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Faith . . . that word gets tossed around all over the place today. We say we have faith in this or faith in that, or that we have faith in God, but do we really know what we are talking about when it comes to faith?
Dictionary.com defines faith as follows:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Click here to read the rest of the chapter.)
Until “the rubber meets the road,” it’s easy to say we have faith in something or someone, like God, but it’s in the midst of the really tough times that come to all of us at some point that we really find out where we have placed our faith and in what or whom we really believe in. And it usually boils down to either believing in ourselves and our own resources, or believing in someone else (as in God).
It’s easy to say we believe in God when everything in going along fine and nothing out of the ordinary is happening in our lives. However, it’s not nearly as easy when the bottom suddenly falls out and we lose our bearings and possibly a whole lot more. It is at that point that we either scramble to find our own way out of our situation–usually through our own connections and our own resources if we have them or have access to them–or we start learning that we have far less control then we ever imagined, and we either start learning to trust in a God we’ve always claimed we believed in, or we start sinking in an ocean of unbelief and/or despair when God doesn’t come through for us in the way and/or in the timing that we wanted Him to do it in.
The bottom fell out of my life when I lost my job in Houston in April 2009 that has left me unemployed now into my seventh year. Like many others around me at that time who had lost their jobs, I attended job networking groups where sometimes as many as 500+ unemployed people were looking for work and in attendance at the peak of the unemployment period caused by (1) the housing bubble that burst wide open in 2008 as well and (2) the biggest Wall Street crash in the history of the U.S. that occurred on September 29, 2008 (ironically, it was also my first day of work at that ill fated job in Houston that I lost seven months later). And the repercussions hit all areas of life in America with unemployment rates topping out at 12% or higher across many cities and states. Over the next several years many of those folks eventually found jobs, but there were still many who did not. I am one of those folks.
During these past six plus years since I lost that job in Houston I have been on my own journey through the alleys and side roads of faith. Like many others who lost their jobs at that time, I had the faith to believe that God could provide another job for me fairly soon (after all, I was my only means of financial support) and for the first couple of years I watched as one by one many of those unemployed folks that I was around in networking groups found jobs, but it didn’t happen for me. And when the last networking group I attended in 2011 disbanded and I still didn’t have a job, it was at that point that I was beginning to realize that perhaps that might not be the direction God wanted me to go in, and that I would, in fact, end up being tested beyond my own understanding and experiences and gain a mere fraction of a glimpse into what God meant in Isaiah 55:8-9 when He stated:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
It’s not that I stopped looking for work (I didn’t), but as the years passed nothing seemed to work out no matter what I did to try and find work. And it was at that point that I started to become aware of a much bigger world going on out there in America and around the world besides the everyday world of work and daily life habits and routines that most of us get caught up in.
During these past several years since I lost that job in 2009, God has taken me through each day, week, month, and year, step by step–and now I’m well into my seventh year. And every day, the first thing before I even get out of bed, I have to keep laying my own desires on His altar every morning and let Him guide me through each and every day. And it’s been an adventure to say the least and probably one not many would pick (I’m not sure if I had known back in April 2009 what I would be going through during these past several years that I would have picked it, either). But in looking back over these years and all I have learned and experienced along the way, I wouldn’t trade it for anything today. And the adventure continues . . . .
I feel very fortunate that I was raised from the time I came out of my mother’s womb to believe in Jesus Christ and in God by my mother (see blog post titled, “Incomparable,” published on July 25, 2012), who instilled in me at that very young age to trust Him in everything no matter what (which I did at the ripe old age of ten). My mother’s life, and even her death brought on by diabetes, wasn’t easy, but despite many setbacks in her life her utmost faith in God was always there. She wasn’t perfect (after all, nobody is), but her faith was unshakable. That is her legacy and my heritage. Unfortunately, in the years since her death (1983) the church has shifted towards the culture and the culture’s model of success (among other things) has become part of the Christian model of success–with all of it’s showmanship, prestige, glitter, and materialism. You won’t find stories like my mother’s story in the pages of many Christian books nowadays as the model of Christian success, yet it is the very people just like my mother who make up the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12. I wish we could get back to the days when it wasn’t all about “Celebrity” Christians and how to have or get all we want or can get in this life. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ has never been about any of that stuff.
I have no idea what the younger generation believes in today (besides the obvious–technology and social media). I keep reading where, more and more, the Millennials among us often choose “none” as their religious preference (see Pew Research article titled, “Millennials increasingly are driving growth of ‘nones’” at this link). And I’ve been in enough churches over the past several decades to see how “Hollywood” in appearance and entertainment that the church has become. We even have Christian theme parks now, too. No wonder we are losing the younger generation. And I wonder how many people we’ve lost in the older generations, too, over the years. I honestly can’t imagine not believing in anything or anyone other then self or technology or our own resources (or God on a very superficial level that doesn’t penetrate what we do in our lives on a daily basis), but I guess there are many people who do just that. So what happens to them when the bottom falls out of their lives? It happens to all of us at some point in time (even though most who haven’t already experienced it might not think so or are convinced it will never happen to them). Where do they go if they don’t believe in anything except technology and social media and what they can do with it?
The Bible contains a clear definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Simply put, the biblical definition of faith is “trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove.”
This definition of faith contains two aspects: intellectual assent and trust. Intellectual assent is believing something to be true. Trust is actually relying on the fact that the something is true. A chair is often used to help illustrate this. Intellectual assent is recognizing that a chair is a chair and agreeing that it is designed to support a person who sits on it. Trust is actually sitting in the chair.
Understanding these two aspects of faith is crucial. Many people believe certain facts about Jesus Christ. Many people will intellectually agree with the facts the Bible declares about Jesus. But knowing those facts to be true is not what the Bible means by “faith.” The biblical definition of faith requires intellectual assent to the facts and trust in the facts.
Believing that Jesus is God incarnate who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and was resurrected is not enough. Even the demons believe in God and in those facts (cf. James 2:19). We must personally and fully rely on the death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. We must “sit in the chair” of the salvation that Jesus Christ has provided. This is saving faith. The faith God requires of us for salvation is belief in what the Bible says about who Jesus is and what He accomplished and fully trusting in Jesus for that salvation (Acts 16:31). Biblical faith is always accompanied by repentance of sin (Matthew 21:32; Mark 1:15).
The biblical definition of faith does not apply only to salvation. It is equally applicable to the rest of the Christian life. We are to believe what the Bible says, and we are to obey it. We are to believe the promises of God, and we are to live accordingly. We are to agree with the truth of God’s Word, and we are to allow ourselves to be transformed by it (Romans 12:2).
Why is this definition of faith so important? Why must trust accompany agreeing with facts? Because “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith, we cannot be saved (John 3:16). Without faith, the Christian life cannot be what God intends it to be (John 10:10). (Quote source here.)
The other day I was in a bookstore and noticed a new book by Nancy Pearcey, who is Professor of Apologetics, Scholar in Residence, and Director of the Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture at Houston Baptist University. The book is titled, “Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes” (2015). I had mentioned a previous book authored by her titled, “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity” (2004, 2005) in two previous blog posts written in February 2015, “So Goes The Culture” (February 19, 2015) and “Idols of the Heart” (February 24, 2015). Written on the inside front cover (and the Amazon.com page) of her latest book, “Finding Truth,” is the following statement:
Don’t Think, Just Believe?
That’s the mantra in many circles today–whether the church, the classroom, the campus, or the voting booth.
Time for a Reality Check
Nancy Pearcey, bestselling and critically acclaimed author, offers fresh tools to break free from presumed certainties and test them against reality. In Finding Truth, she explains five powerful principles that penetrate to the core of any worldview–secular or religious–to uncover its deepest motivations and weigh its claims.
A former agnostic, Pearcey demonstrates that a robust Christian worldview matches reality–that it is not only true but attractive, granting higher dignity to the human person than any alternative.
Finding Truth displays Pearcey’s well-earned reputation for clear and cogent writing. She brings themes to life with personal stories and real-world examples. The book includes a study guide shaped by questions from readers, from teens to college professors. It is ideal for individual or group study. (Quote source here).
Pearcey’s new book, “Finding Truth,” is about that search for truth–for a genuine faith in Jesus Christ from all of the confusion and competing worldviews that are so much a part of our world today. This book is a good starting point for anyone–young, old, and anyone in between–in gaining an understanding of these competing worldviews as compared with genuine Christianity. One of the reviewers of the book wrote the following endorsement:
“. . .When a third of young people are leaving church because of intellectual doubts, Pearcey shows how biblical truth is more convincing then competing worldviews, and also more appealing. The gospel is the highest love for human beings. The gospel is the key that fits the lock of the universe.” ~Kelly Monroe Kullberg, founder of The Veritas Forum, Founder and President of The America Conservancy.
Being “Christian” is not something we are automatically just by attending church on Sunday morning or being a part of Christian groups, anymore than it is connected to the culture at large when we say America is a Christian nation (which, in reality, it is not anymore). We don’t automatically become a Christian just because our parents were Christian, or we run around with other people who say they are Christians, or because we believe a set of Christian principles. We become a Christian when, as John 3:16-18 states:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus Christ] that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Being a Christian is about a living and vital relationship with Jesus Christ that transforms a person’s life from the inside out. Without that transformation, it is just a term we bounce around like everyone else who claims to be Christian yet there is no outward sign that it is even true. Anybody can act nice and look nice and learn the vocabulary that Christians use, but that doesn’t mean squat if there has been no transformation, no true belief in Jesus Christ as the One and Only Son of God and that it affects us at the very core of our being, and changes us, too.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Through the power of Jesus Christ . . .
You, too, can be transformed . . . .
YouTube Video: “From the Inside Out” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
What is it about love that we just don’t get? Oh sure, we may say we have love for our family (maybe, depending on what kind of family we came from) and friends (depending on if they are just the fair-weather type or if they hang in there for the long haul–and not many appear to be in that category nowadays) and maybe we even have a bit of love for others like us (defined, of course, by us and who we choose to give it to), and maybe even some left over for “them.” You know, the “them” we all love to hate, or judge, or mock, or gossip about behind their backs because they aren’t just like us. Or we want something from them that we don’t have (you know, that whole arena known as envy and/or jealousy). So we throw stones . . . .
First off, we need to admit that we aren’t very good at love. Love really isn’t in our DNA. Selfishness is in our DNA. Our world gets wrapped around our “wants” (that we often excuse off as “needs”). That’s not to say that we don’t have real, genuine and legitimate needs. Food, clothing, shelter, as well as genuine compassion and love are actual needs. But mostly here in America our “wants” (e.g., bigger, better car or house; career success; showcase family; accolades; power, status and money–the list is endless in our prosperous society) cry out to be satisfied because we say we “need” them. No, we don’t. We want them. We are, mostly and unfortunately, egocentric. It’s self first (but we sure know how to disguise it). Just look at the huge number of books in any bookstore found under the title of “Self Help.” And all this “self” stuff can get down right nauseating.
If you’re read this far and you’re now offended, good. If you can lay aside the offense, I’ve got some good news for you, but it’s not about us. However, it has the ability to transform us and that is very good news. The question is whether or not we want to be transformed. And that’s a question only we, on an individual basis, can answer.
One of the things I’ve noticed in the venues of Christianity in America over the past several decades is that we have gone from a salvation that requires genuine repentance and a living and vital relationship with Jesus Christ that can really transform us to a “pseudo-salvation” that coddles us and leaves us where we started in the first place because we’ve been lead to believe that Jesus will understand that it’s just too hard for us to change. Well, of course it is!!! And we can’t do it on our own. But if we spend years living in a swamp of despondence and don’t move on in our relationship with Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who can change us, we won’t change. The change doesn’t come from us, it comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ, and it’s a relationship we should never take for granted. As long as we focus on us and what we can’t do, we will never understand that the power comes from Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and that is where the change comes from. Excuses just don’t cut it, and that’s how we’ve been coddled to believe–that Jesus will understand if we never change.
Do you understand what that kind of thinking is really saying about Jesus Christ? It says that he really isn’t “all-powerful,” and that he really isn’t “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” It brings him down to our level, instead of us being lifted up to where he wants us to be. It is the reason we get this whole “love” thing wrong, because, as J.B. Phillips stated in the title of his book, “Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike” (see blog post titled “Where the Wind Blows” for reference), we have made God and Jesus Christ out to be way too small and essentially not a whole lot different from us, no matter what the words may say in the worship songs we sing on Sunday morning. In and of ourselves, we can’t change (or even if our modest attempts work temporarily they usually don’t stick) and there is no point in groveling about it for years on end when Jesus Christ has given us the answer through his death and resurrection and his words of life found in the Bible. But we have to read those words, and pray, and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ on a regular basis that goes beyond the “help me” stage. Now, there is nothing wrong with the “help me” stage, but we shouldn’t live there on a permanent basis as the main address we use when we pray to him.
In John 10:10 Jesus states:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“Full” goes beyond our normal sphere of thinking such as material possessions or “things” we can get in this life here on earth (and that doesn’t mean that they might not happen, but they are not nor should they be our focus). “Full” means more than we can think or imagine. It means living life here on earth from an eternal perspective—God’s perspective. It means having a relationship with Jesus Christ that sees beyond the obvious of what we as humans tend to focus on to the level where God operates (see 2 Peter 3:9). And that kind of relationship can’t help but change the person to whom Jesus gives this life to that he has promised to give to everyone who follows him. But it requires a living, breathing relationship with him. It requires that we take action. It requires a faith that can’t be seen (see Hebrews 11–also, for an excellent article on faith by Dena Johnson titled, “What Does it Mean to Walk by Faith?” click here). If we so choose we can ignore him and let everything in this life get in the way and that will leave us totally stunted in our relationship with him. We can wallow in self-pity–a very human trait–for years on end but the time comes when we need to grow up. We can’t stay babies in our relationship with Jesus Christ forever. Well, yes we can, if we so choose, but we will totally miss out on the life he wants us to have–a life unlike any other you’ll find here on this earth. It’s a life of freedom only found in a cross. It’s a life beyond self. And it’s the only way to find and give genuine love . . . to everybody, even our enemies.
One of the problems in our society today it that we don’t take sin seriously. If we think about what Jesus really did when he died on the cross–and the price he paid which is huge–we’d take the whole sin issue much more seriously. Sin in any form stunts us and keeps us from knowing the full power of living the life Jesus meant for us to live here on earth. We make excuses for our sin instead of repenting of it and asking Jesus to change us. While we can never totally escape our human side as long as we are here on this earth, we cannot excuse off sin as trite or irrelevant. The cross is neither trite nor irrelevant. And coddling folks when they need correction is not helpful to anybody, and it misses the mark by a mile–the consequences of which are eternal.
We can harp on the lack of love there is in this world and within Christian circles and communities and towards each other, too, but the solution has already been given to us through a relationship with Jesus Christ and if we don’t actively partake, all the harping in the world will not change us and make us more loving. The love we give to others can only come through Jesus Christ.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. Think about that. Do we really think that he can’t change that thing (read that as “sin”) in our lives that we keep stumbling over? Well, he can’t if we won’t let go of it. “Coddling” says to keep at it and excuse it off for as long as possible. “Correction” says to confess it now and let it go. “Go, and sin no more” (see the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-12). And that choice is ours.
If we want genuine love to be the focus of all of our relationships, the kind of love expressed in I Corinthians 13, we can only get it from one Person, and he’s willing to give it to us without measure. It all depends on what we want to hold onto . . . .
And if it’s anything other than Jesus Christ . . .
We lose . . .
And so does love . . . .
Chorus for “Testify to Love” (see YouTube video below):
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I’ll be a witness in the silences
When words are not enough
With every breath I take
I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” (2003) by Avalon: