Big Beliefs in Small Bites: The Pilgrim's Projects

Big Beliefs in Small Bites: The Pilgrim's Projects

by Reg Nicholson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781458208835
Publisher: Abbott Press
Publication date: 06/12/2013
Pages: 378
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.84(d)

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Abbott Press

Copyright © 2013 Reg Nicholson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4582-0883-5



Where can we find dragons today? What's that, you say? You've never seen a dragon? Be assured, they are all around us. People have been warning us about them for centuries.

The caution "Here be dragons" was used by medieval mapmakers when they wished to describe uncharted areas. Often the phrase—and other warnings that meant the same thing—suggested places unknown, places of peril and danger, or places inhabited by monsters. This phrase did not die. In later years, theologians and other church leaders used it (and phrases like "Here may be dangerous spirits") to depict areas they felt did not warrant examination—things like sexuality, psychosis, witches, demons, the spirit world—in fact, anything about which the authorities felt threatened or unsure. A sad result of the words of caution was that they caused vital parts of human experience to be neglected for long periods. These warnings served to discourage people from thinking.

Even today there are people who are afraid to investigate some areas, largely because of the inordinate attention being given to imaginary fears.

Some historians tell us the earliest descriptions of dragons may have arisen because of large water-spouts at sea. One ancient chronicle records that a water-spout was described as a great black dragon descending from the clouds. It hid its head in the water while its tail reached to the sky. Ships disappearing into the water-spout were said to have been swallowed up, along with their contents, by the dragon.

Dragons are mentioned in the Bible. They are usually—but not always—depicted as sea-monsters. In the New Testament the word dragon occurs in Revelation, beginning with the appearance in heaven of the "great red dragon" (12:3). In Ezekiel 29:3 and 32:2 in the King James Version the word dragon refers to the Pharaoh of Egypt. The battle between Saint George and a dragon was used as an allegory of the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

Dragons can be loosely divided into two main categories—East Asian dragons (generally depicted as benevolent, wise and lucky), and Western or European dragons (more commonly evil, aggressive and fearsome). In the Middle Ages, Europeans regarded dragons as the embodiment of all evil and blamed them for the otherwise inexplicable epidemics that afflicted much of the world.

When I hear about people being stunted in their spiritual growth or being forced into a discipleship of superstitious fear, I wish they could look at the dragons they face and realise they are merely dark shadows.

Something to consider, 1: "Superstition is the religion of feeble minds" (Edmund Burke).



A young man went to visit an elderly monk in the desert. He found the monk sitting in the sun, with a dog lying lazily at his side.

The young man asked: "Why is it some people who follow God quit after a year or so, while other people remain faithful to the quest for a lifetime?"

The old man smiled and replied: "Let me tell you a story. One day I was sitting here quietly in the sun with my dog. Suddenly a large, white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, barking loudly, and took off after that big rabbit.

"He chased the rabbit over the hills. Soon other dogs followed, barking across the creeks, up stony embankments, and through thickets. But gradually, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit."

The young man sat in silence, then said: "I don't understand the connection between chasing after a rabbit and following God."

The monk answered: "You fail to understand because you fail to ask the obvious question. The question is this: why didn't the other dogs continue the chase? And the answer to that question is that the other dogs had not seen the rabbit! They were simply attracted by the barking of my dog. But the dog who had seen the rabbit, never gave up the chase. Seeing the rabbit, and not following the commotion, is what keeps me seeking God."

Big beliefs come from big experiences.

People who have had an experience of Jesus in their lives do not usually give up the quest of seeking God. And people who have had a vision of heaven stay in the chase and continue to keep the faith. Sometimes people join the Church because of the encouragement of members of their families or their friends. Although this may be commendable, it can be a little like the dogs that joined the chase because of the barking of another dog.

People who have sensed or who themselves have walked with God are like the dog that actually saw the rabbit. They follow God because of their personal experience.

The Scriptures tell of a day when some people stopped following Jesus. We are told that Jesus asked the twelve apostles: "Will you also go away?" St Peter replied: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6: 68-69). There we have it. The disciples believed and stayed with Jesus because they experienced him for themselves.

Something to consider, 2: Pray not only because you need something, but because you have much to be thankful for.



It has been refuted often but people keep accepting it. Seeing isn't believing. It isn't, really!

Seeing is—well, just seeing. Believing is trusting when you can't see. As the Bible says, seeing can be the opposite of believing, the assurance of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is experiencing God and then having a belief to which you hang on, even when you cannot provide proof.

The bestselling author Dr Wayne W. Dyer gives us an interesting illustration to describe faith. He calls it The Mango Experience.

When speaking to a large audience he invites someone who has never tasted a mango to volunteer for a little experiment. Then he asks people who have tasted a mango to tell the volunteer exactly how a mango tastes.

As each person attempts to convey the flavor of a mango they realise how fruitless their attempts are. The conclusion is that it is impossible to convey this information in words. Wayne Dyer says the mango tasting exercise is analogous to our ability to have faith where there is doubt.

Just as we cannot know the taste of a mango unless we have had the experience of eating a mango, we cannot know faith without having had an experience of God (There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, page 197).

This reminds me of the story I mentioned in the previous chapter, the tale of the dog that chased a rabbit. Dogs that haven't actually seen the rabbit abandon the chase—just as most people who haven't experienced God sooner or later seem to abandon religion.

Some years ago I sat on a missionary committee with a number of concerned Christians. Forgive me for sounding judgmental, but one of them was one of the most narrow, bigoted people I had ever met. He seemed to lack compassion, insight, and humility.

At one stage of the meeting people were talking about missionary opportunities, and this man said: "The answer is easy. We just have to introduce people to Jesus." I couldn't help thinking that the Jesus he would introduce to people would be far different from the Jesus I have been in contact with.

The Jesus I know closely resembles the Jesus of the gospels. The Jesus who acted like a shepherd rather than a law-giver. The Jesus who loved to see people happy. The Jesus who shed tears when his loved ones died.

How can one introduce people to Jesus if one hasn't met up with Jesus oneself?

Something to consider, 3: "I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is" (Albert Camus).



What would you suggest is the worst word often used by Christians, a word so bad it is almost the exact opposite of 'Christian'? (You don't have to say the word aloud, just think it). Atheist, perhaps? Sinner, maybe? Wickedness, possibly? Thief, Adulterer, Paedophile, Murderer? The most anti-Christian word is none of these. It is a word used frequently. It is unashamedly used in polite company. It has nothing to do with sinfulness or religion. Some people see nothing wrong with it.

The word I mean is the word Exclusive. It is a word that suggests narrowness, intolerance, parochialism. Some people, and some social sets, are proud of exclusivity. But the Church should never be exclusive, because God is the opposite of exclusive. When making the world, God created a tremendous diversity, in planets and the stars; in animals and shrubs; in people of every sort. One thing which marks the universe in which we live is its tremendous diversity. For centuries a fear of the unknown made people apprehensive of diversity. Now that many fears of the unknown are disappearing, we should start to celebrate our diversity and exult in our differences.

Great religious leaders have united in a call for us to live in friendship, helpfulness, unselfishness, interdependence and cooperation as sisters and brothers in one family—the human family—God's family. As St Peter said, God shows impartiality (I Peter 1:17). Sadly, however, much religion which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, and should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, and sharing, has frequently done the opposite. Religion has often fuelled alienation and conflict, and has encouraged intolerance, injustice and oppression. Some terrible atrocities have happened in the name of religion. History is rife with instances of demagogues who caused distress and suffering when they preyed on the fears of people. In the Middle Ages, religious leaders were often guilty of this. A man named Titus Oates caused alarm in seventeenth century London when he spread lies about Roman Catholics and caused many of them to be jailed and even killed. A major political example in the twentieth century was the way Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party flourished after manufacturing and spreading lies about those born into the Jewish faith. However as much as possible we should refrain from demeaning others. We should never be exclusive, for God's kingdom is never exclusive.

One of the main acts of Jesus Christ was that of reconciliation, and the Christian Church should participate in leading with this. The Church should never deny a place, for instance, to couples who are unmarried. It wasn't until after the twelfth century that marriage had much to do with religion at all. The Church should never forbid people who find it hard to believe. The main mistake of those called the Puritans, I believe, was they overlooked what Jesus had so clearly told them, that God's kingdom doesn't discriminate between those who are pure and those who are impure. The Church should never exclude people whose genes and makeup are different from those of the majority, nor should the Church take it upon itself to judge those thought not good enough for the kingdom. God's kingdom doesn't discriminate between Protestants and Catholics, between orthodox believers who belong to established churches, and those who we think are on the fringe because they belong to religious sects. God does not discriminate in religion, and it is a mistake to imagine that God is a Christian—let alone a Catholic, Baptist, or Presbyterian.

No religion has a monopoly on God. As Archbishop Tutu said: "In truth there are no outsiders, no enemies—unless we put them there in our minds. Black and white, rich and poor, man and woman, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, Hutu and Tutsi, Pakistani and Indian—all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human." For centuries the Church tried discrimination; it took a mighty long time before it was remembered that Jesus said love attracts. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

An ancient Christian legend says when the Son of God was nailed to the cross and died, he went down to hell and set free all the sinners. The devil wept, for he thought he would get no more sinners for hell. Then God said to the devil: "Do not weep, for I shall send you all those who are self-righteous in their condemnation of sinners. And hell shall be filled once more until I return."

Something to consider, 4: Don't judge me by my past, I don't live there any more.



It was long, long ago, when I was a theological student that I first began to realise the inclusiveness of Christianity (or at least, how inclusive it was meant to be). I noticed it in the great commission of the Church, which are the words spoken by Jesus before his ascension.

I am sure you remember the words, but I shall repeat them (they come from Matthew 28:18):

And Jesus said to them, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Notice the emphasis on the word 'all'. All authority, all nations, all things, all ways ...

Sadly, people argued about the use of the word 'all' for centuries.

First, they argued whether it applied to people of all faiths (did you know there was a time when Roman Catholics could be beheaded in England, and there was a time when Quakers were hanged in parts of America simply for being Quakers?).

Then people argued over whether the word 'all' applied to women. Some people took seriously the statement that "all men are created equal"—but it took centuries before it was decided that this may also apply to women.

Then people struggled over whether the word 'all' applied to those born with different-coloured skin. Even today prejudice exists in some places when some people look different from the majority.

Then people argued over whether the word 'all' applied to children (which was reflected in the debates of different years over whether it was justifiable to inflict violent punishments on those of tender years).

Even in church—where we probably should have known better—there has been a mighty struggle over the word 'all'.

Does it apply to lepers? Does it apply to divorcees? Does it apply to Christians of other denominations? People of other religions? How about atheists, and people who have grown up without knowing about God?

Does it apply to homosexuals? Does it apply to prostitutes? I often think about the parable of the dragnet in which Jesus said the kingdom of heaven would gather all sorts of fish. All kinds. All sorts. All varieties. In Matthew Chapter 13 Jesus gave seven parables that show different aspects of the kingdom. Here is the last of the seven:

"The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind" (verse 47).

Of all seven parables in that chapter, this last one is least familiar to most people.

It tells of the fishermen using a dragnet. The dragnet was pulled behind a boat, or spread between two boats. It captured a shoal of fish. This particular form of fishing, said Jesus, illustrates the kingdom of God. The dragnet gathers up everything in its path. It doesn't discriminate. All kinds of fish, the good, the bad, the pretty and the ugly, the young and the elderly, are caught up.

The Church is like the dragnet, for the Church touches all sorts of people. It brings in the white and the coloured; the young, middle-aged and elderly; the fundamentalists, modernists, traditionalists, and liberals.

I want to say it again. The Church should never be exclusive, because our God is not exclusive. When making the world, God created a tremendous diversity, in planets and the stars; in animals and birds; in shrubs and insects; in people of every sort.

Remember that in life and death Jesus always had his arms outstretched in welcome. When we see Jesus hanging on the Cross it seems that his extended arms—wide open—are telling us something very important. He is far more loving than we are.

Something to consider, 5: 'There's a wideness in God's mercy' (hymn by F. W. Faber).

Excerpted from BIG BELIEFS IN SMALL BITES by REG NICHOLSON. Copyright © 2013 Reg Nicholson. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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Big Beliefs in Small Bites: The Pilgrim's Projects 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book which gives a whole new perspective on religious topics, and is very easy to read. Reg Nicholson's God is truly a God of love, not vengeful or a bully, as some churches would make us believe. I thoroughly recommend this book. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well-written, well-researched book on a whole host of religious topics. Entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. A great read.