Posted By Nan

Acts 23-25

"Anything that demands reverence that is not open to being challenged or questioned is problematic" ~ Brené Brown

When that happens it is not reverence it is coercion and extremely abusive (my comment).

Before I start this blog post, I have not posted a blog for 3 weeks due to circumstances beyond my control. Today I am in a position to post again.

You may wonder what a quote about reverence has to do with Acts 23-25.

Last week I was 1,000 kilometres away from home at a family function. Many of the family members there had not been seen for many years. As I caught up with them I found myself having a conversation with a lovely relative.

She is a beautiful person and has a deep faith in God. 

But a comment she made was quite jarring. It was about a family member who she considered could be abrupt and rude at times. This family member had recently been diagnosed with Autism. She commented that she now understood this person’s sometimes rude behaviour. She admitted she had always thought there should be something wrong as she thought the person had been raised the right way because she had gone to a private school.

I was quite surprised by this comment. In my life I have not noticed private school graduates to be any more polite than government run school graduates.

What I have noticed however is that people who attended private schools were more likely to have been taught to keep quiet and maintain the “status quo”. 

In short. They were taught to have reverence for the leaders and to never challenge or question what they were told to believe or follow.

Sadly, this behaviour is what allows abuse to flourish and go unpunished. Hence the quote by Brené Brown. My comment also relates to this as enforced reverence for leaders and/or the rules is coercion and abuse. 

What does this have to do with Acts 23-25?

As we know by now, after all the revelations of sexual abuse within churches that was covered up, Churches are good at demanding reverence that allows abuse to flourish and go unpunished.

Whenever the interests of humans outweigh the interests of God, this abusive behaviour continues.

Paul had a message to give. It was the message of Jesus. 

Just as the religious leaders in Jerusalem had Jesus killed, the same leaders tried to kill Paul.

Just as Jesus did nothing wrong, so did Paul. The leaders wanted Jesus and Paul to be shut up because of their human interests that far outweighed the interests of God.

These religious leaders made up lies to try to get Paul killed. They even planned to ambush the Roman soldiers taking him outside Jerusalem in order to kill him themselves.

They demanded reverence and allowed no challenges or questioning of that reverence.

Human institutions, even churches, do the same. 

Over time, people become invested in their viewpoints and their power within the institution. This leaves them vulnerable to crossing a line where the interests of God are pushed aside for the interests of humans (especially them). It is very insidious and very easy to cross that line. Especially if there is no one there empowered to call out the behaviour.

You need to be vigilant. You need to challenge the demands for reverence. And if you are shut down when you challenge that reverence? You need to walk away. Because anything that demands reverence that is not open to being challenged or questioned is problematic. It is coercive and abuse. 

It is not of God.

Follow God.

Not human self interest.

Posted By Nan

This quote is from Eugene H Peterson who translated The Message Bible into language we could understand.

So often in our walk with Christianity we are exhorted to pray.

Pray for what we want.

Pray for God’s intervention in our lives.

Pray for other people.

Pray for the world, a group of people, a country.

And so on.

There is nothing wrong with asking God for these things.

But God knows what we need and will give it to us anyway.

Prayer is more about being transformed into a follower of Jesus.

Research shows that we are influenced by the people we keep company with. If you keep company with people who are negative, you will become negative and your behaviour will change to match that. If you keep company with people who adopt a particular set of beliefs, you will come to share those beliefs.

If you spend time in conversation with God, you will be changed to become more godly in your outlook and behaviour.

If you read 2 Corinthians 3 from verse 7, you will read that Moses came into God’s presence and that presence caused his face to become so bright that people could not look at it.

You can then read in verses16-18 that when you turn your face to God you recognise Him as a living, personal presence, not some idol of stone. 

Being in God’s presence shows you the pure approach to God. The leaving behind of legalism and embracing of who God is. 

In His presence you can be who He created you to be. 

In His presence you can become who He wants you to be. In His presence your life becomes brighter and more beautiful as you allow God to enter your life and you become more like Him.

In Romans 12:1-2 you are encouraged to take every aspect of your life and offer it to God. You are advised to embrace what God does for you as His gift to you and the best way you can be. 

You need to not place your culture – be it the culture of your church, community, nation – above God and His requirements for you. 

You are instead to put your attention on God. 

He will change you. 

He will start in your innermost being and change you into His image. Your response is to recognise that is what He wants and to respond to that.

Instead of allowing the cultures of this world, including religious institutions, to drag you down focus on God instead. When you do this, you allow Him to bring out your best.

And you do this through prayer as you form a relationship with God that involves communication as you sit as His feet.

Posted By Nan
1 Samuel 
If you read the Old Testament you will find cycles of obedience and disobedience among the people of Israel.
From the time of the Judges to the time of Samuel (and beyond) the people would worship and follow God while a particular leader lived. Then the leader would die and the people would fall away, pursuing the gods of the people around them. Then God would bring great trouble upon them and they would eventually call out to God and turn back to Him. Once this happened God would return to them.
At the time of Samuel it is said in 3:1 that at that time, the word of the Lord was rare and there were not many visions.
This was a time of great disobedience and worshipping of other gods.
The story of Samuel is one of great faith. Faith that was present in his parents. His mother Hannah had no children and was tormented by her husband’s other wife. Every year the couple went up to worship God at Shiloh where the altar was. 
It is evident from this that both were righteous people who followed God and His commands. 
One year a very distressed Hannah prayed to God earnestly and begged him for a son. She promised God that when her son was born, she would give him to God’s service. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born. Once he was weaned, she took him to the old priest Eli to grow up there in God’s service.
I have always been amazed at the faith of Hannah. God gave her a much-wanted son and she gave him back to God when he was still a small child. She gave up all her rights as a parent and left her child in the care of the priest and his family.
I could never have given up one of my children. I am not sure of many who could. What Hannah did was a great example of love and obedience to God. 
When Samuel was still a small child, not yet old enough to be taught about God, he heard his name being called.
Thinking he heard Eli calling he went to him. Eli sent him back to bed.
Again Samuel heard his name being called and again he went to Eli.
Again Eli sent him back to bed.
The third time Samuel heard his name being called Eli realised God was calling him and told him that next time God called he was to say “Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening”.
So Samuel did as he was instructed.
This was when God gave him instruction on the fate of Eli and his disobedient sons.
The was the start of God’s instructions to Samuel.
Samuel grew up in the faith and knowledge of God. Everyone recognised that God was with him and Samuel was recognised as a prophet of God. God spoke to him, after so long, God was finally speaking to someone in Israel.
As Samuel reached old age the people became fearful for their futures and asked for a King. So God granted them their request and Samuel anointed Saul as king.
It did not take Saul long to start believing in his abilities and more than in God’s control and care of Israel. He also started caring more what others thought of him rather than what God thought of him.
During one Phillistine advance on Israel Samuel told Saul to wait 7 days for him to arrive at Gilgal where Saul and his army waited. In those days the Israelites did not go into battle unless they had prayed and sought God’s advice.
Saul lacked the faith in God to wait patiently. He was already considering he was greater than God. And there was his reputation with the people. He placed great value on that.
As the 7th day approached Samuel had not come and Saul was afraid his men were beginning to leave. So he made the burnt and fellowship offerings to God himself. He could not wait for God’s prophet to come. In short, he could not wait for God!
Samuel arrived just as he was competing the offerings. 
Samuel chastised Saul for not keeping God’s command to wait. This was a test for Saul that he had failed. Because of this he and his family would not have a future as rulers of Israel.
This warning was not enough for Saul.
He went out and attacked the enemy as Samuel had instructed him. However the instruction to put all people to the sword and destroy all animals was ignored by Saul. He kept the king and sheep and cattle alive.
When Samuel came to him challenging him on his failure to obey God. He tried to justify this by saying he had killed everyone but the King and the livestock were taking to offer as sacrifices.
The perils of arrogance coupled with a convenient legalism that seeks to justify disobeying God!
Posted By Nan
Samuel reminded Saul that God does not delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices. His delight is in obedience. Saul had disobeyed. Having disobeyed he then tried to justify what he had done by claiming he took the items as offerings to God, but no amount of burnt offerings and sacrifices could change the fact of Saul’s disobedience.
Saul tried to apologise, claiming he was afraid of what the people would think, but his fear should have been about what God would think and he should have trusted God to fulfil His promise.
God rejected Saul as King of Israel. All the glory and power he had become accustomed to was going to be taken from him.
As Saul begged Samuel to relent, he grabbed Samuel’s cloak and tore it. Samuel spoke, saying that just as he had torn Samuel’s robe, so God had torn the Kingdom of Israel from him and given it to a neighbour.
Samuel never saw Saul again.
Nothing Saul could do changed the outcome of God’s decision. His thoughts were always about how he looked to others.
He did try to appease Samuel by expelling all mediums and spiritists from Israel but it was not sufficient to change the outcome of his disobedience.
His heart was always with the impression he made on others and not on God.
Samuel died and the Philistines came up to attack Israel again.
Saul inquired of God what he should do. God however did not answer him because He had departed from Saul a long time ago. So Saul found a medium and visited her, asking her to bring up the spirit of Samuel. 
Samuel’s spirit delivered a prophesy, one Saul did not like. He told Saul that he and his sons would die, and the kingdom would be given to David, who Samuel had anointed as new king of Israel.
Saul’s final act, to try to force God to answer him, resulted in his immediate death. 
I have long seen the story of Saul as a warning to all of us. 
1. we have the contrast of Hannah and her husband and their faith in God. Hannah’s thoughts particularly were with honouring God and she kept her promises, as well as waiting patiently for her requests to be fulfilled.
       Samuel inherited from his mother a great faith in God.
2. The people did not have enough faith in God to remain faithful to Him and trust Him to care for them.
       They wanted a King.
       So God gave them the King they wanted, and it was a disaster.
3. Saul did not have a heart for God. He cared more about what people thought of him than about obeying God. He lacked the depth of faith to trust God and wait patiently.
4. God values our obedience and faith more than any sacrifices or offerings we make. Even our works are of less value than our heart for God.
5. Patience is needed. God answers prayers in His time, not ours. His time may not be as instantly as we want.
6. Although I have not mentioned it here, David stands as a contrast to Saul. He was the King after God’s heart. He remained faithful to God during his long training and honoured Saul as King, even when he was intent on killing David. He placed God ahead of what people might think of him. We should seek to emulate David in his faith in God.
Samuel had a personal relationship with God. God spoke directly to him and he spoke directly back. We need to do that. We cannot rely on what other people tell us God is saying and worry about how other people may perceive our actions. We must learn to obey God.
30 years ago I was in a terrible state. The people I thought were my friends were saying horrible things about me and ostracising me. I felt so abandoned. I prayed to God for support and His reply was to “get rid of your friends, they are no good for you.”
What did I do? I argued with God. But they are my only Christian friends. I have to have Christian friends. That is what I was constantly told by my Church. God’s response? He took my friends away and gave me wonderful, caring, supportive, loving non-Christian friends. God didn’t care what faith my friends had. They were His responsibility, not mine. Mine was to obey.
I always remember that incident when God asks me to do something. I aim to always obey Him.
My prayer for you is that you will trust God, listen to Him, trust Him and obey Him. And NEVER put what others say ahead of what God is telling you.
Posted By Nan

Psalm 120

A song of ascents.

1 I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.

2 Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

3 What will he do to you,
    and what more besides,
    you deceitful tongue?

4 He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
    with burning coals of the broom bush.

5 Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!

6 Too long have I lived
    among those who hate peace.

7 I am for peace;
    but when I speak, they are for war.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a strong Jesus following community. Surely I would not have to suffer the nastiness I face here on earth!

But then I remember. Some of the worst abuse and nastiness I have faced has come from so called Jesus followers.

The reality is that people aren’t that nice. There will always be nastiness and liars. 

I wish they could be punished now. Final judgement feels too far away and I have to endure horrible things before that time. 

But I know I dwell with people who like those from Kedar are cut off from the worship of the true God. But I am not cut off from worshipping Him.

I know I dwell among those from Meshek. The ones known as the remotest and rudest nation of the world. But I am not rude, nor do I seek to isolate others from God or isolate myself from God for that matter.

For those who cry out to God in their distress I have this answer. 

God will provide comfort, not necessarily as you want Him to comfort. And He will not necessarily remove you from the distressing situation. 

He will give you strength but not necessarily the strength you think He should give you.

All you can do is trust Him and hang on, trusting that His grip on you is stronger than your desperate hanging on to Him.




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