Stubborn as a mule

“Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way.” Acts 19:8-9

In these bible verses we discover another barrier or stumbling block to being open minded. It’s an attitude called “stubbornness”. Ouch.

Paul had travelled to Ephesus and was preaching in the synagogue about Jesus. He persevered for 3 months until the stubbornness of some in the Synagogue caused him to leave and continue his preaching elsewhere in the city.

What does it really mean to be stubborn? I’m sure that we have all encountered people who we would describe as stubborn but do we really recognise what it is and how dangerous a characteristic it is. Have you ever been called Stubborn? I know I have.

One of the dictionary definitions is:

having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.

In other words there is compelling evidence for you to change your position and it’s for your benefit, but you refuse to do so.

Other similar expressions to describe people who are stubborn are – “headstrong, obstinate, wilful”. It’s definitely not a characteristic which is mentioned as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

My father in law tells the story of his daughter and his Dad (who were both stubborn people) getting into a deadlock over taking her medicine. She knew it would make her better but she refused to take it. Both sat either side of a table with the medicine in the middle refusing to move until one of them backed down. It lasted hours. In that situation one was determined and one was being stubborn.

If someone calls me stubborn then I have learnt to carefully consider the context in which they are saying it. Is it justified? The word “stubborn” can get bandied about as an accusation (wrongly) when someone just wants you to do what they say or want. If you refuse you are labelled stubborn.

The question to perhaps consider is this. Is there a good and valid reason and solid argument for me to change my mind? Is the evidence being presented credible and weighty. If it is and I’m not changing my position then why is that? Am I just being stubborn? If so, I need to do something about that attitude.

If on the other hand, there isn’t a good reason or argument to change and I am not convinced by the reasoning or evidence then I will stand firm, remain steadfast and not change or compromise. Being steadfast in my beliefs is not the same as being stubborn. Steadfast or stubborn…there is a difference.

Pride and stubbornness are often linked together and in my last post I considered being a A Know it all? Pride and thinking we know it all can make us stubborn. Does pride lead to stubbornness or stubbornness to pride.

So what did Paul go on to say to the Ephesians in his letter to them. He encouraged them to be humble.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future”. Ephesians 4:2-4

He also encouraged them to resist the enemy, his accusations and lies and to be steadfast in their faith.

“Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness “ Ephesians 6:13-14

Stubborn..me?? Really??

A Know it all?

“Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.” Acts 18:24-26

We have a saying at work that we use a lot as a balance and check:

“You don’t know what you don’t know”.

Think about that saying for a moment.

It’s demonstrated here in the story of Apollos. He didn’t know what he didn’t know until two fellow believers told him and gave him a more full understanding of faith and explained the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, we are deficient in our knowledge, but until we discover that or someone points it out to us, we are blissfully unaware. We think we are fully informed but we may not be. As a lawyer it makes me consider and research carefully before giving a client advice in case there’s something I have missed.

There are some keys we can learn from these verses.

Apollos knew the Scriptures. He had been taught about Jesus and he taught others. What he taught was correct but it wasn’t the whole story, He had limited knowledge. Whoever had introduced Apollos to faith had limited knowledge too because he only knew what he had been taught up to that point.

You will only learn as much as your current teacher knows.

Aquila and Priscilla had been given a more complete teaching. They had been with Paul and learnt from him. When they heard Apollos speaking publicly they realised that he was lacking in knowledge. They didn’t just leave him in ignorance though but they acted. They didn’t leave Apollos in the dark. Instead they took him aside and explained things more fully to him.

Note that Aquila and Priscilla didn’t publicly shame Apollos. They didn’t flaunt their knowledge or act in a superior way. They took him aside these verses say and so would have explained things privately to him. This was wise and respectful. It also meant that they didn’t squash his enthusiasm and his gifting. He was already an eloquent speaker.

Let us also be careful how we correct those who may not be as mature in faith or have more limited knowledge. We don’t want to be responsible for squashing the gift within them or dampening their enthusiasm in the wrong way. We also need to understand their current level so as not to overwhelm them and make things too difficult to grasp.

As we considered in the last post about Being Open-Minded it seems that Apollos was just that. It was to his benefit and then the benefit of others that he listened, was teachable and then went on to share with others what he had learnt.

I pray that today I won’t consider myself a know it all but will be willing to be shown a more excellent way when I am deficient or lacking in knowledge and understanding of God.

Have a blessed day friends.

Adding knowledge

Being Open-Minded

“That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.” Acts 17:10-12

In my last post I reflected on portraying God correctly –Portraying God and checking our sources to ensure that what we believe and then tell others about God is right and not a misrepresentation.

Being open-minded is one way to help us do that. The dictionary defines “open-minded” as being “willing to consider new ideas or opinions which are different to our own in an unprejudiced way.”

Paul and Silas came preaching a new message to the Jews in Berea. Paul taught weekly in their synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for. Jesus had come as Messiah in a way that the Jews were not expecting but Paul showed them from the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and die. Paul and Silas discussed their beliefs with the people openly and the Bereans’ response to them can help us.

Firstly, the people were willing to listen to what was being said and taught by Paul and not just assume that they knew it all already. How often are we encouraged to listen and consider what others are saying or believe rather than interrupt (before they finish) and jump straight in with our own views and opinions. Hearing people out fully is respectful and can avoid misunderstanding. We can make assumptions otherwise which are not correct.

Next, they wisely didn’t just accept that what Paul taught was true. Paul was a very learned man. A Pharisee who had studied Jewish law and teachings. He would most certainly have been respected by the Bereans. How often can we be tempted to just accept what is put out there as “truth” especially if it comes from someone with a reputation or famous, it sounds good and our emotions can be subtly manipulated without us realising it. The Bereans tested what was preached and being taught against the Scriptures – the original source which they trusted as being correct.

Paul didn’t mind being tested by them or others either. He encourages it. In his letter to the Thessalonians he says “but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Paul was confident in what he believed and preached and welcomed debate. It rings warning bells when someone doesn’t want an open discussion or debate or challenges about their beliefs or teachings which they want you to accept.

These people were also eager to find out the truth. These were people who wanted to know. They had enquiring minds and a desire to know the truth. I like to think of them as treasure seekers. They were seeking the pearl of greatest price.

There is a danger in just accepting what we hear or read because we don’t want to make the effort to look and search things out for ourselves..being spoon fed is dangerous. Testing requires us to be active and not passive. We need to actively seek out the truth for ourselves. Jesus said “Seek and you will find”.

Lord Jesus help us to follow the Bereans’ example and be open minded, willing to listen and eager to search out the truth by testing what we are taught and being ready to give an answer for what we believe and the hope we have in you our Saviour and Lord.

Open minded or closed off?

Portraying God

As Christians we want to portray God accurately to others. Misrepresentation is a serious thing. So serious that there are laws in place to protect people from misrepresentation and compensate them when it happens. This is certainly the case in the UK where I live and practice law and I am sure in other nations.

Although this week’s blog will have a bit of a legal influence (it’s my day job after all) I promise it won’t be boring…now there’s a possible misrepresentation if ever there was one!! 😊

This theme of misrepresentation caught my attention recently when I read again Job’s story. It’s certainly not the easiest book in the bible to read. As a heads up, the things that happen to Job and his family are terrible. If you’ve never read Job before then do try it and persevere as it has lots of rich nuggets in there and spoiler alert…a happy ending.

One of the things though that we can easily overlook as we get to the end of the story and the good stuff for Job is that God is not happy about some things that have happened. In fact He is angry that Job’s friends have not spoken accurately about God in their discussions with Job when they were trying to ‘help” their friend. They have misrepresented God in their talks and God is now taking them to task for it.

That’s serious stuff and really got me to thinking and it’s a big challenge. As a Christian do I accurately represent God to people or do I misrepresent Him? Do I accurately reflect God in my blog and my writings? In my family life, church life, with my Christian friends and in my workplace. When I preach in church and in our small group fellowships. This is a massive topic for thought and discussion and I’m sure will prompt lots of thoughts and comments from others as we reflect and consider this more.

Now in legal terms there are different levels or types of misrepresentation because the law realises that not every type of misrepresentation is the same. There are two though that I thought might help us think about this a bit more.

There is an “innocent” misrepresentation where the person didn’t realise that they had said or done something wrong. They hadn’t meant to mislead the other person into believing something which wasn’t true because they believed it to be true themselves.

That’s an easy thing to do and it can happen to us. We say something about God that we believe to be true, perhaps it’s something we have been told by others or taught, even brought up in faith to believe or was our mindset before but actually it’s not correct. Our source of information was wrong or we have not interpreted it incorrectly. We didn’t mean to mislead anyone but we have done it. We have believed and repeated a false teaching or doctrine. We have become the blind leaders of the blind that Jesus warns about. We may have given the wrong impression about God perhaps because we don’t want to offend someone

There are consequences for both parties though when this happens because even an innocent misrepresentation is wrong and leads us on the wrong path. Someone suffers along the way. Perhaps not immediately but at some stage it will have an impact.

When I read the story of Job I think that’s what his friends have done. They were sincerely trying to help. They thought they were giving Godly advice and they were learned, sincere, passionate and believable. There’s a responsibility on us to ensure that what we tell others about God is true especially when we think we are helping others with Godly advice. I always remember being taught in class that “ignorance of the law is no defence”. In other words if I’m caught speeding I can’t say I didn’t know that the legal speed limit was 70 and I was doing 90. I’m expected to find out what the requirements are to be a responsible citizen.

The good news is that as believers we have been given the tools to portray God properly. We have the bible, Jesus’ example to follow and the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth and God himself that lives within us. Thank the Lord that we can trust in God that He will lead us and guide us into all truths. If we have doubts then we have the ability to discover the truth about God. We need to have that humble attitude of heart though and be willing to listen and be corrected. If we think we know it all then we will be heading for a fall.

We also need to take our responsibility seriously to check things out for ourselves and apply ourselves to knowledge and understanding and seeking guidance from Godly leaders and teachers. God has blessed us with the gifts of ministry especially the gift of teaching within the body of Christ for this very reason. Paul used to do this within the early church and there are examples in his writings. This is why it’s beneficial and necessary to belong to a good fellowship of believers and meet together to be discipled.

The other type of misrepresentation is a fraudulent misrepresentation. Now in this case the person knows that what they are saying or doing is wrong and they are deliberately misleading the other person for their own gain in some way..it could be for a material benefit or for more subtle benefits. This is why Jesus himself warned us about the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Those within the body of Christ who are pretending to be believers but are deliberately trying to sabotage the work of the Church and hurt believers. They will be exposed and they can and will be identified. They won’t display the fruit of the Spirit and Peter and Jude’s letters to believers also help us to look out for the signs and warn us to avoid following their behaviours.

I want to portray God accurately. I ask God to forgive me when I have not done so and pray that He will lead me and guide me in His truth. To put the record straight when I have got it wrong. Teach me your ways God so that I may and will also help others to discover you, the one true God, your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit of Truth.

Let me know your thoughts and have a blessed day. I have a feeling that the Lord has much more to teach me on this topic. Bless you.

After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.”
Job 42:7

We all need a helping hand

The Narrow Gate

So this week, I am blogging “en vacances” as the French say, but from the Peak District and the Derbyshire Dales and not the belle France ….which is where we should be this week coming with the family. Sadly, because of Covid restrictions it was not meant to be. C’est la vie. However, new opportunities beckoned.

It’s been about a 2.5 hour trip from home to get to our new camping ground, so not far, but this is a good opportunity for us to visit some areas we have not considered previously and take our minds off France. Although Covid changed our travel plans, we are blessed in that we live in a tourist destination already. The U.K has beautiful places to visit and although the sun is not guaranteed….as we were always told as kids when sheltering on a windy cold Fife beach, “there is no bad weather wee girl, just bad clothing” 😂

If you have never been to this area of the U.K. then I recommend a visit. The Derbyshire Dales is beautiful and seems much less busy or well known than the Yorkshire Dales, but if you like limestone gorges and beautiful river valleys with babbling brooks then this is for you.

The high Peaks of the Peak District are also great for stretching those legs out, walking to Mam Tor, Kinder Scout. Not that I made it up Kinder Scout (I’m not that energetic) but Mam Tor was just perfect to get my heart pumping. I like a nice river walk me – usually flat but as my husband says, “if you want the views then you got to get up there to the heights”. I tell him “that is why they invented cable cars”.

River walk
Lathkill Gorge
View from Mam Tor

So, to get to the inspiration for this post..the narrow gate. On our first evening here, we ventured for a walk and discovered the “narrow gate”. Here it is..it was the first of many we encountered on our walks in these parts but our first experience of such a gate. As you can see the gate is made of two massive stones, positioned to enable walkers to enter the next field but not the livestock. Let others through and keep others out.

Photo taken at Youlgreave

I seriously struggled to get through it. I literally had to squeeze myself through. I know I’m carrying a few extra Covid pounds but this was ridiculous. My husband thought it was hilarious as I was trying this way and that way and eventually sideways to get through. I don’t know what was going wrong because I should have easily got through the gap. It is very narrow at the bottom and then widens out (a bit) but I seemed to approach it all wrong.

And there lies the rub…with finding and entering through the narrow gate which Jesus talks about. The gate that leads to God and eternal life. We have to approach and enter through the gate (Jesus) in the right way. We can’t take any of our selfish ambitions, pride or get through the gate by belief in our own goodness or good works. My own righteousness and good works are just filthy rags and will not do. They just get in the way and count for nothing.

The good news is that you can enter through the gate by simple faith in Jesus alone. Simple childlike faith. The gate is available to be found by everyone from every nation to find and walk through. There is an entrance fee but Jesus has already paid it for us. He died and paid the penalty for sin so the price is paid in full.

Have you found the narrow gate dear reader and entered through? Or are you approaching the gate in the wrong way and making it too difficult for yourself. Don’t let the things of this world get in the way of walking through that gate. Divest yourself of them and simply come as you are. Believe in Jesus and follow Him.

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
Matthew 7:13-14

“so he (Jesus) explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. John 10:7-18