A story: keeping the goal in mind
Long before I knew the interior of this country better, I discovered the Waitaanga. Before you turn to google maps, its between Ohura and Ahititi; it climbs through the mountainous country that separates Taranaki and the King Country. I was bestman at my friend Terry’s wedding. A friend provided the transport and she asked me to drive and I said, “Sure!” When she let’s go through Turangi and visit some people I said, “Er, sure!” I’d identified a good route through from Turangi to Taumaranui, and from there three ways to Taranaki. One went south of our target, one went north, so I went for the one that went through the middle. Taumaranui – Ohura – Ahititi which was after the north Taranaki coast and close to Mt Messenger. Yup that looked right.
Ah yeah! Well we weren’t far into it when the tar seal disappeared and the road climbed very steeply and twistingly over hills without the advantage of crash barriers. Suddenly everyone, me included, was second guessing the middle path. However it seemed better to plug on, after all the Morris 1100 was built for this wasn’t it?!
Then we got higher up and further in, surrounded by deep and impenetrable bush, and no signs of houses or people, or even stock. And then the road changed – again – this time it became a two rut track with grass growing in the middle. Errr, this was the way wasn’t it? Bernie noticed that we had passed roads, well signposted tracks, that were shown on the map so we at least had the right road. But the voices for turning back and trying again got a bit strident – I don’t think they were enjoying the trip.
By now though it was clear that turning back would mean we’d be even later getting to Terry and Carolyn’s wedding so we pressed on – through a little hamlet of 6 houses – up another nasty, twisty hill, and finally down onto the river flats that lead to Ahititi; service station, school, and a couple of houses.
From there straight through to New Plymouth and just in time to put on me flash clothes and button hole for the wedding. Phew. If we’d given up the road for another we’d have missed the wedding and ruined my friend’s day.
We need to persist on the road to which God has called us even when the way is unfamiliar and scary. We’ll get there any way cos He’s always with us and He does know the road.
Commitment staying on the road to the end
John 1.35-51; Mt 28.18-20; Jn 14.1-3
Where I’m at. I just don’t understand people who, from the inside, give up on their church community (their God-appointed fellow-travellers)! Oh I follow the reasons; I sympathise with the frustrations; I even grieve with them over their pain – but if we give up on a community of God’s people, to an extent we’re giving up on Him. Actually I find it sad when people fall away, or pull away from a relationship of any kind – but more especially when it’s a relationship within Christ’s body. Relationships are meant to withstand all kinds of struggles and difficulties because it’s not just one but two or more facing the difficulties together.
In the 1960’s a controversy tore the Presbyterian Church apart – over the outspoken words of liberal theologian Lloyd Geering and the Assembly’s struggle to deal with what he said. Many fine evangelical people left the Presbyterian Church enriching the Baptists and Assemblies of God in the process. BUt apart from protecting themselves as they felt it, they also handed the life and resources of the church over to the very people whose theology they deplored. It could be said that they left the running of God’s people to those who barely believed in the God of the Church in any meaningful way. The body was horribly wounded and disabled for a whole generation at least.
What’s God up to. In the gospel story what we don’t see is Jesus employing four helpers to assist His ministry – what we do see is Jesus calling four surprised men into the kind of life-transforming relationship where the measure of success is how persistently, how faithfully, how closely the steps, example and lifestyle of the One who called them (whom they later come to see as God-in-the-flesh).
Look at what happens; Jesus finds them in the midst of their everyday world, He recognises their true character, pointing to their destiny; He invites or calls them to join Him [see Luke 5] – and in the end it’s not about the role, or the job or even the vocation – it’s about the relationship out of which a whole net of relationships is built. The relating starts with Jesus, then embracing the fellow-travellers on this journey of faith.
Note that when Jesus speaks sternly to the disciples it’s always about the way they’re relating. (Usually because one of them was trying to put himself at the centre where Jesus belongs.) Throughout their ministry He keeps showing them the road and how best to walk it, including the point where He entrusts them to walk it without His physical presence (Matthew 28.18-20) and a time where He assures them of their ultimate destination (John 14.1-3) and that He will rejoin for that stage of the journey from this world to the one where things go His way all the time.
So what are you doing here? Not just here at Forrest Hill, but what are you doing in this Christian thing, this faith journey? Were you born into it? Did it look like a good thing to do? You’ve embraced a set of propositions about God and you? Or is it just because that’s who you are? The starting point for this journey of faith is the invitation to join Jesus on the road…for no other purpose than it’s God’s declared purpose to draw us into eternal relationship (John 1.12 & 3.16) and out of that relationship to demonstrate indiscriminately, His love for all of humanity.
Here’s the thing – it’s a trip, a journey, an odyssey for a life-time and beyond in which God through Jesus by His Spirit is the guide, the reason, the purpose, the motivation – everything! A journey to be travelled in a widening community or fellowship of others who have been similarly engaged. For this reason we each need to commit, or recommit – first to the LORD who calls us onto the road and then those among whom He has placed us for the duration – by that I mean this church, this community of His loved people, understanding as we do that this group is no less inclined to get it wrong than you are ( or I am – if that helps). Just as joining a church requires a firm decision, a deliberate commitment to a community, so does staying with that Divine yet faulty community. Just as it’s absurd for the hand to say, “I’m out of here, this body is too diseased for me…” so it is absurd for us to severe ourselves from the eternal body of Christ in it’s local expression to which the Holy Spirit of God has joined us as expressive of our life in Christ the head of the body – it’s never been about you – it’s about us and the God who called us together.
Just imagine the strength, the love, the courage inherent in such a community, one that doesn’t fly apart when the people in it discover that they are different, and even think differently. It’s already a strength in Forrest Hill Church that love is such a feature of our corporate life where difference (in race, temperament, perspective, preference and experience) is celebrated rather squashed.
What if this community(Forrest Hill Church) found in it’s mission to a wider community all the reason for it’s persistent existence and liveliness? What if this focus of our God-draughted map was more than enough for us shrug off the weight of the distractions and challenges that assail any community especially churches? What if our commitment to God and to our fellow-travellers meant that leaving this church for any purpose would be the hardest thing anyone could ask of us?
Will you commit yourself today…to the LORD first and then to His people and His mission wherever He places you?