Simon McLeay LIVING WITH MARGIN 4*
It’s OK if there’s a gap between what you believe and what you want to believe. It’s OK if you want to be a follower of Jesus but you’re just not quite sure of a few things. In fact, I want to say today there should be a gap between what you are confident about and what you hope is true, and that gap is called faith. I’m not talking about a leap of blind faith, but a stretch beyond what you know. And faith is uniquely personal, and it brings life. When someone believes in you beyond what they know about you –it’s like gold, it’s called faith, and it brings life.
We’ve been talking about living with margin over the last few weeks. We’ve been talking about how God has designed people to live best with a bit of margin in their lives - a gap between our normal functioning and our absolute limit. We’ve talked about time margin. We’ve talked about financial margin. We’re going to talk about professional margin and moral margin, but today I want to talk about faith margin. And it relates directly to what our young people are doing today, in stretching themselves to be baptised.
What do I mean by faith margin, and it might be a little different to the other margins. A faith margin is accepting that there is a difference between what we know and what we hope for, and that difference between certainty and hope is called faith. I want to give you some religious examples and some non-religious examples.
Science involves faith. It involves a persistent faith that, through experiments, we can overcome the things we do not know. An example at the moment is the experimental Ebola drug ‘Zmapp’. The US government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and corporates are putting millions of dollars, in faith, into research believing that we can come up with a response to Ebola. We know that using certain antibodies to trigger the body’s immune system can be effective against some diseases, and we hope that’ ZMapp’ will be effective against Ebola. (Faith Margin 1)
When we recite the Apostles Creed, and when Grace and Anchen and Cate and Harrison answer my questions about beliefs, there is a faith margin there and it’s OK. There will be bits that you think, “Yes, I agree with that” and bits “No, don’t understand that but I hope (or I trust) it’s true”. I often say there is about 10% of orthodox Christianity that I’m not really sure about, but that 10% changes from years to year. The difference between what I’m positive about and what I hope to one day understand is called faith. And that faith margin is not only OK, it’s good. Faith is not a blind leap, it is a stretch based on what we do know. We don’t want the stretch to be too big, but it’s OK for there to be a stretch. (Faith Margin 2)
I know as we talk about baptism, people always ask, “How will I know when I’m ready?” In lifestyle there will always be a faith margin, a stretch. To be a baptized Christian is to be a committed follower of Jesus, not thinking about committing to Jesus, not starting to experiment with a Christian lifestyle. Baptism marks a point of commitment – I have decided to follow Jesus. But you don’t have to have everything sorted out. In many ways the lifestyle margin can be huge because all that Jesus asks of us is to give our lives into his control, and he’ll do the rest, slowly but surely, over the whole of our lives. The gap between how I’m living out a Christian life and the person I want to be, that’s the Grace gap and for everyone of us that’s significant. But Jesus delights in filling that gap for us - we have a decision to make but the rest is grace. And I can assure you that Jesus is working on my lifestyle as much today as when I first believed but one day, in heaven, the hope will be complete. (Faith Margin 3 the grace gap)
Another ordinary example. I’ve never run a marathon but I know that the first time you do run a marathon there’s a gap between your physical ability as you know it, and your physical ability as you hope. A marathon is 42 KM. For your first marathon you will likely train to the point where you have run ¾of a marathon a couple of weeks beforehand. Your training will have warned you not to peak too early. If you want a good result as a beginner you won’t have run a trial marathon the week before. You’ll be aiming at a certain time and certain pace, and you will be confident that you can do this much and you will hope that you can get to the end. The difference is the faith margin. (Faith Margin 4)
I think faith is most powerful in personal relationship. I hope I’ve shown you how faith is a dynamic in a range of situations, but it is most important and powerful in personal relationships. Faith Margin here is the stretch from what I know you are likely to do, to what I hope you can do. Marriages are based on faith, friendships are based on faith. When I was about 10 years old my brother was off doing his OE - he was having a great time in America, and then Central America and
there came a point where he just wanted to get out. I don’t really know the full story, but there must have been a day when my brother sat down and thought,“If I ask dad to pay for me to come home, will he do it? Can he afford to? Is he willing to?” That gap between what my brother knew about dad and what he hoped was the faith margin. And dad did. That faith margin is where life is.
Hebrews 11:1says these two incredible things. ‘Faith is having confidence in what we hope, and assurance about what we do not see.’ So faith is that gap, that margin, between what we know and what we hope for.
And here’s the crucial one - Hebrews 11:6 ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who earnestly seek him.’
God isn’t looking for certainty. God is looking for us to stretch our faith muscles and believe in him, not a blind leap, a stretch from the known to the personal. God wants us to personally believe in him because in the margin of personal belief there is life. When someone believes in you – that is life giving – that is oxygen to our soul.
And the Good News my friends is that before we believe in God, God believes in you.
* These sermons are based on a series called “Take It to the Limit” by Andy Stanley from North Point.