was a man God had anointed as a youth – the hero that had defeated the mighty Goliath.  General over Saul’s army, and of whom it was said “He is a man after God’s own heart.”  But yet not perfect.

Our Reading this morning starts with setting the context:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

Why, if kings of old went out to battle, was David at home?  Well, this battle was close enough to Jerusalem that David decided to stay home and have Joab report to him daily on the battle (it was only some 40 km away).  Maybe David was starting to feel his age, or nursing an injury or an illness.  Maybe he was over-confident because he felt that his trusted men had everything under control.  Or maybe he had become complacent, after so many victories.  For whatever reason, David left himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The first problem that David has is that he is idle – after waking up from his afternoon nap (which he probably needed), instead of getting back to work or focusing on affairs of the state, he wanders aimlessly around on the roof of the palace.  How do we stay out of trouble? One way is by keeping ourselves busy and occupied.  I spend a lot less time spending money, if I don’t walk idly through the mall!  “I’ll just go window shopping” she says.  Except then something catches our eye, and before long window shopping has turned into real shopping.

There is an old German proverb that says “Idleness is the beginning of all sin”, just like the  Russian proverb that states “Idleness is the mother of vice.”  The Irish say “Poverty waits at the gates of idleness.”, and I remember hearing as a kid “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  Most cultures agree that idleness is not a good thing – it can get you into all sorts of problems.

We should be clear about what idleness is and what it isn’t.  Resting is not being idle!  Our bodies need rest – it’s vital for our health.  Resting for rejuvenation is not idleness!  Resting when we are sick and need to recover is just what the doctor ordered!  Idleness is that state of being where we are not occupied in meaningful things.  It’s slacking off or being lax, and when we have nothing better to do, we wind up in mischief.

Having a nap was not a bad thing… but there was no need for David to wander around aimlessly.  There was business to conduct, the country was at war.  Both rest and work are necessary, as well as having time for family, hobbies and other pursuits.  But there is a problem with idleness – which is why many of the youth programs today focus on getting our at risk youth into sport or other activities, so that they will not get engaged or caught up in gangs and crime.

And because of David’s idleness, he runs into temptation.  We all run into temptation, on a regular basis.  We walk past Gelarti or La Italiana in the mall, and the ice-cream calls out to us!  We can either choose to keep walking, or we can let our desire take over.   David’s on his rooftop and sees a beautiful woman bathing on the rooftop below.

An aside here. If you wonder about bathing up there in front of God and everybody with a higher vantage point, remember that the rooftops of houses in ancient Israel were flat and served as additional living and working space. The ancient Israelites also had water gathering and storage systems on their rooftops designed to trap dew and rainwater and carry it into cisterns through pipes. I doubt that any of us remember life before indoor plumbing, but these rooftop systems were the next best thing.  The water would also have been left out in the sun during the day, so that by evening it was warmed.

And so, David’s desire gets him in trouble: being tempted is not wrong.  But how David handles this temptation definitely gets him into a huge bind, where one lie leads to another!  Instead of letting it be, David inquires to find out who she is – and the response should have been enough to warn him to stay away.   She is a daughter of a powerful man (Eliam) and the wife of one of David’s mighty men (Uriah the Hittite).  She is also the granddaughter of one of David’s closest advisors.

But that didn’t stop him either.  He ignores all the warning signs.  And sends for her… ending up in bed together – committing adultery (which was punishable by stoning for both of them!).   David sins prior to even sleeping with Bathsheba, because Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said “You shall not commit adultery”.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Instead of shutting down the temptation, David lets it run wild, until it takes over him.

And one thing leads to another… before you know it, we’ve moved from lust to adultery, to lies and manipulation, and when plan A doesn’t work (i.e. getting Uriah to come home from battle and sleep with his wife so he will think the child is his), then plan B fails (even getting him drunk on liquor doesn’t work), then David moves to plan C (having him killed in the line of duty).

David had been on solid ground – chosen by God.  But he got careless and he didn’t even know it.  Just like a sheep that sees a tempting mouthful of grass over there.  Then another one a little farther, and then another… and another.  Before you know it, he’s lost or in the sights of a predator looking for an easy meal.  With each successive lie, David takes another step closer to the edge… until he’s over the edge with murder. The snowball effect, it started so small.  But now, he’s tumbling down the rocks.  He’s crashed and burned.  And the last thing he hears is the devil singing in his ear “another one bites the dust”.

It’s hard to find someone else in the Bible who could break so many of the 10 Commandments at one sitting!  As far as I can see, David managed to at least break 4 in one go:

  • You shall not murder
  • You shall not commit adultery
  • You shall not steal
  • You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife

So, I want to quickly share with you some thoughts on how we can use this example from David’s life in our own:

#1: You’re dying in the present if you’re living in the past!   David had already defeated armies and nations: the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and others.  And so, instead of taking his place against the Ammonites, he leans on the victories of the past, and doesn’t have a vision of the future.

#2: When we are out of the way of our duty, we put ourselves in the path of temptation.  David should have been out on the front lines, but instead makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem where he takes on a moral defeat.  What are you supposed to be doing?  Have you got a clear path cut out ahead of you?  Or are you just drifting along waiting for live to happen for you?

#3:  We will also fall in that one are of our life where our passion is the strongest and our principles are the weakest.  There are certain temptations that one person will struggle with, while another person won’t.  I gave up smoking cold turkey, without thinking twice about it – because I had only smoked because of the social aspects of it.  It was no big deal to quit.  But I know of many others for whom drugs, alcohol or smoking are their Aquiles heel.  On the other hand, I had to continually safeguard myself against impulse spending.  I don’t need more things!

#4: What we don’t resist in the mind, will soon become manifested in our thoughts and actions.   One part of psychology looks at Neuro-Linguistic Programming, (NLP for short) a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function, language determines how we interface and communicate with other people and our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. Neuro-Linguistic Programming describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (programming).  What we think about is what we will say and do. 

#5: The power of your example should always exceed the position of your authority.  No matter what position you have, you should always strive to set an example of excellence.  Set the standard of leadership, holding more authority from your example than from the power of the position.

I hope that this story of David helps you focus on what is truly important in your life and the example you are setting for those people that are watching you.

Sermon: Boasting in my Weakness

“Boasting in my Weakness” – Really?

LECTIONARY:

  • 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

A teacher said to her students in class one day,

“Boys and girls, there is a wonderful example in the life of the ant. Every day the ant goes to work and works all day, a busy life. And in the end, what happens?

Little Johnny replies, “SOMEONE STEPS ON HIM.”

We live in an era in which life is a constant struggle. Everyone  wants to be healthy and strong; nobody likes to be sick, weak, depressed or worried. And yet, we face problems and tragedies; we struggle to live up to expectations – whether our own or those imposed by others.  We’re not quite who we think we should be. Just like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

Take a moment and put this in context: this letter to Corinthians was not written in a vacuum. When Paul wrote this letter (which by the way is his 4th letter, not the second), he didn’t pen in the chapter and verse designations. Those were added much later in history. So chapter 11 and chapter 12 are one continuous thought.  In chapter 11, Paul writes about the suffering he has endured because of the name of Jesus. He tells the Corinthians that he has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel; he has been whipped on several occasions; he had been beaten with rods. He tells them that on one occasion the Jews stoned him; and left him for dead. But he survived (probably with deep lacerations and broken bones.) Paul was shipwrecked three times, spending one night in the open seas. He experienced intense times of suffering and yet found strength.

It is apparent as you read this part of 2nd Corinthians, that some in the church in Corinth were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle. “Not good enough.”  So in Chapter 11, Paul tells about all the things he could boast about, both good and bad, that make him an apostle. But in Chapter 12 the tone changes, because he is not living in the past.  Our past history and our past glories are all fine and well, but the real question is “who are you today?”.  Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians when he is no longer in sparkling health and strength.  Who keeps singing “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen?

The church in Corinth has these “super apostles” or “big shots” that were criticising Paul. Paul responds, admitting that he was not a trained speaker, (2 Cor. 10:10), implying that the so-called super-apostles were trained speakers. One of their favorite criticisms of Paul seems to have been that he was not very impressive in presence or speech.  Paul warned the Corinthians against the pretense that knowledge can create. Toe to toe with these orators, Paul would fail. In many respects, his writing also lacked sophistication and talent.

And yet Paul says, he will boast about his weaknesses.  We feel unhappy and worried about our weaknesses, but somehow he has accepted his weakness in a positive way and so he is able to boast about it.  And he even accepts that he needs it long-term. In order to remain focused on God, rather than himself and his exploits, Paul has this “thorn in his side”. He prayed repeatedly and yet the thorn remained in his life. I don’t think that ‘three times’ means Paul said three prayers but that he spend three seasons in prayer pleading with God to remove this from his life.  And yet he has an unanswered prayer.

  • How many times could we cite that we are thankful for our unanswered prayers?
  • How often do our prayers tend to focus on making life easier and softer and rarely are for the kind of difficulties that would challenge us and make us grow spiritually.

None of us wants to really be moved outside of our comfort zone, and so we react to life’s situation by rejecting the difficulty.  Paul, for all his abilities and mighty use by God, could not escape the fact that he was human, and thus inevitably susceptible to weakness.

Paul doesn’t like it.
He can’t change it.
And God won’t remove it.

Had Paul focused on the injustice of this torment in his life, he could have become a very bitter man, consumed by how unfair this harsh and excessive situation had become for him.  But Paul not only accepted his negative circumstances but he also expresses his joy and happiness over them.

  • What is your hurt story?
  • What behavior keeps you from where you need to be?

I hate looking weak or insufficient. I particularly loathe being wrong, especially when the mistake I’ve made has public ramifications. What will people think?  God forbid that someone realise how far behind I am at work, or that I get upset and short-tempered with my daughter when I’m tired, or that I can’t seem to get things right in my marriage, or that I don’t think quickly on my feet and always come up with the perfect rebuttal three days later!  I get frustrated by these deficiencies and perceived weaknesses – I’m inadequate and useless.  And so, since I don’t like to feel this way, I adopt a fake persona that I hope others will see (or that they will at least pretend to see, because I pretend to see the fake persona they put forward).

We live in a world where all the photos of models in magazines are Photo-shopped to perfection, where there’s a special model for hands, and another for backs and another for legs.  Where there are body doubles for actresses in Hollywood for those close-up shots or for the action or dance scenes – each one showing a perfection that perhaps the actress doesn’t actually have.

Boasting in weakness goes so against the way the world operates today. We don’t boast to our peers about our weaknesses or in a job interview. Typically, when we’re asked to focus on our weaknesses in an interview, we are trained to say – “Well, I would say that I’m stubborn, and I just don’t give up until I’ve finished the project that I’m working on to successful completion.”  or “I care too much about my work, and don’t have a good work-life balance.” – or whatever we think the perfect answer to the question is.

In our conversations with our friends, we don’t say, “Hey! Turns out I’m really bad at empathy and I’m totally self-centered. Isn’t that great?”

So, let’s each take a moment to reflect – what is your greatest weakness? What are you truly ashamed of?

  • I’m self-centered, frigid, insensitive and withdrawn;
  • I speak too loudly and sometimes have inappropriate social awareness;
  • I hate confrontation and so don’t deal with issues in a timely manner;
  • I don’t take criticism well;
  • I shut down and reject others;
  • I ride rough-shod over other people’s feelings in order to get what I want;
  • I can’t handle change and am stuck in a rut;
  • I take things personally;
  • I can’t say no and am always overloaded;
  • I’m condescending and treat others badly;
  • I have poor leadership skills;
  • I manipulate others;
  • I hold on to hurt feelings and dwell on them;
  • I overreact  …

Each one of us has something that we try to hide and pretend isn’t there. And if it’s a habit that we’re trying to break or a type of reaction that we know is wrong, whatever you do, don’t label it as “SIN”, so passé!  No one “sins” anymore… No one is a “sinner”.

Let me put it this way – the Bible says if you know what is right and you don’t do it, it’s sin – so, when you’re on that diet for your diabetes and you know you shouldn’t eat that chocolate bar and ice cream, that’s sin – not necessarily for someone else, but for you.  Because you know that it’s bad for you!  And yet you insist…

For how many of you, has ignoring and trying to hide this weakness, bad habit or character flaw actually worked?  As much as we may hate it, ignoring our weakness doesn’t make them go away. How many of you notice a character flaw in another person and say nothing, because you’re polite?  You see someone faking it and you go along with the charade, because you want them to go along with your charade?  They say there’s “nothing wrong” and you say “okay”, because it’s the easy way out.

If I took the time to actually ask, and they answered me honestly, I might have to do something about it!  I might then have to care for this person later, and ask how they are doing again… and then hear the truthful answer!  And it’s so much easier to just accept the “nothing wrong” and “okay” and carry on as if nothing had happened.

But that’s not who we are supposed to be!  We’re not supposed to be shallow and callous people, living on a surface, pretending that the weaknesses don’t exist.

When I don’t have enough love in my life, God reminds me that God is LOVE – it’s unlimited! I may be frigid and uncaring, but when I’m filled with God’s love there’s more than enough to go around!  I can be filled to overflowing – because God created me to be His vessel.  It doesn’t matter how much love I have, the question is “how much love does God have?”And so, it is when I can truly say “this is my weakness” that I allow God to shine through!  When I finally accept – “this is how I am”, I’m wonderfully and perfectly made, and God just wants to shine through all the cracks in my character, then I can truly boast in my weakness.

When I don’t have enough patience, God reminds me that He is PATIENCE – unlimited…

When I am filled with anger, God reminds me that He is goodness and kindness… unlimited…

I would invite all of you, during our coffee time after the service, to take a moment and share with someone your weakness, (yes, that one that you are SO ashamed of) and how God can shine through you, in spite of yourself!