Travelling in light of eternity

Marie-Louise Disant writes her final post in her series on a female perspective of faith and travel.  You can find the rest here.


“But why are you so bothered about it, if you believe in eternity?”, asked my “Workaway mum”.

She was right too. I was sweating the small stuff. In light of all that is yet to come, and who I will be, it was not all that important; and yet, it was taking up more space in my mind than it should have.

Belief dictates action

Knowing that I was created for an eternity with my Creator changes things. It changes what I do, how I do it, where I do it etc.

As a daughter of Christ, I’m sent to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He sends me in the name of the most powerful ‘trio’ ever to exist (verse 19). Though travel isn’t necessarily a fulfilment of this mission – increasingly, the nations are coming to us – this is a big part of why I travel. But my Jesus doesn’t just give me a mission to fulfil, He walks it out with me, standing right by my side every step of the way (v20).

As I walk out this plan that He has for my life, sent in His name and accompanied by Him, I also need some basic guidance to help me do so. If I decide to accept His good gifts and live my life for Him, instead of just for myself, His Word is the best place to figure out how.

Sometimes, we are the Pharisees.

In the days of Jesus earthly ministry, there was a strict Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. They were completely obsessed with living ‘perfect’ lives according to the Law of Moses. They became so focused on obeying these laws that their hearts grew cold for God. They longed for public recognition of their piety instead of God’s grace and mercy.

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Fota Botanical Gardens, Ireland 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

One day, one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all was. His goal in asking this question was to determine who had ‘right’ interpretation of the Law – the Pharisees, or the Sadducees whom they despised. Jesus told them that first, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and second “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of an outwardly-looking ‘perfect’ life, we forget about what really matters. Sometimes, we are Pharisees. We become so focused on living a life that looks organised, beautiful, productive, moral and ‘successful’, that we forget why we live at all.

You may ask, “but Marie-Louise, why bother living a life like that? I have faith in Jesus as my saviour, then that’s enough (Ephesians 2:8), right?” My dear friend, you and I are not saved by some stroke of good fortune, or by our own intelligence, but by God’s gracious gift of his Son (Ephesians 2:9) in order that we would then go on to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). True faith in Jesus results in good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) out of love for the One who loves us first and best. Why? So that all people will know that we are His disciples, by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).

Even though the expression of my love for Jesus is often quite faulty and marred by sin, I still want those around me to know about him. What’s the best way for those around me to know about him? By loving them. Unfortunately, that’s not what my life proclaims to those who know me best. Those who are closest to me, see my faults, my brokenness, and choose to love me anyway. What a beautiful proclamation, and a wonderful example of Christ’s love for us!

Love is…

“But Marie-Louise! Love is just an emotion, you love pizza, family and life with the same word!” Perhaps! … but only if we believe what our society tells us about love.

The bible, in yet another countercultural plot twist, tells us something a little different:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1Corinthians 13:4-8

Love, in new testament scripture, is usually translated from the Greek word “agapé”. This term refers to benevolent actions toward another person, rather than just to feelings for another person, as is evidenced in the passage above. We can love like this, only because He showed us his love first. Christ’s sacrificial example of servant leadership and love, is the best example of all-encompassing love that I can think of and the only one I would strive to replicate in my own life. Every other example that comes to mind, falls short. Though I will never be perfect in this life, I would much rather follow a perfect role model, than an imperfect one.

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Umbria, Italy 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

Scandalous grace + unending love

“But Marie-Louise!” (What? More protest? Gosh – you are one hard reader to please!) “That’s a ridiculously tall order! I can’t be perfect, and neither can you, you just said so! I certainly can’t love perfectly either!”

My dear, dear friend: our weakness is the point.

No matter our struggle, whether it is to love or to let go, to work or to relax, to overcome addiction or to find structure; our inability to do so is the point. We are not called to live this life alone, struggling to measure up to some immeasurable self-imposed standard. We are created to glorify our Creator and enjoy a relationship with Him! Like every relationship, it’s not always going to be a perfect, happy one. But unlike every other relationship we have or will ever have, this relationship is with the One who embodies perfection itself.

He embodies Love, and patience, and kindness. His love does not envy, or boast; His love is not arrogant or rude. His love does not insist on its own way; His love is not irritable or resentful; His love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love never ends.

We are offered scandalous amounts of grace, in order to enjoy a relationship with our perfect Creator. Our Jesus doesn’t give us all these commandments to follow and then leave us alone in that struggle. He does it all Himself first, showing us how. Then, hands held out towards us, he offers to walk it out with us, if only we’ll accept His gift.

Our God doesn’t give us all these commandments without a) fulfilling them Himself first and b) walking them out with us, every step of the way.

Travel in light of His calling, His gift, and our acceptance

In travel, just like in life, how I behave reflects what I believe: about myself, about others, and more importantly, about my God.

He has called me to love Him first, and then my neighbour. He has offered relationship and love, and showed me how to do both.

He has shown me that without the hope I have in Him, I am lost.

I no longer need to travel to find out who I am or who He is. Now, I can just travel out of love; love for those I travel with and to and love for the One whose message I carry.

No matter where or when I will chose to travel to next, I know that I am not alone.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

But where there is my God, there is infinite possibility.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

― James Hudson Taylor

Christian Unity: a hesitant conclusion

[EDIT: For those not expecting this on my blog, please do excuse my brief foray into Christian theology and unity, as I’m preparing for a meeting tonight.  Normal service resumed soon!]

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of evangelical unity on mission teams and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  I use examples of female speaking, power evangelism (healing alongside verbal proclamation) and holding events in pubs.  For models 1 and 2 and 3 see here and here and here.

What model would I use?  I think in the ideal world for Cork city-wide events of 2017, we’d use the third model and seek to love each other generously as below.  But sadly given the battle is still raging within each of our hearts to be other-person-centred, sometimes it must fall back to other models, or whoever is leading the team.

On that note, to conclude, I largely steal from Dave Bish (formerly New Frontiers church planter and about to be pastor at my old church) over at Blue Fish.  He says:

Unity vs. Mission isn’t a choice Jesus gives us.

“Father… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 ESV)

Jesus prayed for a unity that is: • Doctrinal • Relational • Missional

It’s doctrinal – its a unity “just as” the Father and Son are united. Everything we do flows from our personal knowledge of God, as revealed in the Scriptures and experienced by the Spirit’s indwelling.
It’s for relationship – “be one” – not just formal or functional but friendship.
It’s for mission – observation of it makes the gospel believable.

The story of the UCCF is part of a story of the revival of evangelicalism around a renewed confidence in the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the cross sparked by a move of the Holy Spirit at Cambridge University in 1919.

The basis of the UCCF is intended as an inclusive basis – deliberately non-specific about many important issues. I wont pretend it’s always used well – but the intention is to gather not to exclude. We speak of it as The Doctrinal Basis of The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship of Christian Unions. A basis of fellowship, rooted in doctrine. The personal knowledge of God as the basisof relationships for the sake of mission together. This is churches united, family together.

With some variation in phrasing its the same basis as most evangelical churches and the Evangelical Alliance use. Its standard mainstream Protestantism. The goal being to unite as many as possible to give as many as possible the opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Most division in CU’s is reckoned to concern the CU’s weekly Team Meeting… which represents about 1.5 hours of the 168 hours in the week! Anything that’s only about 1% of our time isn’t something to fall out over.

Today’s top issue is often whether women can preach, followed by the use of charismatic gifts (the latter was the hot issue when I was a student 15 years ago). Neither is unimportant but neither should be allowed to divide our witness. (For what its worth I think in most CUs you see a pro-women speaking pro-charismatic position today… but it comes and goes like the tide, driven by the local church scene in most cases.)

1. Do make much of the gospel. 
2. Don’t pretend these “non-gospel” issues aren’t important. They are. 
3. Do be ultimately generous on “non-gospel” issues. Rather be wronged for the sake of gospel-loving and gospel-mission. Don’t say – Unity only if we do the “secondary things” my way.
4. Do keep it in perspective. No one is obligated to be at everything the CU does – though learning to bear with others a little will do wonders for your Christian character. 
5. Don’t bind your conscience too tightly on “non-gospel” issues – recognise that thoughtful evangelicals come to a range of conclusions on the roles of women, on divine sovereignty, on charismatic gifts, on baptism, on church practice, while still holding firmly to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
6. Do embrace diversity in team meetings and in mission. By all means possible let’s take the gospel to people.

Much as what happens at a weekly meeting matters I’d like to ask whether we’ve crossed the divides that The Cross bridges. A university is inherently elitist – but when you’re in church do you connect with non-students and non-gradautes? What about your non-student neighbours – have you considered how to love the young family or pensioner living on your street? And in and out of University what about those of different ethnicity. A Christian is a global person but are we?

Where the battle for unity really rages…

The real issue is us – as our new hearts battle with our old flesh. The only answer is to repent to the crucified Christ and see more of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. Death to self and life in Christ is the only way to real unity. The big issues of unity are LOVE ONE ANOTHER… BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER… PREFER OTHERS AHEAD OF YOURSELF… RATHER BE WRONGED… We might like to fight our corner on x,y,z doctrines of church practice – but love is a primary gospel issue.

I’m the big problem when it comes to unity, because I love things to be done my way. And I seem to find it so easy to say to someone else – “you’re not really welcome here” rather than letting myself feel uncomfortable.

In Christ, I’ll make the first move to relationship.
In Christ, I’ll only compare the worst of me with the best of someone else – rather than vice versa.
In Christ, I’ll go out of my way to be generous.
In Christ, I’ll show hospitality to those unlike me.
In Christ, I’ll be quick to repent, quick to forgive.
In Christ, I’ll be slow to assign bad motives.
In Christ, I’ll rejoice WHENEVER Christ is preached, even if the motives are bad.
In Christ, I’ll assume difference gives me an opportunity to learn before it gives me the opportunity to say I know better.
In Christ, I’ll defend those I disagree with because I’ll have befriended them.
In Christ, I’ll pursue unity so that the world might see the Triune God – the Father at one with his Son.

Christ himself was wronged for us in his death and when we share in his death we begin to get the kind of unity that makes no sense apart from Christ. A unity that exists as we collaborate in mission, standing shoulder to shoulder loving one another. A unity that is not necessarily doing everything together but pulling in the same direction, on the same team – no lone rangers. Christian Unity is participation in the divine life.

We sabotage our mission when we spend our time in-fighting. The answer isn’t divide, it’s learn to love and find our unity in the unity of the Father and the Son. Then the world will see…