Crumbs

I have been thinking about names recently. Mine means brave and strong. The last things I feel myself to be. But I don’t think I got my name by accident and so, in the spirit of faith, I claim those qualities, even if I can’t yet see them. In any case, Jesus is both brave and strong. And he lives here, at this dubious address, in this over-sugared, under-exercised body, if the Book is to be believed. And if my experience of company in solitude, presence in silence and audience to my thoughts holds any weight.

It is too late now to retreat into familiar hiding places. In Finding Nemo, the daddy fish Marlin is in the habit of making a number of exits and returns to his anemone each morning, before plunging out into the world. I’m out past my comfort zone now but I don’t know the way back. It’s barred to me. I can’t go back to the home I remember because it’s not there.

Sometimes I look to where we used to be and imagine us all there again. But that is impossible. Like the river flowing past, the water is constantly changing. In the old neighbourhood, buildings are pulled down and new ones are built, the single marry or move away, children grow and leave. It all changes. So this desire for home is for a snapshot in time, or a series of them I have plated into a pretty meal to feast on at moments like this.

Thankfully God tells us in his word not to replay former things and look to the future. He calls us forward, out of our inclination to circle back to what was. New memories to make, new adventures to be had. Thankfully Jesus is here with me, quietly encouraging me, lending weight to the flimsy words I dare to speak on his behalf.

A woman asks me how she can keep going to church and Bible study when she, despite being a Christian, knows she still sins. Surely God’s holiness and purity make it impossible for her to access the great love she keeps hearing about. Surely, she thinks, she’s still too wrong to qualify for it.

I take a deep breath before answering.

When I realised I have talked continuously for about four minutes I stop and check that the line hasn’t gone dead. You still there? I’m sorry I just got carried away, I say.

No, no, it’s wonderful. Just wonderful. I can hardly believe that he loves me like that, she says. Go on.

So I do. And again, after I have talked for a good while without pause, I check in with her. I can hear the relief in her voice.

And I am blessed. Why? Because earlier this morning I asked God for an opportunity to explain the hope I have in me. Because I have avoided this for so long I don’t know how to do it.

But after talking to this woman I realise I just have to express what I understand. No more, no less. No big theological concepts, just what I understand. In Bee Movie (just humour me, I have little kids), Barry gives his friend Adam a piece of cake crumb from his new human friend. That’s what they eat? Adam asks, blown away by the taste. No, Barry says, that’s what falls off what they eat.

My point? What we believers have in the word of God is so amazing, so excellent and powerful that even the tiny crumb we offer in our slightly chaotic way is powerful and satisfying.

So let’s use what we’ve got and see what God does. The harvest is great but the workers are few.

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Just passing through

Followers of Jesus belong in two places at once: in the world as a kind of temporary resident and in the kingdom of heaven as a permanent citizen, currently away from home on an extended visit. This is confusing for me because at times the place I’m visiting feels more like home than the one I belong to. I recognise the ordinary patterns of the way people live, everyday good and bad behaviours, some informed by religious beliefs or morals and others just by what feels good or right at any given time. What I don’t recognise, and need to learn, is the ordinary patterns of the kingdom of heaven, which, to paraphrase Dallas Willard, is the place where God is fully in charge.

My dad the Jim Reeves fan used to regularly blast this one through the house on a Sunday

‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through

My treasure’s all laid up somewhere beyond the blue

The angels beckon me through heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home in this world any more…’

Brutalities like the assassination of cartoonists in Paris or the Sydney hostage-taking or the kidnapping and recruitment of schoolgirls in Nigeria (sadly, the list trails back as far as the eye can see), evoke a similar ‘please just get me out of here’ response. These are ways of being which I don’t recognise or want to admit into the normal pattern of the world I inhabit. They make me long for escape. But that’s not an option. Christians live and die alongside Muslims and those of other faiths and none in these times of international or personal tragedy. Much as I would love God to give me a get-out-of-trouble card which would annul life’s adversity, I know that the strongest witnesses of God’s love in the world have lived sacrificial lives within society, not outside it.

Perhaps the sacrifice God calls us to is to be the slightly odd person in your circle who believes in God and the claims of Jesus, the one who has quaint ideas and isn’t always taken too seriously. For some of us sensitive (and vain) types that’s a hard pill to swallow, along with the willingness not to have the clever answer but to treat people consistently in a loving, compassionate and respectful way, regardless of how they treat you or what they think about you. It is also being willing to hold onto that faith when life seems to be falling apart around you, whether through personal tragedy or events that make the news.

While I’m fretting about the lack of the spectacular in my life, I can forget that the mundane is equally powerful. The consistent witness of everyday faithfulness that God requires over years and sometimes decades, is noticed by our neighbours, friends and acquaintances. That kind of stamina is simply impossible unless I bring my life to God in good times and bad and sometimes in boring detail, sharing my failures and triumphs with him, letting him tend my wounds and celebrate my victories. He is my source, my hope, my encourager, my guide. I am refreshed and affirmed by a different set of standards than those of the world. Love, not power, service not prestige. I hope to show, on my better days at least, that I may live here but I belong elsewhere.