Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Perhaps - embracing the risk factor

There's a little word, which I find unnerving, that shows up regularly in the Bible. It's the word "perhaps" and its presence, if we ponder if for a moment or two, offers a critique of some values we hold dear in our western culture. The word shows up when Caleb seeks to conquer the hill country of the promised land as an old man. He asks Joshua for permission to enter Bible, noting that "perhaps" God will grant him victory. Jonathan, the son of Saul, took on twenty of the enemy because he sensed God was in it, and that "perhaps" the Lord would work victory of them.

In both cases, these men had a clear sense from God regarding both the next step they were take and the desired outcome. What they didn't know, however, was whether they would succeed. In both cases, failure would have meant death. In both cases success would have been a clear testimony of the power of God because strength would be manifest in the midst of situations where weakness was so clearly evident. But weakness means we're outnumbered. Weakness means we might fail. Weakness means that, unless God comes through, we're stuffed.

We don't like being in that kind of space. We don't like the word "perhaps". We don't like risks nearly as much as we like safety and control. Maybe that's OK, the preference for safety and control over risk. What's not OK is to choose safety as the predominant paradigm for our decision making, because the reality is that God is always pushing us out of our safety zone, into a zone of dependency. He's pushing us out of our safety zone financially, as he challenges us to live generously and trust him with our provision. He's pushing us out relationally, whether that means calling us to reach out to strangers, break down social barriers, or risk entering an unfamiliar culture where we're vulnerable and not in control. Like a mother eagle, he's pushing us out of our nests so that we'll learn the ways of faith. Soon we come to understand that the ways of faith can't be learned without the word "perhaps".

In a world where much in which we've trusted is presently collapsing (things like banks, the auto industry, the global economy, vocational assurance) it's tempting for us to make safety and assurance an even larger value than before, pushing faith and risk to the periphery. Such a posture reveals that we've misunderstood our real source of security all along, for the global economy, banks, vocations, and home equity were never our real sources of security. We might have thought they were. They weren't. God is the only rock, Jehovah Jirah is the only provider. He'll either sustain us, or He won't. But the prerogative, protection, and provision, come from Him. And if that's true, we've little to fear, even if the mirages collapse. This, of course, is easier to say than to actually live.

I intend to live 2009 on the basis of obedience to God's vision and calling, rather than on the assumption that God wants me to be safe. A little poem that helps me remember this comes from a WWII soldier named Studdard Kennedy, who fought often on the front lines. Writing home to his 10 year old son he said:

"The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, "God, keep my Daddy safe", but "God, make Daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them". Son, life and death don't matter, but right and wrong do. Daddy dead is Daddy still. But Daddy dishonored before God is something to awful for words. I suppose you'd like to put in something about safety too and Mother would like it too. Well, put it in afterwards, always afterwards. For it really doesn't matter as much as doing what is right."


At 23/1/09 12:56, Blogger Tipton Grisham said...

Very timely thank you. I am presently facing many challenges and the temptation to take the way of comfort is very inviting. I appreciate your words.

At 23/1/09 17:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had your book for six weeks. I have checked it out of the library at least twice.
I am re-reading it for the second time. It resonates with me. I'm a Christian meditator for the last 30 years.
Got this little piece today about the bus signs in London about doubting there is a god.

I was thinking this morning of why I believe in you. It is not because of anything that is so flimsy as a current philosophical argument of some kind. I have seen you. I have seen you in the sunset colored surf of Malibu. I have seen you in the big dipper and the harvest moon hanging above Peaks Pike as I go out to get my morning paper. I have seen you in the creation of the large hackberry tree from which my childhood swing helped me enjoy summer afternoons. I have seen you in the worn hands of my mother preparing eight different breakfasts for eight grandkids. I have seen you in the noble, "finish -the-race" style of my parents when they crossed the finish line on this earth. These have pointed me to a book I read and reflect upon with the faith of the child and the experiences in life of a man. So I guess regardless of the signs on the London buses that you don’t exist. I believe You do.
Larry Wishard

At 24/1/09 09:37, Anonymous Will Hale said...

It's funny, being someone who's studied ministry in his undergraduate work and now planning to go into seminary, I catch myself slipping in this mentality with my vocation. It seems insecure, almost irresponsible to say, "perhaps God is calling me to..." and not know the entire way it will work out.

Maybe it's my own struggle for approval, but I want to be able to speak on behalf of God with a detailed proposal that shows exactly how my life will develop when people ask. I can embrace "perhaps" and take the risk; it's the task of convincing everyone else "perhaps" is not "irresponsible" or "unmotivated" that is the difficulty. It's not always easy going against the grain.

At 1/2/09 16:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pastor Richard,

I have been attending Bethany for over two years. I'm learning a lot. Today, I went to Trader Joe's after church and there was a homeless man outside. I asked if he wanted any food and he requested a pineapple. Well, Trader Joe's was void of all things pineapple, but I selected a variety of snacks for him. As I shopped, God reminded me of your exhortation to not just act in His Name, but to speak of Him as well. That was really scary and challenging for me. I gave the man the food and chatted with him a bit. He accepted my offer to pray with him, so we stood outside the store, heads bowed, praying out loud as customers shuffled around us. My words were awkward and I was blessed when the man prayed God's Word over my life. My attempts to live beyond myself by the power of the Holy Spirit feel like a preschooler's attempts at art. Nevertheless, I know God is honored by my scribbles. Thank you, Richard, for your leadership and Holy Spirit-empowered teaching. I appreciate you, respect you, and am praying for you.

-Brooke Caldwell


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