Living in the Land of Ambiguity

There stood Abram. He was established, rich, settled and very comfortable in his homeland of Ur. God stepped into all that comfort and wealth and basically said, “Let’s go.”

More specifically, he said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” (Gen 12:1).

That’s not really a lot to go on. Imagine Abram trying to sell that to Sarah:

Abe: Honey, how do you feel about us moving?

Sarah: I’m not sure. To where?

Abe: I’m not sure, but God promised it’ll be really good.

Sarah: Wait. What?

Welcome to the adventure of following God. 

God’s interaction with Abraham isn’t unusual. The Bible has multiple accounts of God’s people being invited to follow him without having all the information. Think about the countless times in forty years the cloud over the Tabernacle moved and the Israelites picked up and followed it. Not once did God say where they were going, when they would arrive or how long they would be there.

When God called Susie and me to return to our hometown of Austin and start ACF, we didn’t get a lot of details. We felt the divine call of God, we sensed God’s promise of provision, but that was about it. We made a major life-altering and career-changing decision based on the little information we had from God.

It was a complete step of faith, and that’s exactly how God wanted it. 

If you’re walking with Jesus, you have to be prepared to live in the land of ambiguity. There’s no getting around it. Walking by faith, by its very nature, involves living with the vague.

God isn’t being mean or mischievous by withholding some of the details. Rather, there are Kingdom purposes in his methods. Here are just a few things God uses ambiguity to accomplish:

  1. It makes faith relational. God leads us through relationship. When you’re seeking your next steps in something, you have to press into him. You have to seek him. God told Israel to march around a city only one time–at Jericho. Every other city they took required a different strategy. And that required relationship.
  2. It keeps us from running ahead. Were God to give us the full download up front, we’d be tempted to skip some steps and run to the end. But in following Jesus, how you get somewhere is as important as getting there. The methods matter. God allows the ambiguous sometimes, so we don’t get ahead of ourselves, or him.
  3. It allows for God’s power. When we have to wait on God, we’re much more positioned to receive his miraculous provision. God waited to give Abraham and Sarah the son he had promised until it was humanly possible for them. That way his power would be obvious and he would get all the credit. Don’t fear when God’s plan appears to be ambiguous. Ambiguity is the breeding ground for the miraculous.

Sometimes following the Lord is like ordering from a restaurant menu that simply says “Food”. You know you’re getting something, you’re just not sure what. Don’t fret in the process and don’t panic when you don’t have all the details and can’t answer all the questions.

You don’t have to know everything.  Just trust that the one who does is good.

The Role of Faith in Knowing God

If you struggle with faith, this may encourage you.

People having to walk by faith was not part of God’s original plan. Adam and Eve, the original humans, had full access to God. They could see him, talk to him, walk with him. Their relationship was based on loving obedience to him.

Because they could see him, they didn’t need faith. The very nature of faith is believing in what you cannot see, in what you cannot prove. The original humans didn’t need a belief system–they had sight instead.

Genesis 3 changed all that. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost that wonderful and innocent access to God they had so taken for granted. Because they became sin-stained, they couldn’t be in God’s unfiltered presence.

Compare the scene in Exodus 19, when the Israelites were terrified of God’s flaming and thundering presence on the mountain, to the “walking with God in the cool of the day” access that Adam and Eve had known. The difference? Sin.

In a sight-based environment, faith isn’t required. Just obedience. That’s how God’s followers who could see and know him demonstrated their love–they did what he said.

But in a sin-based environment, one where God cannot be seen and access to him has been lost, faith is the most critical ingredient. Faith even precedes obedience in importance, because we don’t even know that we need to obey God until we believe in him.

Thus, in the Genesis 3 world, the world where everything is contaminated by sin, faith is the most powerful tool a person can have. Faith bridges the gap between the perfect worlds of Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Faith wasn’t necessary in the pre-sin world and it won’t be necessary in the post-sin world either. We won’t need faith in Heaven. Yea God.

But today, in the sin-filled world where access to God is by grace only, faith is everything. That’s why the writer of Hebrews told us that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). We may not be able to see or prove God, but he still expects us to believe.

Pray for your faith level. Pray for God to deepen your understanding of him and his holy, mysterious ways. Pray for the courage to walk by faith. Read God’s Word so you can learn more about him.

And then, do whatever God tells you to do. Obedience is still the best way to grow your faith and to show your love for God.

 

 

Living in Exile

Recently, an ACF staff member wrote me asking how to deal with a situation. She was ministering to a young woman who was wrestling with the new cultural norms of same sex relationships, transgender kids and adults, and gender-neutral individuals.

Her wrestling wasn’t with the morality of it, but rather why the Bible and many Christians don’t support it. This young woman’s viewpoint is quite representative of many Christian’s these days. She just didn’t see how the Church wouldn’t fully support someone as they tried their best to work out their gender or sexual identity.

(For the sake of clarity, the Bible doesn’t condemn anyone–and I mean anyone–for their behavior, no matter how extreme. The only condemnation of people in Scripture is the result of their open and overt rejection of God and/or Jesus. Said differently, God doesn’t condemn people because of their sexual choices. He does, however, judge those who refuse to humble themselves before him in faith.)

I wrote a brief reply to the staff member that stimulated some discussion among our staff. I thought I’d share it with you.

“Your email is troubling on so many levels. I think the crux is in this statement you made– The question I have is how to best equip these older women as they disciple these younger women who have great passion for Jesus, but don’t know what the Word says (or, if they do, don’t understand how what it says is what’s best for us re: sexuality).

 I have found that many people we’re trying to disciple–or even those themselves charged with making others into disciples—do not know the Word. Thus, we have to teach them what the scriptures say. But even then, we still have work to do, as many no longer see the scriptures as the sole authority—or as any authority—for their lives.

I find the same issue when I talk to believers about baptism or giving or sexual behavior before marriage. I used to say, “The Bible says . . .” and that was the end of it. That doesn’t work anymore, at least not as much.

I am finding that prayer, patience and MUCH relational investment does work. We are doing ministry against a cultural backdrop that has greatly changed. We can no longer assume the home field advantage. We have to think, lead and pray from the standpoint of a church in exile, not a church in the promised land.

I am ministering to a friend who has a really tough story. But she does believe in Jesus and is slowly falling for him. That’s both my strategy and my hope. As she falls for him, he is changing her. And he gets to decide what changes she needs to make and when.

But it’s SLOW. We must give the prayers and the relational process TIME.

So, my answer: we’re going to have to spend lots of time in 1×1 and 1×2 conversations with this generation. We can’t simply throw the scriptures at them anymore. I would tell your friend to see how many of these women she can invite into relationship for the long haul (it sounds like she is doing that already). Then I’d counsel her to teach them the Word, pray like crazy for them, and to be very patient. The road back seems to be longer than it used to be.”

So, did I advise her correctly? Comments welcome.