getting rid of the goat

pexels-photo-58914.jpeg

A fragment of papyrus has recently been found in the Sinai Desert. It appears to be part of a Hebrew Priest’s diary…

Day 3874 Still not made it to the Promised Land. Moses has told us that God has given us a new way of dealing with our sin: a Scapegoat. After he’d made himself pure Aaron placed his hands on a goat’s head and confessed all our sin, transferring it to the goat. The goat was then sent off into the wilderness as an atonement sacrifice and we were back in favour with God. Good news.

Day 3875 Still not made it to the Promised Land. Rather alarmingly the goat came back to the camp during the night. Clearly it was hungry and thirsty and as we’d looked after it all its life it decided that being with us was better than the wilderness. Aaron was not sure what to do as God didn’t give him any instructions for what to do if the scapegoat came back. He commissioned me to drive the goat away again so I shooed it far away.

Day 3876 Still not made it to the Promised Land. That pesky goat came back during the night again. I was rather relieved that Aaron didn’t notice so this time I took it a long way away from the camp and tied it to a bush. Glad to have got away with that one.

Day 3877 Still not made it to the Promised Land. Guess what. The goat came back again last night, dragging a half-eaten bush behind it. It must be part homing-pigeon as it keeps coming back home. This time I took it off to the middle of the wilderness and tied it to a rock. I made the mistake of looking it in the eyes as I left – I feel really sorry for it.

Day 3878 Still not made it to the Promised Land. Unbelievably the goat came back again last night. It chewed its way through the rope. I think we have bonded so I have decided to keep it. I will hide it in my tent and try to disguise it so that Aaron doesn’t find out. If anyone asks me about the bleating sounds and I will tell them that I have allergy issues that are making me sneeze.

[The next part of the parchment is missing and looks like it has been chewed by a goat]

Day 3891 Still not made it to the Promised Land. Scapey (the goat) has been chewing everything in my tent. It’s becoming really difficult to keep him hidden and he won’t stop bleating, even when I’m not in the tent. I find it difficult to do my priestly duties while hiding my guilty secret. Every time I see Aaron I can feel my face reddening and I am sure he suspects something. Got to stop writing now as someone is coming.

[The fragment of parchment ends here].

I wrote this parable following my morning bible study on the subject of ‘scapegoat’ from Leviticus. I wondered why the goats didn’t come back to the place where they were fed and given water, and what would happen if they did… the rest is in my imagination! It’s a parable we have shared with our churches to help them think missionally, but it also made me reflect personally…

  • The idea of a scapegoat is one with which many people (especially Christians are familiar). The Bible says that the scapegoat atonement has now been fulfilled in Jesus. Why do you think God wanted the scapegoat to take the sin away into the wilderness?
  • What could the priest have done differently? Why do you think he decided to try to deal with the goat on his own?When we confess to God what we need to be forgiven do we do so with the hope that we will be set free from them or are we just glad that we can be continually forgiven as we continue to do the same things?
  • How often do we seek forgiveness for our sins and then find that they have made their way back into our life? Is there an alternative to trying to deal with them on our own? Do we sometimes try to keep them secret instead of dealing with them?How does our attitude to forgiveness, failure and finding freedom affect our participation in God’s mission?
  • New Christians often make the most enthusiastic evangelists. Is it time for us to seek to rediscover the joy of our salvation?

Be blessed, be a blessing

a tale of two statues

jesus wept

This statue is ambiguous. It’s a statue of Jesus. Thanks to angalmond’s comment on this bloggage I now know that it represents Jesus weeping and is in St Joseph Old Cathedral in Oklahoma City. It is opposite the Oklahoma City National Memorial and is a response to the bomb that killed and injured hundreds of people in 1995.

But to me it also looks like Jesus is doing a face-plant of incredulity. Both seem to be fair responses to my flawed attempts at being a follower of his. The Bible makes it clear that our actions affect God: we can cause him to experience sorrow.

I believe that when I get things wrong it doesn’t just affect me and those I love, it also creates a fracture in my relationship with God. It causes God distress. Jesus weeps because of it. I believe that there are times too when Jesus must do a metaphorical (or maybe literal) face-plant with some of the things I get wrong: responding like Homer Simpson: “D’oh!” or Victor Meldrew: “I don’t believe it!” (sorry if these culturally bound references don’t make sense to you).

Now, let’s be serious for a moment because I am not trying to trivialise this and I am sorry if you feel I have. The stuff that we call ‘sin’ is awful and has at its root a selfishness that elevates ourselves, our wants and our ambitions above those of God. It’s a subversive act that is a reversal of the true order of things. Whatever you think about the Garden of Eden narrative with Adam, Eve, a serpent and an apple* at its heart is the heart of the problem for each of us… it’s our story too – we displace God.

If I asked you to name the Ten Commandments I wonder how many you would get…

Adultery, murder, lying, theft… yes they are all in there.

Coveting, honouring parents.. yes there’s something about that too.

Keeping the Sabbath (ie resting once a week) is in there.

and then there are the ones about not making idols, not dishonouring God and having no other Gods.

If you analyse them they are all about putting ‘me’ before others and before God. I have boldified the first person in my explanations below to try to illustrate the point I made earlier:

Adultery is about satisfying my desires rather than honouring my commitments

Murder is saying my life is more important than someone else’s

Lying is based on the assumption that truth is less important than the reason why I lied

I steal because I want something that someone else has

Coveting (envy in action) happens because I am dissatisfied with what I have

Dishonouring parents happens when consider myself more important than them

Not keeping a Sabbath is saying that know better than my Creator about what my body and mind needs

Making idols is an act of rebellion against God to give myself or something else credit that is due to God and saying that in my opinion something or someone is worth more than him

Dishonouring God is more than being disrespectful, it’s a statement that don’t consider his reputation or character to be worth anything and by extension consider that my opinion of him is the one that matters

More often than not the breach of the ‘no other gods’ is because have put myself in that place – am in charge of my life thank you very much: an expression of the ‘I know better than God’ syndrome

So, if the Top Ten can be expressed in this way I reckon all other things that are sins have the same root: the first person singular. Me, myself, I…

Sin causes such sorrow to God because it’s a distortion and subversion of the way things should be – the optimal way in which he created things (and what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have redeemed) which is us in a relationship with him. It’s a denial of the relationship between me and him – the thing that he prizes more than anything else in Creation. And astonishingly we find through Jesus and his teaching that if we seek a ‘You’ relationship with God where we put him first he responds by making it an ‘us’ relationship with him.

So does Jesus weep and face-plant? Maybe not literally (or maybe so) but I can certainly create that response in him. But unlike the statue that represents that effect it doesn’t need to be the end of the story. Although statues remain static and unchanging the Good News is that we have another statue (Christ the Redeemer in Rio di Janeiro) that represents the open arms of God that long to embrace us when we return to him and reminds us of the extent of the love and what he did to restore the relationship that we have sullied. If we recognise that we have caused the first statue he offers to replace it in our relationship with the second one if that is what we want.

jesus

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, I know that it’s not specified as an apple

what God has got wrong

I think God has got something wrong. Before I go any further I should warn you that this bloggage could be interrupted by a bolt of lightning as I explain my heresy, so if there is an unanticipated interruption you will know what has happened.

So, gulp, here goes.

I think that God has got this whole ‘grace’ thing wrong. I mean, it’s just too easy isn’t it? If / when we stuff things up / make a mistake / fall from grace / backslide / stumble* (*or insert whatever euphemism for ‘sin’ you like) all we have to do is go back to God, say “sorry” (and mean it) and ask for forgiveness and a fresh start.

And he does it!

Every time!

And there is no cost on our part. Because of Jesus’ death he’s done it all.

And that’s his mistake I think he has made it too easy. If we had to do something, anything,  to earn our forgiveness I think we would take it a bit more seriously, wouldn’t we? What if we had to pay a penance in order to seal the deal, or even just to show him how really sorry we are? What if we had to do something positive or we had to suffer something bad to redress the karmic balance of the Universe? That would be fair, and it might make us think twice before we fell off the wagon* (*or insert whatever euphemism for ‘sin’ you like – in fact do that every time you see a *).

Because he’s done all of the hard work to achieve our forgiveness, because his grace is so lavish and generous, we take it for granted like a spoilt child who knows that if they get into debt millionaire daddy’s credit card will always come to the rescue and get them out of troub…

lightning

Zzzzaaapow!

Fsszt!

Actually, that’s a bit more like it, isn’t it? Isn’t it easier for us if God is sitting at his computer with his finger poised over the ‘smite’ key when we get things wrong? At least that way we know we will get our just desserts. And that might make us pause a bit longer and perhaps think before our next moral failure*.

So, and I may be being a bit presumptuous here, hasn’t God got it wrong with this grace, unlimited forgiveness, limitless love thing? Hasn’t he heard of ‘tough love’ or ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’?

At this point some of you may be expecting me to stop the rant and say something that turns it all on its head. But I am not going to. Because God has got this wrong. It’s too easy. It’s unfair. None of the other religions in the world make it this easy, do they? They have lots of penance, sacrifice, karmic retribution and good works to balance out the scales and make it more likely that we will be accepted into heaven / reincarnate as a better being / achieve Nirvana (or whatever they say happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil). At least with them we have something to do. At least we can contribute to our own redemption.

And that’s the crazy thing about this little thing called ‘love’. God loved the world (aka you and me) so much that he gave… Jesus’ death has not so much improved things for us on the balance of probabilities, he has blazed the trail and made our forgiveness, restoration and acceptance by God a nailed on certainty (literally!). Perhaps it’s not so much that God has made it too easy. Perhaps it’s more that without Jesus it’s too hard for us. We can’t do enough to absolve ourselves of our slip ups*, That would be like being a billion pounds in debt and going to the bank with your piggy bank and asking if they will take that instead, or perhaps even asking if you can write them a cheque from that account.

And when we realise that while it’s easy for us it was not easy for Jesus, when we grasp the extent of God’s love, when we sense how seriously he takes our lapses in judgement* and the lengths he has gone to in order to deal with them, then perhaps we look at things from a different perspective.

Then grace does not look so cheap. Then our blunders* become less trivial. Then we realise that it’s easy for us because God loves us. Then we recognise that God has accepted the inequity of the situation. Then we understand that to trivialise and take forgiveness and grace for granted is probably more to do with our own self-centredness*. Then we understand that the attitude with which I began this bloggage is to do with my own ability to trivialise the significance of what I say / do / think and an unwillingness to think about the bigger picture. Then we start “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

That is the sort of thing that can drive you to your knees.

Which is a good place to start again.

Be blessed, be a blessing

new use

2015-02-06 17.55.43What are you supposed to do with your son’s bedroom while he is away at University? Do you leave it just as it was when he left, like some sort of shrine – unwilling to change anything so it is just as he left it when he returns; or afraid to change things in case that discourages him from returning? To do so honours his memory and that he is part of the family.

But it also means that there is wasted space in the house.

I know of one family where the moment the older sibling went away to University the younger sibling slept in his room on the first night to preserve his memory and liked the room so much that the next day they moved into his room and ‘evicted’ him. Good use of space, but how did the older sibling feel about ‘his space’ having been invaded by his sister? Did he feel unwanted?

I think I have come up with a compromise. This photo is of our son’s bedroom. He does not normally have a golf putting mat in his bedroom but while he is away I feel it is making good use of the space to turn his bedroom into a putting room. It means that I don’t have to keep getting the putting mat out and putting (that’s ‘put’ as in ‘foot’ not as in ‘but’) it away each time. It means that I can have a quick putt ‘en passant’ on the basis that little and often is better than long and infrequent. And it can be put away for his return or if we have guests who need to be accommodated.

It’s temporary.

I wonder if that’s how many Christians treat church on Sunday? On Sunday we change our behaviour, we do things differently, we allow God to fill us and make resolutions about how we will be different this week. But it’s temporary. It’s not long before we make way for old habits* to return, or indeed invite new ones in. And then next time we go to church we start all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not seek to change and to get rid of old habits and I am not saying that resolve on Sunday does not make a difference. But going to church is not meant to be the equivalent of a weekly detox that allows us to indulge for the rest of the week.

Christians are under new management. Compromise is not a part of the new arrangement. Someone has moved in and ‘evicted’ the old occupant. Sunday is when we reaffirm our commitment to these new occupancy arrangements, when we may need to do a bit of tidying up, when we hear about his plans for the use of the room, and when we express how we feel about this.

The dissonance within us occurs when we fail completely to evict the old tenant – the two are not good roommates. It occurs when we forget the new occupant is there. It happens when we go back to the old habits.It is the result of compromise.

I heard recently that research has shown that the way to overcome old habits* and establish new patterns of behaviour is to have a conscious plan, to focus daily on the new ambition and targets, to put obstacles in the way of the old habits you want to break, and reward yourself when you are doing well rather than beating yourself up if you fail.

Hmmm, sounds familiar: daily prayer and bible reading has been a pattern for Christians throughout history. And now we know why it works!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*if you prefer ‘biblical’ language, call it ‘sin’

of smoking, stinking, shaking and spiders

smokeWe had a bit of a mishap yesterday.

(By way of an aside, doesn’t mishap look like it is spelt wrongly? It looks like mi-shap not mis-hap. But I digress. Come to think of it, digress looks more like dig-ress than di-gress…)

Anyhoo, back to the mishap (still looks like it’s spelt incorrectly). A saucepan of water in which we were boiling potatoes accidentally boiled dry and created quite a lot of acrid smoke. The smoke detectors detected it and screamed as loud as they could about it, but the smoke still got everywhere before we could react. And the smell is lingering. It seems to have worked its way into everything.

So I have discovered a lot about odour elimination from t’internet. They seem to come down to two different approaches. One is to replace the smell with a more pleasant one and the other is to seek to absorb the odour. Masking the odour is only a short term solution. Once the pleasant-smelling mask has wafted away the unpleasant odour will still be there. It seems that there is no short cut solution – I have had to do a lot of shaking and vacking (not singing the song) to put an odour absorber into the carpet before sucking it and the powder into the push and vac (aka vacuum cleaner). I have sprayed odour absorbing spray on the curtains and cleaned surfaces with appropriate odour reducing cleaner. I have also lit candles that have a pleasant fragrance which overcomes the stinky smoky smell. I have discovered (thankfully in time) that there is a significant difference between ‘white vinegar’ and ‘distilled (malt) vinegar’. And I hope that soon the smoky smell will have vanished.

As I was shaking and vacking (still not singing the song) I got to reflecting on how this is almost a parable for how we treat the things in our life that are spiritually unhealthy (aka ‘sin’). Sometimes we might try to mask them by covering our tracks and hoping nobody finds out. Sometimes we might even try to overcome the stench with pleasant-smelling good deeds. But the problem will still be there.

The stink of sin has to be absorbed and we have to be deep cleaned and there’s only one way of sorting that out – which is where Jesus enters the story naked and crying (before being wrapped in blankets and laid in a cattle feeding trough) and heads towards the moment where he is naked and crying out in abandonment as he is brutally executed on our behalf.

But that does not mean that we can sit back and do nothing. We have to seek that deep cleansing, and if we are sensible will seek the help of God’s Spirit to enable us to change our habits and attitudes so that we are less prone to giving in to temptation. We will also need to be involved in some cleaning up of our own if our mess has affected others.

So, the parable of the smoke ends. Except that as I was cleaning a wall I noticed that a spider had been busy building a web and it reminded me of an apposite tale with which to conclude:

A lady was a regular attender at the church prayer meeting and each time she would pray a similar prayer including a request that Jesus would “clear out the cobwebs from our lives.” Eventually the Minister could no longer resist and she blurted out, “No Jesus, don’t do it! Just kill the spider!”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth

Today I say goodbye to an old friend. They have been a part of my life since my childhood and for the most part they have been a blessing. They have shared mealtimes with me, they have even been there when I have needed to grit my teeth. But recently I have been fed up to the back teeth with them. Or, more precisely, with it.

Today I will have a troublesome back tooth extracted. It was damaged years ago by an impacted wisdom tooth and has been persevering since then, aided by dentists, until it has reached a point where it is no longer viable. In fact it is a liability. Cold food in particular sends an electric shock of pain shooting out of the tooth. It needs to come out.

As I wait for to go to the dentist it strikes me that all of us have habits, behaviour and (to use the Biblical word) sins that need to be extracted. We can leave them there but they will simply cause us problems and pain – and perhaps cause others around us pain too. Thankfully God’s Spirit is gentler than a dentist and doesn’t use sedatives. But we have to want him to help us, and we have to help him to help us.

If our problem is anger we can help by trying to take a long cleansing breath before responding to someone or something.

If our problem is gossip we can help by resolving to pause before we speak and ask whether what we are about to share really is ‘for prayer’.

If our problem is lust we can use the ‘off’ button on remote controls.

And so on. You know your own weaknesses. How can you help God to help you?dentist

As I say goodbye to this old friend that has become painful, I pray that God’s Spirit will also help me with extractions so I might become a better free sample of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing