Tag Archives: Paul

83: Injustice

83 injustice pixabay trample-784060_1920 422737

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:23 NIV

Turning the other cheek, as Jesus counselled us to do, is a difficult teaching for many of us. As a former doormat, I used to let people not just walk all over me, but grind their muddy boots into my soul as well. It took me a long time to realise that this was not what the Lord was recommending. We should not seek out suffering, nor is it wrong to protect ourselves from hurt. Boundaries and self-defence mechanisms are necessary tools for getting through life. But when we are insulted or treated badly, it is our reactions that should mark us out as different.

The reason for this, as I have come to understand it, is that whatever is happening to us in the earthly, we maintain as God’s children, our integrity, which is eternal. Julian of Norwich saw in her understandings from the Lord that our true selves are incorruptible and stay close to God’s breast all the while we are alive. Nothing can touch or harm them in any way that will impact the eternal, the true and manifest wholeness and perfection of them. So although suffering hurts us of course, it cannot hurt that unreachable self whom God keeps close. This is why Paul (or whoever the writer of Hebrews was) said “What can man do to me?” echoing Psalm 56 amongst others. It seems we might answer, “Well, quite a lot, actually,” but when we remember that this same man had been beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked and persecuted for following Christ, we must take these words seriously.

For my own part, I think that any kind of insult or abuse loses its power over us when we bear it with gentleness. So yes, we call injustices what they are, and as far as possible we protect ourselves and others from ill treatment, and from inflicting it. Systematic abuse must be escaped and challenged whenever possible, this righteous anger and action is also part of following Jesus: we stand up for widows, orphans, and speak for the voiceless. But where it is appropriate and we are able to, turning the other cheek can be an effective tool for the gospel. It was certainly when I bore the bullying silently and without redress that my school peers got bored of tormenting me. “For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God,” says Peter in his first letter (chapter 2, v 19) and he is talking about the severe injustices borne under slavery.

This bearing with the sorrows of today with quiet dignity because we live in the knowledge of eternity (whilst owning our own wholeness and integrity kept safe within the bosom of our God) is the heart of gospel living to this man who walked closely with Jesus. It might rankle with us today, but there is a deep and precious wisdom and a powerful witness in patient, gentle endurance, especially when paired with forgiveness, and Peter, for one, believed it changed those hurting us.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Advertisements

57: Distracted

56 mf click

I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” I Corinthians 7:35 NLT

As I was playing Bejewelled Blitz last night and wondering what to write about for today I heard my own sarcastic reply… why not write about distractions? Now normally I come to write my daily piece from a prayerful place, but sometimes I do get carried away doing other things, and admittedly, sometimes mindless and pointless things. The world is full of distractions, isn’t it? And we human beings seem to have an innate talent for stopping ourselves from being productive. We play games and procrastinate and put things off because the time isn’t right or we don’t feel like it, or because we don’t see the point or we persuade ourselves that we’re not going to do it right. So many excuses and ways of scuppering ourselves. And technology has only added to the problems. Screens are everywhere, and full of zombie-creating, soporific games and entertainments.

I think in this age we need to be more diligent about the use of our precious time than in any time gone before. Martha was distracted as we looked at her yesterday by all the chores she had left to do to feed the great group of people that had just descended on her house. Imagine if she had had an ipad as well! And Paul in our verse today is telling us that even marriage can be a distraction from having our full attention on the Lord. Because the Lord’s work is all encompassing, it can’t be gone at half-hearted. If we come to him with lukewarm hearts or double-minded, we are not a great deal of use to him. Like the fishermen who left their nets to follow him, we need to be prepared to set aside the normal rules, our time and sometimes even our livelihoods.

The best way that I have found to keep doing the work that has been set before me is to embrace self-discipline, some kind of routine and most of all, to pray all the time. Paul tells the Thessalonians to pray unceasingly. I know that can sound a bit impossible, but that’s because we are imagining walking round the supermarket saying our prayers out loud. Really I think that Paul means that the more time we spend with God, the more we find that our very lives become prayer. Prayer – the constant communing, our ongoing relationship with the Lord – becomes an attitude that we start to live by, of handing every moment over to him, offering everything up to him, so that even in our play and in our rest times, both of which every healthy life needs, we are cultivating an awareness and a togetherness with the Lord. When this starts to take hold in our lives, we find that we see and experience God in everything, and with him placed first in our heart, nothing can pull us away or distract us from his constancy, his mercy and his enduring love.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

 

35: Fundamentals

35 Fundamentals Mf IMG_7713

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.” Galatians 1:13-14

“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” Augustine of Hippo

 

I’m fascinated at the moment by the dynamics of various groups I belong to on Facebook. A lot of them seem to have one particular bugbear that, if you go near it, sets off a great uprising of offence. A lot of pleasant, amiable people can swiftly turn nasty if you mention a certain idea, or in one case, even one word. I’ve seen people pounced on for the slightest misunderstanding. And these are not religious groups, but ones focussing on art, wildlife and even clouds. Our zeal, it seems, can be put to use anywhere, and is especially dangerous within a group.

Paul understood this better than most, having been one of the golden boys of a group that was so sure of itself it was quite happy to put people to death. How strange it must have seemed to look back at the days when he wanted with all his might to destroy Christ’s church, when he would have seen its demise as an absolute necessity. I wonder if his encounter with the risen Christ that changed everything, was also a change of sight, and whether that is one of the reasons he had to be blinded for three days. A huge metanoia, a turning round, a repentance, a change of heart, sight and mind had to take place.

We need to be very wary of certainty, especially where it is feverishly protected. The truth does not need quite so much armour, for it needs no defence as Augustine rightly said. Yesterday I posted a prayer on unity and not rushing to guard our certainties as much as we reach out in understanding to one another. Immediately afterwards I faced a situation where someone posted something that offended my faith. I was tempted to delete it, but then realised that was hardly practising what I had just “preached” (prayed anyway!). Here was an opportunity to stand back from religious zeal, and be kind. So I quoted scripture and left it at that, and received a kind comment back. In the end I think that probably served Jesus’ ends more than letting my offence, albeit on his behalf, be dogmatic.

The Lord desires that having done all I can, I stand. The creator of all things does not need me to stick up for him, as though he had to hide behind me in the playground cowering from the bullies. Surprisingly, God can take care of himself. My zeal is better used in passionate articulation of the wonders of my God and King, in traversing the deep fissures of prayer, in ardent praise and the avid contemplation of his heart in all creation.

Paul defended his first religion by killing. He defended his second by dying. Perhaps there in a nutshell is the difference between fundamentalism and faith, between religion and relationship.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile

 

34: Homesick

34 homesick mf

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” 2 Corinthians 5:4 NIV

My first experience of home sickness was when I went to stay for a couple of nights with a school friend. I was about six years old. I thought it would be fun, but the whole time I just wanted to go home. I wanted familiar things and people around me, so I cried and cried. On the second day my friend’s parents drove us to the seaside, to Weston Supermare, a famous British beach where the tide goes out for miles. I wept the whole way there, desperate for home and my own parents, looking back out of the rear windscreen towards where I thought they were. The strength of my feelings shocked and upset me, and my hosts were none too pleased either. I remember my friend’s mother got particularly narked, since she was determined we were to have fun no matter what. This soppy six-year-old crying her eyes out was scuppering her perfect plans.

When things are extra tough as they are at the moment, I long for home. I really want to not have to face the daily grind of lack and ill health, and to be able to come home to my heavenly father’s dwelling place. I long for that sense of peace and the idea of being fully known. I have had a taste here on earth by the grace of God, of what that relationship might begin to taste like, and I yearn for more.

But there is work to be done. And this is true for all of us, whether we are consciously in the Lord’s service or not. I don’t know how my writing or art might ever be used of the Lord, but I hope it will be, and because I am his servant I must carry on. But I do not continue without groaning, or feeling burdened. I daily feel heavy with the heartache of it all.

One of my dearest friends calls me her snail, and hopefully not just because I am slow. These days I find that home is being with God and so in a way, I can carry my home around with me wherever I go. This is a great comfort. I love being creative and I love prayer which is the mainstay of my life, and these things sustain me in my tiny life, but there are many times when I feel like a castaway who often looks out to sea with a profound yearning to journey home, or like that little me who looked back through the car window all the way to the beach.

Paul speaks this longing out in his beautiful way, saying that we feel naked without our true bodies. An amazing metaphor for the hunger to be really ourselves, knowing deep down that we are immortal beings whose souls need to fly home to their legitimate nesting place in the heart of God, as one day we shall.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile

16: Savage Wolves

 

wolf small cropped

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” Acts 20:29 NIV

Paul’s parting from the Elders of the Ephesian church, whom he summons to himself at Miletus before leaving on the next leg of his journey to Jerusalem, is a tearful one. He is keen to warn them with this prophetic word, even though it means telling them that some of these wolves will rise from among their own number. He is being hounded by the Jewish persecutors (of which he used to be one) who will soon jail and kill him. He knows the end is near, and yet his thoughts and worries are all for this church he has spent three years teaching and loving. And this is not a new fear:

“So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:31 NIV

Jesus too, talked about wolves that would rise from amongst the flock, wearing sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Even in the midst of our Christian communities, we need to keep our eyes peeled for danger, for wrong teaching and for those who would lead us astray or attempt to do the devil’s work for him. I suppose that it is in the fold, in our places of safety where we are most likely to let down our spiritual guard, even at the same time as we worship or receive instruction. Here, right in the centre of communion, we can be at our most vulnerable. And as the Church and her members know to their cost, abuses of power have been all too common.

But we must remain gentle and open at the same time as being wary, for our innocence shines out the beauty of God, and our gentle hearts available to all are a powerful testimony of the Lord’s grace. Jesus told his Disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 NIV

Please be shrewd as my readers. I have no training in theology and I write mainly from prayer and my own study. I hope there is wisdom buried in my words. Be wary of those who are vehement in their preaching though, for self-proclaimed mystics like myself will lead you astray, if we ever do so, entirely without intent. The Ephesians, and us through them, are being warned here, not of the ignorant or mistaken, but of the deliberate, subtle turners of hearts, bringers of fear, those who would delude and persuade us to disbelieve the goodness of God, the power of his Grace, the fullness and inclusivity of the Gospel; to doubt the wisdom contained within Holy Scripture.

Shrewdness, awareness means using our brains, our hearts, our instincts, and above all the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It does not mean throwing out hermeneutics, study, self-disciplined prayer, contemplation or thought, for the Lord gave us intelligence for a reason. I think that as well as being wary around our own known weak areas, the main things that should ring alarm bells in us are when people display characteristics that are ungodly: undermining, ridicule, gossip, judgement, division, fear and smugness. When there is a temptation to take sides, to point, to feel superior, to hold a grudge, to fall into self-righteousness instead of God’s grace, those are the hot breaths of the wolf and his or her ways.

And so today I can finish with the advice from one of my favourite verses, let truth and beauty be our guides:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV

 

Text and artwork ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt