Mastered

“Now I know my ‘ABCs’ tell me what you think of me!”. I was three when I mastered the alphabet. I was so pleased with myself, and yet there was so much more to learn. Those twenty-six letters are the sole building blocks for the English language, but I was to learn that they could be grouped in myriad of ways and that those grouping of letters (words) could be arranged in an even greater variety of ways. My rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet was not exceeded by William Shakespeare himself, but he could arrange those same twenty-six letters in ways that captured imaginations, told epic tales, made us laugh or cry at his whim, and generally thrilled readers.

At the same age I attained yet another academic feat. I learned to count to ten. I learned these numbers and could count my chubby wee fingers. These ten numbers make up the whole of our system of mathematics and I had mastered them by the age of four! My rudimentary knowledge of these ten numbers was not exceeded by Albert Einstein himself, yet he used them in groups and pattern, inexplicable to me, to create his ‘Theory of Relativity. He used numbers imaginatively and creatively and his brilliance with those ten numbers is held in awe to this day.

I was a bit older when I learned the musical scale. These notes make up all of the music we enjoy and at an early age I was taught them. Wolfgang Mozart used those same notes in an intricate creative way to compose some of the most complex and beautiful music ear has ever heard. He took my rudimentary knowledge to heights of genius unsurpassed before or since.

At an early age I learned my colours. (Are you catching a pattern here?) I could name all the colours of the rainbow and my Crayola pack. I was a master of colour. Vincent Van Gogh had no more colours than I when He painted the starry night sky or irises, yet still today his works of brilliance inspire and amaze!

I am glad that I was taught the rudiments of: the alphabet, numbers, musical notes, and colour but I have come to learn that none of these are ever truly ‘mastered’. This kind of knowledge is not a world to be conquered but a ladder to be climbed. Each rung is an achievement and another one lays ahead.

All of this occurred to me this week as I was reading the Beatitudes. My Grandmother gave me my first Bible and on the fly leaf was beautifully scrolled rendition of the Beatitudes. I memorised them shortly after, because they must be most important, to hold such a prominent place. Soon I had mastered them! I was treating them as a world to be conquered. Now I realise that like the alphabet, numbers, musical notes and colours, the Beatitudes are a ladder I can climb. As I progress in learning and creatively living these out in my life, another rung lays in front of me.

Too often we Christians can feel like we have mastered the Word of God. We may be able to name the books in order and know New from Old but this rudimentary knowledge, though important, ought not to be the end. Rudimentary knowledge is but a means and no end. It is meant to become a tool in our hands as we get on with the great goal of life.

Paul articulates this great goal of life in Philippians 3:10 “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in his death if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Knowing Christ is the goal. The Beatitudes are like the rest of the Bible a means or rung by which we may attain. Knowing Jesus is very different from knowing of him just as knowing the alphabet falls short of great literature.

I have been spurred by these thoughts to a renewed commitment to ‘knowing’ Jesus in a deeper and deeper way. Rather than mastering a subject I would rather resemble the Master

The Highly Resistible Church

Jesus seemed to be pretty well liked. The crowds were drawn to him. The sick and the sinner alike flocked to him. The only ones who did not ‘take a shine’ to him were those of the “temple” and the “empire”. The religious world had a vested interest in the status quo. The ruling powers of the world did not want their ‘apple cart’ upset.

The early church was much the same. Daily it grew, as the Lord added to its numbers, but there was opposition. Those of the ‘temple’ and the ‘empire’ resisted. Despite such opposition the Church grew from a handful to an ever-increasing movement! In the face of hostility from the two most powerful forces of the day irresistibly the church thrived.

As I reread the above paragraphs I am struck with the question, “What in the world happened?”. In a day when the powers of ‘empire’ do not persecute the church. I say this despite the oft heard whining of people about “cancel culture” and other attacks on long-held values. Comparing these experiences to the out and out opposition of the empire of old is beneath us! The religious world in the west (the temple) is dominated by the church. In such friendly circumstances rather than thriving the church is withering.

This withering may be the result of a most tenuous relationship with “the Vine”. Where Jesus (the True Vine) identified with the least and the lost, and resisted temporal means to accomplish spiritual ends. The temptations in the wilderness are a testament to this. The church like Judah before exile is looking to make an alliance with Egypt. The Church has become so cosey with the empire in the west that we have adopted the world’s values and the world’s methods.

Jesus was well-liked and his Body is disliked or seen as irrelevant. This is the saddest of all ironies! The way back is a radical realignment of our allegiances. We can not give first place to the ‘empire’, nor to the ‘temple’. The first Commandment is still in force. “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” If power, either religious or secular society is our prime focus we will remain unattractive to the least and the lost. But as we regain vigour through our radical identification and emulation of Jesus, we may again become the irresistible Church of the first few centuries.

Lately things have begun to move with our Threshold House project. Out of the blue I got a call from a gentleman who is in leadership with a large local ‘Celebrate recovery’ program, and he would like to volunteer with us. Another leader of a ‘Celebrate Recovery’ group from the inner-city called and we met for coffee to plan ways we might work together. I am meeting Monday with another person who may be a key piece of our project going forward. Expenses are about to escalate significantly but God is supplying, through the generosity of his saints.

Next month we are holding a barbecue on the grounds of Threshold House. An area-wide youth outreach program will be helping with this venture. Our hope is this will bring energy and awareness of of our mission.

God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!