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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Today’s extract from Losing the Fig Leaf continues our look at the ‘tree’ of Power. Tomorrow (Thursday 1st October) is launch day!

Scientia potentia est

‘Knowledge is power’, as Sir Francis Bacon is alleged to have said. And the book of Proverbs says:

The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength.
Proverbs 24:5 (NIV UK)

Knowledge is believed to give us advantages over others. A good education is considered to give children the best possible start in life and to maximise their opportunities for a good job and career prospects. We use information to our advantage – whether through ‘the system’ by passing exams and gaining qualifications, or by using what we know to influence situations and work them to our own ends.

Adam and Eve were tempted by the power of knowledge when the serpent said to them, ‘your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5). At the time, they probably had no concept of what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ even were, although they were fully aware of what they had been told not to do. They knew that God knew everything, and they knew that God had ultimate power, so I guess it stood to reason that if they had the knowledge that God had, it would give them more power. And the temptation was too hard to resist.

But it all went horribly wrong. Yes, they received the desired knowledge, but, as we saw earlier, they were unable to cope with it – as God had known all along. This new knowledge didn’t actually give them any more power, and they would now have to fight to regain even some of the authority that they had originally been given. They had been tasked with working and stewarding the earth in a loving, nurturing relationship, but now, as well as having to leave the paradise garden, they would have to struggle and sweat even just to source their basic needs.

All through history, humanity has fought and struggled with the earth to bring it under control. Long gone is the harmonious relationship we had with the earth at the time of creation. We are realising now that we have to respect the earth and give back to it, not bleed it dry of its resources and upset its natural balance, otherwise the human race will be in a lot of trouble in years to come.

Our natural tendency as human beings is to try to take control, especially when things are not going the way we would like them to. When they are not going our way, we can almost resort to dictator-like tendencies to try to get our own way and regain that control. What we must be aware of, of course, is our motivation. Am I wanting to exert control just because things aren’t going the way I want them to? Is what I want really the best thing for everyone concerned? Is it the best possible solution? We need to work out what the real problem is, and then work out the best way forward – for everyone concerned; not just for ourselves.

Who am I?

We often identify ourselves by what we ‘do’. When we meet someone for the first time, how do we introduce ourselves? Presumably we will tell each other our name; then, as often as not, we will chat about what we do – our job, perhaps an ability we have (whether we are a musician, an artist, a footballer, and so on), or perhaps a ministry we are involved in. We feel that what we do gives us status and influence; it defines who we are. If I have an ‘important’ job, that makes me an important person, therefore people will listen to me – I will have authority and power. If I have an important ministry, that means I must be a spiritual person with lots of knowledge and wisdom, so people will look up to me and respect me. Consciously or subconsciously, we think that what we do makes us who we are.

Years ago, a person’s surname would help to identify who they were and offer information about them and their family. Many surnames told what people did for a living – Smith, Wright, Carpenter, Butcher, Baker, and so on. In Scotland and Ireland, boys would have the prefix Mac (or Mc) or O’ to their surname, followed by their father’s name, to indicate which family they belonged to. Some names would have been given to describe particular characteristics, such as Strong, Wise, or Black or White to describe hair colour. Indeed, a number of biblical characters were given new names by God, to go with their new role or responsibility: Abraham, Israel, Peter and Saul, for example. Other names told where people came from. Our own surname, Copeland, comes from Copeland in Cumbria, and I understand the name comes from the Old Norse kaupland, meaning ‘bought land’. I must pay the place a visit sometime.

Nowadays, of course, our names give no clue as to what we do for a living, or about our characteristics or where we come from. We might give nicknames, though, appropriate to personality traits or looks. When my daughter was little, I sometimes called her Boo, because she looked just like the little girl out of the film Monsters, Inc., with her big brown eyes and her dark hair in cute bunches.

Names and job titles, though, tell us very little about who a person really is. We might learn which family someone comes from and what they do for a living, but they tell us nothing about the person’s character and personality. Certain names or titles might command respect – people might speak differently to a minister or a priest, for example – and how would we respond if we were to meet royalty? But these are just external trappings – they don’t tell us who the person is in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God, all people are equal. He loves each and every person the same, and God takes no notice of job titles.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to meet His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I was managing a stand at a ‘Britain in Morocco’ exhibition in Casablanca for the company I was working for, and he came to visit the exhibition. I remember having quite conflicting feelings about it: I was nervous because he is an important man, yet there was also a part of me that was telling me he is no different from anyone else – he just happens to have a title because of the family he was born into. I also remember wrestling with the fact that I was told I would have to bow or curtsey. Apart from the fact I didn’t even know how to curtsey (I am not blessed with such ladylike graces!), it didn’t sit comfortably with me that I should bow to another human being, when the only one to whom I want to bow the knee is God Himself.

In the end, I think I managed some kind of fudged combination of a bow, curtsey and handshake all rolled into one. I don’t think His Royal Highness was particularly impressed.

This does lead me to consider, though, how people in positions of authority might use the power they are given, whether they are born into or it or elected to the role. The kings in the Old Testament were a real mixed bag: some used the power they had very wisely and led the people of Israel in the way God had ordained; others chose to walk a very different path.

Two particular examples are King Saul and King David. Both were anointed by God to lead the people of Israel, both were given great responsibility, and both made huge mistakes. The difference, however, was in the way they dealt with these mistakes. Saul took things into his own hands when things didn’t turn out in the way he had expected, and blatantly disobeyed a clear instruction from God (1 Samuel 13:11-14; 1 Samuel 15:1-10). So God rejected him as king.

David also abused the power he had, by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed so that he could take her for himself (2 Samuel 11). God sent the prophet Nathan to David to make him realise that he had done a terrible thing, and that God was displeased with him. David acknowledged that he had done a dreadful thing and confessed his sin to God, and God forgave him. There were consequences for David of his sin, however, and those consequences affected other people as well. David and all concerned had to come to terms with those consequences.

Yet Saul, too, repented and asked for forgiveness (1 Samuel 15:24-25). So why did God reject Saul as king and continue to bless David’s kingship? 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that ‘the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’. I can only assume that as God looked at the hearts of Saul and David as they repented and confessed their sin, He saw in David true penitence and a willingness to humble himself and to change, and an earnest desire to be obedient to Him, but did not see the same humility and earnestness in the heart of Saul. So in spite of David’s sinfulness, and even though he continued to make mistakes, David’s heart continued to be after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), and God was able to use him greatly.

Fig leaf on white

Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland will be published by Instant Apostle on Thursday 1st October 2015 and is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Pre-order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.

Today’s extract from Losing the Fig Leaf looks at one of the six Ps – the tree of Power. We’ll stay with this chapter for the rest of the week. To check out the other ‘trees’, click here.

Chapter 5
The first tree: Power

But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’
Genesis 3:4-5

At the time of writing, my stepson and his fiancée are expecting a baby in about a month’s time – a little girl. I know without a doubt that she will be welcomed into a very loving home, and she will have parents (not to mention grandparents!) who will love her to pieces! I also know, however, that that little girl will rule the roost, at least for a while, and her every cry, her every need, her every want, will be catered for. No matter what time of the day or night, no matter how exhausted Mum and Dad might be, she will cry, and they will answer the summons.

Babies are helpless creatures, unable to do very much at all for themselves, yet they exert tremendous power. And it isn’t only when they cry. Many people, when they see a newborn baby, will become all mushy inside – me included! Babies and little children appeal to something deep inside us – a caring, nurturing, protective instinct. The first time they smile, the first time they laugh, the first time they crawl, or stand up, or walk, or when their first tooth comes through, or when they say their first word – all these occasions are received with much joy, and everyone must be told! It’s compulsory!

As babies grow and become toddlers and older children, they need to learn that it isn’t right for them to hold all the power, and much of the power they are able to exert when they are babies will gradually be taken away from them. They will learn that their every whim will not be met with a positive response, and sometimes the answer to their request will be ‘No’ or ‘Wait’. They will begin to understand the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’: their needs, of course, must be attended to, but their wants might not always be. Indeed, what they want might not be good for them. (I’m sure every child would want to eat the whole bag of sweets all at once – and perhaps some adults too!) They have to learn to live by the rules, for their own benefit, for the benefit of the rest of the family and for the good of wider society. Yet they will always have an element of power, and this is only right.

My children are growing up fast – they are now 18, 16 and 12. They have learned (even if they have to be reminded at times!) the rules of the household, and they respect them. They know that there is a certain hierarchy in the house, and that the rules are there not because we want to spoil their fun, but because they make for a household that is harmonious and that runs smoothly. They also know that certain rules are for their protection and well-being. Yet there is room for negotiation, and that is a good thing. As parents, my husband and I realise that we are not infallible, and we don’t rule the roost with an iron rod, daring anyone to challenge decisions we have made or things we have spoken. We welcome calm and reasoned discussion if there is a difference of opinion. We have even been known to change our minds on occasion! Our children are able to influence the way things happen in the home – they have power to change and affect things. It is important for everyone – including children – to feel that they have a voice, that their opinion is welcomed and respected. Denying someone this voice can do a lot of damage to their self-esteem and confidence. As we observed earlier, touch, affection and love are critical to a child’s personal development.

Power is something we all have, to a greater or lesser extent, within our spheres of influence, whether it be our homes and families, our friendship groups, our workplace, our church, or another group we are a part of. This is healthy and natural.

Some people within certain groups naturally have more ‘power’ than others. As parents, my husband and I have more power within the family unit. The manager of a department in the workplace will have more power than those who report to him or her. A school teacher has more power within the classroom than the pupils, but less power than the head teacher. Within a friendship group there might be a natural leader, one who is looked up to because they are considered to make wise decisions, for example. Depending on the type of church we go to, some of the leadership might be considered to have more power than the rest of the members or regular attenders; other churches advocate ‘every person ministry’, where decisions are made by the body as a whole.

Power becomes a problem when it becomes an end in itself, or when we use it for our own benefit rather than for the benefit of others. We can use our power to exert authority and to manipulate situations to our own ends. We all do it, whether we are aware of it or not. From the small child who flutters her eyelashes and smiles sweetly at her daddy because she knows he will give in to her demands, to the departmental manager who throws his weight around because he wants things done a certain way, with no regard for whether or not it is the best thing for the rest of the team or for the organisation as a whole, we can all ‘do’ something to get our own way.

When it is used in this way, power becomes a hiding place – when we do something to influence a situation in order to achieve a particular result, or for our own ends. We might throw our weight around in order to exert control over a person or a situation because we feel we would be unable to cope with a different outcome, or perhaps for entirely selfish reasons. Feelings of insecurity mean we might try to manipulate a situation to make it feel more comfortable rather than having to face our insecurities and fears. We use the authority we have in a situation or a relationship to influence the outcome, or the other person’s behaviour, rather than seeking to develop and deepen relationships so that we can work together to find solutions and to grow together.

We hide behind our power and influence because we fear the intimacy of relationships, or because we fear we might lose control of the way things are done. We think our way is best and feel threatened if that is questioned. But by working together, by admitting that we don’t have all the answers and we don’t always know best, we might surprise ourselves. The solutions we find together are often so much better than what we are able to come up with on our own.

When my eldest son was about 14, he wanted to go out on Tuesday evenings to Soul Survivor cell group meetings. (Soul Survivor is a church in Watford with a strong youth contingent, led by Mike Pilavachi.) My immediate reaction was no, he would be out too late and he would be coming home on his own in the dark, and that worried me too much. I could see by the look on his face that he was disappointed, but he accepted and respected my decision.

As I thought about this and chatted it through with my husband, I began to realise that the reason I had said no was because of my own fears and insecurities. I was worried that something might happen to him as he travelled on public transport late in the evenings. I realised that I was using the power I had within the relationship to keep things the way they were, because I felt comfortable with that. I wanted to wrap my son up in cotton wool and keep him safe. I began to think about some of the other things a 14-year-old boy might want to be doing with his evenings, and here I was trying to stop my son going to a church event and drawing closer to God!

Once I realised that I was hiding behind this power and using it for my own agenda, I changed my mind and told my son he could go to the meetings. He was very happy, and he has always respected my wishes that he let me know if he is going to be late home. He is now 18 and working as a sound and lighting technician at live events, so I won’t even mention the times he gets home on occasions! Yes, I worry about him when he is out until silly o’clock in the morning – I wouldn’t be normal if I didn’t – but I entrust him to God, go to bed and do my best to go to sleep! I have to realise that, in order for him to flourish and grow as an independent human being, I need to let go of the control and allow him to make his own decisions and his own way in the world. Of course, I will always be here for him when he needs me – that goes without saying – but by exerting too much control, I would be preventing him from reaching his potential and becoming the person he has been created to be.

Fig leaf on white

Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland will be published by Instant Apostle on Thursday 1st October 2015 and is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Pre-order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.

Losing the Fig Leaf

Introduction

Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? There’s a real sense of satisfaction about finding a good hiding place, isn’t there? It’s quite gratifying to find a spot where you know no one will find you. There’s a feeling of safety and security in the knowledge that no one can get to you.

But isn’t there also an underlying fear – of exposure, of being found out? You run and hide, and all the while your heart is pumping, your mind is racing; you don’t want to be caught. You know it’s only a question of time before your cover is blown.

I was never particularly good at hide-and-seek. I was nearly always one of the first to be found. It is quite ironic, then, that as my life progressed, I became very good at hiding my true self and concealing who I really was.

For many years of my life I didn’t like who I was and wished I could be more like someone else and less like me. Sometimes I would try to make myself someone I thought people would want to spend time with because I didn’t think people would enjoy being with the person I really was. I didn’t feel that I was particularly attractive to look at, or especially witty or funny, or could contribute intelligently to conversations; I didn’t think I had good enough fashion sense, or artistic abilities, or that I was interesting to talk to. But then I felt that my efforts to be more ‘acceptable’ to people weren’t good enough either, so I would end up retreating into my shell and wishing I was a fly on the wall, or that I was somewhere else entirely, because my efforts to be ‘someone else’ didn’t work either.

Part of the problem, I think, as I look back, is that because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, I would put my own interpretations on people’s words and actions. Yet often, probably, my interpretations were wrong. If someone chose to sit somewhere else when there was an empty seat next to me, my assumption would be that the other person they chose to sit next to was, of course, far more interesting to talk to than I was. If people didn’t chat to me, I naturally assumed it was because they didn’t like me and because I was soooo boring to talk to. But if someone did choose to chat to me or to sit with me, I would be so nervous about saying something stupid or coming across as dull that I would tie myself in knots and end up fulfilling my own prophecy. Either that or I would assume that the person hadn’t really wanted to talk to me or sit with me, but now that they had done, for whatever reason, I wouldn’t inflict my boring personality on them! Boy, was I hard work!

Gradually, however, over a number of years, God has brought me to a place of learning to accept who I am and to enjoy being the person He has created me to be. I am learning to recognise that I do have particular strengths and certain abilities – as well as my many shortcomings – and that actually, people (for whatever strange reason) do appear to enjoy my company. Perhaps this is partly because I am more relaxed within myself now, and rather than falling over my own feet to try to impress people, I have made a decision just to be me, and if people don’t like who I am, then there’s not much I can do about that! Different personalities naturally gravitate towards certain people and away from others. Of course, I don’t go out of my way to be obnoxious or annoying, but I have realised that there is real value in the old desktop publishing term WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

As I chat with people and share my story, and as people talk to me, I realise that there are many who share the same struggles as I do, and that many of us are hiding our true selves in some way or another. You can read more about my story in my first book, Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self .[1]

In this book I want to explore what being made in the image and likeness of God really means for each one of us, what it means to be ‘fully human’, and what it means to fully embrace our humanity and enjoy being the person we have been created to be. God made us all to be unique – there is no one else like me, or like you, on the face of the earth, nor has there ever been, and nor will there ever be.

First I want to spend a bit of time examining what it really means to be made in God’s image and likeness, and considering some of the blessings God bestowed on humanity at the time of creation, and the implications of that. Then I want to look at the consequences Adam and Eve faced after they disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the tree from which God had told them not to eat, and their response to their disobedience. They tried to hide, from God and from each other. Hiding is something we still do today: we, too, try to hide from God and from each other, and I want to examine some of the ways and some of the places we try to hide – the six Ps of Power, Possessions, Productivity, Perfectionism, Pretence and Pastimes.

As we explore these hiding places, I also want to look at the way Jesus, the perfect, unmarred image of God in humanity, handled being human and to take encouragement from the way He lived His life on earth without hiding, and to suggest some practical ways we can begin to come out of our hiding places.

I believe that if we can begin to understand where we come from and who we are, this will help us work out where we are going. While we can never be truly sure where our path in life will lead us (God is always full of surprises!), if we can learn to embrace who we are and have confidence in our strengths and our abilities, as well as an awareness of our weaknesses, this gives God much greater freedom to use us in whatever way He chooses. Lack of confidence and low self-esteem inhibit us and lock us into a state of fear, leaving us unwilling to step out and take risks. So we choose to stay among the trees where we know it’s safe and where the risk of failure is smaller. It’s so much easier to stay hidden away than to step out, to face exposure and to feel vulnerable.

Sometimes we invite God in to our hiding places with us, instead of stepping out from them with Him. We know He loves us and wants a relationship with us, and we want a relationship with Him – but we want it to be on our terms. God is gracious, and I believe He does join us in those cramped, dark places – He loves us so much He just wants to be with us. But He also longs for us to take the hand He is offering and to step out with Him. We might feel safe and comfortable where we are, especially if God is there with us, but there is so much more to be enjoyed beyond the trees, if only we would have the courage to walk out with Him. He is offering us the opportunity to sing and to dance with Him, to express who we really are, to enjoy true freedom.

Over the last few years I have taken a few risks, stepped out from some of my own hiding places and done some things I never dreamed I would do. I’m still not sure where the road is heading, but one thing I can tell you is that the journey is exciting, and I’m really enjoying the ride! Yes, it’s taking me way out of my comfort zone at times, and some things have been really hard to do, but my heavenly Father has been with me all the way, holding my hand and leading me forward, step by step. I know there is so much more to come, and I’m looking forward to discovering what else He has in store for me.

I also know that at times it will be difficult, and that I’m going to have to face more of my fears and insecurities along the way. But I know that God will help me do that too, as and when these times come.

I hope this book will encourage you to take the hand that God is offering you, to allow Him to lead you out of some of your hiding places and to walk with Him on the path He has set out for you. God has a Big Plan for your life – an important role in His Big Story – and I want to encourage you to embrace what He has planned for you.

A final thought: it’s not easy to go about the practical business of daily living – working, eating, caring for ourselves and our families, and so on – if we’re holding something in our hand. Imagine trying to prepare dinner with one hand because you’re holding a big leaf in the other to hide behind, or driving to work with a tree branch in your hand. Holding on to our fig leaves restricts us, inhibits us and reduces our freedom to move and live. They get in the way and are a real nuisance! We need both hands to live as we were truly created to live!

Let me encourage you to step out from among the trees, to let go of your fig leaves and to enjoy the freedom of living without them! Live your life in the way God intended you to live it!

Fig leaf on white

Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland will be published by Instant Apostle on Thursday 1st October 2015 and is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Pre-order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.

[1] Nicki Copeland, Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self (Watford: Instant Apostle, 2013).

I’m very excited to announce that my second book, Losing the Fig Leaf, will be published by Instant Apostle on Thursday 1st October. Each day this week I will be posting an extract here, as a little taster.

Here’s what reviewers have said:

‘This book exposes the great need of the human heart with gentleness and tenderness whilst at the same time exposing our desperate need of a better vision of God and of ourselves. …  This book moved me, challenged me, inspired me and encouraged me, but most of all it reminded me that God is deeply, deeply committed to His people and longs to hear us say, “Yes” to His staggering invitation to intimacy. I cannot commend it highly enough.’
Malcolm Duncan

‘This is a scrupulously honest book, full of spiritual insight and wise advice. It will speak to many who are longing to know and understand more of their worth in God’s eyes.’
Lucy Peppiatt

‘A beautifully honest and biblical exploration of a journey out of hiding into fullness of life as a child of God.’
Lindsay Melluish

‘Nicki’s powerful vulnerability and insightful scriptural undergirding speaks so relevantly to us today. Her story, woven through the pages, enables us to be real with ourselves, find a way to lose the fig leaf and to live in the fullness of Christ’s freedom.’
Anne Calver

‘This is a fascinating book. It takes the ancient story of Adam and Eve and shows how relevant it is for today. Nicki names the “fig leaves” we hide behind and brings fresh insight to the struggles we experience in living the abundant life Jesus offers.’
Lin Button

Do check it out!

Losing the fig leaf front cover 240715