Sunday, September 23, 2012

You Didn't Build that on Your Own

Today our church launches a ten week small group experience designed to allow people who have not yet connected, to find a place to freely express doubts, fears, and struggles on their journey of faith. One of the best things about these groups is the fact that these are about "community". We believe the radical concept that faith is not simply an individual thing.  Check out Mark 2:1-5. 
Today I wanted to share an excerpt about what it means to be shaped through a collective effort. The original post is from a great writer and pastor from the Seattle area. Sara worked for him during the college years and we both appreciate his thoughts. You can find the whole post  here.
Your faith is never yours alone – My aunt invested in my dad.  My dad invested in me.  I invest in my children.  And so it goes.  Of course, the circle’s of influence are actually much more complex than that, as my dad’s faith was formed by hundreds of people and a long family tree with roots clear back in Sweden, among the Lutherans.  So too for me; I’m shaped by pastors, parents, my sister, a very good friend or two, the house church family in the mountains, the Bethany family in Seattle, peers in ministry around the world, and more.
This, I believe, is what Paul is talking about when Paul tells Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” because Paul’s rationale for such kindling is the faith which dwelt in his mom and grandma.  Paul’s telling Timothy, in other words, to be mindful of the inheritance he has in the faith and not to squander it.  The book of Hebrews talks about the “cloud of witnesses” which is basically the same thing.
When I’m tempted to toss my calling in the ditch and enjoy the indulgence of total irresponsibility, an entire host of faces pass before me, including my dad, but o so many more, including seminary professors, people who invite me to speak here and there, friends in the Torchbearer community, and the whole Bethany family.  It’s tough to ponder trashing the investment these people made in me.  Sure, if I were convinced that the faith was a lie, but mostly, my temptations aren’t intellectual.   Being mindful of the clan, knowing that they don’t expect perfection of me, but are cheering me on, helps me choose obedience more often.
I’m pausing to note this here, because when I talk about this, people sometimes say, “cultures that have high conformity demands also have high suicide rates” as if they think I’m advocating a North Korean model of discipleship.  All the while, the people building this straw man seem utterly blind to the hyper individualism of our culture and the “it’s my life and I’ll do what I want” mentality that’s so destructive for everyone.  Our real mentors, and those who love us and have invested in us don’t expect perfection from us; they just want us to keep on the journey, including getting up after we fall.
The other complaint I sometimes here is this: “You’re fortunate!  Nobody invested in me.”  Really?  If you’re reading this, I’m investing in you.  Maybe other authors have too, or a pastor or two along the way, or a young life leader, or coach.  Were there bad eggs in there?  Perhaps.  Were they all bad eggs?  I doubt it.  Look for those who represented Christ in some measure, give thanks for them, and live in the light of their investment in you.  Your faith is just another example of what you didn’t build alone.
Of course, by the time you’re twenty, you should probably start thinking about WHO you’re investing in.  I put that in all caps because we’re tempted think about WHAT we’re investing in.  But clean water is not a person.  Neither is ending malaria or human trafficking.  All of us are invited to be a blessing to other people, and this requires investments, large and small, over and over again.
My dad’s Bible is sitting here next to me as I write this, and I pause to express gratitude to God for a man who, having received gifts from others, passed them on so freely to me.  Now it’s your turn:  Stay in the game – give thanks for those who’ve gone before you, for those who’ve invested in you, and invest in blessing others.

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