Daily Bread

Life is full of distractions and I’ve had more than my fair share recently, what with Christmas and various projects. To be honest, most of the time I enjoy the distractions, although, on this occasion, I’ve layered one distraction on another, leaving an over-active mind that has begun to interfere with my sleep. Not good. In the midst of all this noise it is all too easy to loose sight of what is important.

The psalmist, in psalm 16, finds his refuge in God, his only source of good. He rejects that path of others who appear holy and doing well for themselves, but who find their good outside of God. All the psalmist can do is hope that they learn their mistake – even if it is by the hard way of sorrow.

It reminded me of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread. I have said these words many times, but never really taken them in. After all, if I need bread, I go to the Supermarket. While I have a job, I easily have the money for bread. Even if I lost my job, the State promises to step in – at least to a point. Granted, some fall between the cracks, but that is someone else’s experience, not mine. I find I have no need to ask for bread. Which is precisely the problem.

My refuge, my source of good, seems to be out of alignment. I look to the Supermarket. I look to my bank balance. I look to the State and the economic system of the world. Which is all a bit foolish really, given the not-so-long-ago financial crisis. It is in my very comfort and security that I have made a mis-step. My refuge needs to be in God – even for my bread. Even though I know, as the apostle Paul testifies, this may mean that at times I need to do without. Yet, in spite of this, we know that God has our best interests at heart, which is more than can be said for the supermarket or my bank.

Not all distractions are bad. Some are expressions of who God made me to be, yet they are still distractions. Sometimes, it is helpful to be reminded of where our refuge should be and to, perhaps for the first time, pray: give us this day our bread.


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What matters?

When I was 17 I encountered a God who was willing to die for me. From that point on my life was turned upside down. This came about through reading a book, a book which also told me that I needed to hold a literal view of the accounts of Adam and Eve, and seven day creation. Apparently, if I questioned the Bible on any point, then pretty soon I would question what God had done. At that time, Jesus was so real to me that taking this view of the Bible was not a problem. I just assumed I would need to reappraise my science. I should have known it was never going to be that simple.

I soon discovered that the Bible was not a textbook. Beginning at the beginning, I was dismayed to find myself stumbling over the first few chapters. I just could not tie up Genesis 1 with Genesis 2, so I had no idea how to relate it to the external evidence. So off I went to the local Christian bookshop, but the books I bought just added to my confusion. I soon discovered that they were not good science. Maybe I chose the wrong books, but they were the best I could find, so I parked the science that I loved. It was proving too problematic. However, easier said than done. In my stumbling attempts to tell others about my new life with God, it was surprising how quickly the biblical accounts of creation came up, and how quickly they derailed my efforts. Furthermore, new scientific discoveries often made it into the news, which often proved difficult to match to the interpretations I had been told to accept. The literalist view, far from strengthening my faith, was constantly causing me to question it. At times, it felt as though I was only hanging on by my finger nails.

After being a Christian for many years, it came as a surprise to discover that not every Christian held these views. In fact, even some of the leaders I respected did not. Yet, by then, it had become so ingrained that I was not ready to let go. It took several more years before I was able to embrace a view that was more in accord with the scientific evidence.

I have since learned that, while the initial advice was well intentioned, it is actually an error. A result of reading the text with our modern assumptions about what the text should be saying, rather than trying to read the text on its own terms. I felt like the boy named Sue in the Johnny Cash song. It was a view that had caused me to ‘get tough or die’ – but I would not wish it on anyone else. What I have come to realise is that I do not believe in Jesus because of the Bible, but I have confidence in the Bible because of Jesus.

One of the important lessons I learned during all my struggles with literalism were that some things matter and some things don’t – and it is important to be able to tell the difference. It is also something that the apostle Paul fought hard over. What matters was Christ – not our practices, not our doctrines, nor who else we follow. Ultimately, our relationship with Jesus is all that matters, a relationship with a God who was born into this world, died on a cross and rose again. He is the way, and he is enough.

Mind the Gap

The train pulls in at the station and the announcement is heard: “Mind the gap”. It is an iconic sound of London, a warning that there is a gap between the train and the platform a gap where danger lies.

When I began to boil down my notes I was not sure where it would take me, I just knew it was the next step of my journey. I was not expecting it to converge so quickly. A fog I had been grappling with for years seemed to blow away and I knew where I was heading, reaching its climax in the last three posts. I had only ever meant to tidy up my notes on Genesis 3, but then the story took over and it led me to an uncomfortable place. It brought me to the edge of a gap. Truth must be lived, yet I wasn’t living it. So I found myself hovering at a precipice, until I decided I must follow this path and face the gap that was opening up with increased clarity: as God’s representative on earth, I was lacking, we all are.

Maybe I am idolising the goal and should set my sights lower? But then, if I am called to follow Jesus, I can’t quite imagine him, settled down, living in a mid terrace, doing a 9 to 5. Not the Jesus of the Gospels anyway. It would not be long before the sinners, the prostitutes and the broken beat a path to his door. If I were his neighbour, I’d want to complain to the council. Yet, maybe I am more like Christ than I realise and it is just that the people around me are hard hearted. I can imagine my wife’s response to that. There again, maybe I should just repent of my sloth and rebellion: Dust and ashes, and all that. Yet, is this even a possible goal? So many options. Maybe I just need to see a doctor and get a life.

However, I cannot write a theological narrative and just move on. Theology is nothing unless it means something and this gap must be faced. I must allow myself to be nailed to its uncomfortable truth until it becomes my reality, or until I hear God.

We can look back on history and see that we are not alone in our failure to bear witness to our God of love, yet this is no excuse. It is not an excuse, but perhaps a lesson, a lesson it has taken us nearly two thousand years to learn: We cannot close the gap, for it is not in our power – and never has been. Something the first disciples knew, but somehow never quite passed on. We tried too hard. We shouldn’t have tried at all. The first disciples knew they could not do it. Peter tried, and learned when the cock crowed the third time. Saul tried, and learned on the Damascus road, becoming Paul. All that effort, all that determination, amounts to nothing. And once we know we can do nothing, we release God to do everything. For this is also what the first disciples knew: nothing is impossible, and that one day the church will have made herself ready. A day that is getting closer, for, without doubt, God is today wooing his church back. The hour has not past, and now may even be the time – the time to end the gap.

Good News

Nietzsche said God is dead, which is bad news, because madness follows when we find ourselves an insignificant part of a meaningless universe, mere grains of sand. We cling to the reality of a material world that even science considers illusory and uncertain. It is not what we think. All is vanity, utterly insane – if it were true.

But, what if the world is different from what we imagine and not meaningless at all? What if the claims of a man born 2,000 years ago are the truth? Claims that led his followers to willingly die for what they believed. The truth that God is alive and loves us. Even when we had our backs turned to him, he did not turn his back to us, but reached into our world by becoming a man and living amongst us – not as a king, but a servant, a servant who humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. Such was God’s love.

Now, Jesus did not come as a messenger only, but to show us. To demonstrate a God coming not in power, but in weakness. A weakness that could not be overcome, even by death. Yet, he did it for us, not as part of a job lot, thrown in with the rest of humanity in some package deal. No, we are each uniquely important and individually loved. His death was personal. He suffered and died for us personally, though we had rejected him.

Too good to be true? His followers did not think so. They had seen Jesus raised from the dead and it shook them. Death was no longer the same and they could face it. For it was not a message that changed them, not an idea, but a man whose life could not be extinguished and who showed them God.

There is more good news. A lot happened at the cross, a deep mystery that only the foolhardy claim to understand. It was a turning point in history, a doorway that opens the way back to God and beyond that door lies a kingdom. A kingdom that creation itself is longing for – but that is another story. Yet, there truth Jesus showed enabled his disciples to face persecution, even to being burnt alive, even to being fed to lions, in peace. God was worth following. The victory was already his.

We were like prodigals with our backs turned on God, yet he awaited our return with open arms. A return through following Jesus and the life that he showed, turning away from our past and back to God. We may not have pasts to be proud of, I certainly am not about mine, but our greatest crime, our greatest folly, was when we turned our backs on God, yet he forgave us. Our lives become caught up in Jesus and he delivers us from our folly, reconciled back to God, through the mystery of the cross. I find it unbelievable that he considered me worth dying for, his life too precious to waste on me. Yet it is true and I can attest to it. At the time I heard, I was undone and all that was left for me was to repent.

This was not the God anyone was expecting. A God of love. A God of life. A life that cannot be stopped and that we begin to experience now. Citizens of another kingdom, being established on earth as in heaven. No wonder the disciples were no longer afraid.

A Thing Called Love

Questions. God asks me questions. Questions like, What does it mean to ‘understand the times’? What is the ‘Kingdom of God’? Where is the power of the gospel? What is sin anyway? One question after another. Questions that get under my skin until they get hold of me and become part of me. It was the challenge of the last that gave rise to a new one.

Sin, I believe, is quite simple. It is the falling short of God’s standard for love. There is a lot that could be unpacked in that, and a lot of that unpacking lies in this thing called love. It makes me wonder how much I really understand love, which is odd given that it is such a central concept to my faith. At the back of my mind I have this vague notion that love is a sense of warm affection that I can’t do much about, being more of a fruit of the Spirit. Except this view does not stand up to much scrutiny and, to be honest, looks more like a cop out.

Heidi Baker says that love must look like something, and it is in the parable of the Good Samaritan that I have found a clue. We all know the story. Jesus said that the love of God and of our neighbour are the two most important commandments, but the questioner wanted to know more. What I had missed was that Jesus was not just describing our neighbour. I doubt very much if the Samaritan had much affection for the Jew by the side of the road. They were historic enemies, yet the Samaritan chose to show kindness, loving his enemy in fact. What Jesus not only defined our neighbour, he also showed us what love looks like.

So, love is kind. We’ve all heard that before. Yet, 1 Corinthians 13 always seemed to be something for weddings, an ideal that a young couple might achieve with each other, or maybe even how we might be when the Spirit has finished working on us. But in the gospels, this does not seem to be what Jesus is saying. He too seems to be saying that love looks like something, and not just in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and not just at weddings, but as a consistent message. Love looks like something, and it looks like something I can make choices over, and something that Paul captured rather well:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

These are choices that require my involvement. I need to ask myself: “What does love look like in this situation”? In fairness, a lot of the time it may not change anything. Sometimes, the difference is made just by asking the question, making me more inclined to patience and kindness. But it often makes a difference, even if only small. To be honest, I still don’t know what I would do if I saw a wounded Jew by the side of the road, let alone a homeless drunk. I am grateful that God knows my limits, but I look forward to growing into his, even if, right now, I find the thought of what it could mean rather scary.