Sunday June 6, 2010.
Galatians 1: 11-24
Confidence to live“Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy”. -Samuel Johnson
I wonder if this might be part of our experience as people with belief in the God of the bible? This belief is often under attack and we sense that somehow this diminishes our confidence in God, our confidence in church, our confidence in ourselves, as Spirit-filled people of God, to live out this faith we have been given?
The question for me is – where do I look to regain confidence in faith – confidence for living this calling fully and freely with all the confidence in God’s world!? Someone said, “Confidence in courage at ease”. I like that. I want to have consistent courage to risk truly living but be at ease – not angry, not judgmental – open, compassionate, strong in faith and relationship with Jesus and others.
As we hear something of Paul’s personal story in this first part of his letter to the Galatian Christians, we hear that he is sharing his story for a reason. He is defending himself and correcting wrong views for the sake of the gospel for which he lives and breathes.
Paul obviously has his detractors. People seemed to have doubted his integrity and his authenticity when it came to being an apostle (a ‘sent one’ called by Jesus himself). I guess that stands to reason. Paul was not actually one of the original 12 and he never suggests that he knew Jesus “in the flesh”. Instead he always recounts that Damascus Road experience when he personally heard the voice of Jesus calling him. He says he is one “abnormally born”, but nevertheless, “an Apostle, sent not my human beings but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from the dead”(Gal 1:1).
Paul had to deal with what all people in any kind of responsible position have to deal with. He had to live with what any leader has to live with. He had to cope with what any Christian living their faith in practice has to cope with: People, who from time-to-time, doubt your skill, your sincerity, your ability or even your integrity – for whatever reason.
This kind of experience is not just some “leadership issue”. When people doubt your calling, your place, your authority and even your integrity, it is personal and it can often hurt. All the little voices of self accusation and self doubt can built to destroy confidence and self-esteem, not to mention puting a dent in one’s faith in the One who has called you and placed you in that role with that authority.
So, Paul, like most of us, had his moments of doubt and pain (inflicted by others). He needed to find the confidence to keep believing, keep hoping and keep doing his calling to be a person “sent by God” to live and tell the good news.
Paul’s confidence came down to trust; trusting that this faith and this calling he had received through no great contribution of his own skills or personality, was not actually only to do with his own mind, or personality or giftedness, but that his life and his role and his gifts came from God’s intervention in his life. In the face of criticism and judgment from others (often very unfair) he seems to look outside of himself to the Word of God he knew and the experience of God he had.
I suspect we tend to live as though it is all up to us and that we have to figure everything else out all by ourselves. We have to draw out all of this confidence to live life in God’s grace and love from inside of us all the time.
We find this less risky. I wonder if we would rather tough it out alone with a lack of confidence and hope in the Spirit’s power and grace than seek a Word from God through a friend, a worship experience, or a personal reflection in the Word of God.
Maybe this is so because we are just too proud to admit we need help and power to live our calling. Maybe we are just too scared. The risk of being judged by God or his people might freak us out? Maybe we just don’t believe that God can really help or that anyone else would give us the time of day?
Paul can give us some practical ways in which we can seek that confidence to live out our calling as his people with confidence – to have ‘courage at ease’.
Paul bears witness to the reality that we gain our confidence to live Jesus’ way of love by not only looking within but looking outside of ourselves to remember who it is that we have been created and called to be.
In prison, in betrayal, in unfair and harsh personal criticism, Paul seems to suggest doing three things. He takes time to process his experience, he looks outside of himself to the Word he knew and he drew on the experience of the Holy Spirit he was given and he internalizes that outside word so that it becomes part of him. We need to do these three things too if we are to live confidently and faithfully in Christ.
Paul took time – a lot of time. First, three years, and then another 14 years of living and working among local people, just doing his work and loving the people among whom God had placed him – before he eventually heads back to the Big time in Jerusalem. He did not seem to be in a hurry to become someone he wasn’t. All this time was the natural process of “working out his salvation”, as he calls it in another letter. He stayed where he was put, constantly processing the huge event of being named and called by God to serve in his world.
Paul looked beyond himself to find God. No doubt, there is a time for self – reflection and even introspection. Paul seemed to automatically know that he needed this time immediately after his Damascus Road experience. He went off to somewhere East of Damascus for three years, he says.
I take this as an acknowledgement that it is okay, and in fact needed, to process what is happening to us, especially when big things happen to us. When life takes a dramatic turn and we sense God’s Spirit doing things that are shifting us sideways in some way, we need to do a Paul and focus on it and reflect internally on it.
But there is no way a man who has been brought up memorizing the OT would have ever only looked inside himself for the confidence to live out the ramifications of what God had done in him. He would have surely looked to Another for spiritual life and wisdom. He would have gone over those well worn stories and events that had shaped him but had now been revolutionized by Jesus in his own mind and spirit. In God’s greater story and experience of God’s presence was confidence to live now.
We can definitely view our baptism as our original “Damascus Road” experience by which we have been given life in God and calling to be his ministers of his Word.
As Paul looks back to his Big moment of calling from Jesus to find confidence to continue on his life’s work in the face of criticism, conflict, harsh words and the pain they cause, so we can look back to our baptism as that sure calling and promise of God that gives us the confidence again that we are still God’s loved people, still called, still having a future in God and a community to which we have the right to belong.
Paul then was able to internalize those big stories of God and his people into his own experience and find integrity, honesty, consistency in world view and yet stay open to “staying in step with the Spirit” as he puts it elsewhere.
Confidence for living the calling of God we have here will come from taking time to process what is happening, consulting outside ourselves, particularly in God’s Word and owning what we find; taking into the heart the things we hear from God through the Word, people and what is around us.
When confident in God and our place in him, we will look in that mirror and overlook the guilt, the trouble, the weaknesses, the pain, the hang-ups and see the “Lion of Judah” instead of a small little pussy cat!
Take time as you sense you need it.
Look outside yourself to the Word and let him speak to you through it and others.
Take what you hear into the heart and let it sit there and practice what you hear.
No need to be in a hurry to become what you are not. The Spirit’s word working in us might take a year or two, or even a decade!
The thing is that we can take the risk of sharing our lack of confidence because He is giving the gift of confidence to live in your place, your body, your history, your skills, all the time.
When we look in the mirror we can see ourselves as the “lion of Judah” and not just that little pussy cat! That’s not because we are so fantastic, but because the Spirit is living and working in us – through the Word, active in others, in our time out, in our pursuits, in the Word, in our relationships.
Courage at ease, today, friends. Confidence to live is ours. Take the time. Remember the Word and the experiences. Remember your baptism, own these internally and put your confidence in the Spirit of Jesus living in you and through you. Amen.
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