This morning, I was reading a story of one of the Desert Fathers, Abba Antony.

There was once a hunter who was travelling through the desert and he saw Abba Antony relaxing, laughing and joking with the brothers.  The hunter was shocked.  Abba Antony was an important Holy Man and it was inconceivable that he should behave in such a manner.

The hunter approached Abba Anthony and asked him why he was doing this, should he not act with more decorum, behave in a way that fitted his status?

Abba Antony asked the hunter to put an arrow in his bow and shoot it.  The hunter did as Abba Antony asked.  Again, Abba Antony asked the hunter to put an arrow in his bow and shoot it.  The hunter, again, followed Abba Antony’s instruction.  Over and over again Abba Antony got the hunter to repeat the action.

After some time of shooting arrows, the hunter cried out to Abba Antony “I cannot shoot anymore, my bow is stretching if I do it again, the bow will break!”  Abba Antony replied “precisely, the bow needs to be rested or it will break”

That story really spoke to me this morning because, I am feeling really tired.  I had a long day yesterday. I drove a very long distance and I am feeling pretty jaded this morning.

At first reading, that story reminded me of the necessity of rest and the importance of it.  But, I also have to accept, that there are times when rest is just not possible.  Commitments and responsibilities mean that I cannot always stop.  Sadly, every so often, the bow breaks.

One of the things that I notice about myself, when the bow breaks, is that my emotions are all over the place.  Some feelings that are buried deeply within, seem to make an unwelcome appearance into my daily life.   

I find myself snapping at people as anger or impatience surfaces.

I feel wounded as pride makes an appearance

I feel guilty as I am aware of my inadequacies.

It was into these emotions that I read a passage in Marks Gospel this morning where Jesus asks His disciples if they would hide a lamp under a bowl or put it on a stand?  I have always read these verses as Jesus saying that our faith is something that needs to be “in the open.” We should not hide our faith. (guilt nudges, yet again, because all I want to do is go back to bed) (inadequacy nudges, yet again, because who would really want a faith like mine?)

I felt, as though, God was underlining some words of Jesus to me;

For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.

(Mark 4 vs. 22)

Sometimes, it takes our brokenness to bring out those things that are hidden.  It is not so much the fact that we are broken (we are all broken in different ways), it is what we do with that brokenness that really matters.

So, why would God want to expose whatever is hidden and concealed deep down within me or, for that matter, in you?

As I thought about this passage and these words, I began to realise that not only is it talking about sharing faith it is, also, about how faith affects and shapes us.  God is not in the business of condemning us (Romans 8 vs. 1) but, He is in the business of healing us.

If we bring our brokenness before Him, the gentle glowing of the light of the love of Christ can bring healing even to the deepest, darkest places of our hearts.

No Win Situation

It was the perfect moment.

There, in front of the whole Synagogue, Jesus was in a no win situation.  If He healed the man with the withered hand, He was breaking the law.  If He ignored Him, then He did not care about the “rabble” that were beginning to follow Him.

Whether the Pharisees had set this encounter up or, whether they had just seized upon an opportunity that had presented itself, we cannot know from the account in Mark’s Gospel.  But, there were some things that really grabbed my attention, as I looked at Mark 3 vs. 1 – 6 in my time with God today.

Firstly, the way in which Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees;

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

(Mark 3 vs. 4)

The reason why the Pharisees remained silent is because their theology, their understanding of God, was too narrow.  When something came along that did not perfectly fit their mould, they were not able to respond in a way that bore witness to the truth of God.

One of the great dangers that we all face is that we can end up “making God in our own image”.  Then we struggle when something comes along that we cannot compute.  Perhaps we need to come back to the simple truth that God is far bigger, more gracious, more loving than we can begin grasp with our finite minds. I read something that came from Mother Theresa that said;

“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

(Mother Theresa)

I think it is a mistake to assume that each person that we come across, each idea that crosses our horizon is of God.  However, what these words mean to me is that, in some way, God is revealed through different people and different ideas.  What we must do is look for that which is of God, To do that, as Mother Theresa says, our love for Jesus and seeking His ways and righteousness must be at the heart of all we are and do.

That’s why verse 5 jumped out at me;

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

(Mark 3 vs. 5)

I was troubled by the phrase “looked at them in anger and, deeply distressed”. I reflected on why these words troubled me. I began to think it is one thing to know the law, it is something quite different to know the one who gave the law.  When you know the law giver, you can appreciate the heart, the intention, that lays behind it.

Jesus knew that one of the qualities of His Father is compassion.  So, in that compassion He reaches out to the man and heals Him.  The Pharisees plot to get rid of Jesus because they do not know the compassion of God.

A few years back there were some bands doing the rounds that had the letter “WWJD” on them.  They stood for What Would Jesus Do.  The idea was that people were reminded to ask themselves in any situation “what would Jesus do about this?”.

Perhaps, we need some that say “ITMFH”.  Is This My Father’s Heart.

Today will you ask yourself ITMFH as you meet others, hear stories and face the questions that this world throws in your direction?

Grey Area

Have you ever read a Bible passage that just doesn’t make sense to you?

That is what happened to me this morning. I was reading a passage where Jesus appears to break the rules. As He does so, the Pharisees challenge Him about breaking God’s laws. If you want to read the passage for yourself, you can it’s in Mark 2 vs. 23 – 28.

At first glance, I thought this was the perfect passage for me.

These past few weeks have been incredibly busy for me. On top of my “normal” pastoral work, there have been family issues, a conference as well as other calls on my time and energy. I had reached the point where I was physically tired and I was feeling emotionally and spiritually drained.

When I get like that, I find it hard to connect with God. My times of prayer are a chore. My reading of the Bible feels like I am wading through treacle. God feels distant.

Of course, I know the answer to my tiredness is Sabbath. An opportunity to rest, and recharge the batteries. A time to breathe and take a breather. A time to seek God in the midst of it all. I rejoiced as I read Jesus words;

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2 vs. 27)

So, I spent some time dwelling in this passage. I read and re-read it. But, as I did so, I found myself questioning Jesus on His rule breaking. The more time I spent in it, the more I could see the Pharisees had a point!

Without rules, chaos ensues. Rules are rules and they are to be respected. The law is the law, break it and there are consequences. Rules give you clear expectations, boundaries. In this situation, there is a clear line and Jesus would have known what it was. As Harry Day once observed;

Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.
(Harry Day)

So, why does Jesus advocate law breaking?

Of course, Jesus doesn’t. It was not a clear cut situation. What Jesus observes is that the Pharisees had turned the law into something it wasn’t. They had added rules upon rules, and demands upon demands and the law had become clear cut. They failed to realise that life has its grey areas. Not everything neatly fits into our little boxes. As realisation began to dawn upon me I felt that God was saying

There is grace in the grey!

I sometimes find myself worrying about the decisions I make. I find myself asking “am I really doing what God wants?” Is this really what God is calling me to do? How do I know if this really God’s will?

Sometimes life is clear cut and decisions are straightforward. More often it is not. Instead of getting worked up, I have started to look for the grace in the grey.