Cost of Faith

Casper ten Boom died at age 84, Polycarp at 86.  What did they share, apart from relatively advanced years?  The answer is simple: a willingness  to lay down their lives for what they believed.

Polycarp, a Second Century Bishop of Smyrna, was arrested for refusing to burn incense in honour of the emperor’s divinity.  When threatened with flames for himself, he famously replied:  “Eighty six years I have served Him (Christ), and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and savior?” His refusal led to his martyrdom, on behalf of a principle, that of worship only where worship is due.

Ten Boom was arrested in 1944 for anti-Nazi resistance activities, including the harbouring of Jews.  Because of his age he was told he would be allowed home.  He responded that if he was freed, he would continue to aid whoever came to his door for help.  The clear implication was that this included Jews.  When challenged that he could be killed for such assistance he replied: “It would be an honour to give my life for God’s chosen people.”  He remained in prison for 10 days, and died in hospital at the end of his captivity.

Polycarp is remembered as a champion of the Christian faith, and ten Boom has been recognised as one of “righteous among the nations,” by Israel.

We each face challenges for our beliefs, principles, and values.  Where will you make your stand?



ten Boom Tree at Yad Vashem




“I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger. Traveling through this world below . . . .” So begins the song of life’s struggles in route to “that bright world to which I go.” This life is in deed a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey fraught with setbacks, mistakes, and trials.  It is also one which gives of a taste of joy, and fills us with hope.

People of most religions feel this need to connect with the spiritual while still “here below.”  To walk in the footsteps of our religious predecessors, prophets and saints. Because of this many take “a journey within the journey,” to visit places of religious significance to their faith.  These visits, not mere holidays or vacations are often deeply moving, and allow us a taste of the divine.

Others, journey to places to connect not with deity per se , but with their own past, and identity.  These can be no less moving.  They are in themselves often spiritual.

These pilgrimages are ideally journeys of discovery.  One’s past, one’s beliefs, and one’s physical being are often tested, and in so doing enhanced.  It is because of this that the Sikh teacher, Guru Nanak discouraged pilgrimage.  No, he was not against spiritual discovery, but rather he was against going through the motions.  (Here I must explain that there is one Sikh teaching I wholeheartedly support: “The truth is the truth, no matter who says it.”) Nanak was right on this score.  It isn’t going to the place (that’s a holiday), its not an obligation (that’s spiritual compulsion); but rather a personal connection with the divine.

I have seen each of these types of pilgrim.  I have seen those who  are in awe of the place; those seeking physical healing; those who fall on their knees in tears; and those in ecstasy at there nearness to God.

Whatever journey you are on today, let it be one that enriches and draws you close to your true destination.


Woman Praying at Via Dolorosa

Pilgrim in Jerusalem


Holy Shrine at Walsingham


Auschwitz Gate

More Than Bread

The bread of the communion service or Eucharist is a central focus of Christian belief and worship.  One the night that Jesus was betrayed  ” . . . he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19 NIV)” This statement which unites all Christians in “communion” with God and each other, has also divided us, however.

The Roman Catholic church has long taught the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which the bread become “through a spiritual mystery” the literal body of Christ.  The conveying of divinity upon the host during the Mass changes the nature of the bread into Christ himself.  The Catholic practice of bowing before the host, and the care taken that not even a crumb go to waste reflects this belief.  It also explains why Catholics go to the altar rail to receive the host.  It would be disrespectful for the Lord or lords, and King of kings to have to come to His subjects.

Others, such as Lutherans and some Anglicans, hold that the bread undergoes consubstantiation, where the bread while remaining physically bread, nonetheless takes on the spiritual identity of Christ.  It is bread, but spiritually Jesus.  Here too, worshipers go to the Lord rather than He to them.

Many evangelical Christians and other Protestants see the bread as a “representational presence.”  It remains bread, and only symbolically calls believers to remember Jesus and His sacrifice.  As such, it is common for many churches to have ushers or others take the bread to the congregation.  It if nothing else is quick and efficient, and often provides more time for the word.

I am not here going to comment on the merits (or otherwise) of these interpretations, but rather to see what links us.  Jesus took the bread, and in the Jewish fashion blessed it and gave thanks, perhaps with the words: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. He then broke it and told the disciples that it represented his body which was to be broken, and to eat it in remembrance of Him.

To me this is central – we partake with Him, we remember Him,  we are made whole through Him.  In Luke 24:13-35,  Cleopas and another disciple were travelling to Emmaus on the day of Christ’s resurrection.  Jesus joined them on their journey, yet neither recognised Him.  They discussed the crucifixion, and the reports of resurrection, and still didn’t recognise Him.  After this they stopped, and shared bread.  “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 14:30-31 NIV)” 

Let each of us use the bread (whatever our interpretation of Jesus’ words) to remember Him, and to have our eyes opened to Him.




Spiritual Xenophobia

“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Wait a minute, upright from Uz? Here we have one of the fundamental ideas of the Bible.  Origin and background are not a prerequisite of righteousness.  Job was not a Hebrew, but he was nonetheless pleasing to God.  The New Testament re-emphasises this idea in Paul’s charge to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 NIV)”

We however, often suffer from a religious xenophobia. We distrust that which is unfamiliar.  I recently had a conversation in which the person I was talking saw the use of Arabic as divisive.  The suggestion was that Arabs and Arabic-speakers were agents of militant Islam.  How then can we reconcile such a view with the fact that the Syrian refugees who sparked the conversation were Christians who had fled Damascus.

The suspicion of difference therefore blinds us.  Don’t get me wrong here, I am not in any way denying the centrality of Jesus in the plan of salvation or challenging people to dabble is Eastern mysticism. Rather, I am saying that salvation is open to all – Jew and Greek; Spaniard and Turk; American and Pole. What is at issue here is whether one follows God’s path or not.   Yet we seem to forget this, and sometimes get obsessed with our “us and them” scenarios. We focus on what divides us, not what we share.

There is a similar us and them when it comes to what we see as our Christian heritage. Do we get so caught up in our own denominational and sectarian stances, that we miss this essential truth, that Christ died for all sinners – including me and you?  Backgrounds are interesting, but not a measure of worthiness.  Just remember for every Saul of Tarsus with his immaculate religious pedigree, there are a score of Simon Peters expressing their roots in a humble “”Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! (Luke 5:8 NIV)”

What God wants from us is not an unbroken ancestry of Bible thumping evangelists, but a self- willingness to follow Him.  Like another famous religious outsider who said to her mother-in-law: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 NIV).”  Jesus said simply “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NASB)”  No one is a real outsider in the Lord.


Beyond Fairy Tales

I have spent nearly my entire adult life working in the spiritual realm.  I have worked in military chaplaincy, been a student of theology, a minister, and a teacher of religion.  My pilgrimage through “this world below,” has not always been an easy one, yet my faith is dear to me.

I almost daily have that faith assaulted.  This is not new to people of belief, especially in this secular age, but I find it nonetheless disheartening to have my faith and my profession challenged as an invalid enterprise, by those unwilling to even explore its validity.  In my present role as a teacher of religion, I am faced daily with “all knowing” teenagers who profess a devout atheism.  When examined most prove to be somewhat more agnostic than they would like to admit. The intellectual and spiritual battle is nonetheless there.

More telling is the attitude of adults, who want to know why religion is even taught at all.  One once said to me “I have spent my child’s entire life teaching them not to believe in fairy tales, so why do they have to learn about religion?”  I find this disturbing for several reasons.  On the one hand, I feel what a diminished childhood it must be without tall tales and fantasy.  But, more significant is the failure to see that in this world there are people of faith, and that community cohesion, social understanding, and mutual respect can all be enhanced by being aware of everyone’s views (religious and secular alike).  Greater still is the limiting of the child’s exposure to faith itself, closing the doors of hope which it can bring.

I know some readers would say, that Christians do the same, by “brainwashing” their children with religious values- giving them a closed mind.  But is this so?  Do we live in a world where belief is the norm?  Can any Christian parent screen their precious child from scepticism and secularism?  I doubt it.  Yet, it is a world shrinking in biblical literacy, with even basic stories such as Noah or Goliath drawing blank stares when mentioned.

So I struggle on.  I teach, I tell the tales of faith, and I do my best to “fight the good fight.”  Your prayers for my endevours will gratefully welcomed.





A Vexed Spirit

There is a conception held by many in the church today, that once one is in Christ, life will be all fluffy bunnies, and rainbows.  While such a view has some merit, in that salvation is joyous, it is not a given.

The apostle Paul struggled with life and was challenged by God to accept that “My grace is sufficient.”  This may well explain that his joy “became complete,” in his labours, not through his own efforts, but via the Lord’s gifts.  As Paul declined in self, he was lifted the more.  Just look at his life – as he went from the golden-haired boy of the Sanhedrin, to “least of the apostles,” to “chief of sinners.” Yet, in the end God was sufficient.

This of course does not easily come to light or to our conscious awareness when we are in the words of the hymn “upon life’s billows tossed.”  The Proverbs remind us: “The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, But who can bear a broken spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14). It is here that our brothers and sisters play the greatest role.  As the body of Christ, we must pick up the pieces of such “broken spirit(s).”  “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (ESV).” Let us rise to the challenge.

Also, we need to remember we are not alone here, with an absent – distant Father, for we have received a comforter in the Spirit. This body, the body of Christ, and each suffering member is protected, and by His grace (which is sufficient) lifted up.

Let us be instruments of that grace.