Quick, Slow, Slow – The Discipleship Rhythm



I remember vaguely being told that the waltz rhythm could be described as ‘Quick, Quick, Slow’. How this was meant to help me dance I don’t know; it didn’t. But I digress.

Today I came across a verse that described the rhythm of discipleship as ‘Quick, Slow, Slow’.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:

everyone should be quick to listen,

slow to speak

and slow to become angry[1]

Why does James, perhaps the practical of the New Testament writers, describe the rhythm of discipleship in this way?

Being quick to listen and slow to speak is about relating to others. It is about valuing the other person and believing that they have something interesting and valuable to share.

The great danger in the life of a disciple of Jesus is that as we learn more through our study and experience, we know quite rightly that we have more and more ‘good stuff’ in our heads that we can share with others which might actually be a blessing and a help to them.

Indeed, it would not be kind nor Christian to refuse to share the good things we have received from God.

But our sharing is only valuable and useful to the degree that it speaks into the situation and needs of our friends and that is something that can only be determined through listening.

So there is a paradox here; the more you have to share, the more listening and not speaking becomes important.

We need to explore by active listening where our friend is, what they are going through, where God may be working in their lives, and it is only when we have developed an understanding of them and their situation, that we can start to think about what might be helpful and appropriate for us to share with them.

So if we can understand why we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak, what about being slow to become angry?

We know that anger is a valid emotion sometimes, we are right to get angry at some things. Jesus Himself got angry on occasion. Perhaps the most famous example of that was when he visited the temple at Jerusalem and found that the Court of the Gentiles – the only space in the temple to which women and non-Jews had access – far from being a quiet and holy place for prayer, had become a noisy marketplace where unscrupulous traders short-changed pilgrims. Jesus was so angry about this that he overturned the stalls and chased the traders out with a whip.

So if anger can be valid and appropriate why does James say we should be slow to become angry?

Perhaps it is because anger can have very many causes, and for many of us most of the time our feelings of anger will have little to do with righteousness.

James indicates his rationale about anger in the next verse when he goes on to say;

because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires[2].

James reminds us that anger often leads to conduct that we later regret. We shout, we swear, we insult, we demean, we wound with our words, or even our fists. None of which is helpful in building up a Christian community.

Perhaps it is here the greatest danger in anger – it often destroys relationships. Once we get angry with someone – for whatever reason – it can create a barrier in our relationship with them and it can be a long and very slow path back to mutual forgiveness and restoration.

For this reason anger is a dangerous emotion within a Christian community and we should reflect very carefully on the reason for our anger, and whether it is justified and righteous, or merely the expression of our human frailty and imperfection. Slowness in getting angry will save us a lot of heartache and prevent a lot of harm.

So I think we should all learn to dance the discipleship dance – Quick, Slow, Slow.

God help us all.







[1] James 1 :19, NIVUK

[2] James 1 :20 NIVUK


When God Praises Me



In the Christian life we often think of praise as a one-way affair. We praise God based upon His evident worthiness and glory.

We often fail to note that God is also ready to praise us, although our praiseworthiness is very less certain.

St Paul refers to this when he says;

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 NIV


This passage highlights two things; firstly, that there is the amazing prospect that the God of the Universe might praise me for the things I do, and how I do them; secondly, that our ability to estimate our own, or others’, praiseworthiness, is severely limited.


One of my lecturers at Bible College told us that he always tried to operate on the principle of ‘one fact more’.

By this he meant that in his dealings with people he always tried to anticipate that there might be yet some fact of which he was currently unaware, that might radically alter his opinion of the person.

I imagine this maxim was drawn from the results of his pastoral experience; from times when sudden disclosures had radically reversed his opinions of a person. These moments had obviously been so powerful that he had made hopeful caution this ‘modus operandi’.

There is a proverb which states that can’t really judge a man until you have walked around in his skin.

Both of these seem to be highlighting the same truth. That our capacity to make valid value judgments is severely limited.

St Paul cares little for human judgements of himself and his ministry (whether positive or negative) for he knows outsiders cannot judge him accurately.

But neither does he place any great value on his own self-judgement and this is right for a couple of different reasons;

  • We can only ever partially grasp the mind of God – “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Co 14:12 AKJV).
  • We can also be biased for reasons of psychology or personality to think better or worse of ourselves than we really should.
  • Our capacity to make right judgements is a function of our theological understanding, or capacity of thought, which varies from individual to individual – “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5 NIV)
  • Our own judgement of ourselves is of no consequence, it is God’s accurate judgement that will be the defining statement about our life and work. – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Co 5:10 AKJV)


What do we take from all this? I guess the following;

Don’t judge others, unless your circumstances or role force you to do so; and if you are forced to make a judgement about others, hold it firmly in mind that your judgement may well be completely wrong, for reasons of your being incompletely informed, or unknowingly biased, or inaccurate in your theological basis; and, in any way, your judgement ultimately counts for nothing.


He Ate Salt With Them


Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are summarised at the beginning of the first chapter of the book of Acts. There are some very interesting aspects to this summary and there are some which are hidden in most English translations of the Greek text.

“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1:3-5 NIV)

The first thing to note that there were three proofs that Jesus gave to His disciples, to confirm His resurrection ;

  • He appeared to them
  • He taught them
  • He ate with them

The first two are logical and expected, however the third is somewhat surprising.

Why was it necessary for Jesus to eat with His disciples in order to prove His resurrection?

We know from other passages that eating food was a means of proving physical reality, that what they were seeing was not an incorporeal spirit but a real physical person. By eating with the disciples Jesus reassured them that He was not a ghost but a real living person.

However the specific vocabulary used by Luke gives us a deeper insight into what Jesus was doing.

The word translated “eating with them” is the Greek word συναλιζομενος (synalizomenos) which means literally “eating salt with them”.

Why does Luke choose this word to describe Jesus’ eating with the disciples?

There are some clues in texts in the Old Testament which speak about the creation of covenants – binding agreements – between God and Man.

“Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.’” (Numbers 18:19 NIV)


Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants for ever by a covenant of salt? (2 Chronicles 13:5 NIV)


Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. (Leviticus 2:13 NIV)


We see that covenants are often symbolised by salt and the reasons for this are obvious.

In the ancient world salt was the most common agent of purification, to prevent spoiling and decay. It was also used as a preservative.

Therefore linking salt to the creation of covenants symbolised both their incorruptibility and permanence.

Speaking of the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Koniuchowsky  has written,

“All salt covenants then are eternal, and eternally binding on the sons and daughters of Yisrael … Salt was also used to seal a bond of friendship forever. Brethren at an Israelite table would seal their friendship by the sharing of salt. Salt was a means in Yisrael by which friends solidified and preserved their commitment to each other by a covenant of shared salt at a table of shared community.”[1]

Thus the act of eating salt together was a symbol of the re-affirmation of friendship and mutual commitment – it was a bonding ceremony.

By eating salt with His disciples Jesus thereby affirmed the everlasting nature of the new covenant He had established between Man and God.

By eating salt with them, Jesus makes clear this new covenant is eternal, it cannot be altered or cancelled.

By eating salt with them Jesus confirms His friendship with them and commitment to them – He will never leave them.

‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ (Hebrews 3:5b NIV)

However there is another aspect to salt – the purification of sacrifices.

In the Christian religion we don’t just bring sacrifices to God – we ARE sacrifices.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV)

To be acceptable these sacrifices need to be purified – from wrong motivations, imperfect execution.

Jesus made this clear when He told His disciples,

“Everyone will be salted with fire. ‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’” (Mark 9:49-50 NIV)

Right actions need to flow from right motivations and expressed in right relations. Something the apostles took to heart.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV)

By eating salt with His disciples Jesus reminds them of their constant need to purify their offerings (themselves and their lives) in order that they might be acceptable to God.

All of the above meaning of “eating salt together” is neatly summarized in the following quote,

“So different meanings come together here: covenant renewal, the gift of life, and purification of one’s own being for self-offering to God”[2]

And we mustn’t forget that Jesus continues to join His disciples for table fellowship.

In the Eucharist we make an offering (of ourselves), we receive Christ’s body and blood (the bread and the wine).

By so doing we are purified and also strengthened with divine power in order to express the everlasting and incorruptible “covenant of salt” in our lives.


[1] Rabbi Moshe Yoseph Koniuchowsky visited online at http://www.hebroots.org/hebrootsarchive/0209/0209b.html on 03/06/14

[2] Ratzinger J. “Jesus of Nazareth – Vol 2”, p272

Surgery in Scripture


There are two parallel stories of surgery in the Bible.

In the first surgical procedure, God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep; He then opens up Adam’s side and, from one of Adam’s ribs, forms Eve.

Eve is a divine gift that completes Adam. Eve enables Adam to achieve his full human potential. In partnership with her, Adam is now capable of fulfilling the rôle God called him to – to care for and develop the Earth.

The second biblical example of surgery is when Jesus hangs dead on the cross. Jesus was understood as fulfilling the original calling of the first Adam. Whereas Adam failed in his calling, he was weak, he sinned, he also brought sin into the lives of all Mankind, and was therefore the cause of a separation between God and Man, Jesus  – the last Adam – comes to reverse all this.

The last Adam comes to succeed, not fail. The last Adam will stay faithful to the end. The last Adam will reverse the consequences of the first Adam’s failure. By His sacrificial death the last Adam will obtain for humankind the forgiveness of sin and therefore make possible a reconciliation between Man and God.

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17 NIV)


“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NIV)


“So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” (1 Corinthians 15:45-48 NIV)

So while Jesus – the last Adam – is “asleep” on the cross, His side is also pierced. Not by God but by a Roman spear. This time what is taken from Him is not a rib, but instead water and blood are seen to flow out of the wound.

The early Christians saw here a striking reference to the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist.

All of which is highly significant. For it is through baptism we are brought into the Church; and it is through the blood of the Eucharist we partake of the life of Christ – a blood that cleanses us from sin, and gives new life.

So the water and the blood which flow from the side of Christ symbolize the Church – the Bride of Christ.

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:23, 26-27 NIV)


“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2 NIV)


“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2 NIV)

Like Eve, taken from the side of the first Adam, the Church the Bride of Christ, flows out of the side of the Last Adam. Like Eve, the Bride is to be a partner for the Last Adam. Someone who will work with Him in the mission of establishing the Kingdom of God in the world.

Two Adams. Two surgeries. Two new, cherished partners who result. All doing well.

The Surgeon seems to be on top of His game.


Goose or Dove ?


In the Celtic Christian tradition the Holy Spirit was represented, not as the dove of biblical imagery, but rather as the wild goose (An Geadh-Glas).

Their rationale in choosing this image for the Holy Spirit was multiple.

They knew that wild geese aren’t controllable. They do not live tamed or bent to the will of man. They are migratory birds who come and go, with no warning, answerable only to their own internal motivations.

They are also noisy, raucous, birds! No gentle dove-like cooing, but rather a loud honk! Living in the French countryside, as I do, I experience this first-hand. Whenever I go around to my neighbour’s his geese quickly commence a loud honking, a sound which is challenging, not consoling; strong, not weak; confrontational and slightly disturbing. It is for this reason that  geese often functioned as guard-dogs. They are quite scary.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit does come like a gentle dove. He comes bringing healing, consolation, peace.

But sometimes He comes more like a wild, noisy goose. And that it an entirely different matter!

In His goosely-guise the Holy Spirit comes to disturb, shake up, challenge, awaken.

Celtic spirituality valued this goosely ministry even more than the dove-like ministry. Perhaps that is why they were so successful in mission and discipleship?

Are you for the goose or the dove?

Blood Which Speaks a Different Language


Paradise to fratricide. In just four short chapters the book of Genesis presents to us the heart-wrenching story of human decline.

From an idyllic environment, life in paradise in communion with God, to the murder of one brother by another.

The first son of man, Cain, kills his brother Abel.

Abel, whose name means ‘Morning Mist’ disappears in like manner. Burned away by his brother’s anger at God’s acceptance of Abel’s worship and rejection of his own.

However, although Abel is dead, his blood still speaks.

God says to Cain,

Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’ (Genesis 4:10b-12 NIV)

Abel’s blood cries out to God for vengeance and for the punishment of Cain’s sin.

Reflective Christians will see here a stark contrast with another ‘Son of Man’ who, instead of taking the life of another in a fit of religious anger, will offer his own life, in love, to save others.

Like Abel’s, Christ’s spilt blood also cries out to God.

However, it speaks a very different language.

The blood of Christ cries out to God to forgive, to pardon, to cleanse, to accept, to restore, to heal.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6 NIV)

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. (Romans 3:25 NIV)

Jesus’ blood speaks an altogether different language to that of Abel, a much better word.

Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24 NIV)


“Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel : it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all” (Joseph Ratzinger “Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week”, p187)


Jesus the Worm


The Early Church Fathers had some really imaginative ways of re-reading Old Testament stories. They saw in them some wonderful pictures that from a New Testament perspective take on a completely deeper meaning. Perhaps one of the most unusual is in the story of Jonah, where Jesus is seen as a worm.

“Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.” (Jonah 4:5-7 NIV)

In reflecting upon this event the Early Church Fathers interpreted the story in the following manner.

The shelter that Jonah builds represents the Jewish religion of the Old Testament. Something which was of the nature of a temporary and provisional dwelling and which would ultimately be replaced by the eternal Church of Christ.

The plant that God caused to grow up over this shelter was understood as representing the promises of the Old Testament; promises that gave the Jews hope and allowed them to stand firm under the ‘burning heat’ of persecutions and calamities. The ‘shelter’ these promises provided was what St Paul would term, ‘shadows of the things to come’ (Colossians 2:16-17) .

Under this same image therefore and somewhat shockingly, Jesus is seen in the symbol of the worm.  Jesus, in preaching the Kingdom of God and in calling all nations – Jew and Gentile – to it, ‘bites’ the hopes and dreams of earthly glory which had comforted the Jews. He ‘dried them up’ and brought to an end this temporary consolation; for this lesser glory was to be replaced by the greater glory of the One New Man – Jew and Gentile united in the glorious, everlasting Kingdom of God.


Can it be possible, that we should see Jesus in the rather unflattering image of a worm?

Actually, Jesus Himself seems to point to the acceptability of this.

Dying on the cross, Jesus quotes psalm 22. He quotes the beginning of the psalm,

‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’

And Jesus also quotes the end of the psalm,

‘he has done it’

Which can be equally translated, ‘it is finished’.

In so citing the beginning and the end of this psalm at this crucial moment, Jesus seems thereby to infer that this psalm has a particular reference to Himself.

And what do we find in the middle of this psalm?

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. (Psalm 22:6 NIV)

There is also a spiritual application that we can make from this.

Dom Jean de Monléon reminds us that Jesus, ‘the divine worm’ comes to bite and to dry up all that is in us that is earthly, fleshly, all that attaches us to the world below, all that would hold us back from the greater, eternal glory of participation in God’s everlasting Kingdom[1].


[1] de Monléon Dom J. « Commentaire sur le Prophète Jonas », Clermont Ferrand : Editions de la Source, 1970, p114