The book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt was quite the read for me. It stirred my mind and soul like none other. I wrote page after page of notes and as I have a blog, the expanded notes are finding their way here in what I am calling the JIBTYI notes series.
In chapter 4 of the book Mr Merritt describes a mission trip to Haiti, a country still desperately reeling from the aftermaths of the dreadful earthquake of 2010. After setting the stage for a desperate broken country beyond hope, a place in while he was robbed, held up at gun point and fear his abduction or worse. He goes on to describe how God is working amongst the people there, where collections of hope are springing up. It is a beautiful picture of how God works, not in the way that humans usually think he should which is from the top down, but God, as always it seems, is working from the bottom up. Which I believe is how a community is really changed, not when the politicians are given more power, but when the people are given hope, independence and skills to care for themselves and each other.
The author quotes the popular scripture “Nothing is impossible with God” and then asks the question has this become a cliché, or do we really believe it? Do we really believe it in desperate situations, in places like Haiti? Or maybe today for Nigeria? Do we believe it when a marriage is crumbling or when health is failing? When describing his own struggles with this subject Jonathan described himself “as an overchurched youth growing up”. Over churched? Is this a real danger? I think it can be.
When your faith becomes a structure of rules, a set of right and wrongs, a judgment system, even though the words make it out to be about God, it has very little or nothing to do with this. This is a line in the sand that I have stumbled on several times over the last 10 years. When I was first saved I walked the “Barbarian way”, the way that God had called me to be, yet over time I felt the need to try and fit in, to assimilate.
Fortunately every time I have gone too far down that road I have heard that still small voice reminding me that this is not what I was saved for. Reading this section stirred thoughts on this, on my desire for the supernatural God, the God of miracles, the God of creation. Not the angry headmaster sitting in the clouds. The real, living supernatural God. Once I get over my preconceived notions, the ideas that modern western society has put on me of what is “normal” and what is “weird”, I find myself craving the “weird” more and more, to see the supernatural, this is probably why I have been so drawn to Bethel church over the last year. Somehow for me they seem to have found the perfect line between true religion and flat out strange, they believe that God is bigger than the world imagines; and so do I.
It’s funny, I truly believe that God can and will do all things, yet at times I forget that; usually when I have been listening to the world instead of my heart and the still small voice. Sometimes though, we have to learn to be ok with Gods plan not being the same as our plan. Sometimes we see things that make perfect sense from our finite perspective yet to God and His infinite perspective they make no sense at all. To quote JIBTYI; “Believing in a God of the impossible is not the same as having a heavenly bellhop who always services my needs on my timetable and according to my specifications”.
In the chapter we are challenged to slow down and look deeper. How do you see things? How do you see people? Do you look inside, do you look into the potential of the creation standing before you? Do you see the possibilities, the positives in people and situations? Or do you just see a bad person, a bad situation? Something that will never change or get better? My natural state is to see the positive, however when I am caught in the business of life, when my soul is in a hurried state, it is still too common for me to return to the mask of negativity that I used to wear. Sometimes the old programming kicks in and I find myself disgusted at myself and the things I have said or thought, regardless of it anyone heard them.
At the start of the chapter, the stories of their car being held up at gun point and of being robbed in town brought back memories of the time that I was mugged in Leeds. Memories of the fear of that moment and the feeling of being chastised by the police officer who didn’t understand why I was compliant instead of trying to fight. I remember the fear returning to my life when traveling. Subconsciously it was this fear that helped me make some really bad financial decisions so that I could have a car that I couldn’t afford and then stay in a car when that one was wrecked. At a time when I had just about recovered from high school, this mugging trigged a chain of events that frankly came close to costing me my life on several occasions.
If I recall correctly I was either 18 or 19, it’s something of a blur. I had spent the evening at a friend’s house on the other side of the city to where I lived. To get home I had to catch a bus to the city center and then another bus home from there, it was no big deal, I did it all the time. I had to cross the city center on foot to catch the bus home. I had my headphones on, walkman blasting (probably some homemade mix tape), carrying my case guitar in one and my backpack of gear on me. As I neared my bus stop there was a back street that I regularly walked down and I sensed someone behind me talking. I assumed this person was going to ask me the time and removed my headphones to hear what he was saying. The words were not as I expected; “there is a knife at your back, give me your money if you don’t want to get hurt”.
Well I didn’t have any money, I showed him my wallet to prove it, but while doing that he saw my ATM card. So I was frog marched to the closest ATM machine, all the while feeling a knife prodding my back. All I could think to do was try to pacify the guy, try to reassure him that I’d get him what he wanted and keep him calm. There were 2 things I wanted to avoid, getting stabbed obviously, but also I didn’t want him trying to take my guitar. We got to the ATM and he took all the money it would give me, it wasn’t much, I was on a pitiful salary back then and was not particularly skilled at managing it either.
As quickly as he had come he disappeared into the night. I was scared, shaken and broke, but fortunately physically unharmed and still in possession of my treasured guitar. I don’t recall much of the night after that, I assume I caught the bus home then probably woke up my Dad when I got there to let him know what had happened. I remember my Dad called the police and some afternoon shortly following there was a detective sat in our front room asking me questions. After I had told the story he felt the need to tell me how he would have elbowed the guy in the face and got rid of him. The detective was built like a linebacker, if someone was stupid enough to try and mug him they would probably have expected to get elbowed in the face. At the time I was probably 135 pounds, a skinny average kid. One who had just recovered (sort of) from being on the receiving end of violent bullying at high school. A boy with massive self-esteem challenges, I wasn’t going to stand up for myself, somewhere deep inside I felt that I had no right to stand up for myself. All I did was be scared, to try and protect myself and my guitar the best that I could. I know he didn’t mean to, but that detective added one more weight to the chain I was hauling around, one more person who showed me how I would never get life right or amount to anything, he may have been trying to give guidance, but that is what I received.
Incidentally they caught the mugger a couple of weeks later, he had apparently been on a mugging spree and he was caught red handed. I’m assuming he pleaded guilty as I never heard from the police again (that I remember). I’ve honestly never given much thought to that young man, what desperate situation he found himself in to resort to that. I wonder what he is doing now, I wonder if he has turned his life around or if he is still searching desperately for the answer to a question that he does not know he is asking.
Now within the context of the book or a positive Christian blog post I guess it would be great if I told you that this is when I returned to God, when I felt His protection, but it wasn’t, because I didn’t. This was just another deep wound that added to my brokenness. This was one more thing that I didn’t know how to process that led to me looking to fill the hole in my soul with the ways of the world. This was, with hindsight, the beginning of a chain reaction of self-destruction, of mask developing and coping mechanisms that would be the theme of my early twenties.
Yet, I can look back and believe that I emerged physically unscarred because I was protected. My words did not provoke my attacker, they calmed him down. My core nature came to the fore in that moment, that nature that was given to me by God, and that nature was not aggression, it was peace. My time had not yet come to return to the Father in this world, but He was with me, I know that now.