faithfulness

IMG_9349.jpgWhen Paul writes of faithfulness in Galatians, what does he mean? It’s from the Greek pistis, which carries a sense of loyalty and being trustworthy when dealing with other people. How can we learn about being faithful people in spiritual terms?  It may make us feel uncomfortable, because the opposite human traits are not very appealing.

My dog is extremely loyal.  Her name is Cassie and she is pictured here.  Every time I return to her, she comes and sits in front of me, wags her tail and looks at me expectantly.  She is always there.  She relies on me for her nurture and wellbeing.  Interestingly, I also come to rely on her.  I faithfully walk her, feed her and ensure she is safe.  It is a mutual relationship, which we both benefit from.  I learn about faithfulness just by looking at her.  If only our human interaction was as straightforward!

Galatia, at the time of Paul’s letter, was a mixture of early Jewish Christians and another group of Christians, who had a Greco-Roman angle on their burgeoning faith.  Paul was seeking to give them a united message.  Who, or what, should they be faithful to?  Was it their cultural norms?  Was it their interpretation of the law?  Was it their teachers? Or was it the teachings of Christ?  In Galatians 3, Paul writes There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  He is quite clear that the person of Jesus was the key to understanding life.  Paul acknowledged that there was difference and was preaching a message of unity and mutual faithfulness.  In his list of the fruits of the Spirit, he gave the people of Galatia, and consequently to us, some ways to gauge how they were doing.

Faithfulness is a mindset which we show to all kinds of things.  Pets is an obvious example.  But we also show it to our favourite singers, we show it to our hobbies, we show it to each other at the pub, we show it to our families.  But how can we show it in our mission as a church?  We can show it by not giving up.  We can show it by keeping on keeping on.  We can meet it by being steadfast and always being there.

The opposite of faithfulness is a mindset we can sometimes be guilty of slipping into. We can be fickle and we can show disregard.  The church can be guilty of seemingly only appealing to people like us or people who will understand us.  This is an impoverished view of the faithfulness that God shows to us.  His lavish gift of unwavering faithfulness deserves more from us.

Faithfulness is something that we can all pray for.  It might be conveyed these days in terms of stickability or guts.  Faithfulness is the friend who is there whatever has happened.  Faithfulness is the brother or sister who still loves you. Faithfulness is in the ancient church door.  Faithfulness is in the face of Christ.  Faithfulness is in the bread and the wine.  Faithfulness is at the centre of our mission.  Faithfulness is what God shows to us.  Let’s do our bit and show it to each other and let it shine in our mission as a church.

 

‘all you need is just a little patience’

I have a confession to make.  I used to get home from school, and listen to this song.115483812  I might cringe now when I hear it.  It’s pretty awful. But teenage me must’ve found something meaningful in it.  The lyrics are rock n’ roll romance. (I think it was Axl Rose’s whistling intro which really caught my attention..)

The patience that Paul writes about in Galatians and in his other letters, is something more than the soppy sentiment of this song, or the equally slushy Take That hit of the same name.  Just like our previous posts, we will look at patience as part of our Christian mission and then see where it takes us.

What is patience? Is it just waiting for our turn to speak?  Is it those terminal minutes on hold at the utility company?  Is it a boring waste of our precious time? Or is it a gift from God; a fruit of The Holy Spirit, there for the edification and building up of the church?

We live in a culture that doesn’t do patience.  We like our food fast.  We like our TV now. We want the test results immediately.  We want to go the quickest way.  Getting lost isn’t an adventure.  We will half-listen to everything.  We like to multi-task.  We want a response.  We want it now.  We want the church full today.  We want it all to be sorted. Being patient is boring.  Nothing happens fast enough. Where are the results…?

The patience that Paul writes of in Galatians has the echoes of a different way. It carries ideas of deference, self-deprecation, waiting with confidence and endurance.  The KJV translation is long-suffering.  This puts into perspective our ‘now’ culture.  We don’t like any kind of suffering.  But we know that Paul encourages us to be long-suffering as a vital part of being a Christian (e.g. the end of Philippians 1).

Can we defer our Christian mission? Can we wait with confidence for our part in God’s mission to become clear.  Let’s encourage each other to endure.  Yes it might end up being the ninth revision of the mission plan, yes there might be people just getting in the way, yes we might be frustrated at the pure inaction of things.  But endurance is good for us.  If our hope and message is worth passing on to others in our community, and we believe it is, then it’s worth waiting for.  Waiting for the right time.  Waiting for an opportunity.  Waiting for the right team to make it happen.

Patience as a fruit of the spirit is unfashionable and possibly gets overlooked in Paul’s writings.   Mainly because it takes the onus away from us.  When we are waiting for something, we often have to surrender control to something or somebody else, we cannot control the bus, the postal service, the healthcare professionals or the prospective employer; however much we might want to! The same is true when we are waiting for something to happen in Christian mission.  The way patience will become a fruit that we taste in our Christian mission, is by deferring to God and his timing and his character.  If we allow that to be our mission, then our church’s mission might flourish.  All we need is just a little patience….

 

come on eiréné

‘There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray’   (Thomas Dorsey 1937)

The peace of God is supposed to be beyond our understanding – well, that’s what Paul says in his note to the church at Philippi.  Maybe he should’ve said ‘if you want the peace that God gives, good luck trying to keep it…’  Does this peace, which Paul writes about, go not just beyond our understanding, but also beyond our reach?  Is it like that branch you couldn’t quite reach in the tree?  Is it the words you couldn’t find when faced with bad news?  Is it the time you needed the last time you were angry? How can peace form part of our Christian mission?

walk path

Paul loved to use the most common Biblical word for peace (eiréné) as part of a greeting or in the final flourish of his letters.  For Paul, greetings and endings were important. Perhaps the challenge for us as a church is to put this peace at the beginning and end of everything we do too.  With peace as our bookends, our mission will be more effective.  It will be more measured.  It will be more on target.  It will enrich our communities.  It will build up the church.  It will honour God as the focus of our mission.

How do we greet our mission opportunities?  Do we blunder in, blindfolded and bursting with excitement?  It’s good for us to be energised, but like a horse that needs to be broken, we need to allow God’s peace to be at the forefront of our opportunities.  That first conversation about mission should be focused and determined, but it should also be driven by the health and wholeness of the Holy Spirit.  Our mission begins with our desire to pass on what God first shows to us.  We ought to be a peace-giving presence in our community.  We need to listen.  We need to be sensitive.  We need to carry with us the peace that God gives to us.  Mission shouldn’t be divisive.  It shouldn’t cause our friends frustration.  It shouldn’t do more harm than good.

How do we end our mission opportunities?  Do we count people? Do we count money? Do we measure how tired we are?  Or rejoice in how happy it made us? Do we grasp at holy straws? Do we attempt to work out what exactly what we have done?  Often, at the end of a mission opportunity, whether it be a quick chat at the shops, or a long-planned event, we get busy.  We fill ourselves with the activity of working out how successful it was.  We write reports.  We have a debrief meeting. We start planning the next one.  How about we take a leaf from Paul’s book and try a bit of peaceful prayer?  We could rest a while and ask God to give us his peace.  We could wait and listen to what God has to say about our missional effort.  He might have something helpful for us.

How do we make sure that in our lives, and in our part in Christian mission, peace is at the greeting and ending of our efforts?  We do this by supporting each other.  By giving encouragement to one another. By praying that God will give us the resources we need to be people of peace in our mission. By building faith in the church.  Let us pause to send messages of God’s peace to one another; at the beginning of mission and at the end.