Love and Trust

*Originally posted in Vietnam*

Hey everybody.

During my study for a book I’m writing on leadership, I felt led by God to look at the nature of love between the man and his wife. For this study I looked at Song of Solomon and Proverbs 31 (I want to encourage you to read these, because they say a lot about what we need to look for also). As someone in my mid-thirties and single, I’m not an expert on married life, but there are lessons from these scriptures that we can apply to our journey together as a Church, and also whether we are single, dating or have been married for years.

You’ve heard about the Proverbs 31 woman? The woman all godly men want to marry? The woman all godly women want to be? Well today, I want to introduce you to her husband: The Proverbs 31 man. Let’s take a look at Proverbs 31:11-31
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates. (ESV)

Wow! What a Woman! I can hear single guys the world over fighting to get a look at this magical lady, and wondering how they can get her phone number hehe. However, to be the kind of man that even stands a chance with this wonderful lady, you’re going to need something special. To be a Proverbs 31 guy, we will need three qualities.

1) Trust. Verse 11 says that the man trusts his wife. Trust is key in any relationship. The kind of trust that Peter showed in Jesus when he was called out upon the water, and the kind of trust shown by the Wife in Song of Solomon (2:5-6). Many relationships can be harmed by a lack of trust, especially if there has been something to damage the relationship. I have struggled with trust in previous relationships, especially if my partner’s previous boyfriend’s are still close to them. This can also be true of our relationships in Church, where someone may have hurt us, or abused our trust. We must forgive for the sake of our relationship with each other, and also our relationship to God.

2) Release. Being able to trust others means that we can release them in to the calling that God has for them. Verse 23 says that the man is a City Elder, known throughout the land. This is a hard job, full of pressure and responsibility (I know, because I used to do this job!) However, because he trusts in his wife to build their home and to bless the community, he doesn’t stop her from fulfilling her role as provider. In fact, he is fully aware of her abilities, and lets her get on with it. Empowering is also important in the Church, as we recognize other people’s ministries. John the Baptist could have held on to his ministry, but knew Jesus was going to fulfill His role as Messiah, and not John. This is hard if we don’t trust others, but it is something we must do, unless we discourage them, and kill the seed God has planted in their heart.

3) Affirm. Verses 28-29 say that the family rises up to praise the wife for her great job well done. Affirmation is something sadly lacking from many Churches (and marriages), but it is really important if we are to encourage each other in faith. Married men, do you praise your wife? Do you tell her she is beautiful, and that you wouldn’t wish for any other? Do you comment on her great cooking, or her devotion to the Lord, or do you put her down? Do you criticize her, or do you let her know that you are thankful for her role in your life? If not, do it. Why? Because God is all about affirming His creation. In Genesis, it says God called His creation good. He delights in it. Zephaniah 3:17 says the Lord dances over us, because He delights in us. When He creates Adam, he says that he is made in the Lord’s image. He affirms His creation, and pours into him his purpose and divine love. Adam then follows by saying the same thing about Eve, that she is part of him. Telling people they are special, whether it is the love of your life, or the Pastor for preaching a great sermon, or for those who serve us on a Sunday is okay, as God wants us to encourage each other. Today, I want to encourage you all to live lives of love, and to seek God’s best, whether single or married. Amen.

Anglican Identity

*Originally posted in Vietnam.*

Hey guys, 

Just some thoughts for you as you consider you ‘Anglican identity’.

The History of the Church, whether Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist or whoever is really all about connections. Recently I have been studying the book of Ephesians, and realised that Paul is incredibly clever at connecting the history of the people of God to modern day thinking.

Read Ephesians 2:11-end.
http://www.esvbible.org/Ephesians+2/

In this wonderful letter, Paul starts by telling Ephesian believers, who are under persecution in a City run by idols, that they are connected to an all-powerful and loving God, who forgives and blesses. Knowing we are loved and supported is important, especially when we come under attack. He then talks about how Christianity is related to the story of the Jews, which is really important because some of his audience were Gentiles, who had never known what it meant to be from that culture. They didn’t have a history of godliness but Paul had to use his great skill to connect the dots for them. He wasnt preaching something totally new, but something that built upon prophesy in the Old Testament that pointed to Jesus. This stops us from going off-season, and into error.

We are not called to hide, but to go out and change society. We do this by being committed to the Church, which is God’s body, and allowing ourselves to be shaped by teaching (Ephesians 4:11-14). How connected are you in terms of bible reading, fellowship groups or even encouraging others? Affecting culture is very key to Anglican theology, as it teaches us that we are not alone, but part of a wider network. The Anglican Church here has two congregations, connected to a diocese, a province and a communion of 85 MILLION people. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!! The book of common prayer also connects us to our rich history, and we should not lightly throw it away just because we see something new. Always check things with scripture, like the Bereans in Acts 17:11.

However, not only are we connected to God and to the Church through the cross and the Spirit, but we are also connected to a world mission to our communities. For Paul, it was Ephesus; a really important city of trade in their region. For you it’s one of the fastest growing cities in South East Asia! Are you excited?? In Ephesians 3:10, Paul writes that the Church is God’s microphone to the world, which shouts about the love and hope of God we see in chapters 1 or 2. This hope is for Jew and Gentile, Black, white, English, Vietnamese, Singaporean and even the Chinese! As Anglicans, you are connected not only to a rich history of tradition and culture, but mostly to a God who wants you to impact your country for Him. Amen.

Leaders

Originally posted in Vietnam…

Hey guys,
Just reading Jeremiah in my daily devotion, and thinking about leaders. Please feel free to comment:

Everyone of us, whether a parent, teacher, pastor, lawyer or even a friend has the power to lead and influence others. Today’s reading shows how seriously God viewed the role of Israel’s leaders, and blamed them for the downfall of the country. Let’s take a look:

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23 ESV

 Whether it is a church, business, school, family or friendship, we believers have the responsibility to speak God’s life into situations and our areas of influence, even if it means being unpopular. Israel failed because its leaders were ungodly. This affected everyone. How will you lead today?

Embracing the silence

When you think of Heaven, what comes into your head? Angels? Worship? Noise? The Bible is full of pictures of Heaven, and they are usually about sound and lots of people making noise. In Revelation 8 though, it says that for 30 minutes, there is silence.

Silence makes some of us feel uncomfortable. I need sound to feel safe, and often turn on the TV just for some sound. However, silence is often a great chance for God to talk to us. We often think of prayer and worship as a time of loud singing or dancing, like when David danced before the Ark. This leads to many thinking that silence means our faith must be dead. But the same man who danced before the Lord also wrote that he would keep a quiet heart. Both are important, as in Psalm 23, it says God led David before ‘still waters’.

Why is silence or stillness important? It is because God wants to show us or give us something new. For the Angel in Revelation 8, it is a bowl to fill with the prayers of God’s people, which eventually show God’s power. For Elijah in 1 Kings 19, it was to give him a new mission after seeing great power against the prophets on Mount Carmel.

Silence before God means turning aside to hear God’s voice. Moses ‘turned aside’ to see the burning bush in Exodus 3, and even Jesus turned aside to see Bartimeaus healed from blindness. If we are to see great things, let us spend time in quiet and silence with God’s word, that He may show us something new. Amen.

Visions of Vietnam…

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Been back in the UK for a few days, and thought I would give you a glimpse of Vietnam, including Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vietnam is changing fast, and is so different to how we imagine it from TV or Hollywood. The West is opening up to her, and challenges lie ahead for this developing nation, fresh from 40 years of poverty. More thoughts to come soon…

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A New Fundamentalism? Finding Faith in Fifty Shades of Grey

(Disclaimer: If you don’t enjoy talking openly about sex, sexuality and pornography, leave this well alone. Thank you)

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Last Friday and Saturday night (Valentine’s Day Weekend), an estimated 3000 people (mainly women) made their way through the doors of the local multiplex cinema where I work. There were a handful of male visitors, but the majority were middle-aged, married women in groups, out for a glimpse of the first installment of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Screens showing other films were closed, as demand for the movie dictated proceedings. There was a lot of excitement, and naturally for some, disappointment after the show had ended. We’ll get to that later.

Fifty Shades of Grey (or just Fifty, for the fan-girls among us) an erotic novel, written originally by Twilight fan-fiction author E.L. James, is a phenomenon, plain and simple. Telling the story of young American College Student Anastasia Steele, she falls for the powerful, seductive charms of Christian Grey, a Billionaire with a troubled past, who introduces her to the world of BDSM sexuality (Bondage, Domination, and Sado-Masochism).

What is BDSM? Well, pure and simple, it means introducing levels of pain, control and even violence into sexual activities. In the book, Grey introduces Ana to a contract, wherein she would consent as his ‘Slave’ (a VERY important part of these activities) to (among other things) severe spanking, anal sex, and even types of food she eats, in order to please her ‘Master’. Throughout the first book, he seems in a way to harrass her into this, but during the last scene, she walks away after asking him to beat her to ‘see how bad it would get’. Yes, I’ve read it. It’s quite possibly the worst book I’ve ever read since Left Behind, but yes, I’ve read it. However, I haven’t seen the film.

Why am I writing this? Shouldn’t I just stick to preaching the gospel, leading housegroups, or planning Church? And what is a young single man doing reading erotic fiction anyway? Shouldn’t we all close our ears and listen to worship songs, and meditate on what is holy? (Phil 4:8)

The truth is yes, we should be MEDITATING on what is holy, I’m writing  this because Jesus is interested in people, and people are TALKING about it. A LOT. And I bet women in our Churches are too. Why? Because I’ve met them!!! As someone who longs to go into full-time Christian ministry, it is my opinion that every Pastor on earth should at least be aware of what is being read by their congregations or Parishes, and seek to correct, rebuke, exhort or train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). I always remember a Pastor friend of mine discussing The Secret in Church, and follow his example to tackle the questions of his flock by reading these books to educate himself before making comment.

The danger is that if the Church doesn’t speak about sex, and godly sexuality (yes folks, the Lord created sex-get over it), then others will, and you may find that it doesn’t end well. In Acts 17, Paul travels to Athens and spends time wandering around the city, eventually debating with the Areopagus, full of its ancient philosophies and ideas about the world etc. He uses both a statue of an ‘Unknown God’ and even GREEK PAGAN POETRY to introduce them to Jesus, in the same way the Lord Himself used parables about agriculture to share His message. It is the same with sexuality and Fifty. We must follow both examples if we are win hearts in our communities, and to understand the world we seek to save.

The question is: How can Churches use Fifty Shades as a starting point to introduce our culture to the Author of Song of Songs (a highly erotic book of the Bible)? Again, it is remembering God created sex, and being open about it, even celebrating it. The Bible says that every good and perfect thing comes from God, and that the problem arises when that is taken away, or distorted.

On those nights greeting customers, I was witnessing what could only be described as fanaticism. This book is their bible, their liberation from the boring existence they endure in loveless marriages, long devoid of real meaning and romance. These fundamentalists who worship at the Temple of Erotica get angry when their precious text is meddled with by Hollywood, in much the same way Noah and Exodus divided believers. There are cries of “Jamie Dornan isn’t Christian Grey! He doesn’t fit the image I pictured in my head!” To them, the thought of being at the mercy of Grey’s sexual fantasies is akin to Paul visiting the third heaven. And this lust for something exciting  is happening all over the world, often online.

One such woman, who I met during my time running online church, was Amy from Nebraska, a twice-divorced wife who became my close friend. She is married to Steve, who spends his time playing the same game we met on, but has nothing to do with his wife. She desperately loves him, and wants to please him sexually, but he just isn’t interested. She asks him why, and he says he’s just lazy. And so, like many other women in her position, she looks for acceptance elsewhere, indulging in her fantasies with others who aren’t him. Amy has been robbed of intimacy she so desires, and in frustration, looks elsewhere.

Speaking to staff members at work at it is quite clear that there have experimented with the kinkier side of sex. They debate the difference with all the passion of a religious zealot, about the pleasures of pain, and that it is about consent, but I ask them a question:

“How much is too much?”

One of the key elements of BDSM is the ‘safeword’, which is used by a couple to say basically ‘enough is enough’. This safety mechanism is agreed on, and should hopefully help prevent serious injury. However, the darker side of violence and sexuality has been well chronicled. In fact, one person I went to school with accidentally killed his wife while acting out strangulation in the bedroom. And in 2013, Georgia Williams, a young girl from Wellington, Shropshire, was enticed into a fatal photo shoot by Jamie Reynolds, a young ‘deviant’ with an obsession for redheads and a fascination for hardcore pornography. I refrain from writing about the details of Georgia’s  murder out of respect for her close friends, but the question that has been put forward is was Reynolds influenced by these images? In my opinion, of course he was.

The truth is, pornography is addictive, and it is very easy to slip further and further into more graphic and more disturbing imagery. This is the nature of lust, and when one image no longer satisfies, the user moves on to the next, much like a vampire with a lust for blood. However, as Christians, we are called not to be slaves to our lust, but to our real Master Jesus Christ. What the Church must do, is to help those who are seeking thrills, and turn them on to real life in Him.

Comments welcome…