After the Ark: The Forgotten Ending

What does the name, Justin Bieber mean to you? Most likely it will evoke thoughts on the recent scandals surrounding the pop singer. This is often what happens when celebrities make mistakes, or do the wrong thing. The media will pounce on any bit of information and usually blow it out of proportion, while the fans will attempt to cover the damage. They are human, but they are not treated as such and it is often the same with Biblical figures. Many Christians will praise them for their great deeds and the non-believers will tear them down for their mistakes. It is forgotten that they too, were human. The Bible does not leave this out, the problem is that it can be ignored, glossed over. The truth is this, the Bible is brutal, and it does not leave out the squeamish bits. It was meant to make you squirm.

I’m going to start with the beginning. The book of Genesis is commonly believed to have been written by Moses and as there isn’t any very good evidence to dispute the fact, I will leave it at that. This book details the creation of Earth and mankind and its subsequent downfall. It is here that man first defies God and it is here that God first makes his promise of salvation.

Let’s look at the story of Noah. It probably brings to mind the story of the flood, the ark and the animals. I’m not going to talk about that today. There was the flood, the near destruction of mankind and afterwards there was the rainbow, the promise. We’ve all heard this story many times but what about the bit after the rainbow? Let’s look at that.

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And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. –Genesis 9:20-21

I don’t believe I ever had a lesson on this story in Sunday school. Noah got drunk and naked in his tent; I think I would’ve remembered that. At first glance, this passage makes no sense, it doesn’t seem to have any place here, perhaps it was an accident. However there are no accidents in the Bible; everything is there for a reason. So we must take a closer look.

What we see here is a human Noah, he makes mistakes and does the wrong thing. This is the same man who in an earlier chapter was declared a great man of faith. Yet, as the Bible often tells us, even great men of faith make mistakes. This doesn’t make it excusable; it just means they are as prone to sin as we are. We fall often and sometimes we’re in a backward slide before we can even blink. It’s tough to get out of those situations but not impossible, we have a great God on our side. He chose to save Noah, even though he was a drunk. Sure, we could make the argument that he was the best out of the lot, but that’s not the point. God could’ve wiped out the human race, but he chose to save us in spite of our fallibility.

This is amazing. It is inconceivable. It is incomprehensible. It is a whole list of awe-inspired words. No matter how many times we fall, God is always there to set us back on our feet. Remember David? He was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he did some terrible things. He had an affair with a married woman, and then sent her husband to be killed so that he could have her (2 Samuel 11). He did nothing when his son raped his step-daughter and after all this he was still a man after God’s own heart. We are loved more than we can ever imagine, and that these great men of faith fell so hard and yet remained so faithful is a testament to what we should be like.

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. –Genesis 9:22

It gets worse from here. Not only does Noah get drunk and naked but his younger son sees him. What is his reaction to seeing his father in this sorry state? He goes and tells his brothers, spreading his father’s shame. This is neither necessary nor right. When we see sin in someone’s life, our first response should not be to tell our friends. It gets even worse though. The Hebrew word for “tell” here literally says, “told with delight.” Ham deliberately went out and mocked his father.

We are told very clearly that this is to be avoided. Galatians 6:1, 1 Corinthians 13:6, and Matthew 18:15 tell us that we are to correct our brothers and sisters, not mock and scorn them. If a student is failing a course, the teacher does not stand him up in front of the class and declare him a failure. Rather, the teacher will take the student aside and try to correct the problem.
Our duty as Christians, when we see a brother or sister in Christ doing something wrong, we are to tell them. This does not mean sharing about them during a prayer meeting or a Bible study; this means taking them aside and telling them something is wrong. Of course, there is a right way, and a wrong way to go about doing that.

And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid [it] upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces [were] backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. -Genesis 9:23

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The older two sons, rather than join in the mockery, behaved appropriately in covering up their father. They exposed him as little as possible and covered him up. Oftentimes, when we see sin in another Christian’s life, we ignore it or maybe we do the wrong thing. There is a right method to it. Most importantly, we need to be sensitive to the other person; we may not be seeing everything. If we can understand how and why the person did what they did, the root of the problem is found. Dealing with sin in a Christian community is a sensitive topic and we must tread very carefully here.

Obviously everyone agrees it should be dealt with but we can disagree as to how. There are some who hold very firmly to Matthew 7:3 and believe that everyone should deal with their own problems. This is not the way a community works. The passage in Matthew is referring to criticism not correction, these two should not be confused. Other people however, may take it too far; this would be when it becomes judgmental. Constantly finding, or looking for faults in others. No, we are to examine ourselves first but if we notice someone is struggling in some area, or has fallen, it is our Christian duty to help them get back on their feet.

We could do a whole Bible study on correction of sins but for now, I will simply refer you to  Matthew 18:15-17 which provides excellent instruction.

It’s good to be reminded every now and again that even the great men in the Bible were far from perfect and that God still loves us. It’s also easy to look at the Bible and dismiss parts that we don’t like, but that would be a mistake. There is so much we can learn from the Old Testament if we look at it through the eyes of the New. We as a body of believers are to act as Shem and Japheth and help our brothers and sisters in need. It’s not an easy task to be called to, but it is necessary and good.

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Chosen, Royal, Holy, Peculiar

One of the things I was known for among my friends at Capernwray, is my love of the Old Testament. I often feel that it is rather neglected and yet there is so much we can learn from it, but of course I can’t neglect the New Testament in turn. So for the first time ever, I present to you a Bible study straight from the New Testament; specifically, 1 Peter 2:9.

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Before we delve into the verse though let’s look a little at the book itself. Written by Peter sometime in the early 60’s this is a book of many themes. It speaks of separation, suffering, and persecution, of glory, hope, pilgrimage and courage. Packed into 1 Peter are many things about Christian life and duties and therefore many themes.

This particular verse is one of my favourites at the moment so this is the one we’ll be looking at today.

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First on the list, we are a chosen generation. I’ve seen several translations of this and none of them say the same thing, it ranges from chosen people, to chosen race. If we are to understand what is being said, a word study is probably in order. If we look it up, we find that the word generation (or people, or race) is translated from the Greek word, “genos,” which means nation, country, generation, kind or offspring. In essence, we are God’s people, more specifically, God’s chosen people.

Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 10:15 (KJV)

As Christians we have been selected by God and therefore we affiliate ourselves with Him as a nation of Christ. We ought to take more pride in our identity as Christians than in our national identity. I love my country, but I love being a Christian more, I am a patriot for my faith.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; And the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. Psalm 33:12 (KJV)

We are a nation in spirit, we are citizens of heaven! Take pride in this.

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We are a royal priesthood, what does that even mean? By being born again into God’s family we are automatically royalty.

Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:7 (KJV)

We have been adopted into the family of God, and we are now heirs through Christ. What an incredible claim that is, that being children of God we are not only citizens of heaven but also royalty. A royal priesthood.

But what does priesthood mean?

Back in the OT days, priests were needed to have access to God, sacrifices had to be made to atone for sins and there was separation between God and His people. Everything changed when Jesus came to Earth as an atonement for everyone’s sins. When He died on the cross He died for all sins, past, present and future because He was the only one who could be such a sacrifice and without it we would all be damned to hell, to put it crudely. With that amazing sacrifice however, we were not only forgiven we were also given direct access to God. We no longer go through priests, we get down on our knees and we talk to Him, we confess to Him and we shout our praises to Him.

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Acts 26:18 (KJV)

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual hose, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 (KJV)

Not only that but priests were supposed to be an example to the community and it is no less so with us. We are to reflect the holiness of God through our daily actions and how we choose to live. We offer spiritual sacrifices, when we give ourselves over to God and everything we have here on Earth. We intercede for man before God and represent God before men.

And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Exodus 19:6 (KJV)

In short, we are a royal priesthood.

Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Revelation 20:6 (KJV)

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I mentioned earlier that we are one nation under God, but let’s look at that in a little more detail. The phrase Children of God, can be used when talking about Christians today and also the Israelites of old. Originally, God chose the Israelites to be His people so that they could be a light to the surrounding nations. They were to demonstrate and live in a way that showed the one true God, illuminating Him in a place surrounded by darkness. The were His chosen ones to spread His message. As we know however, they were eventually consumed by the darkness that surrounded them, they succumbed to the worldly ways of kings and idols.

There was always going to be the Messiah though and after it seemed that everything had been taken from them, Jesus came to turn the old ideas on their head and show them the new way. Now, rather than one chosen race, all who chose would be chosen no matter where they were from, or what they had done in the past.

And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord: And thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken. Isaiah 62:12 (KJV)

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.            John 17:19 (KJV)

Today as Christians, we are all part of this nation. We are holy.

Make no mistake, none of this is our doing, we are holy in God’s eyes because we have been redeemed through Christ. By accepting the gift of salvation we are made pure and therefore holy, not by anything we could ever accomplish, this is something that only God can do.

Who hath saved us, and called [us] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. 2 Timothy 1:9

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Here we have an interesting turn of phrase, one that is translated differently depending on what Bible you have, and it comes from two separate words. The first is “eis,” which means into, unto, towards, for or among depending on context. The other word is “peripoiesis,” which means a preservation, an obtaining or possession. In other words we are His possession, God has obtained us.

Let me just explain the use of the word “peculiar” in the King James version. Often when we think of the word, it is taken to mean odd, or different but it has a second meaning. It refers to being owned by someone, if you are peculiar to someone, that means that you belong exclusively to that person.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:14 (KJV)

Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:14 (KJV)

We do not belong in this world, we belong to God. He has bought and paid for us and we are exclusively His. There can be no compromise, no second guessing, when we become Christians, we give ourselves to God and God alone. Nobody can touch us, because we belong the creator of the universe and I don’t think there can be anything more fantastic than that.

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28 (KJV)

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6 (KJV)

As Christians we are privileged to be part of this great family and nation. We are royalty by adoption, and take on the role of the priest, we are seen as holy in God’s eyes and He has chosen us as His own particular possession. We are the light in the darkness, and we ought to praise Him every day for His incredible gift. I think the last part of this verse sums up everything perfectly:

that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

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Biblical truth, thoughts, and Avatar.

Dedicated to fellow Avatar geeks out there. Apologies if you haven’t seen Avatar (not the movie, the TV series. Avatar the Last Airbender) – your life is lacking and you really should watch it. I’m writing this because its interesting, not trying to reinforce Bible stuff on it, everything is in my humble opinion. Its just some stuff that I noticed while watching, and I noticed too many coincidences… also, SPOIL ALERT,

There are a lot of biblical parallels between Zuko and Iroh. In short, Zuko is like a picture of humanity and Iroh is an image of Christ. The author might’ve not intended for this to occur, but it did. Here are some examples:

“There’s no honor for me without the Avatar.”

“Zuko. [sighs] Even if you did capture the Avatar, I’m not so sure it would solve our problems.”

– Zuko and Iroh

This is so obviously Zuko’s catch phrase. He longs to capture the Ang in return for his father’s approval. But when he finally did capture Aang and regained his status, he felt incredibly empty and confused. HOW IS THIS NOT A PICTURE OF HUMANITY? We seek things to fulfill our lives (e.g. money, love, success) but when we finally get there we realize that those things never actually fill the hole inside (maybe I’ll do a study on the “God-shaped hole” sometime). Many people have mid-life crisis when they have a good paying job, family, home and everything. Jim Carrey got it all figured out – he said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see it’s not the answer”

 “You sound like my nephew. Always thinking you need to do things on your own without anyone’s support.There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you, help you.”

– Iroh

This quote was from Iroh’s conversation with Toph, and it summarises a common modern phenomenon. People are more “independant” now, they rely on themselves and there’s obviously less sense of community compared to 50 years ago. And it also highlights a common attitude people (especially atheists) have towards religions: I don’t need god/gods, I can do everything by myself. Hmmmm… while independence is a good thing to have, but this kind of independence is not very healthy. For example, people that commit suicide because they realise they just can’t “life” anymore. This is a clear example that we can’t do everything by ourselves, and when we realise that we feel desperate like there’s no way out. Uncle Iroh is right on: what if I tell you, you don’t have to do everything by yourself? What if I tell you you can rely on a God that loves you? “There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you, help you”, right? Philippines 4:12, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“How can you forgive me so easily? I thought you would be furious with me!”
“[crying] I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I was afraid you’d lost your way.”
“I did lose my way.”
” But you found it again. And you did it by yourself. And I am so happy you found your way here.”

– Zuko and Iroh

I am not ashamed to tell you that I cried when Zuko and Iroh reunited after their separation. This conversation is simply illustrates the essence of repentance in a beautiful way. Iroh is not obliged to forgive Zuko, even Zuko acknowledges that he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. But Iroh forgave him. In fact Iroh even went as far as saying that he was “never angry”. This demonstrate one of God’s very important quality: while He is just and He hates sin, He loves us. One of the very hot topics right now is the discussion around religion and homosexuality (one day I will write something on that), Christians seems to be categorized into two extremes, either encouraging homosexuality to the extent of employing practicing homosexuals in leadership positions to going around the country bashing gays. None of the approaches are appropriate, neither does it line up with the Bible’s teaching. In any case, including homosexuality, God loves the person and will forgive them upon their repentance (in the case of homosexuality, it does not necessarily mean that they have to be straight, but they do have to give up practicing homosexuality. Like how a thief have to stop stealing if they want to be a Christian) and God is never angry with them, He’s wrath are towards the sins that they are committing. God will forgive anyone who repents like how Iroh forgive Zuko, because He loves us so much. Even if you were the only person in the world Jesus would still come and die for you. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

“Your critical decision – what you did beneath that lake. It was such a conflict with your image of yourself that you are now at war within your own mind and body.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You are going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience but when you come out of it. You will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be.”

– Iroh to Zuko

Personally I find this to be a very fitting illustration for every new Christian, especially in the sense of “new in Christ”. For me, becoming a Christian is so much more than just a religious belief, but rather a change in life style, and some of those changes are does stir up conflict within me . To become a Christian means we do have to consciously choose to give up whatever the Bible considers unrighteous, and some of these decisions can be very difficult. As Iroh puts it, you are literally “at war within your own body and mind” – we struggles to let go of our old identity, or “dying to self” . Identity in Christ is one of those phrases that I think we tend to overuse without really understanding what it means. Personally I have being to multiple youth groups where they happen to be talking about “identity in Christ”, but after a nights’ study I still don’t fully understand the concept. So here’s my take on the matter. We all have our own perceptions of ourselves, for example I may perceive myself as awkward and ugly. These perceptions that I have underlays my emotion and impacts my behaviour to an extent. Now, these beliefs are not necessarily true but they feel very real to me. This is what I understand as “identity”. Now, identity in Christ is similar in that way but instead of how you perceive yourself, it’s how God perceives you. Some examples are you are precious, you are loved, you are special, you are able and you are forgiven. When the Bible says ” if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Corinthians 5:17), I would interpret it as us having to replace our old identity (how we perceive ourselves) with the new identity (how God perceives us). So in my example, although I can feel awkward or ugly, but despite how real they feel, they are not necessarily the truth. And this is difficult, like Iroh said, it’s a “conflict with your image of yourself” but at the same time, it’s very necessary. Again, like Iroh said, “You are going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience but when you come out of it. You will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be.”

“So… now you’re following him [Zuko]?”

“I know he doesn’t want me around right now but if he need me, I’ll be there.”
“Your nephew is very lucky, even if he doesn’t know it.”

– Iroh and Toph

These lines are fantastic in so many ways, which is why I am ending on this quote. As we’ve established earlier, Iroh is an image of Christ and Zuko is humanity. This in so many ways tells the story of our lives: we rebelled, lost our way, sinned, rejected God, did so many other things – but God has never left us. He was always there. I could pull out the good ol’ “footprint in the sand” story, but I won’t. I’m going to share a bit of my life instead. For many a times in my life I went out of my way to reject Christianity, and I did not believe God was present, or that He cared about me. I did hold a certain resentment towards God and blamed Him for things that were happening, which is actually quite common. But now that I look back in hindsight, I do see God present in every little way. In short, everything that happened in my life was leading up to this point right now, where I’m chilling on my bed and writing to you. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. And this is how I know that God was always present in my life, because if any little thing was different, I won’t be where I am at today. Like He promised in Deuteronomy 31:6, He never left me nor forsake me. And finally I would like to end with Daniel 9:9, “For the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we rebelled against him.”

– Alicia S.  

Separated: A Story of Samson

One of the first things we were taught at Bible school was that we should not use the random verse method. I have elected to ignore that rule today. In just a moment I will flip open my Bible and that is how I will determine what my Bible study will be about. Let’s find out, shall we?

Judges chapter thirteen, the birth of Samson.

First a little history on our passage. We’ve opened right to the middle of the period of the judges which took place after the Israelites had entered Canaan but before they had set up a monarchy. Instead, they had a system of judges which took their direction from God. Some of the previous judges had been Deborah and Gideon. During the time of the judges, Israel fell into a terrible cycle. They would be led astray into idol worship by the people around them, oppressed by some group or another and then repent. This cycle was in full swing when Samson arrived on the scene.

Directly prior to Samson’s birth, we have three judges that are only mentioned in the passing, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Little is known about them aside from their names and the number of years they judged Israel. After this brief passage, we find the Israelites are once again astray and this time in the hands of the Philistines. A certain Israelite woman who remains unnamed was unable to have children. One day she received a visit from the angel of the Lord.

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. –Judges 13:3

Now this is not the first time such an event had occurred, if we look back to passages such as Genesis 16:11, and Genesis 18:10. The birth of Christ was announced in the same fashion (Luke 1:28). A woman giving birth to a child in the most unlikely of circumstances, every time.

There’s a pattern here and it’s not just barren woman miraculously gives birth to baby boy, it’s more than that. It’s God using people in the most unexpected ways, proving that he is sovereign and that it is through him that we are made to shine. We were meant to live for more than just ourselves, first for God, and through him others. On our own, we are limited as to what we can do, but when we give ourselves over to God, our potential becomes limitless. He can take our weaknesses and use them for his greater purpose, he can take our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. The verse that encompasses this idea most clearly is Philippians 4:13 which states: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Let’s look at Doctor Who for an example. If you’ve never seen the show, here is a basic summary: the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who can travel through time and space in his space ship called a TARDIS. He gathers human companions (usually female) and takes them on grand adventures. The parallel here is that the Doctor is usually portrayed as very old and wise; he will usually see the worth in his companions when they don’t always see it themselves. Over the course of a series, the companion will change and grow because of the Doctor’s influence in their life.

If you do watch the show, you’ll notice the gaping flaws in my illustration, but I’m unable to come up with a better one so please bear with me. When we allow Christ into our lives, he will change it for the better. He will shape us and mold us into his purpose and we will become something beautiful.

Let us move on from here.

Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: For lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no rasor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. -Judges 3:4-5

There are two things we can take from this. In order to better understand what is being said, we need to know the meaning of the word, “Nazarite.” What is a Nazarite? The term comes from the Hebrew word nazir, which means to separate, or consecrate. The Nazarites were people who had devoted themselves wholly to God. Certain rules were followed by the Nazarites such as abstaining from alcohol, not cutting hair and not touching dead bodies. The difference however, between Samson and most Nazarites is that he was consecrated before he was born, he was chosen by God.

We too, are chosen. As stated in 1 Peter 2:9: But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 

I could talk about free will versus pre-destination, but it isn’t really important right now, and far too much of a distraction. No, instead I will just say that not only are we chosen, but we also have chosen. We have set ourselves aside like the Nazarites to live our lives wholly for Christ. We don’t necessarily refrain from alcohol, cutting our hair or touching dead bodies but we mirror Christ. As chosen ones, we are separated from the world in a slightly different way. We do not live for the ways and things of here and now but rather for what is to come. Sometimes it’s strikingly obvious and other times it may be a little more subtle.

When a Mennonite is seen, they are fairly distinguishable from the people around them. They have chosen to separate themselves in a very literal sense. They choose not to partake of modern dress, and sometimes technology. In this way, they tell the world that they are not living for here and now, they are living for Christ. That’s the idea, anyways.

There is a second point to make about these verses. If we look at the last bit it says: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. Here we have the promise of a deliverer, much like the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. That’s about where the comparison ends though, because Christ was perfect, he was the perfect example whereas Samson rebelled in every way possible. Yet, in spite of his rebellion, he was still the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel.

We are by nature, sinful and rebellious. In spite of being/having chosen, we still fall into sin sometimes, and yet we are still loved and we still retain our purpose. Nothing says this better than Romans 3:23-24: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Once we are forgiven, there is no turning back. No matter how many times we fall, he will help us back on our feet; and as with Samson, even our failings will be used for his glory. Obviously this doesn’t mean we should go around sinning, but it means that even when we do make a mistake, it can reveal God.

Now what can we learn from all this? Number one: flipping to a random verse can lead to great discoveries. Number two: God uses all of us, even our flaws and mistakes to benefit his kingdom and number three: we have been separated from the world and we are to be noticed for it. I think I might use this method again sometime.

Ecclesiastes and the Psychology of Happiness

Ecclesiastes is the coolest book ever. Well not literally. It is definitely my favourite book, and while I was in Capernwray I attempted a Bible study on it. However due to my lack of time management I pulled it together in 2 nights which really wasn’t working and I feel I didn’t do it enough justice. Thus, this is my humble attempt to make things right again.

Unfortunately Ecclesiastes is not a popular book, possibly because it’s Old Testament and it’s kinda… depressing. If you haven’t read (or heard) of Ecclesiastes, this is the gist of it:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

“Is there anything of which one can say,
‘Look! This is something new’?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2&10-11

This is pretty much what the whole book is like. The author then goes on explaining how wisdom is meaningless, pleasure is meaningless, toil is meaningless, advancement is meaningless and how everyone will die at the end. Yeah. It’s pretty depressing. To summarise, basically everything is a “chasing after the wind”.

But of course this was easy for the author to say, he had everything already. The first reason that people might not like this book is that they disagree or think it’s not applicable to them. For instance, I might say, “if I had 21 million dollars I would be happy.”

WRONG. Because science.

I was listening to a series of psychology lectures few weeks ago, and the lecturer talked about an interesting experiment. In essence, they asked a bunch of people who were applying for a high-positioned job how happy they are, and how happy they would be if they got the job. Needless to say that people reckoned they would be “happier” once they got the job. Then the psychologists went away and came back a few month later and asked them the same question. But as it turns out, people rustically overestimated these things and their happiness doesn’t really change.

Now coming back to the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. I mean he had it all, yet he is still not happy. Possessions are not the key to happiness, in fact nothing is. This is terribly and unfortunately true: that anything we can obtain will never satisfy us completely. Status, wealth, even knowledge and love (in the sense of romantic, Hollywood love). An example of this would be when you open up a present. Yes you are genuinely happier at that instance, but in the long run, having the latest iphone is not going to change your life satisfaction.

Psychology has come to the conclusion that you are happier if you are healthy, knowledgeable, respected, sheltered, loved, cared for etc. etc. Interestingly, everyone who can read this blog is healthier, more well feed than most people in history. Yet we are not happier. People in 1950s are more vulnerable in 500 different ways, but they are as happy as you are today. Even in developing countries, there is not a massive difference as to how happy they are. Furthermore, there is a great difference in happiness in individuals. For example, most of the people who are reading this right now are mostly sheltered, cared, feed but some of you are far happier than others and some vice versa.

This is very interesting and has been puzzling psychologists for ages. However I should probably come back to Ecclesiastes. So after a good 2000 years, psychology and science has finally caught up with the Bible. As illustrates by the teacher in Ecclesiastes, material and tangible possessions are not the key to happiness. So what is?

This is probably common knowledge, and slightly cliche, but yes, happiness comes from within. If I were to use non-biblical terms to tell you how to be happy, I’d tell you this (summarised in a formula because formulas are clear and cool.)

Happiness=      What you have
.                         What you want

So in essence, the less you want the happier you are. Unfortunately being accustomed to the human condition, we want a lot of things. Yes I can live without that bag of chips but I really want it. This simple fact pretty much dominates economics and the society but it’s probably a topic for another time.

Now, how am I going to explain this in Christian jargon to make me seem holier than you all. (That is sarcasm by the way, just to clarify that. I was told that sarcasm doesn’t travel well through the internet). To put it simply, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2, thank you PT)

From that equation we establish that the more content you are, the happier you will be. Obviously the Bible teaches you to be content in multiple occasions, like 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” or Hebrew 13:5, “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have.”

Needless to say that a non-Christian can be happy and content too. I have met some gratified non-Christians. But being Christians brings our contentment to a whole new level: while others are grateful for their possessions or status, we are grateful for a more fundamental thing – our life.

If you are a Christian it means that you acknowledge that fact that you are a sinner and you are not worthy to be saved, and to take it one step further: deserve this life. But the truth is that God loved you while you were a sinner, He knitted you together in your mother’s womb while you denied Him. He gave you life when you were not worthy. For this reason, we should be always thankful for our life, because we really don’t deserve it. While others are thankful for some more add-on type of things, our very life is a gift to us. Theoretically we should live through each moment, whether sorrow or joy, with abounding gratitude. This is why Sunday school teaches that song “I have joy like a fountain.” And, behold – This is the key to happiness.

So there you go, I’ve told you the secret to happiness. Now go strive in the wild! Be happy!

…Just kidding.

If one thing I learned from all the Bible studies and study papers that I have written, it is that understanding something is very different to applying it. Although I just wrote a thousand words on how to be happy, sometimes I still feel like banging my head against the table. This requires a conscious effort, you have to be on your guard and call yourself out when you are having a self-pity party or whining about a situation. A very good trick I learned from a friend during ABS is that when you catch yourself not being grateful, think of 3 things that you are thankful for. For example, it could be that I’m not paralyzed , I had 3 meals today and I have people that love me. It is a very practical and useful tip, hope it helps in your pursuit of happiness.

Now coming back to Ecclesiastes (once again), this what what the author has to say as a conclusion, and I would like to conclude with these verse too. In my NIV Bible, the heading for this part is titled “the Conclusion of the Matter”, and this is what it says.

“Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.”

(So for my next paper I’m thinking about either Ecclesiastes and Depression, or something to do with Christian Business stuff… which one is better? – Alicia S.)

Can a monk go to heaven?

Last week I finished a book on the life story of a Buddhist monk called Kumarajiva, and his story has stuck with me since then. Being a rather sentimental person as I am, his story has touched me. His life is beautiful. He lived for a great dream which was to eliminate the world of suffering, he is the definition of kindness and gentleness. He is a very admirable person, and I respect him a lot more than I respect some real people…

But at the same time, it breaks my spirit to think that he will not be in heaven. After all that he’s done and all his suffering, he still won’t be in heaven. This overwhelms my heart with sadness every time I think about it. When I was talking to a friend about this particular subject, he said that he might’ve been saved after he died, and he might be in heaven. This sounded very foreign to me, so I asked him to elaborate. This is his main supporting verse:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.

1 Peter 3:18-19

His theory was, that from this verse, we can see that after Jesus died he went to hell and told the people in hell about the gospel message to save them. Who’s there to say that this  only happened once? What if Kumarajiva got saved that way?

A part of me really wants to believe what he said because it’s so comforting. However at the same time something about it feels off. After being in a Bible school for a year, I finally learned how to discern messages. You can feel that something isn’t quite right when it doesn’t line up with the rest of the Bible.  But I didn’t know what was wrong, and this is essentially why I started this essay.

In short: No, you cannot be saved after you die.

First, I think it’s important to understand what this passage is really saying. Some interpreters suggests that in this passage the “spirits” refers to fallen angels, as it often do. Also Peter talks about fallen angels heaps in 2 Peter. Others suggest that  “proclaimed” simply means proclaim (as in Jesus went and paraded his victory). Moreover, the word “prison” comes from the Greek word phulakē (G5438) which means isolation, confinement, guarded land etc. and does not necessarily refers to hell. I would echo with the second point and say that after his death he simply paraded his victory in the face of spirit beings.

Another reason that salvation after death is not applicable is the parable that Jesus told in Luke 16:19-26, about Lazarus and the rich man. If you don’t know the story, here it is.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

There is no indication in the Bible that you get a second chance after you die, also in my humble opinion, it denies the necessity of Jesus’s death. If you can get saved after you die, why did Jesus have to come and die for our sins? Also, if you get another chance after you die you’re probably gonna take it since you’re dead and you know that hell actually exists – then no one would be in hell! And consequently, why should Christians bother with spreading the gospel if everyone’s gonna hear about it after they die? To me it just doesn’t really make sense to say that you might still get saved. It defeats the whole purpose of Christianity. It’s a nice thought, though, very cute and fluffy. But at the same time God is a just God who hates sin. In Hebrews 9:27 it says we are all “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

Well then now it leads to one of the most commonly asked question EVER when you try to evangelise anyone:

What happens to people that die without hearing about God? Do they go to hell too?

The reason that this is a difficult question is because that there is no absolute answer. But please understand that in  2 Peter 3:9 it says, “[God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Paul says in Roman 4:15 that “the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation”, which suggests that we are judged on the basis of what we know and how we act upon it.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Also in Roman1:20 it says that God has revealed himself in creation. Seriously, go watch a sunrise. It’s so beautiful. I don’t understand why would anyone see the complexity of life and still say that this is a random chance and there is no God. But, you see, the problem is clearly stated in Romans 3:11, “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” Everyone is accountable to God, even if they have not “heard” of the gospel.

So what about the people that believe in God but doesn’t know God’s name?

Being Asian, I can say that some Chinese philosophers came very close to Christianity, especially Confucius (the guy who supposedly invented chopsticks) who promoted the concept of kindness and love. AND he even said “One has not lived in vain if he dies after he is told of the Way.“ (朝闻道夕可死矣)I would suggest that he is extremely close to Christianity. Extremely. Similarly, Chinese culture worships a “great god” (上天) and some Chinese mythologies lines up with the Bible (e.g. people been made from dust, a great flood etc.) Also there has been cases of African tribes worshiping one “supreme” god who is the creator of all things but they don’t know about Jesus or God.

I would say that the name is really not the most important thing. (Although there’s some people that believe that if you don’t call God by the correct name you’ll go to hell.) Job got saved without knowing who his God is. And Jesus’ name really isn’t Jesus, it should be Joshua if anything. And Christ isn’t even in his name. Also people around the world pronounce Jesus’ name differently, but does it really matter? Our God is an all-knowing God, I’m pretty sure he can figure out who we are talking to. So I would suggest that although Jesus is the only way to salvation, but you don’t have to know his exact name to get there.

So in conclusion, I really don’t know what will happen with my beloved Kumarajiva. Although he is a Buddhist monk, but he might’ve found Christ in a flower, in the sky, in a drop of water. Psalm 19 starts with “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hand. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out to all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”  My thoughts on this topic is that you don’t get judged for not hearing about God, but you get judged for rejecting God. In every culture there is some form of law, moreover in we all have a conscious – God’s law written on our hearts. The bottom line is, God judges everyone rightly because He is just. I would like to end with a verse from my favourite book: 

 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

                                                         Ecclesiastes 12:14

It’s way past my bedtime. I have classes tomorrow… goodnight world.

– Alicia. S

Burning Questions Part 2: Who Is This God Person Anyway?

EXODUS 3:13-15

In the book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is an author of three very controversial books about God. While none of these books actually exist, one of the titles caught my attention. So the overall theme of this Bible study is titled, “Who is this God Person Anyway?”

In the last Bible study, we looked at the question of “Who Am I?” Moses asked God why it would be him that would free the Israelites. God answered by saying that it was going to be Him working through Moses and gave him an assurance. This time Moses asks, “Who are you?”

Questions Asked

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?

Moses asked God several questions throughout his discussion with God. Each time he expressed reluctance to doing the work that God had laid out for him. In this verse he asks what he is to tell the Israelites when they ask for the nature of this God he is telling them to follow out of Egypt. The word “name” in this passage is translated from the Hebrew word, sem, which means name. During this time, names meant more than just something a person was called, it conveyed their whole identity. So Moses was not merely asking for God’s name, he was asking God who he was, what his nature was.

It isn’t wrong to ask God questions, sometimes we take the attitude that to question God is to question his authority. While this can sometimes be the case, there are many times where the disciples questioned Jesus and were perfectly right to do so. For example, Peter asked Jesus in John 13:36 where he was going, which Jesus then answered. When the Lord appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, he is just as willing to answer him. In asking the right questions, we can learn a lot about who God is and grow in our relationship with him.

When I graduated from my school, I was one of a few people who wasn’t going straight to university, I didn’t know where I was going in my life. I asked God repeatedly where he wanted me to go, and eventually in his own time, he told me that he wanted me to go to Capernwray Bible School in New Zealand. He didn’t tell me directly, but in his own way and his own time, he answered my question.

When you’re going through life and things start to get confusing, don’t be afraid to ask God questions. He is a generous and patient teacher. Just don’t go to him with only yourself in mind.

What kind of questions can we, or should we ask God?

What attitude should we have when we approach God with questions?

Questions Answered

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

When Moses asks God for a name to give to the Israelites, God does not respond with the comprehensible. Instead, he tells Moses, I AM WHO I AM. In Hebrew, the word for I Am is Yahweh, or Jehovah, which is a commonly used word throughout the old testament.

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as I Am in John 8:58 in a conversation with the Jews, who then try to kill him for blasphemy. The verb “To be” in Hebrew is “hayah.” This means to be, become or come to pass, it is an action word and describes something dynamic.

Hebrews 13:8

Exodus 33:20

God’s nature does not change. He was and is and always will be the same, yet there is no way the human mind can fully comprehend his character. There is a story of three blind men trying to understand an elephant. Each of them is only touching one part of the elephant and each insists that this is what the elephant is. One man says the elephant is all nose, the other says it is all rough skin and the third states that the elephant is all leg. Every one of the men understood only one part of the elephant, they couldn’t grasp the big picture. This is how we are when we try to make sense of God. We get glimpses of who he is throughout the Bible but we can never completely understand his nature. But in this passage he tells us that he is the unchanging, unending,unstoppable God. He is.

Sometimes we catch a glimpse of who God is or we put God through our world view filter instead of putting us through his. In the words of the famous Chinese philosopher, Guang Zhao (better known as Alicia), “Don’t put God in a box.”

Questions Granted

And God said moreover unto Moses, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob  hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

We often seem to forget as we go about our daily lives that we are not the ones in control. A situation will come up and suddenly our world will fall apart and we will look for a higher authority to turn to. But we should remember that God is not just there when life gets difficult, he’s there during the good times as well.  We are God’s creations living in God’s earth and the whole universe and everything in it was designed and brought to life by God. Nations will come and go, generations will come and go but God will last for eternity.

Philippians 4:13

Deuteronomy 31:8

Without Him we can accomplish nothing but through Christ, all things are possible. God used Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt in spite of him being reluctant and cowardly. He can do amazing things for you and through you if you’ll just let him. He is a God without limits, no beginning and no end.

When Moses speaks to Pharaoh, Pharaoh denies the Israelites their freedom as God has hardened his heart. He continues to deny them throughout the plagues that God sends until finally his heart is softened. This whole time, God is the one guiding the circumstances.

When we go about our day to day life, we need to remember that God is the one in charge of the situation, not us. We are to do his will and should submit to his authority. After all, he is the one who gave us life in the first place.

What kind of things do we sometimes allow to take control of our lives?

When is it hardest to let God take control?

God is bigger than we can even imagine. He is all knowing and all seeing, and he is the one who created everything. We can question him all we want but we may not get the answers that we are looking for. Whatever happens, don’t give up and don’t panic! God’s got it all under control.

Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?

Sometimes I like to go through #suicidenotes on Tumblr. (If you have time, you should do it too. There are so many poor people hurting and living without hope.) And few days ago I came across this image:

Image

This reminded me of a time when my mum said to me, if you killed yourself I would hate you for the rest of my life because you murdered my only and beloved daughter. Therefore nmy initial impression is that committing suicide is definitely a form of murder. Few days ago I asked my friend’s mum about the same question; she believes you can still go to heaven even if you commit suicide. This puzzled me so I wanted to find the real answer.

Let’s think it through systematically. Here’s the first question: do we have the right to die?

Three years ago I snuck into a philosophy lecture in Auckland university, that day they happened to be talking (when I say talking, I really mean debating) about rights to die. One girl said that a mentally-well person have the rights to choose euthanasia. An opposing boy said a mentally-well person wouldn’t want to die. Then the professor interrupted and that was the end.

That did make me think. But again, being Christian changes a lot of things, and so I can’t necessarily agree with secular philosophies that are well-accepted by the public. The popular argument for right to die (or “rational suicide”) is that everyone has the right to life, and so being logical, we have the right to die accordingly, since death is a part of life. Also, one’s person and being and life is at your own disposal, you can do whatever you want, so you go kill yourself if you want to. Some people tried to make it a legal statement by making it all formal by saying that if the decision is rational under the circumstances, not impulsive or imposed upon, and not due to mental illness, then it’s okay. (A Pilpel, L Amsel. “What is Wrong with Rational Suicide”). Even some religion tolerates suicide, such as Hinduism (if you have no responsibilities and no desires left, then you can starve yourself to death) and Jainism has a similar view. (In saying that, not everyone in the secular world agrees with rational death either.)

But is this true for Christians?

I assume that everyone reading this will have a fair understanding of foundational concepts of Christianity by default, so I will not elaborate on how our lives are not our own but everything we have and own, such as our time, our money, our lives, all belong to God. You wouldn’t go bashing your neighbour’s car, because it doesn’t belong to you. Similarly, you don’t have the rights to end your life because it belongs to God. In Ecclesiastes, it says that “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. A time to born and a time to die…” God have everything in his perfect timing, it’s not our place to decide when life should end..

Now the second question: is suicide a sin?

Having answered the previous question, I think this one is pretty obvious. I would believe that suicide is definitely a sin. Again, we have no rights to decided when life should end. For this reason Christianity is against murder and abortion and thus, suicide – since its self-murder. Although the Bible didn’t mention suicide by name, but applying logic, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that God probably condemns suicide too. (by probably I really mean most likely.)

Here’s a more complex question: what if the person is mentally ill? Does it still make it wrong?

Unfortunately I’d have to say yes. Having mental illness is a very common reason for suicide, it’s a good one too – when a person is suffering from depression, for example, they get overwhelmed by life and sees no way out except death. It’s a legitimate reason for suicide, however it does not justify it. Many Biblical characters have experienced depression too. On the top of my head I can think of King David, Elijah, Jeremiah the “weeping prophet” and of course, Job. I don’t think people can’t get more depressed than Job. He is like the father of depression. He had every reason to commit suicide, he even cursed the day he was born, and still he chose to trust God and he choose to live. So yes, mental illness can be a legitimate reason for committing suicide (Job 7:15-16), but having a good reason doesn’t make it right. It’s still a sin.

So nows the ultimate question: can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?

(Paraphrased, can suicide be forgiven?)

After all the previous questions, we’ve now established that we do not have the right to die and suicide is a sin. The odd seems pretty slim. The answer to this question is quite complex too, since the Bible does not mention it in black and white. Therefore this response is only my opinion. Please don’t quote it in a legit assignment or anything.

I believe that you can still go to heaven even if you commit suicide. For one reason: all sins are forgiven by God. It’s through grace that we are saved by faith. When Jesus died on the cross, he bore all our sins and cleansed us of ALL our sins. What does “all” mean? It means the sins that we’ve committed and the sins we are yet to commit. The sins we recognise and sins that we didn’t even know were sins. All sins are forgivable by God, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Mark 3:28-29). And again, God forgive all our sins if we accept Him as God. We are saved by faith, and salvation comes from faith.

(Having said that, please don’t just go killing yourselves. There’s a reason why this is not mentioned in black and white in the Bible – probably because God doesn’t want people randomly killing themselves. Your life is precious to God, treasure it.)

So what about those people that died without believing in God? Are they still going to heaven?

This may sound a bit harsh but they are definitely not going to heaven. Anyone that dies as a non-believer will not go to heaven, despite what they died from. They can die from a heart attack or get hit by a bus or murdered or by committing suicide – it doesn’t matter. If they do not believe in God they will not receive salvation. Salvation comes from grace through faith. If they do not have faith in God then they do not receive salvation.

There is where the controversies come from: people believe that you cannot go to heaven when you commit suicide because they think it’s a sin and it’s a sign of not trusting God. The first question has already being answered; the second part is kinda tricky: yes it can be taken as a sign of not trusting God, but at the same time, we don’t necessarily trust God in everything all the time, too (a simple example would be how you spend your money). Is there a severity to what you do not trust God with or is it all the same to God? I believe it’s the same in our relationship with God, because they all demonstrate lack of faith/obedience. Therefore my position on this subject is, although suicide can be a sign of not trusting God, but it’s equally severe as not trusting God in small things. Consequently, there is nothing to say that God will not not forgive you just because you ended on a bad note.

Lastly, I’d like to say that the Lord looks at the heart. He examines our heart and He sees all our struggles and pain, He sees everything. If a devoted Christian committed suicide, there is nothing to say that they no longer belong to the Lord. Finally I would like to end with a quote from John Piper: “No single sin, not even suicide, evicts a person from heaven into hell. One thing does: continual rejection of God’s Spirit. Our friend, we believe, gave up that resistance and accepted the forgiveness of Christ. What sort of momentary weakness, what brief cloud of hopelessness caused her to take her life remains a mystery. But no one can say this: that her final act is unforgivable. Nor any other act by any of us. For Jesus said: all sins will be forgiven the sons of men if they give up resisting the Spirit and look to Jesus for salvation.”

– Alicia S.

Burning Questions Part One: Who Am I?

EXODUS 3:10-12

I rather like the book of Exodus, and so I thought I would do my first few Bible studies on the famous “Burning Bush” incident. What intrigued me was how many times Moses expressed his reluctance to do what God asked of him. He asked questions and attempted to make excuses, none of which worked. But I thought I would look at each of these “expressions of reluctance” and how God responded to them. The first is the question of, “Who Am I?” But before we get there, let’s take a look at the book of Exodus.

The name “Exodus” is a Latin word, taken from the Greek word “Exodos” which means “exit” or “departure.” In Hebrew the book is named after the first two words, “we’elleh shemoth,” which translates to “These are the names of.” The same phrase occurs later in the book of Genesis, implying that the two books were once thought of as one.

The author of the book of Exodus is generally believed to have been Moses. Various passages throughout the Bible will attest to Moses’ authorship of the book, such as Joshua 8:31; Mark 7:10; and Luke 2:22-23. It is usually accepted that the exodus took place around 1446 BC although there is evidence pointing to a later date. Some of the major themes explored in the book of Exodus relate to the nature and and attributes of God, and his law and redemption.

The book of Exodus opens with a list and an account of how Pharaoh, seeing the possible threat the Israelites could be, declares that all male infants are to be thrown in the Nile. The next chapter then outlines the birth and rescue of Moses by the Pharaoh’s daughter. It goes on to describe how when Moses is older he sees how his people are being treated. A specific incident is recorded in which Moses, seeing an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian, kills the Egyptian. He then realizes his crime, and flees to Midian where he gets married and herds sheep for his father-in-law. At the beginning of chapter three Moses is watching the flock in the desert and notices a bush that is burning but not being consumed by the fire. Curious, he goes to investigate and finds that it is God. God then speaks to Moses and tells him he is to be the one to set his people free.

A Commission Bestowed

Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.

 Moses is an instrument of God’s power although he doesn’t yet understand it. It is through Moses that God sets the Israelites free, Moses does not do this of his own power but by relying entirely on God for guidance. An earlier lesson he learned the hard way when he murdered an Egyptian in an premature attempt at revolution. On his own he is incapable of doing anything for the Israelites, but God prepared him for his task.

It is not on our own power that we do the things we do. I could not have got to New Zealand on my own, and looking back, I don’t think I would have done all that well had I not relied on God the whole time. Through him we can do anything, but without him we can do nothing.

There are several verses in the Bible which really drive home this point, about Moses and us as well. I recommend looking up the verses yourself, but if you don’t want to or don’t have a Bible handy, I’ve put them below in a version that is not King James, much to my dissatisfaction.

SUPPORTING VERSES (In the NIV)

Micah 6:4

I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.

1 Samuel 12:6

Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your forefathers up out of Egypt.

Psalm 77:20

You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Isaiah 63:12

who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for himself everlasting renown,

So what we can take from this verse is that we must rely on God to do the things he asks of us. Moses couldn’t free the people of Israel on his own strength and neither could we.

Reflection Question: When do you find it hardest to rely on God? Why?

A Reluctance Expressed

And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

After hearing this rather startling piece of news Moses responds in essence with, “Who do you think I am? Why did you pick me? Do I look like the type to stand up to Pharaoh?” He can’t possibly understand why God would choose him to go to Egypt and free the Israelites, after all he ran away after a murder which was looked on very unfavourably by both sides. There was no way he could go back, much less face Pharaoh. He had failed once, and he now saw no hope of redeeming himself. He was clearly not the man for the job.

Oftentimes when God asks something of us, this is the response we give. Why should we be the ones to put ourselves in the firing line? Sometimes the tasks God gives us just don’t seem achievable. It’s way too hard, we say, there’s no way you can expect me to do this. We forget that God is the one in charge, and if he has asked us to do something, he expects us to see it through and if we rely on him, we will be able to do the seemingly impossible.

SUPPORTING VERSES (In the NIV)

Exodus 6:12

But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”

1 Kings 3:7

Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.

Jeremiah 1:6

“Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Acts 7:23-25

When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.

2 Corinthians 3:5

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

We sometimes question why God chooses us for the things he does, but when we fully trust him and follow him then we can achieve amazing things. It isn’t a matter of not questioning, it’s a matter of doing it anyways, even when we don’t understand.

Reflection Question: Can you remember a time when God asked you to do something difficult? How did you respond?

 An Assurance Granted

And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.

God now responds to Moses’ question. He states that he will be there with Moses, that he will not be alone. There is no need to fear any Pharaoh or army he may have, Moses has the all powerful God on his side. Furthermore, God tells Moses that he will give him a sign of his faithfulness. That when they have left Egypt, the Israelites will worship God on the very mountain where Moses currently stands. In this way he assures Moses that he will not be doing this alone, the monumental task that God has assigned him is going to be done with God.

We have the same promises from God today. He has promised us that he will be with us until the very end. He is always there to defend and encourage us, and if need be to reprimand us. When we trust and rely on him, there is no end to the incredible things he can use us for. If we allow, God will mold us into the reflections of Christ that we ought to be. The Lord has promised to never leave us or forsake us, and he is always true to his word.

SUPPORTING VERSES (In the NIV)

Joshua 1:5

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Matthew 28:20

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Romans 8:31

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

When we trust God, he can do great things through us, he has promised to never leave us and he doesn’t break his promises. This is a God who can do anything and placing your trust in him is the best decision you will ever make. He won’t let you down.

Reflection Question: Think of a time in your life when you felt God’s presence, what were the circumstances? How did God reveal himself to you?

Sometimes God presents us with seemingly impossible tasks and we wonder why he would ask us to do something we so obviously can’t. But when we lean on him rather than our own strength, we find we can do things that we never dreamed possible. He won’t let us go, he will always be there whether or not we think we need him.

-Gina W.

Vanity and True Beauty

Due to the fact that Gina disapproves my usual formal/systematic writing style, I will try my best to make this study paper as interactive as I can, although it hurts me inside. (“so people will actually read it”, according to Gina)

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0. Introduction

As a girl and someone doing an art major, the desire to look pretty is kinda inevitable. Being slightly hippie, sometimes I confuse people when they hear about my faith – they expect me to look kinda plain and modest, being a Christian and all. This is true on some level: Christians are called to be Christ centered and die to self on a daily basis, despite the prevailing fashion in the world. This means to keep our eyes on Christ without being self-seeking, including the way we dress and conduct ourselves. While this is true, does this mean Christians cannot express our individuality in our appearances? Where is the line for vanity? With these girly questions in mind, I started my own research. This study paper will discuss the definition and cause of vanity, examine what the Bible says about vanity, and finally, what is true beauty.

1. Definition of Vanity

For a start, Urban dictionary defines vanity in many ways, this is the top definition and what I thought is more relevant to the aspect that I want to talk about:

To be obsessed with how you look, to love ones self’s image, to think you are the most gorgeous thing on two legs.
(Note: never use urban dictionary as an actual reference in an actual research)
On a more serious note, I checked out some more reliable sources, such as Dictionary.com (you know it’s serious because it’s URL is dictionary). They defined vanity as:

excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc…lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness.

Although the last sentence is quite harsh but I think this is the ultimate truth about vanity.

1.1 Forms of vanity
On the top of my head, I picture vanity as a naturally beautiful girl with too much make up, dressed not so modestly, twirling her hair while taking a self-pic in the bathroom doing the duck face on the newest iPhone and posting it on Facebook. During renaissance art period, vanity is often portrayed using symbols such as jewels, gold coins, mirror, and sometimes death himself. To be honest, I think that pretty much summarises what vanity is all about. In society today, vanity can take on the form of materialism, narcissism, pride or even just plain selfishness (in the sense that it’s self-centeredness).

1.2 Psychology behind vanity
Like most cases in Christianity, it’s never the what that matters – it’s the why. So why do people do these things if it’s empty and ultimately meaningless? To answer this question, we have to look at one of my favourite subjects: PSYCHOLOGY!

Vanity is centered around three major emotions: pride (hatred of others+vanity), narcissism (love+vanity) and self-importance. All of which requires an intense love for yourself and wanting to be loved. I believe low self-esteem also plays an important part. From the guys that go overboard with gym training and drinking weird stuff to girls that wear too much make up and too short skirts. They are either seeking security or confidence – to boost their self-esteem, to give themselves a sense of importance. This is often due to a poor perception of themselves, often caused by propaganda, peers, and influences that significant others have made in their life. This causes thinking like “people will only fall in love with me if I look flawless” or “I need the newest technology to be normal/popular”. Even advertisers know to advertise things like jewelry or cars to suite the consumer’s vanity and ego. Hence we can see the extent of vanity – it can even govern our actions.

2. What does the Bible say?


Now, having understood vanity and the major underlying emotions that cause vanity, we can tackle this problem individually. The Bible mentions vanity a bunch of times, but most of it is referring to idolatry judging by the context. Nevertheless, some do consider vanity as a form of idolatry – self-idolatry. I can see where they are coming from, as some people take vanity to an extreme that they pretty much worship their own body. 1 Peter 3:3 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.” This is obviously true – even secular world recognizes the importance of inner beauty. But more importantly, God said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” In the end, our appearance really doesn’t matter. Having the newest technology or the nicest body really doesn’t matter to God. And according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, God said, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Does finding having the perfect outfit, the perfect tan, and the perfect make up bring glory to God? If not, then why bother?

2.1 About Vanity
But, just knowing these is not enough to deal with vanity. Vanity is a product produced by the attitude of the heart. Since psychology broke down the components that cause vanity, we can take a look at each individual aspect.

Firstly, pride. You don’t need to be a Christian to know that pride is destructive – it’s common sense. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” It’s good if you have confidence in yourself, it’s not good if you have too much confidence. The Bible teaches humility and meekness, if you want to boast and be proud about something – boast in the Lord! (1 Corinthian 1:31) What’s more, Christians are called to boast in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9). The truth is, we ourselves are not special – the earth is filled with 7 billion people. If you’re one in a million, then there are 7000 people in the world that’re exactly like you, there’s nothing worth boasting about ourselves. But, we are special in the sense that God created us in His own image, and He created us precisely to be who we are now. For this reason we don’t boast in ourselves, but in God. And for this reason, we are humbled.

Media today heavily promotes secularism, humanism, and existentialism, which essentially is all human/ME centered. Under such influence, no wonder Facebook is flooded with people taking selfies. The love of self/narcissism is also a major cause of vanity. While the world encourages this thinking, Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” More importantly, Christians are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). If we really do love God with ALL our heart and ALL our soul then we have no place in our heart or soul to love our flesh.

Personally, I believe that both pride and narcissism is the product of wrong perception of the individual themselves. When people perceive themselves wrongly they are more likely to act on such perceptions. For example, if someone perceives themselves as beautiful, they might advertise this fact and therefore result in vanity (pride/narcissism). Or, if one thinks themselves ugly, they will try to make up for this by paying extra attention to outward appearance, which also results in vanity. The Bible teaches that everyone is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), which suggests that we are all equally beautiful. Note the “equally” part. When you accept your identity in Christ (you are always loved) then you have enough security in yourself to not care about the way you look or what phone you are holding.

2.2 About Modesty
When we were in Caperwnray Bible School, this is what is written in the “Life File” concerning dress code:

Students are required to dress modestly regardless of prevailing fashions and particularly as an expression of having died in Christ and so only wanting to draw attention to Him and not themselves… All students should dress with discretion no matter what the prevailing fashions in a non-Christian society… We like to allow as much liberty and personal choice as possible, but also ask students to take into account the sensitivity of living in a close community and the reputation given as a Christian institution. We require all students to be clean, neat and tidy in their dress as is worthy of a Christian who wants to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, and of a Bible school dedicated to this purpose.

I think the Life File nailed it. It’s not that being a Christian means you can’t wear fancy clothes or you can only wear skirts down to your ankle – it’s just we dress with consideration towards others. We are all called to be sign posts, pointing people to Christ. If the way we dress might cause people to stumble then it’s probably better if you don’t dress that way. Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.”

3. True Beauty

In Jim Carey’s movie Liar Liar there’s a part where Max, his son says, “My teacher tells me real beauty is on the inside.” To which Jim Carey replies, “That’s just something ugly people say.”

WRONG.
(Maybe that’s why the movie is called Liar Liar hey?)

Inner beauty is actually a very, very important feature. While people might be attracted to physical beauty at first, it’s the inner beauty that is the most magnetic. If you Google top attractive traits in men/women, most of the websites will list characteristics first and then physical beauty and they are non-Christian websites too. This proves a beautiful heart and a beautiful soul is far more important than physical beauty. Even the bestselling children literature of all time, Little Prince, agrees that “What is essential is invisible to the eye”.

Now, then, having understood the importance of true beauty, what’s the Biblical standard for true beauty?

1 Peter 3:4 says, “but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”
1 Timothy 2:10 says, “For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.”
Proverbs 31:25-26 says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. ”

If I did a case study on beautiful women mentioned in the Bible, the top ones are Rebekah, Esther, Sarah, Abigail (Nabal’s wife). Other than the physical beauty that they share, what made them truly beautiful is the fact that they trust and loves God with all their heart. And that’s what makes them beautiful. (Not because they don’t know they’re beautiful, according to One Direction.)

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, being Christian doesn’t mean you can’t wear makeup or look pretty or wear a skirt not up to your ankle. However, if you are constantly obsessed with your appearance to a point that it gets consuming then it’s probably not a good sign. But remember, it’s never the action itself that matters, it’s the why – examine your motives and then think if this is appropriate or does it bring honor to God. Ultimately, true beauty comes from with in: it comes from a God fearing heart and a gentle spirit.

Lastly, here’s a verse from Philippines 4:8 that I feel is applicable (somehow), “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.”

– Alicia S.