What does the God of Hosea think of women?

As a church, we are currently making our way through the Old Testament book of Hosea. Each week our sermons are delving into a different section of this minor prophet. And oh boy has it been challenging. The language used is shocking, controversial, political, violent and possibly offensive.

It’s hard to read. It’s hard to listen too.  But it’s there.

Chapter 2 is particularly challenging. Hosea is laying out the claim that Gomer his wife has been unfaithful. He lists her crimes and her potential punishments in the worst and most offensive manner. The language is sexually and emotionally explicit, it’s aggressive and violent and it is all directed towards Gomer.

If you have joined us for the sermon series you will know there is a bigger picture. Gomer represents Israel and their marriage is a metaphor for God’s relationship to the whole of Israel. So the words are not directed at just women or unfaithful women. They are for both sexes, for all of us to stop and listen too. I think that’s partly why the words are so shocking. They are meant to be. There is a message here for all of us and it is worth stopping and trying to figure it out. It’s also helpful that it’s shocking. We have to be careful that the culturally linked anger does not unconsciously shape our thinking about how we see women.

But all that being said, the words are about Gomer, they are about a woman (note: there are other verses directed towards men eg. 4.14). The illustration used is the woman in disgrace and the punishment is all directed towards her.  You can be fully aware of the bigger picture and still be shocked at this. Still, be shocked at how God and women are portrayed.

In the effort to keep this blog short and easy to read there are some big sweeping statements that need to be understood.

  • God has made men and women equal, different but equal. Neither sex is a perfect representation of God. We are both made in his image and together make up the body.
  • God is the same yesterday, today and forever. That means the God of the Old Testament is the same in the New Testament and vice versa. One informs the other.
  • God loves, honours and respects women. He calls us into leadership and into a dramatic and upfront place in his Kingdom.

So knowing these things how can we read the book of Hosea?

I have recently come across this helpful analogy. At the opticians and you are asked to read the bottom line of the letter chart (the Snellen chart) if you struggle the optician puts lenses in front of you until you can. Those lenses can make things clearer but they can also make things a lot worse. So we need to check what lenses we are using when we read scripture.

When reading the bible the lens of ‘context’ is always needed. I believe the bible is the inspired word of God. But I also believe we can lose and miss some meaning because of translation issues but also misunderstanding context. A lot of issues people have with the Bible’s teachings or portrayal of women can be understood and explained with a greater knowledge of context. This particular passage is full of imagery pointing back to Egypt, to farming and idol worship towards Baal. If it was written today different analogies and imagery would be used. As 21st century readers we can miss this, we don’t possess this lens, we don’t have the contextual knowledge to help understand all that’s going on.

Lack of familiarity with the original languages can also lead to further difficulties. Surface level readings of scripture can be dangerous. If we read scripture with the wrong lens we can cast doubt on God’s character and we can also use scripture to justify behaviour that is unjustifiable.

So often we lack the lens of contextual knowledge but we do have the lens of the New Testament. We know the end of the story.  We have jumped to the back of the book and have read the ending. Jesus comes, he treats women like no one has before and he offers both men and women grace.

Look at Jesus’ interaction with an adulterous woman in John 8. No condemnation from Jesus and due to his challenge, no condemnation from those around her. Instead, forgiveness, she was set free but also asked to leave her life of sin. God hasn’t forgotten about sin, about guilt, judgement and justice. Jesus was the answer, he is always the answer. He took what Gomer, Israel and all of us deserve.

We have to read this passage using the lens of Jesus. We have to read the passage with the knowledge that not only was Gomer bought back but Jesus paid the price for all of us.

I struggle with the language used toward Gomer. I find it hard to read. But I also believe it’s not enough to throw it out, to skip over because it’s uncomfortable. It’s also not enough to change my opinion of God’s character or how God sees me. I passionately believe God is for women, for me. That is the lens I am going to choose to use to read all of scripture. I go back to those initial bullet points. God has made us equal, God is the same and God loves and honours women.

All the sermons from the Hosea series can be found on our website https://stjames.churchinsight.com/Media/AllMedia.aspx

 

 

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Family Matters

I love Christmas time. I love the carols, the nativity service, the fairy lights, the food, the presents, the tinsel and the Christmas movies (the straight to TV types are my favourite). I particularly love the effort (or the excuse) people make to socialise. From the work Christmas parties to the forced gatherings with family and friends.

Most of my childhood I spent part of Christmas Day travelling across London with my family to spend Christmas Day with my Grandparents and my Aunt. Here we would spend a very happy day fighting over the limited amount of gravy before traipsing back home. A few days later we would then all pile back in the car and travel up North to spend time with my Aunt and Uncle on the Wirral, which would, of course, include another full Christmas dinner.

Not everyone’s Christmas is filled with such happy family memories. Families are complicated and can be very messy (mine included). Some people don’t have a family or any friends to see over Christmas or choose not to see them.    

At St James being a family is important to us. One of our key values is LIVE. It’s about living as a community, a family, about creating supportive networks and providing friendships. To us, family really matters. What better time, than Christmas, to be reminded of this key calling of STJ.

For to us, a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

This amazing Christmas story, of the birth of a baby boy, created a family, a family of people who love the Christmas story all year round. At St James, this means we do life together. We are a support network for each other regardless of how messy our family life may be or how messy we may be.

If you are longing for a community, a family, a support network this Christmas. Why not come and join us at one of our Christmas Services. Not only will we be looking at this wonderful story but there will be carols, Christmas food and plenty of fairy lights.

Merry Christmas
Kirsty x

 

A6 flyer back

25th July – St James’ Day

You may or may not know, but today (25th July) the Church of England (and all the Western churches, in fact) celebrate the festival of St James. Some churches would celebrate this day (often known as their Patronal Festival) with a big service but we’ve gone for the low-budget option of a blog.

Who was St James?

The St James celebrated today is St James the Great, son of Zebedee, and one of the disciples of Jesus (not to be confused with James son of Alphaeus a.k.a. St James the Less, also a disciple).

We first meet James in Matthew 4. Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to follow him before then calling on James and his brother John to do the same. ‘Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him’ (Matthew 4:22).

James saw many amazing things while he followed Jesus and joined him in preaching that the kingdom of heaven was near and in doing miracles (Matthew 10). James was one of the three on the mountaintop in Matthew 17 who saw Jesus transfigured, Moses and Elijah, talking with him, and heard the voice of God declare Jesus to be his Son. He will also have been one of the disciples in the Upper Room in John 20 who saw the resurrected Jesus and who saw Jesus ascend into heaven in Acts 1.

He didn’t always get it right, however (who of us has?!) James and John were known as the ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17), perhaps because they had a temper. In Luke 9:51-56 we see this anger come out when Jesus is rejected from a village and James and John ask: ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ (Let’s be honest, who hasn’t thought that about a particularly annoying colleague or a bureaucratic set of forms?) Jesus rebukes them sharply for their comments (not least because he had just told them what to do when they were rejected in Luke 9:5!)

James and John are also known for their petition to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory (Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 20 indicates their mother was with them as well). They do not know what they are asking, and Jesus tells them: ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptised, you will be baptised; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

James suffered a martyr’s death and was the first apostle to be killed for their faith. Acts 12 records that Herod had him killed by the sword in an outbreak of persecution (in 44 AD if tradition is correct). Peter is also arrested when Herod sees that the Jews were pleased with James’ death and yet God frees Peter from the prison. James’ brother John outlives all the other apostles writing the Gospel of John, 1-3 John, and Revelation and dies of natural causes on the island of Patmos in exile.

What can we learn from St James?

James may have had a temper, and he may have not known what he was getting himself in for when he asked to sit by Jesus in glory, but it seems like he never lost that zeal he had when Jesus first called him. He and John both left their father and their nets, which they were repairing, and they followed Jesus.

As a result of that moment of decision, James had a life seeing Jesus teach and perform miracles, die and rise again. He joined the other apostles in performing miracles, in testifying to what they had seen Jesus say and do, and to the coming kingdom of God. He was filled with the Spirit and Pentecost and was clearly a leading member of the church as he was first apostle to be killed for his faith.

Through the ups and downs, James was committed to Jesus. His life was cut short and ended in suffering, but he also saw Jesus in the glory of God up a mountain.

It’s been up and down for us to at St James over the last few months. Our building has positives and negatives (more positives now that the kitchen/toilets are nearly done!) and we’ve had changes on the staff team (which is exciting, but it was sad to lose Debs and Neil). In our own personal lives, we always have good days and bad days, good seasons and bad seasons.

The challenge from James’ life is to keep following Jesus when we get it wrong, when we suffer (whether because we’re Christian or just because the world is broken), and when we see Jesus clearly in all his glory. ‘Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him’.

 

Ed Down

From Now On

Kirsty & Ivy

— Kirsty is operations officer at St James in the City. She was born in Liverpool but had a gap of 17 years living down south before she came back to marry a scouser. She is very confused where her north/south allegiance should lie… —

I know the last blog post was about ‘our transition period’, and we don’t want to harp on about it, but there really has been a drastic amount of change at STJ over the last few months. Building work, temporary accommodation and an ever-revolving staff team to name but a few.

But finally, it all seems to be settling down. Jude has returned, Matt our new worship pastor is on the horizon and we will hopefully be back in Church before we know it.

It almost feels like a new beginning, the start of something new. This is exciting and yes, a little scary. Our new building will hopefully give us the chance to start new ministries, reach new people and to make an even bigger impact on our community. New staff members and interns will bring different skills and a new vision for the leadership team. September we will see a new wave of students, ready to use their gifts to serve Liverpool and STJ.

I don’t know about you, but I am more than happy to jump on the ‘Greatest Showman’ craze that is sweeping the nation. The songs are everywhere, and I for one am not complaining. Whilst listening (again) to the soundtrack, the final song, “From Now On”, started to take on a different meaning, especially in the light of our building work at St James and our ‘new beginning’ 

A man learns who is there for him
When the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold

‘Cause from then, rubble
One remains
Can only be what’s true
If all was lost
Is more I gain
‘Cause it led me back
To you

From now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
Tonight
Let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on
From now on

(lyrics to ‘From Now On’, The Greatest Showman)

The ‘glitter’ has long faded, but our building isn’t quite ‘rubble’, and as far as I am aware, no one is planning to join the circus. (Does anyone actually know where Jude has been the last few months, perhaps he was really practising his trapeze act.)

But I do think this song has a point, even if the one I am making is slightly different from the film. When things get tough and we are forced to start again, when your circus burns to the ground and it looks like all is lost, it actually reminds us ‘who all this is for’. For STJ this isn’t our family, biological or the circus kind, but Jesus.

STJ’s new beginning, the start of chapter two, is a perfect chance for us to stop and remember who all this is for

‘But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for’

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of stopping, being still and refocusing on God. It also gives us promises that wherever we stand and whatever we face we are not alone, our God goes before us:

Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God

Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging

2 Timothy 4: 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength

As Christians, as a Church, we have the biblical promise that we are not in this new beginning alone. God goes with us, He is our refuge and He is our strength. This isn’t a promise that it will be easy, but a promise that we don’t go alone.

In the film, they thought they had lost it all, but from the rubble grew something even more exciting and even more beautiful. New beginnings can be scary, but right now I am excited and I am expectant.

My prayer for STJ and for you is that God continues to go before us, continues to uphold us. That it never becomes about being the greatest show, but this new beginning is a chance to refocus on God. That it becomes a place where the impossible comes true, where no one is ashamed of all their scars and where the outcast is always welcome. We pray that from now on these biblical promises continue being an anthem in our hearts. Amen

Ps runaways and bearded ladies are always welcome at STJ

Kirsty Fazakerley

*blog is about the sentiment of the film rather than the historical character the film is loosely based on.

Transition

Ed & Zoe

— Ed is curate at St James in the City and moved to Liverpool with his wife Zoë in 2017. Ed has fast become a central member of the local cricket team and hails from Oxford, via Bristol. —

The last few months have been a strange time for us at St James. Jude went off on a study break after Easter Sunday and has been busy slogging away on his book. Neil and Marg left us a few weeks later to move up to Blundellsands and start a new chapter of their ministry. Finally, Debs has also moved on as she prepares to start ordination training in Bristol from September.

Meanwhile, we have started our building project and have had to move into St James’ House for our services. Our students have been doing exams and some are also moving on to pastures new. We celebrated as Bishop Paul led our confirmation service and have started to look forward to our church plant in two years time with a sermon series on church planting in Acts.

In the midst of all this, the staff team has worked incredibly hard to pick up the slack and to keep church running as smoothly as it has. We have grown closer as a group and everyone has stepped up to the challenge, especially our interns Beth, Isaac and Cherry. I’ve often joked that it’s ‘all been fine’ because I have just done what Kirsty said, but there is no doubt that without her it would have been impossible to keep on top of everything.

However, what has been most obvious has been God’s faithfulness to us. We could not have asked for the building project and the services in St James’ House to go any more smoothly. It is clear that he has been with us in this time of transition, guiding us and helping us by his Spirit.

(Note, if you disagree with how well you think everything has gone, feel free to let us know!)

The Church of England’s set readings are currently taking us through the book of Joshua. This book is all about a group of people in transition. It starts with God commissioning Joshua following the death of Moses and with Israel entering the promised land; at the end, Joshua dies and the tribes renew the covenant before each other and God.

In the midst of all the changes that Israel goes through, the constant is the guiding hand of God (when the Israelites listen) and his goodness and faithfulness to his people. As the story continues through Judges and the other history books, the pattern continues: God is the constant through the changing whims and fortunes of the people of Israel. As one Psalm puts it:

‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever’ (136:1).

We are in the midst of the appointment process for a new vicar; our new worship pastor,  Matt Courtney,  will be joining us very soon, September we will have plenty of new members, especially students and this will all be hosted in a new(ish) building. St James’ is an ever-changing church, because of our demographic and because we try to seek out what God is doing without relying too heavily on the past. But through it all, let us remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and that he is our goal, our source, and our purpose.

We are not defined by our situation, or by the number of staff, old and new. We are defined by the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, the love that endures forever.

Ed Down

God’s Word Never Fails

Isaac

— Isaac is spending the year with St James in the City as an intern and Worship Central Academy student. When Isaac’s not seeing his favourite bands live or visiting the local cinema, he can often be found behind the lens shooting his own projects —

I never originally intended to take a year out, it wasn’t even something I had considered, and I definitely didn’t think I would spend my year out interning at a church. However, I began to get the impression that a year out was what God was calling me towards when several different people gave me words from God that all pointed that way.

Through receiving different words from people, I eventually realised that God was pointing me in this direction and I decided to do the Worship Central Academy and an internship at St James.

The first word I received came about 3 years ago at a church event that Debs had invited me to. After the main block of worship the guest speaker came out to preach, but before he did he gave me three words he believed God had put on his heart to give to me. This was my first experience of this kind of interaction with God and it felt amazing.

Therefore, I would encourage you that if you think God has given you a word or a picture for someone, share it with them. It may seem random or unrelated but it could really help people connect and have a very personal experience with God.

However, these words can also come with fear… What does God want us to do?

In short, God wants us to go for it. If we discern that a calling is really from God then we should not be afraid. We are never given a mission too big because when we do God’s work the Holy Spirit comes upon us and gives us the strength and the ability to do all things:

            “For no word from God will ever fail.
Luke 1:37

This verse should give us confidence because we know that we can take peace in the chaos. Following a calling from God may feel chaotic, things will seem unstable and some aspects won’t go to our plan but we can find peace and stability because we know that God’s plan doesn’t fail.

In my experience, this has been the case. At the start I was nervous about whether this was the right choice for me to make, I was worried about talking to new people and concerned that I wasn’t good enough to fulfil my role. Thankfully, God gave me strength in that unstable time and I began my internship comfortably and he continues to give me strength to grow in confidence and develop throughout this year.

Half Night of Prayer

Night of Prayer

— Beth is a student pastor intern at St James. Elizabeth is a member of St James and student leader. They’re both passionate about prayer and have co-written this blog as we look forward to the Half Night of Prayer —

In my last year of university and during the start of my internship at St. James in the City, I have come to realise how important it is to be in communication with our Father in heaven. It awakens our hearts to His presence in every part of our lives and leads the way to being a more mature Christian.

Though I (Beth) have only begun to scratch the surface on the importance of prayer, I am further behind in actually achieving a life in constant contact with my Father.

A few things have opened me up to this attitude of prayer, starting with leading a talk in our Monday evening student group on prayer. In preparation I read most of a book called “A Praying life”, about a man who understands Gods role in his life. He is the Man in charge, his Father and Friend.

There were great stories in there and I enjoyed sharing what I learnt with the students at St. James, but there was still a long way to go. A lot of my reliance on God came during my final exams of my degree, where I had to let go of any control I thought I had to get through it.

In my summer holiday I learnt some new things about God and myself, but didn’t develop any habit of praying. Since starting as intern student pastor at St. James I have gone to weekly prayer breakfasts with a group of others to pray together.

For 6 weeks we followed the prayer course written by Pete Grieg and during this time Elizabeth, a student leader, told our group about God’s word for her to get some prayer training. What better way to train than to do it? So there started the planning for a half night of prayer!

And that’s where I (Elizabeth) come in. As Beth mentioned, prayer is something that I, especially recently, have been getting really excited about. When life used to get busy, prayer was something I’d often find myself forgetting to engage with. However, prayer is a fantastic and unique tool we have; it allows us to talk to God directly, and hear back from Him, which, when you think about it, is absolutely amazing!

When planning for the Half Night of Prayer started, one of the main things I wanted to achieve was to ignite (or probably in many cases reignite) peoples’ passion for prayer.

Prayer really is for everyone; something that never fails to encourage me into prayer is that Jesus himself prayed throughout his time on Earth.  If God’s own son needed to pray, it is safe to assume we need to as well!

With this in mind, the purpose of the Half Night of Prayer is to equip and inspire people with new ways to pray and connect with God, as well as allowing them to spend some quality time in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Finally I’ll leave you with a verse I find particularly encouraging:

‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.’ 1 John 5:14.

Beth & Elizabeth