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.”

Of course, faith is much more than a shield. According to gospels Jesus taught that those with enough faith possess the power to accomplish whatever God wills us to do.  Jesus said that those with enough faith can say to a mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea, and it will be done for them.”  Of course, in Matthew 21:21, Jesus put this saying the 2nd person!  “If you have enough faith, you can say to this mountain, be taken up and cast into the sea, and it will be done for you.”

Now, to be fair, not many people—if any, have commanded a mountain to be uprooted and cast into the sea, then watched as it happened. However, many people of faith have moved a mountains “one shovelful at a time.”  The Egyptians moved mountains when they built the pyramids with stone quarried from as far as five hundreds miles away.  And the Romans moved mountains when they built the roads that tied their Empire together, ironically providing the way for the rapid spread of the gospel.  Today–for good or ill, we think nothing of knocking the tops off mountains to get at the coal and minerals underneath, or tunneling through solid rock, under water for many miles just so that our car can pass in safety. Norway has a underwater tunnel almost 9 miles long! Just as importantly, many people of faith have faced and endured every disaster and conquered every kind of challenge by steadfastly refusing to give-in or give-up. As the late Robert Schuller famously said:

When faced with a mountain of a problem, I will not give up.  I will find a way over, or I will find a way around, or I will tunnel underneath, or I will stay right where I am and turn that mountain of a problem into a gold mine of opportunity.

In John 14:12, just before he was forced to leave his disciples,  Jesus promised his disciples that those who believe in him would do the works that he himself had done and works even greater than those that he himself had done. As individuals, we disciples of Jesus may never cause the lame to walk with a word or restore the sight of the blind with a touch; but collectively disciples of Jesus have comforted and strengthened countless people who are sick in body, mind, and spirit.  And disciples of Jesus have built thousands of hospitals and other charitable institutions that have given new life and new hope to hundreds of millions. I remember when our own Baptist Hospital was called “the miracle on Hawthorne Hill,” and with good reason, for many miracles or all kinds have taken place there.  Each generation of patients is more amazed than the last. And just this week I was reminded how the Moravian clinic in Ahaus Honduras has saved thousands of lives and touched tens of thousands more.

According to St. Paul, the gift of healing is a gift given to some by the Holy Spirit for the good of all the members of the body, the church, but the apostle never limits the gift of healing to prayer and the laying on of hands. When we consider the healing power of God, we must remember that there are three types of healing:  1) Immediate Healing, like we see in the gospels. 2) Gradual healing like we see in our hospitals and homes every day. The famous French surgeon wrote, “The physician binds the patients wounds, but only God can heal.”  And 3) the Resurrection healing which is the ultimately healing—reserved those who are too broken to be healed in this life—and that ultimately includes us all.  Thankfully, God’s healing power is not confined to time—it embraces eternity.  It is not limited to the living; for God raises even the dead.  If the gospel mean anything—it means that God promises us new life in Jesus Christ.

If the gospel means anything else, it means that God is on our side. When medical science conquers diseases like malaria and polio, and heals individuals who battle cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, God is at work. And when we final discover a cure for cancer—it will be a discovery not an invention; for, from the foundation of the world,  God has made the cure possible–and, by faith, we will someday make the possibility a reality.

Of course, it goes without saying that healing is never the work of the healers alone. In the gospels faith is also the means by which those who are afflicted by accident and disease receive healing for themselves and for those they love.  In Mark 2, Jesus healed a young man who was carried to him by four friends. The text says that it is when Jesus saw their faith that he forgave the boy’s sins and then commanded him to take up his pallet and walk. And in Mark 5, Jesus healed a woman who had endured an issue of blood for twelve years and suffered much at the hands of many physicians.  When she reached out and touched him, even in the press of the crowd, he felt the power go out of him and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Not everyone has faith this strong, and some do not ever hope to have it. But people who have trusted our fate to Jesus are like the man whose son repeatedly cast himself into the fire.  The man approached Jesus saying, “If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “(What do you mean)  ‘If you can!’ All things are possible to those who believe.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

In the New Testament faith is not static.  It waxes and it wanes.  When we center our thoughts on God our faith waxes and grows stronger. When we focus our thoughts on our problems faith wanes and grows weaker. In Matthew 14, in a story that many scholars believe to be a misplaced resurrection narrative, at Peter’s request, Jesus calls for Peter to come to him on the water.  Peter does just that—but only as long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus.  The moment Peter looked away from Jesus, he started to sink. No matter how you interpret the passage, its meaning is clear: for our faith to be strong, we must “set our eyes on Jesus.”  Or, if you prefer the words of Colossians 3:2, “We must set our minds on things above (where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God) and not on things that are on earth.”

Through much of my ministry I had two eight by twelve inch black and white prints under the protective glass that covered my desk. They were given to me by the late Bishop Herbert Spaugh. Both are pictures of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. In the first Daniel is looking at the lions and the lions look back hungry and ready for supper. The second Daniel has turned his back on the lions and is looking out a high window—figuratively “setting his mind of things above.” The lions are still there—but they no longer bare their teeth and lick their chop.  They are done with Daneil. Bishop Spaugh used to say, “When you fix your mind on your problems they threaten you and make you fearful.  When you fix your mind on God—your problems often take care of themselves—and when they don’t, when you are called into play, God will give you aid and care for you.”

It goes without saying that, for those who are gathered her this morning, faith has content. In the New Testament the content of our faith—the good news of the gospel, is that Jesus the Messiah “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and then rose again to give us a future and a hope.”  In Ephesians 2:8 the apostle writes, “By grace you are saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.”

I believe that it is only after we have taken the leap of faith that leads to faith, received the gift of faith from God,  lived a life of faith, and endured a crisis or two, or more, that it is truly possible for us to define what faith means for us as individuals.

What does faith mean to you?

Not surprisingly, the classic definition of faith occurs late in the development of the New Testament.  It was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews to laid down for us the single best definition of faith ever devised.  In Hebrews 11:1 he wrote:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

That is how it is translated by the RSV and the NRSV.  I prefer the still more confident translation of the King James Version.  Therein we read:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

In his infamous book, “A Devil’s Dictionary,”  Ambrose Bierce, a skeptic from first to last, said that faith—and he meant faith in God, means believing what everyone else already knows is not true.  No doubt Bierce is an agnostic—but when he invokes “everyone else,” he was way off base.  I once asked the Ph. D. physicists David Carroll, a Moravian, why he believed in God.  David responded, “the wisdom of crowds.”  I asked for an explanation. David said, “Crowd theory declares that a bunch of ordinary people, randomly selected, with “skin in the game,” are often better at solving problems and predicting outcomes than a group of carefully experts.  He then declared that more than 90 percent of everyone who ever lived has believed in a God of some description.  “That,” he said, “is the wisdom of crowds.”

I am not a huge fan of Francis Schaeffer—I reject his Calvinism; but I believe that Schaeffer  was  absolutely right about faith.  In in his book, “How Then Shall We Live?”, Schaeffer wrote, “When we are walking on a road in total darkness and people tell us that no such road exist—we ignore them for we can feel smooth hardness of the road under our feet.”  For those who have lived it deeply, faith is more than a conviction, it evidence.

Now I am not ordinarily a feelings guy and I am never happy when my brothers and sisters make claims for faith that go way beyond those made by anyone in the New Testament.  However, I believe that there will be times and seasons when every believer can say with St. Paul that “the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ, provided that we suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him.” And I believe that there will be  times and seasons when every believer will be able to say with Zinzendorf, ““I am of certain of Jesus Christ as I am that I have five fingers on my  hand.”  All the early Moravians accepted what the New Testament calls “the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

We may not feel this all the time.  We may not feel this every day.  We may not feel this every hour of every day—but if we experience it, even once, we can never really completely quit on God, and, if we do, God will not quit on us.  Jesus is always the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine safely in the fold in order to seek out and rescue the one that has wondered away. As we read in 2nd Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”

As Francis Thompson has written in his poem, “The Hound of Heaven”:

I fled (God), down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.



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