The Space In-between: When Faith Looks Like Foolishness

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

-Hillsongs “Oceans”

Faith looks like foolishness in the space in-between the word God speaks and its reality. Noah looked like a fool building a giant boat for a supposed flood and planning to somehow get two of every animal on board to live peacefully together for months. Until the rains started coming. And coming. And water bubbled up from the ground and began to accumulate. One inch, six inches, two feet, 7 feet and on and on until the waters covered the earth. It was only then that the strength of his faith was evident.

In preparation for a major battle, Gideon pared his army of 32,000 down to 300 in obedience to God. Then they took torches to the edge of the enemy’s camp, blew trumpets and broke jars causing the enemy to fight against each other and flee. A foolish move led to victory because of Gideon’s faith in God’s word. Joshua put his trust in God when he told him to march his army around the walls of Jericho for seven days and blow trumpets. As they stood before crumbling walls his soldiers were able to see the miraculous hand of God at work.

A young shepherd boy named David killed a giant with no armor and no real weapons—only a slingshot and a rock. The soldiers must have cringed at the thought of how badly Goliath would soon slaughter David, or maybe even laughed at the lunacy of such a small boy fighting a battle-hardened soldier. But the risk paid off and the soldiers’ laughter was silenced as Goliath’s massive body crashed to the ground.

Let’s talk about Mary the mother of Jesus for a moment. “Joseph, I’m pregnant and the father is the Holy Spirit.” Really? Really. Why did God choose her? Maybe it was because he knew her heart and that he could trust her to carry his promise with faithfulness and integrity. He knew that she wouldn’t cover up what God had told her in order to save face and protect her dignity. She faced serious consequences in her day to be unmarried and pregnant. She had no guarantee that Joseph wouldn’t simply call off the engagement and abandon her to an unfortunate fate. In the end her foolishness was revealed instead as faith, but she had to be willing to lay down her pride in the process.

The list of biblical accounts similar to these goes on and on. When God finds a person who fully trusts him, he can then trust them with the secrets of his heart. If it always made sense to us, if it worked according to human wisdom and the laws of nature, it would be so much easier. But it wouldn’t be faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see.” Faith always requires a risk. This is why we take a “leap of faith.” There are no step by step instructions. There is no map. There is no checklist. We simply hear God speak and then leap into the unknown, trusting that God’s prepared the way ahead of us.

Peter looked pretty foolish stepping out on the water at Jesus’ invitation. Surely expecting him to sink below the waves, the other disciples must have watched in wonder as Peter began to walk on the surface. It’s in the space in-between the word God speaks and its reality that faith appears as foolishness to those around us.

Why doesn’t God just function within our framework? Why not ask us to do things that make a little more sense? Why make us risk failing or looking like fools? Because then the extraordinary would be reduced to the ordinary. Then the miraculous could be boiled down to science. And God would be lessened to a god that fits in all of our boxes.

If we are willing to risk looking foolish in the space in-between, God can show up in a big way. These are the moments when the atheist can no longer deny the existence of his creator. These are the moments when the unloved can see that their Father will go to any length to make them aware that the creator of the universe knows and loves them. If we desire to be greatly used by God, and we should, we have to be willing to be foolish in the eyes of the world. 1 Corinthians 1:25 says that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. Even the greatest wisdom of earth is merely foolishness compared to God’s wisdom.

As Christ-followers we have a choice. We can relegate God to a status slightly above our own, believing that Jesus was just a teacher here to show us how to be good people. We can put God into our box of what we understand with our finite minds, claiming that anything outside of that is foolishness. We can choose to worship a God that exists to answer small prayers and provide a support crutch in our tough times. We can essentially choose to worship a god of our own creation, who follows our rules, formulas and equations.

Or, we can take God at his word, believe he is the God of the impossible, and step into what he’s calling us to do even if we appear completely foolish in the process. We can choose to worship a God who is actually worthy of worship because he’s not simply a greater version of “us.”

He is altogether higher, greater, wiser, more loving, more powerful, more merciful and gracious than we as humans will ever be on our own.

And as we live out the space in-between the foolishness and the revealing of our faith he continues to reveal his character to us. As we put our faith and trust in who he is he will provide the strength we need to persevere and will shape and mold us to be more like him. When we reach the other side of our test of faith we will see the hopeless find hope, the unloved find love, the broken and depressed find healing and joy, and the dead come to life in Christ.

We’re not simply here to exist on earth and live a cozy life full of comfort and convenience. We were given an assignment to share with the world a God who loves so deeply and desperately that there is literally nothing he wouldn’t do to ensure they receive that love. He knows the hairs on their heads, the tears they’ve cried and the needs of each life. But he won’t do it without us. We are the tangible, visible expressions of God’s love and if we are going to be that love manifested on earth we will have to step out of our comfort zones and onto the waters of foolishness.

To the rest of the world, it is the picture of foolishness as our foot slowly travels through the air, over the edge of the boat and finally reaches the waves. Only as they see the surface of the water unbroken and our feet resting soundly on top will the reality of our faith become evident to those around us. And only then will we truly change the world around us.

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“You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep my faith will stand.”

Loving Beyond My Comfort Zone

My good friend Holly works for the missions organization we partnered with in Haiti and their staff is doing a guest blog series about living a missions minded lifestyle. I was honored to be invited to participate! You can find this over at her blog as well.   She’s amazing and I love reading her blog–definitely worth a look!

I initially hesitated when asked to write this for a couple of reasons, one of them being that I often don’t feel like I’m all that great at living a missional lifestyle. It is my heart, for sure. But the practical application in my life doesn’t always feel very successful.

Up until recently, I was always surrounded by people that hadn’t yet experienced the love of Jesus. I grew going to public school, went to a state university, and held several jobs in retail and restaurant and so I never had to look for opportunities to share my faith. As is the case for most people that don’t work in a church.  And it’s a beautiful thing since our co-workers and classmates are the people that see us day in and day out. These are the people that actually get to see, not just hear, us living out our faith.

Fast forward to 2010 when my husband and I were incredibly blessed to take a position as the worship pastors in a great church…2,000 miles away from home.  Suddenly I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing church. Our only connections in our new town are those in our church community and the cashiers at Safeway, Target and Quickstop. Two thousand miles from home there are no past classmates around.  No former co-workers.  And we won’t meet our neighbors for a few months because our yards here are fenced and garages are attached and you can come and go from your home without ever stepping out into the fresh (ok, not-so-fresh here in the Central Valley) air.  I’m in a giant bubble of shiny, happy, Jesus-loving folk. And it’s amazing in some ways.

I love my job and the people we work with and the people in the church, but there’s something missing.  There are no organic opportunities for community with those outside the church. As much as I could drop an old-school tract on the restaurant table, or tritely say “Jesus loves you” to the Starbucks barista it’s scary and besides that I don’t think it’s all that effective coming from someone who is a perfect stranger.  We, as Americans, are aware for the most part that “Jesus loves us” as we’ve seen it on billboards and heard it on from the sidewalk prophets at least once or twice in our lives. Sadly, it has become a cliché.

I’m not saying these venues are never effective for sharing the gospel, but what people are longing to see today are Jesus followers who really look like Jesus. Not a fictional, pharisaical Jesus who never associated with sinners except to cast the first stone, but the real Jesus of the Bible who regularly hung out with the prostitutes, embezzling tax collectors, and fisherman-nobodies.  The world is longing for Jesus followers who will love like Jesus.

I used to think that sharing your faith meant standing up on your high school cafeteria table and preaching a sermon during lunch.  Since I never could get up the courage to do that (surprising, I know) I figured I had pretty much failed.

I’ve grown in my understanding of faith-sharing since then.  There’s a familiar quote from St. Augustine that says,  “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” There are times when we need to speak up and share with actual words what God has done in our lives, but in general those moments are much more potent when people have seen the evidence in our actions of how God has changed us.  When you think about it that way, living missionally should be pretty easy if our faith is genuine.  We simply seek, imperfectly but with humility and vulnerability, to model our lives after Jesus, and love with authenticity.

The world is weary of Christians who have plenty to say on every subject but rarely, if ever, manifest the goodness or love of Jesus through their actions.  Love, in its truest form, will open the doors of hardened hearts that politics, apologetics, and theological debate could never unlock.

So how do you live this missional lifestyle in a church bubble?  It’s been a challenge for me, being an “all-or-none” kind of person.  It’s tempting for me to think “if I can’t build a deep relationship with you day in and day out, I can’t do anything.”   I posted previously about one experience with a little boy in Haiti who like many of the children we interacted with there, was so clearly seeking even a few moments of love and affection.  I hesitated for a couple minutes before putting my arm around Angelo because I first had to think through things like “what if he doesn’t actually want any affection because he’s too old for that? What if he rejects my gesture? Or what if someone takes this the wrong way? In the U.S. you can get a lawsuit thrown at you when these things are misunderstood!” and so on and so on.  Even though it was an innocent , simple gesture—putting my arm around his shoulders—I came up with so many reasons why I shouldn’t do it. And when I finally ignored those reasons and followed through it was like this tough little boy just melted.

As I walked away from that ordinary, yet heart-altering experience in Haiti I was struck by how we can be so stingy with our love.  We often act as though we have a limited supply of love and so we better find excuses to hoard it for our family and closest friends lest we run out.

A similar experience in a West African orphanage six years ago. Initially the tiny girl was very stiff in my arms and resisted me. After a few minutes the tenseness eased until she finally rested in my arms to the point peaceful sleep, even amidst the other children’s rambunctious playing.

It’s easy to find excuses why we shouldn’t show love to somebody.

I’m too busy today. 

I’ve got my two year old with me, I can’t.

I don’t even know them. 

If he weren’t an alcoholic he wouldn’t be in this position. 

If she had made better choices her life would’ve turned out differently.

It’s not my problem. Someone else will do it.

I’m too busy.

Clearly she doesn’t want to let anyone close to her.

I’m sure he has other friends that he can talk to.

The need is too great, what can I do?  

It’s just not my style.

I’m too busy.

Love perseveres. It perseveres beyond what is comfortable or easy.

The fact is that Jesus Christ died for everyone and it wasn’t comfortable or easy. Which means that everyone is worth our time. Everyone is worth us stepping outside of our comfort zone, getting rid of our excuses and laying down any stones we may have picked up along the way. Everyone is worth us sacrificing our pride. Everyone that ever existed was created in God’s image and therefore has unsurpassable worth.

Sometimes those that have been without love and affection for a long time or have been rejected often are the ones that resist it the most or have the hardest exterior. Love is what will break down that hard exterior.

Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” I cannot rid the world of depression. I cannot end human trafficking on my own. I cannot heal all the world’s mental illnesses and addictions. On my own I cannot solve world hunger or bring about world peace.

But I can find the one person who needs a friend and offering a listening ear.

I can set aside my personal opinions and judgments to buy a homeless man lunch.

I can learn the barista’s name and build a relationship over time.

I can stop making excuses.

I can stop beating myself up when I fail to love and live missionally.

I can let God’s perfect love, which there is always enough of, fill my heart to the point it overflows onto everyone I come into contact with.

The reality is that as Jesus followers we are dealers of hope that the world desperately needs. They may not admit it. They may not even realize it. But those of us who have lived inside the love of Jesus Christ know it brings hope and life and peace and joy. And that is the good news, AKA the gospel. The good news isn’t rules or religion or tradition. It’s that God wants to bring His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. That he wants to meet the needs in peoples lives and hearts right now. And he wants to use us to do it.