That God is faithful – even on occasion against every appearance .
So over 40 years of ordained ministry, what have I learnt? Simple – that God is faithful. It was way back in 1982, an epiphany as I took the short cut from Castle Drive through the back entry to the main shops in Heswall. Such a vivid experience that I can still see the bins to my left. FAITH The Christian life comes down just to one thing: faith. That is, we function as Christians by faith, that is by trusting God to keep his promises. As the apostle Paul reminded his recalcitrant readers in Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Galatians 3:26). We become Christians by faith. We grow as Christians by faith. We serve Christ by faith. We overcome by faith. The Christian life is a life of faith. So the apostle sums up his whole life: “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). It’s as simple as that, too simple for most of us. So instead we look to ourselves, to our abilities and resources. It’s the old mantra: decide what you would do if you had faith in God’s promises - and then do it. As individuals and as a church. So for the PCC, for example, the church council which makes the strategic decisions for the church. The one question we should never ask is “Can we afford it?” Instead the question that we should always ask is “What does God want us to do?” It was nearly 20 years ago when we made our first pitch to the congregation about building a parish centre on the site of the old school building. I recall Rikki quoting the great Victorian missionary, Hudson Taylor: “There are three stages to every great work of God; impossible, difficult, done.” And that was our experience in the whole Ministry Centre adventure. So many setbacks, not least in the planning process, and some direct opposition. No external finance while our church’s finances were continually under stress during the whole project. But we kept at it over 12 years because we believed that this was God’s purpose for Christ Church. The day the Ministry Centre opened, one of our previous curates, Mark Stanford, could see the spiritual reality of the new building. “You,” he said, speaking not just to me but to the whole congregation, “ you have the gift of faith.” And he was right. It was a project of faith, faith as given to us by the Holy Spirit, a gift we were prepared to exercise. So when the finance committee once again pours over the next monetary challenge facing Christ Church, I simply sit back and look around me. Even this room, the fact that we are sitting here in this building, is a testimony to God’s faithfulness in financial provision. We learn to persevere. When it comes to perseverance, think Alpha. This coming Thursday we begin our 51st Alpha course. Which gives me the opportunity for a plug for this event at the Kicking Donkey. Each Thursday beginning 1st March at 7.30 pm – a meal prepared by this gastro pub at L40 8HY, followed by a short video and then open discussion in which no question is out of bounds and in which there is no pressure to participate. Payment for the meal, as for all events at Christ Church, is by donation only. Great for couples on a night out, for those trying to get a handle on life. Not many churches have managed 50 Alpha courses; in fact, most stop after three or four. However, we kept at it because we believed that this was what God wanted of us. I think course #5 was particularly sparse, just one guest I seem to remember. And others have been, let’s say, challenging. Jacqui’s fanaticism helps, of course but the key has been perseverance. And that seems to be the word most associated with faithfulness. Because it is not easy. This morning’s Bible reading from BRF Guidelines was from Psalms 42 and 43 – they’re actually one psalm - in which the Psalmist alternates between trust and fear, between faith in God’s faithfulness and anxiety in his own situation. Three times he prays: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” And that’s life as a believer. Yes, God is faithful – even on occasion against every appearance. The decision to trust him can be difficult, even “while people say to me continually ‘Where is your God?’ (Psalm 42:3). Memory helps, recalling to mind past experiences of God’s vindication. “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.” (Psalm 42:4f). But at other times it just flying by instruments. For the very last place in this universe you would expect to see the faithfulness of God most fully is to see a man, abandoned and alone, betrayed and beaten, nailed to a Roman cross with only minutes to live. As hopeless situations go, you can’t get any more hopeless than that. Even so, Jesus held on to God’s faithfulness, relying on his vindication. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Now that’s what I call FAITH.