Category Archives: Bible

Wake up, Deborah!

And God gave them judge-leaders. Whenever God raised up a judge-leader among them, God was with them and saved the people from the hands of their enemies.
Judges 2:16.18

Deborah, a prophet, was the judge-leader of Israel at that time. Judges 4:4

Yesterday I preached on the story of Deborah and Jael. But before I begun, I read the following statements to the congregation and asked them to raise their hands if they recognised the phrase; if they had heard them before, whether spoken explicitly or implied.

1) Women must submit to men, in particular their husbands.

2) Girls must dress modestly to avoid causing men to sin.

3) Women are created for different roles to men: their ultimate calling is to serve their families by keeping things clean, having supper on the table by six, and, most importantly, making babies.

4) Women can’t preach in church, that is a man’s job.

5) A woman must not have authority over a man.

Our congregation at MCC Newcastle is very diverse, with members coming from various Christian traditions, and yet most of them had heard these statements at some point. Almost everyone raised their hands for points 3 and 5.

Then I asked for those who knew the story of Deborah to raise their hands.

One person.

And that’s when I could feel the anger starting. The good kind of anger, a kind that lent passion, nuance and humour to words I had fairly emotionlessly written earlier. The kind that finally gets it.

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Hell Fires or Living Waters?

Recently on Twitter, I have been having a debate with someone I don’t know from Adam about sexuality, compassion and sin. I realise that Twitter arguments are not a good idea in general, but it has sparked off some serious thoughts about the ways in which Jesus talked to people – and the ways in which Christians are encouraged to talk to people – who live outside of the church context, in a position of vulnerability, or are marginalised for various reasons. I have already posted about the ways in which certain types of evangelism have made me uncomfortable in the past, but this is about more than evangelism. It is about relationships, and it is about the way we choose to share the Good News with others, and the need for compassion.

Because it is supposed to be GOOD News.

Here is a summary of the conversation:

(Context: Someone I follow posted about the Church of England’s recommendation that couples in same-sex relationships should be “given recognition and compassionate attention from the church.” M. replied to this, saying “those who wrote the report are fools who ignore what God has clearly said”)

Me: What’s so wrong with being compassionate with people?

M: It is not compassionate to encourage someone in sin

Me: No-one said encourage. They said recognition and compassionate attention. The church has ignored, misunderstood and hurt gay people.

M: There’s no such thing as gay people, just sexual sinners

Me: Oh ok, that’s made all the hurt go away. You’ve found the solution!

M: (summary). The hurt is necessary so that people will see their sin. Better they are caused pain in this world than experience the pain of Hell.

Me: We are called to be loving, not hurtful. Hurtful attitudes are not Christian. We need to be like Jesus with the woman at the well, not like Pharisees.

M: Jesus exposed that woman’s sin. She was an adulteress and he told her so.

Me: Go read that story. He used no such word. He told her of living waters not hell fires. We must imitate this. Telling her of living waters was extravagant and disruptive love. She changed for that love, not for fear of hell fires.

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The Accuser

Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested by the Accuser
Matthew 4:1

Judean wilderness
The Judean desert is beautiful from afar, but go there and you will find it is a dry, hot desolate place where you can easily wander for 40 days without seeing a fellow human being. You will find relief in the starry night-time when the heat abates for a while. You might see the shy desert animals that Mark mentions in his account – foxes, birds of prey, small underground mammals, maybe even a Judean leopard.

Judean leopard

You would be thirsty. Water is scarce but if you know where to look you might come across a wadi, a steep mostly dry valley, with puddles of tepid muddy water – enough to survive, but not enough to satisfy.

But you might have a good day and find one of the rare oases, like the En Gadi oasis near the Red Sea.

oasis

And He went without food for forty days and forty nights, and later He was hungry
Matthew 4:2

If you are not fasting, as Jesus was, you might do what John the Baptist did and raid a wild bees nest for honey or chase after a locust. Obviously these activities come with the cost of insect stings!

This is not a place for rich, majestic encounters with God. It is a place for fasting, for survival, hunger and thirst and for prayers that become more desperate as the time goes on.

We may not be in the Judean wilderness, but we can have a “wilderness time”. In the wilderness time we feel inwardly dry, thirsting for something, hungering for something. The wilderness time is a time of emptiness. A time when our spirits are troubled and even though we may have people around us, we feel alone. When we pray but don’t feel that God is there, or that God is not interested.

When Jesus walked into the wilderness he met with the Accuser (Hebrew הַשָּׂטָן ha-Satan, the accuser or slanderer, usually “Satan”  in English)

The Accuser appears in both the Old Testament and the New and  is a being sent by God to test a human. This could be a heavenly being, or another human, or a part of the person being tempted. So, we are not talking red tights and a pitchfork, we are talking about something much more elemental. An Accuser, a Slanderer.

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