Faith is not spelt RISK

The other day I had fun listening to Cn. J John interview Cn. Andrew White (the vicar of Baghdad), Andrew White’s story is remarkable but very simple. It is the story of a man who heard God and followed, then kept on listening and following. It occurs to me that that’s precisely what faith is.
For years I have been duped by Sunday sermons on Hebrews 11v1 telling me that faith is a matter of believing something hard enough, acting as if it’s actually here and true… then it will happen.. God will make it happen. Step out onto the bridge of faith we’re told (Indiana Jones) and God will meet you there, all you have to do is believe! We are told with great earnestness that faith is spelt RISK, so go ahead and jump!!
Really?
I don’t think so.
The verses immediately preceding Hebrew’s 11v1 speak of the promises and revelation of God, of his Kingdom and his return. These are the things of which faith is the substance and evidence. Faith is a response to God’s rule and his Kingdom, to the unfolding of the intentions of his heart as he reveals them. Faith is the way we respond to the good news that Christ, not any man, is King, not only of the Jews, but of the whole world. It comes by hearing the message that Jesus both spoke and lived – that the rule of God had come. Faith is a response to the revelation of God, it is the process of realigning everything to harmonise with that revelation.
It is not simply us deciding how things should be and believing our way there. In fact if God hasn’t spoken or in some way revealed what he sees and what he wants, then it’s not faith. Peter didn’t just jump out of the boat on a whim; when he saw Jesus walking on the water, he waited till Jesus called him, and then he stepped out. That is faith.
You see, the challenge of faith is not belief, the challenge of faith is knowing God and recognising when he speaks, keeping our eyes, ears and hearts set on him and discerning his revelation… so we can respond because he is King, his Kingdom is here and our joy is to be part of it.
And so, faith is not risky at all – God doesn’t make mistakes. Neither is it blind or dumb – it is a response to his revelation. Faith is simply the act of trusting and obeying the ruler and creator of the universe. Faith is simply acknowledging with all our lives that God is who he really is. (and that’s how he is making all things new.)

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Head stuck in the trunk

I remember running a community building festival in a northern town of rural Ghana a few years ago. There were hundreds in the centre participating in games and races and another couple of hundred having a go at the various activities that encircled the games. To the untrained eye, it was utter pandemonium, to those aware of social processes in crowds things were going well; either way that sort of setting can be fairly stressful. I recall a particular moment where I needed one of my colleagues to direct the centre games, as I scanned the crowd, I eventually found him rummaging through the trunk of one of our vehicles whilst things unravelled in the centre! Some of us react to stress of chaos by burrowing down deep into some detail that we can manage, others of us take a step back trying to contextualise the mayhem and catch the patterns by viewing the big picture. The trouble is that if we get stuck with our heads in the trunk we may find what we were looking for but have missed the real danger that was approaching and is now upon us!

 I have now run seven discussion workshops in various parts of the country looking at discipleship, mission and transformation of society. It’s been a chance to step back and get a bigger picture (more of a thumb-nail sketch!) of where things are at. To start us off I get participants to pair up with someone they don’t know and share their story with each other focusing on those things that have helped them in their discipleship journey as well as those things that have been a hindrance. I also get them to reflect together on what a mature Christ follower looks like. Just 10 minutes of this yields some rich fare for discussion and reflection in the bigger group!

 With varying strength, and through different stories the following things have come up each time:

1.       Something significant, hopeful and strengthening happens in the process of sharing and hearing each other’s story, even for just a few minutes.

2.       Having others to share the journey and encourage us in our walk is the single most significant, almost universal thing that contributes positively to our discipleship. This is closely followed by spiritual disciplines (prayer, bible study, worship etc) in the context of the church community.
3.       The biggest hindrances to our journey are isolation or negative relationships (especially when life is challenging) and Christians who lived a double life.
4.       Maturity as a follower of Christ is more about living out our faith in everyday life, than about knowing all the right stuff.

A few minutes of reflecting on our own and each other’s narrative enables these and other pretty simple patterns to surface. We then move to Jesus and his disciples and see the same things echoed there. They shared life together for three years and when he left he told them to keep on sharing life together with him in the centre. It was only after he left that the disciples begun to understand the truths, and doctrines started to fall into place, and by this time the doctrine was simply an articulation and explanation of all they had experienced and heard in their three years with him, and now, with his Spirit.

It is then an odd experience to engage with the question of how the church is ‘doing’ discipleship and what it is we are inviting people to in mission. Because it’s quickly obvious that what we are doing bears little relation to what our own narrative tells us is important, what Jesus himself did and what we intuitively know works.  Much of what we call discipleship focusses instead around teaching people stuff, we have our series of courses that people do in a particular order, failing that, Sunday sermons might suffice. Then there are a bunch of external behaviours that serve as measuring sticks of maturity. These externals will vary depending on the church and tradition…. the list and hoops and yard sticks grows and changes but keeps going on. And what does it all produce? Well that’s a whole other discussion!

It appears we got stuck in the trunk and forgot what we were really trying to do. If we come out and look at the bigger picture, is there another way?

Perhaps there is another way that’s at least worth giving a go. What if it is the shared life of disciples that revolves around Christ himself, that in turn, makes disciples?  If faith happens and grows where the rubber hits the road, as life comes at you, then let’s embrace life in all its complexity and pain but with each other and Christ – and if we don’t know how to do that, let’s work out how to do it! Isn’t that what discipleship is? This then becomes a faith that is relevant whoever you are and wherever you are, it’s not just a fair weather faith, it’s a gutsy, earthy, courageous faith with a real life, gutsy, compassionate, just and present God at the centre, with his sleeves rolled up, face leathered and gentle hands roughened. And that there, that group of brothers and sisters doing real life together with Christ at the centre, that there is what’s going to change the world.

Its never too far

It really isn’t cool to doubt. The aim of all questioning and doubting is to find the answers and move on, or so it seems in my generation. There is this burning desire to get all our ducks in a row and if we can’t, then there’s either something wrong with the ducks (so chuck em out) or with us (so it must be the ducks..). The stress of ambiguity is almost intolerable.

If you, like me, are in the business of mentoring others, then one of the worst things for your internal world is when the person you are working with ‘goes off the rails’. It often takes a super human effort not to wade in and ‘set them right’. I love the story of the vicar, when asked how his eldest son was going, replied ‘He’s coming along very nicely thank you, he’s an atheist.’

A week ago I spent a couple of hours with six interns, bright eyed and bushy tailed, going through their induction training before placements started in a few days’ time. They were chomping at the bit to share Jesus with everyone they met! The discussion went from getting the ‘Jesus bit’ right, to sharing one’s own story then eventually we got to where the rubber hits the road and what to do with the parts of our journey when in truth we hate God and frankly ‘he b****d off some weeks ago, so what am I doing here anyway?’. What do we do with that? Because you see, it’s not cool to doubt, and besides we are the ones who should have the answers, right?

Perhaps one of our greatest fears are the doubts we carry in the darkest corners of our soul that not even we visit often. We fear that somehow going there will result in the unravelling of the very framework of all we know and trust. Perhaps it will, but do we need to fear that?

When Jesus was preparing the disciples for his death and departure, he said to them, ‘guys in the next few days you are going to go so far and so low from where we have been these past three years – you’ll lose the plot so completely that, Simon, you’ll be back where you were before you even met me….. but even that wont mean that your faith will have failed. You’ll work it through in your heart, you’ll come through it and see clearly again but Simon (Peter) don’t forget you’ve still got a job to do, go strengthen your brothers.’ (well, that’s my paraphrase anyway!). the journey that the disciples were about to go on would freak them out, but Jesus wasn’t phased by it.

I recently had the privilege to spend a morning as part of a learning community on discipleship. We went through Lectio Divina, a simple, beautiful, reflective way of reading a portion of text with a group of brothers and sisters that brings out the sweet richness in the words. We took Matthew 28v16-20 as our text and the treasure that I went away with was that those who doubted were no less valued and commissioned by Jesus than those who seemed to have it all together.

There is no shame in doubting, there is no shame in discovering ancient, brokenness in one’s soul, it is not a sign that faith has failed, it is simply another precious step in the journey of faith.

Fresh with no mistakes…

As I look forward to the coming year I have a sense of anticipation and some excitement about what lies ahead. I have been reflecting a fair bit recently on the truth that sometimes destiny comes to us with ease and little effort on our part whilst at other times destiny requires us to fight with all we have for it to be born. I don’t know what the rhyme or reason is behind that, but there it is.

Sometimes God’s kingdom and purposes unfold with little more required of us than to welcome them in. At other times we are called into the thick of the battle to pay a high price in the darkness and pain as we play our part in seeing God’s kingdom come. This is further complicated by our own inner struggles and pains which often form a battle field of their own. I don’t know why it sometimes happens one way and other times the other, all there is for me to say is that  for now at least, I know a little of the one in whom I have believed and trust him to lead the way.

As I prepare to step onto the track that is 2014 I know that there will be times when destiny will come to me and there will be times when destiny will seem hidden and require a fight to the death to get to. For each of us we will probably have new responsibilities this year, new authorities and new opportunities opening up each week, if we dare to look. By this time next year I will be in a different city, with a new circle of friends; I will have been to new places, learnt, done and seen new things.

The other day I was talking with God about this and as I asked him for wisdom, the thought crossed my mind ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to have a download of everything I need to know in order to ‘do’ this year?’. That would be a sure way to cure some of my persistent anxiety – deep in my psyche is a mortal fear of making mistakes and not measuring up – knowing that I had the wisdom and knowledge I needed to get everything right would be great for that! But then, that would mean I could feel pretty self-sufficient, I’d feel like I didn’t need God quite so much… or others. Imagine living with someone like that?!

We quickly left that thought behind and I spoke about my dream of doing each day with him, getting to know him and letting him enter each situation. Imagine that, each situation would have Emmanuel there, present in the moment. I hope this year that God never leaves me, that I grow to know him and his ways; his unfailing love and infinite grace and in that place my fear of making mistakes loses its power and instead I find the freedom to run for the joy of it, this track that I was made for and that he made for me. It occurs to me that whether God’s plans unfold before me with ease or whether I find myself in the midst of battle, both are part of his plan and to navigate either one I need to stay close with him. So it all comes back to the same point, whatever life brings, wherever this track leads, the whys and wherefores are pretty irrelevant if we stay with him.

Happy New Year.

Are we really ready?

 

SO last time I mentioned about the massive job that seems to be becoming clearer for all of us Christ-followers. At some point soon God’s going to start doing something new across the country, and the number of people actively looking for him and wanting to meet him will rise significantly. Churches are getting pretty excited about this, and rightly so. Often what happens when this change occurs is that the number of opportunities for people to gather at church goes up significantly, which is great. This is when gatherings learn to host God’s presence, people are learning to worship and wait on God together and lives are being touched, its really good!

But I suspect that this time there is more that God wants to do, more that’s going to be needed.

The job now is to equip today’s Christ followers so that wherever they are, not only are they able to help people meet God, but they are able to actually mentor them in following Christ, living in grace and applying their faith. It’s going to be all hands on deck! The church gatherings, though vital, aren’t going to be enough. The depth of transformation that I suspect God has in mind is going to require people in every workplace and sector, in every street and council estate, in every corridor of power, to be ready. Ready to see what God is doing and walk in step; ready to disciple a nation.

Imagine from the grass roots up and the corridors of power down, little pockets of Christ followers wrestling with what it means to be both just and merciful; dialoguing about how their faith informs what choices they make; learning what God teaches in his word and how to apply it. Not only will our nation be changed but the global impact will be colossal.

As in the days of Wesley and his compatriots, the transformation of society will come in the wake of revival, this time, however, it wont just be our society that is transformed, the effects will be global. We now live in a global village. However it is still true that it takes a village to raise a child, its just that the village is bigger now. The values that drive our society now have a direct impact on the two year old in that remote village in the amazon. That child needs God to move in our nation, that child needs today’s church to get ready to work with God tomorrow on the transformation of society.

 

Narrative, Call and Doing Today

 

Last Saturday I attended the memorial service for my great uncle Oliver Barclay. This was to be yet another encounter with God and my narrative to add to the series I have had over the last couple of months. Everything from the speeches to the obituary in The Times seemed to reach deep within me bringing life, challenge and commissioning. If you care to read about him I’ll set up a couple of links, as for me I will be processing what his life means to me for a while. As I wrote on Saturday night, I have been left challenged, inspired and longing that my life will honour my Uncle Oliver and that like him in some way I would somehow build a platform worthy of the next generation.

It’s interesting because in the last couple of months one of the things that I have been pondering has been a sense that there is a massive job for all who would call ourselves Christ-followers, and it’s about to become urgent. But let me not get ahead of myself! Over the summer I spent more or less three weeks on retreat, I highly recommend it! It was the mark of 10 years since heading into full time ministry and living on gift income. I went to surrender everything back to God, to wipe the slate clean and let him draw the map for the next phase of my life. If you haven’t surrendered everything to God – every work, responsibility, every promise he has made to you – even the fulfilled ones, every gift and skill he has given you, everything you are invested in, everything…. I highly recommend it! The truth is that I am still in the process, each day there are new things to surrender and old things that I have picked up again and need to lay down at the foot of the cross once more. But it’s so freeing! So much easier to see clearly and to hear what he is saying.

Part of the process involved a growing hunger to just be with God, to see his face, to know him better, to wait and see what he has to say. He said many, many things, in many different ways, one thing confirming the other and building up to the next. I came away from my three weeks knowing one thing; whatever God has for me, for us, whatever it is he wants to do with us – in partnership – in our time, I, we, need to get to know him truly. We can’t rely on the revelation, the grace, the anointing that those who have gone before us had, or even our leaders have. Just as David said to his son – we have to get to know our God, truly, we need to worship him with a whole heart and a willing mind. Through the prophet Jeremiah God says to us – the only achievement that means any thing is that you truly know me and understand that I am the LORD and what I am like.

God is a person, three persons, he exists in relationship and he loves to be in relationship with us. He wants to walk with us, he wants to see things through our eyes and for us to see things through his eyes. He knows that when we are with him we become more who he made us to be, and that is for our good and for those around us. He knows that we become very like the things that we love, so he calls us to worship him, for our own good and the benefit of others. It’s as we walk with him, in relationship with him, we want to honour him and he directs our paths… we see his will unfolding and that means his Kingdom is coming.

(more about the massive job next week!)

Beyond the Ache

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Ahhh my head is full! Four weeks ago I was checking into a flight at Heathrow airport. From there myself and two others, Anika and Leah, were headed to Cape Town South Africa. I have already shared the story of ‘Sallie’ in a previous post but those two weeks were crammed full with connections, meals, […]