27.11.22: Better than life

Context: Today’s prayer arrived early yesterday morning when I woke at around 4am with a migraine. After taking my medications, I sat propped up in bed, alternately dozing and writing. These verses slowly emerged over the course of the day, finishing late in the evening:

What is sweeter than honey? (Judges 14:18; NLT). 

What’s sweeter than honey,
And choicer than wine?
Higher than knowledge,
And vaster than time?

What’s brighter than sunlight,
And greater than wealth?
Warmer than friendship,
And finer than health?

What’s stronger than sharing,
And deeper than love?
Kinder than giving,
And richer than blood?

What’s wiser than serving,
And dearer than breath?
Simpler than worship,
And closer than death?

What’s better than living,
And makes us all one?
It’s Christ, our salvation,
God’s dearly-loved Son.

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12; NLT).

This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy (2 Peter 1 17; NLT).


References

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him (Philippians 3:7; NLT).

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NLT).

Your unfailing love is better than life itself (Psalm 63:3; NLT).

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16; NLT).

Mother, Father (#1 of 3)

Context: This prayer is the first of three which arrived yesterday morning, one after another. By the time I went downstairs for breakfast, my head was reeling:

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings (Psalm 61:4; NLT).

Mother, Father,
Priest and King,
In everyone,
And everything,
I come, each day,
To dance and sing
Beneath the shelter
Of your wing.

Stranger, Neighbour,
Friend and Kin,
In everyone,
And everything,
I come, each day,
To hide, and cling
Beneath the shadow
Of your wing.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by (Psalm 57:1; NLT). 

I long to see your face (for M.I.)

Context: This prayer came to me in the shower yesterday morning, so I had to keep repeating the first couple of lines and rehearsing the progression of ideas, until I could get out and make notes on my iPad at top speed. Later in the day I was able to work on it at leisure, so here it is:

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek (Psalm 27:8; NIV).

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? (Psalm 42:1-2; NLT).

I long to see your face, Lord,
When I meet you, in the end,
My Teacher, Priest and Shepherd,
My Redeemer and my Friend.

Yet, may I wait with patience
For the day you make me whole,
When you draw near, to bear away
My life, and breath and soul,

Because I want to serve you
Till my time on earth has passed,
When, all my trials and sorrows done,
I’ll see your face, at last. 

I will see you face to face and be satisfied (Psalm 17:15; NLT).

Equality

Introduction 

Some Christians believe that women are, and should be, subordinate to men, and that wives should submit to their husbands. Having researched and reflected on this issue for many years, I want to examine it in some detail, beginning with a question:

Did Jesus ever teach, state, claim, suggest, imply, or show by his behaviour that he considered women to be subordinate to men?

Jesus’ attitude to women 

The Gospels illustrate how Jesus went out of his way to include and relate to women in ways which were revolutionary for a man in a highly patriarchal society. He talked with them, listened to them, taught them, touched them, healed them and ate with them. He had close women friends and cared about women’s spiritual development. He depended on his female followers’ financial backing, and received their emotional support to the very end of his life, when all his male disciples except John had fled. Women were also the first witnesses of his resurrection. 

Jesus’ male disciples were sometimes shocked  by how closely and equally he related to women, as seen when they found him talking to the woman at the well (John 4:26; NLT).

Perhaps most significantly of all, there is no suggestion in the Gospels that Jesus excluded women from becoming his disciples:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34; NLT). 

Saint Paul’s attitude to women 

So, given Jesus’ egalitarian example, where did the belief that Christian women should be subservient to men originate? Here I turn to the letters of Saint Paul. A tough, educated and opinionated man, Paul did not question the culture of his day with regard to the sexes:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord (Colossians 3:18; NLT).

Going even further, he instructed churches to silence women members, regardless of their spiritual gifts:

Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings (1 Colossians 14:34-5; NLT). 

In saying this, Paul presumably felt he was adhering to the Gospel, even though Jesus said nothing of the kind. 

It’s interesting to note that in his letter to the Galatians, Paul once stated the exact opposite of what he wrote to the Colossians. Experiencing a moment of sublime insight into the essential equality and oneness not just of the sexes, but of all people, he was able to write:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NKJV). 

Historical context

I don’t know how Paul managed to square his contradictory views on women, but I take care to bear in mind how strongly his writing was influenced by his historical context. Although he was an extraordinary, sometimes inspired, speaker and writer, he was also a fallible man of his times, whose views were shaped by widely-held beliefs and prejudices, some of which unfortunately crept into his letters.

Unfortunately, these non-Gospel aspects of his teaching have continued to influence others ever since. Thus, when powerful men spent years arguing about which books should be included in the Biblical Canon, most of those by, for, and about women were ruthlessly excluded. The selections they made still influence Christian belief and practice over 2,000 years later.

Conclusion

It’s hard to understand why Paul’s conventionally patriarchal attitude to women came to be so thoroughly embraced throughout history, whilst Jesus’ consistently loving, egalitarian approach has been largely ignored. Even as I write, I’m shaking my head in disbelief that Paul’s first-century beliefs about the roles and status of women and men continue to influence so many individuals, families, congregations and denominations right up to the present day.

Nothing

Context: When this little prayer arrived yesterday, I scribbled it down, then had to get up early to go into town. My aim was to tackle my most feared  department store lift (see yesterday’s blog).

After four rides in 2 different lifts, I was absolutely exhausted. During the afternoon and evening, I fell asleep repeatedly whilst working on the morning’s notes, not finishing work on them until after 11.30pm. Here is the result:

Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:39; NLT). 

Nothing comes between us, Lord,
And nothing blocks our way.

We share unbroken unity;
We walk, and talk, and pray.

Our friendship has no start, no end
On earth, in heaven above,

In mind or heart, in life or death:
For we are one in love.

You …are complete through your union with Christ
(Colossians 2:10; NLT).


References 

Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him (Philippians 3:8-9; NLT).

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God (Romans 5:11; NLT).

You are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me (John 15:15; NLT). 

Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT).

Those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life (John 5:24; NLT).

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song of Songs 6:3; NIV). 

All are one in Christ

Didn’t one God create us?
Why then do we act treacherously against one another?
(Malachi 2:10; NIV).

There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female…

1. There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
Male nor Female,
Slave nor Free.

2. There is neither Black nor White,
Kin nor Stranger,
You nor Me.

3. There is neither Saint nor Sinner,
LBGTQ,
Nor Straight.

4. There is neither East nor West,
Creed nor Dogma,
Church nor State.

5. There is neither Friend nor Foe
Nor Refugee,
Nor Us, nor Them

6. For All are one in Christ:
Our Mother, Father, Spirit, Soul.
Amen.

…for you are all one in Christ Jesus
(Galatians 3:28; NIV).

God shows no favouritism.
In every nation he accepts those who fear him
and do what is right (Acts 10:34-5; NLT). 

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely
(1 Corinthians 13:12; NLT).


References 

2. Love your neighbour as yourself (James 2:8; NLT).

Love ye therefore the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; KJV).

3. He loves us with unfailing love (Psalm 117:2; NLT).

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37; NLT).

4. All the world from east to west will know there is no other God (Isaiah 45:6; NLT).

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious (Isaiah 11:10; NIV). 

5. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-8; NIV).

You, too, must show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).

Let my refugees stay with you (Isaiah 16:4; CSB). 

6. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16; NIV).

The Almighty …blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and the womb (Genesis 49:25; NIV).

You, Lord, are our Father (Isaiah 63:16; CSB).

As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother (Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 59, Julian of Norwich).

Your immortal spirit is in every one of them (Wisdom of Solomon 12:1; GNTA).

The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7; KJV). 

Let all the people say, “Amen” (Psalm 106:48; NLT). 

Personal change 16.5.22.

1. Diagnosis

My health has been deteriorating for several years, but I have never had an explanation for this. However, last Thursday I was given a diagnosis of Autonomic Neuropathy (AN).

AN is an incurable degenerative disorder, in which the brain loses the ability to regulate processes that normally happen automatically. It affects the functioning of multiple body systems, including, for example, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature control, bladder, digestion, eyesight, balance and energy.

There are several sub-types of AN. Some are more severe than others. Some progress more quickly than others. A battery of tests over the next few weeks and months should eventually indicate which type I have, how quickly I can expect to deteriorate, and my anticipated life-expectancy.    

2. Realisation

About a year ago, as my health deteriorated, I reached a point where I could no longer go to church. Since then, I have hoped in vain that some of the people there who I thought of as friends might notice my absence and make contact with me. However, only one member of my local congregation has stayed in touch.

Over the last few days I have realised how deeply I lack sources of spiritual nourishment with like-minded people. This has made me see that I need to stop hoping for contact, understanding and support from church, where there is so little available. Instead, I want to accept, share, and develop, relationships that are available to me, for example, with spiritually-minded friends online.

So, it’s time for me to start afresh, to change, and to focus much more on some reciprocal relationships. This feels like a very positive realisation. Indeed, it’s already leading me to explore a much more universal faith than is possible within the narrow confines of a single, rule-based denomination. 

With this new-found approach, I can start putting my very limited energy into seeking and finding God in everyone and everything, a prospect which fills me with joy. God really does work in mysterious ways, bringing good even out of situations that can appear wholly negative.

3. Recognition

Accordingly, yesterday, as I prepared my blog for posting, I found great pleasure in illustrating it with a wonderful photo of a woman priest joyfully celebrating communion. This simply  doesn’t happen in my denomination, where all women are automatically excluded from the priesthood, simply because of their gender. 

Using the photo of the woman priest made me recognise that I could also include photos of older women and disabled people amongst my website headers, so I spent a very happy hour or two on this task. Until today, my thinking had always been so blinkered that it had never occurred to me to do this.

4. Freedom

Right now, I feel my diagnosis of Autonomic Neuropathy is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It has made me realise that I’ve only got one life here, and that it might be a lot shorter, more limited, and more unpleasant than I had previously imagined. So, as my heath and mobility deteriorate, I want to make the most of whatever freedom and independence I have, at each stage of this disorder.

However, I’m not thinking of the conventional “bucket list” of places I want to go to, or things I want to do before I die. Rather, I’m already experiencing a deep, joyful sense of inner freedom to be myself. This gives me space and permission to think what I think, believe what I believe, feel how I feel, and be how I am. I am also working on my outward freedom, by speaking the truth in love, and taking pleasure in doing what I still can, however limited this may be. 

5. Future 

I’m sharing all this with you because as I deteriorate, I will probably need to change my approach to blogging. This might mean expending less energy on formal, disciplined poetic structures, instead describing whatever spiritual insights God gives me in simpler, more direct prose.

Meanwhile, I’m feeling optimistic, the future looks exciting, and I will continue to post here each day for as long as I can.

✝️ My greetings to every follower and visitor to this website. I appreciate every one of you, and pray for you all each day.

With love and blessings, from Ruth xxxx


References 

1. Diagnosis

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).

No one can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave (Psalm 89:48; NLT). 

2. Realisation

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you (Isaiah 30:20; NLT).

Truly, O God of Israel, our Saviour, you work in mysterious ways (Isaiah 45:15; NIV). 

We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28; GNT).

3. Recognition

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognised him (Luke 24:31; NLT).

God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27; NLT).

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NIV).

The Almighty … blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and the womb (Genesis 49:5; NIV). 

“As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our mother” (Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 59, Julian of Norwich).

4. Freedom 

You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32; NLT). 

If the Son sets you free, you are truly free (John 8:36; NLT).  

When you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go (John 21:18; NLT).

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me (Psalm 139:1; NLT).

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).

God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:24; NIV).

You desire honesty from the womb (Psalm 51:6; NLT).

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10; NIV).

5. Future

Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts (Psalm 90:12; CSB).

Communion

Never stop praying
(1 Thessalonians 5:17; NLT).

Father, Spirit, much-loved Son,
May we always live as one,
Our conversation, never end –
My way, my truth, my friend.

Teacher, Shepherd, constant Guide,
May we suffer side by side,
And our communion never cease –
My hope, my joy, my peace.

Threefold God, though you are light,
I must walk by faith, not sight,
Until this earthly life is past –
And I see you, at last.

We walk by faith, not by sight
(2 Corinthians 5L7; KJV).

My example

He is your example and you must follow in his steps.
(1 Peter 2:21; NLT).

Lord,
You’re my example,
My Saviour,
And my Friend;

My Shepherd,
And my Teacher;
My Maker,
And my end;

My bread, my wine,
My water;
My way, my truth,
My breath;

My King, my God,
My Spirit;
My love, my life,
My death.

✝️

If we die with him, we will also live with him.
(2 Timothy 2:11; NLT).

 

A friendly word

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
(Romans 12:15; NRSV).

A friendly word,
A gentle smile,

A simple hug,
A tender touch;

A heartfelt sigh,
A faithful prayer –

If full of love,
Can mean so much.

🖤

Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8; NIV).

 


References

Always be humble and gentle (Ephesians 4:2; NLT).

Be …faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12; NIV).

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them (Romans 12:9; NLT).

Do everything with love (1 Corinthians 16:14; NLT).