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!!
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.)
Derrick is one of my heroes. I have a few, but he’s certainly one of them! I recently returned from South Africa where I had been with Derrick and his team for two weeks. Through delivering our Foundations for life and ministry course, hanging out with the team, running workshops and many other things, I learnt a fair bit about grace… and stuff.
Derrick and his wife Priscilla are fabulous – as different from each other as a lion and a lamb, they form an awesome team. I learnt two simple and profound lessons as I watched and worked with both of them and through these I am beginning to learn the incredible power of grace.
As my colleague put it, Derrick is unorthodox in his approach to life and ministry and relating to others. In Fusion we have certain ways of doing things and running programs, but the outcomes we are after are pretty clear – that people have experienced something of the way Jesus would relate to them, were he here in physical person. Derrick doesn’t always do things the ‘right way’! Sometimes it’s because he doesn’t have the man power, or the hours, or the finance, and often it’s simply because he does it better a different way! But always the young adults he works with know he loves them and he is giving his life for them. Through their interactions with him and his team, they are learning to walk with Christ. A Day Trip may look pretty different but the outcomes are the same.
Priscilla has a different approach to Derrick. She likes her ducks all in a row… systems, parameters, frameworks, if there are rules she’ll keep to them. This sister is a force of nature in the chaos of life; literally. She was able to take a budget of next to zero and created good food for 20 hungry young adults (and old!), constantly looking ahead and creating, she anticipated and met the group’s needs for care and sustenance. And Priscilla does all this from a gentle, fun-loving nature that’s firm and fair and leaves everyone knowing that she loves them and is happy to be serving them.
This couple have shown me that if Christ’s love is compelling us and we are intentionally seeking ways to express that love authentically so it can be heard and received, then God’s favour is on us and he takes delight in revealing himself to others through us. Whether we are living by the rules… or not.
Our choices do not limit God.
He, he himself, chooses when and how and why to limit himself. As I reflect on my time in South Africa recently, there are many things I have seen and learnt especially as I now look back on the journey; most of all about grace.
As we look back on our past, we see two journeys have been unfolding. One journey is that of the Father wooing us to himself, and the choices we make in response to him. The second is one of God’s grace and faithfulness, his love and life and action in us and through us, his purposes unfolding despite the choices we made.
Many of those with whom we spent the last two weeks underwent fairly major shifts in paradigm. For some church leaders even their frameworks for understanding God’s nature and his work in and through them was completely turned upside down. As we all continue on this journey of allowing Holy Spirit to reorder our frameworks we need to remember grace. We need to look back and see that God is always calling us to a closer love relationship with him where we become more like him and live as Jesus did; but even when we are far from where he wants us to be, he chooses to still pour out his life and grace through us to those around us. We don’t get our lives in order so that God can do stuff, we get our lives in order in response to his incredible love for us, and the rest is entirely up to him.
I am so grateful that despite my many failings and weaknesses, Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit have brought life and healing and wholeness and strength and New Creation to every single one of us during those two weeks, including myself.
This is yet more evidence of the power of grace.
I have just returned from a ministry trip to Albania. We were there to help run a week-long foundational course for life and mission – many of you will have heard of and seen me write about Foundations before. The Albanian courses are phenomenon in themselves. Speak to many outside Albania, who have done a Foundations course and they will tell you how equally great and grueling the week is. If they are looking for influence, they will then proceed to share how the content really should be cut down and the schedule spaced out, how unreasonable it is to expect people cope with the pace. Then come and ask any of young person connected with the Fusion team in Albania and you hear a very different story.
Foundations in Albania is a highlight in the year! It’s about vibrant, electric times of worship. It’s about discovering the God of the bible alive and in their midst. It’s about complete surrender at the cross. It’s about preparing to change the world together. It’s a time of refreshing, fun, volleyball and dancing past midnight. The chance to go is coveted by the teenagers – spaces are now limited to those who have never done it before as the campsite can only take 80 people!
In Australia we do what we call ‘Youth Foundations’ where the sessions are presented in a very youth friendly way with work books and craft activities to keep the young people’s focus during the sessions. Every minute of the day is structured with team activities so young people are on the go, learning, creating, the whole time. Not so in Albania, its straight, no frills, ‘adult’ foundations! Last week of the 60 Albanians doing the course the vast majority were in their teens and early twenties. So how does this work?
As I hung out with the team and the participants I think I might have stumbled on the key. The leaders have a passionate commitment to God and seeing their generation experience his love and life. For each of them Foundations has been a profound journey that equipped them to fulfill this passion and to know God more. Their passion is contagious and the young people they work with are direct beneficiaries. Together through the year they experience God’s life and love amongst them and overflowing. Foundations then becomes a gathering of celebration and empowering together to change the world. The intensity and the schedule are irrelevant as they discover God and his purpose for their lives.
The team in Albania are reaching a whole generation and Foundations is a key part of their strategy. No frills, it works. You were to ask them they’d say – don’t touch it! (apart from the movie ‘Cromwell’ that is!).
Sorry i have been so quiet for so long. I am back from 5 weeks of traveling – 3 weeks retreat/holiday and 2 weeks work.
Here are a few of my highlights from the Albanian Foundations course we helped run last week:
- · Young people crowded around the candle at the front of the stage, watching as their pieces of paper symbolising things they wanted to put right, burnt away.
- · Thundering round of applause as the movie Amazing Grace ended.
- · Young people coming to faith!
- · “I’m going to change the world, forget Ancient History, I’m doing political science at Uni now!”
- · Cheering throughout the slide show during the festival debrief.
- · Dancing till way past midnight on the last night.
- · Young people on the edge of their seats drinking in God’s word.
- · Seeing trainers take the plunge and deliver units with all their heart for the first time.
i put together a photobook of the team in Albania if you would like to have a look, here is the link:
Its been a while since I posted on my blog. The last couple of months have been challenging but the shadows seem to be dispersing a little, which is encouraging. We are about two thirds of the way through the Foundations course we are running in Balham. Over recent weeks I have had the privilege of facilitating the group we engage with the truth of Jesus our kinsman redeemer and ransom, and in a couple of days we will continue the journey through eternal life.
I have appreciated once again trying to get into the shoes of the disciples during those last weeks and days of their time with Jesus. This morning I realised that I currently identify strongly with Cleopas and his mate walking to Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus death. They were bewildered. They had expected to see Jesus’ messiahship expressed in specific and tangible, temporal ways – for them it was a revolution and the toppling of Roman oppression of the Jews. But it hadn’t worked out that way. And to make matters worse, events were still unfolding that made no sense at all being completely outside of their frame of reference – the women, and Peter and John all coming back from the tomb with stories of angels, stones rolled away, visions of Jesus himself…. it was all a bit ‘out there’. And, anyway, none of it made up for the fact that their hopes of freedom from oppression had been dashed.
I too from my temporal perspective look to see God’s kindness and grace expressed in life-living every day ways. Often times it is but very often it isn’t and I can find it tricky. In most of these cases all that’s needed is a quick double take and readjustment and I am off and away again, but sometimes my belief can be shaken to the core, or that’s what it feels like, and that’s not so comfortable to live with.
Jesus responds to his disciples with two things, he helps them see reality from God’s eternal perspective. This isn’t simply an intellectual excercise but a process of the heart and mind where revelation leads to understanding. The second thing he does is to breathe on them, imparting his very Spirit and nature into them. Now that he has paid the ransom, the process of redemption unfolds as God himself presences himself in them saying ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’. Here is the eternal grace and kindness of God entering our temporal existence, ready to reveal the myriad expressions of his life and love, his unfolding redemption, his action in the waiting times. Walking with us and transforming our bewilderment into understanding, belief and hope.
In January I posted my reflections on Capital ‘H’ Hope and I think this is what its all about. Relief comes and their are nice feelings when God’s grace and kindness find expression in ways that I can see and experience as goodness; but when those two things dont line up I need to cling to him and trust him to help me see him again.