Last week we said goodbye to one of my all-time favourite people, my dear friend John Salmon, who passed away on 3rd July, aged 85. John was an architect by training, but he was also a man of faith. These two things come together in a verse in the New Testament that John loved. It talks about the faith of Abraham, and says…
“he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)
I have spent many hours with John over the years. We have shared stories, we have looked at pictures, we have listened to sermons, we have driven around the countryside. We have talked about the church. We have talked about God’s plan and purposes for this generation and for our society. John was a man of faith, just like Abraham, because he could see what God was doing today and was overwhelmingly excited by it. What’s more, he wholeheartedly believed that there was even better yet to come. It inspired him. It determined his actions and influenced his conversation. He was a man of faith, not in a euphemistic, flimsy way, but in a genuine, to-the-core-of-his-being kind of way.
John saw that God is a great designer
In his day, John designed parts of the QE2, determined the layout of Crawley Town Centre, and designed many prestigious buildings in London. He loved good design; the furniture and artwork in his flat were testimony to this. John loved nothing more than to sit me down with his tablet computer and show me picture after picture of examples of good design from around the world.
I see so much of the character of God in this. God has designed an awesome universe. Take, for example, that massive ball of burning gas too awesome for us to comprehend that provides the heat and light that we need to survive. And that it combines with others in the night sky, with light having travelled distances that blow our mind, to create a scene of such beauty that it takes our breath away. There is astonishing beauty throughout creation.
A few years ago I went out for a drive with John. Up on Black Down Hill we walked a little way from the car and sat on a bench overlooking the West Sussex countryside. It was a beautiful scene and John just started to worship God. We sat there on that bench together and worshipped a God of amazing design and beauty.
Not only is God an awesome designer, but he also just loves to show us. He has made the universe discoverable, and has placed the desire for exploration and scientific research at the core of our being. God even made himself discoverable, through the person of Jesus. How awesome is that!
John saw a city with foundations
When Abraham saw that God is an architect, he also saw what God was building: it was a city with strong and lasting foundations. In faith, Abraham saw the church, all of God’s people built on the firm foundation of Jesus. John had an enormous love for the church. Over the years he had started churches, led churches, loved nothing more than when God’s people gathered together and experienced the presence of God.
If something is going to last, it must have the right foundations. One of John’s favourite buildings was the Shard on London’s Southbank. It is a tower of glass reaching 1000 feet into the sky. But key to the tower’s design are its concrete piles that reach 200 feet into the ground. The foundations are right.
Whether you are considering your own life or how we build church together, there is only one foundation that is worth building upon, and that is Jesus. That is God’s design, and it’s a good one.
John was my biggest encourager
John was right there at the birth of the charismatic movement in the UK. I loved to hear him recount the history of those early days of Newfrontiers. But John was my biggest encourager, not because he looked back, but because he looked forward. He saw what God was doing in Grace Church and beyond, felt privileged to be a part of it, and yet was hungry for more. I will miss him.
He looked forward in faith to a city whose architect and builder is God. That is a faith that I want to imitate.
Thank you, John, and God bless.