Daring Greatly through spirituality ... with the courage to be real
Phil Jump writes:
It must have been one of the most bizarre meetings in history; let’s face it, high-ranking military officers don’t send their domestic staff with a squaddie half way across an occupied country because an angel told them to.
“So why’ve you invited me?” asks Peter
“Dunno” replies Cornelius “except an Angel told me to – why have you come?”
“Not sure either; all my life I’ve been told to avoid people like you – then God challenged me about my eating habits; you guys turned up and I think the two things are related.”
The full story is in Acts chapter 10, and as quite a few of the churches I serve know, it’s an episode that I have been particularly challenged by in recent months. It strikes me that it also resonates with our president’s 'Daring Greatly' theme.
As a high ranking officer, Cornelius would have been no stranger to courage – you didn’t get the top jobs in the Roman Army without being stern in the face of danger and all that. But his devotion to God required an altogether different kind of courage. The courage to put the needs and wellbeing of occupied citizens before the macho image of being a tough soldier; the courage to risk looking an idiot by sending an envoy to find a complete stranger he’d never heard of, on the say-so of an angelic vision. The courage to be real!
And Peter needed courage too; the courage to move beyond the safe and familiar and venture into territory that all of his traditional instincts would have told him to avoid. Courage to set aside his traditional prejudices, and to accept the invitation of an 'outsider' without really knowing why or what would be the outcome. To come for no other reason than a gnawing conviction that this was the will and purpose of God.
And this simple encounter was to have monumental consequences. Just a few chapters later, Peter cites his experience at the house of Cornelius in an influential speech at the Council of Jerusalem. It is here that the Church reaches the watershed realisation that Christianity is not intended to remain within the confines of Judaism, but is a truly international and multi-cultural faith.
It was also a complete re-calibration of their understanding of mission. For a largely Jewish church, the idea of proselytizing was no new one, but helping others to become the people of God was about drawing them in to their own exclusive club, teaching them to act like them, think like them, look like them and follow every ritual that they followed.
Peter was invited to imagine that perhaps mission might be about discovering God at work in places and in lives that he had never previously dreamed of encountering. And with a thousand doubts spinning around in their heads, Peter and his companions receive a compelling glimpse of reality that convinces them that this indeed is the case. God’s Spirit comes, tangibly inhabiting this ramshackle group of confused Gentiles and dispelling any doubt that this is anything other than the real deal.
We have been challenged to have the courage to be real – which in part is an invitation to embrace and be honest about our own weakness and vulnerability; to reach out to our world with a faith that is grounded in the realities of human experience and not confined to the safe havens of religious institutions.
But if we are to be real, how do we define reality? What does it mean to be real participants in God’s mission? What is real mission? I sense that increasingly our response to these questions is to engage in yet another round of busyness; to embark upon another raft of activities that someone, somewhere has assured us 'works'. And though it never quite delivers, before we’ve even had time to ask why, the urgency of the next project is upon us, as we dutifully answer the call of the next big idea.
Busyness can be a great way of drowning out the call to be real. So long as I am engrossed in a catalogue of activities on God’s behalf, I can avoid those penetrating encounters in which I lay myself open to God’s scrutiny and purpose. I can forever be engaged in a pattern of discipleship that involves doing more things rather than growing more like Christ.
I find it interesting that the source of this profound episode is two men’s commitment to simply spend time in God’s presence. For Peter that was found on the roof of a tanner’s house in Joppa; for Cornelius, through an angelic interruption in the mid-afternoon; but for each it was rooted in their simple devotion to knowing God and growing in God’s likeness. What ensued might have had massive consequences, but it began by simply being real.
was born and bred in Liverpool and began his working life as an electrical engineer in the Cammell Laird Shipyard in Birkenhead. He left the city to train for Christian ministry at Spurgeon’s College, London and spent nine years as minister of New Addington Baptist Church in a recognised area of social deprivation on the edge of Croydon.
Phil is married to Jan and they have three children, he is an avid supporter of Liverpool Football Club and enjoys playing and listening to music. He currently serves as Regional Minister for the North Western Baptist Association, comprising over 150 churches across the North West of England and North Wales. He is chair of the Industrial Christian Fellowship, a longstanding Christian Charity that seeks to help Christians connect their faith with the world of work. He has recently worked for Baptists Together as project leader for the IGNITE ministry review and as interim representative on the Joint Public Issues Team.