Think bigger!

I opened Acts chapter 26 at a very timely moment.

Last time I posted, I wrote about the current international situation, which is so very distressing and frustrating as we watch innocent people suffer. Faced with this, it can be hard to believe in a good God.

Acts 26 gave me a bit of a jolt though. This chapter sees the apostle Paul on trial before the first-century Judean king, Agrippa. Serious charges had been levelled against Paul because he had been claiming that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the son of God. Paul’s fellow Jews had plotted to kill him because of these claims. Prior to making his case to Agrippa, Paul had spent time in prison and appeared on trial before local Roman governors. Not an easy time for Paul!

In his defence speech to Agrippa, Paul describes how he himself used to oppose Jesus’ name, imprisoning Christians when he was a Pharisee. He tells Agrippa how he then met with Jesus whilst travelling to Damascus. He finishes by saying, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). In other words, trustworthy historical documents (now known as ‘The Old Testament’) did promise that God would do something to rescue us from darkness. His suffering on the cross and his subsequent resurrection (documented in the ‘New Testament’) bear the promise out. But what really grabbed me was the local governor Festus’ interruption of Paul’s defence at this point: “You are out of your mind, Paul!” [Festus] shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

And a voice in my head murmured, ‘That’s me’.

I make God smaller

When I hear about or experience things that distress me, I’m tempted to reduce my view of God. If God doesn’t seem to be intervening in the way we want, we sometimes say that it’s because he’s just not big enough to cover the problem in question. Festus, Paul’s persecutors, and Paul himself before his Damascene conversion, may have felt like this. Felt that the idea of a Nazarene carpenter being God was insane. Stretching belief too far. Too big.

But how does the Bible portray God?

If we start at the beginning of the Bible, we read of God creating everything we see (and don’t see). Pretty big! After humans have turned away from God, we see God reveal more of his might throughout the events of the Old Testament. At the same time, Old Testament prophets speak of the coming Messiah who will save us. The Jesus of the New Testament changes lives – he has the power to turn water into wine, make the blind see, feed five thousand people with a little boy’s pack-up, and even raise the dead. (Which does sound incredible, but as Paul says to Agrippa and the others in the court, in view of the Old Testament prophecies, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” – Acts 26:8). Jesus’ earthly ministry constantly reveals a God who actually does care about us, who does desire to free us from suffering. And finally, his death on a cross, a cross he would have been powerful enough to get down from had he chosen to. People die horrible deaths all the time, don’t they, but this death was different. It defeated death on our behalf. The resurrection is the Bible’s central miracle, its ultimate sign, assuring us of our salvation and convincing us that we are loved. No matter how big the horrors we see in the world, love is bigger.

I am fastidious and like to fit things into boxes. My son’s first word was ‘tidy’! Just like I bossily coach him to put his toys away, I want to fit God into my own mind, my own experience, my own world. But that’s where I miss the point – if God was small enough to fit into our little human minds, he wouldn’t be worth believing in! The world as we know it is finite and won’t be around forever. The Bible tells us that God’s kingdom will endure forever – so perhaps we need to start thinking bigger. The long-suffering Paul summed it up when he told the Corinthian church (quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah), “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived — the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Why not test this? Go with God, talk to him and see what happens. Not necessarily about something small – although, just as nothing’s too big, nothing’s too trivial either! Perhaps you could chat to him about something massive and difficult though. Be expectant about what might happen. Instead of making God smaller, let’s expand our view of him. Think bigger!

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

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House

Hello! Welcome to our house. It’s situated on a terraced street just outside the historic city of York. It’s a Victorian two-up two-down with a loft conversion. There’s a small courtyard to the rear. We like the period charm more than we like the damp. We’ve lived here for four years and are very fond of the house and the neighbourhood.

We’ve made a number of improvements to the house since moving in, and have also done some thinking about the future – when and if to make further changes, to move or not to move. Proximity to Freddie’s school and, well, money(!) will keep us here for another few years at least. But the world does tell us to keep striving for bigger and better things, doesn’t it?

Home

I first drafted this blog post some time ago – I was going to entitle it ‘Dual citizenship’ and write about how this house is not actually my home at all, for my true citizenship is in heaven. I was going to write about how I can use this resource God has given me (the house) for his glory until he calls me to a) another part of York/the UK/the world, or b) ‘home’ to be with him. Perhaps I will write that post at some point as I think it would be interesting to write and hopefully to read!

When I read through the draft this morning though, it didn’t feel quite right. I began to write the post and the words seemed to be stuck. They were valid words, rooted in scripture, but I felt there was something else to say right now. Recent international events have caused me to think quite a lot about my earthly ‘home’ – and all I can really say today is how grateful I am that I have one. If you do too, then that’s wonderful, and I hope you don’t feel guilty about having it. You’re a human being.

So I leave you instead with two things. Firstly, some words of Jesus  that have the power to set our suffering neighbours – and us, who turn our backs on them – free. And secondly, these prayer slides produced by the excellent relief organisation Tearfund. If, like me, you’ve rather lost your voice, they might prompt you to speak again, speaking for those who seem to go unheard.

After all, if it was me who had fled my home, my son slipping out of my arms into the water, I’d want the family with the nice house to share their blessings with me. Wouldn’t you?