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The Picture Manual

This post originally appeared in the Cook County News-Herald “Spiritual Reflections” column on March 10, 2018.


I am learning to make bread. By hand. From scratch. I don’t have a teacher, just Paul Hollywood’s recipe book, “101 Best Breads.” He writes in English, but sometimes I think it might as well be Greek. I wish it was Greek. I have a dictionary for that language. Paul talks about soft pliable dough, and tight dough, and wet dough, over-proofed dough, and under-proofed dough, and don’t even get me started trying to figure out the yeast conversion from whatever solid cake form he’s using to the little packets of instant/rapid rise/not active dry yeast I picked up in the baking supply aisle at the IGA! Do you know how much one ounce of yeast really is?!

Knead the dough for six minutes he says, unless you’re using a mixer (which he seems to frown upon) in which case it might be more or less depending on the humidity, time of year, ambient temperature, phase of the moon, and alignment of the stars. You’ll know by the look of the dough whether you need more water or more flour (and if you are using whole wheat flour, you probably will need more water.) But, is there a picture anywhere, anywhere in the entire book of what the dough should look like? No! There are words galore but not a guiding picture to be seen.

I tried one recipe for rye bread. I don’t know. I haven’t gone back to try it again yet. The dough was wet, sticky, stuck to the bowl, stuck to the spoon, stuck to the hands, stuck to the counter, stuck to the pans. Was it right? I was supposed to shape it into a ball then flatten it slightly with my hands and cut a couple gashes in the top with a knife. I shaped it into a ball. It settled into the shape of a pizza all by itself. It absorbed the knife. Two cuts. Never left a mark.

I baked it. It was ugly but it tasted good. I wish I had had a picture, something to show me what the dough was supposed to look like, something that would have guided my efforts and informed my corrections. And as I thought about that episode I suddenly understood something I’ve heard from time to time, but now in a very different light.

Have you ever said this: “The Bible is so hard to understand. Why can’t it just be plain and simple and easy to follow?” The Bible has words galore, it is true. And it can be hard to understand, I readily admit. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a picture that we could study to see how it all adds up, what it looks like in real life!?!

Well, guess what, there is a picture. There is a picture of what faith, and love, and joy, and peace, and righteousness, and holiness, and all those things the Bible talks about looks like. Yep. There’s a picture. His name is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, fully God, fully man, God in the flesh. He is everything God created us to be, everything God expects of human beings. All that God holds us accountable to and for, Christ meets without fail, without sin, without guilt, without shame.

The author of the biblical book of Hebrews in the New Testament uses a different metaphor than baking to share this insight. He speaks of running a race and focusing on Jesus as the champion from whom, if we will study him, we will learn how to successfully run the race of life. He writes, “. . . let us run the race with endurance that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus, for the joy of being and accomplishing all God had in store for him, let nothing stop him from loving and serving God. Not even death on the cross distracted him. Not even the shame others might have heaped on him deterred him. He is the worthy example of consistent, genuine faith in a hostile world.

Wondering what all the words in the Bible look like in real life? Look at Jesus.

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