This isn't the usatoday Anthem reflection, filled with color photos and cool stories. It's more of the "deep thoughts" version...
If you had a room full of 1,200 students, listening with open hearts and attentive ears, what would you tell them?
"Faith is risk. And this is the kind of life God intends for you. It's the kind of life He applauds." That's basically what I said, and the one challenge I wanted young people to leave Anthem with.
It's easy to sing songs for 2 hours about having faith, trusting God, and giving Him our lives as an offering of worship. But as I thought about Hebrews 11, and what the "ancients were commended for", I felt led to take it there. I think it's safe to say that God is honored by men and women who step out, who die to dreams of success and live for dreams of sacrifice and risk. That's the gist of Hebrews 11.
I got this email from a friend following Anthem. I think there are some great things to think about...
I was at connection group tonight...and we were talking about your definition of Faith as Risk. I can see where you are coming from; a demonstration of faith is when we put ourselves out into a situation that if God doesn't show up, we will suffer loss. That's the basic definition of risk, an action that could result in loss. But as we were talking about it, we came to realize that faith doesn't seem to be risk, but that faith is actually the antithesis of risk. Faith is the confidence that God will act on our behalf. Risk seems to be the acknowledgment that he may not. It appears that the more faith that we have in God the less risky things seem. Your move to Iowa City may have seemed risky but you trusted, had confidence, had faith, that God was going to come through. Therefore, there seems to be very little risk involved because you knew that God was with you. Perhaps it's just an issue of semantics. I don't think you said anything wrong at Anthem. You explained what you meant and it was very challenging and encouraging. But I'm curious, do you see the tension? What are your thoughts?
First of all, I love emails like this. It's not polemic or antagonistic, but genuinely thoughtful and gracious in tone. And I appreciate the discernment- that my words at Anthem were not mindlessly accepted.
Here's what I think: The paradox of faith is that faith is risk and yet not risk at all.
Reading the rest of Hebrews 11 there is the juxtaposition of 11:32-35a and 35b-38. The first group is full of victories and great exploits, while the second stories about brutal deaths and martyrdom. All pretty much in the same sentence.
The point of Hebrews 11 is this: faith means that you lay it all on the line, trusting that eternity is going to be way better than this refugee camp called life on earth. People filled with the kind of faith that gets commended live accordingly, unaffected by the consequences of their faith in action, whether good or bad. The only way to enter heaven safely is to die with eyes on the unseen.
So faith is risk because there are 2 kinds of stories that may be told about your life, "conquered kingdoms" OR "sawed in two." The risk is that following Jesus by faith may get you killed. It may not result in a mega-church or revival or Christian celebrity status. But it may mean all those things (I personally hope not the third. I don't think I have anything to worry about).
Most Americans have an aversion to suffering. Our gods are comfort and success, and we will do anything and everything to preserve those. Faith is stepping into the Unknown. Of course we take the step knowing he'll catch us. So in that sense faith is the antithesis of risk. In that way I suppose the greatest risk is to play it safe and do nothing at all. Hebrews 11 very well could've said, "Playing it safe is being unsure of things hoped for and uncertain of things not seen. This is what the enemies of God were punished for." But again, the faith-risk is that it's the Unknown for a reason- we don't know how he will catch us.
Finally, in light of our brothers and sisters around the world who have given up far more than us to spread the good news about Jesus, our move to Iowa City was a very small sacrifice. We moved from one form of comfort to another. But in our baby step of faith, we have seen God gladly come to our rescue. He has made our path easy, because he knows we are weak.
I think most Christians are bored. A life without risk usually leads to boredom.
So if you're bored with your faith, ask yourself the question, "What risks have I taken recently?" "What did I do last week that if God didn't show up, my plans were doomed to fail?" I have to ask myself these questions all the time. I don't want to be old and talking about how I once took a risk in my 30's.
Risk does not always mean moving to a new city or doing something stupid (i.e. standing up in the school cafeteria or work place and telling everyone they're hell bound). But it usually involves doing something that gives you that feeling in your stomach, "Oh crap, if God doesn't show up I'm in a bad way".
So this was the challenge at Anthem, and it has been fun having these followup discussions and conversations.
As soon as I get some pics I'll do the USAtoday post for those of you who just like pictures and aren't reading this right now.