Runs Deep

If you read my previous post then you’d know where I am headed with this one. And no I hadn’t forgotten to follow it up – I just thought I’d wait a week so you could reflect more on it in your own experience.

The question I am pondering is, ‘after 40 odd years of following Jesus what have I come to ‘know‘ deep in my heart as absolutely critical to the establishment of a strong and well formed faith

I had thought I would cycle thru these ideas one post at a time so I could really develop what I mean and why it matters, but having begun in that frame and found it feeling a bit awkward and detached, I sense it is better to scan the whole range of ideas in one swoop

So here we go with 6 elements that give foundation to my own faith and that help me stay the course and live as a disciple of Jesus.

  1. God is good.

He is GOOD!

This deep conviction is the cornerstone of my faith. It has been my experience over and over, but it is also a deep belief. If God is not good for any reason then we are in real trouble. If God is malevolent, capricious or just has ‘bad days’, then he would be impossible to trust and to put our hope in. If God is not good then he simply becomes another despotic deity who needs appeasing on a regular basis.

This knowledge cultivates an awareness of his goodness in the world, a heart of gratitude for what I see of him and a deep sense of joy in life.

This understanding also helps me deal with issues like Old Testament violence. If God is good then I begin reading these passages with that premise. And it helps me form a reasonable response – maybe it wouldn’t be one that everyone would accept – but the premise of a perfectly good and loving God must be the foundation for my ruminations (as I don’t accept that God simply wanted to wipe out nations who weren’t onside with him and his people.)

What do I mean by ‘good’? I mean that he only ever intends the best for his creation. Perhaps it’s not much different from saying ‘God is love’ and as a result he is ‘good’. But his goodness for me relates to his ongoing faithful concern for his creation – his refusal to do anything to harm that creation.

I just can’t buy the view of God’s sovereignty that has him as the mastermind behind all sorts of shitty stuff in life because he has a ‘greater plan’. I was abused as a child because God wanted me to help other abused kids? … It was God’s plan for me to have terminal cancer / motor neruone disease / or whatever else for some greater good?… I don’t think so. There may well be greater good come out of tragedy and difficulty, but God is never the one pulling the strings and screwing up people’s lives so they can learn some hard lessons.

God is good. If we don’t get that factored in early then we are in trouble.

2. Jesus is Lord – again – utterly foundational and not negotiable. Paul spoke to this when he said ‘For me to live is Christ – and to die is gain.’ Scot McKnight once summed up the gospel in these 3 exact words, ‘Jesus is Lord’, When Stanley Hauerwas was interviewed by a rather straight laced Christian journal and asked to define the gospel he was a little more feisty stating ‘Jesus is Lord – everything else is bullshit’. Maybe this was why Time magazine called him America’s best theologian in 2001. 🙂

This statement gives shape to literally everything I do. Ok not everything – not what colour socks I wear – but it does give shape to the way I live my life – the way I use my money – the way I treat other people – the way I do business. If Jesus is Lord then I bow the knee to him every day and surrender my own will to his. If you’re reading this as someone who doesn’t have faith then I appreciate that can sound a little weird – but it’s a conscious decision when you become a disciple – to live a life that is reflective of the one you follow. And it’s done in the belief that the life he calls me to, is life as it’s intended to be, lived in the ‘kingdom of God’,

Most days this idea bubbles away beneath the surface guiding and shaping. It’s rare that I hear a megaphone giving me instructions to obey. At this point in my life it is in some ways ‘second nature’ – and that’s probably an apt term because my first nature is still to look after no 1 and make decisions that only ever serve me. There are times when the voice of Jesus speaks clearly into a situation I am grappling with in a way that is simply calling for me to choose the Christlike way when I am struggling with my own will. It’s been 11 years since I gave up alcohol, but it happened because in a moment I heard him say ‘stop‘. (Follow the link if you want a broader picture). I had grappled with drinking in moderation and failed on numerous occasions. I just loved wine. Then one day – clear as a bell – Jesus said ‘stop‘. For someone who holds to the idea of Jesus as Lord the only appropriate response is to say ‘yes’. I did – and he hasn’t said that I can start drinking again yet, so the ‘ban’ is still in force 🙂

I won’t deny there are times of wrestle as I discern him sometimes forming me in ways that are difficult – but this choice is firmly made, and as long as it’s in place there is only ever one response.


3. The kingdom of God is ultimate reality & the hope of God for the world – I am embarrassed to say that I really didn’t ‘get’ the ‘kingdom of God’ until I was in my 30’s. I didn’t understand or grasp that what was meant by ‘your kingdom come on earth as in heaven’ was for the world to operate according to God’s original design. And while we live in the ‘in-between’ space now – we anticipate a time in the new creation when the kingdom of God will be fully expressed and experienced.

This matters to me because for much of my early years ‘salvation’ was nothing more than being pulled from the flames of hell and sent on a path to heaven. And my job on this earth was to ‘save people’. I’ve been really grateful for the theologians who have helped me expand my understanding of salvation to realise that it is much more than the forgiveness of sins, but it extends to all of creation and that we are ‘being saved’ as we live each day in the reality of God’s kingdom and under the rule of the king – Jesus.

I’m not a person who particularly likes being told what to do – or made to conform for no good reason. But when I think of the world as God intends where there is love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness and so on, I want to live in that reality – so I will bow the knee to the way of the kingdom in the conviction that God knows better than me. And quite frankly there is great joy in living in the way of Jesus – of knowing that I can trust his judgement on everything, (even if I can’t always trust my discernment in hearing him…)

These days when I am speaking to people who aren’t Christians about the faith, I ‘lead’ with the ‘gospel of the kingdom’, of there being a God who loves his creation and wants the best for it and has a plan for how that can happen – how we can return to the better plan. The cross is at the centre of this, but it is not the circumference. The gospel is far grander and more beautiful than Jesus dying for my sins so I could go to heaven.

These days it is the ‘gospel of the kingdom of God’ that inspires me and forms my imagination of how life should be lived in this world.

4. Faith is both beautiful and mysterious (but not very systematic) – This is core because the longer I am alive and the more I read the scriptures, the more questions I have forming in my mind. Yet, while questions form, I am also deeply convinced of the goodness of God and his greater plan for his creation so I find myself regularly living in moments of tension where I read a passage of scripture that once was so ‘clear’ and now it is puzzling.

I listened to a recent podcast with Richard Rohr and Brene Brown as they discussed ‘second half of life’ issues. They made the point that in church we are trained to explain rather than explore and as a result the place of mystery has been replaced by what is often a rather dull and hard to believe explanation of something beautiful and mysterious. Maybe we were never intended to explain faith in short concise statements.

For an example of a case in point consider 2 Kings 2. In this crazy narrative we have Elijah rolling up his jacket and parting a river with it, then his disciple, Elisha requesting a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit (can you actually do that?!), followed by a whirlwind taking Elijah ‘up into heaven’ and then the story that always reminds me to be nice to prophets, where a group of young men mock Elisha’s bald head – so he calls down bears from the forest to maul them (42 of them to be precise)… There is so much to ponder in that chapter – so much that is puzzling – absurd even! As I read the scriptures each morning I find myself journalling my questions more than my observations or learnings and it is the questions that stir me. Over the years I have ‘learnt’ a lot – and much of it has been good – but I don’t feel I was well trained in how to sit with curious parts of scripture and to be ok with not understanding all of it.

Seriously thoughb – what’s the deal with the bears!?

I have a clear memory of being 19 years old and attending a series of mid-week Bible studies at my church where a supremely confident teacher gave us completely authoritative answers to absolutely everything that we wanted to know about, even the most complex of passages. After one of the meetings I chatted with him personally in the carpark before heading home. I asked ‘can you tell me – is the Bible like poetry where everyone can read it and make a different interpretation, or is there only one true reading of each passage.’ He cleared that up for me straight away by letting me know that for every verse there was only one correct way to read it.

While I don’t subscribe to a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of reading of scripture where every and any interpretation is equally valid, I have benefited more from appreciating beauty and mystery in recent years than I have from needing to nail rock solid certainty at every bend.

5. Faith is inherently communal – I have written about this plenty.

There simply is no such thing as a solitary Christian who doesn’t see the need to be part of some expression of church. The New testament letters are all written to communities, instructing them in the way of faith and in how to live together as the people of God. So when someone says ‘for me faith is just very personal – between me and God’ I have warning lights flashing. This isn’t the faith the Bible speaks of.

Having been in church for nearly 60 years now there is a part of me that feels like I have ‘been there done that’ and if I never went to church again I feel like I’d be ok. Hmph… I guess what I wouldn’t be able to observe is the difference in my own behaviour and thinking as I move away from the people of God to ‘do my own thing’. I may ‘keep my core beliefs’, but that assumes that faith is about intellectual assent to a collection of ideas. As if… While there are some ‘core beliefs’, the real test of faith is in how it is lived out each day. I keep saying ‘there is no theology exam for heaven’, yet with so many theologically anal Christians nit picking over doctrine, you would think this was the case.’

I do appreciate plenty of people have been burnt by church and struggle to re-engage with the beast that bit them. Churches can do a lot of harm and PTSD is real. But there are many different expressions of the church, so my encouragement to the wounded is to try and find a bunch of people who are up for sharing the road with you – then join them and stick with them for at least a year. Give it a good shot and who knows – you may just be pleasantly surprised,

Unless we are in community we won’t be able to serve one another, carry one another’s burdens, forgive one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another… and so it goes on. There is never going to be a time in my life where I can say ‘ok I think I’ve done church… let’s do something else’.

6. My hope is in the death and resurrection of Christ – this is both the beauty of our faith and the ‘foolishness’ of it as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians.

I was reading that chapter again this morning and as I was reflecting I realised that I cannot easily ‘explain’ this hope in a logical way. The ‘mechanics’ of salvation are not able to be easily broken down into ‘4 spiritual laws’ or ‘two ways to live’. Sorry if those booklets were your go to for evangelism. I just don’t see it that neat and tidy.

I began to imagine myself explaining this some friends and I could see puzzled looks forming on their faces… This is a weird story we subscribe to right?… This eternally pre-existent God, created a world where people were given free will to choose how to live and many rejected him. He then sent his son (also him incarnate…) to die for the sins of the world and to be the means of salvation for all mankind… It was his death and resurrection that began the establishment of his kingdom – a kingdom that will come in fullness at the new creation

If you had never heard this story before it would be utterly absurd to you. It sounds like a sci fi or fantasy story! But I wonder if it wouldn’t also be ‘good news’ – that we are not alone – that life is not random and meaningless – but there is a good God who is in the process of restoring the broken creation and he invites us to join him in that.

As I have sought ways to make clear practical sense of this gospel I have felt like one of those gentiles for whom it is ‘foolishness’. There are times when I find myself wondering how I share this story with other people without them thinking I am off with the fairies. I don’t know if such a method exists, but perhaps it’s just a case of stating it simply and clearly – the inner workings of all of this is above my paygrade – but what I do know is ‘Christ was crucified and then risen again on the third day’ and this is the basis of my hope. Then we leave it to the spirit to do his work…

So there you have it – 6 foundational blocks of my own faith. As I said earlier, these are less ‘beliefs’ (in the intellectual sense) and more a product of my own experience of faith over a lifetime. I wanted to articulate the stuff that sits deep in my gut rather than the information stored on my ‘hard drive’. So if you read it and feel like there are some omissions then you’re probably right. There is nothing about the Bible, nothing about the Holy Spirit, or end times…

Chances are that God has been revealing different things to you and your list would look different to mine. But there you have it – the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning…

So – tell me what’s on your list?…

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