Of late I must say that my faith has been tested. I am now 37 years into my calling to “cities.” Each year I have engaged in some way beyond church and personal vocation as a means of following my heart. My faith compels me to engage. I cannot believe that God would enable a broken humanity to organize, to build cities, without caring for those cities and the communities that built them. “Unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.” (1)
So why has church alone never been enough to “scratch my itch” (a question asked early on by a former pastor)? Churches too often care more for their own than those outside their walls; maybe they are designed as such, refreshing the saints? One has likened this institution to that of an aircraft carrier, where men and women land for refueling and then are sent out with fresh means to minister to their cities. Those “crafts” are few and far between, most over time becoming more like battleships, many sinking!
I can understand how leaders and their congregants get there, for engaging in community is not for the faint at heart. This becomes especially difficult when one runs into believers so set on their own agenda that the last persona they resemble is the Christ. I too have shamefully “resembled that remark.” We are all broken and so brokenness has to be a variable considered when engaging in communities.
I find myself daily questioning my understanding of God. In fact, without questioning and actively pursuing a personal understanding of God, one is apt to just live into the narrative shared by others, which is like walking in a fog. I want to know God, to engage with him as a friend and to allow God to work through me. The quote posted on line by Richard Rohr comes to mind: “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.” –Hafiz.
So what is faith and how can I “know” God? My thoughts this morning were shaped in part by the writings of Michael Ramsden, European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries(2) and his reference to the Epistle of The Hebrews. This book has always been a part of my journey, since that day in 1978 when I first received my calling to pursue cities. Hebrews 11:16 was actually the verse to which I opened my Bible each time I was sworn in as Mayor of my community: “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”(3)
This great book starts off with a definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”(4) Faith is not just whatever you want it to be, not what you read that others believe, but what is put in your heart as you personally pursue God. Faith is the outcome from the desires aroused within as one comes before God, humbly transparent about our brokenness and inability to grasp the greatness we have been called to become.
Hebrews then unfolds the remarkable stories of those who lived accordingly, with comment that, without this kind of faith it is impossible to please God! Not that God is cantankerous, but that without this kind of faith journey as humans, we will always fall short. We tend to default to our small self, to be less than what we could be, and contribute less to others than had the desires of our heart been of God!
Our desire is no longer for ourselves, but for a better community, a “better country”, in fact an “heavenly” (16:16). Here is the true evidence of faith, and a people whom “God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared for them a city.”5
1 Ps 127:1 HCSB.
3 Hebrews 11:16 KJV.
4 Hebrews 11:1 KJV
5 Hebrews 11:16b KJV.