Wonderful Words of Life: Faith (2nd in a Series)

The people on the bus had faith this grizzly would not climb on board.

Back in the summer of 1981, I was at Princeton Seminary chasing a degree in New Testament.  I finished my 7th course and realized I was just one course short of graduation. I called down to the chairman of the Elders at Fries, who I think was John Rutledge, and asked if there was any way possible for me to stay an additional three weeks in New Jersey.  After consulting with the board, John said, “Go for it.” What a gift! So, I signed up for a course entitled “The Stages of Faith.” It was taught by the late Dr. James Fowler, a United Methodist from North Carolina, who was on loan to Princeton from Emory Theological Seminary in Atlanta Georgia.  That course was one of the most important experiences of my life.  By taking it, I discovered that faith is not a luxury or even a choice but a universal necessity.  We can’t live without it. Faith is not only the proud possession of Christians of yesteryear like Billy Graham and Christians of today like Pope Francis, and Christians like you and I, it is the common possession to people of all religions, and to people of no religion at all.   It is found in the life of the youngest child cradled in its mother’s arms and in the final gasp of the most skeptical agnostic on the planet.  We all have faith of some kind.

Jean Piaget gave us the stages of early childhood development, and Jim Fowler, who studied under Piaget, gave us the stages of faith.  There are six: Continue reading

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Wonderful Words of Life: Faith (1st in a Series)

Denali from 75 Miles. Only 30 percent of visitors of the park actually get to see it.  70 percent of the time it is shrouded in clouds and darkness.

Faith is multi-dimensional and different people possess it in varying degrees. For instance, in the gospels, Jesus praised the Roman Centurion who understood the authority and power of a word spoken by Jesus, saying,  “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Matthew 8:10)

Alternately, Jesus sometimes accused his own disciples of being “weak in faith.”  Jesus taught that a lack of faith makes us ineffective in prayer—as when the disciples could not heal the boy who perpetually cast himself into the fire.  And Jesus taught that a lack of faith exposes us to fear, as when the disciples feared for their lives when a storm came up, and the waves beat into their boat.

By contrast, according to Ephesians 6:16,  faith is a “shield” for those who possess enough of it.  It is by faith that we endure the trials and tribulations of this life and emerge from each stronger and more confident than before.  Nietzsche was right. “That which does not kill us does make us stronger—not just in body, mind, and spirit, but in faith.” Like the wise king of old, people of faith looks out at the most difficult situations in life and declares, “This, too, will pass!”  Or, as Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 1:10:

“(Many times, in the past) God delivered us from … deadly … peril and … on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

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Wonderful Words of Life: Hope (3 of 3)

We are talking about hope for the third time. I believe that we who have hope have the right to be hopeful for others.  Let me give you a few examples:

In 1st Corinthians 7, Paul tells us that the children of even one believing parent are “holy.”  And in Psalm 103, the Psalmist writes:

The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his righteous to children’s children.

 A Moravian pastor once told me that nothing is worse than being unsure of one’s own children. He said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and loose his own son?” In the texts already noted, the Bible gives us at least some hope for worried parents.  And in his book “Idea Fidei Fratrum,” Bishop Spangenberg builds upon that hope.  He wrote that though children of the church often stray from the narrow path, God will eventually bring them back.  As the scripture says, “Train a child up in the way to go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Continue reading

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Wonderful Words of Life: Hope (2 of 3)

Romans 4:18 * Romans 5:1-5 * Romans 8:1-39

Fries Members at Trinity celebrating the retirement of millions of dollars of medical debt for North Carolinians. Fries Alone accounted for $960,000 of the total. May the forgiveness of this debt give hope to many!

Last week we gradually felt our way into the subject of hope.  I would like to recall three things we talked about:

First, we saw that hope for this life is a nearly universal phenomenon, and it is well that it is. Without hope, everyone would know times in which we are mentally if not physically, crushed by pain, disease, disappointment, loss, and grief.  Not to mention poverty, war, and the fear of death.  At the very least, hope aids what the Declaration of Independence calls “the pursuit of happiness.”  We don’t always arrive at happiness but hope frees us to chase it.

Second, we saw that not everyone has the same degree of hope. Some people are so blessed by the time, place, and circumstances in which they live, that they can reasonably hope for a long, pleasant, fruitful life, filled with love, joy, peace, and a least a small portion of every good thing.

Others are not so fortunate. The time, place, and circumstances of their lives are difficult at best, and there is nothing in their lives that gives them hope for anything better than the little that they already have.

In the play, “Whistle Down the Wind,” a young girl who was living at the margins was approached by a zealous evangelists and presented with the hope of life after death. She responded  “I don’t give a damn about life after death. I just want to believe there is life after birth!”  It is impossible to calculate the numbers of people who feel precisely that. Continue reading

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Wonderful Words of Life: Hope (1 of 3)

Romans 4:18 * Romans 5:1-5 * Romans 8:1-39

Today, I want to talk to you about one of the wonderful words of life, hope. In Romans 8, St.Paul reminds us that hope belongs not to the present, “for who hopes for what is seen,” but hope dominates the future, and “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Here, as everywhere in Scripture, patient waiting does not mean we sit on our hands and wait for God or fortune to do something for us. It means that we work with God to accomplish what God wants to do in us, and through us, and for us.

It goes almost without saying that the Ancient Greek Philosophers were fascinated with hope. Everyone knows the story of Pandora. Mighty Zeus gave Pandora a mysterious and wonderful box with instructions never to open it. Of course, like any of us, Pandora was curious, so she threw caution to the wind and pried open the lid. Immediately she did, horrible things flew out of the box including greed, envy, hatred, pain, disease, hunger, poverty, war, and death. Pandora let loose all of life’s miseries on the world. Fortunately, so the story goes, she slammed the lid of the box close to trap the last thing that remained, hope. Continue reading

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